Friday, December 22, 2006

What Christmas Is All About ...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Doin Time For Baby Crime

I confess. I am a news junkie. I do not subscribe to any newspapers. I do not read Time or Newsweek. My computer home page is I usually start there and then go hunting. I am already aware that we are at war and that the war is very unpopular. I know that all kinds of whack-o countries are developing nuclear weapons. I realize that St. Louis has been named the most dangerous city in America. That is not the news I am addicted to.

I like ... the wierd stuff.

Did you know that earlier today a grandmother ... a sweet loving grandmother ... ran her one month old grandson through the carry-on x-ray machine at an airport in L.A.? I mean, can we just think about that for a second? Several things come to mind when I kick this around my frontal lobe. Things like ....

WHAT WAS SHE THINKING? Did she mistake her grandson for her purse? Is this kind of mistake more common that I would have imagined? Did she think that maybe the little fella was a "terrorist infant" and wanted him checked out? Did she mistake that chubby little belly for a belt of dynamite sticks? I'm clueless here.

WHAT WAS HE THINKING? I am truly at a loss to imagine what a one month old thinks about. If I had to guess I would probably say ... oh ... a bottle or a mother's breast? (Perverts ... please go to another blog immediately.) Maybe he would be dreaming of a chocolate covered pacifier? The mother-of-all absorbant diapers? Again ... I'm clueless.

WHAT WAS THE SECURITY GUY THINKING? I can picture this poor burned out guy sitting at his monitor quietly whispering,"hair dryer ... laptop ... stick deoderant ... infant baby ..." Did this guy stop the conveyer belt and back it up to check and see if he really truly saw a baby? Did he go back and forth to check the gender of said child? Did he confiscate the baby and put him with other dangerous items like nose hair trimmers and liquid cough syrup? Did the little guy make his flight or did he have to wait for a later opportunity?

Friends, we live in a truly strange world. When I flew home from Seattle recently I had a carry-on with a laptop computer, an ipod, a gps, two sets of headphones, and miniature speakers. Not to mention wires to plug them all in and spare batteries. Nobody looked twice. Nope. They were busy scanning for babies.

I could tie in some deep spiritual revelation at this point. Like ... oh ... God sees through everything. He knows your inner motivations. You cannot hide anything from Him. He sees all and knows all. But why ruin a classic example of stupid with a classic example of truth? All of those things about God are true and most people reading this blog know that. (Or at least know that I believe that.) No, I will resist the temptation. Sometimes stupid must simply stand alone. Way to go grandma.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Melon Collie

Sitting in front of my fireplace today (yes, of course it had a fire in it. It's December ya know,) I had just finished an extended time alone with God. I didn't know what to do next as I had already been to the mall and polished off my Christmas shopping. So I tried to come up with a good word or term that would cover all of the bases on what my brain and body are saying to me of late. I thought I had the perfect one picked out. Then I was not so sure.

The chosen word is "melancholy." I have always wondered about that word. First of all I had it all misspelled in my head. I thought it was like "melon" and "collie." Yes, I realize that this is weird but I pictured this big long haired dog with a head like a cantelope, a body like a watermelon, and legs like some strange gourds. This would not be a fast dog but then you would not expect him to be fast if he were feeling meloncollie. I mean melancholy.

Just look at that word. MelancHOLY. I don't sense anything more holy about that particular feeling than I sense anything doggie-ish about it. It's just a word that doesn't seem to accomplish much. So I decided to look it up. That was not easily done seeing as how my spelling was all screwed up. But I kept playing with my mac's "widget" dictionary until I hit upon the right combination. Turns out that I didn't know what melancholy means after all.

"Mel*an*chol*y: Noun: A deep, pensive, and long lasting sadness. Adjective: Sad, gloomy, or depressed."

Drat. Now I had to look up "pensive."

"Pen*sive: Adjective: Engaged in, involved in, or reflecting deep or serious thought."

