A birthday remembered & other musings on a Tuesday…

Johnny 1988Today would be my brother Johnny’s 40th birthday. 40. How time has flown since I last saw him at 17 & death separated us for a breath as long as the rest of my lifetime here on the earth. The picture you see is his sophomore class pic from Carson High, 1988. He took my red-bow tie for the day – my PeeWee Herman costume bow-tie. And he rocked it, as usual, with a sense of style that would have made Elvis Presley jealous.

I’ve been celebrating Johnny’s life in a special way today – through the music he loved. Johnny was one of the first people I knew to create mix-tapes (remember, this was the 80s). He painstakingly would take tracks off of CD’s & other audio tapes, & put them on his own high quality audio tapes for me, then create a custom playlist to serve as the tape/CD liner so I would know what was coming. I took it for granted that this is normal – this is just what one does with ones free time.

Thank the Lord for Spotify – Johnny would have loved it. All the joy of a mixtape at the click of a keyboard. I recreated several of the playlists he made for me with his favorite artists to serve as a soundtrack for the otherwise mundane activities of my day.

It’s amazing to me how music, a song has the power to stir memory – to vividly recall glimpses, faces, events, & remembrances from long ago. More than once I found myself wishing for windshield wipers on my eyes so I could see my computer screen – only to hit “repeat’ on a song because of the sweetness of the memory attached to it.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. And at the same time, this wound is not infected. I know my brother is experiencing the presence of God in a way that is my own hope & dream. And at the same time, there is a family here that is like a tree with a missing limb – a tree that has recovered, but that is forever scarred by the loss of a vital branch.

Though he’s been gone for almost 23 years, I see Johnny everywhere. I look at my family of origin – my parents – still loving Jesus & each other, committed for the long term to be people who intentionally look for the dancing after the mourning, to be living life fully in the here & now, with a firm grasp that this Here & Now is but a glimpse of the Real Life that is to come.

Joel (Moe) is married to Jenny – with 2 great little ones (both boys) under the age of 4 – T-Bone & TyBone (my names for them that I only whisper because they have real life grown up man names that will fit them well when they step into adulthood.) So proud of Moe & his fam – & the compassionate excellence with which he/they live their lives. Moe is world class in his work, but even moreso as a man.

Ben (Benny, CTC) is married to Jessica – & has 3 little ones (2 girls & a boy) under the age of 6. The kids reflect their parents’ joie d’vivre, & Ben reminds me of Johnny’s funny side – a side that often manifested with wit & with a discontent for the status quo (if that makes sense.) Proud of Ben & the fam. Happy that their pursuing their dreams.

MytheBean & I dated for about 6 months before Johnny was diagnosed with cancer – so she knew him well, both before & after, something I appreciate more with the passing of time as she holds me in the times when tears overwhelm & laughs with me other times of recalling the LIFE with which he lived. The gentle, humble, fierce strength which which you live each day, mytheBean, is a reminder of how fortunate I am that Jedi mind tricks work & you committed yourself to me so many years ago.

Then there’s my kids. Pasty, (actually his uncle’s namesake,) one of the whitest kids you’ll ever see, with the rosiest cheeks in the world. Sometimes just looking at his resemblance to my brother catches my breath. My Pasty.

iDoey – no longer a kid, now a man. His personality & “Never give up, never surrender” attitude, determination, & fierce loyalty most closely mirrors that of the uncle he never knew. Time & time again, theBean has asked me how I can so accurately predict what iDoey will say/do/respond in a certain situation, & I have to answer – “I grew up with this.” And I smile.

TheWeez – Johnny would have been amazed that I could have such a beautiful daughter & would most definitely (& correctly) have attributed it to her mother. He would have doted on theWeez – & I see him in her eyes when they flash, & when she speaks her mind, standing for truth, justice, mercy & life in her interactions with the world.

