Monday, December 06, 2010

Remembering....The First Tree Was a Perfect Tree

My ability to remember has been the bane of several people's existence. I really can't apologize for it, it's the way I am and frankly, I've apologized for being me a few times only to wish that I could kick myself later for having done so. I don't think that we should ever be sorry for our memories or who we really are. I believe that they are part and parcel for who we are and from where we have come.

I'm often amazed by what can bring a memory to the foreground of our thinking. I've read that smells can recall things from our past very quickly and I believe that sometimes just closing our eyes is all it takes to bring a memory from mothballs and cobwebs.

Lately I've been thinking about how people spend so much time discussing their Christmas trees and decorations. I heard someone tell recently about all the effort they had put into finding the, "perfect" tree. They went on and on about all of the places they had gone to look for one and the pros and cons of different varieties. On and on it went to the point that I thought I would surely keel from the topic of discussion.

I recall very clearly the first two Christmas trees in my life. The first was when I was six, I was in first grade and I remember Mom trying to sell the idea to Pop by saying, "there will be one in his classroom at school." There was too and it was a fresh one even, but I really don't remember any more about it other than there was one, but I remember that Mom talked Pop into it and there was a tree in the living room where we lived on Peanut's place. I can't describe it or tell where it came from, but I remember some of the ornaments on its branches and one particular comes to mind. I recall there where lights on it that were far too heavy for its branches, and I remember some glass ornaments on it too, maybe they were hand me downs from Grandma Sledge, she did have such things in her collection, but I remember the things that Mom made to decorate with more than any of them. And as I said, one in particular stands vivid in my mind.

The one I can see so clearly hanging on the tree was a creation of my mother's hand. It was made from a Christmas card cut to fit the bottom of a Banquet Pot Pie pan. It was a picture of the Virgin Mary, very youthful, herself too young to be a mother, let alone the mother of one who would buy our salvation. The image of the mother and child was attached to the botton of the tin and the edge was trimmed with red ric rac.

Surely Mom used red because it was what she had on hand or gleaned from the bottom of Grandma Sledge's box of sewing notions. I know that Mom hung on to things like pot pie tins and little boxes because they were, "too handy to throw away." And she was right. I doubt that she thought of red ric rac around the Christ child as a foreshadowing device of the blood that he would shed in the future. However, I can see God using that moment in the past for my present thinking. (He's like that you know.)

Even as a boy I found those images of the Holy Family on Christmas cards interesting and thought provoking. I liked the ones that had pictures of the City of David on them too. They are filed in my memory and are brought to mind when somone starts in on the perfect Christmas tree.

I've decided that the perfect Christmas tree is the one who sees over a healthy family, even though its trunk is bent. It is the one that is in the window of a warm house that shelters and protects the family, even if it is too hot and dry to keep a tree fresh. The perfect tree is one that stands where there is harmony and peace, even if it is a bare elm branch.

The first tree I remember from Christmas 1966 wasn't fancy, flocked or over decorated, but it was decorated with things that Mom made for a family she loved and cared about. It stood in a drafty house with a coal stove, a house that was termite ridden come spring, but all in all, that tree was pefect because it stood in a house filled with love. I think deep down, Dad surely didn't need a lot of, "selling" on the idea of a tree, he knew it meant a lot to my mother and he knew that it would be perfect.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Dads and Lads, Fathers and Sons, Pop and Punk

There are some stories that simply defy words; by that I mean that I have seen things that I have wanted to share with others but simply couldn't find the words to tell the story, I know that by telling what I saw will pale in comparison to what I saw. Fail as I may, there's a story that I want to share, actually the story is based on a couple of things that I've seen lately, heart rending moments for me though for many they were just every day life going on about it's business.

A few weeks before Christmas I stopped in a local cafeteria for a bite of supper, my feet were killing me and the very thought of trying to toss even a tray in the microwave at home made me think that I would probably not eat if I had to cook it for myself. I hobbled through the serving line and picked a simple meal, survival food, nothing fancy, a couple of veggies and a piece of meat. I carried the tray to a table and unloaded it and sat down, not really paying much attention to what was going on around me, my mind focused on aching feet and weariness. I think I see things going on around me better when I'm like this, when I don't have to focus on tasks and can simply sit down, it may be the mind has jumped into self preservation mode and is trying to draw me away from the fact that I want to cut my feet off and leave them under the table.

