Thank you, George

George Whittenburg died yesterday.  His Amarillo memorial is Saturday and twenty churches can’t hold all who thank God for him.  Twenty prison cells can’t hold everyone who will rejoice at his passing.

A family that drowned a young man in an Agatha Christie-esque middle-of-a-huge-lake horror will rejoice in cells.  They fooled Texas Rangers and the F.B.I. but not George.  He spent years taking ’em down.

A lawyer who “won” a paltry verdict for his client and then abused her, will smile from his prison way-station on his way to Dante’s 7th Inferno level.  We can hope.  Again, George spent years, itching to conclude her horror, he strategized with Job’s patience and Machiavelli’s genius to bring her justice.

He loved finding crooked lawyers in his sights, and loved scorching them even more.

Offenders hurt, killed or maimed the wrong people, if victims or surviving kin found George.  It didn’t matter how hopeless survivors found George, he wrangled hope for the hopeless seemingly ex nihilo; spelling doom for those who smugly felt successfully incorrigible.

His full softball team of children, their umpteen grandchildren and great-grand-kids flourished in his and Ann’s high expectations.   Shoot, you’d learn to bear up under great expectations if father and grandfather played on the state’s and nation’s stages.

He read voraciously, pursued ideas assiduously, loved conversation, worshipped deeply, and doted on children while gently, firmly pushing each to some greatness.  The house’s washing machines and driers sat at opposite ends.  “Learn to take care of yourself” was in the blueprints.  The two sets of two hot water tanks were in series, so everyone played sports, showered, attacked evening schedules and studies to be fresh in an early morning.  The sheer scale of life at the home boggled outsiders’ minds.

It was simply Whittenburg if you lived there.

Twenty hours won’t contain half the stories left untold at Saturday’s memorial, but that was George.  He was always more than you could take in, more than you countered, and more than you appreciated in any conversation, kindness or advice.   Complex and nuanced, merciless in logic: sitting in his complete focus spelled hope for many and disaster for fools.

When I was younger and my grandfather died, I felt as if one layer of protection between me and death, between me and disaster had been removed.  I’ve not often felt that since, but George’s passing leaves a layer of protection to be replaced.  If you have ears to hear, fill the layer.

I’ll miss him now, but if his faith’s correctly placed, we’ll continue conversations on writers, actors on the world’s stage, and intriguing ideas on the other side of the River.  Notice I didn’t say “finish”.  George can’t finish his thoughts, again, he enjoyed wrestling with far more than twenty volumes of deep conversations might skim the surface of.

Waste or Largess and yet.

I few minutes ago I had a brilliant insight into life and the universe.  It may or may not interest you, so I won’t bore you.

It struck me deeply.  I sensed two possibilities for my insight.  It resonated through me.  The insight gave me joy.   The resulting feeling suspended me “up” in a long, draining week for seconds.

Again, I see two possibilities for my insight, for a depth of feeling and realization words fail to convey.

Possibility one.  All we are today results from a profoundly long series of random outcomes, against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, gathering star-dust from millions of extinguished stars to donate elements farther down rows of our Periodic Table to fire-form a planet within a hair’s breadth of distance from a correct sun needed for incredibly sophisticated RNA and DNA to take on a job of blindly evolving past millions of blind alleys to get to us.  “Us” who can write, laugh, love, hear and even sometimes understand each other; and die.  All of my memories, depths, and sharing now a meal for worms blindly eating either my corpse or plants enriched by my ashes.  In a generation, at most, any who interacted or shared with me; join me in oblivion, as will we all.  A remorseless universe neither taking note, caring or laughing.

Possibility two.  A God described as having infinite capacity created the thought of me before assembling the iron and nickel for a core for Earth.  He brought my mother from her birth family to an adopted family so she could marry and unite again with my father after two miscarriages to birth me.  And so, minutes ago, this God shared my brilliant insight into life more intimately than even my wife could hope for.  And if all that’s written of Him is good, when I die I am resurrected out of time into eternity to get this — share that insight with Him and possibly at the same depth with those purchased by His grace — around a dinner beyond compare before we get back to work.

How it all works is above my pay grade.

Possibility one says as a terrorist dies, it holds equal lack of value with the deaths of Jesus, Gandhi — the named and the forgotten.  From nothing formed, and to nothing returned.