Something else that stands out to me is that running through our family is a trait of perseverance, hard work, a “never give up” push in the face of adversity, no matter what. We have what Eugene Peterson refers to as the “ability to engage in a long obedience in the same direction.” I have to believe it goes beyond human genetics & is a part of the spiritual DNA passed down to us from generation to generation of Christ-followers, that we would be people who, in spite of our many failings, human frailty, & other weaknesses, carry a relentless commitment to love Christ & love others. The longer I live on this planet & the more I experience the temporal nature of this life & the fleeting, often unpredictable nature of human relationships, the more I appreciate this & desire to embrace it as a part of my own character & hopefully, what is left in the wake of my life.

Happy birthday Johnny – see you soonish. Save me a spot at the dinner table. I get the corner.

school’s out for summer… er, 2 weeks, an anniversary. And other musings.

Sunday morning I woke up early… earlier than normal for my Sunday workday. Many reasons for that:

    -the nagging of unfinished school work; had to write a couple paragraphs for the conclusion to the paper for the END o Class project for TH600 (which is a fancy way of saying Advanced Theology & Worldview. Its a 600 class, not a 500 class. So it is 100 better. Or bigger. Or badder. But I digress.)
    -My back hurt enough that rolling over repeatedly didn’t make it go away. Better to rise than to lay there.
    -I smelled the foff (coffee for laymen). The timer went off at the weekday time instead of the weekend time, calling to me with her siren’s call: “Come & get me! I’m Guatemala today!” Sounded just like that too.
    -Bad dreams. Woke up thinking I’d gotten a certified letter LEGALLY declaring the demand that I cease & desist, with no further talking to or interacting with my family. That was a fun. Felt real until the afternoon.

And yet, the biggest reason was it was Father’s Day. June 17, 2012. Exactly 22 years since my little brother John Leavy Locke went to be with Jesus. He passed at 4:34 a.m on that day in 1990; I’ve written about it a few times. Here. And here. And now, every year on the anniversary of his passing from death to life, I wake up at precisely that time. I’ve probably tapped into some latent superpower that allows one to wake up WHEN they WANT to, though this one is a bit out of control as I don’t wanna wake up then. But I do. Perhaps I always will. I do know that while I still grieve, it’s not without the hope of seeing him again. And perhaps I shall write on this topic yearly… until such a time that other such days color my world grey.

The last 9 months have been something of a blur – I have felt more than a bit overwhelmed emotionally – talked with my friend Chuck about it a couple weeks back over a Shepherd’s Pie & he asked the question: “Have you experienced any loss or significant relationship change over the last while?”

I got to thinking, & images of people, dear friends & pseudo-family members, rushed through my brain. All people that have moved on. Many due to school, jobs & opportunities outside of the Reno area, a couple due to the moving on associated with life change & finding a new church to attend. Tried to count the number of people that had moved/transitioned since January 1. Stopped at 30. I looked across the table at Chuck through misty eyes & he said, “I’ll take that as a yes.” It happens. Its a part of life. And it hurts. Love these people, & when they go, it leaves a mark. More than when Charlie bit my finger… it really hurts.

And the hits keep on coming – TheAge & Sandra Nell are relocating to Boston – TheAge, one of the truly greatest creative musical artists I’ve ever known, is off to Berklee School of Music to pursue a dream that I know he will catch. Sandra Nell, teacher, baker, artist, & cake designer of the rarest sort… Chris & Natalie (& their progeny, including my namesake, lil Mo’Lou, are heading to their hometown of Vegas…was just hired as the worship pastor at the church he grew up in. Chris. a gifted songwriter, artist, worship leader… Natalie Rose, writer, photographic artist, creative soul, and freestyle, stream-of-consciousness thought sharer.

My friends. People I love dearly. My eyes are swimming.

And in other news: now that I have 2 whole weeks off from the required reading & writing of grad school, I shall endeavor to reread the LOTR (aka, The Lord of the Rings.) It is one book, not three, divided into six sections. J.R.R. Tolkien, how I love thee.

Went to Father’s Day lunch at the Little Wal with theBean, theWeez, iDoey, & the 3 of the last 4 people to live with our family, along with their spouses. (Missed you YoooooouuuulleeeeeeeeAHHHHHHHH!) It was like a family reunion. Beautiful, especially seeing the lives that the girls are living now with their very own boys. Brings me great joy.

