Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Every day a good one

Have you ever thought about the fact that of all the things you can choose, how you approach each day you're given is one of them?

You have the ability, the right, the incentive, to decide how your day is going to go. Or at the worst, you have the ability to choose how you receive each day, the contents of each day.

A dear friend, who married for a second time about a year ago, told me a while back that he told his new bride that every day they were together would be a good day. "I choose to make it a good day," he said. "We're going to have a good day. Period."

Grander words were never voiced.

That doesn't mean that everything that ever happens to the couple will be great or even good as the world would see it. Maybe everything will be preposterously bad. But how they receive the news, how they receive the difficulty dictates everything. How they respond to the difficulty is key to it all.

There are millions of examples I could give you that prove that wealth, prosperity and material things don't satisfy anyone.

Most times getting more stuff only takes us to the point where we want more. Look at the stars of Hollywood. How many of them are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs? How many have multiple marriages? How many of them are empty at the end of their day? How many have money and incredible houses and fancy cars yet can't find true happiness?

There is a hunger they can't satisfy, a thirst they cannot quench.

But let's not pick on one element of society. This reasoning applies to all of us.

The Apostle Paul chimed in about this a couple thousand years ago. He wrote, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

The secret, then, to happiness, to joy, to being content is to be joyously, uncommonly, unbelievably, filled with gratitude for whatever we're given.

Oh, some of us might not have much, but what we have, we should be thankful for. Some of us might have much, but we should remember where that came from, and we should be gracious.

Every day should be a good day. What a wonderful concept.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Anemic and foggy

Well, well. Another in a long line of things happened to me Sunday. I fell apart. Literally. As best I can remember, I was fine for the first two services I preach, then things go rather funky. I don't really remember much of the third service except I couldn't find my place in much of it. And the service as stopped at one point by a woman who came up to talk to me fearing I was having a stroke.

I finished, got some sleep, taught a Bible study later with only a few lips, then yesterday pretty much against my desires, my wife took me in to the doctor. Long story short, apparently I'm anemic, blood tests show.

All I know was how frightened I was, all the while trying not to show it, and how embarrassed I was that I couldn't function properly.

I know this much about the whole incident, one day after turning 60 years of age I fell apart. Literally. I had no control over my actions, over my speech, over my body or mind. And that is as scary as it gets, friends.

When prayers go up, and you're the one in desperate need of them as opposed to being the one who is called on to do the praying, you certainly are aware of whom to turn to.

I prayed hard, first for clarification, second for healing. Maybe it should have been the other way around, but not knowing what was wrong was on top of being healed of what was going on.

Today, I'm shaky, but apparently fine. But, for example, there is a sheet of paper I worked hard on to get things right, listing dress nos. 1-10 on two columns. I know this is important, but frankly, I have no idea why. I did this Sunday. I'm sure it will come back to me, but maybe not. That's how scary this is and was.

Pray for me, still. Pray for me that I can do my duties. Pray that the time I spent trying to do on my own what could only be a shared experience with God will pass.

God love you all. I'll try to begin my 60th year again...

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Coming alive at the right time

          Sixty years. Gone in a flash. Done. Over. No-refundable, these things. Tomorrow I'll turn the big 60. Rod Steward sang, "the morning sun when it's in your face really shows you age," to Maggie May once. I guess it really does. I've aged, lost hair, gained weight and gone on.
          I've been a journalist and a pastor, and the two paths somehow co-existed for a long time.
          God has walked with me even when I was far too unlikeable for most folks. This I know for I trigger his being by triggering my own.
          I've lived through the death of both adopted parents and never knowing my birth parents. I've lived without siblings, but with the thought I might have them. I've lived through Columbine and the Challenger explosion, through moon landings and war upon war. I've seen the impossible be invented. I've dialed rotary phones and texted on my I-phone. I've seen Wolverine's claws come out of his hands in a motion picture, and I've read stories about heroic dogs and even Martians invading earth. I've breathed life and lost 20 years to addiction.
          I've lived to the very extent of life, and I've lived mundanely, piecing together all that stuff as best I could..
          But I've lived. Never going where I imagined, never living with much of a plan. Always being pulled by the desire to be loved and pushed by the ego that comes with that.
          I suspect I'll continue to live after I write this, but what I've learned, especially after losing a son-in-law to a motorcycle way, way too soon, is that we never know. None of us.
          Beloved pets die when you're in Israel and can't say goodbye. Friends die when you least expect it, as well. Jobs, plans, they all die. A proper goodbye I think from time to time.
        There's a time for it all, Solomon wrote.
          But till I don't, I guess I'll just have to live.
          There was a real long time when I was ashamed of who I was, what I was, and would have done just about anything to give up the years I wasted. I was in such a hurry to replace them with something good. But the fact that finally made itself known to me is that in the long run every thing I ever did led me to this place. Without the bad experiences, I might not be able to absorb the goodness and forgiveness and especially the grace of God. Father, and maybe especially the Spirit of our Lord.
          Today, my 60th birthday, is lit with kilowatts galore burning in the background.
          Let me be mindful of those who are lacking...lacking in food, in finance, in health, and let our prayers enter the throne room and be heard by you, a God who cares, who listens, and who acts.
          And like one of the two greatest songwriters of my life, Bono, wrote once,

