Enjoying the fall, the day after, Retiring, & other musings on a Wednesday…

I was just telling theBean that our current weather is probably my favorite Reno weather. Highs in the low 70s. Lows in the high 40s. The air feels different, a little more crisp, a little sad & longing, as though the Fall is mourning the passing of the Summer. It reminds me of football, my kids, & ramping up to go back to school. It’s New Beginnings, New Life, & the  re-embrace of work. I’m soaking it in, & might just do a fire in the backyard fire pit…

If this wind would just stop.


Its the day after my birthday. Didn’t do a whole lot different than a regular day (except lunch with my parents.) My highlight from the Famous Daves lunch (besides the burnt ends. Those are like beef candy,) was the picture with my dad. It took about 10 takes to get one where my face actually relayed a “happy to be here” look, instead of the (evidently) hereditary RBF that normally is on my (& Owen’s!) face. Love my parents.


Had a couple people ask how  I was doing now that I am “Almost 50.” I’m good. I mean, its not like there’s anything I can do to stop the ever moving sands of time. Tomorrows gonna come, God-willing. And with it, comes aging. My mentor, Chuck, told me one of the greatest epidemics causing issues for people is they really don’t know how to grow old & to embrace the fact they’re getting older. He wasn’t talking about acting old, stopping fun behaviors/hobbies, or anything like that. It is more the attempt to look & be a (much) younger version of oneself, as though the current (& more, um, mature? version isn’t acceptable.)

So I’m trying to embrace it. And the things, beyond my control, that come with getting older. But I’m not going to go sit in a rocker somewhere & stop living life.


Speaking of my parents – a couple weeks back, my dad announced to the church he planted & has pastored for the last 30+ years that he will be retiring at the end of 2017. (You can watch the video about it HERE. Good stuff, especially if you’re in the spot of considering WHEN, HOW, & WHY retirement could happen for you.) He’s not retiring because “he’s toast.” Nope. He’s healthy, got a lot of energy, & has quite a few “at-bats left in him,” or “bullets in the chamber,” or “pick your favorite expression describing a person with a lot to give still.”

No. He’s retiring because he wants to start the clock on the next 30 years of life & ministry in Carson City, a city he loves, a city he has invested his lives & his family in, a city that drew our family there in the 80s like the proverbial Sirens (without the crashing on the rocks part.) He’s going to stick around (at the request of the incoming pastor, the perfect guy for the job, Chris White.) He’s going to teach every once in a while. And he’s going to be sent as a missionary to churches in our area (& beyond) that need a seasoned pastor, a guy whose been through the ringer, who has experienced “the worst” & lived to tell about the mighty delivering, restoring, healing power of Jesus Christ. He gets to be a Sage, a guy to be sought out & listened to in a time where too often the Sages are ignored or passed over as irrelevant for not being the flavor of the month or not having a large enough #twitter following.

I’m really proud of him – & I think he’s a forerunner, an example for other pastors  (in our movement & beyond)  to be able to look to & emulate. He’s giving them an example of long-term thinking & planning, as well as permission not to have to cling to the current role/title WAY after it was time to let it go & pass it on to another. My dad is a living breathing example of a man who knows his role, his significance, & his value on Earth, to his family, the church, & the world, is not minimized because his role is shifting. He’s still going to be “Him.” That won’t change. He gets to be the biggest cheerleader for a people who a) aren’t born yet, or b) are little kids.

And that inspires me.


I’m going outside to sit on a bench & enjoy the Fall weather.

If the wind will just stop it’d be perfect.

A partial list of my favorite ThoughtFormative books… & other musings… pt. 1

Sitting in my office at the end of the workday, waiting for myBean to get off so we can grab some dinner… And I’m thinking about the things that have shaped many of my thought processes & formed a bit of who I am/am becoming. And I coined a new word: ThoughtFormative. I’m looking into trademarking it, but feel free to use it royalty-free for the time being. Try doing that with “3-peat.” Pat Riley (C’mon ! Really?)

Anyway, one of the ‘things’ that have been so ThoughtFormative in my life are books. Books have always been my 1st “free time” choice… & I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to pass some information (or a point of view, or a new idea, etc…) & I’ve done it by giving someone a book. If you’ve ever gotten a book from me, you can know it is one of the Best ways I can think of to say, “I love you. I care about you. This has helped me, & I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.”


So, I’m going to do a very, very, partial list, 5 or so..(consider it part 1?) of the most ThoughtFormative books I’ve ever read… (or of the books that have read me. Dr. Evil face with my pinky curved by my mouth*(I wonder how pretentious that sounds. In my head I picture it more as a little bit funny way to say something & then make a , which would have been preceded by an imaginary mic drop. But I digress.) DISCLAIMER: I am not going to include the Bible on my list. For a similar reason that I wouldn’t include Jesus Christ on a list of “People From History I’d Really Like To Meet:” I KNOW Him. I HAVE met Him. And I talk to Him all the time, & a part of me *double-facepalms  every time I hear a well-meaning follower of Christ say, “I’d really like to have met Jesus…” Maybe it’s that we’re such Thomas’ that we want to SEE, in the flesh… which would make it like really MEETING Him. But I usually keep those thoughts to myself, because when I say stuff like that out loud, I am inevitably misunderstood & thought to be a Pagan & a Judger (both of which are not true. Mostly.) The Bible IS my list – & all of the books on my list point to or remind me of, or illustrate something beautiful, some Scriptural concept, some life-giving way of ThoughtFormative-ness. (Not saying I’m equating my list with the Bible, or claiming these titles are God-breathed. Felt I had to say that.)