Possibility two gives me Hope to hold to values. I choose P two.  Probably as it demands more of me in faith, giving to, making a difference, loving and weeping — living.  If Hope is a crutch, then inscribe mine with the name for me in Heaven I don’t even know, yet.

See?  I can now say, “yet”!

Words to Live By

I was listening to Craig Groeschel and he shared his exercise to write out his words to live by.  He shared his.  I have done this as a first draft for me.

What are yours?

 

Words to live by

I am a sinner, saved by the astonishing, unrelenting mercies of God extended to me in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ: my Lord.

I am Jill’s husband, sharing all I have, all I dream, all of my shortcomings, and my resolute hope that Christ has entwined Himself in our vows and hopes to the end of this life as helpmate, and friend in the next. All I know about oneness with her is God’s kindness to introduce Himself to me and help me understand how astonishing is koinonia in this world and even more so – the next.

I am family: son, grandson, brother, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, great uncle, brother in Christ to the few I know, and the millions I have yet to meet. They are the basis of my understanding that a three stranded chord is not easily broken.

I am entrepreneurial in business, teaching, and ministry. Before I knew the term, I admired those who resonated with this, who embodied it.

I am a failer. I attempt much, succeed at some, hopefully more of what I am striving to bring into existence and impact others with.

I have a profound sense of otherness, thin places, friends across the centuries, sennsucht, and piercing beauty that moves me to tears. I have never met someone with a story God was not still writing.

I have not spent as much time thinking about me as others, ideas, Truth, notions, stories. But about me, I have Someone into whose hands I place my guilt, my frustrations with me, my mute horror at me.

I am succeeding, sometimes one crushing failure at a time..

I am immortal, and that takes faith, but at the same time it fuels my faith.

I am grateful to those who taught me to love learning and in that learning continually be reshaped and stretched. I give to my students in those teachers’ names, on their accounts.

I am an amalgam of all of this, all of these. Whether I am original or not is not as intriguing to me as whether I am building His uniqueness in those He puts in my way.

The Exchange Program

guadalupe-streetAlong UT’s western border of Guadalupe street, homeless people enrich the Drag’s diversity.  When Texas furloughs more from Austin’s mental institutions, the Drag  gets more weird.  If possible.

In that population, Mary — her name to use and protect her real name — was a queen.  She felt younger, washed regularly, and smelled good.  Guys loved her or time with her.  Rightfully paranoid, she talked to herself rather than imaginary people, and suspected everyone — especially non-homeless people.  She carried newspapers and other found objects from the day like a secretary carries important papers next to her bosom.  Her accent was somewhere between east Texas and a few missing teeth.

I said “Hi” going to class or work for months.  She moved from immediately looking and walking the other way, to stopping and considering, to actually watching me, to half smiling — all in the time it takes to bring an infant to full term.  Always discussing me with herself.

One day as I exited the car, loading up to hike to class, I saw Mary across the street.  She looked miserable, as if she had been out in the misting night for all of it; sitting on the little concrete wall where she and her closest associates took breaks from pan-handling.

Now, Mary never begged or asked.  Things came to her, and this morning looking at her from under my umbrella, I had the impression it was my turn to contribute.  I know people who naturally give or give out of their faith.  I am guilty of neither.  It is hard for me.

I crossed the street gingerly not wanting to spook her, to ask, “Need a lunch?” She looked up, spooked, and trembled.

She responded, “No!” underscoring I had much to learn.

I stopped.  She waited.  I lied, “Would you please take this lunch for me?  I am not going to need it.”  She smiled, but did not reach.  I stood close enough to offer it. She took it, acknowledging thanks with a nod of her head, completely enwrapped in the paper bag.

I walked off.  It warmed up, everyone but Mary shed heavier coats that week, and we all lolled in the sun under any pretext.

The next week, Jill found and risked buying a pair of Nike high tops for eight bucks, a steal for grad students twenty years ago.  They fit!  My old shoes wore worn through.

The next morning, I eagerly stuffed them in the top of my back pack, also lugging my book bag up to work and then down to work out where the horror awaiting me revealed itself.

I got to the gym, and excitedly unpacked — one shoe.  Hours ago, somewhere the top of my backpack opened and ejected a shoe.