I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire
I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone
          I've found a love in Mary I can't begin to describe, a love that surfaces and sustains in ways I neither have time nor wisdom  to do.. I have had wonderful children, a charmed life when I'm with them, and the grand kids continue to empower me to be more than I am. I have had loss, but I've had gain.
          And the most important thing I've learned, the Apostle Paul taught me.
          He wrote a couple things that I need to share before I go.
          First, Paul wrote to the church in Rome, "But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.:
          Then to a church in Phillipi, he wrote, "I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles."
          It absolutely was a beautiful thing that God did. He saved me in many more ways than one, and I'm grateful, eternally grateful.
          Am I now perfect. From the hard-fought time of birth to a date far, far from it, my imperfections  created real, imperfect, and dastardly. My addictions will never go completely away, it seems. They will snort, paw at the ground in a frigid winter. But go away? Nah, not completely away.
          But I've learned that the recipe for happy is taking whatever I have, whatever I need, pouring them together like frozen yogurt and bananas, and redeeming them for what they are, with whatever I have.
          Taking all we have, blending them together, pouring them into each other, mixing them as if this actually is what we meant to do all along. There perhaps is a plan to even the grandest of notions. We walk this road as if we knew what we were doing, a plan for the outcome devised as if it were known to all.
          It has taken every bit of 60 years to find that out. But I have, found that out, I mean..
          And I'm not exactly ready to stop looking. I passed 25,000 page views on this website while I was doing this 10-day look at my life. I think I'll go to 60,000 and be done.
          Emerson wrote, "Getting old is a fascinating thing. The older you get, the older you want to get."
          I reckon that's about right.
          The Boss will finish this up by reminding  me what my dear friends Tommy and Ricky said when I was seven and we tried to dig a hole all the way to China,

 "Now on the street tonight the lights grow dim
The walls of my room are closing in
There's a war outside still raging
You say it ain't ours anymore to win
I want to sleep beneath
Peaceful skies in my lover's bed
With a wide open country in my eyes
And these romantic dreams in my head
Once we made a promise we swore we'd always remember
No retreat, baby, no surrender
Blood brothers in a stormy night
With a vow to defend
No retreat, baby, no surrender
          We go on, friends, till we can't. We face life and death with the same set of principles instilled by a love of God and a love of the impossible.
          That's life ...
          And beyond. ...
          Let me close with this prayer for all of us:
          Today let us be mindful of those who are needful, needing a cool drink of water on hot summer's day.
          Dear one, as we go for a walk on a heated Summer's day, let us be mindful of those who are seeking, love they've never known, seeking answers they've never found, seeking to meet desires they can't understand.
          Let us today, Father, be thoughtful of those around us whose names we've mentioned, whose hearts we've thought of and of those to whom the Holy Spirit is reminding us of even as we pray.
          Your love is unstoppable. Your power is without precedent. Your will is what we seek in our prayer time today.
As we re-start this journey together, (the people of your) church and pastor, congregation's family and pastor's family, let us always be thinking of others first. Let every decision we make be made with the thought of how do we transform this community in the name of Jesus? Let every desire we have be met with the thought of how we bring new life into the church. And let every need we seek to meet as a collective body be seen through the prism of love.
We seek you today, Father God.
We need you today, sweet Jesus, Son of God.
We call on you today, Holy Spirit of God.
          I've been just about everything I've ever wanted to be, done just about everything I've ever wanted to do except maybe see the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains. Still...
          I've had hundreds of pets, saved dozens of animal lives, preached somewhere in the hundreds of sermons.
          I've been loved, and I've been out there somewhere that love has difficulty going. I've felt the hand of God on me when I was a kid, and I've sought that hand as an adult.
          And through it all, through it all, I've found love that can't be explained, can't be shared on page nor with pen.   

