My wife gave me a puzzle at Christmas. It has 750 pieces. I can’t remember the last time I set out to construct a puzzle at all, much less one with that many pieces. My 88 year-old mother works puzzles but she prefers the 60 piece versions. She doesn’t like the ones with animals. And by the way, if you want to know what mom likes, uh, just ask her.
The picture, cut into all these tiny bits, is a view of the New York City skyline with the Brooklyn Bridge as the focal point. It’s obviously an old view, one that includes the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It’s always a little eerie to see the towers in a picture or movie or television show. But there they are in the picture on the outside of the box. It’s eerie, but I kind of like seeing ‘em. Lots of “re” there. Reminders, remembrance, recovery, resolve.
I’ve had a mild fascination with the Brooklyn Bridge since I read the incredible account of its construction by historian, David McCullough. I’ve read almost everything he’s written – books on the Johnstown Flood, the building of the Panama Canal, Harry Truman, etc. I read “Truman” during an extended recovery period after surgery in 2009. It was somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 pages and I don’t think I skipped a single one.
The story of the building of the Great Bridge was amazing and I highly recommend it. At the time it was built, there was no structure in New York City or Brooklyn as high as the two towers that still stand on each end of the bridge. The combination of vision, ambition, science and business that brought this marvel of engineering into being is awesome in the truest sense of that overused term.
So, last fall, when we were getting the itch to visit NYC again, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge was on the list of things to do. We took the subway to Brooklyn on a cloudy Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving and took the long stroll across. It was spectacular.
That, to some degree, gives reason to why she gave me this particular puzzle. Again, it’s been a while since I did one of these things.
So, we upset the everything-always-in-the-right-place equilibrium of our house, cleared off the dining room table and emptied the box.
I took my time putting it together. At times, I would look at the sections where progress was being made, then at the scattering of homeless pieces and think, “Man, there have to be some pieces missing.” We got the border done first, but even that seemed to present a problem. The border pieces are flat on the bottom or top as the case may be, right? Well, about eight pieces that fit together at the bottom did not lock into place in the only place they could possibly go!
I guess I’ve spent so much time in church over the course of my lifetime that most everything “preaches” to me.
Here’s the deal.
There are some puzzle pieces that look like they fit. Heck, they actually do work . . . sort of – they sort of fit. The problem is, as all the other pieces find their places, the ones that sort of fit mess everything up.
They look ok until you get in there (in my case, with a good pair of glasses!!) and check it all out. Then you can see a tiny discrepancy and you realize the piece is in the wrong place.
Is there a perfect way for everything to go, or when we get a little off track and make some mistakes or impulsive choices that can never be made right, does God, then, set us on a good path again, just different from the first path?
I don’t know. I just know the big picture will be right if we make sure all the little pieces along the way fit into the right places. The big pic won’t be obvious until all the little pieces find the right fit.
One of the hardest things for me is to take care of what’s right in front of me. I have the punishing tendency to play the life-tapes too far back, relive some painful episode, then relive it again and again. Or roll too far forward into the undone, the not yet, the maybe it will happen or maybe it won’t, the what if?
Last summer I played golf with my two sons, Neal and Adam. For a lot of reasons, it had been a long time since we’d done anything like that . . . just the three of us. We met at the golf course early to hit a few balls before our tee time. At that hour, the driving range looked right into the rising sun. I hit a few shots, tried to follow the flight of the ball then closed my eyes rather than look right into the sun. I started to concentrate on what was happening at my feet – right in front of me. When I was able to see a few shots land, I realized I was hitting the ball pure and crisp. I couldn’t (never could and still can’t) do anything about what happened to the golf ball after it left the clubface. All I could do was concentrate on the constants, the things that were in my control, the one thing that was right in front of me. The results were good and for the whole round, I played a few shots over my head and put up a pretty good score.
So the one-piece-at-a-time thing just might work pretty well in a ton of applications.
And in the end, the picture just might be a work of art.
Most sports fans in Houston have shamelessly boarded the NFL’s Texans bandwagon. Those of us that pledge our loyalties to other teams for most of the season (mine goes to the Greenbay Packers for a lot of reasons) have allowed the local team a little love.
And, wow, they took us by storm with a run of 7 wins in a row with a team that’s had more than it’s share of setbacks. The Texans lost, over the course of the season, the starting quarterback, the backup quarterback, a first round draft pick from several years ago that was one of the best defensive players in the league, a great receiver, and on and on.
A week or so ago, this year’s new defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, fresh from being released from the Dallas Cowboys head coaching spot last season, alerted the media that he would be absent for a couple of weeks and would be having surgery immediately. Wade Phillips took the Texans defense to the top spot in the entire NFL.
