Thursday, July 31, 2008

For the Record...

My wife asked what I wanted for my birthday. I said, "A record player." I spent some time at my friend Justin's house in May. He had a record player and a stack of albums that were purchased for very cheap from thrift stores. It made sense. The Salvation Army outlets sell record albums for a dollar a piece. That's about a dime a song compared to $.99 that iTunes charges. And the special bonus features that comes with playing a record; the crackling sounds that people now add to recordings on their own, the big jacket artwork, and the joy of watching the record label's logo spin round and round. Mezmorizing. I hit up the thrift stores before my record player arrived. I left with a Carpenter's album, the Miami Vice television soundtrack, an old Roberta Flack jazz/soul record from 1969, and the landmark recording, "We are the World," which was in great shape and complete with vintage 80's advertisements for their USA for Africa products printed on the record sleeve. My record player arrived on my 40th birthday and I showed my kids how their mother and I used to listen to music when we were kids. The next day, it was "listening to records family time." My oldest daughter, Julia, wanted to listen to the Carpenter's album. I put it on for her and the track "We've Only Just Begun" played while she settled into the chair right next to one of the best birthday presents I've ever received, and she just stared at the album cover as she listened. She sat through the whole first side of that album with her eyes locked on Karen and Richard Carpenter, and I took it in. My daughter was listening to records! It was quite a moment for me. I had introduced her to something from my past and she was enjoying it. My sister-in-law sent me some albums for my birthday, one being an old Elton John record. I played "Crocodile Rock" for my kids and the rest of the night was filled with "La la la la la's," coming from my kid's mouths. There are things we do together as a family that are very important; We got to church together, pray together, eat dinner together, all very vital. Now added to the list is "listening to records." That's my spin on it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Marty, My Crown

People, seriously, I wanted my blogs to be up and peppy for the year 2008, but I find I'm not in charge of the universe. And not that this can't be an "up" entry, it can. It's just that the word "tumor" is charged with such imminent doom. To catch you up, Marty, my wife, has a benign tumor in her head that needs to be removed. I've been all over the board in my head. My thoughts are like a pinball. This is pretty big doin's, and of course there's risks with every surgery. It's hard not to go to the worst extreme, but I try with all my might not to stay there. I wanted to write today about my bride, my crown. Proverbs 12:4- “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown…” I love the story of when I first laid eyes on her. We were at the beach in Santa Cruz for New Student Orientation, for we were both new students at Bethany College in Scott's Valley. We were doing the bat relay in the sand. You know the game, putting the bat to your forehead while the other end of the bat is on the ground then spinning around 10 times only to have to run back to your team. I had just done my leg of the race. After running back, completely dizzy, and having fell at least once trying to do my part, I was sitting there when I watched Marty run her leg. She was on another team, but I noticed her, probably because her hair was so long, that when she spun around the bat she looked like "Cousin It" from the Addamas Family twirling about. Then she began to run back to her team, but in her dizziness, she instead started veering towards the ocean as her team called out to her, "Marty, this way! This way!" She ran right past me, her eyes squinting and her mouth wide open in laughter. I thought to myself, "What a good sport." I love that that's my first memory of my wife, and I had no idea that good sport would end up saying "I do," to me. It's a great first impression, laughing, willing to look silly, veering toward the ocean, her team cheering her on... That was 18 years ago. Who would have thought...? I can't tell you how grateful I am for my wife. She has been the greatest partner I could have ever asked for. She's my balance, she's my support, she's the precious mother of my children. She has loved me, she has forgiven me, she has listened to me, and lately I've needed a lot of listening to. On April 19, Marty and I will celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary and I wouldn't have wanted to spend the last decade plus with anyone else. On May 17 we have a date night planned, and on May 21, she has her surgery. I'll tell you what the word "tumor" means to me right now; It means you hug your kids tighter and you tell your wife you love her more than you ever have. Maybe on May 20, just for kicks and to help keep our heads in this situation, I'll challenge Marty to a bat relay race. Hilar.