I put my plates in order and looked up, at the next table facing me was one of the most endearing sights that I have seen in ages. A young man, maybe just 30, a cute fellow, dressed rather, “hip,” if you will. He sat with a mini version of himself, the miniature model was in a high chair, dressed equally as trendy they were obviously father and son. Xerox doesn't make copies like the ones sitting before me. While daddy's hair was dark brown, buzzed as close to his scalp as possible and he had intricately tailored sideburns, his young dinner companion had lighter hair, a little longer, but it was obvious that grooming was an art form for this family. Dad had a bright smile and beautiful pearly white teeth, Lad had the makings of an equally beautiful smile in training, those tiny pearls strung in perfect alignment across the bottom and top of his grin just below bright twinkly eyes.

It was a delight to watch the two of them share dinner. Dad had a bowl of green beans, a bowl of fruit, some mashed potatoes and a bowl of macaroni and cheese and several slices of roast beef on a plate. In front of Lad there were some green beans, macaroni and cheese and every so often Dad tore small pieces of the roast beef from his plate and put it on Lad's. Dad didn't opt for the mac and cheese for himself, he meted it and the green beans out a few pieces at a time onto Lad's plate who ate them without prodding and with a very contagious smile. Dad would take the napkin from his lap and wipe his mouth and when he did Lad would turn to his father and wait patiently for the same thing to be done to him. When Dad would be tending to his own dinner and Lad's plate ran dry, he made no noise, no ruckus, he simply folded his hands on the table, not in his lap where he would have been able to smear cheese sauce on his hip black Levis.

When the main courses were cleared away, hands wiped clean Lad was ready for the the fruit course and his smile made me melt as Dad sliced large grapes and put them on a small clean saucer on Lad's tray. Dad enjoyed the pineapple and gave a very small piece to Lad whose face drew up in that international symbol for sour, then it relaxed into a smile and he held out his hand for another piece. Dad smiled as he cut another piece of pineapple and shared it with his lad.

It did my heart good to watch these two share a meal and to do it without fussing, no prodding to, “eat your green beans,” no admonishments to use a napkin, not a pant leg. There were smiles between them and now I realize that while watching them, my feet didn't seem to hurt as much as they did when I sat down.

The two young men had kept me in such wonderful amusement that I hadn't even taken time to look around the dining room to see if there were any seated there that I knew or who might be on America's most wanted. The two of them made me want to be a part of their evening meal, dinner with a bright and happy family.

When I did take the time to look around the dining room I noticed the table directly behind Dad and Lad and noticed that there was another interesting dynamic going on at that table. Because the men at that table were seated across from one another it was a little harder to see it as clearly, but it was obvious that it was another father and son combination, only this time, Father was bent with age and most likely very near 80, his son in his early 60's sat facing me. Father worked at dinner methodically and slowly, watching him was heart warming as well; old world table manners, napkin in his lap, every bite manipulated by a knife and fork from his plate. Nodding as he listened to his son make conversation. I was too far away to be privy to the topic, but it was obviously polite and it held Father's attention as he listened and occasionally responded, usually after a sip of coffee. Son, ate faster than Father and had finished his meal and was nursing a glass of iced tea and looking at the piece of pie piled high with meringue that was in front of him.

I was glad that all of this was playing out in front of me live, not on television, it would have been on two different stations had it been on television, this way it was virtually picture in a picture. Two tables held four generations, had I included myself I could have easily made a fifth.

At the table with Dad and Lad there was no conversation of words, but actions, Dad seeing to it that his young lad's needs were met in the meting out of green beans and grapes, smiles shared between them, but no words and yet they were speaking volumes to one another through their eyes, their smiles and their actions. It was hard to decide which table to watch the closest. All the while I pushed a piece of chicken and some baked squash around my plate. Father and Son sat, ate, talked as if there were no hurries or concerns in the world, nothing to dash off to do, no particular time to be home, Dad and Lad sat, ate and in their own way held conversation and yet, they too did so as if they had the rest of their lives to spend together at the dinner table.

