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

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.

 

Habakkuk & some thoughts on ‘How Longs’ & ‘Whys’

Habakkuk 1:1-4

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw – O LORD how long shall I cry for help, & You will not hear? Or cry to You “violence’ & You will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity & why do You look idly at wrong? Destruction & violence are before me; strife & contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, & justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous, so justice goes forth perverted.

It’s the ‘How Longs” that get me. They stand out as a disappointed cry, laments even, bordering on indignant anger. Habakkuk sees injustice, wrong, violence, wickedness all around him, & he’s been crying out to the LORD for help with no visible or audible response.

The WHY’s also get me; why do You idly look at wrong? As though Habakkuk incredulous at what he is seeing… wondering how the LORD God he knows could NOT be acting on behalf of him & his people Israel considering what’s happening to & with them.

Part of the how & why this is at the forefront of my thoughts likely is the book I’m sloooowly reading through, Disappointment with God. Lately, I feel especially sensitized to the laments, sighs, suffering & disappointments in the world around me.

Its kinda like when you get a new car, say a white Ford Explorer. Then, it seems that everywhere you go, you see these white Explorers all over the place & wonder how you never saw them before.

I recognize in my own heart quiet echoes of these ‘How Longs’ & ‘Whys…’ & I wonder if the reason that I don’t stop coming back to God with prayer & expectancy, & I don’t blame Him for my issues & problems, &/or the tragedies around me is because of what I had to learn through my own ‘dark times of the soul,’ like when my brother Johnny had cancer & ultimately died.

In his last day, I vividly remember visiting Johnny downstairs at my parents – seeing the very obviously approaching death in his declining body. It was overwhelming, so I went upstairs & ran outside into what I think was early evening…

Remember standing facing the Alpers’ house & the familiar West Carson horizon… & looking to the twilight sky – praying, crying, asking, pleading in desperation for God to heal my brother, to take away this cancer, to restore his health that he would live.

It was a surreal experience that I think, I know changed me… I still remember the sense I got at that moment of God’s Presence. It may have been just my impression, but I also sensed a sadness greater than me. I wondered if it was Him, & He was sad. I thought so. And while I wanted more than anything that God would heal Johnny, I also felt comforted, & at peace.

The circumstance hadn’t changed. Johnny died. But God stood with me, & I knew it. He was WITH me, & I was aware.

Made me thinks that the nearness of God isn’t always tangible, but it is a fact. He will never leave me or forsake me.


And then Habakkuk gets an answer – the LORD will respond. Is responding. Has responded.

There will be vengeance; there will be chastisement. Intervention. There will be a revelation of His Presence so strong that ‘the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD just like the waters cover the sea’

And Habakkuk praises – gives thanks – asks for mercy.


LORD, I pray for mercy… & I thank You for never abandoning me, for Your Presence, & for Your nearness. Work in me the things You want to see be true of me – thank You for Your patience with me & my questions, for not getting angry at the How Longs or the Why’s. That You love me through it by standing with me. Help my unbelief, fill me with faith.