LA, HOTH, reputations, & other musings…

HOTHSummer of 1986, I participated in an outreach to Mexico City. The City was hosting the World Cup & our team was helping with a church start that launched during the tournament. On our way to Mexico, our team stopped in Los Angeles for a night… my youth pastor had attended LIFE Bible College when it was in Echo Park,  & he was able to get us a hook up so we could stay in the LIFE dorms for one night for free. The girls dorms. (This blog isn’t about that, but it was a pretty cool experience for a 16 year old boy to open a door to a dormitory & find out he is surrounded, literally, by dozens of college aged women. Makes me smile even recalling that memory.)

My youth pastor had regaled us with stories of how dangerous  Echo Park was… stories of muggings, vandalism, drugs, & burglaries. We were told not to leave the dorm & most definitely DON’T walk the streets. The stories stuck with me for the last 30 years, & in my mind, I have always seen downtown LA/Echo Park as a pretty dicey place, a dangerous place, a place I didn’t want to stop & smell the proverbial roses.


Last week, theBean & I went to LA for a 2-day coaching/mentoring intensive…& it was going to be happening in the “House on the Hill,” (a.k.a. HOTH, not the ice-planet. No Taun Tauns were seen,) so named because its a very big 9000+ sq/ft house on a hill. I knew the house was really nice, but it was in downtown LA.. a block from Sunset Blvd. Echo Park. Lots of crime. Gang activity. Bars on the windows & doors.  After we checked in, we talked with our hosts about the usual important stuff: where can we get food? He mentioned several places, noting that they were all in walking distance from the HOTH.

Walking? As in, walking walking?

Yes. Walking distance. And he told us a story. Over the years, the neighborhood changed. It got better. It became a really nice place to live, whether it was due to gentrificationurban renewal, new people/people groups moving into the area, or something else. I almost couldn’t believe it, & had difficulty trying to imagine the neighborhood being as my host described it, contrasted with the memories & ideas about it that were bouncing around my head at a million miles an hour.


And so we decided to walk to dinner. We’d been craving Italian food, specifically pizza, & of course one of the Best Pizza Places In All The Land happened to be a 15 minute walk away. (BTW – if you are in the area, you have to go to Masa of Echo Park We had the Lots of Meat Chicago-style pizza, & in my opinion, it was the best Chicago-style pizza I’ve ever had. And that includes Chicago-style pizza that I had in Chicago at the Pizzeria Uno. But I digress.) 

It was beautiful.

It reminded me of walking in a German city… the air was fresh & clean, & the streets were filled with  neighborhood markets, mom & pop stores, restaurants, & music shops (it is LA). And a COMMUNITY – a real, tangible community of people. It was obvious that it wouldn’t take too long to get to meet & interact with the people who lived there… the people in the neighborhood, living life, raising their families, & enjoying themselves.

My daily walks with our host confirmed it – we walked for about 2 hours each morning on a trail that took us through Elysian Park (We actually only walked for about an hour, but my host stopped & talked to people in their stores & along the trail so often the 1 hour walk lasted 2 hours. But that’s how he rolls. But I digress.) It is a truly incredible neighborhood.


I think one of the favorite memories I will take from this trip comes from walking the streets of the neighborhood, in Echo Park. The sights, sounds, smells, & PEOPLE of the city. I walk here at home, but its definitely not the same experience. No one will ever confuse Reno with downtown LA.

It also made me wonder. Did I do the same thing with people that I’d done with Echo Park? Here’s what I mean:

For years, I had “known” the bad reputation Echo Park had, & I’d rehearsed it often in my head & in conversations as friends talked about visiting LA… I didn’t need anyone to tell me anything new about LA or Echo Park, because I “knew” everything I needed to know about it. It’s a bad, dangerous, place. I had written it off.

Until reality confronted me – it’s changed. It’s transformed. Its the kind of place I want to take my grandkids to walk around & expose them to a different way of life. Its the kind of place I want to go back to. For the people. The restaurants. The feeling of life in the city.

And if we hadn’t decided to risk & trust our hosts & get out & walk the streets, we would have missed it.

People can get reputations too. One’s they’ve earned. Bad ones. Reputations that make you want to steer clear of them, because you “know” them & how they are. Except… what if they’ve changed? Been transformed? Experienced new life?