A radio host on one of the local AM sports talk shows said, “If there is a God, He hates the Texans.” Do I really have to explain how put off I am by this??? I actually called them to protest their idiotic banter. Deaf ears, I’m sure.
At the beginning of the season, the Texans had great promise. Even before scheduled games began, there was talk of a long-awaited, first ever playoff appearance. This kind of gab always amuses me before a single ball has been snapped because it discounts the unknown – namely the untimely injuries that no one can predict.
Ask the Indianapolis Colts how they felt about suddenly losing their starting QB, Peyton Manning. Hasn’t been such a good season in Indy.
But Thursday night, the home team Texans played Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis against the one-win Colts with every expectation of winning against the Manning-less ponies. Even with our third string QB and our injury-laden lineup, everyone in Houston expected to come away with a win.
We had been invited to some friend’s house for dinner that night, so I fired up the DVR. Man, it doesn’t seem so long ago we put in tape cartridges the size of a classic Dickens novel, set the timer, crossed our fingers and hoped the clock was set to PM and not AM.
When we got home around 10, I thought I’d watch the game.
Beautiful, right? Fire right through the commercials and . . . sweet! Heck, I even hit the 30-second advance button right after a play was blown dead. Play after play after play uninterrupted with little to no inane color commentary from the NFL Network wannabes.
The fact that the Texans lost in the last seconds of the game made for a not so merry off-to-bed time.
I woke up this morning with a few items on the plate with Christmas day right around the corner. But while I was off in the yard doing some cleanup, I thought about the football game last night and how I watched it . . . flying past all the incidental seconds that filled the spaces between the good stuff.
And the thought of it left me a little, well . . . flat.
Sure, I got to focus on the highlights or, in this case, the low. But I missed the threads that lead up to the good stuff, the fabric that makes a competition so entertaining. I missed the anticipation of the next move. There wasn’t time for imagination or for armchair quarterbacking strategy. It was just action without a huddle.
There are times we’re led to believe that life is all action (at least, everyone else’s).
If you’ve been to a movie lately and paid attention, or tried to pay attention to the previews and trailers, you’re know that moviemakers have determined that our span of attention is, oh, about 3 seconds before we need to be slapped around by a new scene or story line. Action and more action!
And so, when our lives follow a path that’s a more ordinary or mundane, we think, “What’s wrong with me? Why is my life so boring?” It’s not.
It’s life as it really is. Exhilarating, hair-raising adventures, waves crashing and thunder bolts that last for a few minutes or, at best a few hours, then gather back into a calm, sometimes sleepy, pool of reality. And sometimes the reality pool can stay still for a long time.
Watching a game on the DVR doesn’t give you much perspective. There is no “between the lines stuff” and the highlights all run together. It takes some of the fun out of it and denies you the bigger picture.
Everything takes on a different look when we have perspective and when we breathe deep while we’re waiting for life to unfold.
Ever notice that when you get stressed or in a tense situation, one of the first reactions is to, pretty much, stop breathing. At best, the breathing gets really shallow. Breathing deep between the big stuff makes the tension and apprehension that usually comes with anticipation of the next big thing more tolerable.
I heard a great line in a movie preview a couple of weeks back. I don’t remember the film, just the line.
“It will all be OK in the end. And if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”
God is not done yet. Merry Christmas!
Wayne Watson Dec 23, 2011
Christmas used to be so easy.
When I was a child growing up in a very small town, Christmas was simple. Every year, we performed a Christmas musical, went caroling riding on a trailer filled with hay and sang at, pretty much, any house that had a light on.
After the annual choir performance, we went to either the Scott’s house (they were the only ones in town with a pool . . not much use in mid-December but still “wow” for me) or the Kiper’s for a party. The refreshments and the aroma said “Christmas!” to me.
Even as I write this, I’m hesitant because it’s so easy to come off as some “back in my day” Grump. Andy Rooney is no longer with us.
I like so many things about the time we live in. I love the technology and I hate the technology. I love it when it works and hate it when it lets me down. Seems like the letdowns come when I really need the help the most.
Once a GPS voice, in the middle of Houston rush-hour traffic, told me “Exit Now” only to take me down a service road for a couple of miles, then tell me to “u turn”, then “re-enter the freeway.” The same freeway I was on before.
This Christmas season, it’s the commercials that are wearing me down. Not commercialism – we all know that’s coming and usually have the wherewithal to prepare for the onslaught – but the literal commercials. I’ve taken to using the mute button a lot.
I don’t need much and I really, really don’t need Toyota to try and convince me to buy a new truck at midnight or 6 AM.
And I’m pretty happy with my cell phone. So stop it!