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Saving the World a friend at a time

            Less than two years into my new life in the Lord, I sat in a pastor’s office discussing the possibility of creating a new contemporary service. My pastor, Jake Olmstead, and my “worship mentor,” Cathy Brunell, were talking over possibilities. I, outside of the church for 20 plus years, was mostly listening.
All they knew was a tale of my having been in a “church band” decades earlier where we rewrote lyrics to fit the music of popular radio tunes, and we visited churches all over the counties in which I grew up. That was all I knew about, we knew about, contemporary worship.
I believed then, and now, that if the music I could hear on Christian radio would match the music I could hear in church, I would be much more likely to find my way into that church – which was the point of all this, I figured.
Oh, I knew absolutely nothing about how to produce that music. I was in the very beginning of discovery of early contemporary stalwarts like Rich Mullins, Stephen Curtis Chatman, Amy Grant, Clay Crosse, Petra and many, many others. Olmstead and Brunell knew even less than I, and didn’t listen to the station or any like it. Still, they were receptive to whatever I might suggest. I had spoken at something called Laity Sunday the previous October, and as the calendar year sprinted toward Spring, we were talking about creating the new service. They talked to me like I had some idea of what to do. I did not, not really.
            But somewhere in that conversation between two great friends who have passed the River Jordan figuratively since, Cathy mentioned my desire to go into ministry. Brother Jake paused, turned to me as best I can recall, and asked if I really wanted to go into organized ministry, licensed or ordained. I answered, much to my surprise because I truly hadn’t been given that much thought, “Yes, I really do. What would it take?”
            Jake reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a large red book that described the path to “licensed” ministry, as something called a Local Pastor (a term I had not heard of nor knew nothing about).
            And my life changed, again. Soon I was in part-time ministry. Soon I was preaching once a month at the Gretna Contemporary Service. Soon I was singing at that service, solos once a month and praise team each week. Soon and very soon I was leading and planning a worship service.
            I didn’t know where I was headed, I only knew what my heart felt each Sunday evening when the service began. When I stepped up to preach, God filled me with words, ideas, excitement that came from outside myself. I couldn’t even explain that with authority. I just knew what I felt.
            Let Luke describe what the introduction to ministry is like in the Acts of the Apostles. The miracle of Pentecost had just occurred where devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem had heard the Apostles speaking in their native tongues.
            Then Peter stepped forward with 11 other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk (as some thought).”
            Peter preached. No training. No school. No help. No power point. No idea of what would come next. But he preached, and the Bible says, “Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?”
            He told them to repent and turn to God and be baptized in the name of Jesus. “Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” Peter said, again despite having no training other than the confused walk of his with Jesus for three prior years. 
            And “those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day – about 3,000 in all.”
            Friends, I have to say I knew nothing about ministry when I went into ministry. I had never heard of the Christian Calendar. I knew nothing of, well, anything. I had never given communion. I had never prayed in public. I had read a bit of scripture in public, but not much. I certainly had not written an entire sermon. I had no master plan about any of this.
 I simply followed the Spirit of God, which led me to teach a Sunday School class, then Bible studies. I began a journal from which the weekly Sunday bulletin would begin to take a piece that we called That’s Life. Eventually, I would write two books about God’s call. I would write 10 years worth of journals. I would start a daily “blog” in 2009 that would lead to more than 25,000 page views.
Someone once asked me what would happen if I ran out of words. I guess I never have. I have absorbed everything I could about God, following his Son’s walk as tenderly as I could, and I guess the most important thing I’ve learned in the 18 years since is that the walk God has called us to take can not be a solo journey.
My dear wife, Mary, my children, my fellows, those in need of help, those in pain, all are ones who God supplies mercy and grace to. God walks with us. God calls us. God equips us.  The journey began in a pastor’s office. It has rolled up mountains of joy and sweet, sweet mercy and down to valleys of doubt and worry. The journey has been one of study and one of prayer. It has been one of the heart and one of the head, and the soul has been catered to, as well.
All those years ago, I simply wanted to quit drinking so I could be a sports editor of a major metropolitan newspaper. That’s all. That’s it. I didn’t go in search of God, certainly didn’t anticipate going into the ministry.
The Psalmist wrote, “I’m thanking you, God, out in the streets,
singing your praises in town and country.
The deeper your love, the higher it goes;
every cloud’s a flag to your faithfulness.
Soar high in the skies, O God!
Cover the whole earth with your glory!
And for the sake of the one you love so much,
reach down and help me—answer me!”
Many of us have found Jehovah, the Father, to be a surprising God, granting us gifts we never asked for, never imagined.
Every cloud has been a flag to his faithfulness, a calendar day to his loving trust.
I never meant this to happen. I never anticipated any of it.
This is the way these things work. In the first few months of sobriety and a new walk with Jesus, in the fall of 1995, I went to a giant book sale at a local Catholic seminary. I don’t know what I was looking for, but what I found was a book called, “Of the Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis. I had never heard of it or him, though his work in the 1400s was such that John Wesley was a reader. Kempis was a monk in a Netherlands monastery when he wrote the book.
He “walked with Christ in such intimacy” that the book is a rich inheritance to millions of Christians. It was through this book that I began to understand sacrifice. I talked to a psychologist soon afterwards about healing and happiness. He asked me what I was searching so hard for. I told him happiness. “I want a life where I can be happy. That’s all. Just happy,” I said.
He asked me if I could find a way to settle for peace.
Friends, years have flown by, but what I’ve seen in all of them is that God is walking with me, lifting me, helping me, teaching me, pushing me, pulling me. His direction has always been pure; his gifts have always been sure; his love has never disappointed.
I’ve learned how much I have been accepted by a God who knows my name, sees into my heart.
I’ve learned more than anything, I think, who fits into my churches, the churches I serve. They’ve always been for the hurting, the miserable, the malcontent, the damaged, the sick, the dying. My surprising ministry at surprising churches has always been about having a place where we can cry together, be honest together, seek God together.
From that one day in Gretna to this one day in Eunice, Jesus has healed as well as saved.
My life has become about one thing. It all comes down to a man dying on a cross, saving the world. All. Everything.

