Sunday, June 26, 2011

Deep Truth & a Moment on a Pond

Anyone who has spent time around me in the past several days and has looked closely would know that I have been captivated by a singular thought. Have you ever had your entire existence focused on a concept that simply covers the lens of your reality? Sanctus Real, Lead Me has seized my mind.

Growing up, some of my favorite stories were Mike Mulligan and The Steam Shovel, Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox, and Davey Crockett with his stand at the Alamo. I was always drawn to stories of brave men who valued their belief over their personal stake in the story. Maybe this is typical of all young boys, I also see my son gravitate to this basic story line of doing what is right in the face of destruction. We share a love for the Star Wars saga, The Lord of The Rings, and even the Harry Potter series.

What fascinates me is that this basic idea of good versus evil is as old as history, and even older than mankind. At our core we seem to have this idea that there is a great struggle in this world of all things good and the love that holds us together versus the darkness and all that is bent to destroy it. All good stories share this great theme. It is the theme that all of us face, whether in an epic saga or in a personal decision.

In the end, it is strength that wins. So in the chaos of my mind, I search to find this strength and wonder if it can be found in me. The song referenced above has a line that haunts my conscious thought... lead me with strong hands.

It uses the perspective of a child and of a spouse, asking the man who is the father and husband simply to  lead with strong hands. To live by example, and to stand when it is necessary to stand. It is a plea to this man that the best years of his life are meant to be spent in providing for the ones who look to him.

I love the picture that my wife took of me in the boat with my two children. My hands are on the paddle. My daughter is in front of me, looking ahead in the direction I am sending us, and my son sits in the front looking at me. He does not worry the direction the boat his heading. They both trust that my vision and my direction will safely transport us across the water. My choices will determine whether their trust in me builds their character or destroys their faith.

Life can take us so many directions. It is so easy to listen to the wrong voice.

So what is real strength? I think of Oskar Schindler and I think of Martin Luther King Jr. These are two men who put their beliefs in what was right above their own personal security and even the well being of their families. I wonder if any of us who considers ourselves "good" would do this today? Is there any among us who values true belief over our own personal comfort, security, and even above the well being of our families?

Strength is so much more than the force of our muscles and the display of our power. Strength is the character of the soul and the conviction of the heart. Strength is that nugget of truth that we pay to watch with a bucket of popcorn and overpriced 3D glasses. We all have the desire to be strong imprinted deep within our being. We know it to be the ultimate truth. And yet, so many of us fear it.

Have you seen the movie, Life Is Beautiful? For me, this represents true strength. To stand in the face of evil, for those that we love. To strip the ability for the darkness to terrorize us because we know that the beauty of what we hold dear is worth it.

No matter what troubles life throws at us, we can not allow ourselves to be robbed this incredible gift that we all have. We have an opportunity to embrace our belief and to live our passion.

So what is real strength? Well, I suppose it is all the above. At times it requires us to swing an axe, or to revise our station in life to meet the need of where we find ourselves, at times it means to sacrifice our personal belongings, and even place in danger our own safety in order to live the truth. At times, it even requires us to look into the face of death itself and smile because we know a greater truth.

Strength is within. It is simply in remembering who we are. As the song states, it is not what we have done that defines us, rather what we do should be defined by who we are. We get one shot at this life and I never intend to spend a single moment regretting what I could have done.

No "if onlys" for me.

My personal belief is that a hand of strength holds me and guides me. And that strength is sufficient. Nothing else can matter.  It is my desire that my children be held with this strength and that they can find truth in the direction of our lives. I do not want a secure or comfortable existence in this temporary place. I desire to live a life that reflects this deep truth of embracing the life held in the strength of God.

My soul is desperate to find this strength. What can compare?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Farts and Gunshots in a Funeral Parlor

It was a very solemn moment. And I kind of blew it. In a way, it was a necessary release of emotion, and yet I knew I should not be laughing. Although I nearly blew my ears out, I successfully stifled the inappropriate hilarity, and then I felt the shoulder of my son shaking as he leaned into my left side. I nearly guffawed with an open mouth.

Suddenly, my mind shut-down the moment as a memory of distinct clarity erupted across my consciousness.

I was young, for the sake of the narrative let's say that I was exactly the age of my son, 10 (in fact, that may be nearly true). I was sitting in a folding metal chair in the foyer of a large, historic, 2-story home in Middletown, Ohio that had been converted to a funeral parlor. Now, this is coming from child-memories approximately (again, for the sake of the narrative) 27 years ago. So, I only claim this to be as accurate as my memory and maybe a little embellishment allows. So, disclaimers aside... on to the story.