The plan is to list a book with one of the reasons I believe it is/was so ThoughtFormative to my life… or a something (or 2) that I immediately think of when I see the book’s title. So here goes:

  • The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis – These kids classics from CS Lewis were the 1st real books I can remember reading through. I immediately think of a quote from the 1st book, The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe, in reference to Aslan, Lewis’ Christ figure:  “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about SAFE? ‘Course he isn’t SAFE. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Reminds me that Christ is NOT a Christian bookstore bumper-sticker version of Himself, easily grasped, understood, & known in His entirety. He is fierce. He is gentle. He’s not safe & life following Him is anything but… But He is GOOD.
  • The Space Trilogy – C.S. Lewis – I’m struck by how the main character, Elwin Ransom (referred to as “Ransom” 99% of the time,) finds himself in situations not of his own making or choosing where he gets to stand for good & against a malevolent evil. Standing firm is a big theme for me & my life. (Finding out Ransom was based on Lewis’ dear friend Tolkien only makes me love this more.)
  • A Wrinkle In Time – Madeline L’Engle – A phenomenally written book (series) with a conflict of good & evil, where power, intimidation, & hate are overcome by love.
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien – I didn’t read these books until I was in my 30s. Now I try to read through these once a year – esp. when I’m traveling. My lot in life, my calling reminds me a lot of Frodo, & is summed up in an exchange Frodo has with Gandalf about WHY he, a small, seemingly inconsequential hobbit, is the one that will carry the One Ring to Mordor to destroy it in the Cracks of Doom: “Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened. Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
  • Love, Acceptance, & Forgiveness – Jerry Cook – This book transformed my (warped/undeveloped) view of Church & the purpose for her existence. It isn’t about building a big gathering. It isn’t about celebrating a few talented individuals. It isn’t a social club. The Church are Jesus’ ministering representatives on earth, meant to guarantee His love, acceptance, & forgiveness to EVERY person encountered. Sometimes people had an issue with this stance, believing the Church instead was supposed to take a STAND for righteousness, making sure to “love the sinner & hate the sin,” etc…  What gets missed in that kind of a STAND, is that people will fall through the cracks because they don’t measure up to be able to enter such an institution. That kind of a STAND makes the Church a little more exclusive, a little more ‘holy’ than Christ intended it to be. (By ‘holy’ I mean the Church not associating with the kind of people with bad reputations & obvious sin issues… the very people Christ came to save.)  Jerry said: “Love is NOT license. Acceptance is NOT agreement. Forgiveness is NOT compromise.” This book started a life-long journey for me, a life of practical, applicable, LIVED OUT Christ-likeness. And one of my life highlights happened on my birthday a few years ago, Jerry told me in front of the church I pastor, “You, Louie, are a little piece of Jesus. And you live this love, acceptance, & forgiveness as good as anyone I know.” I will never forget that. And it inspires me to keep living it.

What books have been the most ThoughtFormative to you in your life?

Offended… by Jesus? & other musings…

Continuing in the vein of my last post, “Who? Me? Offended?” I’m writing about being offended by Jesus. (Yes, you read that last sentence right. Offended. By. Jesus.) “But how,” you might ask, “would it happen that I would be offended by JESUS?” I’m glad you did.

I believe we can be offended by Jesus (God, the Holy Spirit, & God’s Word,) when:

  • We have expectations that aren’t met.
  • Prayers go unanswered.
  • A tragedy strikes us/someone close to us.
  • We’re confronted with the “hard sayings” of Jesus. You know, the passages of Scripture which tick you off. Make you say “no way.” The passages that seem to fly against what we, personally, know & believe to be Right. And Good. And Loving. Sometimes they’re passages about sin. Sometimes they’re about the cost of Christianity. Sometimes we just don’t get it, like the passage where Jesus tells the crowd, “Want eternal life? Eat My flesh, & drink My blood.” Eww. (For the context, look at John 6:22-66 )

In 1Peter 2:4-8Peter compares Jesus to a stone: for some people (those who believe in Him & obey His teachings,) Jesus is the Cornerstone, aka the stone that is used by builders as a reference for every other stone in the structure. For others people, (those who do not believe Him/obey His teachings,) Jesus is called “The Stumbling Stone,” & “The Rock of Offense.” Notice: the thing that determines HOW we experience Christ is what we do/how we respond to His Word. With belief & obedience or with unbelief & disobedience.


There are several passages in Scripture where people get offended with Jesus. Here’s a few examples:

  • Matthew 15:1-20 – The Pharisees: they came to Jesus complaining because His disciples didn’t follow their special tradition of ceremonial hand washing before eating. It really bothered them… And Jesus’ response: “It really bothers Me that you’re NOT concerned with the direct commandment of God to honor your parents. What’s worse, you make up religious reasons to justify it. Bunch of hypocrites!” And they were offended.
  • Matthew 13:53-58 – The people in His hometown: Jesus went home for a visit & continued declaring the gospel Good News, & inviting people to believe & put their trust in Him. You’d think the ample evidence shown by those healed, transformed, etc… coupled with the powerful declaration of God’s truth, with authority, would be convincing. It wasn’t. Their response: “How can this be? We KNOW this guy. We KNOW who His dad was? We KNOW His mom? We KNOW His brothers & sisters (they’re right over there.) No way this guy can be who He says.” And they were OFFENDED at Him, & did not believe. And as a direct result, Jesus didn’t do many mighty works there.
  • Mark 3:1-21 – Jesus’ family: In Mark 3, we hear stories of Jesus healing a bunch of people, bringing deliverance to people oppressed by evil spirits, & calling a group of guys to follow Him, learn from Him, & then DO what He was doing. He went home, the crowds gathered, people followed, & Jesus’ family freaked out. They couldn’t believe what He was doing. And they didn’t see it as good or positive. They said, “We have to take Him & put Him away. He’s out of His mind!

