Friday, January 26, 2007

B Brief ...

I had prepared a beautiful piece of writing tonight to share with the world my deep and lasting love for my daughter. But she mentioned that my blogs were running a little long so I figured I'd just cut this one short.

Love ya, honey!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Lunch with Judy

Her name is Judy. She is a little bit older than I am. She is a lot smarter than I am. And she has done what I've done for longer than I have done it. When I arrived in my adopted hometown in 1983 Judy was already a part of a group of volunteers that worked with the teenagers at the church where I had accepted the position of youth pastor. When I resigned 2 months ago Judy was STILL going. Strong. This woman is the Energizer Bunnie's worst nightmare!

Judy invited me to lunch today at a local pizza place. It's the same place where we have huddled together dozens of times over the years discussing this kid or that situation. We have strategized there and debriefed each other there. Today? Today we just ate lunch, talked about old times and she brought me up to date on how the kids are doing.

Once upon a time Judy and I figured how many times we had driven (the equivelent of) around the globe at the equator with teens. I've been told that the distance around the old planet is about 24,900 miles. At that time we figured we had done it twice. That was in about 1990. We had been together for 7 years. That was 17 years ago. I have no idea how many times it would be now but let's just say we'd be Rand McNally's dream customers.

Judy has bailed me out countless times. All I ever had to do was call her and she would almost always agree to pick up food or drinks for the kids at the last minute, fill in with a bible study that would be relevent AND understandable to a 12 year old and an 18 year old at the same time. She drove in cities which, believe it or not, many adults will not do. She and I have dodged tornado's in Kansas and Wisconsin. We have navigated snow storms in the prairies of Illinois. We have climbed up the sides of mountains in New Mexico. We've walked through the White House and the out house. We've ridden on rented motor coaches, school buses, vans, cars, hay wagon's, my convertible Mustang and her mini-van. We've married kids and we've buried kids. We've eaten with kids and thrown up over kids. We have consumed thousands of pizza's and donuts. We've told kids why not to have sex before marriage and we've hugged them when they've ignored our advice and had their hearts broken. We've taken kids to the ocean and to Disney World, to Sears Tower and to Georgia swamps. We've taken kids to our homes when they've had no place else to go. We have prayed for kids and seen God's answer and we have prayed for kids and watched as they rejected the truth. I am quite sure that I have been in more hotels with Judy than I have been with my wife and don't you DARE to assume anything by that except that we were with dozens of kids where we sat outside there doors in deserted hallways until all hours of the night when were finally convinced that they were actually asleep or at least afraid to leave their rooms. Between us we have sweat literally gallons while walking through places like Union University; Glorieta, New Mexico; Ridgecrest, North Carolina; and Carson Newman College. Why? Well because it was hot. And humid. And our kids were outside and we wanted to be outside with them.

Dozens ... no, hundreds ... of kids will be in heaven because of my friend Judy. She will blush when she reads this. But it is true.

I have worked with more volunteer youth staff members in my life than I can remember. And I have never worked with one as dedicated, as loving, as devoted, as committed, as kind, as gifted ... as Judy.

Thank you for lunch today, my friend. And thank you for nearly 24 years of doing youth ministry side by side. You are my sister and I am so proud to be your brother.

I love you, Judy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I'm 10-1 because He seems to have 10-3'd so I'm 10-65 until He says I'm 10-69

I confess. I am one of those strange people that believes God really speaks to human beings. To many that makes me neurotic. Do you think I care? Nope. Couldn't care less. Because, in my humble opinion, a life well lived is judged not by man but by his Creator. At the moment nobody can fire me and I'm used to being judged so I might as well tell you where I'm coming from. I suspect my "hits" on this blogspot might drop but, hey, nobody is paying me here either. So here goes.

God speaks. Jesus said so. Over and over again we hear Him saying profound truths followed by the phrase "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Matthew 11: 15 would be the first example. Jesus was not talking about physical ears. The floppy kind with funny little things we call "lobes" hanging down from them. He was talking about spiritual ears. Ears of the inside variety. You get them when you become "reborn." Again, that's the terminology of Jesus, not Ron. So don't blame me if you don't like it. He said it and I truly believe He meant it. He is refering to His followers, believers who still their physical activity, quiet their soul, and wait patiently for God to move in their hearts ... spirit's ... in a way that they can recognize. So no I'm not talking about an audible voice. God is God and He can speak that way if He wants to but He has never done so to me. I'm kind of glad about that. I don't think I would survive it.