Both tables were portraits of a dynamic that warmed my heart, loving fathers and loving sons together. It was obvious to me that at both of these tables it wasn't just a matter of being together it was also about four people who needed one another. Lad couldn't cut his meat or slice his grapes, I later learned that Father couldn't have driven himself to dinner, he needed Son to help him with that. (I learned this later when I was putting on my coat as I left, I heard Father thank Son for taking him Christmas shopping and for having dinner with him, “I just wouldn't have driven up here,” he said.”)

The scene at the restaurant of the fathers and sons made me think of the last time that I spent with my father. It wasn't as pretty as the picture that I saw at MCL, it was in a hospital room, my father's back keeping him in agony because he wasn't allowed to sit up, he was granted a reprieve for a while and he sat on the side of the bed and I slid a chair up to him so that we sat knee to knee. I remember Pop was wracked with pain, deep crevices carved in his face from pain and worry. Yet, in a tangle of IV lines Pop sat with me and talked, I know now that in many ways he was purging his soul, he asked me questions and told me about things that were eating at him. He told me of his concern for our family, his worry about relationships, his desires for my life, his prayers for me. This was the first time that I had ever heard my father say that he prayed and yet I wasn't surprised. It was our wonderful time together to think and talk, to share and yet it didn't happen in a cozy lit cafeteria on the south side. We spent time together that evening quietly, nothing being said in words and yet volumes being spoken.

Just a few hours later after my two hours knee to knee with my father he passed away. I'm not surprised really, our last couple of hours was his preparation for departure and I'm proud that he decided that I was the one that he wanted to share that time with. Since then, one of my father's prayers for me was answered, for a while. Who knows really, maybe several of them have been and I just don't know it. Pop had lots of secrets from Punk, (his pet name for me,) who knows what his prayers were for not just me, but for others.

Driving home from dinner all I could see was the tables of fathers and sons. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about how nice it would have been to have sat across the table from my father that evening and been a part of this gathering of Dads and Lads. I prayed as well, just like my father did, only I prayed that both of those sons remain ever vigilant to their father's needs, that they listen to their wisdom, that they help as much as they can and yet grant their fathers independence for as long as they can. I prayed that the sons would recognize that their father's dignity is all important and that they should honor that.
I prayed as well that the fathers would be ever mindful of their son's needs and that they would pray for them and watch over them, that they would help them understand the mysteries of life as much as they could help them to do so. What's more I hoped that each of these four men would have a respect for every person, man or woman, that they would teach one another and find joy in being together. After all, we really don't know how long we will have one another.

Before I left the cafeteria Dad was giving Lad the last wipe down before putting his coat on him. Dad said the first words I had heard him utter during dinner, he said, “good dinner.” Lad threw his arms around Dad's neck and answered, “uh huh.” It was said with enthusiasm, like it truly was the best meal that he had ever eaten, I hope it was because of the company.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Grown Up Gratitude List

I thought that maybe since I give a list for my birthday that it might be nice to give a grown up gratitude list, a list of things that I have found and find myself grateful for that have been revealed to me this year. I say revealed because some of the things on the list aren't simply the usual things that we rattle off when we are given the five kernels of corn as a favor at a Thanksgiving dinner, many are familiar with this tradition practiced in many homes where you are to offer a thankfulness for each kernel of corn on the table in front of you.

My family doesn't do this, in fact since Pop passed away in 2006 the annual Thanksgiving meal has been one that Mom and I shared while my sisters went to their in-laws or did whatever it was that they were doing that day. Thanksgiving was really not a large holiday when I was growing up, generally it was just our household at the table. I well recall my father's table grace, not invoked often but it went like this, “The Lord knows we are grateful or he would not have given it to us.” I suppose that it was my father's public prayer and not his personal prayer. I learned hours before he died that my father was a man of prayer, something that I really didn't know, but do we really know that about one another?

So here goes, my Grown Up Gratitude List:

I am grateful that when I was suffering in heart intensely after Thanksgiving last year, I found a swift kick in the Levis was the cure.

I'm thankful that I felt that swift kick a week later and followed in the direction of the trajectory.

