Archive for the ‘Grace’ category

Going To See Dad…Probably for the Last Time!

February 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 14, 2018

                       

I’m sitting in the Denver airport waiting for an early morning plane that will jet me across the country, hurry me off it in order to find another plane that will then come part of the way back in the other direction. It’s a hard trip, not because of the stress of flying, but rather because of the reason for the journey.

Dad is failing. It’s not unexpected. His second home this past year has been St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. He’s inching towards his 90th birthday. Each week seems to bring a new health concern. Last week my sister was by his side for a consultation with a hospice counselor.

Today’s flight is punctuated with memories and uncertainty.

I remember how my dad stood by my mom’s side in her final days as the Parkinson’s gradually took away her ability to use her hands and legs, and her ability to speak. It was a painful journey.

I remember his journey to Colorado to attend our youngest daughter’s wedding. While there he brought Lizi to tears with the gift of a special piece of jewelry that had been my mom’s.

Since I didn’t eat breakfast this morning, I’m remembering my dad’s hamburgers. Honestly, I have never tasted another hamburger that rivaled his. Even though I got the recipe and instructions from him I could never come close to the distinctive flavor. When you ate two of Dad’s burgers you were sorry that you couldn’t handle a third!

I remember the sadness we experienced when he couldn’t attend our oldest daughter’s wedding because Mom’s health was not good, but I also cherish the memories of his visit about four years ago and how he bonded with our granddaughter Reagan, who was three at the time. I remember her coming into the house one morning and yelling, “Papaw, Papaw!” She paused for a moment and then she said to me, “I know he’s here. I can smell him!” (His after shave announced his presence.)

As the plane flies through the clouds I can’t see anything around me or below me. It’s a metaphor for Dad’s situation. There is not a clear picture of what is and what will be. Somewhere in front of us the clouds will part and the picture will be seen.

My emotions are close to the surface. A few times this morning the potential for tears was heightened, and yet they haven’t erupted as I expect they will. My father’s best emotion was laughter-laced joy. I can hear the echo of his chuckle as we fly over Kansas. I can see his body shaking in rhythm with the laughter. If it was a story that he was telling for the hundredth time he’d close the tale with his hand slapping his knee in total appreciation for the memory.

Death is not a fear of Pops. He’s prepared himself for it. A number of times over the past four and a half years since Mom passed he has taken the hour and a half drive over to Johnson County, Kentucky to visit her grave. His name is already etched on the grave marker beside her. A few feet away are the resting places of my aunts and uncles, and a wee bit further is where his mom, Grace Wolfe, has long since been lowered into the ground. Dad is ready to once again be laying next to my mother. There is sweetness and love in the known destination, just as there is a mixture of grief and peace within me as I consider what is to come.

Being Deacon Emeritus of his church, Beulah Baptist, death is simply a part of the faith journey. Dad looks forward to the reunion of the saints, and the glory of the Eternal Gathering.

“How’s it going, Pops?” That has been my Sunday night greeting to him for the past several years. “Well, hi, son!”

And we’d talk about this, that, and the other…the ladies at Wyngate (his senior independent living complex where he has resided for three years) who have been giving him the eye and considering the possibilities; the Kentucky Wildcats (he being a UK grad in the early 50’s); the latest fire alarm at Wyngate set off by one of the residents who wanted to cook up some bacon on a Friday night in his apartment; how his friend, Bill Ball, was doing (Bill passed away last August); and the weather.

I’ll miss the way we could make each other laugh, and at the thought of it I can sense the rumblings of the tears rising up.

Last weekend thousands of people attended a funeral in Colorado Springs for Micah Flick, a Sheriff’s deputy who was killed in the line of duty. A father, he leaves behind a wife and twin toddlers. It is a story about the cruelty of life, a senseless shooting by a man who did not value the life of someone else. Micah, in fact, took a bullet to save someone else’s life. He will always be remembered as a hero, even in the midst of tragedy.

My dad’s journey gets placed on the other end of the spectrum, a life that has been longer than anyone expected, a life that will be celebrated with tears of thankfulness and the smiles of many.

Things will not be the same, and that’s okay!

Temporary Disfigurement

February 5, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 February 5, 2018

                              

My wife and I went to see the movie Wonder a few weeks ago. We found ourselves shedding a few tears during the film, which followed the story of a fifth grade boy named “Auggie” who had Treacher Collins syndrome. Because of his condition Auggie would wear an astronaut’s helmet around whenever he was in public. He dreamed of being an astronaut because in space no one sees the faces of others.