It’s worth it to try, to risk, to keep an open heart towards others… to NOT write them off as lost causes. Because God is a specialist in lost causes… in people with bad reputations. And He has a way of making them new.

 

 

Tuesday musings…

There’s been construction of some sort happening at work for so long I almost forget what it’s like to NOT have men (& women) at work, with things in a constant state of not quite finished. It’s a reminder that we can get used to just about anything through prolonged exposure. I guess that’s why its important to always invite “Outside Eyes” to look into our lives to point out the things that might be off, weird, or just need questioning.


Baseball is a metaphor for life. For so many reasons. Think about it: its possible to fail 70% of the time & still be considered an All-Star. You can knock the cover off the ball & make an out, or you can do THIS & drive in the winning run for your team in the bottom of the 9th. Go Giants.


The last few days I have been on a Sam Harfst kick – he’s a German musician/artist whose music I became acquainted with about 10 years ago when a dear friend gave me his Audiotagebuch CD. I’ve been a fan ever since… a lot of the music is in German, but he’s got quite a few songs in English… & I think one whole album. THIS is a video of one my favorites, “Das Leben ist schoen,” or “Life is beautiful.”  To me, what he does is a better version of Ed Sheeran – thoughtful, melodic, simple, & easy on the ears. Check his music out on Spotify. You’ll thank me later.


Its funny to me how God speaks to people in different ways… it seems a lot of the time, He inspires a thought or idea, one so simply placed that it seems to originate in one’s own heart/mind… & then what follows from acting on that initial thought is so obviously something He had a hand in orchestrating it makes me wonder how we could ever have thought the original idea had its genesis with us. Case in point: last week, our preschool team leaders, theBean & Steph, had a request from a couple of parents of existing students if we (the preschool our church runs) would be open to taking babies into the school when they delivered their kids at some point several months in the future. Now, we’re licensed for babies, but we haven’t done baby care for years because of the amount of work & labor they require. But, this time, with these requests, it seemed like a good idea. We could do 2 babies. And be open to the idea of more should there be anyone calling needing baby care. This was Thursday, May 19. As of yesterday, May 23, we have 5 babies on site, with 2 more coming soon. Not counting the original 2 we agreed to open the baby side of daycare for. Boom!


One of the things I underestimated about my boys getting married: the oceans of love that I feel for my daughters-in-law. What incredible gifts they are.


I saw pictures of my daughter, theWeez, in her wedding dress, all decked out with Swag & a veil… pictures taken during a fitting last week. It must have gone well, as the dress has now been squirreled away until its time… I could see hints of my little girl in those pictures. Mostly what I saw was a beautiful woman… with all the hopes & dreams of life & love in front of her. Makes me cry happy tears. Go figure.


Everybody has a story. A past. Many have unmentionable things they have endured, survived. And they’re somehow functioning, making their way through life with varying degrees of success. Reminds me to be a person who lives out & extends God’s grace to people, even when its tough. Because God gives His grace to me.


Read something yesterday from Jerry’s journal – his thoughtful take on what it meant, to him, to be a spiritual person. I thought his 7 points were spot on, & even better, they provide some concrete reference points in a world where its hip & cool to identify oneself as “spiritual, but not religious.” Check it out, & click the links for the verses he references:

7 ELEMENTS OF SPIRITUALITY – from Jerry Cook’s Journal

1. My awareness and acknowledgement of God’s presence (Heb. 13:5; Col. 1:23-27)
2. My ability to recognize and respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:25)
3. My ability to sense and respond to the needs of those close to me (James 2:14-17)
4. My ability to verbalize my faith (1 Pet. 3:15)
5. My ability to see and appreciate beauty (Psalm 19:1-4)
6. My ability to live a life of worship (Psalm 117:1-2)
7. My sense of destiny (Eph. 2:10)

Sure miss that man. Once he called me “A little piece of Jesus…” And each day, I do my best to live up to that… Jerry could really say, maybe better than anyone I’ve ever met, “Follow me, as I follow Christ…”

Still following…

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.

Have faith. Have faith.

John Leavy LockeRamblings from my head – from January 22, 2016, the day that would have been John Leavy Locke’s 43rd birthday.