Dejected, I stuffed everything in a locker, and backtracked the two miles up campus and back down Guadalupe; my attention never wavering from the ground I had traversed.  I thought the odds of no one touching the shoe, rescuing it, trashing it, or just looping it over a phone line were impossibly slim.  Recrossing Guadalupe I could see it run over, dragged somewhere away forever.

I retraced my steps again, all the way up, onto the floors I had traversed in Mass Comm, back down and across campus, oblivious to spring’s beauty almost budding to my locker, out of time, needing to be at another meeting, overwhelmed by a loss we could not afford.

I trudged back across campus, held two meetings, and sulked back to my car, feeling every stop and stall on the freeway home as a personal pounding on top of the loss.  The worst was telling Jill who had thrilled to make the buy of the year for me.  Played with boys, studied, went to bed, packed another lunch and started another day.

I exited my car, saw and waved at Mary who actually waved back, and as she did I noticed something on top of her morning stack of papers: a white and red high top shoe.  I laughed to think someone else lost a shoe!

As I walked toward her to get to Guadalupe I was riveted by the shoe, which as I got closer was a Nike high top.  I stopped.  I asked, “Mary, where’d you find that shoe?”  She smiled and said, “It was in the middle of Guadalupe, at the crossing in front of the Texas Bookstore.”

I gulped.

I asked, “When?”

“Oh, yesterday morning just as the big rush for the first class goes across.  I got it before someone ran over it or stole it!”  She beamed.  Proud of the find.

I could only nod.

I asked, “Mary how would you take it if I told  you I lost that shoe out of my backpack yesterday morning, and I have never gotten to wear it?”

She laughed and had it extended in a heartbeat, saying, “That’s how God works, ain’t it?”  God adjusted all the accounts.

Stunned, I turned it over looking at my miracle and nodded.  That is the sort of line I’m supposed to say.  I asked if she liked tuna fish and she beamed, and I handed over my lunch.  Not really.  I was eating lunch, that tuna fish sandwich, before I thought I might have given it to someone who needed it maybe more than I needed the shoe.  Duh.

I am still quicker to look for a miracle than to be one, but I can practice again tomorrow, can’t I?

Inconceivable

It is Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  What happened today?  Nothing, but today describes much of life.

We wade through a flurry of planning, spending, and staging a wedding.  We endure/enjoy the BIG day; the honeymoon and return to … quiet … close to nothing is happening.   We return to work, wondering what we weaved into our life.

We pitch, talk, ask, work and sleep on cots while launching a business and … it’s quiet.  We await people returning our calls.  We await excited customers; to finally place orders.  We await lawyers’ and CPA’s bills.  We wait to know if the market will really like us, and wonder, “Was this the right thing?”

We buy — us and friends — a ton of equipment and toys.  We hope we’ll lose “baby poundage”.  We decorate, move furniture, and attend Lamaze classes to learn to say, “Give me my epidural!”   We labor for hours (days!); deliver; and bring a little one home to start sleep deprivation, and it is not quiet, but it leaves us asking, “What were we thinking?”

Peter is kicking himself.  He DID deny Jesus three times.  John lets Mary rest.  He wonders why Jesus’ family isn’t caring for her.  Mary of Magdala wonders if demons return if the one who vanquished them dies.  Judas’ body sways at the end of a rope.

And nothing is happening.

Guards laugh!  No one has stolen Jesus’ body!   Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus get the first calls asking, “Why?”  Asking for the body of a criminal, Jesus.  In Herod’s night terrors, Jesus returns with John the Baptist.  He awakens relieved.  Nothing is happening.

Unless.

Unless you heard Jesus talk of the Kingdom.  He spoke counter intuitively of it.  He said it’s like a farmer who sows seed in a field and — goes to sleep.  The seed does what it does as he goes about life seeing nothing; and continuing after green shoots mysteriously, wondrously push out of the ground.

On Saturday, Friday’s horrors are almost echoes.  Well, still horrors, but moving inexorably toward echoes.  We hope for that.

On Saturday, Sunday is inconceivable.  It’s inconceivable twice.  Once, resurrection is too good to be true. We can’t imagine it before it happens, just as we can’t unimagine it once it happens.  Twice, it’s tomorrow.  We say we imagine tomorrow, but it’s only our sanguine safety version, or our feared folly that’s worse than what happens.

We haven’t shaken yesterday, and can’t imagine tomorrow.  Saturday.  In between time.  Where we spend most of life.