All that to say… It stands to reason – if it hasn’t happened already, there WILL come a time where we will be at a crossroads… where the very edges of commitment to believing in Christ unconditionally are tested, when our own sense of Right & Wrong are challenged by something in Scripture… & how we respond to Jesus (& His Word) in that situation will determine if He will be our Cornerstone or the Rock of Offense we stumble over.

Changing vision, a hot summer, & other musings…

Last summer, I went to the eye-doctor & found out while my ‘distance’ prescription for contacts/glasses had not changed, soon I was going to need ‘a change’ for my up close seeing. I didn’t really pay attention to what she said, because she said, “SOON” I would need it, not “NOW” you need it. So I went happily on my way… until last September. I was reading (translation: attempting to read) something & found out that my arms had gotten much shorter. Or that my contacts (& glasses too, dangit,) were no longer adequate in less than perfect light to read. Anything. Especially fine print (anything less than, say, 10 pt font.) I panicked & went into the eye doctor w/o an appointment, content to sit & wait through the day until I could see her & she could tell me WHAT was wrong with my eyes…

After sitting down with her & explaining what was going on, she reminded me, “Remember when I told you that SOON you would need a change for your close up seeing? Well it seems that SOON has become NOW.” Great, I thought, & asked what that meant… It meant… progressive lenses. I had no idea what those were. So she explained:

BIFOCALS. I needed bifocals.

It’s not like I was in denial about the fact that I am aging – my mirror tells me all the time that I am not the spring chicken I once was. (BTW: where the HECK did the term spring chicken come from? Who decided it meant a young(ish) person? I don’t get it. But I digress.) But BIFOCALS? I was not ready for them – so I asked, “Is there anything I can do to avoid having to get bifocals now?” The doctor assured me that I could probably buy a pair of 1.5-2.0x magnification ‘cheater’ glasses to wear with my contacts, for reading, & I’d probably be fine. But, for my ‘glasses only’ days, I would need to purchase a pair of bifocals. “Ok,” I thought, “one day I will. But that day is NOT today.” So I walked around the corner, bought my cheater glasses, & went about my business.


Everything was fine until May 1. That is the day my allergies returned… the day my eyes & sinuses & throat rebelled against the constant inflow of pollen into them… & I’ve spent parts of every day since then coughing, sneezing, wheezing, & rubbing ‘gunk’ from my eyes.

And it became really irritating to wear my contacts.

No trouble, really. I could do this. I’ll just wear my glasses. Which worked great. Until I needed to read something. And then I was out of luck.

In my job (& at home) reading is kind of a thing for me… so, when no one but my long suffering Bean was around, I would ‘double stack’ my glasses so I could read. You know, put my regular glasses on first. And then put my cheater glasses on over them. And then I could read fine. But its not like I could go out & about double-stacking my glasses all the time.

Things came to a head a couple of weeks ago. Hanging out with the kids for Fathers’ Day – went to an escape room (check it out HERE. A really good time.) An escape room, for the uninitiated, is a room where you are locked in with clues on how to escape. And you have 1 hour. It was a blast.

Except I couldn’t read the clues. Because the print was too small. Pasty caught me putting the paper the clues were on down on the counter & stepping back to try & catch what was typed on the paper in such an impossibly miniscule font. And he asked, “Uh, dad? You ok?”

And then I knew. The gig was up. I needed to get bifocals.


Years ago in therapy (it was more like conversations where your counselor challenges you to think about & do things that seem so counter-intuitive to the Way Things Have Always Been,) when Chuck, my counselor/mentor/friend said in an aside, “You know, Americans don’t know HOW to grow old. They spend their lives trying to get to an age, then spend the rest of their lives trying to stay at that age.” (Reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote about in “The Last Battle” – Book 7 of the Chronicles of Narnia.) At the time, I just nodded my head & filed away the fact somewhere in the filing cabinet that is my brain. And when Pasty asked me “Uh, dad? You ok?” I was taken back to that conversation… to Chuck’s wise words, & I heard God say something like, “You’re getting old. It happens. And it’s time to EMBRACE it.”


Finally got a doctor’s appointment to get my sentence, err.. my new prescription. My distance vision is holding strong, (“YES!”) but my up close vision definitely requires a change to progressive lenses (so nice & euphemistic to call them progressive lenses instead of bifocals. It is supposed to soften the blow for those fighting the losing battle against time.) Went through the whole ordering process, & they should be ready for use. Wish me luck.


In this process, I have heard God quite a bit talking to me through Scripture, little whispers, & life experiences… the idea of my vision changing is no longer something that I am trying to fight or (vainly) hang on to. It’s an idea that I’m trying to grab hold of, full force. Because as my physical vision fails, & the doctor is helping to correct it, & help me see the world (& to READ, which is oh so important to everyday life,) God is also at work in me, changing & transforming my vision so that I can see the next steps for what’s coming in our lives, & for church, & for ministry. And when He does something, He does it well. So I’m believing in that & contending for that, & trusting that my see-ers (spiritual eyes) are being refined as well. Thank you, Jesus, for never wasting a change to teach, to reveal, & to encourage.


Dang it, it’s hot. I remember less than 1 month ago we had SNOWAnd now we’re on a streak of 95F+ for the foreseeable future. Summer.