When I was 4, I used to sit on the sidewalk in front of my house & watch the 3 boys across the street play in their front yard. And I thought they were so lucky because they had brothers that were old enough to play with. And all I had was a 1-year old little brother, Johnny, that wasn’t good for much except crying & refusing to eat his peas & carrots. One day, my dad came out & sat next to me on the curb while I watched the neighbors playing, again, & he told me, “Before you know it, Johnny will be big & he’ll be able to play & you guys will have so much fun. And he will grow up to be your best friend.” I can remember thinking in my head, “Maybe. But that time is SO FAR away…”

But it happened. Johnny grew up. And we DID become best friends – we spent our childhood playing baseball & football from dawn til dusk in the backyard. One of my favorite things was to teach Johnny how to do something – we had a baseball tee in the backyard, & he was trying to hit the ball off the tee, without success. He said, “Help me Louie!?” And I did. And I loved it.

Sometimes the games carried into the house, with the predictable destructive results to the house – & also to Johnny – I remember trying to teach him what form tackling was in the living room. I was on my knees to make it fair – & he ran the football towards the end zone (aka the fireplace) & I launched myself at him & sent him sprawling. I was so proud of my form tackle that I didn’t notice him get up & run as fast as he could to the back of the house. I yelled at him, “Come back here you chicken. You have to tackle me now.” He didn’t come back… turns out when he fell he hit his forearm on a screw sticking out of an open door – & his forearm was sliced open, clean as a whistle, no blood at all, from his wrist to his elbow. Good times.

We did everything together – early morning paper routes, collecting baseball cards, cheering for the hapless SF Giants, feeding the dogs & chickens… although somehow he found ways to be missing when it was time to clean the chicken coops. Johnny was a great athlete, probably the best out of the four of us boys, & worked incredibly hard at everything he did. When I was 12, my Little League manager pulled Johnny up from the Farm division & promoted him to Majors. We got to play ½ a season together… & it was obvious that while I still had the upper hand, he was going to be much, much better than I was at baseball. I remember one of my teammates asking me if I was mad that my brother was on our team now… I said, “Nope. He’s good.”

The older we got, the better friends we became…And the more intense our fights got. I’d wake him up in the morning & he’d welcome me with a baseball aimed at my head. We’d wrestle & somehow I’d end up with a bloody nose because Johnny had ‘accidentally” kneed or elbowed me in the face… again. Our conversations shifted towards topics fitting our teen years… Sports. Girls. Music. His interest in “New Wave” fashion – he was a fashion-ista & rocked board shorts, surfer t-shirt & black/white/red Air Jordans as easily as he did cool pegged jeans, top-siders, & pastel button ups. Goodness, he was confident – so sure of himself, much more so than I ever was. I appreciated his strength, his sarcasm, his ability to show compassion, his loyalty, as well as the killer instinct on a football/baseball field. He was my best friend.

The memories whirl around me like I’m in the eye of a hurricane, & they’re flying around me, so vividly faint that I feel overcome… & I don’t want them to stop.


When Johnny was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, everything in our family got turned upside down. My strong, independent brother became fragile & dependent on others for the most basic of tasks. He spent quite a bit of his last months in San Francisco receiving experimental treatments in the hope that his body would rebound. I didn’t know how to deal with the hurt, pain, grief, & other negative emotions I felt, so I did what I knew: I poured myself into work, hoping beyond hope that when I finally lifted my nose off the grindstone, everything would be back to normal. It never happened.

And through it all, I watched my little brother Johnny grow as he experienced the closeness of a God who would never leave or forsake him, even when he was walking through the Valley of the shadow of death. In many ways, my faith in Christ had been theoretical – never before tested; then, right in front of my eyes, I got to see what it looked like to persevere in the face of adversity, to find joy & peace in times of despair & chaos. I got to see & hear the response of a 17 year old who was asked, “So, do you want to die in the hospital or at home?” He said, “I’m going home. And if I die, I will bring God glory. And if I live, I will bring Him glory. Either way, I win.” And he meant it.

In his last days, Johnny received assurances from heaven in the form of dreams. He didn’t go into a whole lot of detail about them, but there was a calm, a peace, a sort of anticipation present in his eyes & his countenance. He was in & out of consciousness quite a bit – one of the last things he said to my parents was, “Have faith. Have faith.” And he meant it.

Saturday night, June 16, 1990, Joni & I visited my parents home & Johnny in the downstairs – he was mostly out of it, but we hung out for a while & talked to him. We got up to leave & I told him I loved him. As I walked up the stairs, I can remember him faintly saying, “Love you Louie.”