And friends are friends forever
If the Lord's the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
'Cause the welcome will not end
Though it's hard to let you go
In the Father's hands we know
That a lifetime's not too long to live as friends.


This life has shown me how we're mended
And how we're torn
How it's okay to be lonely as long as you're free
Sometimes my ground was stony
And sometimes covered up with thorns
And only You could make it what it had to be
And now that it's done
Well, if they dressed me like a pauper
Or if they dined me like a prince
If they lay me with my fathers
Or if my ashes scatter on the wind
I don't care
When I leave, I want to go out like Elijah

And we complicate the truth
And convolute the story
But as far as I recall I do believe it all

Comes down to a man,
dying on a cross
Saving the world
Rising from the dead
Doing what He said, He would do

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Born again

            Day 8 of a 10-day reflection of my soon to be 60 years

My reflections, perspective, of the very soon to be 60 years have included my favorite 20 songs. In three days, I will pass through the fog of the end of my 59th year and head right on into my 60th.
            But those 20 songs are not all inclusive. There are lines of lyrics that belong on any list I would contemplate even though the whole song perhaps wasn’t there.

            Kris Kristofferson wrote in Me and Bobby McGee, …”Busted flat in Baton Rouge, heading for the trains, feeling near as faded as my jeans.
            Stevie Nicks wrote in Landslide …”Well, I've been afraid of changing, 'cause I've built my life around you ,but time makes you bolder, children get older, I'm getting older too …”
            Led Zeppelin wrote about buying a stairway to heaven, an entire lineup of folks produced disco music that I danced to nightly in my early 20s, Glen Campbell sang about the loneliness of the Wichita Lineman, David Gates wrote about giving everything he owned in an effort to reacquire lost love, the Youngbloods sang about Getting Together, Michael Jackson talked about the Man in the Mirror and danced the night away in a Thriller mode, the Temptations sang about Papa being a rolling stone and a runaway child running wild and on and on and on the music played.