“What is the BEST spaghetti sauce?” & other musings about growing in our relationship with God…

Over the next couple of weeks, our church is offering a series of “Marriage Refreshers” with the theme, “GROWING TOGETHER IN…” So far we’ve talked about GROWING TOGETHER IN communication & intimacy. Tonight, (10/13) we’re looking at GROWING TOGETHER IN our relationship with God. This past week at church, I promo-ed the topic; afterwards, someone asked me: “So, what is the best way that my spouse & I can grow together in our relationship with God?” I answered him, tongue-in-cheek: “That’s the wrong question.” And then I explained.


While I was going through my Masters program (the MASL at LIFE Pacific,) I was exposed to TED talks for the 1st time. What an incredible resource – delivered in 20 minutes or less every time. Here’s how it came about: during one of the lectures, our professor asked the question: “What is the BEST way to make a disciple of Jesus Christ?”

And then, he promptly answered himself, saying: “THAT is the wrong question. Find the RIGHT one.” As a part of our homework we were tasked with watching Malcolm Gladwell’s TED talk, with the idea that it would help us, in essence, to do exactly that. (That TED talk can be seen HERE. It’s definitely worth the watch.)

In it, Gladwell tells the story of how a spaghetti sauce manufacturer (it was Prego,)  hired a renowned researcher to answer the question: “What is the BEST spaghetti sauce?” After a couple of weeks, their researcher came back & told them: “You’re asking the wrong question… but I think I know the right one: It’s ‘What ARE the BEST spaghetti sauceS?'” The answers his question had garnered were numerous – & far from definitive in determining which 1 sauce reigned supreme. In fact, he found that the sauce 35% of America craved more than any other sauce wasn’t even on the market… (It was the thick & chunky spaghetti sauce, in case you’re wondering.) So Prego took their research & decided to develop several of the best, most craved spaghetti sauceS they could – & in response, their business boomed. When they stopped trying to find the ONE best sauce & instead brought forth SEVERAL of the best sauces, they found they could reach a much broader & more diverse cross-section of the population. (NOTE: Today, Prego has more than 35 sauces available…)


Which brings us back to the original question, albeit modified: “What ARE the best wayS that my spouse & I can grow together in our relationship with God?” And my answer (which is far from all-encompassing,) is, it depends. And, there are probably several ways you’ll find that are very helpful in growing together, in God. Some of the factors affecting how we (individually & as a couple,) learn, grow, & best experience God are:

  • Our personality type. Are you more introverted or extroverted? Sensing or intuitive? Thinking or feeling? Judging or perceiving? And what combinations of the above? (you can take a free, online “type” test HERE)
  • Our learning style. Are we visual (pictures & images)? Aural (sound/music)? Verbal (words/speech/writing)? Physical (hands on/kinesthetic/touch)? Logical (logic/reasoning/systems)? Social (in groups/with others)? Solitary (alone/self-study)? You can find out more about learning styles HERE.)
  • Our primary way(s) of experiencing connection with God. Are we:
    • Naturalists – moved by creation/time outdoors
    • Sensates – experiencers of God with the 5 senses, sights, sounds, smells
    • Traditionalists – find great meaning in ritual, symbols, sacraments, celebration of the ancient practices of our faith (e.g. the Daily Office, Lectio Divina, etc..)
    • Ascetics – don’t need ‘stuff’ – find meaning in solitude, simplicity, & a quiet internal world.
    • Activists – experiencers of God through confrontation of injustice (think Isaiah 58)
    • Caregivers – lovers of God displayed through caring for & loving others.
    • Enthusiasts – experiencers of the mystery & celebration of faith, (think: cheerleaders for Christ & Christ-following.)
    • Contemplatives – experiencers of God through adoration & “being” (think” Mary of Bethany sitting at Jesus’ feet.)
    • Intellectuals – experiencers of God through study, worshiping with the mind through exploring theology, the Bible, & faith concepts.

In a nutshell – for a couple to grow together, in God, both parties will be pursuing their own relationship with God, taking faith steps, spending time with Him in a variety of ways & places. And both parties will also be engaging in their lives together with God as the context in which they do so… relationships are built when we share time & space, with a common focus. So going to church together; having ‘spiritual’ conversations about each one’s own interactions, experiences, questions, & wonderings; participating in a “marriage refresher” & then intentionally taking time to talk through personal & “as a couple” applications, goals, & growth points; engaging with one another in our spouse’s preferred context for connecting with God; all of these are ways we can grow together, in Him. And that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of possibilities that await…

When both parties are pursuing God & each other – it’s a beautiful thing. And it never grows old.

Mourning with those who mourn…

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something…” So says Westley/the Dread Pirate Roberts to Princess Buttercup in the 1987 classic, “The Princess Bride.” While I don’t totally subscribe to the idea that life is ONLY pain, I can say from my own experiences, life involves a lot of pain… & I believe one of the greatest sources of pain comes from the grief & sadness which accompany the loss of a loved one.


Over the last year, I have walked through this thing called grief with several dear friends as someone dear to them – mother, husband, father, son, friend – died unexpectedly/without warning. These experiences of soul devastation have a way of shaking a person to the foundation of their very being, as life after the loss will never be the same as it was before. Living & loving in connected relationships leaves an indelible mark on us – & when our loved one is gone, life is not ‘ok’. Nothing is normal. Our emotions are all over the place. And anything more than merely gutting it through each day seems to be a pipe dream.

Places. Songs. Special events. Holidays. All things that remind us of our loved one, with a pain that mocks us with the fact that Nothing will ever be the same again. And then there’s the people – mostly well-meaning people that can see we’re in pain, & they’d like to do something about it, but they really don’t know what to say… & yet they say stuff anyways. These words can range from the silly, like, “The Lord just needed another angel in Heaven,” to religious clichés: “The Lord moves in mysterious ways,” or “One day you’ll know the reason God took your loved one.” Then there’s the insensitive, “How long are you going to grieve? Should you be past this already?” only to be topped by the horrifying: “God took your loved one because He knew that later in life they were going to fall away from Him,” or, “If only you had had enough faith, your loved one wouldn’t have died – it’s on you.” (I’ve personally heard each of these in reference to my brother’s death.) In the words of a great man, “If you don’t know what to say, limit your words.” (Thanks for that, Jerry Cook!)