We got a call from my mom early the next morning – Johnny had gone to be with Jesus at 4:34 a.m. Sunday, June 17, 1990. Father’s Day. His last words: “Help me Louie!?”

I’m still trying to “help him” everyday…


Within this last year, my two sons have gotten married; myWeez, my little princess, got engaged. So many things like this I wish I could share with my brother. So many things I wish my kids would have gotten to know about him, & having him involved in their lives. I feel like his physcial presence would more readily explain the passion with which my son Johnny attacks life; the fiercely compassionate temperament of my son Joey; the wit, sense of humor, & smile of theWeez. They’re a lot like him & don’t even know it.

I see Johnny in each of them, & I’m so glad that these parts of Johnny living on into the next generation.

So, in his honor, & to the glory of God I say to you today, “Have faith. Have faith.”

Happy birthday Johnny.

Monday afternoon musings…

This morning I observed the normal hustle & bustle of our start to the week – thePastyGangster dropped Mason on his way to work so that Auntie Weezie could take him to preschool. He entered the kitchen in a whirlwind of energy & didn’t slow down. Frank came bounding down the stairs so theBean could take him to school… then rushed back upstairs at least 2 more times because he forgot something. (For such a little guy he sure makes a lot of noise.) iDoey was up & at ’em making breakfast… everyone was headed in different directions at 100 m.p.h. Still, it was a good morning.

The flurry of activity common to our weekday mornings stands in stark contrast to our Sunday afternoons/evenings.  The afternoons are peaceful, quiet, & restful, with only the occasional football game related noise (cries of anguish for 49er fans like me,) breaking the silence It’s a time for rest, catching up on a good book, eating a favorite snack, or just hanging out. The evenings we gather around the dinner table (or counter,) usually with family & friends for a good meal, even better discussion, & time together to be savored. I love it.


I’m really enjoying our current series, “The Jesus Way,” a study through the gospel of John. The thing that really stands out to me is Jesus’ use of the words/imagery of LIGHT & LIFE in describing what He came to bring for any/all who would put their trust in & follow Him. In my studies, I came across the Didache(a.k.a. the teachings of the 12 Apostles,) a document most likely put together in the 2nd century. Like its name suggests, it shares teachings of the early church on topics such as water baptism, communion/the Eucharist, prayer & fasting, etc…

An area that really jumped out to me was the section called “the 2 ways.” In a nutshell, it says there are 2 Ways – one that leads to LIFE (trusting & following Christ) & one that leads to DEATH (anything else.)  It reminds me of Jesus’ declaration from Matthew 7:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide & the way is easy that leads to destruction, & those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow & the way is hard that leads to life, & those who find it are few.


I have been on a ‘soup’ kick for the last few months. Seems like I just can’t get enough. My current favorite is made with grilled onions & garlic, cumin, green chiles, diced jalapenos, black & white beans, chicken stock, & the meat of a Costco rotisserie chicken. Lots of flavor & a little bit of spice. I think I’ve been eating it an average of 2x/day.


In the mornings when Mason comes over, I’ll hear him call out, “Hey Grammy.” And I look, expecting to see a grandmother… & I see theBean. Sometimes this doesn’t quite feel like real life, like somehow I have been transported into a future that isn’t my own. And then I look around for my little kids & instead I see 3 adults… 2 grown men with grown man jobs, & a grown woman who’s working really hard & setting herself up for the next chapter of her life. And I wonder, “Is this real life?”

And then Mason says, “Whatcha doing Poppy? Can I have a doughnut?”

And I remember, “Ah, yes. This is real life.”


Just signed up to be a part of a spiritual direction program for the next 9 months. It’s a 1x/month meeting via Skype & I have no idea what to expect, except that I am expecting good things.


 

I’m convinced that whatever you look for in somebody, you’ll find.  If you’re looking for the good, for the areas that God is at work in & through, you’ll be able to uncover it, even if it’s small. And if you look for the negative, the bad, the ugly part of us that everyone has, you’ll find that too.

On that note, there’s always something in life to be complaining about, but really? Why? Why complain about life circumstances, another person who isn’t meeting your expectations about how they’re living their life, etc… ? It doesn’t help, & it makes it not very fun to be around you. Trust me. I’ve been that guy – & one of the best days of my life was when someone told me, “You are SO negative, & you complain about SO many things. It’s tiresome.” I was forced to look in the mirror of my soul & I found a lot of discontent – stuff that was for me to address about myself… & the complaining & negativity were just symptoms, a distraction maybe, that oriented me towards living as a pessimist/realist/negative Nancy. a real downer who was very critical of myself & others. No fun. Don’t want to go back to that.