            Delbert Ross McClinton and Jackson Browne wrote, “Lighten up while you still can, don't even try to understand, Just find a place to make your stand and take it easy.”
            And Don Henley got us lost on that dark desert highway, cool wind in our hair,  that led to the Hotel California.

I was always programmed to receive. I was always, always about the next stop, the next job, heck the next drink. I was always about, well, me. Adopted, only child, ego-pressed, pride shaken, always about me and mine.
               Till God broke the hard exterior and let his mercy drip into the gaps.

            Have you ever examined who you are and what you’ve done and where you’ve been and come up with no easy answers, no complete thoughts? As I approached my 42nd birthday, I had everything a man could want, certainly could need. I owned a house, a couple cars, had a wonderful family, a great career. And I wasn’t happy, as I understood happiness to be.

            In just one of the many strange occurrences around this time, for some reason I listened to a country radio station one day and heard the song Much too young to feel this damn old by a singer named Garth Brooks. I had never heard of him, much less the song. The words ripped open my chest and flayed my heart. That’s exactly how I felt.
            At just about the same time, one of my two favorite baseball players of all time, Mickey Mantle, was dying of liver cancer. At one of his last appearances in public, he said, “God gave me all this talent, and I wasted it all.” That’s exactly how I felt.
            So, on my 42nd birthday, I walked into a place recommended by The Times-Picayune – the newspaper in which I was Deputy Sports Editor – and told them I felt I was an alcoholic and needed help. Later that day, I told my boss and the friends I had at the newspaper that I was going to be locked away for up to 30 days as the process began.
            Two days later, I had my last drink, my last bottle. I checked into Oschner Hospital’s ward, gave over my keys and even my belt and toothpaste, and stared into this notion of being born again.
            I began a journal that next day, July 30, 1995. I wrote this:
            Dear Kids:
            “Is this the beginning of my salvation or the beginning of my insanity? Being a man of no discipline whatsoever, I do not know. I put myself in this position quite on purpose. I love to drink, but I know it is wrong.
            And deep in my being, I also know I can’t stop by myself. So here I am.”
            I got out early, not because of good behavior but because a hurricane was storming in the Gulf. But as I began to look at all the things I needed to correct, change, fix, one of them was my 20 year absence from church.
            Mary and I went looking for a United Methodist church. The first one we tried had changed its time from the published one in the phone book so we were going in as the congregation was coming out. Embarrassed, I decided on the spot this wasn’t going to be our church.
            The following Sunday, we went to a place called Gretna UMC. It was warm, welcoming, and a dear soon to be friend latched on to us and took us into a Sunday School room. That room, those people, directed me not just toward Christ, but toward what I now know was my true calling, the ministry.
            The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy, but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future.”
            One day I was driving to the newspaper. I was searching for music on the radio dial, and completely by accident, I came across a station playing a song called Sweet Glow of Mercy. I listened and marveled at the words, words that seemed to speak to who I was at that time in my life. I listened to the next song, then the next, and I began to understand that these songs were all Christian songs, different than any Christian songs I had ever heard certainly, but Christian. Turns out there was something called Contemporary Christian music, something I had never heard of.
            And a guy called Rich Mullins was featured on many of the songs on the station at the time.
            I came back to Christ, a Jesus of my youth but a completely new understand of him, in the strangest of places.
            Mullins, music, re-birth. Late summer 1995 was the incubator of my new life. When my favorite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, won the World Series that October, I figured my whole life was suddenly blessed.
            It was, but the sweet glow of mercy was something different that that. I began to understand just what grace was for the first time in my life.
            Now, clearly I didn’t relinquish all my sins. Eighteen years later, I still sin. But I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t curse. All signs of a new heart, a longing heart, a grateful heart.
            But what’s more important is what I do, not what I don’t.
            I do love.
            Because He loved me first.