I'm thankful that I found a place to worship where I can worship without distraction, where falling to one's knees to pray is not expected, but accepted. A posture of humbleness for me I am grateful that I came to accept that practice early on.

I'm thankful that I have a caring family, actually, I have two, one of blood and one of choice. The ones of choice are not called friends in this case, they are truly a family of choice and if they read this, I want them to know that my gratitude for them is as deep and as intense as that for my family of blood.

I'm thankful that I have a few friends who go above and beyond simple caring, they love with an intensity that could only be compared to being in that area that spans both friend and family. Thinking of a couple of them, I know that they pray for me daily, that they worry about me when things are rough and they know that I offer the same for them, I am grateful beyond measure for them and I am grateful that I can do the same for them, that God has given me strength and insight to do so.

I'm grateful to God for those who minister to me, theirs is surely the kingdom of heaven. I'm grateful to my parish priest for the way that he has been a support to me in these last few months, understanding grief and the dark nights of the soul. I am grateful for my friends Tom and Beth who have held my hand on two of the most difficult days of this year. I offer thanksgiving for Moot and Poot for the way that they minister, not just to me, but to a host of others, that goes for Tom and Beth as well. I am grateful as well for a some others who have held my hand in a virtual way through cyberspace, it's been like they were here in my living room hearing me when I could tell no one else.

I'm grateful to Troy and Duane who came to care when I needed it.

I'm so thankful that I was able to walk from one job to another without having to see one day without pay.

I'm thankful for opportunities that presented themselves in odd ways, but without a doubt in my mind where the workings of God in my life.

I'm thankful for having food and an appetite, many don't have one, the other or both. In that line I am thankful that to date I've lost about 20+ pounds.

I offer gratitude for a dry place to live, warm unless the wind beats in from the northwest. Then I am grateful for the steam when it comes and the layers that I can put on until it does. So I am grateful to have warm clothing too.

I am grateful for and to my mother, who loves me and does a tremendous favor for me each week as she does my laundry. (For those reading this, she wants to do it, I don't ask her and I see that she knows my appreciation and thankfulness.) I'm thankful for her beyond measure, she knows me so well, listens to my stories and groanings and laughs at my jokes...still.

I'm thankful that she puts my shirts on wire hangers and doesn't beat me with them. I love you mommy dearest.

I'm thankful that I have transportation and that gas has gone down.

I offer gratitude for the music that I can listen to that comforts and sooths, like the music I'm listening to as I write this.

I'm grateful that I've been able to avoid Christmas in July, August, September, October and most of November and that I've not heard Silent Night yet.

This year there is another list of gratitudes that will tell where else I've been on my journey through the last few pages of the calendar. For many this list might be cryptic, that's okay, we don't have to know everything in order to understand another's gratitude, and some of the things that we are grateful for are deeply personal and yet somehow only seem to be even more valuable when they are said aloud.

I have a great measure of gratitude for a hand laid on the left shoulder when approached from behind.

I so treasure and am so grateful for 6:30am phone calls that I still look at the clock at that time and wait for for the phone to ring, even though it doesn't.

I'm grateful for hand holding, there is no greater feeling of comfort when there is no discomfort.

I'm very grateful for the imperfections in body and yet even more grateful to God for the way that those imperfections are made perfect in his time and in his presence.

I'm grateful beyond measure that God has provided a comfort in the sunrises that I see along the interstate as I drive to work, reminders that there is another side of the sunrise where things are even more beautiful.

Equally I am grateful for the sunset that I saw on the way home from work the other day, so beautiful it defies description, I can only say that now I understand why no word rhymes with orange, it keeps poets from describing sunsets like that one, they couldn't do it justice and shouldn't try.

I'm thankful that there aren't enough hymnals in church and that sometimes we have to share.

I'm thankful for first times and last times.

I'm grateful to God that he provides a time and a place for everything, a season for everything and a measure for everything. That we can experience his plan and find knowledge, pleasure, peace and comfort in every life experience. Even in hardship he provides a time and place for us to learn what needs to be learned, even if the lesson is, “be quiet and lesson.” God in his wisdom gives us a season and a time to forget, many times we consider that an infirmity, but I'm not sure that it really is.

I am thankful that I have had opportunities to love, give of myself and share and that for an undetermined amount of time I may continue to do so.

