The train of thought started while sitting in my favorite chair donated by Joseph and Gaby in my front yard enjoying the sun on this cool April day. Mostly it started as a flood of memories from the day and was primed further seeing different aspects of the yard and surrounding area. It was ignited (I’m a GWU alum, so I’m supposed to ignite things these days) by seeing a golf club laying in the middle of the yard. I got to thinking about how much fun it is to swing a golf club and to chip balls at various targets around the outside of the house. Or how I used to pretend to be in big tournaments when I lived with my folks on Memorial Drive and had created my own 3 hole course in the yard across from WGWG. Crazy thinker that I sometimes am, the joy of swinging a golf club led me to declare out loud to myself that I don’t really fear death anymore. “Let me explain. No there is too much, let me sum up.”
It’s the joy and love of this life that I’ve always wanted to cling to. I want to savor and suck the marrow out of life. I want to enjoy my life with my lady and watch my youngn’s grow. I want to coach little league and give my daughter in marriage–a good while from now. I want to laugh with friends and cry sometimes too. I want to marvel at creation and read and discuss new ideas. I don’t want to not be able to do these things. I don’t want my kids to have to live this life without me and most certainly I don’t want to live it without them. Perhaps it’s easy for me to say now because there is no real crisis of health or existence at this point, but I don’t fear not being able to do these things anymore because 1. I get to do them now and 2. I believe ever more that the new creation will exist and will involve many of these same joys and pleasures and 3. that the Maker gives us good gifts and that he does not play games with our lives.
So I got to thinking about my day. Just after school I drove to my friends Brett’s and Ruth’s to pick up a truckload of wood for using next fire season. I got to hang out and see their little fella wonder what the heck I was doing there, but still smiling about it anyway–fresh off his wagon ride.
As I was driving home I continued to think about the ongoing conversation I’ve been so challenged and encouraged by via email and text. When I got home and unloaded the wood I sat down in my chair to relax a bit only to see the golf club. Of course, I told you about my own fun with the club, but then I noticed that my oldest boy had dug out a hole in the yard and was most assuredly working on his game for when he gets his green jacket.
Then I saw the red van pass by that picks up the exceptional folks in our neighborhood and I was thankful that people are around to look after folks less fortunate than many of us. I noticed the rope swing that our long lost friend Devan created for my kids on which they have spent countless hours of laughing and arguing over whose turn it really is next. I looked next at the old rusted out bucket that I got from my dear friend Fitzy. You know the one I had big plans to put around the mailbox and plant flowers in? Well I got it around the mailbox at least. That’s a start…
The azaleas are blooming. The dogwoods are popping. The trees are all that bright green of spring renewal. And I have a friend that lives on one side and a brother and sister that live on the other.
Finally I realized that during this whole thought train I was holding in one hand my son’s little league schedule (of which I happen to be the coach #gorockies) because I was trying to move a game time later in the season so I could host a fire for my great friend who we get to celebrate with in his marriage soon. In the other hand I was holding a coozy I “borrowed” from a good friend from Asheville after a night at his place when we all got together to listen to a Widespread Panic livestream.
I’ve always loved the first part of the verse that says no eye has seen. But I always missed the second part which comes in verse 10. These are the things that have been revealed to us by the Spirit. Revealed. To Us. I can marvel at life in a 20 minute span sitting in a chair in my front yard with my favorite ale and goodness all around me. I don’t have to worry or fear the end. Because life is now. I don’t have to wait to die to start living. And that life after life after death, as my favorite bishop calls it, is somehow constructed at least in part by the goodness of this life. So cheers to my friends so near. Cheers to the joy and sadness, the triumphs and trials, and perhaps more than anything the day to day normal life that is so easy to miss.
No this is not about that glance I get from my wife. It’s not about seeing one of those smiles from one of my kids. It’s not about the drama in the midst of a good book or at the end of a great sports contest. In fact, I can’t even say it is “literally” about my heart skipping a beat. Because technically it is an extra beat “followed by a compensatory pause.” Premature Ventricular Contractions or PVC.
Yeah I spent my Friday morning in the ER. Wanted to go the doc office, but they were full and my head got the most of me and so I went on and checked in to the emergency room and within 10 minutes of arrival I was in a bed attached to an EKG that confirmed that I was “throwing” about 13-16 PVCs per minute. The ding and the yellow bar on the monitor let me know that was high, just in case I didn’t figure that already with the deep thud that occurs in my chest during these compensatory pauses.