Ten and eleven year old kids can be cruel, but they can also be compassionate. Auggie experiences both ends of the pendulum as it swung from classmate to classmate.

I was deeply moved by watching the film and pondering its messages. Weeks later I’m still thinking about it!

And then Saturday morning I woke up with a rash on the side of my face that made me want to put on an astronaut’s helmet…or paper bag. By Saturday afternoon I looked like I had a huge chaw of chewing tobacco between my left cheek and gum (Not that I’ve ever done that, but I was born in Kentucky! Half the barns in the state used to have “Chew Mail Pouch” painted on one side!).

The past two days I’ve had a few “Auggie moments”. That is, I’m very self-conscious of my face and I assume that everyone I see is looking at me. There’s a sense of embarrassment tied into it. I don’t feel normal, and normal is what all of us want to be unless we’re doing something that our culture thinks is extraordinary.

Lessons are learned in the abnormal moments of life.

This afternoon middle school boy’s basketball tryouts begin. It’s my seventeenth season coaching at Timberview Middle School, and it’s the seventeenth time I will see the uncertainty of seventh and eighth grade boys as they deal with the uncomfortableness of being watched by coaches and other boys who they feel inferior to. Perhaps God gave me this rash to help me empathize with the pressures of being a twelve year old.

Actually, there’s that hint of uncertainty and inadequacy in any middle school child. With some it just might be a little deeper below the surface, but it’s there. Much of the time he or she simply stays out of situations where it has the potential to rise to the surface.

I can relate. In my few trips out in public the last three days I’ve tried to stay to the left so the left side of my face is away from people. Three months from today I’ll turn 64 and I’m still sensitive to my insufficiencies!

I’m simply a self-conscious adolescent in an elderly shell!

Wrestling with Spartan Loyalty

January 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             January 28, 2018

                                 

It’s been a tough week in Spartan Land! The Larry Nassar horror had been going on for a while. I wanted to believe that he was more connected to USA Gymnastics than Michigan State University.

You see, that’s a big part of my problem, and struggle. I don’t want to believe that anything can go wrong in Spartan Country.

Sports Information Director at the Air Force Academy, Troy Garnhart, told me of the Academy’s football game at Michigan State a couple of years ago. He was impressed by everything- the people, the facilities, but, most of all, the hospitality and genuineness of the coaches and players. That’s what I want to hear! It’s difficult to hear that the coin actually has another side to it.

I want to believe that about the other university about an hour southeast down the road. Anything that makes Jim Harbaugh want to puke…like a blocked punt on the final play of a football game…brings a smile to my face!

But this is Spartan Land, and I wouldn’t even want such a debacle to happen in Ann Arbor. One of sexual assault victims of Larry Nassar is the daughter of a man who was a part of the youth group I led back in the early eighties in Lansing. Her testimony personalized a story that became so immense that there was a danger of seeing so many victims- more than one hundred and fifty, but forgetting that each one of them endured pain and suffering.

As happens in our culture, the indiscretions of one becomes the fault of the many. We’re teetering on the edge of a moral ledge where things that have been kept hidden are raising their ugly heads. In recent months, more than usual, an incision into the heart of our society has revealed the darkness of how we live. In our talent for avoidance we usually shrug off the rumors, but, in this situation, the reality has tsunami’ed us. The Nassar crimes are like when you look at a wall and see a crack in the paint, but when you more closely investigate it you notice that the crack extends in all directions.

I want to still live in Spartan Land but the “Green and White” has become grey-ish! I want my heroes to stay standing on pedestals, but I’m afraid that the possibility of falling off is increasing daily.

And how far does the failure of responsibility ripple out? A university president and the athletic director have already retired/resigned. The entire board of USA Gymnastics joined the list of resignations. How many more will be found to have ignored the elephant in the room?

I’ll always root for the Spartans, but when I wear my Michigan State hoodie nowadays I’m reminded more of the damage that has been done to a multitude of lives than I am of Spartan victories.

A school that has been known for “Magic” has entered a new chapter that is entitled  “Tragic”!

The Last Stool On the Right

January 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              January 21, 2018

                               

I sit on my stool this morning drinking my Pike Place medium roast and staring out at the snow flying past the window. The storm obscures my usual view of Pike’s Peak, but there is still a sense of peace in the scene in front of me. My earbuds bring soft music to my ears and I sip my morning brew with an attitude of gratitude about God’s hand of grace and abundant blessings.