I didn't know it was going to be this complicated. I almost decided to settle for sleepy, tired, semi-light headed and dizzy, deeply weary, or even relaxed yet exhausted. All of those fit pretty well. The last time I got smacked by this adrenaline exhaustion crud it stayed pretty much in the acute stage for 7 full months and hung around for a full year. This time my doctor told me to quit or it would likely finish me off eventually. (I did not ask him specifically what "finish" was meant to imply. Why ask what you don't want to know?) The last few weeks of rest seems to have broken its back this time but it is not vanishing into thin air just yet.

Anyway, back to the point. I kept feeling called back to melancholy. So the first thing I did was to toss out the last two thirds of the adjective thing. I've never felt LESS gloomy or depressed. I had to keep the "sad" in because it was listed under the whole noun thing too.

"A deep, pensive, and long lasting sadness." I thought I ought to chew on it for a few hours.

In the meantime Debbie came home and we had a split vote on what to eat for supper. I nixed her idea of cooking because I was feeling too lazy to help and too guilty to let her do it alone. I offered up the suggestion of a local barbeque place. She took me up on it. So we got in the Explorer and i drove to a Chinese place. She looked at me really funny as I parked but, hey, it was a buffet so who is going to argue with that? She's no dummy.

After eating wahn lahn poo or something like that we went to the mall. It was one of those in and out trips. Debbie went to some girl store and I, being the Man of God that I am, went to the Family Christian Store. About ten feet from the entrance was where it happened.

"It" was three high school girls. I did not know them. But they had these bright eyes. They were smiling and laughing. Having fun. As I passed them they probably thought I was "one of those guys" because I just stared at them. It was their eyes. There was life in them. I looked around at the adults like me and our eyes are either darting around trying to figure out which way to go next or staring down at the floor in deep thought about difficult issues. But not these girls. Their eyes danced. When I saw them I felt a a hand grenade go off in my heart.

That is when I knew what I felt. Melancholy. A deep, pensive, and long lasting sadness. I miss a whole bunch of teenagers. "My kids." I miss Rachel who I always called Sarah and I miss Sarah who I always called Rachel. I miss Casey because he liked to hug me and it was a real hug that meant that I mattered to him. I miss Deano and his laugh and his smile. I miss Hannah and the way that she always looked at me like I was an idiot (that would have offended me except I realized that she was right.) I miss Hillary because, well, because she's Hillary. I miss Chelsea because she was about the only teenager that consistently called me "Pastor Ron." Actually, I think she was the only one that realized that I am a pastor. Ok, not really. But they never treated me in that high and holy way. They let me be old and gray haired and much slower in JPL than they were because they knew I had my physical pedal to the metal and they were good with that. I could go on. And on. And on. And on. I miss them all. Every one of them.

I do not miss meetings. I do not miss purchase orders. I do not miss schedules. I miss them. I miss loving them, helping them, encouraging them, teaching them and just being with them.

God created me to be a youth pastor. He let me do it for a really long time. I know that I will never get over it. I do not want to get over it. I did it for 32 years and that is considered a career. In the military I would have a really sweet pension if I had given them 32 years. And now two of my three kids work with teenagers and the other works with preschoolers. My brother was a youth pastor. It is in our blood line. Our genes. There has not been one day since 1973 that one of my immediate family members was not a youth pastor. We've overlapped each other a few times but never has there been a day since I was in high school (my brother graduated first and went right into youth ministry) that one of us was not in youth ministry.

I spoke at the National Youth Workers Convention last month. The youth pastor's in the room were very attentive and absorbed in our topic. Then somebody asked how long I had been doing youth ministry. I told them. Expressions changed. NOBODY lasts 32 years. But there is a secret. I quit just about every Monday. I wrote more letters of resignation than you would believe. I just never turned them in until last month. Lasting 32 years was not a me thing at all. It was a calling ... a gift from God.

And now it is over and I am looking at an entirely different type of ministry. And as much as I am looking forward to it I just have to admit something. Leaving youth ministry was exactly what God directed me to do. I was obedient. And now? Now I am feeling very, very ... melancholy.

Monday, December 18, 2006

I'm kicking my tires and checking my oil ...

Illinois? Missouri? Indiana? Wisconsin? Florida? They are all on the current short list.

Where am I going to live? It has been many years since I seriously asked this question. Sure, there was a time or two while living in our current dwelling that I considered other opportunities. While I did take them seriously none of them seemed to be a place or a situation God was directing me to.