Here’s to a great day.


 

 

 

Sanctuary Guy & other musings…

One of my favorite things about my job is getting to know the kids that attend our preschool, Little Lites, during the week. I love going into their classes during lunch time & talking with them – & hearing how their days are going & what they’re thinking about. Because my now-grandson is in the preschool, most of the kids have taken to calling me what he does – “Pop-Pop Louie” or “Poppy Louie.”

There is one exception – one little 3 year old boy calls me “Sanctuary Guy.”

It comes from the times that I would lead worship for the preschoolers in the sanctuary – & for some reason, this little guy decided that “Sanctuary Guy” was the name he would call me. It’s always made me laugh, especially when he talks about me to his parents.

This last week, I was on my way to run errands & this little guy was standing in line waiting for lunchtime recess. I heard him yell my name, “Hey Sanctuary Guy!” I responded, “What’s up?” And he said, “Sanctuary Guy, my parents got in an argument this morning, & it made me feel really sad & I’m scared.”

I immediately knelt down to look him in the eye & asked him if I could pray for him – he said yes. I prayed for peace & joy, & for his parents to get along… At the end of the prayer, he said that it helped.  I got up to leave & almost made it out the door when he said, “Hey Sanctuary Guy! If my dad needs to talk to you from his work, would you talk to him?” I said, “Absolutely I would talk to your dad. I’d talk to your mom too if she wanted.” And he said, “Nope. My mom doesn’t need any help.”


 

Today marks the beginning of week 3 since we’ve been back from our sabbatical… still getting used to the routine of work & life again… slowly adjusting to wearing real shoes…  The thing I miss most about our time away is the uninterrupted days with theBean. No distractions. No work to do. Nothing but each other & whatever fun we wanted to fill the day with. I’m trying to find ways to capture some of that in the middle of life’s hecticness – to remind myself (& theBean) of the great gift God has given to me in her. I love that woman.


 

Entering God’s rest…

In  the middle of life’s busyness & hectic pace, have you ever had the thought, “I wish I was on a quiet beach somewhere with no noise, no demands. Just the sun, a good book, & a loved one? THAT is where I’ll finally be able to get rest.”  I have… & I’ve been thinking more & more about what theBean & I going to do on our sabbatical when this quiet beach becomes our reality.

But I know me. It will do me no good at all to get away for 8 weeks, no matter how incredible the beach is or how isolated, quiet, & perfect the surroundings if I don’t REST. In my head… you know, find the relief, the mental & emotional tranquility that brings a refreshment to the depths of your soul. I know that the last thing I want to do is be laying on beach next to theBean, all the while going 100 miles an hour in my brain, preoccupied, distracted, worried, & stressed.

And so I’m trying to prepare myself, in advance… wrestling through Scriptures on Sabbath & rest, wrestling with God in thought & prayer, determining to find those “unforced rhythms of grace” that Jesus talked about in Matthew 11:28-30


 

One passage that I’ve been spending time in is Hebrews 3 & 4 – & I have really been digging into  Hebrews 4:1-13 & the specific wording about entering God’s rest & what it means. The authors of Hebrews talk about how Israel was unable to enter God’s rest (a.k.a. the Promised Land, the place promised to God’s people) due to their disobedience to His word & instructions. So, as I see it, there is a direct tie in between entering God’s rest & obedience – hearing God’s word, the Good News & receiving it (acting on it.) And there is a Sabbath rest promised to us…

…there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

For the word of God is living & active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul & of spirit, of joints & of marrow, & discerning the thoughts & intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked & exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.        

Hebrews 4:9-13 English Standard Version


As I’ve been pondering the question, “What do I have to do to enter God’s rest & to really experience the Sabbath rest this talks about?”, I keep coming back to verses 12 & 13 above. You know, the part about the power of the word of God – & its ability to cut through to the very core of our being, even weighing our thoughts, motives, & intents of our heart… & it makes me think that entering God’s rest (& finding true rest for my soul) is tied to time with Jesus… meditating on His words… allowing Scripture take root deep in my heart. Because it doesn’t seem to be about doing something – its about transformation of heart & mind… not striving… learning to BE & BE dependent on His word.