This part of the long story short, these are fairly common and not deadly–unless they occur back to back to back and then you’re a goner. My electrolyte levels were good and after being hooked up to the EKG for a little under 2 hours they determined that though the rhythm was assuredly off it was fine for me to carry on. And so I ended up with a new bookmark for my Lenten devotional. It’s the contact information and referral papers to the cardiologist that I am supposed to follow up with.
It’d be shifty for me to say that the above is not really the point. Of course, I wanted you to know about my Friday trials. But really, more than that I wanted to remark on how far the Lord has brought me in terms of dealing with anxiety. To be fair and honest during the few days that I have experienced the PVCs my mood has been deflated and uptight. I have sighed with unmet expectations towards my wife and had less patience than usual with my kids and their boisterous antics while I’m trying to relax and unwind. And so I can’t say that I haven’t been wound tight.
But the flood of anxiety that plagued a decade of my life has not been present. I was not overwhelmed. The words in Philippians that I always missed by trying to focus on the do not be anxious part have been a great help for me. THE LORD IS NEAR. Indeed. Again, I am not claiming confident faith, and happy go lucky status. It is difficult not to pay attention to a fluttering and noticeable thud in your chest cavity. So, worried? Yes, of course. But anxious? I can answer that with a no. Not a firm “no”, but a no nonetheless. And so thank you to the Spirit of the one who rules both this age and the age to come, and thank you to my brothers and sisters who have shouldered this burden with me through the past several years.
The reflection by… well I’ll let you guess… the reflection this morning is on Jesus’ encounter with temptation in the desert. What tests am I facing, the texts inquires. My temptation is to worship death and to glorify it by dwelling in fear. To exalt death by being consumed with questions about whether I will get to say goodbye to my kids or my wife. Fear about seeing the next day. Thanks be to God I have held those fears and questions at bay. But they are there at the precipice of my mind. They are knocking loudly.
May I trust in the knowledge that death is defeated. That I am found in the right in the Messiah. That that future verdict has been brought forth into the present. Blessed assurance!
We keep our local church‘s chairs and “what not” in one of these pods behind the Ruby. After 6 or 7 years one of them got leaky. So yesterday we met the pod guys at the Y and replaced the leaky one. This entailed unloading and removing the old one and placing and loading the new one. Sounds simple enough. There were a few issues, but mainly it went just like that.
Except the conversations and interactions were remarkable. The older guy from Jersey came up and talked to us first. We’ll call him Tom. Because that was his name. Obviously he knew that my two college friends and I were a part of the church, and so he gave us what he called “the test.” He told us he gave us an amount of time, but then wondered when we were going to tell him and his partner about Jesus. He then began quoting all the scriptures about saltiness and light and cities on hills etc. He gave me analogies of treasures and jackpots and on and on. I tried to retort that some are given to be evangelists and some teachers and some prophets and so on and that we tended more towards letting our lights shine through our daily actions. I’m not sure he was convinced by this logic.
Now I will say that the 3 of us who were loading and unloading the pod probably would not have had the rich conversation that we did had it not been for ol’ Tom. I’m not sure what we would’ve discussed, but the role of outreach and evangelism and how those things should be carried out probably wouldn’t have been at the top of the list. Possibly but not probably. And so kudos to Tom for sharing his “testimony” with us and for provoking conversation.
Then there was Casey. He was the truck driver who was in charge of picking up the old, leaky pod. Casey was 29 and as jovial as one can be. He sported a camouflage Miller Lite hat which we certainly complemented. He was friendly–even took his glove off to shake our hands–and fun to be around. He even–gasp–made a “that’s what she said” comment during the process.
Now while Tom was trying to back the truck into the miry location in which our old pod had sat he ran into some trouble. To which Casey remarked “well I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure it’ll be my fault.”
And so fairly or unfairly–and probably the latter–the testimony and evangelism of Tom kind of evaporated. He said all the right things, but it was apparent that he treated Casey as the lesser of the two pod guys. Perhaps Casey deserved it. Maybe he did always mess up. Maybe it was just a bad moment for Tom–Lord knows we all have them. Often. This is not a parable about the import of perfection.
But, my, how actions speak louder than words!
Or as my good buddy Tom says:
“The royal proclamation is not simply the conveying of true information about the kingship of Jesus; it is the putting into effect of that kingship, the decisive and authoritative summoning to allegiance. That is why it challenges the powers. That is why to retain, or to embrace, symbols and praxis which speak of other loyalties and other allegiances is to imply that other powers are still being invoked. And that is to deny ‘the truth of the gospel.'”
As I backed out of my driveway this morning, I sighed and remarked aloud to myself that it was “just Tuesday.” For a few seconds I lamented that reality. I was wishing that I could move ahead to the weekend I suppose.