I guess the reason I still find all these intrusions so perplexing – and I realize there is nothing new here – Like I said, Andy Rooney covered most of it a long time ago – is that I simply wonder “Where is all this going to end?”
Will we eventually have television stations that are nothing but commercials?
(Uh, Hello . . . Home Shopping Network?)
We drove to Dallas a few couple of weeks back to see Baylor play Texas Tech in the new Cowboy’s Stadium. It was great to be there and watch the game. But big time sports are not about the game anymore (especially nationally televised games). It’s about TV.
If you’ve been to a live NFL or college game lately, you know what I’m talking about. Play starts then play stops. The players stand around waiting from the sign from the guy in a red jacket near the sideline. This is TV Guy. And play will NOT resume until TV Guy gives the sign. It doesn’t matter if there is a rally, or if the crowd is crazy and cheering for their team. If TV Guy says, “We will now sell deodorant” then sell deodorant we must.
I really don’t see how the athletes keep going. There is absolutely no momentum.
In baseball, when the relief man comes to the mound to pitch, the announcers pitch for Rolaids . . . “now that’s how you spell relief.” There’s actually a “Rolaids Relief Man of the Year” award.
I heard they’re contemplating putting ads on bases.
So where does it end?
It doesn’t end. It won’t. Without being fatalistic, this invasion is only gonna get worse.
So I have to end it. You have to end it.
The outside world doesn’t even pretend to respect our privacy, our space, our faith. I have to draw the boundaries.
You have to draw them. Your children will soak up everything that’s thrown at ‘em. It’s up to you to build in some walls, some safeguards. Stand your ground and say (either out loud or to yourself) “You will not come any further!”
And no, I don’t think we have to retreat to shelters full of canned goods and ammo. The generator will eventually run out of gas, the food will all be eaten, you’d run out of bullets . . . and then what?
(Not to mention those pesky neighbors pounding on the door of your safe ,house, “Let us in, let us in!!!” How are you going to deal with that?!?
God gave us so much. It’s a wonderful time and a wonderful life.
Give Thanks. Use some sense. Be Kind and Generous. You’ll stand out like a light on a reindeer’s nose.
Then smile and wish to all – with deepest, most heart-felt sincerity, without political agenda, and the voice of the Spirit of the Child born, buried and risen –
A Very Merry Christmas!
The discussion was luggage.
I’ve been on the road, in one form or another, for over thirty years. While I hesitate to recount some of the changes in the way we all move around these days compared to the late 70s and 80s, I can’t help but be mildly fascinated, if not downright amused by the differences.
Travel observations are not original and that’s for sure. Jerry Seinfeld and a multitude of other comics have made millions by simply observing and forming commentary on such things as airline peanuts (you don’t see those much anymore . . . allergies, etc), airplane bathrooms, etc. etc.
I guess the most obvious changes have been in the area of security and the most dramatic of those came a mere decade ago after 9/11/01. That changed everything. But more than enough has been written about the personal intrusions of airport security. So, enough of that.
Right now, as I sit on this plane flying from Orange County, CA back to Houston, it seems like the one major issue, the one thing we’re all concerned with is entertainment. Anything to keep our minds off how small these seats are (paid extra for more leg room. Came to about $23 an inch) whether or not the guy sitting next to me is gonna hog the arm rest the whole trip.
On every seatback, there’s a TV screen. Direct TV, for a small contribution will entertain us all the way home. The guy beside me, aside from hogging the armrest, is watching Notre Dame vs. Navy. A few seats up, someone’s watching the History Channel, something about the first commercial airplane travel and how big the planes and seats used to be. CNN is recounting every detail from the Michael Jackson case.
Me? I’m taking a break from reading a book (on my iPad) and writing this story (on my iPad) Geez, I’ve become one of those guys.
When this plane lands – and I mean as soon as the wheels touch the ground – most everyone from business executive to high school student will reach for their cell phones to (1) call someone to simply say “We’re here.” Or (2) check emails that came in during the flight. I’m probably starting to sound like Andy Rooney here (just as long as I don’t get those eyebrows . . . I mean, come on man, pick up a clipper), but I remember sprinting from the plane to banks of pay phones to call in. Try and find a pay phone in the airport today.
My old routine was to get to the airport early, grab a newspaper or two and wait for the flight. Now the newspapers are electronic. No sense getting ink all over me.
I remember being excited to travel to the northwest, especially Seattle, Washington ‘cause that was the only place you could get Starbucks Coffee. If I’d let them, I think Starbucks would open a shop in my driveway.
I stayed in a nice hotel in Costa Mesa, CA. The shower had two heads. There was a small, nicely printed sign in the shower touting the great luxury of the two-headed shower. On the same little sign, in perfectly executed doublespeak English that succeeded in both, informing and shaming me at the same time, the message strongly discouraged me from using both shower heads, therefore, saving “one of our most precious natural resources.” I stood there for a minute praying about what to do. And I’m not telling you.