I am thankful for tears, they come with joy, sorrow and belly laughs.

I am thankful that my first heart surgery won't be installation.

I call this a Grown Up Gratitude List as a bit of a take on the holiday song, “My Grown Up Christmas List.” That list calls for people to get a long, no war, food for everyone...and so on. My gratitude list is sincerely a list that gets pondered on so often, not every item every day, but every item sometime. We don't realize that we are grateful for somethings until it slaps us in the face, we don't know that we have enough or enough to share until we are called upon to do so and often we don't know how grateful we are for something until we don't have it anymore. Then there are times when we are grateful for things and experiences from the time we have them until the time they are gone. I am truly thankful that I can say Thank You and I'm Grateful and not have to fear that anyone will say...”for that?” I'd have to respond, “yes, even for that.”

This is my Grown Up Gratitude List.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Soul Food at the Crown

Friday was a day for running errands and doing chores, well, some chores, not all of them got done. Are chores really ever done? After having run around most of the midday I decided that it was time for some soul food. I'm not talking about the kind of soul food that one savors at a table with others, I'm talking about food for the soul.

About the soul, recently I found a quote from C. S. Lewis that really speaks to me, Mr. Lewis said, “We are a soul, we have a body.” I like the way that he thinks on this subject, I like to think that it is really the way that we are created. I can see God creating our soul, our most inner being, the part of our self that he made for himself. By the same token, I can see God creating our bodies so that there would be a temporary place to house our soul until he claims it again from earth to take unto himself. I'm not exactly sure why he feels the need to share us with the world, though I feel pretty sure it is so that our soul will be fed and nurtured and ultimately strengthened. I'm no theologian, I'm just a regular guy away from home. (You have heard me say that before though.)

If you are reading this and you are not from Indianapolis you may not be aware of what Crown Hill really is, Crown Hill is the fifth largest cemetery in the United States. Crown Hill is believed by some to be the highest point in the state and while I'm not sure of the validity of that I do know that it is the highest point in Marion County. The cemetery is a place of beauty and while some people would think it creepy, I see it as a wonderful garden in the central city, a place where there are a huge variety of trees, flower beds and the resting place of some of the state's native sons and daughters, many of them people of note.

The high point that is known as Crown Hill was once known as Strawberry Hill and was a well known picnic spot when the city was growing. The pinnacle is now the burial site of James Whitcomb Riley a well known poet in Indiana and other place too, I'm sure. Atop this hill is a monument to Riley that was paid for by the children of Indiana who gave pennies in order to fund the gray stone rectangle of columns that support beams of the same stone. The custom is to leave pennies on the tablet that gives the name and dates for the poet, the coins are collected and given to Riley Children's Hospital here in the city. It is said that if one tosses a penny into the air and it lands on one of the beams a wish will be granted. Of course, I always try this and like I told a friend of mine recently, I somehow think that it doesn't work when you stand there pitching a roll of pennies one at a time in order to make the mark and then walk away feeling confident that your wish is going to come true. I have only gotten it on the first try once in the many years that I have climbed the hill either on foot or by car.

I didn't go to the hill to make a wish or visit the graves of the city's former movers and shakers, I went there because in autumn it is one of the most beautiful sights in the city. When you are standing on the concrete that surrounds Riley's monument and look out over the city you don't see what the city really looks like, you see what it could look like or maybe even would want to look like if the city had an actual soul. There is only beauty, there are no pot holes, there is no crime, there are no drugs being sold in front of my apartment, there is no government trying to figure out how to solve the previous mentioned items. There is only a sea of autumn leaves and in the distance there is the city skyline. It is an awesome view for a city the size of Indianapolis. If you look to the east you can see the Colosseum at the state fair grounds, to the west and not so far away you can see the Indianapolis Museum of Art and on a really clear day like Friday you can see the pyramids on the north side. The city's tributes to architecture are all visible from this high point. So, Crown Hill is a place to truly drink in the beauty that is Indianapolis.