And the white line's getting longer and the saddle's getting cold
I'm much too young to feel this damn old
All my cards are on the table with no ace left in the hole
I'm much too young to feel this damn old
I've seen the darkness
And it saw me
But here in the light
Where the dark can't see
There is a sweet glow of mercy that
covers me
Now I am found
But once was lost
And there in the gutter
Where the wheels came off
There was a sweet glow of mercy
that covered me

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Running against the wind

    Down the road of time
A perspective of 60 years of living and dying and all those things in between
The years rolled past
And I found myself alone
Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends
I found myself further and further from my home
And I guess I lost my way
There were oh, so many roads
I was living to run and running to live
Never worrying about paying or even how much I owed
…Against the wind
We were running against the wind
We were young and strong
We were running against the wind 
I come from down in the valley
Where mister when you’re young
They bring you up to do like your
daddy done…

             Patience is defined as “quiet, steady perseverance, even-tempered care; diligence; the ability to resist restlessness.”
            The author writes in the Psalms, “So don’t return us to mud, saying, “Back to where you came from!” Patience! You’ve got all the time in the world—whether a thousand years or a day, it’s all the same to you.”
            Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.”
            If I had to pick an element of my personality that has caused the most trouble, it would be without question or doubt my lack of patience.
            I was 27-hours short of a degree in Communications from Mississippi State, got an offer to become the first sports editor of the Starkville Daily News and latched on.
            For another 10 dollars a week, it seemed, I would move. I moved from Starkville, to Meridian, to Columbus to Jackson to USA Today back to Jackson to Reno, Nev., back to Jackson, to New Orleans. Make me an offer and for 20 years I would take it., although I turned down six offers one heady year, back when I was something – or thought I was.
            I was in such a hurry to find whatever in the heck it was I was looking for that I never found whatever in the heck it was I was looking for.
            I even gave up during those 22 years, from 20 to 42, writing, the love of my life. I became a designer, then an editor. My life was run by decisions that were never very good, impatient choices, improper choices.
            I was, quite literally, running against the wind.
            I was, without wanting or even noticing as it happened, becoming my adoptive father’s mini-me
            Glen William Turner came from rough stock, from coal miners from West Virginia. They apparently were very poor, but truthfully. I know little about his family, and I haven’t seen any of them in decades. For a while, my adopted parents and I went to West Virginia  every Christmas, and occasionally during summers, but that slowed as I grew older and finally stopped in August, 1969. Dad’s family began dying off, and as I understand it now all are gone except for my Aunt Elsie, living in Florida in her 90s.
            As I grew up, Dad worked away from home a lot, and he drank when he was home.  Once he spent an entire fall working in New Jersey. Another time, he bought a trailer and lived in it while working in Vicksburg, Miss., as they built a new bridge over the Mississippi River.I know he liked to play cards. I know he was good with his tough, callused hands, good at building things, even working on cars.
            I know he liked sports, but we never really talked about sports. He was raised in a culture of racists, voted Democrat when he voted, was union above all things.

             He never went to church. He never threw me a ball. Never understood what I liked or didn’t. I’m absolutely certain I was disappointing to him in my own way.
            He wanted someone to hunt with. He got a kid who talked to an imaginary friend, Jaboni, and read comics. He wanted someone to share his iron-worker, construction career with; I quit the only summer job that we ever shared together.
            He quit school in the eighth grade. I went to college. We both made a living with our hands, it’s just that mine were never callused. They typed, not hung iron.
            I've been told this was a cultural thing, that men were "different" in his generation, but my father never once told me he loved me, and he sure knew nothing of hugs and such. Heck, once he broke his hand hitting a solid wood closet when I ducked as he swung. It was one of the many, many shouting matches we endured. Oil and water really had nothing on us. We didn't mix well, at all.
            Gary Smalley and John Trent, authors of The Gift of the Blessing, propose that for years after we move away from home physically, we still remain chained to the past emotionally. That our lack of approval from our parents in the past keeps a feeling of genuine acceptance from others in the present from taking root in our lives.
            “Some people are driven toward workaholism as they search for the blessing they never received at home. Always striving for acceptance, they never feel satisfied that they are measuring up.”
            In so many ways, I became my father, the only model I had of male parenting. I worked extra hours to succeed. I was motivated by the desire to be “blessed” by my bosses.
            I worked myself into a marriage that collapsed after four years. I worked myself into a frenzy. that money couldn't calm I worked and I worked, and by the world’s thoughts, I was a success. But truthfully, I was nothing I would call successful.
            My father died April 3, 1989 from liver and lung cancer. Months before his death, he accepted Jesus as his savior. He stopped drinking, and he switched his tobacco usage from cigarettes to chew. When he went into surgery for the first time for the cancer, I was there along with my mother and my aunt, who had led him to Christ. He told my mother and my aunt he loved them. As he was wheeled away, the silence that followed him in the space that would have been mine was palpable. He had the opportunity to say words of love. He chose not to.
I never made him proud, that I was aware of. I never made him smile. I never made his joyful. But I certainly tried, at least I think I tried.
As time rushed away from the two of us, though, I began to understand I was absolutely running against the wind as I headed into my birthday 18 years ago. Another watershed moment, perhaps the greatest of all those moments, came as I turned 42.       