But the topic was luggage.
I can’t begin to imagine how many suitcases I’ve gone through, but I do remember some of them. The most memorable, and at the same time, maybe the most disappointing was the great shiny silver Halliburton. Man, that thing was beautiful in the store – looked like something out of a James Bond flick. Sleek, but heavy – even empty – with latches that were suspect even when handled carefully. Latches that were absolutely no match for the UFC contestants masquerading as baggage handlers.
This was back when you could check 3 or 4 bags FREE and each one could weigh in at 70 pounds! Airport skycaps made good $$$ when we’d roll up with 3 suitcases each and a couple of guitars. They were always so nice to me. Hmmm.
Then somebody came up with the idea of wheels on luggage. Early versions were a joke. Airport concourses were full of mini crashes caused by faulty plastic luggage wheels with just enough stamina to get you out of the store. But luggage wheels have come a long, long way. The wheels on my Eagle Creek bag look like the mags on my brother’s 1970 GTO.
So we pile it on and roll away.
If guilt is luggage, maybe we were better off when we had to feel the load every day, face it, deal with it, and then, finally, let it go. Of course that’s the hard part, isn’t it? Letting it go.
The trick being played on most of us is that as the load gets heavier and more cumbersome, we just get snazzier luggage with better wheels and that way, we don’t notice the extra weight. It all feels the same on wheels until you try face it head on and try to lift it. That’s when you realize it’s getting out of hand. So the coping alternatives show their faces and we make our picks. Denial, minimizing, shifting blame, pills, booze and any number or other gadgets to get through the day.
Somewhere, some merciful and benevolent agent of God is gonna look you right in the eyes and tell you, “Hey, you can’t be dragging all that stuff with you on the rest of your trip.”
I believe God hears prayer. I believe He forgives. The issue isn’t with Him, it’s with me. I wrote a song years ago called “Don’t You Remember” that dealt with my constant trips to face God with my requests for forgiveness (often for the same thing) only to find that He didn’t know what I was talking about. It was forgiven and forgotten.
I won’t go off on the fact that some of you are thinking “Hey, God doesn’t forget anything . . . All Knowing, etc. etc. That’s for another song . . .or a real theologian.
But most of us feel like, to really be forgiven, we need to DO something . . . prove how really sorry we are. It simply goes against all human nature to allow God to forgive, to accept the Sacrifice of Christ, and move on. I’ve got to do something.
“So God’s forgiveness isn’t enough, huh? You’ve got to add something to it???”
In the movie, “The Mission,” Robert DeNiro plays a character facing the memories of a horrific past, a murder and a slave dealer, heartless and violent, self-serving and hard. When he comes to faith, he feels he must do penance for his sins. Over the course of several scenes, he’s shown carrying a load, a net filled with armor and weapons of his past crimes. He carries it up steep cliffs, across angry rivers. At one point, one of his traveling companions, a priest, cuts the rope and the load of guilt falls to the river below. Without at word, he retreats to reclaim it and begins to try again to pull it up the cliff.
Finally, he comes to realize he can’t do it anymore. Enough.
My friends . . . it is finished. It’s done. Let it be so for you.
A group of comfortable chairs surrounds the coffee table at Ben’s store. Customers sit and visit, toss around a few stories, and take leave of the stresses of the real world for a few.
For as long as I can remember, there’s been this little box on the coffee table. It’s made of small, beautiful pieces of wood that are all interlocked in a mysterious fashion that, in the end, form the box. You can open it, but it’s not easy. It takes just the right series of pushes and pulls on different pieces. One wrong move and you find yourself chasing a puzzle rabbit that takes you way off the path to success.
I’ve watched a lot of newcomers take a stab at opening Ben’s box. I’ve tried it a few times, myself. The only time I got it open was when Ben showed me “the move.” And right now, I can’t remember what it was.
Sometimes praying to God feels like trying to open Ben’s box.
Even in the middle of my prayers sometimes, it occurs to me that I’m unconsciously trying to manipulate God to see things my way, to give me what I want. But it’s one second of mild terror followed by a chuckle deep inside.
The terror comes from the realization that I’m seriously trying to pull a fast one – to slip one past the Big Man Upstairs (I hate that phrase . . . if you mean God, for cryin’ out loud say it!). If we really believe in Him, the One that spoke the universe into being, are we so clever that we can push a few buttons and pull a few verbal strings and make some cosmic puppet dance?
And that’s where the laugh is.
What a patient Father He is.