Proverbs 18:22- “He who finds a wife finds what is good…”

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

One Sorry Tomato

I read a great book, Me, Myself and Bob, by Phil Vischer, the brilliant mind behind VeggieTales. When I first took note of the talking vegetables in the 90's, I was proud that something so original had come out of the Christian community, and it was so groundbreaking that a few years later, a secular knock-off of our sanctified veggies came out, and failed. Usually, it is the other way around, but not this time. And that was exactly what Phil set out to do, something original and wholesome for kids. Not only could you buy VeggieTales videos in Bible bookstores, but eventually in Target and Wal-Mart as well. I never wondered how the national chain distribution of the videos came about. To me, it was just product that appeared on the shelf as far as I was concerned. Little did the common man know that behind the scenes, and surrounding the release of their first major motion picture, "Jonah," Bob and Larry were about to get pureed. Phil sets you up in the preface of the book. Something's coming and Phil takes you on that ride. Lest I reveal too much more, I'll get to my point. I was on, reading a review by another reader. This person said at the end of the book, Phil apologizes, "but not quite enough." Hmmm. I read the chapter where he apologizes and from my perspective, Phil didn't blame the collapse of Big idea productions on anyone but himself. He felt completely responsible. He writes, "For the record, I'm sorry... I'm really, really sorry." So I beg the question: How many times does someone have to say they're sorry before they are perceived as really being sorry? And how many times does someone have to say they're sorry before being forgiven? We tend to treat forgiveness as merchandise that has to be paid for before it is given, in singles: "One I'm sorry, two I'm sorry's, three I'm sorry's..." Until the proper amount has been forked over. Only then will the possessor of forgiveness give it to the buyer. And is someone required to ask for forgiveness as a pre-requisite for being pardoned? "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy seven times,' " (Matthew 18: 21-22). In this passage, there's not even a mention of someone apologizing for the wrong they've done. There is only mention of forgiveness being given. How many "I'm sorry's" did that reviewer need from Phil? And did that reviewer even work for him and were they directly affected by the demise of Big idea? I'm discovering the freedom there is in not demanding people to apologize before I offer forgiveness. There's even more freedom in not mustering up the feeling of being wronged and expecting the offender to then act in a certain way when we can't control their behavior, as much as we want to, or anybody else's  for the rest of our lives. How many times have I demanded an apology before I forgave someone, the whole while entrapping myself in bitterness because of my formula for forgiving someone. I'm not buying into the "Love Story" philosophy, that love means never having to say you're sorry, because I know I'm going to have to say those words multiple times in my lifetime, but I'll be healthier if I can learn to forgive before someone asks to be forgiven, better yet, if I work on not being unnecessarily offended in the first place.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What if It's God Speaking?

We closed Mom's memorial service with the song from Mandissa's new album. Mom liked watching American Idol. So we ended her funeral on a high note, "Only the World," played as people hugged and  exited the church, a feeling of celebration in the air rather than sorrow. I had Marty buy the album that morning because the idea to play that song hit me the day of. So I listened to the rest of the album as I drove home that night. Track 3 is called "God Speaking." The first line of verse 2 says, "Have you ever lost a loved one who you thought should still be here..." Why wasn't Mandissa sitting  right there in the passenger seat asking me the question in person? She might as well have been. "What if He's somehow involved? What if He's speaking through it all?" There was no question that God was evident throughout Mom's battle and death. I've never felt closer to Him. He was there. Yeah, God speaking. I get it. A few weeks ago I read a book called Into the  Deep, about a man who lost his wife and 4 kids in a flash flood earlier this decade. It was about how he kept his faith in God intact through out any man's worst nightmare. I read it wanting to be encouraged to be that kind of man, a man of faith no matter what happened in my life, no matter the loss, no matter the tragedy. I finished the book in less that 24 hours. Gripping, heart wrenching.  Marty asked me why I was torturing myself while in my own state of grief over Mom, but I told her I had to read it. Who would want to read about a man who had to identify all 5 of his family members after such a calamity? I surely wasn't reading it for pleasure. I just had to read it. Finished it on a Saturday, got a phone call from my sister the following Monday. In tears, she said, "I don't know how to say this... Dad has cancer." After the shock set in, the disbelief hovered, and a few shakes of the head, I thought, "Well, at least it's not my wife and 4 kids." Don't misunderstand me. I'm not making light of that man's tragedy, not in the least. I bawled my eyes out for him as I read his account. And I'm certainly not minimizing my dad's condition. I just realized, if we think we deserve fairness, then this life is not for us. Life is not fair. We get dealt heavy blows. Messenger after messenger after messenger approached Job telling him how he had lost everything and he was still able to fall down in worship and say, "May the Name of the Lord be praised." Yeah, the time between Mom's passing and Dad's imminent death (stage 4 lung cancer, people), seems cruel and unusual, but at least it's not my wife and 4 kids. And even if I had messenger after messenger approach me with debilitating tidings, I could do it. I could handle it, with Job as my example and God as my Father and Jesus as my Savior. Another line from Mandissa's song says, "His ways are higher, His ways are better..." Better? Yeah, better. I am so very glad I can hear God speaking through it all.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Shaking Like a Leaf