The Little Wal has an extra special Sunday Special – buy one burger at regular price, get another for 1cent. Booyah.

TheWeez got up from the table at the end of the meal to go home with iDoey – her long dark brown hair fell perfectly across her face, partially behind her right ear. I was mesmerized – & I told her, “Wow, Weez. You look absolutely Elvish! All you need is the pointy ears!”

Which of course in my world = Absolutely Beautiful. It makes total sense. To me. And to other Tolkien speakers.

TheWeez grimaced at me & left.

Three of the ladies at the table, one being my wife, the other two being grown up, surrogate daughter-types, let me know that I had committed a faux-pas. Fortunately, they gave me some good advice for communicating with my girl in the future.

    -“if you think she looks beautiful, tell her she is pretty. Pretty. Not elvish.”
    -“elvish is definitely not something a girl wants to be compared to. No matter what any other man at the table might say.”
    -“if you keep that up, you could give her a complex.”
    -“don’t mention her ears. She doesn’t want to hear about her ears.”

Duly noted. I will keep my sci-fi/fantasy comparisons & metaphors to myself.

TheWeez – you are beautiful.

20 years ago… an anniversary…

I woke up this morning a few minutes before my alarm… not surprising… except for the fact that the alarm was set for 4:50 so I could have enough time to get to to the church office to make coffee & read a little in advance of the guys showing up for Thursday morning prayer. The blurred numbers on the clock came into focus as I clumsily fixed my glasses onto my face… 4:34. It would be 4:34 today. Sigh.

My mind raced, mentally flipping through the calendar that exists in my head (isn’t there one in yours too?) finally coming to rest on today. Yesterday was June 16th, so that would make today… June 17. Hmm. It’s the 20th anniversary of the day my little brother, John Leavy Locke, went to be with Jesus early on a Sunday morning, Father’s Day, at 4:34 a.m.

I wrote a little bit about my brother not too long ago HERE. And as I sit here pondering the fact that its been 20 whole years since his death & ‘home-going,’ I take the time to revisit & rehearse the memories I hold most dear of my brother. They flicker through my brain like the rapidly turning pages of a picture book.

Folding newspapers together in the early morning as we prepared to go do our paper routes. Football. Soccer. Baseball. Hoops. What an athlete. He was the best of the 4 of us, by far. Rocking the mullet that shook Carson City on Day 1 of his tenure at Carson Middle School. I don’t know if it was the surf shorts, Jetson’s T-shirt, vintage Air Jordan’s or the infamous mullet that got him called to the office as a “distraction.” They hadn’t seen anyone like him before. His mix tapes. The rosy cheeks I see every time I look at thePasty Gangster. The smile. The temper. The baseball being thrown at me simply because I went in to wake him up. The grumpy comments because I was on the phone (again) too late with theBean. And a million others…

The picture at the left was his last school picture before he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. And yes, he was wearing MY red bow tie, the same one I’d used to complete my Pee-Wee Herman outfit… It’s not like this day is a dark, morbid day that I dress up in black & mope around. Not at all. Rather, its a day of remembrance. Prayer for my parents & brothers. Thanking God that we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. But a day where I still grieve. Laugh. Play his favorite songs on my mp3 player (he’d have loved the iPod & iTunes, & the ease at which mixes could be created. He was a Master mix-master.)

Father’s Day has been forever linked with Johnny since 6/17/1990. Can’t seem to think of one without the other; not that I want to think about death an inordinate amount, but hey, its inevitable, barring the preemptive Return of the King. Came across a great book about death, heaven, & processing the loss of loved ones called Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, But Nobody Wants to Die. Great book, which I’d heartily recommend.

But I digress.

It’s a celebration, a day of remembrance. So join me:

Here’s to Johnny – & the profound influence he has had & continues to have on me & the man I hope to be.

catching-up on my musings on a Friday, & Happy Birthday Johnny!

