Archive for the ‘love’ category

Dad’s Things

February 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 19, 2018

                                             

It’s a small apartment located at the end of the first floor in the Wyngate Senior Living Complex. Dad has lived there for about the last three years, making new friends and acquaintances with other travelers of life’s final chapters.

Later on today and tomorrow my sister and I will spend some time over there going through some of his possessions, and breathing in the memories.

Dad passed from this life to the next on February 15 at the age of 89 years and 8 months. His was a life well-lived!

His apartment is a testimony to who he was and what had become entwined in his life.

There are the oxygen tanks that testify to his health limitations. Like a changing autumn landscape, I had noticed the changing interior of his apartment when I would come for one of my visits to southern Ohio from Colorado. Medications, the medical supplies a diabetic would need, blood pressure monitor, and (Sorry, Dad!) a good supply of adult diapers, his apartment spoke about that winter season of life that most of us will arrive at.

Scattered through the living room, bedroom, and closet are numerous items with the initials “U.K.” on them. Dad graduated from The University of Kentucky. He was proud of his Wildcats, suffering through many a football season and much happier most basketball seasons. There are UK shirts, hats, mugs, plates, flags, and the 1951 UK Yearbook. He had attended Kentucky after getting out of the Navy, but it wasn’t easy. He had married Mom, welcomed Child #1, our brother, Charlie, and provided for his growing family as he wore the hats labeled student, employee, husband, and father. Things were not easy during his UK years, and yet those years shaped him with the elements of resolve, perseverance, and organization.

Come to think of it, using the word “scattered” to begin that last paragraph would be the antithesis of who Dad was. His apartment is organized. His papers are organized. His cupboards are organized. By golly, his dresser drawers are organized!

There are Rotary remembrances. The service club had been a part of Dad’s life for close to forty years, joining the Ironton, Ohio chapter not long after our family moved to the town in 1969. Service defined Pops! He fit well in the organization that was sewed into the community’s fabric. But he also served the church, served his neighbors, and served our mother in their sixty-five years of marriage. He served as her caregiver in the last few years of her life, and at Wyngate he did those little acts of service. I remember my sister telling me that Dad tutored a woman who lived in the apartment next to him on how to give herself an insulin shot. She was scared to death, but Dad was able to bring down her anxiety about being poked and help her jump over that hurdle.

Pictures and pictures! Photo albums filled with pictures…framed pictures…pictures attached to his refrigerator…pictures with meaning and memories. The pictures give “snapshots” of his journey…family, church, laughter, friendships.

Going through Dad’s things, I realize, is important for my walk of grief. It’s ointment for my aching soul as I cry out for my father to come and sit beside me. Most of the things in his  apartment will end up going to Goodwill or to someone else who needs furniture or dishes, but for now I need to be amongst “his things”. It’s a part of letting go and finding peace.

The Hand Grasp of My Father

February 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                February 16, 2018

                             

“Dad, look who’s here to see you!”

I entered his hospital room and caught sight of the elderly man, withered and worn out. His dinner tray, that he hadn’t the least bit interest in, was in front go him. Perhaps a six year old should be made to eat his peas and carrots but not an 89 year old man in his last hours.

He mumbled a few words when he caught sight of me. I think he said, “Well, hi, son!”

And he grasped my hand with firmness and purpose.

That hand had grasped me a number of times over the course of my life. Sometimes it conveyed discipline and disappointment, and at other times it told me of a father’s pride in his son’s accomplishments and decisions.

I remember that hand on the back of the bicycle I was learning to ride. I’d be wobbling like a Saturday night drunk riding it down the sidewalk. Dad would be jogging along behind me keeping me propped up, firmly grasping the back of the seat. From the front it must have looked like a car in serious need of the wheels being aligned, but from the back it was a view of the youngest child taking another step in the long ride of growing up.

“Dad, I can’t get the lawnmower started.”

Dad came out to the garage where I was struggling with the machine. His hand firmly grasped the handle on the end of the pull cord and he pulled. On the second pull the motor took off and he looked at me with a slight smile that non-verbally communicated “You’ve got to put a little muscle behind it.”