So, laying aside the lofty verbiage and the gimmicks that might up my chances of getting the box open today, I resorted to the prayer of the needy. These usually start like this:
“ (Sigh) OK, so here it is . . .”
I believe God hears but because I believe it, it’s hard to process why things take so long to work out, why sadness continues to linger around those I love, why sickness and the threat of serious harm is present everywhere, why wisdom seems just out of reach, why one bad decision made with the most noble of intentions was so wrong, and why the fragile world seems like it’s hanging on by a thread.
I can barely watch the news anymore because all it does it remind me how easily things can go bad. And I mean really bad!
Economically speaking, I know nothing. But from what I can gather, the entire system is pretty frail and the highs and lows rest in the hands of people I wouldn’t trust to water my plants for the weekend. The weather in Texas and much of the southwest has produced record setting, life-changing drought and misery this year while other parts of the USA deal with the misery of record rainfall and flooding. But throw a hurricane or a good tropical storm into the Gulf of Mexico, and our troubles are over – or they’re just beginning depending on the power of the storm and how long it decides to hang around. Wow . . . it’s just a game of inches or a few miles sometimes. And the balance is delicate.
The song “From A Distance” used to wear me out. From my hyper-spiritual perspective I think to myself, “From a distance??? . . . Oh no! God is right here, in my face in my heart. He is not far, far away.” And I believe that part. But from another part of me, I have to trust that God is, indeed, watching us from a distance, taking all things in, seeing the big picture that none of us can ever see, and caring for His creation in ways we’ll never know.
So I must say Thank You. Increase my faith. Help my unbelief.
When the few TV shows I watch on any kind of regular basis go away for the summer, I turn to books. You remember books. Well?
The other day I was walking past a couple of kids – probably 8 or 10 years old – sitting on the sofa waiting for their parents to finish with their workouts and they were reading
. . . Books! We’re so used to seeing kids of all ages texting, starring at their phones in some hypnotic state, playing games on the tiny 3 inch screens that, well, I was a little taken by surprise to see kids actually reading. I wanted to give them a ribbon or something and I wanted to meet their parents. I mean, this was “alert the media” type stuff.
But, I have to admit with the advent of The Kindle and now the iPad, sometimes I forgo the real thing for the electronic version. This might merit some pole or survey and could stir up some bee’s nest if I were to ask for votes or opinions on whether you’re book people or Kindle/iPad people. It’s a hot topic right up there with Red States vs Blue, Cats or dogs, sweet potato fries or original.
The Kindle-type “book” came into my life after I’d spent a while recovering from a hospital stay. During my down time, I read David McCullough’s work called “Truman.”
It was somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 pages and had to weigh 5 pounds. Got my strength back just picking it up, putting it down, picking it up, etc.
On a trip out of the country on a long, long flight, I tried out the Kindle that I’d won at a golf tournament. It took a little getting used to but I really liked having several books at my fingertips that were all light as a feather and easy to access. Heck, I could even change the font size! Cool.
It made me a little sad that I was collecting books that would never have a place on my library shelf, but really, they’re either decorations or to some slightly embarrassing elements of pride so that when people come over and peruse the shelves, I can say “Yes, Yes, I’ve read ________.” There are a handful of books on the shelves that I’ve read more than once. But only a handful. The rest are just filling space.
So, this summer, our first trip was north to Canada where we spent 8 days on Lake Huron, away from the triple digits of Houston and into the land of the sweater and electric blanket . . . in June!
I read “Unbroken” by Lauren Hildebrand. If you’ve not read “Unbroken” I’d really recommend it. It’s the story of a POW held in a Japanese prison camp during WWII. After having to ditch his plane in the Pacific, Lewis Zamperini and crew were adrift on the Pacific for 47 days then held captive for 30 months. Mr. Zamperini is still alive and well and lives in California.
You’ll be amazed at this story. It’s an incredible testimony of the resilience of the human spirit and the human body. In a time when we’re afraid to touch anything or go anywhere without sanitizing everything, the fact that these POWs survived the horrific conditions and the inhuman treatment is simply amazing. The end of the story is incredibly inspirational. And, it made me thankful that men like Mr. Z and men like my father, who quietly and with great dignity, served the United States and the world during the global upheaval that was World War Two.
I read two other books by one of my favorite experts on American history, David McCullough. “The Great Bridge” is a tremendous story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Wow, I bet you’re thinking “Man, a book about building a bride . . . sounds riveting.” It is! When it was finished, the Brooklyn Bridge, with it’s two towers, one on the Brooklyn side and the other on the Manhattan side, were the largest structures anywhere in New York City. The new innovations that were required to accomplish the building of this structure (that is, obviously, still standing and still in use every day by thousands) were fascinating. And of course, there are always human-interest stories that parallel the story of the bridge. From the eccentric and brilliant designers and the labor force given the challenge of completing the massive task, there was drama every day that gave people plenty to debate and discuss.