"Hold me, Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf, You have been King of my glory, won't You be my Prince of Peace." Song by Rich Mullins. Lyrics I've always admired... "Hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf..." I'm not an avid Rich Mullins fan, but whenever I would hear the song on the radio, I would respect it. It was written several years ago, so I don't hear it that often, if at all, on the radio anymore. But the plea of this song came back to my mind last week. I didn't just need to hear the song, I needed to pray that prayer, and I've listened to the song practically every day since downloading it. There were several versions to choose from on iTunes, but I wanted to hear the writer of the words himself, his heart, his cry. And the song is only that much more provocative because Rich Mullins died tragically in a car accident in the mid 90's. KLOVE seemed to make their station an auditory memoriam for years after his death. He contributed a lot to ccm, "Awesome God," "Sing Your Praise to the Lord," "The Maker of Noses,"... Okay, that last one not his most well-known song, but the Christian radio station I listened to while on my internship in Sacramento played it enough for me to take notice of the title, and consequently listen to the lyrics (which was also downloaded last week). But right now it's all about, "Hold Me Jesus," because that has been my plea for almost a week, now. Of course, it is my eternal desire, but the need for His embrace is so obvious for this present day. This little leaf needs a hug from the Creator of the tree. I am so thankful for a God who has hugged, is hugging, and will hug me for the rest of my life. Peace...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dear Dr. J...

Dear, Doctor Jay, I told you a couple of years ago I would do this, write to you about the fateful day in Homiletics class in the Spring of '92 when your friend Dan Elledge spoke to us. I came across your email address on a slip of paper, and in an attempt to clear off my desk, I decided to finally sit down and check this task off my list. That day was a milestone for me, a benchmark in my journey with God, one I've shared with many an individual and have included in many sermons. At that point in time, I had been leading worship for about 5 years at home in youth group and at Bethany College for chapels and such. I was in my Sophomore year at Bethany (and the only Sophomore in the class since it was a Jr/Sr class. Don't know how I eeked in there, but it only adds to the impact of this account), still not sure what to do with my major of Church Leadership. You had your Sr. pastor come speak to us, but this was no class lecture. We had church! Pastor Dan preached a message about hope, for us, for our future ministries as Church Leadership majors. He blew me away. I was so inspired by his enthusiasm, and the fact that this 3 hour class was so out of the ordinary. After he preached, he started going around the class laying hands on people and praying for them. Katie was sitting behind me and I knew she was having a bad day. He started with her and prayed for her as tears rolled down her cheeks. Sitting in front of her, my only thought was, "I'm next!" I was so excited to have this anointed man pray for me. I couldn't wait. He came to me and laid his hands on me and I waited for his words with great expectation. He spoke the word, "worship." It caught me off gaurd. I didn't know if he was telling me to worship or what, so I waited for what he would say next. Again, he said, "worship." I was getting a little restless because he was hitting close to home. Finally, he said, "God is going to use you in worship, as David worshipped..." and I can't really remember what he said after that because I was so excited and I knew in that moment, God was speaking to me. I had never met Pastor Dan Elledge before in my life. He didn't know me or have any idea about my landing somewhere with my major and becoming a music pastor being one of the options. I had a divine moment with God. I had heard other people talk about those kinds of moments, but, now, I had one, and if I've ever been sure of the Lord's voice speaking clearly and directly to me, it was sitting in that desk in the W building at Bethany College in the Spring of '92. It was after that class that I decided to make music my emphasis in my major and let God use me to be a worship leader wherever I would go. I had a chance to thank Pastor Dan later at District Council that year, shake his hand, tell him what that class session meant to me. When I heard he had died the following Summer, I was affected. Of course I was heartbroken for his family, but it seemed like, for me, God allowed him to be here on earth long enough to speak into my life before taking him home. His divine words and sudden death left an impact on me that can never be clearly communictaed with words alone. There have been times in my ministry when I was entertaining leaving my current position and as I prayed, God brought me back to that moment in Homiletics class, reminding me of what He has called me to and making sure my heart was still the heart of a worship leader whether I stayed or left. It truly was a defining moment for me, so I thank you for being my Homiletics teacher 16 years ago. God bless you, Dr. Jay.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New ER!