There is more to the hill than just a wonderful vantage point to see the city and that's the reason why I went. I wanted the food for my soul that comes with seeing the beauty that surrounded me, but what's more I wanted the strength of the monument and the time alone in a place closer to heaven. The wind was brisk and cold and while I had a jacket in the van, I didn't want to wear it, instead I wanted the sun heated stone column to be my warmth, I rested my back against one while I surveyed the city and looked to the sky that was that shade of blue that we only get to see a few times a year. I wanted to be in a place where there was a certain amount of quiet, the street noise is muted at this elevation. I found the things that I wanted there. After my effort to achieve good luck I stood at the top of the hill hugging the warm column, my eyes closed, thinking about the strength that was the reason stone is used for the purpose of erecting monuments that are meant to last. I hugged it and thought of the strength and power of a warm hug, the only down side is that a stone doesn't hug back. While I looked to the sky in it's glory I was reminded that while we think of heaven as being just beyond the verge of sky we are really not closer to heaven while standing on a hill, even the highest one in the city.

While I looked across the vastness and drank in the autumn wind and the shining blue sky I knew that my soul was being fed and that I was going to be warmed by the love I show to others, not the granite stones that soon will be cold and hard and gray, much like the winter will be.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I've included this clip from YouTube because it is a piece of music that I've enjoyed for a long time. I like the quiet feeling that it invokes, the peacefulness of the music. The tune touches my heart and I feel a desire to sit in front of a candle and watch the flame flicker and dance because of a draft in the room. The title of the song speaks to me, Visiting.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about visiting, only I have not been thinking of it in the same term that I think of the title of this song. Recently I visited a dear friend of mine. I had not seen her in a while, but have spoken to her on the phone. She is an elegant lady, snowy white hair that is beautifully coiffed. She has a refined style of dress, simple with little jewelry. All about her makes me think that I'd like to be like her when I grow up. (That was a borrowed statement from a mutual friend.) I would like to be like her when I grow up, yet each of us have our own style, our own personality and while she and I enjoy one another's personality we will never be the same.

During our recent visit we talked about many things, she is a wonderful communicator, she knows how to draw a person out and asks the questions that makes one think about their lives, their philosophy and dare I say goals. I say, “dare I say goals,” because I have always said that I don't have goals, that I have destinations. A person who is goal oriented, in my humble opinion, tends to do what they believe needs to be done in order to achieve their goal. This often means that they will step over any body lying along side the path to get there, they often have a narrowed vision, one that sets the goal before them with nothing else on their mind but the goal. I myself prefer to think of myself as a destination minded person, there are places that I want to get to but I realize that more than one path will take me there. My terminology differs in that along the journey there is much to learn, gleaning to do, and a broader vision. Now, I don't think that there are hard and fast rules about these statements, as a destination minded person I have chosen to keep an open mind about such things and I understand that there are surely those goal oriented who do not have a narrowed vision, though they may not exactly be taking the same kind of journey to the goal. If any of that made sense to you, please let me know and explain it to me. (Actually, I get it.)

My host engaged me in a discussion regarding my decision to change churches in December. She asked a question that I didn't quite expect and have never been asked before, one that I was able to answer without much thought. My answer came quickly, but not with a knee jerk response. (From here in I'll call her Grace, because she is and she needs a name.) “I was pulled to this place by God, led may be a better term, but I had a hard time giving up what had become treasure to me. I understand that there are times when we need to leave our treasure behind in order to find another. Sometimes we have to leave in order to find what God has in store for us, as difficult as it may be to do so, yet, I felt that it was a destination that I must travel to.”

Grace said that my answer was well thought out and yet came quickly, so I surely had given it some thought. I agreed that I had. It was her next question that made my balance tilt just a quarter bubble off plumb and yet it wasn't a question that I had difficulty answering either. She asked me what I was looking for when I went to church. Before I tell the answer let me say that I have been attending an Anglican church for nearly a year now. I felt a drawing to it even though it was far from my faith tradition. There are customs there that I embrace seeing a holiness in it that I found hard to find in the place that I left. When I arrive at church I join others who are kneeling in prayer, preparing their hearts and minds for worship, they look to the cross and possibly they are like me and see the symbol of our salvation. “Grace, I can answer that question as quickly as I answered your other. I attend church for two reasons and there are two things that I seek and I feel confident that I find them there, I can worship there, I can look with awe and wonder upon the body of our savior and offer my gratitude for the tremendous sacrifice that was made for me. I can worship through the symbols of the mass, those symbols being the visual reminders of what I believe. Yet, the equally important reason why I go is because I am seeking peace. Peace of heart, peace of mind, peace that permeates my very being, that peace that is often spoken of in the benediction, the “peace that passes all understanding.” that's what I look for. I think to seek that peace is to look upon the face of God.”