Earlier this year, a dear friend lost her husband – & as part of her grieving, left her home town & went with her daughter to visit a collection of “safe people:” Close, supportive friends, the kind who have your back in any/every situation. TheBean & I count it an honor to be on this friend’s list of “safe” people. I can remember her sitting in our kitchen & matter-of-factly saying, “Tell me everything you know about grieving. Because I want to grieve well.”

Here’s the jist of what I said:

Our grieving, mourning, & hurting from the loss of a loved one can make us want to isolate. To withdraw. Turn inward. Pull away. Attempt to work through our grief solo. I get it. But I think doing that only makes it worse. As Christians, we (hopefully) have the benefit of a community of people that we’re walking through life with – people that we can celebrate life’s joys with… & people that we can mourn life’s great losses with as well.

I personally know how uncomfortable it is to be in a public place (like church) & be so overwhelmed & overcome with grief that the sobs just roll out, along with an endless supply of tears, & even a sense of pain that’s so fresh it feels like the loss just happened. Being around others in a situation like that can be awkward, because we’re totally vulnerable. Totally exposed. Raw. On our last nerve. And we hurt. And in that spot we cry & we pray & we ask God to make the hurt stop.

And then God answers our prayers with people.

  • People who will sit in silence with us, not having to say anything, but rather just offering the gift of their presence in our grief.
  • People who will hold & comfort us, no matter how long the grieving has been going.
  • People who aren’t in a hurry for us to “get past” or “get through” our grief – because they understand that even if its been years since the loss, the grief can still come in fresh & powerful waves.
  • People who will reminisce with us about our loved one. Who will tell stories about what they loved about them, about the things they did that impacted their life.
  • People who recognize that everywhere they go, they are a little piece of Jesus. And as such, when they come across others hurting, in pain, grieving, & broken, they can be a point of life & comfort.

There will always be those who say/do something that makes us wonder if its really a good idea to grieve/work through lives in the company of a community. I say It’s worth it. Maybe I won’t open up to everybody, but with the safe people, yeah, I do. And I will. Because when a friend comes alongside us in our grief, they shoulder some of the hurt & pain & loss… & it makes the situation just a little more bearable.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15 NIV

Two dates…

Two dates. Eventually, all of us will experience them. The first is the day we’re born. The second is the day we’ll die. Two dates.

My brother Johnny’s two dates are January 22, 1973 & June 17, 1990 – today is the anniversary of his heaven-going. (NOTE: I wrote a bit about Johnny earlier this year in a blog called have faith.)


I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit about those two dates lately. Part of it has to do with the intensive that theBean & I went through last week at HOTHIn our time there, we experienced mentoring, coaching, counseling, & therapy (if it is possible to separate the counseling & therapy. I did in my mind because, to me, there were very distinct difference between the 2. I’ll have to ask my Buddy the Therapist how he differentiates the 2. Or if he does. But I digress.)

One of the things that came out in our sessions is that, based upon negative/bad experiences (things I did/things done to me/things that happened to others,) we formulate ideas, thoughts, & beliefs that are honest (truly what we think, feel, & believe,) but that aren’t based on truth (a.k.a. what God says, what He declares is true of me & my identity.) These beliefs can & do shape our attitudes, thoughts, & behaviors, often in very negative & painful ways. One of those that has once again emerged, (& that I have been fortunate to have people wrestle through with me over the years,) is the belief that I am inadequate, insufficient, & wholly lacking in the areas I need for life, for relationships, for my ‘job.’ This belief does not have a strong hold on my life — due in large part to the many hours of theophostic prayer with Dennis & Georgia, hours of counseling & talks with Chuck, God’s boundless goodness & grace in revealing to me, through His word, through our ‘talks’ what He thinks of me, & finally through dear friendships full of good words & forgiveness.

Still, during the intensive – as I tracked negative experiences on yellow post-it notes (I will  forever associate negative feelings with yellow post-its… so say we all) – I saw this consistent theme of inadequacy & insufficiency surface repeatedly… it got to the point that, as I looked at my years from a birds-eye view, I saw the thread linking them together, a diabolical, dehumanizing thread meant to put me into a shell, consumed with self-doubt & loathing, bound by fear, too timid to DO anything for fear of being discovered for what I was. Not enough.

I saw that thread & it pissed me off. Made me angry at the time I spent dwelling on those negative thoughts. Angry at the damage done TO me & BY me as a result of those beliefs. But most of all, angry at the enemy of my soul, enemy of OUR souls, the one who strikes at us, who looks to keep us from the saving grace of God through Christ if he can, & if he can’t, he’s the one who looks to steal from us, kill us off slowly, & methodically destroy every area of our lives.


For years, I felt like somehow I’d failed my brother… that, as crazy as it sounds, I should have been able to do something to keep him from dying. And that if I couldn’t keep him from dying, I should have spent more time with him, especially in his last year of life. (The SHOULD HAVES are a crushing weight… over time I have come to believe that when I feel a should have fall on my shoulders like a ton of blame & shame, its origin is usually coming from the enemy who’s trying, ever trying, to condemn, accuse, lying, & shame. So I verbally tell the should haves to go to hell. In Jesus Name.)