The last stool on the right at the Starbucks on the corner of Union and Briargate Parkway is my sacred place, or perhaps better phrased, my sacred seat! Some spiritual pessimists may question my choice for where I sense the closeness of God, but I’m okay with that…as long as they stay off my stool! Strange as it may sound, it is from this perch that I have my deepest spiritual ponderings and quiet (with music in my ears) moments with God. Perhaps I should call it “Coffee With Jesus”!

Each one of us needs our space, but we too often neglect to look for some sacred space. We minimize the urgency of holy whisperings in the midst of the culture’s noise. As I sit here this morning God brings people to my mind even as I’m pecking out the words of my blog post.

Ray Stromenger, having a heart procedure tomorrow…my dad passing blood in his urine…one of the young ladies I used to coach in basketball, Autumn Boyles, who torn her ACL in her game last Thursday night…Diana Stucky, who I know will be dealing with a health condition she has in the midst of the change in weather we’re dealing with…my niece, Jennifer Graham, recovering from surgery…Henry McIntosh, in his journey of loss as he grieves his wife’s passing…our neighbor’s, the Nash’s, who lost their eighteen year old grandson back in late October…Nate and Alyssa Price, celebrating the birth of their son. The longer I sit here the more names and faces keep passing through my mind, many because of the down moments of life, but some because of the mountain top events they are shouting about.

Psalm 16:11 says “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence…”

 

That Psalm is referred to as a “miktam”, a term that many believe is unclear or untranslatable, but some believe it meant that the Psalm attached to it was of such importance that it needed to be engraved in the hearts and minds of the ones saying it.

I sit in his presence experiencing the quiet joy of the morning, and reciting those words once again…”You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

My sacred spot usually runs through three cups of coffee, one blog post, about fifteen recorded songs, and then it’s time to journey back to the rest of my day. It’s an intimate time, oddly enough, in the midst of a gathering crowd of coffee drinkers.

I’ve warmed the stool for the next journeyer as God has warmed my soul. Amen.

Half-Free

January 17, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 17, 2018

                                             

We are drawn to the word free! After all, we live in the land of the free and the brave. Free sells!

Last week’s mail brought a couple of “FREE” offers. I intentionally wrote the word in capital letters there because that’s how it was displayed in the advertisement. “FREE” draws a person’s attention like the smell of your next door neighbor’s barbecuing. I looked closer at the ad for the restaurant. I could go there and get a free breakfast, lunch, or dinner…here it comes…with the purchase of another meal and two drinks.

Wouldn’t that make the free meal half-free? Or, wouldn’t it mean that I’d be getting two meals for a little bit more than half-price ( knowing what they charge for a soda!)?

We love free! Half-off still dips into our wallet. It still costs us something! If we approached a marriage proposal by saying “I’m half in love with you” or “I want to be married to you half the time” the results, hopefully, would be an end to the relationship before the wedding vows were half-said in front of a crowded church sanctuary.

Free is a word that must be untangled from the grasp of an addendum.

Some might say that being a follower of Jesus is like that; that the person who is witnessing for Jesus talks about being freed from sin, but then talks about what it means to be a follower of Christ. It’s that tension between the understanding that Jesus died on the cross to set me free, and then being told that accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior means that I’ll do this and that.

In the days of the New Testament there was the division between those who were free and those who were enslaved. Paul refers to that cultural condition quite often in his epistle writings. Those who read his letters understood the separation, and even though they were slaves to masters they were drawn to the principle that freedom could be experienced in a spiritual sense.

What if the gospel only set us half-free? What if it unchained us in some ways, but failed to unburden us in others?

And from another perspective, are there those who see themselves as followers of Christ but have allowed his sacrifice to only set them half-free?

Half-free is half-hearted.

Grace-Filled Winning

January 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        January 15, 2018

                                        

Recently a high school women’s basketball team in our area was beaten by 94 points. They were missing a couple of their players that day, but other defeats this season have been lop-sided as well, just not in the same zip code as 94.

In my years as a coach I’ve been on both sides of the final score…on the left side of the  hyphen with a way larger number than my waist size…and on the right side of the hyphen with a digit that looks as embarrassed as a naked child in a grocery store.