Monday, July 22, 2013

Becoming involved


 I’m assuming I’m not the only one who has had watershed moments. Moments when the road forks and you take the right one or you don’t. When what happens next is so important that you somehow know it at the time.
My first of many came when I decided, for reasons I absolutely can’t remember, to run for student senator at Meridian Junior College.
My freshman year had been a complete washout. I did little, had little fun, was so shy I couldn’t eat with others, and was generally on my way to nothing town.
Then I decided I would run for senator. I honestly don’t remember even knowing what senator was, but I wanted to get over some losses in my young life, so there I went. I campaigned. I spoke to crowds, including a bunch of nurses once. I won.
And slowly but surely I came out of my hard but comfortable turtle’s shell.
Then one day I ran into the sports editor of the Meridian Star, one Orley Hood, who I had known a couple of years earlier when he was an assistant, and Orley asked if I was still interested in writing for newspapers. I said sure, although I hadn’t thought of it in a while, and the rest of my life began in a hallway outside of a gym at MJC.
I was elected president of the Young Republicans. I was involved suddenly in a Christian club called Youth for Christ. I was suddenly involved.
It was my finest year of school after Northeast Lauderdale, and I owed it to making a decision that I would get over my depression, shyness, introverted-ness and get on with life.
I          I’ve read since that getting past depression requires action. But taking action when you’re depressed is hard. In fact, just thinking about the things you should do to feel better, like going for a walk or spending time with friends, can be exhausting.

It’s the Catch-22 of depression recovery: The things that help the most are the things that are the most difficult to do. There’s a difference, however, between something that's difficult and something that's impossible.
The key to depression recovery is to start with a few small goals and slowly build from there. Draw upon whatever resources you have. You may not have much energy, but you probably have enough to take a short walk around the block or something of that order.
I was given the No. 60 draft number and I was sure I was going to be picked to go to Vietnam, which was winding down rapidly. So, I joined the Navy. The night before I headed to Jackson for my induction, I preached (spoke, wandered) for about 10 minutes at my local church. Basically as I recall, I asked for everyone to pray for me. I was scared grits-less.
I left the church and drove to the induction station. The next morning, we had scrambled eggs. I didn’t like they yellow of eggs. I was told to eat them. I ate them.
At the end of the series of tables that we were to sit at as we headed to who knows what, they noticed I had marked a box that said I had had stomach problems. I had had an ulcer at the half of a basketball game as a senior in high school. They told me I couldn’t go because of that.
Let me say that I didn’t complain. Whew.
 As the school year progressed, I found that taking things one day at a time and rewarding myself for each accomplishment really helped. The steps were small, but they’ll quickly added up. And for all the energy I put into  depression recovery, I got back much more in return. Suddenly it seemed, I was over my first love. It only took months.
I was alive. I was capable. I was involved in so many facets of school life, and even church life.
But it was clearly a double standard because I was drinking with the guys more and more, new guys, guys who drank a lot. In the fall of 1972, we went to our first New Orleans Saints game, and we drank the whole weekend. We had parties on the weekends, and parties on the week nights.
Once I crashed my car through a few large bushes as I tried to drive home after the school nearly defeated Gulf Coast Community College for the first time. My father had to come pick me up because I had two blown tires.
Growing up was, uh, a lot like growing into him, my earthly father.


But isn't that the way they say it goes
Well let's forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell 'em I'm fine, and to show
I've overcome the blow
I've learned to take it well
I only wish my words
Could just convince myself
That it just wasn't real
But that's not the way it feels


Whatever happened
To Tuesday and so slow
Going down to the old mine with a
Transistor radio.
Standing in the sunlight laughing
Hide behind a rainbow's wall,
Slipping and a-sliding
All along the waterfall
With you, my brown-eyed girl,
You, my brown-eyed girl.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Changes come around real soon

Day 5 of a 10-day blog journey to my 60th birthday.
My top 20 songs. My top 10 memories. Senioritis today.