“Thanks!” I sheepishly replied.

I remember the grasp of the hand at the end of my ordination service on June 24, 1979. I had just been given the charge to ministry, been prayed over, and congratulated…and then there was Dad’s hand grasp telling me how proud he was of me, but also the importance of the calling.

Last summer we stood in a side classroom of Beulah Baptist Church. The worship service had ended a few minutes before that and there was a woman who had requested that the deacons pray for her. A serious medical condition had been discovered. They invited me to join them in the prayer circle around the lady. I stood next to my father, Deacon Emeritus of the church, grasped his hand, and then listened to him and others pray for the woman. His hand hold was firm, just as his faith in the power of prayer was strong.

Within an hour we held each other’s hands around the dinner table as he prayed for the blessings of God upon our meal and family.

When I would come from Colorado to visit him in the past few years he would reach his hand towards me at meal time, grasp it with care, and pray the dinner grace.

After several minutes in the hospital room he finally releases his grip and allows my sister to feed him the chocolate pudding from his tray. Unlike the peas and carrots he eats all of the pudding. It’s the last food he will partake of, a taste of sweetness that describes the effect of his life on so many others.

Less than a day later he passes on…and it’s okay! Like his hand grasp, he is a man who had a firm grasp on what is important in life.

That last grasp of the hand. I’m extremely thankful that God allowed me to have it. In my memories of Pops i’ll hold on to that moment for a long, long time.

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!

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.

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!

The Wisdom of Moderation

January 9, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              January 9, 2018

                                         

Two of Apple’s largest stockholders are asking the company to help curb the digital addiction of children and youth. A ripple effect of the iPhone’s popularity, as well as SnapChat, texting, Facebook, and other forms of social media, has been the increasing amount of time the younger generation is “hooked” on their digital devices.

At the middle school that I substitute teach and coach at digital devices are part of the educational tool shed. Students are told to get online on their devices and sign in at Google Classroom for the reading assignment or questions to answer as they read. Research gets done at their desk on their iPhone.

Last spring, however, I experienced the other side of the digital addiction age. Several eighth graders focused on their iPhones when they were to be reading a textbook assignment. They attempted to keep their devices hidden from sight, but I wasn’t born yesterday. I recognize that sneaky look from my days of trying to hide cheat sheets in high school Spanish class.

Social media and iPhones are just the latest of a long, long line of products and vices that grow to the point of being obsessions and addictions. The average American teenager receives his/her first iPhone at the age of 10 and spends four and a half hours a day using it, not counting texts and phone calls. Recent research is connecting the risk of teen suicide with the amount of time teens spend using their digital devices. Adolescents who spend several hours a day using their digital devices tend to feel more isolated and depressed. Teens that spend less than two hours a day on their devices tend to be happier.

We should not be surprised at the negative implications of over-consumption. It fits with the scheme of things. A healthy life- physical, spiritual, emotional, mental- has balance to it. An unhealthy life is often out of balance in some way or several ways.

Several years ago I discovered Chinese buffets. I’d go there for lunch and gorge myself. The afternoon was spent feeling lousy, and I added several pounds to my body weight. I finally wised up and swore them off. I now have not been to a Chinese buffet in about ten years and, I don’t want to say it is the only reason but, my cholesterol has dropped.

There’s a great proverbs of Solomon’s that says this, “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28)

When we become obsessed we become vulnerable. We see in our culture today that obsessions come in different forms and in various venues. There’s greed, drunkenness, gluttony, sexual addiction, workaholic-ism, laziness, and on and on. Any obsession leads to a “broken wall’ where some kind of enemy or evil can enter in.

Pretty much anything in our life is to be practiced, consumed, or done in moderation. There is wisdom in moderation, and there is usually trouble in excessiveness.

It will be interesting to see how Apple and social media companies respond to the request about digital addiction. Apple may simply see it as a way to develop a new product designed for adolescents. In essence, it could be a new way to make money for them. The real question is what will the social media companies do that rely on consumption, exposure, and screen time to make their profits?

Companies, also, more often than not, have no self-control!