I remember the olden days of CB radio's. They were the precurser to cell phones. I drove a school bus while in college to suppliment our family income. Nothing quite like 2 jobs, a full time college schedule and a baby on the way. Our busses were owned and operated by a company called "DuPage Motor Coach." They subcontracted for local schools and I majored on high schools in the western suburbs. Every bus had a radio with a dedicated frequency to our home base. My bus was number 171. She was a real dog. The shiny new buses had automatic transmissions. Mine had a 5 speed and could barely make it up some hills. But good old 171 was not the problem. The students were the problem. I usually get along with kids. It's the nature of being a youth pastor. But some of these kids are probably on their second or third terms at Levinworth by now. I caught them doing all sorts of fun things. They tried unscrewing the back seats and turning them around to face the back of the bus. They tried stuffing notebook paper into the rear heaters to set the bus on fire. And they always thought I was too blind or stupid to figure out what was going on. (Side note: that's what that big huge mirror is for over the driver's seat. To bust the dumb kids.) So when I saw them trying to mess me over or turn their fellow riders into crispy students I would simply pick up my trusty old microphone, depress the button and say, "171 to Westmont." When they would reply I would ask for a Dean to meet me at whatever school I was driving too. When we arrived there the dean would inevitably be waiting. I'd just sit with my grown-up smirk as the offenders were toted off to face justice. Sweet. Sometimes you would think that things were awfully quite on the radio and you would ask for a 10-32. That simply means, "would somebody please respond if you can hear me so I'll know my radio is working?" If nobody responded you were left all alone with a bus load of terrorist wannabee's. If somebody did respond you would most likely live to fight another day.

God speaks. I listen. God is quiet. I listen. And then I wonder. Is He still there? I pick up my pretend microphone and I say, "171 to God. Can I please have a 10-32?" And I wait. Sometimes He gets back to me right away. Sometimes my "hearing ears" remain deaf. In those moments I wonder if I am left alone in a world of mean, evil, corruption and danger. That is when I have to trust. I have to believe that everything He told me before is still true. He told me that He will never leave me. That means He always hears. Always. I am never left alone. It is not easy trusting in the silence.

I was at the Bears/ Rams game a month or so ago. My cell phone rang and it was from an old friend that I really wanted to talk to. I let him leave a message and I walked out into the concourse of the dome to call him back. I got through to him but all I was able to say was, "Hey, I'm at a football game and I can't hear. Is it alright if I call you back in the morning?" I strained to hear but was not able to make out his reply. Then he hung up. For a second I wondered what he said. Then I remembered my friends heart. I knew he was my friend. I knew he loved me. I knew he understood. I could not hear him because of the noise level around me but I knew that he said "ok" and hung up. I knew he was not mad. He is my friend and I trust him.

That's the way it is with God sometimes. Sometimes He isn't really quiet at all when I speak to Him. Sometimes I just cannot hear Him because of the ambient noise. At those times I have to trust His heart. I know He loves me. I know He promised He would be here for me. So even though we are not communicating very well I KNOW it's all ok. My request for a 10-32 didn't work out too well but no matter. He is dependable. He is worthy of my trust. He died for me and He's not going to turn His back on me now.

You've probably guessed about what I'm getting at. God seems to be very quiet lately. I'm not clear on whether He is not speaking ... just letting me remember how to trust ... or whether the ambient noise in my heart is too loud for me to make out His still small voice. I think it is the latter and not the former. But I am not sure.

Here is what I am sure of. He is good. God is good. All of the time. I started walking with Him when I was 13. I am now 51. You know what that means, don't you? It means I'm in for keeps. I'm not turning back now. If I never hear another Word from Him I'm going to keep on trusting. I am THAT SURE of what He has told and taught me before. I will ... I am ... staking my life on it.

I've been resting and recovering for 8 weeks and 2 days now. I want to go back to serving Him full time. All of His actions tell me that He is not ready for me to. I am not the patient type. But I do not have to be comfortable with obeying to be obedient. I just have to do it. I trust Him. He provides in amazing ways. I am not at all worried about that. I just want to be used. I want to feel His pleasure again. I want to feel His Spirit work through me. De-stressing and recovering can be tedious. It can be trying. It can also be an order from my King. So until I hear I will obey the last thing He told me to do.

I have "ears to hear" and I will do what I heard. No turning back. In it for the long run. I am bought with a price. He owns me. I am His. And in the words of one of my hero's, Martin Luther, "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!"

Monday, January 22, 2007

Me and Walter ... I tell ya, I coulda been great

(Disclaimer: The following events occured well before I met my beloved bride whom I would take a bullet for at any given minute and who has absolutely no competition for my affectionin in this particular galaxy. In addition, any rebroadcast, reproduction or other use of this blog without the express written consent of Major League Baseball ... uh ... I mean, of me, is prohibited)

She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen and she wanted to date me.


