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

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.

 

 

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.

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.

Through the valley…in the fire…

Yesterday I had the privilege of sitting with dear friends, a couple that’s been married over 50 years. The wife is recovering from cancer surgery… recovering well. We’ve believed for a good prognosis & post-surgery update. It turns out the doctor’s report said the cancer they went in to get was “got…” but… There were other cancer cells that they found somewhere else. And they weren’t contained. And the doctors were in the process of putting together a plan of attack, a plan for treatment. The room swam in front of us.

My friends are faith-filled. Hopeful. Tired. Sad. The whole gamut of emotions. Wanting to hear what the doctors will say, & at the same time knowing that the doctor’s prognosis isn’t the final word.


I had a flashback. Cancer. My brother Johnny – he had an (at the time) experimental treatment in the attempt to eradicate the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had ravaged his body… the bone marrow transplant. I remember hearing the all-too-simple sum up of what this procedure entailed: 1st, the docs harvest the bone marrow from the hip; 2nd they bombard him with enough chemo to kill the cancer & hopefully not him; 3rd, they reintroduce the bone marrow & hope that it acts like a ‘reset button’ allowing him to recover & heal, sans the cancer. Post-procedure, the news came in… it didn’t work. And there were more cancer cells, in other places. Not contained. One nurse callously asked him, “So, you want to die here or at home?” I could’ve punched her.

Johnny & I talked once about this upon his arrival at home – I asked him what he was thinking, especially about the prognosis he’d been given. He said, “I feel like Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego. You know when they were threatened with the fiery furnace if they didn’t worship the golden image (you can read the story HERE.) This is my fiery furnace… & just like they said, ‘my God is able to deliver me from this… but even if He doesn’t, I’m still not gonna bow down.’”


That was the same general feeling/spirit in my office yesterday – no matter what, we will hold onto the fact that God is in charge, & that He is the one with the final say on our lives & when we go home to be with Him. And in the meantime, we will live with determination, persevering in our trust in Christ. With the knowledge that this faith in Christ really shines in the midst of our difficult times. He’s our Rock. Fortress. Deliverer. Healer. Salvation. The One who is with us, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

 

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.


 

A birthday ode, to theBean…

I love to hold theBean’s hand. Love it. I can remember the first time I ever did – it was August 21, 1988 & we were walking across the Florence Avenue Church parking lot, & I used the excuse of wanting to “keep her safe & close” in case there were any runaway vehicles. In the parking lot. She didn’t let go. (Point of order: we had actually touched hands accidentally on August 12, downstairs at my parents house – I was watching baseball… go figure –  but once I realized what was happening, I tried to play like I didn’t know our fingers were touching. And of course I left my hand there. But I digress.)


A little background:

TheBean was headed into her Senior year at Sonora Union High, & was preparing to go to UCDavis & study medicine. To become an osteopathic physician. She’d served as a trainer for the Varsity football team & loved it, & figured a career in medicine would be just the thing for a girl that A) didn’t want/need a man to support her & B) didn’t want kids. She even worked at a local eatery in her spare time (looking back: where she found the time, I have no idea, between school, cheerleading, training, etc… She always has been good at doing  a lot & doing it well.)

And then there was an US.

We both realized at the same time that this was the person we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with – we didn’t tell each other that we KNEW what the other was thinking… I think it was the first time that we’d read each others face with a glance, the first of thousands.  This lightning bolt changed everything for both of us, but mostly for theBean. I remember the day she told me, “Where you go, I’ll go. Where you live, I’ll live.” I was taken aback by the commitment, by the fierceness of her statement, so I asked her, “What about UCDavis & becoming a doctor?” Her answer? “Now that I have you, what I really want is to be a team with you, in what you do… to support you. To support US.”  I know that I did not at that moment understand the enormity of the decision she made, the incredible tidal wave of love that choice brought with it, nor the cost she would pay (willingly) to follow through on it.


So instead of pursuing medicine, theBean pursued US. We got married July 1, 1989.  Instead of pursuing school, she picked up a food service job, the first of a few she would work in Reno/Carson over an almost 25 year period: El Charro Avitia, Carson Station Grille/Rotisserie, Pinocchio’s, & Starbucks.) In each job, theBean found herself rising to the top, a valued employee, skilled in customer service, the best at hospitality. A person  loved by management & her fellow employees. (Sound familar? :)

I’ve never worked food service, so I didn’t know one of the downsides of the job is that your hands are always in bleach water/sanitizer. And the constant exposure to this wreaks havoc on your hands, drying them out to the point where they get cracked, rough, & raw.  I don’t think I ever really noticed theBean’s hands being rough, but she did. (Remember, I love holding her hand.) She was self-conscious about the state of her hands, & often when I’d take her hand she’d make a comment about how dry they were or how bad of shape they were in. I didn’t really pay attention to that. I just wanted to hold her hand.


Nevada’s dry climate + 25 years of exposure to bleach water/santizer DID make theBean’s hands perpetually dry, & I know she still battles the self-consciousness of how her hands must feel to me. I’ll tell you what I think:

When I hold mytheBean’s hand, I feel the hand of the woman who traded in the pursuit of her solo dream to hitch herself to the idea of an even better dream in her eyes, the dream of US.

I feel the hand of a woman who has worked hard – enduring the demands of being on her feet all day/evening; who endured stupid, rude, & inappropriately flirty demanding customers; who survived on not enough sleep; who sacrificed for me, for US, & for our family.

I feel the hand of a woman who has contended for us to be a team in life & work, even through my own stubborn pig-headed meanness, selfishness, & times I didn’t treat her right.

I feel the hand of a woman who has never, ever, once given up on me or held a grudge, & has extended grace, mercy, & forgiveness through dark & stormy days & nights.

I feel the hand of a woman who could have chosen to do whatever she wanted to do in this life, a woman who is beautiful, intelligent, hospitable, hard-working, driven, a visionary… the kind of woman I’m proud that theWeez has become, the kind of woman that I have prayed that my sons would have the privilege of marrying someday.

When I hold mytheBean’s hand, I feel the evidence of her lifetime of love & devotion. It doesn’t feel rough to me – it feels as beautiful as the first time we touched. She has been, is, & will continue to be the girl of my dreams (the good ones, not the bad ones,) myOne, myOwn, myLover.

Happy birthday Bean. You are loved. You are IT for me. And will be. As long as we both shall live… 

Thanksgiving weekend & stuff…

At Hillside, we believe that one of our main purposes as a church is to help people find, understand, & follow God’s plan for their lives. This means moving people towards self-discovery, helping them uncover & develop their God-given gifts, & talents, exploring their hopes & dreams, & hearing God’s direction & moving towards it.

This Sunday, we welcome our friends Anthony & Ally Siwajian back to Hillside for a visit. They were a part of Hillside for several years until moving to Los Angeles almost 2 years ago to pursue their dreams. Currently, Ally is working at the Foursquare Headquarters in the Communications department, & Anthony is writing the next great fantasy novel. (True story – I’ve read some of the rough draft.)

These are two people who are gifted, articulate, authentic, sincere, compassionate, invested in Isaiah 58-style social justice, & they are even nerdy like me (they met in a Literature class at UNR on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.)  I miss them terribly, especially Anthony’s distinctive laugh. At the same time,   I also know that sometimes when people have found, understood, & begun to follow God’s plan for their lives, it takes them on a journey of a lifetime…. A journey out of Reno. These 2 are living well, & I am incredibly proud of them & the steps of faith they are taking daily.