We had no plans for New year's Eve. Forcing 3 kids 5 and under to stay up 'til midnight just didn't appeal to us. Besides, each of them have some form/degree of Hand Foot and Mouth disease. Charming so far, huh? Julia came up with last minute plans. I was in Max's room putting his laundry away when I heard the thump. Julia started to cry that basic "I fell down" cry, but it quickly upgraded to "bloody murder" shriek. I hurried into our bedroom and found her bowing down before Gramma Louise's antique chair, which she met on the way down because her stocking feet caused her to slip as she was running to the bathroom. Blood was streaming down her face from her forehead and we immediately had plans for New Year's Eve. Our neighbors took the little ones while we drove to the ER. Pulling up to the entrance, the inside looked like an after Christmas sale. The place was packed. I knew it was going to be a long night. Marty stayed for a while, but went home to put Ella and Max to bed, and Julia and I waited it out. She had since calmed down. Actually, she had calmed down while still at home, even though her head was still bleeding. As we sat in the emergency room, no crying did she make. The only thing that remotely sounded like a complaint was when she said, "I wish I could go home and take a nap." She was ideal. It was getting well past her bedtime and she was tired, but she waited so patiently for her name to be called. People started to notice. How could they not? They had hours to just sit and observe all the sick people while they waited for their number to be up. It was like being in The Hotel California. "Guests" were checking in, but it seemed they could never leave. People started to comment on how well Julia was handling herself. Shrek was playing on the silent TV, so she watched it, filling in the dialogue from her memory banks. When Dick Clark's Rockin' New Years Eve came on, I told her we were probably going to be sitting in that room until next year. It was around 11PM that they called her name. "Thank God!" I exclaimed out loud, and began wishing a Happy New Year to my new ER family that I had been sitting with for hours. I had explained to Julia that it was going to hurt when they gave her a numbing shot before they sewed her up and asked her if she could be brave. She reluctantly nodded. I wanted to be realistic about it. I wanted to be honest about it. Sometimes life is going to hurt, but I told her the pain wouldn't last that long and tomorrow it would all be over. She cooperated. She whimpered as they prepared, but she lay still. Of course she cried when they stuck a needle in her forehead, but she looked at me as I tried to distract her with musings of her upcoming birthday girlie tea party she's having and how she could tell all her friends about what happened to her head. As soon as the doctor was done, Julia was done crying. Back to the same level headed, even tempered great kid she always is. She didn't flail, she wasn't uncontrollable, and she even walked out on her own 2 feet even though it was 2 1/2 hours past her bedtime. When we walked back through the waiting room, our ER family smiled, waved, clapped and wished us a Happy New Year. By the time we got home, gave Julia a much deserved cookie, got her jammies on and tucked her in bed, it was exactly midnight. So I kissed my wife. I have a great kid. So thankful for her. I pray she can grow up facing life the same way she faced stitches, calmly and patiently waiting, crying when it hurts, and getting up and walking in her own strength when it's all over. Come to think of it, I pray that for me, too.