The other McCullough book I read this summer was “The Johnstown Flood” and “The Path Between the Seas.” With the work being done right now to improve the Panama Canal, “The Path Between the Seas” was really interesting. Again, the human drama that accompanied this seemingly impossible task was fascinating.
So, yes, I read a lot these days. And it seems I end up reading a lot of history.
Early in the year, I read “Decision Points” by former president George W. Bush. I think the reason I like reading history – and back in school days, it was not my favorite subject – is that we’re kept in the dark about so much that happens to us. Decisions and events that take place all around us “just happen” and we know little of the details or how things actually come about. “Decision Points” made it very clear that the news media feeds us like little ignorant birds . . . a seed here and a seed there, a crust of bread, “There, that should be enough.”
Knowing the “how and the why” can take the edge off sometimes. It’s equivalent to being annoyed by a car speeding by on the freeway, weaving in and out of traffic like a dope, cutting you off and then realizing the emergency ahead. It’s not that “you never know.” It’s just that a lot of times, you don’t know. It helps give people the benefit of the doubt and takes the edge off the fast pace of our lives.
The awareness of our history as a people and as a country will make us more thankful. Thankful for the people that worked in anonymity to shore up the fabric of a world that is fragile and can come apart so easily.
The knowledge of history can help us beware of the subtleties of evil and how to be on guard, how to protect our hearts and the ones we love.
Another book from my summer reading “In the Garden of the Beasts” by historian Erik Larson told the story of American ambassador William Dodd and his family as they lived in Berlin during Hitler’s ascent to power. This is a tremendous over simplification, but if someone had paid a little more attention to Mr. Dodd, Hitler’s madness could have been stifled before it became the most horrible, evil nightmare it did.
Someone said “If we ignore history, we’re doomed to repeat it.”
God Help Us to pay attention to the lessons we should have already learned and to keep You before us in everything we do. Keep us awake when the world tries to rock us to sleep, bent on breaking into pieces all that You have made and all that You have given.
The world is a fragile place, but a beautiful place full of God’s blessing. It’s hard not to live in fear but I’m convinced that is not His will or purpose for us. I pray that this moment, you’ll be able to breathe deep and enjoy the peace that passes understanding.
We just got back from vacation.
On an easy, tranquil bay on the east side of Lake Huron, sits a cottage. It was built by my wife’s grandfather in 1944 on the banks of clear, cool Great Lakes water.
It’s the most restful place on earth to me.
En Route my first trip, I asked, “Now, what do we do up there?” She just smiled and without words said, “Just wait.”
You have to want to get to the cottage and now, come the sweltering days of summer in Houston (And yes, they came early this year. The day we left to fly north, the temp in Houston was 103.) it doesn’t take much to want to.
We flew to Cleveland and then on to Buffalo where, upon exiting the prop plane onto the tarmac of the Buffalo airport, we took a deep breath of that refreshing 77 degree air and let out a contented sigh and a muted “whoo hooo!
Some people stared.
The drive from Buffalo to the bay is about 5 hours through the Canadian countryside.
It’s beautiful. You know you’re in Canada when you (as we always seem to do) make your first rest stop at Tim Horton’s for a fresh muffin and cup of coffee. When they hand you your change in blue bills and silver coins with bronze centers ($2), you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.
The cool weather was a great relief and at the risk of starting some of you to grumblin’, I’ll just say it was nice to sleep under heaps of blankets and wear sweatshirts and ski caps most days.
Returning to Houston and getting off the plane at 11 PM, it was still almost 90 degrees and it just took our breath away. . . . I mean, literally, it was hard to catch a breath.
Ah, but home is home and it’s sweet.
When I was a kid, vacation meant one thing and pretty much, one place. I don’t know how many years we went to the Florida panhandle and spent a week at The Sunny Sands on Panama City Beach, but they were always some of the best of times.
There were no iphones, Blackberries, laptops or any of the things that go with all that to break into our retreat. It was family time and it was some of the most concentrated, uninterrupted fun of the whole year.
One of the things I love about the Cottage in Canada is the lack of stuff or complicated activity. The days start as early or as late as you might want. Usually with a cup of coffee on the patio overlooking Lake Huron, some tremendous quiet and some good conversation.
Last year, I dialed into the fishing and caught some good ones. This year, we were early and the bass “season” wasn’t started yet. You could catch other stuff . . . just not bass.