This is different. I know that I have completed my call here. After 3 weeks of reflection and seeking God's heart I am firmly convinced that I began in this town on the day God wanted me to begin here. March 26, 1983. Furthermore, I believe that my last day serving here was the day God determined would be my last day. November 26, 2006. I am held to this town by one thing. I own a home here. Ok, two things. My wife works nearby. Oh right, three things. Family lives nearby. (Specifically a precious daughter, a fantastic son-in-lawy, the most beautiful granddaughter on the planet, a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law.) Wait, four things. God's given me a few life-long friends here that it will be tough to say good-bye to. But I look at the questions differently today than I did in the recent and not so recent past. I am fully aware that God is sending me to a new assignment. And I do not know where. As tied to this place as I am by real estate, Debbie's occupation and, most importantly, family and friends, I have to place all considerations secondary to the will of God. He has made it clear that I may be remaining in the general surroundings of this metropolitan area. It is a distinct possibility. But there are other distinct possibilities too. I do not feel any pressure at all because the decision is not mine. The decision is God's.

And this is a decision He has not yet revealed to me.

Several people have asked me if I am stressing over not knowing what comes next. The answer is "no." Not at all. Not even a little bit. The moment I finished my most recent assignment I felt the pleasure of God rest upon me through His Holy Spirit like I have not felt it in a long time. That makes no sense. It is illogical. But then God generally makes no sense and is most often illogical. So why should I be surprised?

You know what I feel? I feel honored. This may make no sense to you but that is ok. It makes sense to me and that is enough for now. I feel honored that God would ask me to trust Him at such a level that it would require me to resign from my long held ministry position with absolutely no clue as to what comes next. I feel honored that He would think that just maybe I would trust Him enough to do that. I feel honored that He has given me this Christmas season to totally skip all musicals, meetings, parties and everything else that has been such a part of my past 2.3 decades. While those are all excellent things they do begin to wear on a pastor. I have learned that Christmas is more fun NOT being a pastor than it is being a pastor. I have read approximately 25% of the bible in the last 3 weeks. I have spent countless hours alone with God. I have sung to Him and He has been kind enough to listen which simply cannot be a pleasant experience. I have shared many evenings alone with my lovely bride just enjoying her. We have worshipped with a lot of people that we do not know and they have all been very gracious to us. I actually purchased some Christmas music this year. I never purchase Christmas music. Something must be going on in my heart! My new pastor took me to lunch last Wednesday and we spent 2 hours just talking. I already knew him (slightly) but I did not know that I would like him as much as I do. He knows that my time at his church will be short. And you know what he told me? He told me to rest. He told me to come when I am up to it, to visit other churches when I want to and ... in a very gracious way ... he told me to feel free to stay at home, sleep in and major on just healing and getting well when that is what I need to do. Do you know how that made me feel? Honestly? I felt like I was having lunch with Jesus. My new pastor was Jesus with skin on to me. He even picked-up the check.

It feels good to feel good. I know, I know. That is redundant. But if you have ever felt really bad and I mean REALLY bad in a scary way, you know what I mean. Sometimes lately I just sit down and revel in the reckless joy of knowing Abba has His hands under, above and around my family and I. Sometimes I just feel free in a way that I have not felt in a very long time. I suspect that it may be something like a soldier feels when his tour of duty is over. Certainly not that dramatically but I think there is a parallel. And honestly, sometimes I feel totally wasted and junky. Occasionally when I take a nap in the afternoon (you can do that if you are unemployed!) I wake up feeling really strange. Other worldly. And the most annoying thing is that my left eye decides to rebel in those moments. it goes all blurry and all foggy. I do not understand that. I remember some similar things happening when I was ill in 2001. This is pretty much the same. I'll go to my big kahoona eye doctor in January if it is not better. And I've got this lump on my left elbow that keeps filling up with blood. They gave me meds to try to fix it and it did not work. But what it did do is mess me up because the new meds did not like my old meds. I really do not think I am old enough to be taking 14 pills a day. FOURTEEN! My next door neighbor is 87 and he is pill-less. I take more pills than my 15 year old friend Ashley did when she had leukemia. Kind of ridiculous, wouldn't you say? 5 years ago I was a work-out-aholic. I miss my daily runs. Turns out that adrenaline is important and when you burn yours all up ... you are going to feel an "owwie." And you are going to take pills. Yum.