Grace smiled and shook her head, “we all go for different reasons, but I agree with you, those are the reasons to be there.” She followed by telling me that she felt that I am a spiritual person. I told her that I am just a regular man away from home.

When I am in the church, kneeling and praying I ask God for that very peace that passes all understanding. I ask him to fill my entire being with it. I often feel like a beggar visiting a home and begging for a crust of bread, and here I get it. I sometimes feel as though I am visiting the courts of praise and I express my gratitude for the opportunity to visit and to be allowed to sit at the feet of the king. Sometimes I go so far as to boldly ask to be allowed to visit in person soon so that I may know the permanent peace that comes with being in God's presence.

I shared with Grace that I recently lost the best friend that I've ever had, she smiled and said, “it isn't forever.” What wisdom, what grace. I know and fully understand what she said to me is true and is something that can be counted upon as truth, just as I can count upon the Gospel being true, soul food and comfort.

As I drove home from our visit I thought about what she said, “it isn't forever.” Right then, right there at the light at 86th and Michigan Road I agreed with her with passion that it isn't forever, that all of us are just visiting here, we are on loan by God, encouraged to travel to the destination that he has planned for us, taking whatever path the journey lays before us. I was reminded that we're are just visiting, some for a long time in order to teach those of us along the path and some are here on a visit of a short time, maybe they are teaching us as well, in fact, I know they are.

We are just visiting.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pennies From Heaven

Some twenty nine years ago I met a man in the flower shop that I was working in who would visit and engage the owner of the shop in deep theological discussions. There were times when I was uncomfortable with the two of them debating the subjects that they chose. Looking back the discussions, made with great passion, were on subjects that really didn't matter in the true heavenly realm. I blamed part of it on their faith traditions. It's not important what they were, let's just say that they both came from rather fundamentalist backgrounds.

One day, someone said, “Good Grief,” in fact, the one who said it was me. Now, it should be noted that I was all of 19 when I said it, and I'm not from a fundamentalist faith tradition. One co-worker and my employer jumped me and said that grief was not good. The owners friend looked at me like I had blasphemed, though he knew that I hadn't. His faked aghast was for my sake. He didn't say anything in my defense though.

Later when he came in I heard another employee, thank God it wasn't me, say, “Good Luck!” to someone. Oh mercy, I've never heard such a dressing down. It was said, “there is no such thing as good luck, the Lord has all things in control and you cannot have luck, God doesn't believe in it.” The fellow fundamentalist suddenly proved that he wasn't going to be just a quiet observer in this case. Willy, he said, “I think it's okay to say, good luck, look at it from the standpoint that, Luck, Love and the Lord all come from the same place, God. I think that you need to let up a little. Your line about good grief seemed a bit hard nosed to me last week.” There was more debate and that was somewhat the end of the friend that came to debate all things theological.
I've long remembered those discussions, as you can tell. I've thought heavily on the statement of Good Luck, I think that Richard was right, Luck, Love and the Lord are somewhat the same. I see that God is in control, that I can't argue with, but, we tend to use the term luck in the vernacular of the day. Many of us understand that God is in control and that we don't have to rely upon luck. Love is of God, so that's easy.

Now, to be told that grief isn't good, this is where I have a real problem. We have learned over the years that grief is good for us. Of course there are times when it can be carried for too long, or is it? But when we know that there is no emotion that Jesus didn't experience on earth. His anger always comes to me first because of his action of turning the tables over in the temple because of the sales of sacrifice offerings, probably made with scrip that was good only in the temple. I think of his agony in the garden while facing his death, I think of the emotion that was surely moving through his heart in the upper room where he offered the last supper, I feel like he surely felt disappointment in Judas, that he must have felt the melancholy of knowing that he was eating a last meal with his closest friends on earth. Of course all of these things are conjecture about the last supper. One thing that we know for sure is that Jesus felt grief when his dear friend Lazarus died. When he got word of it he went to the tomb and wept. Remember that,”shortest verse” in the Bible? Jesus wept. That he wept tells all that we need to know, he experienced grief, just as we do.