Interesting week. Got a call from a friend Sunday evening – someone who’s been living out of the area for a while, but that is still near & dear to my & my families hearts for a plethora of reasons. His younger brother, E-Lib (my name for him; his parents are truly kinder than THAT,) had been in a fight in Reno, & had been stabbed. My friend was coming to Reno to see his brother, & wanted to crash at the house.

Absolutely. My heart broke. I have 3 younger brothers. I know his brother.

Though we only had a couple of minutes for greetings when he arrived at our home, it was good to reconnect, even under the duress that such a situation brings with it. And the good news is that E-Lib should be okay, albeit with a lengthy recovery.

It was good to see you Kurt. And to meet your buddy Tyler too.

Left in the wee hours Monday for a 3 day meeting with our larger church family leadership in Glendale. In a nutshell, the group I met with has been charged with determining a process for & the selecting nominees for the presidency of our denomination. It was lively, though my sitting muscles are incredibly sore from parking on hotel ballroom chairs for way to long. Truly. By the end of Day 2, I needed a crane to lift me out of my chair because my poor bum hurt so bad. Not funny.

Ed Stetzer led a big portion of the ‘presidential profile creation.’ I love listening to him process out loud, & always come away challenged in my own thinking & assumptions. He’s a living example of “iron sharpens iron.” Thank you Ed.

Today marks what would have been my brother John Leavy Locke’s 37th birthday. Which means that this June will mark the 20th anniversary of his death, & his going to be with Jesus. Looking back, I can believe that its been 20 years… & at the exact same time, it seems like only yesterday. My memories of him seem like moving snapshots. Thinking of our hours of playing Batman & Robin in our backyard on Upson Lane. Playing wiffle-ball in the backyard & his constant quitting when he didn’t get his way. I’d try to tell him, ‘You forfeit. I win.” This caused confusion because he was 4 years old & must’ve thought it was an age thing I was referring to, because he’d always respond, “Nuh-uh! You 7-fit!”

Playing & wrestling with all 4 of us – Louie, Johnny, Joel, & Ben. They’d gang up on me, & I had to develop a strategy to deal with the waves of brothers’ attacks: charley horse to Ben’s leg. Charley to Joel. With them both incapacitated, I was left to take on Johnny. More often than not, he’d leave me with a bloody nose. Only person (besides theBean,) to give me one of those.

When we shared a room, we’d have late night talks about life, family, hopes, dreams, & sports. He was a terrific athlete in Football, baseball, & basketball. I was so proud to be able to watch his games & see the ease at which he played them. Amazed me.

And his gentleness & compassion. And tenacity. All of those came out full bore when the cancer was diagnosed. In how he interacted with others. Faced adversity. Grew & matured in his faith in Christ, the One who gives a hope in times of hopelessness & despair. I learned so much about what it means to be a Christ-follower from him, esp. because he didn’t shrink from difficulty or disappointment. Didn’t question why. Just kept going.

I miss him terribly.

When I look at my own kids, I see things every day that remind me of him. Pasty’s rosy cheeks after a work out, & his intense, self-motivated competitive drive which makes him invaluable on a team. IDoey’s intensity & combustability… Weezer’s sweetness. And her laugh. All 3 of them have his compassion. Truly. I’ve seen it. Like to see it more. :)

I’m looking forward to the day when we’ll be reunited. Hope its a while away, but it will be a good day when it happens.

Time flies. Today is also marks a great anniversary – the 5th anniversary of the day my brother Ben married Jessica. She is truly a gift, & I am so thankful for her & how she loves my youngest brother; you truly are a source of joy. And for the girls, EllieB & Zoe-Hawk. Many blessings to you 2 today.

Working with Pasty on the possibility of going to a nearby JC for school & football. He’s a workout beast, & is really pressing into preparation for this. I’m very proud of his determination, & KNOW he can do it.

Can’t wait to watch the Vikings-Saints game this week. Colts-Jets will be good too, I suppose, but the NFC game is the main one on my radar.

Think I’ll make some more coffee.