Posts Tagged ‘presence

21
Dec
20

My Christmas of Shame

As the Christmas of my 12th year approached, I wanted a Sting-Ray bike so badly I could taste it.

Everybody has one,” I told my parents, although I’m not sure that was technically true. There were probably one or two 12-year-olds in Bangaladesh who did not have Sting-Ray bicycles.

The bike I did have was functional, but a little clunky. It certainly did NOT have a banana seat or cool, high-rise handlebars, or a sparkly candy apple red paint job. Those deficiencies caused me to be seriously ill-prepared in the “popping wheelies” department. 

Sting-Rays, as I’m sure you are aware, are PERFECT for popping wheelies.

My solution was to beg and beg and whine and moan and complain to my parents, beginning sometime in August. I assured them my life would be ruined if I did not soon possess a Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycle. The shame, I assured them, would redound to them as the parents of The Kid Without a Sting-Ray. 

Of course, it did not enter my childish brain that I was talking about a very major purchase here. We were not what you would call poor, but with five kids and a stay-at-home mother, there was not a lot of room for extravagance at Christmas time. In all likelihood, my heart’s desire might have eaten up 50 percent of the family Christmas present-buying budget.    

Fast forward to Christmas morning. The kids all woke up early – as usual – and ran downstairs to see what Santa had brought us. We impatiently waited as mom and dad took their sweet time coming downstairs, making coffee, and pretending not to know what we were so excited about. 

Stockings were first, by law. Then came the distribution of all of the other wrapped gifts. My eyes kept scanning for a large present in the shape of a Sting-Ray bicycle, to no avail. 

When everything had been passed out, ooo’d and ahhh’d over, squealed with delight for, or grudgingly thanked for (when the gift was a six-pack of new underwear), there was still no Sting-Ray bicycle in sight. Suddenly my dad looked over and said, “Well, I guess that’s it, kids!” and then with a wink my mother chimed in, “Wait a minute, George… what is that I see out there on the front porch?”

“I don’t know,” my father implishly replied. “Why don’t we go out and look!”

We all trooped out to the porch to see what they could possibly be talking about and there – in all its glory – sat a shiny Quasi-Sting-Ray bicycle.

“Oh look, Rusty!” my father proudly proclaimed. “I guess there was one more thing left after all. And I think it is for YOU!”

My father had taken my old bike – the clunky one described above – painted the frame with some metallic, candy-apple red and green paint, and then replaced the original handlebars with high-rise handlebars and the original seat with a Sting-Ray-like banana seat. 

My father had undertaken a labor of love. He had assessed the wants and needs of his five children, weighed them against the available budget, and come up with a creative solution. He spent hours and hours in a secret place in the garage modifying my bike and turning it into the thing I wanted most in the world.

And in return for his love, hard work, and creativity, what did I do? 

I moped. I sulked. I looked down at the ground and tried to hide my deep disappointment.

I think I managed to mumble out a strained, “Thank you,” but my heart wasn’t in it. 

I knew that all of my Sting-Ray owning friends were going to point and laugh at me when I rode my homemade Sting-Ray down the street. It would be just like wearing a placard around my neck that read, “Hi there! We’re poor.” 

I was ashamed of my parents’ gift.

Today though, I am ashamed of me and the way I reacted. 

I look back on that moment with the hard-won knowledge of what it takes to raise a family. I now know that nothing matters more to a parent than lighting up a child’s face with joy. I know parents are hardwired to do whatever it takes to provide for and protect their children and that the only reward any parent ever wants for all of the work and sacrifice is a smile and hearing a heartfelt, “Thank you, dad,” from that child. 

That Christmas I gave my parents none of those gifts. 

Today, as we approach this COVID Christmas, I hope we can look past the PRESENTS and give thanks for the PRESENCE; the presence of love, the presence of family, and the presence of God incarnate, as the real gifts of this season. 

Merry Christmas and abundant blessings;

23
Sep
19

Becoming or Being?

autumn leavesI live in the Midwestern part of the U.S.

It is the part of the country where we have four separate, distinct seasons… according to some.

You see, I used to say that we just had two seasons; summer and winter. The time in between those two seasons I called “becoming” times. What others might call spring is just winter in the act of BECOMING summer. What you might call fall is just summer BECOMING winter.

Sort of the way that dusk is just day becoming night or dawn is night becoming day.

Now I find myself faced with the realization that my cute little semantic trick has done a great disservice to the two very worthy and distinct seasons of spring and fall.

They are not meaningless passageways from one thing to the next! They really do have lives and identities of their own!

Spring and fall, I apologize for my dismissiveness.

As I think about it, I now see that I discovered the error of my ways by reflecting on my own “season” of life. What I mean is: I am certainly no longer young. But I don’t think I qualify to be called old yet either. (Unless, of course, it is by one of my sons who lovingly see me as “older than dirt.”) 

You see, if I applied the same naming protocol to my life that I used for the seasons, I would now be in the tender stage of life known as “becoming old.”