             It is primarily a shame that one of the greatest nights – heck, Springs-- of my life came when I was 17 years old, a senior in high school. In no way should one peak before the living is done.
            My high school played the biggest high school in the state, unbeaten Meridian High, in baseball. And won. We painted the score on a huge smokestack on the campus of Meridian afterwards (oops, a confession). And I was in the midst of a relationship, my first real relationship, and times were as sweet as cotton candy at the Mississippi-Alabama State Fair.
            I’ve known unadulterated joy like that few times since, sadly. Nothing in college, in work, in life apart from marriages and child births gave me the rush that winning a dumb baseball game did.

            But it was also about the time my emotions were roaring like storms on the horizons. I didn’t know it, but I was coming down with something, something thrilling and deadly. Something we all probably in one for or another contracted. I, to quote ol’ B.J. Thomas, was hooked on a feeling.
            Do you know that feeling? I suspect most do. The feeling when you get up in the morning that you’re going to do or see someone who will increase your heartbeat, increase your smile just by existing?

            I strongly suspect that kind of thing happens, well, once. I’ve been in deep love with my wife for 28 years, but there is something about the first time love is written on your heart in a way that is uncommon.
            In My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult writes … I am suddenly seventeen again - the year I realize that love doesn't follow the rules, the year I understood that nothing is worth having so much as something unattainable”

The truth is, like many, I fell head over heels for someone, and learned a great lesson: love even at its finest is risky. To love is to acknowledge the possibility of losing, hurting, failing.
The Bible says of love, it “Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end”

            First love’s end comes much more quickly than we ever could imagine it would.
              Oh, as a teenager, I thought I fell deeply in love about five times. Fell out of love four times fairly quickly. The fifth was a hard one to get over.

            Many have tried to describe it. Some succeed.
            Tammara Webber in the book Where You Are writes, ““Something about first love defies duplication. Before it, your heart is blank. Unwritten. After, the walls are left inscribed and graffitied. When it ends, no amount of scrubbing will purge the scrawled oaths and sketched images, but sooner or later, you find that there’s space for someone else, between the words and in the margins.”
            Anna Godbersen says of it, “The first stab of love is like a sunset, a blaze of color -- oranges, pearly pinks, vibrant purples...”

            It was all those things and more.
            It happened late in my senior year of high school and stunted me all the way through my first year of college. My freshman year of college I really did nothing to participate. Just showed up, went to class, did most of my work, and went to see my girlfriend.

            I had little ambition. Little desire to do anything else. I got a job working at a corner drug store that was next to the building that housed the local newspaper. But otherwise, nothing.
            I even got engaged, sort of, kind of. Bought a ring, on credit. But my girlfriend was too young, still in high school, and I was nuts about, well, everything.

            At least in small part because I didn’t want to be away, I went to Meridian Junior College near Oakland Heights in Meridian, and most of my friends went to East Mississippi Junior College, about 40 miles from home. I spent the day lonely, even driving all the way downtown to get lunch most days because I was scared someone would sit at my table in the cafeteria.
            Someone once said, “Everybody says the first cut is the deepest. It’s so true. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the best love, but it’s the first that you remember. You hold on to that, just that first experience, it’s good to have and you should appreciate it, even if it hurts.”

            I appreciated it, but in the end, like most of these things, it fizzled. Or hit a wall. She went on vacation the summer between my first year of college and second, and discovered something that would turn out to be haunting. She discovered other boys. Her words exactly. And she broke up with me.
            Stephen King writes, ““True love, like any other strong and addicting drug, is boring — once the tale of encounter and discovery is told, kisses quickly grow stale and caresses tiresome… except, of course, to those who share the kisses, who give and take the caresses while every sound and color of the world seems to deepen and brighten around them. As with any other strong drug, true first love is really only interesting to those who have become its prisoners. And, as is true of any other strong and addicting drug, true first love is dangerous.”

            So, suddenly alone, completely and totally alone, I ventured into the second year of college.
            And everything changed.       


Gonna let it rock,
let it roll
Let the Bible belt come and save my soul
Hold on to 16 as long as you can
Changes come around real soon
Make us women and men

Oh, yeah, life goes on
Long after the thrill of livin is gone

So excuse me forgetting but these things I do
You see I've forgotten if they're green or they're blue
Anyway the thing is what I really mean
Yours are the sweetest eyes I've ever seen