It reminds me of what Jesus said when He was tempted by the devil in Matthew 4:

“Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

That’s my goal. That’s how I want to be becoming, more & more. And I’m gonna find rest.

Do I ever REALLY stop? & other musings…

Just looked at the calendar. Five Mondays from today, theBean & I will be on our first day of sabbatical. I’m trying to prepare for this time away, with the purpose of being as intentional as possible about what we’re doing. So, I’m revisiting some studies that I began about 10 years ago on the Sabbath & Sabbath rest. I’ll be blogging some of my thoughts, discoveries, wonderings, & questions here over the next several weeks…(If you’re interested, you can read more about WHY we’re taking a sabbatical HERE)


 

A couple of my favorite ways to study something in the Scriptures are to

  1. find the word in the original language, along with a working definition of the word;
  2. do a word-search & find the first place in the Bible the word is found…
  3. ‘popcorn’ around to other places the word is found, referenced, discussed, etc…

I looked up Sabbath & found the first time the word itself is used is in Exodus 16:23  & it shows up quite a few more times, most notably in Exodus 20:8 – the place in Scripture where God gives Moses the commandments (of the most famous “10 commandments,” the command to remember the Sabbath & keep it holy is #4. But I digress. Fun rabbit trail though.) The definition of Sabbath is “to stop; rest; come to rest; cease.” The more I dug, I discovered that though the word first showed up in Exodus, the first time the concept or practice of Sabbath appears in the Bible is in Genesis 2:1-3 as a part of the creation narrative. It says:

Heaven & Earth were finished, down to the last detail. By the seventh day God had finished His work. On the seventh day He rested from all His work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day, because on that day He rested from His work, all the creating God had done. The Message

Think about it. The final ‘act’ of creation was God creating Sabbath, Holy Time –This was so important that He built it into the fabric of creation by working six days, then on the seventh day, He STOPPED. And then He RESTED.


The more I roll this around in my head, the more I see how tied together the two are: you cannot rest until you stop. So I think about what it takes to stop, to REALLY stop. And I think about myself & my own life patterns & pace of life. I reflect on our cultural norms, behaviors & attitudes that are normal, at least until they are held up to the mirror of God’s Word. And I ask myself, “Do you ever really stop? Do WE?”


We live in a 24/7 city – in a country that celebrates busyness, activity, & multi-tasking. We rarely think about let alone embrace the fact that we have limits – on our time, our physical/mental/emotional capacity, & on what we can do & do well. We often push ourselves & our schedules to the limit, cramming as much activity into our days & weeks as possible. We usually don’t get enough sleep & survive/re-engage with life because of coffee/energy drinks. (An interesting fact – in 2006 when I began my studies on Sabbath, I researched the caffeine, how much was consumed in the US, & how much money was spent on it. Here’s what I found: In 2006, more than $12 Billion was spent on coffee, & another $1.1 Billion was spent on energy drinks, most of which were consumed by people in the 18-25 year old range. Fast forward to 2014 – close to $40 Billion was spent on coffee last year & a staggering $13.5 Billion was spent on energy drinks, a figure which is estimated to rise to at last $21.5 Billion by the year 2017. And the reason more than 60% said they drank coffee/energy drinks? In essence it was, “I need it to get going & keep going. Can’t do what I do without it.”)

When we have time off, we use it to get everything done that we couldn’t finish during the work week, &/or we pack our free time with all sorts of activities. Technology doesn’t help us out here – the modern conveniences of ‘staying connected’ through our smart-phones, computers, omni-present wifi, mp3 players keeps a constant barrage of stimulation & noise bouncing around our brains.

No wonder silence seems strange.


 

Do I ever REALLY stop? When was the last time I took a day, set apart as Holy Time, & didn’t work… didn’t get preoccupied/distracted with something… just intentionally set myself up to BE?

The defense mechanisms kick in quickly. Countless reasons for WHY I do what I do, & WHY taking much time (let alone a day) is just about impossible with all the things that fill my busy schedule come to mind.

And then I think about what I read last week from Matthew 11:25-30, especially the part about finding God’s rhythms of grace for life… & I contrast that to the driven, life-sucking pace & practices that lurk around me… And I want that rhythm, God’s rhythm for me. And so I invite Him in to the mess of me… & I trust He will FINISH what He starts.