Saying that I am “becoming old” is to jump ahead. It is to undervalue the moment in life I NOW actually occupy in favor of one I will someday occupy. It is to favor WHAT WILL BE over WHAT IS.

Have you ever done anything like that? We might call it the “are we there yet?” syndrome. It happens when you are:

  • Looking forward to the trip you’ll be taking next week, and you overlook the importance of the things happening in your home or community right now.
  • Preoccupied with a message that MIGHT come to you via a social media channel, you miss the messages being sent right now… particularly those being sent by God.
  • Worried about a possible future illness or mishap, you neglect to celebrate the beauty of the moment you currently inhabit.

Guilty, guilty, and guilty as charged.

Wise coaches of athletic teams head off this syndrome by instructing their players to, “Just play one game at a time.”

Wise spiritual guides tell their disciples something like, “Be here now,” or “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”(Matthew 6:25, NRSV)

The truth is, I love autumn. I wish it would linger longer. These crisp mornings when the dew is on the grass, a gentle breeze stirs the yellowing leaves, and the birds are just beginning to stir are far too few in number.

So come… rest a while. Sit down here with me and breathe this moment in.

Here on this first, full, official day of autumn, let’s just wait here quietly together a while, shall we?

14
Jan
19

Blasts from pasts

crossroadsIt is the great boon and the great bane of our wonderful world of instantaneous electronic connection.

You or I can be shuffling along, minding our own business, when SHAZAM! a voice or face from the distant, forgotten past suddenly appears and says, “Hi! How are you? What have you been up to?”

This is exactly what happened to me just the other day.

Fortunately, it was a face and voice I was pleased to see reappear.

In a way not entirely clear to me yet, the 94-year-old mother of my best friend from elementary school suddenly materialized on my Facebook Messenger. After introducing herself, she asked if I was the same guy her son had spent Friday nights with, some 55 or so years ago.

When I told her yes I was, she immediately brought me up to speed on the highlights of her life and Chris’ (her son’s) life since we had last connected.

I had learned some of the particulars about Chris by way of a 40thhigh school reunion a few years back, but a lot of what his mom told me was new.

It was one of those “blasts from the past” that was fun and newsy. I was really glad she took the initiative to find me and fill me in.

That contact, however, made me immediately think about my other best friend from high school: John.

Back in the day, Chris and John and I were inseparable buddies. Every third Friday night we were at one of our three homes, eating dinner, reading comic books, drawing hot rods at the kitchen table, watching horror movies until late, and crashing in sleeping bags on the basement floor.

I liked Chris and John a lot. They were very different people, but somehow they both seemed to enjoy my company, too. We always thought of Chris as the “wild child” of the bunch and John as the more introspective, philosopher type.

Chris ran track and played on the high school basketball team while John and I spent a lot of time hanging out with the high school youth group at church. And yes, it is a total coincidence that there were several cute girls who also attended youth group.

True to his billing, Chris was the first one of us who started smoking in high school. He was also the first one to be arrested by our small-town police department for some not-so-innocent property damage he caused while out late at night with another group of friends.

John and I were no angels, but we generally kept our noses clean, studied hard, and tried to figure out what being a teenage Christ-follower was all about.

Now, as a man in my 60s looking back on those two people who were so important in my life at one point, I find myself wondering how I could have been so utterly clueless about them.

Or how life can take such dizzyingly sharp turns.

What I found out at that 40thhigh school reunion was that “wild child” Chris ran away from home after graduating high school (one step ahead of the law), hitchhiked to Florida, got a job and put himself first through college, and then med school.

He ended up becoming a highly respected cardiothoracic surgeon (inspired by the movie version of MASH) and father of four. His mother told me that he retired from the surgeon’s life because of numbness in his right hand, but then went back to graduate school and was now teaching psychiatry at a local university.

Chris actually now owns one of those hot rods we used to draw at my kitchen table.

Ten years earlier, at the 30thclass reunion, I found out the news about John. I learned that my thoughtful, Christ-following best friend – after fifteen years of battling depression and substance abuse issues – had finally taken his own life in the bathroom of a house he shared with his mother and sister.

His family was deeply saddened by the news, but no one was surprised.

Today these two stories – held up side by side in the clear light of day – trouble me. I am sure the seeds of Chris and John’s outcomes were always there, somewhere below the surface. Those seeds were likely alternately hibernating or germinating while the three of us were young… waiting to sprout.

I am also convinced that some of the twists and turns of their stories (and mine too) were completely random and unpredictable.

I am equally certain that God was/is a part of each of our lives – and yours, too – at every step along the way. My faith teaches me that it is never the case that God listens to and assists some of his children and leaves others to their own devices.

I believe that good fortune or utter ruination are not indicators of God’s favor or disfavor.

But today, as I celebrate the further update on his story brought to me by Chris’ mother from out of the clear, blue Internet-filled sky, I also shed a silent, confused tear for John and the loved ones he left behind as I pray for their comfort.

Lord, in your mercy…




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