But it didn’t take me long—out of conviction perhaps—to turn that phrase around. I took the emphasis off of Tuesday and put it on Just. After all, I get to go to a school to work. I get to interact with other human beings, some who want to be taught and others whom I must find ways to motivate to put forth some semblance of effort. And I get to learn too. I know many complain about the pay scale of teachers, and though not getting a raise for the past 5 years has been challenging, I wouldn’t trade the schedule I have for anything—seriously, I’m not sure there is a sum of money that would cause me to trade the schedule I have at this point in my life.
I get to announce varsity baseball. I get to plan what desserts Sydney and I will concoct in preparation for Thursday evening with our college friends. I get to watch Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and maybe even He-Man with my kids after eating a meal with Pop and Nana. I get to anticipate the changing of the season and the planting of my garden—and the anticipation is much easier than actually planting and maintaining.
I get to contemplate the meaning of the Lenten season and what changes I would like to make for the next 40 days. I get to read the next few essays in NT Wright’s Pauline Perspectives and plan my course of study for the next time I get to teach the letter to the Philippians.
I get to look at my beautiful wife and wonder how a nose ring could make her even more appealing and attractive than before. In short, I get to live. Life. I get to love. I may be tired, or it may be cold, or things may not be happy or pleasing, but I exist as Whitman says. And for that I am thankful and am working on being more thankful.
1. When I was 5 I busted my head on a boulder during a class field trip to Schiele Museum. No stitches though.
2. I grew up in the Campus House at Gardner-Webb until I was in 7th grade. Yes I grew up with college girls.
3. I used to wipe the sweat off the floor at the LYCC during GWU basketball games. Back when the LYCC was young.
4. I dipped Skoal Bandits in 5th grade with my buddy James Corbin. Puked my guts out. Still don’t like to smell dip to this day.
5. Jumped out the bathroom window at West Cleveland Elem. School (demolished now but was behind Ingles) in 4th grade to meet a girl for my first for real kiss.
6. I misspelled mallet in the 5th grade spelling bee and frugal in the 6th grade. Yes I still remember. I like to win.
7. I was a part of the best little league team to come through Boiling Springs. Red Sox baby. My coach, Ansel, kept our averages by whether or not we made contact. I hit over .900 my 6th grade year and we won the championship. Beat Cherryville and won the district too.
8. I was the point guard for the Boiling Springs Chargers. We were undefeated in 4th grade and had only 1 loss in 6th. Champions both times doe.
9. I won the Optimist Oratorical Contest in 8th grade with my speech on the dangers of drugs. Irony. I won $50. Went on to compete at the next level, but was too embarrassed that I would be considered a nerd so I tanked the next level.
10. My friend and little league teammate, Daniel Greene, died of leukemia when I was in 9th grade. I cried outside in the hall with Mrs. Ramsey.
11. Went with my friend to Orlando for a week around this time. Afterwards his dad said if he gave up all his gangsta rap CDs he would buy whatever CDs he wanted. Thus we were introduced to classic rock. And the rest is history…. or well it’s still going actually.
12. I was the Conference Tournament MVP my senior in high school. I went 4 for 4 and played a good 3rd bag as we beat Alexander Central to win the crown. It capped a heck of a turnaround as we struggled through the early part of the season.
13. I went to Davidson College for a “year.” I was the pledge class president for the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.
14. My roommate’s name once I ended up at GWU was “Chill”. The only guy I know that could pull that off.
15. Sarah and I met in Dr. Carscaddon’s philosophy class. She was wowed by my dizzying intellect.
16. I saw my first Widespread Panic show in April of 1999. I’ve only been to like 80 since then. Literally. Proper use of the word there.
17. Sarah and I got married at sunset at Lake Hollifield. She came around to the bell tower area from the club house in a white horse drawn carriage. That clippity clop. Hard to believe she is more beautiful today than she was that June evening.
18. After Sarah and I got married I was a part time youth pastor at a local church. On more than one occasion during bizness meetings, I got outvoted church to one. Once was when I voted against upgrading the church sign. Once defeated I think my statement was “well at least don’t put up those silly sayings.” To their credit they don’t usually have those up. Unlike the GWU English department this year. “We’re Prose” Really?
19. When my first son Samuel Adams Thomas was born–wait “you named your son after a beer?”–he was only 4 lbs when we brought him home. That was when I was teaching at Statesville Christian School. I was the history department as well as soccer, basketball, and baseball coach.