I know why I feel responsible for Johnny, (not to mention Joel & Ben;) its because I’m the oldest. The firstborn. I took on the responsibility when I was 4, & somewhere in there a parental encouragement of “Watch over your brothers while I go to the store,” became something never intended: You, Louie, are the one who is responsible to make sure that nothing bad happens to your brothers. And if it does, its because you somehow failed. Or you were inadequate. Or you should have  done something better. Or different. Or both.

See what I mean about a crushing weight?


When my parents brought Johnny home from UCSF, I was unaware that he was coming home to die, & would die soon, apart from a miracle healing from God. How was I unaware? Well, if you work hard, don’t ask questions, & pretend that life is really normal & nothing bad is happening, & your brother is in San Francisco for treatment but he’s really getting better, & then he’ll come home & life will resume, it’s really pretty easy.

Until I saw him. He was laying in his hospital bed, downstairs at my parents house. His abdomen was distended, & I didn’t know why. So I asked. And he told me, “It’s my liver.” And then I knew. I noticed the yellowish tint to his eyes, his skin. The general overall weakness of his countenance. How much weight he had lost. And then I knew.

And the previous 12 months of denial reproached me like a slap to the face. I had avoided the reality of the situation because it hurt to much to acknowledge it.

I wish I’d spent more time talking with Johnny through his months of treatment, because the conversations I did have are some of the most precious memories I have. Because in the middle of the sickness, the pain, the suffering… my brother found a depth of faith & trust in God, something I can only call true maturity in Christ. I’m thankful for my mom recording & writing down some of the conversations she had with him too. Because they provide an insight to what really matters.

Here’s what I mean:  Instead of getting bitter or angry at God about his short life, the cancer, & all the things he’d lost or wouldn’t get to experience, he fully embraced what he HAD. His life. And his life’s purpose – to live for the glory of God, in the middle of WHATEVER circumstances he faced. In the face of death, in the midst of pain, he lived & died for that purpose. To have that kind of resolve, that kind of outlook on life, that kind of focus is something that motivates & inspires me every single day. He lived a good story, the kind of story that makes me want to be a better man.


Two dates. My first one is September 19, 1969. And my second one? Don’t know.

But I can tell you this. I will live & strive to live for the glory of God in every area of my life. To live a good story. To be the best husband, father, grandfather, son, & friend that I can be. Because when I do that, I’m honoring Johnny & God.


“We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything & that humanity has no great purpose. It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, & how happy it makes us to repeat them.”

Donald Miller – A Million Miles In A Thousand Years

Family dinner, IT’S A BOY!, & a journey to feeling…

One of my favorite things at this phase of life is getting together with my family – my kids, their spouses/fiance’ & families – for a meal. Being able to gather in one of our houses for a couple hours of good talks, laughter, fun, & of course food. This last Saturday we got together at Joey & Grace’s place for an early dinner – tacos. It was a little surreal for theBean & me as we brought drinks & let the rest of the family take care of the cooking. And goodness! Those Locke girls are really great cooks! I could get used to this.


Upon our arrival, we discovered that the girls had planned a surprise for us – not only were we going to eat great food… it was a gender-reveal party for Johnny & Joelle’s little 22-weeks-along-or-so biscuit… our grandbaby. They were really creative in how they set up the living room/kitchen… there was a white board where everyone not in the know could place their vote (Mister or Miss)… pink & blue balloons abounded… as did white-chocolate covered pink & blue popcorn… Nuts or No-Nuts M&M’s… lots of fun.

And then it was time to find out… a closed box full of chocolate strawberries was produced & Joelle teased the moment just long enough for my emotions to kick-in & my eyes to get misty… & then she popped the lid… IT’S A BOY! They’re having a boy. Which means grandson #3 for us. We couldn’t be happier.


Up until I was about 30 years old, I would have had a difficult time identifying the majority of emotions I felt. Mostly I cultivated a stoic, Spock-like (or Lt. Data, pre-emotion chip, for you TNG fans,) visage to cope with the overflowing cauldron of unidentified, powerful, & often incapacitating feelings swirling around somewhere near where I’d identify the location of my guts.

Sorting through faded memories I remember some of my early life’s painful things: being bullied… I was a pretty small kid who turned his L’s & R’s into W’s, which made me the target of a handful of boys (& one 5th grade girl) at ages 5 & 6. Being mocked for wearing Toughskins jeans sized “Husky” (which evidently got translated as “Fat” by my 3rd grade class). Being picked last for sports. Abuse at the hands of a relative. Being told in 6th grade I didn’t have a good voice for public speaking (I had had to do a speech for reading class & after I finished my ‘helpful’ teacher was evidently trying to point me away from a career path where I’d have to talk in public…) The list goes on.

I also remember GOOD memories. Positive things. Finding out I was going to be a big brother, 3x/over. Excelling in school. Making a real friend who would stand with me. Parents who worked long hours at multiple jobs to provide for our family. Falling in love with the Giants via my transistor radio & a headphone… knowing in the deepest part of me that I knew Jesus Christ, & even more importantly, He knew me too.

Through all of it, good & bad, joy & pain, I never really knew what to do with my feelings when they rose up, other than not being quick to get angry… (learned that from the Bible). So, I kinda just let them be, not realizing the impact that would have on my own life, but especially on my relationships with others. I kept people at a distance (physical & emotional). I rarely shared my real thoughts & feelings with others, & the few times I really risked, my over-correction/self-protection responses kicked in at the speed of a snapping resistance band that’d been stretched too far. This led to me being angry a lot of the time… or at least on the verge of being angry. Loved ones, esp. theBean, Pasty, iDoey, & theWeez, walked on egg-shells around me, never knowing what would make me ‘snap.’ And I never cried.