So, let Good Friday’s sorrow wash through you and take out the garbage.  Celebrate the first Sunday with wonder, tears, or stunned silence, but inbetweenthem.  Consider this.  Jesus told us the Kingdom is like seed He plants.  We only imagine a body losing heat on a cool stone slab, but far from our eyes He’s preaching in Hades; leading out those awaiting Him, and updating a conversation with Satan as to who really holds the keys to Death now.

In between Friday and Sunday, Saturday: a day to seize what He promised; said; and did to indicate what to expect tomorrow.  How to live today if tomorrow is inconceivable.

And Pain to Go Around

That title statement is unclear.  It mean we all have pain we must navigate, we must “go around” and this will hold true in all seasons of my life.

It means there is so much pain to go around so we can all have plenty, that there will always be some unloading out of the back of a dump truck at my house.

Unasked.  Unsought.

Kimberly raced around as a child until a drunk hit her family’s car, and her child safety seat malfunctioned.  The family sued, so she always had a top of the line wheel chair, a nicer home to come home to, and had to trust some people to help her enjoy freedom and mobility.

Except for the last set who lived in her apartment, ate her food, and let her get down to 45 pounds.  When her parents found her in another state, the only medicine was palliative care.  She died yesterday.

That came to us Monday night.

I have looked for Mark off and on for three years.  I got lucky last night, and instead of googling his name, I googled his and Mackenzie’s together.  Bingo.  Found them.

Okay, found her obituary that enabled me to find him.  After her affair.  After they fought back and enjoyed ten years of marriage.  Before she succumbed to guilt or genes or whatever so Mark had to move out.  Six months before she died of cirrhosis of the liver while Mark and the two astonishing daughters, and Mark’s new wife held her hand.  Gone now.

If Jill and I knew and loved fewer people, we might know less pain.  If we held a smaller, tighter knit circle precious, we might be insulated from so much pain, which seems to abound so there is plenty to go around.

But as I sat in the living room, listening to our friend Don relate Kimberly’s sad trajectory after they moved and we lost track of them:  I also remembered firecrackers that rivaled small town celebrations, stunning meals, and small joys in their home.  And I shed deeper-than-tears joy.

And this afternoon as I commuted listening to Mark’s voice on the phone for the first time in 30 years, I wept when he did.  Luckily, I stopped at a light.  And then we shared incredible events bringing us together 30 years ago, and triumphs over those years, and how stunning his daughters truly are, and I touched hope.  We even laughed.

Yes, less exposure might lessen the amount of pain.  But the cost in lost joy is way, way, way too high.

Unthinkably high for any who have ever held Hope’s hand in pain.

I may not know much about thanksgiving

I may not know so much about Thanksgiving.  I have used silly phrases such as, “I don’t feel very thankful.” And “Here it goes again.”

Fairly depraved. 

I think that the most thankful people feel it the least tonight and tomorrow. 

The ones that have been travelling for fifteen hours and may not make it past cancelled flights and road crews trying to keep up with falling sleet, ice and snow.  They know. 

The men and women in uniform who may feel only a tear or a lump in their throat at the thought of Thanksgiving, and still go out on patrol; walk out and preflight their very cold aircraft; or stare at the prosthesis that may as well be Mt. Everest as far as ease of use.  They know more about thanksgiving than I do.

The same is true for First Responders, Emergency Room doctors and nurses, who grabbed a bit of the terrible turkey at the Station House or Cafeteria with luke warm coffee.  They know more about Thanksgiving and what it truly costs, than I do. 

The Pilgrims had buried a staggering number of their own in that first year and winter.  They had their noses rubbed in their mistakes, missed opportunities, and “if only I had” bashings.  So scheduling the feast with the Indians, their only neighbors, took courage.  It has always been a holiday that looks beyond the cemetery, with great hope at the children, at the mom-to-be, and the land and its opportunity that is so very much harder than you had dared imagine. 

It has always been the holiday that chooses to thank God, when screaming or whining is easier, closer to your heart. 

The expense.  It is the expense that makes the smells, sounds, tastes, and minutes so terribly wonderful, deep, abiding. 

So to those of you travelling, guarding, and responding, if this is not the Thanksgiving, then may one truly wonderful find you.  I am grateful for you.  And if it is with cheese and crackers and a salty tear only, may the Father from whom all good gifts come take note and bless you.