20. I understand what people mean when they say they don’t have regrets. If I wouldn’t have made the mistakes I made at Davidson and not ended up at GWU then I wouldn’t have met Sarah and had Sam, Sydney and Isaac. So I get what the folks mean by no regrets. But that’s too simple. I have regrets. I regret how much of a brat I was opening Christmas presents when I was young. Acting disappointed and ungrateful. I regret the arrogant jerk I was in high school. I regret the bad decisions and false choices I made. I regret the hurt that I put people through. I regret that many of the choices I made still have ripple effects today. I’m learning not to dwell in that past. I’m learning that I’m not defined by that past, but that I am defined by the person of Jesus. But I am really sorry for the person I was. And for the person I still am in some ways. Even so, I want you to know me. And I want to know you. I want us to know each other so that we can get a closer glimpse of what it is the Creator intended for us.
Not quite a decade ago Sarah and I moved back to Boiling Springs after a few years in Statesville. Upon our return we visited this new church that my brother in law Gabe had told us about. They met in the coffee shop and loosely referred to themselves as the Fellowship. Now this was before I had read Tolkien and so I made fun of this group to the best of my ability. Of course, even if I had read LOTR by then I probably still would’ve made fun just out of principle. I’m not afraid of an arbitrary stand.
The services consisted of teaching and questions and answers to follow. No music. And crockpots to share afterwards.
Not too long after this group moved to Springmore Elementary’s gym and cafeteria. Music became more regular. Still had those crockpots. Every Sunday.
I remained skeptical/cynical. I stayed on the fringes, critiquing every little word of the sermon that I disagreed with or the lyrics to the music, or–and this is a good one–I was critical of the fact that this tight knit group that said so much about community didn’t pursue me even though I chose to remain on the outside looking in. Classic catch 22. (or maybe not I never really read that book.)
But then or perhaps I should say but God…
I discovered a writer named N.T. Wright and read one of his books. I started listening to a phenomenal preacher on podcast. And I stopped critiquing everything Matt Orth said or didn’t say and started listening to his heart. And most importantly of all I started listening to the Spirit. About this time in a basement down by the river we started reading a book called Bruchko. I didn’t like the first chapter. I may or may not have made that public. But as we went through the book discussing and praying, something happened. I began to open up my life to these men–to this body of believers. I stopped worrying about perception and began revealing who I was. And they received it and reciprocated. It just took a little effort on my part to realize that I wasn’t being kept on the fringes, I was deciding to stay there.
Since then our little pocket of rebels, I mean believers, has moved our meetings to the Ruby Hunt YMCA. But that’s just Sunday mornings. There are marriage retreats, women’s retreats, college dinners at our house on Thursdays, men’s prayer, women’s prayer, mothers of teens groups, small groups here small groups there, giving circles. But that’s just the organized programs that have developed over time. What it is I’m not sure I can capture in a few paragraphs, but the phrase Less Without You will work in a pinch. (Life Together ain’t bad either. )
Yes we miss the folks who have moved to other communities. Yes I miss my friends when they aren’t able to make it to a fire on Friday nights or Barley’s on Saturday afternoon. But what’s more is that we are learning to value each other as vital parts of the Body. I am learning that by following the Spirit and becoming the human that I was created to be and my brothers and sisters doing the same that we begin to get a glimpse of how good the Kingdom of God is. Not that we have already obtained all this. By no means. But we are pressing on.
It really is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. As my friend Matt says it’s not about a destination it’s about relationship. Relationship with the Triune God and relationship with each other. But I guess this post was supposed to be a plug for a blog. So here you go.
Check out Matt Orth at the Rusty Tugboat. There you will no doubt read about the community of Jesus in more clarity and certainly more wit than I can offer. You oughta check out his book too. It’s a good’n.
Two blogs today.
The first one is my sister’s blog. If you want to see pictures of really cute kids this is one for you. But it’s so much more than that. Jodi is able to capture emotion better than most any other blog writer that I’ve read. The joys and struggles of motherhood are so wonderfully told on her blog that my eyes get dusty once in a while reading. I know, I know, she’s my sister and I am familiar with the stories she crafts, but I think if you are a mother or an aspiring mother or one who enjoys life’s little moments and isn’t afraid to share with others the low points then her words will be comforting and illuminating.
The second is from my good friend Rory. This guy is one of the smartest people that I know personally. He is a theology student up in Chicago and an aspiring musician. Ok that’s false. He’s not aspiring. He is a musician. If you listen to the songs Four Winds or SIx Thousand Summers you will see the truth in that statement. I look forward to reading Rory’s books someday in the future. Perhaps while waiting for his band to take the stage at the Asheville Civic Center. He is not afraid to take on controversial issues and offer fresh perspectives for how the universal church can proceed through these particular issues. Gracious and humble yet piercing and truth-filled.
One more post on good blogs to come. The final post will be on my friend at lesswithoutyou.com