So what changed when I hit 30? I came home from work & heard my oldest son say, “Dad’s home!” This was accompanied by the sound of little feet scampering… AWAY from the front door. They all ran to hide. In their rooms. I was crushed… & asked theBean if I was really as bad as it seemed I was… & she bravely answered my pop-the-lid-off-the-can-of-worms question truthfully. And hearing her answers, watching her tears, & seeing her pain (& fear) hurt worse than just about anything I’d ever been through… I hated this, & felt powerless to do anything about it.

And then I felt a nudge. “Go see a counselor.” A guy I’d grown up with had just moved back into the area to open a counseling office… & his name was the one that I believe God popped into my head… so I called his office, & made an appointment. I saw him 12 times, (1x/week for 12 weeks). There were no real “A-ha” moments in those weeks, no ground-breaking, earth-shattering times when the angels sang, the heavens parted, & the lights shone down on me. But something definitely changed, or at least began to change. The counseling sessions, the questions asked, & the investment of money we really didn’t have to spare (still remember it was $120/session…) coupled with my drive for self-improvement & the insights of the Holy Spirit helped me identify WHAT I was feeling… another dear friend & mentor, Chuck, helped me through countless conversations & questions discover how to find out WHY I was feeling what I was. Through it all I was growing in what I’ve since discovered is called “Emotional Intelligence.” 


And then one day I was wrestling with a general feeling of “blah.” Like I was stuck in emotional quicksand, aware of the overwhelming-ness of being down in a hole with no real idea or ability to get out. I remember asking myself out loud, “WHAT is wrong with me?” And I got a response from the Holy Spirit… “You need to grieve the loss of your brother.”  I had no idea what that meant. I thought I’d done that when he’d died 11 years earlier.. How was I supposed to grieve him again?

So I talked myself through it, & verbally identified different feelings I had surrounding the memories of the discovery of Johnny’s cancer. The months of separation, distance, & treatment. Good news from the doctors only to be followed by news of a relapse. Nothing more to be done. The anger I felt at the nurse who asked him, “So, you want to die here in the hospital or at home…” His last weeks. Our last conversation. My heaven-directed, heart-rending desperate prayer in my parents driveway, asking for a hope-beyond-hope miracle. The phone call that came on Fathers’ Day, June 16, 1990 at the crack of dawn/doom. The empty spot in my heart. The funeral. The conversations with well-meaning friends who, not knowing what to say, said stupid things anyway. (NOTE:” If you don’t know what to say, limit your words. Sometimes your presence does more than any words you could say.” -Jerry Cook.)

And the tears started to flow. Like a summer rain, it started slow & then turned into a tempest. I was crying. Snotty-faced, out of control, can’t breathe, no sounds coming out/terrible anguish sounds coming out – Crying. The dam in my soul that had been there seemingly my whole life broke. And not just a little. It BLEW UP.  And I cried. About everything. Nothing. It felt like I spent the next year crying, & I didn’t know how to make it stop. Chuck wisely said, “Well, maybe you’re just catching up on all the years you DIDN’T cry.” And he smiled when he said it.


I don’t think any of my kids remember their dad who didn’t cry & who was pissed off most of the time. What they remember (& rehearse to the point that it’s an inside joke) is that I am a crier. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. I cry at movies. When I listen to really great music. I cry when I’m proud of them, & I cry when they hurt. TheWeez said she didn’t want me to do her wedding because, after all, “You’ll just be a crying mess. You can sit in the front row & do that.”  She knows me :).


And so I go back to Saturday, to the gender-reveal party… I had already cried at finding out they were pregnant. And in that moment right before the pink box was opened to let us know IT’S A BOY!, I felt the flood of emotion overcome me. By this point in my life, I have gotten more comfortable with my feelings & emotions, & its not a foregone conclusion anymore that I’m going to be a weepy & melty mess when it happens. I can remember thinking, “K.I.T. Keep It Together.” And I only cried a little bit. A couple tears, rolling down the face in a most-meaningful way.

And we celebrated our soon-coming grandson. And a growing family. And I thought about the  journey of emotional discovery, growth, & freedom of the last 16 years… & I’m so thankful for a God who wouldn’t leave me bottled up & broken, but who answered my prayers with people to help me.

Musings on a Monday…the hog.

Honda50I was in 3rd grade & it was Report Card day. I remember this because Report Card day was a Big Deal at my house, because it meant my parents got to see how I was doing in school… & not just the Academic grade, (which was, of course, important,) but also my Citizenship grade… which may have been the most important one to my parents.

Well, as a 1st born over-achiever, I was already well on my way to developing my perfectionistic tendencies… & I had pretty well dominated all that 3rd grade could throw at me. I had A’s on top of A’s, & loads of extra credit. I remember distinctly my parents telling me that I’d done well & that they were proud of me. And, as a words of affirmation person, that was the only reward I wanted/needed, & was truly the only inspiration necessary for me to keep pursuing academic excellence.


My parents had other ideas – I was laying on the floor of the living room of our house on Upson Lane watching TV… it must have been a good show, because I can remember hearing the muted roar of what was obviously some time of motorized scooter or bike, & not even turning around or looking to see what the noise was. After all, the sound was a pretty normal one for our house… for as long as I can remember, my dad has had motorcycles/dirt bikes, & pretty soon you learn to kind of tune out the sound.

Not today. It got louder. Drew nearer. I even had to turn the TV up.

And then it was in the living room. A red Honda 50cc minibike. And my dad was riding it. In the house. And then he got off of it. And said, “Its yours.”

Mine. My very own minibike. I put on a helmet & immediately rode it down Upson Lane into Margot Circle, thereby incurring the wrath of several homeowners who did NOT share the joy I was feeling & called the police on me to make sure that such boundless joy was muted & relegated to the appropriate places, namely, far away from them.