One of the first games I coached was a YMCA Church League game for middle school boys. We lost 75-5 and my only player who could dribble and chew gum at the same time broke his wrist. That team struggled to score more than six points in any game for the rest of the season. One of our last games was against Bethlehem Lutheran, and their associate pastor, Noel Niemann, was also their coach. Noel knew what our team’s skill level was and he purposely had his players play a packed in 2-3 zone defense and allowed our players to shoot from the outside. They beat us 36-12, but my team was elated that the scoreboard had to use two digits to display our team’s score. That was in 1982 and I still remember Noel’s name, the score, and the sportsmanship.

I seldom see grace filter into sports these days. It’s seen as a sign of weakness. “After all,” say too many coaches, “we’ve practiced hard. Winning in a blowout is our just rewards for practicing hard!”

That argument carries only so far! Winning by a ton of points is usually fueled by a coach’s arrogance, blood-thirsty parents in the bleachers, or players who think it says something about how impressive their skill level is.

In most states high school athletes can choice into schools that ordinarily they would not be going to. Certain high schools are accumulating more than their fair share of the better players, while other schools are encountering cupboards that are bare. Mismatches are evident before the season even begins. And it will continue to be!

So whose responsibility is to be win with grace?

The opportunity to show grace begins with the coach. I use the word “opportunity” because it should be seen as such. Not a requirement, but rather a gift wrapped in the lesson of sportsmanship. Any sporting event is a venue for how we wish people would treat each other. Too often it is a place where the participants strut like peacocks and the observers say things they would not want their mothers, some already in the grave, to hear.

Grace in winning is an opportunity for a coach to teach his/her players a different lesson that is unrelated to the score. Not enough coaches seem to understand that so now there is this thing called “The Mercy Rule.” The name should be a stop sign, but, instead, it has just become a point in the game where one team is a certain number of points ahead of the other team…and mercy has gone out for coffee!

High school sports, and maybe even more than that, middle school sports, need more coaches who teach the skills of the game, but also the character that a person can have. It needs more coaches that can model for their players that winning is more than a good-looking number figure on the left side of the hyphen.

It needs more “Noel Niemann’s”!

Editing My Life

January 12, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 12, 2018

                                             

Ed and Diana Stucky are great friends. Simply awesome people, humble and caring, empathetic and honest. In recent months they’ve been editing the book that I’ve written. Diana looks for better flow of sentences, corrects my punctuation, suggests ideas for how to develop characters and the plot. Ed reads the story, looking for flow and consistency. Being the adult curriculum editor at Cook Communications, he’s pretty darned good at it.

And these are two friends that I’ve been blessed with!

I’m now writing the sequel, even though I have no idea whether the first book…and those after…will ever be published. And Diana continues to check my work and help me chart the journey of the story ahead.

I’ve had a multiple of “redo’s” in this experience, taking a conversation that was written and rewriting it to make a stronger point. The redo’s are usually the result of conversations with E&D that cause me to rethink and backtrack for another go at it.

If the book ever gets published it will be because of two great editors who have made it a better read, a story that keeps the attention of the reader and even, in a couple of places, brings them to tears.

I was thinking about that this week in terms of my life. How would I like my life to be edited? Where would I like a few “redo’s” to happen?  In what conversations would I choose to change a few words?

I’m sure everyone thinks about it! We look at our screw-ups and wish we could turn the clock back for another go at it. We dream of our lives having a DVR button that we could use to replay a moment…and replay a moment…and replay a moment…until we get it perfect. Think of the movie Groundhog Day!

When one of the basketball teams I coach loses a game I replay certain situations as I lay in bed that night. I think of what should have been, a horrendous call by one of the officials, missed free throws and layups, and I edit the game in my mind to bring about a different end result.

If I could edit my life I could look a lot better in the eyes of those who know me, massively awesome!

But such a redo would diminish the thoughtlessness of our words and cruelty of our actions. In other words, when I screw up it is usually because I made a personal choice to follow my own selfish desires irregardless of the impact it has had on others. When I choose a direction that is not in line with what God hopes it is the revealer of the waywardness of my heart. To be able to edit my life would make me look better than I am.

Like Ed and Diana have been for my writing, God volunteers to be the editor of our lives. His grace and forgiveness in reality are his formula for a redo. When I cringe over a decision I have made he offers grace and forgiveness that tells me I can give it another try. Jesus’ death on the cross was the sign of God’s commitment to forget what was and love us in the redo’s. Paul wrote these words in his letter to the Romans: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8)

He edits out the errors through his Son’s atoning sacrifice. Amen!