Oh well. That's just a me update. Some of you have been asking what's going on in our lives. This was the best way I could think of to answer. It occurs to me that it might just be one big whine. If so ... sorry. But it is, after all, MY BLOG!

Comedy is tragedy with distance. Next year ought to be hilalrious.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Prison Break ... Beagle Style

I was home alone this afternoon. No, that is not a bad thing. I had stuff to do and I could do it better and more quickly if I had less distractions. And then the Bears happened. They played the Buc's today and those wiley Floridians started to make a game of it toward the 4th quarter.

That is when the bells rang. We have this leather strap hanging from the knob of the back door of our house. Debbie has trained Bailey The Killer Beagle to jump and ring the bells if she wants to go out. She jumped with about 50 seconds left in the 3rd quarter. I groaned, got up, hooked her to her chain and let her into the back yard. I went back to the living room and continued screaming at the television and the Bears victory that was clearly slip sliden away. The game went into overtime. I hate it when that happens.

That's when I realized Bailey was still outside. I walked to the back door to let her in. Gazing into the backyard I saw the end of her metal cord of a leash sitting all lonely in the grass. No Beagle. This is not the first time Bailey has managed to escape the steely grip of her forty feet of freedom. I put some sneakers on, got in my car and started to drive. And drive. And drive. I put about 5 miles on the car in 45 minutes. That is a lot of driving when you are only doing 25mph in and around my neighborhood. No sign of Bailey. Anywhere. I gave up and went home.

There just was not much I could do. She could be anywhere. Beagles are famous for having great noses. Hopefully she can track back home when she gets hungry enough. Assuming she avoids the pick-up trucks and mini-van's that roam our street. I decided to get my mind off of Bailey by cleaning our bathrooms. All 3 of them. Ok, I'm clearly lying. Nobody that knows me would believe for a minute that I just "decided to clean the bathrooms." I was saving my marriage. Don't ask.

I first heard it when I was on the second bathroom. Something slammed into the back door. Bailey? I jogged toward the kitchen in time to see my Beagle dart away from the door and begin a loop around the backyard. She was being followed by a VERY LARGE chocolate lab. And she did not have much of a lead. After she made her circle she slammed into the back door again, jumping against it so that she could briefly see inside. I have to wonder what was going on in her walnut sized brain. The lab got there before I could do anything about saving her. And so she began her next lap around the yard with the lab in hot pursuit. When she came around and slammed into the door again I opened it and tried to drag her inside but the lab was too fast and he ran over her in an attempt to get in himself. I slammed the door catching him mid-body. Then I pushed him back outside. This did not please Bailey who suddenly found herself circling the yard yet again. Hey ... it was her or me!

It took 4 more laps, a pair of thick leather fire place gloves and a well placed pile of milky bones off to the side of the door (hopefully to distract the lab ... though it didn't work) for me to grab her around her little scrawny neck and yank her inside as the big dog snapped at her tail.

You have never seen a beagle look more grateful in her life. She did not even wait for her usual "welcome back into the house and thanks for peeing outside milky bone." She went straight for her cage and dug under her blankets. I do believe that if she had opposable thumbs she would have closed and locked the door behind her. The lab trotted away. Probably finished off a squirrel or two before going home himself.

It's been nearly 5 hours since the prison break ... Beagle style. Bailey has not rung the bell once. She doesn't want to go outside. I think I may have to grab a baseball bat and go with her if I want her to go outside before bedding down for the tonight.

Thinking back on this day I have to say that church was really wonderful this morning, I had a great Mexican lunch and the Bears (finally) won this afternoon. And yet I really think the highlight of my day was seeing Bailey The Killer Beagle "get hers." After all the times I have chased her around the neighborhood this was total justice. She is the most arrogant dog alive and today she received the gift of humility.

Thank you, Mr. Chocolate Lab, wherever you are.