I know many people who are grieving, I know that like Jesus they weep. I know that weeping can be good because it is a cleansing of our bodies, it helps us to wash the hurt from our eyes, ultimately. I've said recently that if our eyes are the windows of the soul, then tears are the Windex for those windows.

Now, a little more about Luck, Love and the Lord. We often hear superstitions and and fairy tales while we are growing up, take for instance, “Find a penny that's face up and all the day you'll have good luck.” There are times that a penny more is all that we need to complete a purchase, is that where the good luck comes in? You had the extra penny. I like the fairy tale associated with found pennies. Seems that when we find a penny it has been thrown from heaven by someone who is thinking about us, or who wants us to know that they are okay, that they are in paradise. Do I think that those pennies actually fall from heaven? No, I don't, but I like the story just as well. The tale goes on to say that you are to pick up the penny and throw it some distance so that when someone else comes along and finds it they might think that they have found a penny from heaven and will think on someone who has gone before them. Okay, this is where the story proves itself to be a fairy tale. By throwing the penny we know that it didn't fall from heaven, it fell from our hands to someone else's a little farther down the road.
I found a penny the other morning, it was face up. Now, I could have gone with the superstition and thought of it as good luck, but since I buy into the story that they are pennies from heaven, well, I like that idea, and I felt like I knew who would have thrown that penny down from heaven, if that was actually where it came from. I know it isn't true, the penny was laying in front of a gas pump, it was just a little change that didn't make it into someone's pocket.
The song that came out of the depression, Every Time it Rains it Rains Pennies From Heaven, makes me wonder if the tune might have been a reminder to some that they were being told my those who have gone before them that everything was going to be fine, that their grief, shoveled upon them by the government and the nation's economic problems were actually abated by pennies falling from heaven. No, I don't think so.

Isn't it comforting to know that Jesus proved that grief is good by showing it himself, and isn't there some comfort in knowing that when we find those pennies from heaven that it is our own mind telling us that someone is thinking of us from the heavens and that everything is okay?

Luck, Love and the Lord, maybe Richard had a better handle on it than many others do.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Looking on the Face of God

Having been in the floral industry for so many years I have had the opportunity that so many haven't. I've held many varieties of flowers and looked at the beauty in their faces.

I have clutched parrot tulips in my hands in the spring that were green and white with a touch of pink on them that looked as though it was whispered on. During the summer I've looked at the center of zinnias and marveled at how their centers seemed to bear another flower, blossoms among the blossoms. The autumn months have shown to me how very botanical the world can be, dogwood trees that wore a cross in the spring carries a berry to feed the birds. The colors of the autumn flowers become a rich tapestry. When winter comes and the cut ever greens are brought into the shop I am amazed at the silver fir, deep green on the facing surface, the back of the needles looks like polished silver.

I think there are no better fragrances in spring than the early paper white narcissus and the heavenly fragrance of the Easter Lilies are the true heralds of spring for me.

To have the opportunity to see the freckles on a Stargazer Lily is to see the freckles on an auburn headed child. The leggy petals of a John Storre orchid reminds me of the quick little spiders that run through the garden, no real threat to anyone, just momentary visitors. How can a person see a chartreuse Fuji Mum and not gasp at its vibrant color.

I have been blessed to look on these bits of nature and see the face of God and to stand in awe and and wonder at the works of his hands.

It causes me to think of family and friends and how they have become the eyes, ears and hands of God. Ever watching, listening and reaching out. I've see them a lot lately and just as it has been a blessing to look at the face of God's creation and see his face, I've been blessed in watching his eyes, ears and hands at work as well.

All of God's creation working together to make every facet of life beautiful, in the sunny days and in the stormy ones, as well as the days that are deeply covered in clouds. I have looked in the face of flowers and found comfort and I know the comfort that they provide for others.

In all these things, I have seen the face of God in the heavenly realm, as much as I have seen it on earth.