I hope everyone gets a break this summer. Wherever you are and whenever you can grab it, go! Leave some of the junk behind. Be brave and turn off the cell phone. Odds are, you’ll find the sun continuing to rise, life going on in your absence and possibly, you’ll make some lifetime memories. At the very least, get some rest!
I took my wife to the airport on Sunday. She’s spending the week working at the USA Track and Field National Championships in Eugene, OR. She’s worked with USATF for years as event staff, she’s on the Junior’s Commission and has served as USA National Junior’s Coach. I’m so proud of her. Whether she’s teaching here in Houston, or working with elite athletes, she makes a positive impact on everyone around her.
After I left the airport, I drove to Ruston, LA, home of my college alma mater, Louisiana Tech University. The Peach Festival started on Monday and I was invited to sing at a kickoff lunch event.
Former President George W. Bush was the guest speaker for the group of about 250 people.
It was fascinating to watch the event unfold. Secret Service everywhere, Louisiana State Police and local law enforcement . . . everywhere! Helicopters, sunglasses, tiny microphones.
The President played golf on the Squire Creek golf course that morning and came into the room to speak around 1 PM.
I arrived early with my friends, the Bradfords, just to get a lay of the land, set up the few things and do a quick sound check. None of this took place until the Secret Service had done a thorough investigation into my guitar case and bag. “What are these?” “Protein bars, sir.”
All Clear. Whew.
Then, I just sat and watched the energy build.
To sit off to the side of the platform and hear that voice and see the man that was in the White House, leading the most powerful nation in the world was really something.
He was very much at ease and talked about the White House, his presidency and told stories from his book, “Decision Points.”
By the way, a good read. TV and TV news gives us such short, cleverly edited soundbites, that it’s impossible to know what really goes on in the background of the halls of government. The book brings some clarity to lots of major events that took place during the presidency of Bush 43.
When his speech was over, I was introduced to sing “God Bless America.” All kinds of thoughts go through your head. “No, don’t say that. Just play your little song and be done.” “No, wait, he’s sitting ten feet from me. Shouldn’t I personalize this somehow?”
No . . . just sing your song and step off!!”
Well, I sang the verse “While the storm clouds gather . . .” then sang the first chorus by myself. After the chorus was over I just kept picking for a few measures. “Oh no” I could hear someone thinking, “What’s he going to do? What’s he gonna say???”
“I don’t know about you all, but I was always thankful to hear our president conclude every speech with the words “God Bless America” . . . . and Mean It!”
The crowd cheered and then, I invited them to join me. They were bursting to sing that last chorus and sing it they did.
Afterwards, we were all “asked” to remain in our places while the President left the room.
And that was that.
I have to tell ya, I was reluctant to tell this story. Everything was pretty much on the QT, no photographs, “don’t approach the President” etc, etc. But I wanted to share this with you all and tell you again, how thankful I am to still have the opportunities to sing and do what God has given me to do!
Thanks for your prayers. Hope to see you on the road somewhere soon.
The Christian Classic Tour
Last weekend, we made a three-day run on the tour starting in Hollywood, FL, then on to Dallas, and, finally in the Chattanooga, TN area.
These are the last three dates that are scheduled until December 8 and 9. There’s a possibility of doing more concerts if we can get everyone together. It’s a challenge.
I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed spending time with these long-time friends. It’s been so long since we spent any time together.
Twila Paris, Michael Card and I all started at the same label some thirty years ago. Until the Classic Tour started in March, I hadn’t seen Twila in ten years. The last time we were on the same stage was Christmas of 2000 in a production of “The Child of the Promise” written by Michael and Stormy Omartian. The cast was terrific . . . Russ Taff, 4 Him, Crystal Lewis, Rachel Lampa, Russ Lee, Clay Cross, Stephen Curtis Chapman, Twila and, I’m sure others that I’m leaving out.
Twila played the role of expectant mother, Elizabeth. A role she took very seriously seeing how she was pregnant herself with her (now) ten-year old son, JP.
I can’t remember the last time I ran into Steve Green or Michael Card.
These three are some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. I know, sometimes, people wonder “What are they really like?” I can tell you that the heart and voice and message you hear from the stage is real and it mirrors the private lives of every one of them. There are no surprises.
Steve is one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet. His innocence and his gentleness has always been an inspiration to me. And all these years later, it’s the same. He is so aware of his position in Christ and his need for Grace. His genuine humility stems from that awareness. And the voice! Strong and incredible as always.
Twila lives a quiet and simple life with her husband, Jack and their son, JP in Arkansas. It’s there she carries out a life and a relationship with Christ that has led her to write the beautiful songs she’s written. When she plays her set on the tour, it’s like listening to a modern hymnbook. Song after song is familiar like a comforting blanket. No one writes songs like Twila.