I rode the minibike, my “hog,” every chance I got – soon after, we moved from Upson Lane to Golden Valley – its dirt roads, vacant lots, & general separation/distance from the City meant most of the world was my racetrack. It was joyous. I rode with friends, with neighbors, with my brother, by myself. I tried jumping it over puddles (& caught absolutely ZERO air.) The memories from a good portion of the next couple of years center on the hog.

And then I grew up.


Really, I don’t remember when I stopped riding the hog – it was probably when I realized that it only went about 25 mph… & it was so small. And I was more interested in baseball & football, & the unwritten rule was no motorbikes during the sports seasons. I think my brothers rode the hog too, but I can’t draw specific memories with them on it. I just knew that like many things from my childhood, my parents kept the hog in the garage with the thought that Someday they’d get it running again. For the grandkids.


Over the last few months, I’d heard a couple of stories about the minibike’s restoration. My dad found a guy who fell in love with it & had been working on it. No other details. Then Friday, I was dispatched by theBean to go to Carson City to pick up a barstool that she’d commissioned my mom to get for her (it’s a long story, but it involves multiple visits to ROSS stores all over Reno/Sparks/Carson CIty.)  I decided to turn it into a visit – to have some time to talk & have coffee with my mom in celebration of the impending Mothers’ Day. Near the end of my visit, my dad said, with a twinkle in his eye, “Want to see something?” We followed him into the garage & lo & behold! in the corner of the garage was the red Honda 50cc minibike… but instead of it being well-used, scratched up, & out of commission, it looked… good. Really good. I examined it closer & found that there had been a lot of work done. Engine. Gas lines. Other technical engine thing-ies. And then my dad started it. As soon as I heard the first roar of the engine I was transported back to being 9. I closed my eyes & listened to the engine purr & enjoyed the flood of memories that bombarded my mind.

And then he asked, “Do you want to ride it?” As silly as it sounds, I hadn’t even considered it, but as soon as I knew I had the opportunity, I wanted to. I tentatively climbed aboard, (one doesn’t just cavalierly mount a Honda 50,) & re-familiarized myself with the gears, hand & foot brakes… & I took off down the driveway.

The hog roared in 1st gear toward the chosen challenge – the hill above my parents’ house. I kicked it into 2nd gear, & felt a tiny surge of power as it climbed the hill, slowly picking up speed. Felt like I could ride for days. The sound & smell of the bike, the feeling of the wind on my face, the beautiful day, the memories…

Next thing I knew, tears were streaming down my face, whipped & dried by the wind. I don’t know what happened, but riding that minibike for those 10 minutes did something in my heart & I felt a joy that was so foreign yet familiar that I almost didn’t recognize it… a leftover from days where I used to do things Just Because they were Fun. What happened to that boy? I miss him.

It was beautiful.

Lost…& found…

When I went to get dressed this morning, I couldn’t find my pants. So, I did what we most like were all taught to do: think. Where was the last time you had your ______? That tactic usually works… except with my pants, I was pretty sure I knew where my pants were, because, hey, I don’t normally take my pants off until I get into the privacy of my own room. It’s a thing.

So then I had to ask myself the question: Is there any other place I could have taken my pants off? I have to say I couldn’t think of ANYWHERE I could have… & then I was sad. REALLY sad. Those were my pants, the pants that I liked, the pants that fit me. It is hard to find pants that fit, & those really did.

My sadness flowed into a low-grade melancholy as I searched around the closet for something else to wear… I’d had my heart set on my pants, & now they were gone, who knows where. I sighed. And remembered…

I went to the gym last night after work, & I hadn’t had time to change into my gym clothes before I left work (normally I change before I leave work. It’s a thing. But I digress). Maybe I left my pants in the locker at the gym. With no lock on the locker. NOTE: I know it’s probably not a good thing to rely solely on a presumed Mens’ Locker room etiquette or code that no one would touch my pants (& my black Under Armour polo!), but its been working for me so far.

However, I’d never stretched the limits of this “Mens’ Locker Room Code” overnight. So hoping beyond hope, I called the gym & asked if someone would check to see if my pants were still in the locker I used; left the guessed locker number, my name & number & waited for a call back. Figured it would take about 5 minutes or so. I waited 10 & decided to go check the locker room myself.


 

Arrived at the gym 10 minutes later, identified myself as the caller who may have left his pants overnight in a locker. The girl at the front desk said, “My manager was just in there & couldn’t find anything.” Wonderful. But I wouldn’t believe it until I checked.

Over the years, I have learned that when something doesn’t belong to someone, they aren’t nearly as diligent in looking for lost things as is the individual who lost it. Those were my pants, & if they were in the locker room, I would find them. I went to the locker number I had guessed & BOOM! There were my pants, still hanging majestically on the hook where I’d left them the night before.

A flood of joy WAY too big for the occasion poured over me. I was giddy. Laughed out loud & danced a little jig. The melancholy was gone as quickly as it had come, & a joy replaced it. I walked from the locker room, pants held high all the way out the front door. The girl at the front desk clapped for me & cheered, “Yay!” (Evidently she values pants nearly as much as I do.) The manager who “looked” for my pants didn’t meet my victorious gaze as I walked to my car. This was going to be a good day.


 

I sat down in my car getting ready to head to work & I heard God say, “You know how happy you are because you found your pants? Think how happy I get when a person who’s lost turns back to Me.” Made me cry happy tears. Not for my pants, but for a God who could use something as trivial as my pants to remind me how valuable each one of us is to Him.

Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.” Luke 15:7, The Message


For more on what God thinks about people turning to Him, check out Luke 15.