I was sitting in that squeaky metal chair, no... I think they were wood.  So, I was sitting in that uncomfortable wooden chair, directly across from my Grandpa Harry. Chairs lined the walls and the room was approximately 15 x 20 feet square. Without warning, the somber mood of the room was interrupted by a quiet sound that first caught our attention with the audible tones similar to a housefly, which then rose to the noticeable alarm of an angry bumblebee. This sound was emitted from one of those who had come to pay respects to the deceased (who I believe was my Uncle Andy who lived in the back of the scrap yard and ate opossums and various varmints).

This was a solemn moment! I had been threatened by my father that I was to BEHAVE. But, this sound was a particular sound that I found to be among the funniest sounds known to my existence.

In fact, this type of humor may be genetic to the human bloodline. You see, I was not the only person in the room of approximately 20 people who found it humorous...I was one of two. However, the second was my Grandpa, and he had many years of experience of learning how to suppress our base sense of humor and properly behave in public. Well, at least until he saw me laughing.

Grandpa Harry used to like to retell that story of how he heard the ah, "ripper on that wooden seat" and how he was able to keep from laughing--until he looked across the room and saw my head down and my shoulders shaking with silent laughter. To my absolute delight, he burst out with a belly laugh that was soon echoed by me, and then shared by several in the room.

And now, 27 years later I find myself in another funeral parlor, sitting next to my 10 year old son, reliving the same experience from the opposite perspective. Unfortunately for the moment, this memory and realization only served to amuse me to a higher degree, and now I was shaking with suppressed laughter.

But, as I said this was a solemn moment.

The cause of my inappropriate release of emotion was the reaction of my other grandpa, my mother's father who is now 87 years old and was just fitted with his new hearing aid yesterday. The funeral we attended was that of a great man who served our nation as a Marine. And, in the tradition of an American serviceman, the ceremony of his funeral was closed with a rifle salute.

We were indoors. A side door was open, and the honor guard stood outside. The order to "FIRE" was given, the Rifles FIRED, and my grandfather shoot out of his seat, kicked his legs, and flailed his arms. The woman sitting next to him had to duck and cover in order to avoid being cold-cocked. Again the order was given to "FIRE" and again he jumped from his seat... only to settle down slightly embarrassed to again jettison his body from the chair as the third and final shot exploded.

What was a very funny moment in a very solemn ceremony was exacerbated to extreme when he then turned to the woman that he had nearly smacked three times and calmly whispered (in a very loud voice), "sorry about that ma'am."

After collecting my wits and now wiping tears of joy that were chasing tears of sorrow and love, I realized that this moment, much like the moment of my childhood was a blessing. Emotion can be so strong at times, and I had been overwhelmed to the point of pain in my skull. How does that pressure build up so powerfully?

I was attending the funeral of a man who was my neighbor, my friend, and my family. We used to sit on his back porch for hours and drink coffee while we attempted to solve the issues of the nation, our state, and our city. At times we even ventured into religion and our own personal histories and problems. 

This was a man who had been faithful to his God, his family, his friends, his country, and his beliefs. A man who had been married to one woman for just shy of 50 years. He raised two children and celebrated the birth and participated in the lives of 5 grandchildren.

Our discussions over coffee taught me a lot about what it means to live a life of integrity. Watching this funeral, hearing the words of those who knew him so deeply, helped me to realize that this... this stuff that I witnessed at this moment, this stuff... is the stuff of dreams. It is the secret to life. This is what I want when my days are over.

I want it to be said that I loved my wife. I loved my children. I gave the best years of my life to them. I gave my best efforts to them. I stood when it was hard to stand. I fought when it was necessary to fight. And I LOVED unconditionally... without fail. This is what it means to be a man. This is what it means to run that race and fight that fight.

I realized that I live among giants. There are still those among us who continue to be beacons, shining the way.  This moment was a reminder to me, that I am not defined by the mistakes of my past, rather... I am defined by WHO I AM.

Caleb and I later talked about this, and I explained to him... this was an example Caleb, of a man who got it right. This is how we want to leave this world. This is what it means to live our life by our belief.

Kellie and I are nearing our second adoption, and our hearts are bursting with the anticipation and the passion. We have been patient and calm for over 5 years, but as we get closer, the emotions surge. Thank God for farts in funeral parlors... lord knows sometimes I need a release!

We also are counting the days to our return to Guatemala and our dear friends there. I am still amazed by the true belief that translates into action of the people we encountered in that land. And, our hearts are quickened as we begin to explore and realize the plans that God has in store for us.

Life is meant to be lived... to the fullest. Emotions are given to us from the image of God implanted on our souls. I am so thankful for the tears that I shared with those I loved today. Tears of solemn moments and tears of release.

Tears of the present and sweet memories of the past. I think of my Grandpa Harry often, and I see his goodness reflected in the eyes of my father. I thank God that His grace has allowed me to be here in this moment, and I pray that his guidance continues to pour over me as I become the man he has created me to be.