Opportunities like this only come along once in a lifetime. Well, actually they came around 3 times for me. This was the first one and I married the last one. The middle one was my pastor's daughter who was moving WAY too fast for me and so I decided to move along. I don't get it. An ugly guy like me got to date 3 of the most beautiful girls I knew while growing up. I told you that God is good. (FYI: I married the prettiest. Hi, honey.)

Ok, all of this is far from the point.

So anyway, this girl decided to grace me with her presence. We were the same age, different genders, same species. It was all good. Except that she lived in Arkansas and I lived in Chicago. While this would be a problem for most people we were maybe 15 years old and so it was no major deal. Only stupid people get serious at 15. She was not stupid and I was too shocked to know what I was. So I went with the flow and enjoyed every minute of it. I enjoyed our families frequent trips to her town and I enjoyed flashing her picture around to my high school buddies when I got back home. Sweet.

Then thanksgiving came. I don't know for sure but it was probably about 1971. Our family found ourselves at her house for a weekend that included football. College football. This was a foreign thing to me. It still is. But college football was as precious as uranium to her father. It was all about Nebraska and Kansas. I never did figure that out what with their living in Arkansas. But whatever. He was her father and thus he held the fate of my date in his hands. If he said we are watching college football then, by golly, college football it would be. To this day I have no idea which team we cheered for. But I must have done alright because we went to a movie that night. Not her dad and I. She and I. Just wanted to make that clear.

The inevitable happened sometime later. She dumped me. (Note: This was the first and last time I ever got dumped. The greatest life's truth she taught me was that it is far better to be the dumper than the dumpee.) As often as I went back to that town after I was a husband with my own children (my parents had retired in her town long after she moved away) I related to them the story of the mysterious queen who "flushed me from the toilet of her heart." She doesn't know it but it's become a part of family lore. Even Debbie loves to hear it because it ends with me in pain. Women can be brutal.

I got over her but I never got over football. I couldn't play it worth a lick but I could watch it with the best of them. When it became less profitable to cheer for college teams from states I had never been in I switched my allegiance to the blue and orange. You may know them as The Chicago Bears.

I know them as ... "Da Bears."

To drive down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago is to be confronted with Soldier Field, home of these "Monster's of the Midway." When I was a kid it was a bunch of roman columns surrounded by a concrete base inside of which was a football field. Da Bears were usually a bad team. They were the Cubs of football. Then 1985 came around and Da Bears were led by Da Coach, Mike Ditka, into the Super Bowl where they decimated New England. I was drunk with joy. There was not a World Series flag flying over Wrigley Field but there certainly was a Super Bowl trophy in Halas Hall where Da Bears practice. It was almost as good.

Being a pastor (we work Sunday's) I've only made a few games in Soldier Field. It's like a new place these days. The columns and the base of the old stadium still stand but within them rises an entirely new edifice ... you hate it or you love it but you don't ignore it. My impression is that a cruise ship landed in the base of the old Stadium. I was blessed to attend the first game at the "new stadium" when a friend and one of my former youth group teenagers now all grown up, Marc Vaughn, snagged some seats from his brother-in-law, Joe Odom, who actually played for Da Bears. Joe made the first tackle in New Soldier Field. It was also about their last tackle of the night because the Packers killed them.

When I was a kid there were two things on Lake Shore Drive that absolutely stopped me in my tracks. One was the U-505, the German WWII submarine that the American's captured in the Atlantic. It had since found its way to it's permanent home outside the Museum of Science and Industry. The other ... Soldier Field. As I grew into a man I knew it as the place where Walter Payton WAS the franchise. Da Bears basically had 3 plays in those 1970's and early 80's days. Payton right, Payton left, Payton up the middle. I lived and I died with them. Mainly I died.

Well, that's my story. I got to see Da Bears beat the Rams in St. Louis earlier this year courtesy of a friend. (Thanks, Mike!) And now I'll go to sleep for the next two weeks dreaming the same dream I used to have when I was a young man ... wearing the blue and orange ... darting down field, faking right, cutting left across the middle, jumping high in mid-stride to bring down a pass while getting clobbered by some lousy Viking. Still, I kept my balance as I came down and of course wound my way into the end zone where Walter was waiting to helmet butt me. I tell ya ... I coulda been great ....

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Da Bears!

Bear down, Chicago Bears, make every play clear the way to victory;
Bear down, Chicago Bears, put up a fight with a might so fearlessly.
We'll never forget the way you thrilled the nation with your T-formation.
Bear down, Chicago Bears, and let them know why you're wearing the crown.
You're the pride and joy of Illinois, Chicago Bears, bear down.
(Fight song of the Chicago Bears)

<----(Opening night at "new" Soldier Field, Oct. 30, 2003. Tickets courtesy of Joe Odom via Marc Vaughn)