Michael would tell anyone “I’m a frustrated Bible teacher.” He loves to sing and has written some of the most poignant songs in the history of contemporary Christian music. But, I think his first love is teaching and sharing revealed truth from the Scripture. The last night of the tour in Tennessee, he shared copies of his latest book “Luke” with all the band guys and offered to have a Bible study with them once back in Nashville. He is generous, funny as heck and just a good hang.
Many thanks go to our friend, Dennis Fioravanti, whose heart for classic Christian music led him to put it on the line and gather this group of artists together. Like I said earlier, it’s not easy to find dates where the four of us aren’t out doing other dates and other things.
But Dennis tells us he’s getting lots of requests for the tour. I hope we’ll see you in your hometown soon.
I’m so honored to be a part of it and grateful to have a voice and a greater passion than ever to sing the truth of this Gracious and Merciful God. I’m overwhelmed at some of the mail I get at how God still stirs people’s hearts with these songs and looking forward to whatever lies ahead.
When I’m not on the road, I have the privilege of leading worship at Chapelwood United Methodist Church here in Houston. It’s not a complicated setup. Sometimes, I’ll just use my guitar or piano and go solo from the platform, engage the congregation in a story or two and invite them to worship.
Other times, I’ll have a guest singer or two, or another instrumentalist. This Sunday, Easter, I’m having a few other guys join me – one on fiddle, an upright bass and a percussionist. Should be fun.
One of the things that’s made it so worshipful for me is that I try to never “grade” the quality of the worship service based on how loudly people are singing or anything of the kind. I don’t know what people come in with. I don’t know their lives, their troubles or their tensions. I’m sure there are Sundays where they need to just sit and listen, watch or pray. That’s none of my business. It’s between them and God.
We just try to provide a safe place – spiritually and physically – for them to find an hour our so to hear the Voice.
It’s odd, but I’ve noticed I tend to assume – mostly in a not-even-thinking-about-it, subconscious sort of way – that people are probably in the same place I am. It has to be the greatest form of subliminal vanity. If I have a stuffed up head from the natural colognes that are blowing in the spring breezes in Houston, I think, “Well, everybody feels kind of lousy.” If I’m grumpy and out of sorts for any reason, to cross paths with a genuinely cheery person makes me suspicious, at best, and, at worst, a little more teed off. If I’m energized about singing a particular song during worship, well, I’m perplexed that everybody isn’t just taking the roof off! “What’s wrong with these people?”
You just never know.
I don’t sing at a lot of funerals or such but I told my pastor that I’d do anything he needed me to do when I’m in town. A couple of weeks ago, he asked me to help him do a funeral. “This will be a tough one,” he said.
At 49 years old, the funeral’s principal character was in the best shape, some said, of his life. He was nearing the end of his training to ride the remarkable MS 150 – a rather famous bike ride from Houston, through the hill country to Austin. (We’re talking pedaling here . . . no motors!) Thousands of people make the ride every year and they’ve raised millions for charity.
Ted was lean and ready for the ride when, one night, leaving a restaurant, his friend heard him say “Oh, honey” and down he went.
The room was filled with his friends and family, friends of his two children, business associates, all sitting in stunned disbelief at the speed in which their friend, father, son, was, simply, not here anymore. To hear some tell it, there were probably 100 people there that would call him their best friend.
I had to drop my car off for repairs after the service. Still dressed in suit and tie, my friend and trusted car repair shop guy gave me a little good-natured grief at the formal attire for a warm Thursday afternoon. I told him the story. It was met with sincere interest, some degree of fascination along with a, “Man, that’s hard to believe” and then we went on with our business.
Yesterday, I talked with my car guy about something else. When he answered the phone, he said, “Remember telling me about the guy that died . . . the guy that was so happy and in good health, etc? Well,” he said, “my brother died yesterday.” He told me they’d just seen him for a visit the day before.
At 47, his brother simply got out of bed and died.
What is certain?
Are you sure?
My friend and I talked about his brother and I said, mostly without thinking, “Well, there’s another question to add to your list when you see God.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I remembered a sequence of thoughts I’d had last weekend. They came to me as I was flying out of Birmingham, AL after a concert and after deadly storms passed through the heartland just hours before.
I’m not sure what those first few minutes in heaven will be like. But the questions and the lists will probably seem insignificant and petty and completely unnecessary.
I don’t know anything much, but the first sound out of our mouths might be more along the lines of a now-I-get-it . . . “Ohhhh.”
We don’t see clearly right now. But that’s what faith requires – that we trust in things we cannot see and that we put our lives, our present and what’s to come, in the hands of a Savior that was bruised for our transgressions, buried and resurrected to give us life abundant and life forever.
Blessings to you all this Easter!