All I Need… Really?

He is to be first of all I love and it is through my love for Him and His love for me that I can love others.

ALL I NEED… really?

Every once in a while, something that I did not expect comes along and hits me like a brick right upside the head. That is what happened this morning while in services at the Chapel. We were having a wonderful time singing in worship and we performed one of the past ‘golden oldies’ of the faith. The refrain of the song came around, All I Need is You”

A great song, a great refrain – is it possible that I really meant that? My brother was lying in the hospital hanging on to life with tubes and a respirator. I looked across the row in front of me and saw a son-in-law of mine and daughter and another son-in-law, a daughter-in-law; and next to me was my wife and another daughter and son-in-law. In the nursery of the church were five of my grandchildren and two others were in their own classes. One daughter was away at work and a son was in police training… Did I really believe that I could be Job? I could have someone walk up to me sometime this week and tell me that everyone I love was gone in some horrific accident and take it?

Much of what I KNOW will help but how much will it help? For example:

I know that everyone of them will be waiting for me in heaven if such a tragedy should happen. I know they would be better off than me!

But, what if…

suddenly everything closest to me on this earth is ripped from me – the people who love me and help me, care for me and stay with me through the tough times are gone and I have nothing left but God… would I blame Him or turn to Him? I hope that I would fall totally on Him, completely dependent on Him for every day to continue.

Would I, could I possibly turn and say, All I need is God?

I know that having complete faith in God doesn’t mean you do not grieve; so I believe that any grief would be natural and to be experienced as part of a healing process.

I want to believe that I will be Okay and that I will be a testimony to the truth that God really is all I need. Affirming that is not saying that God is all I love. God gave us the love that we have for one another and He helps that love grow and nourish. He is to be the first of all that I love and it is through my love for Him and His for me that I can love others. It is that same relationship that will take me through the grief to continue one day at a time. Whatever life brings, I know eternity will make it all Okay. Until then, like the father who told Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief” I pray “God, You are all I need; Help me to need only You.”

Running for a Hug

…she came running at as fast a gallop as anything on two legs under three feet tall can go… I know how good it makes me feel to see those bright eyes coming at me from about two clicks out at full bore with arms open wide.

So often I hear grandparents, myself included, talk about how much more fun it is now with our grandkids and that if we could have, we might have opted to have our grandchildren first! Of course, the idea of grandkids first would only have served for us to have our grandchildren at a time in our lives when we were focused on a hundred other things called life, job, career, education and duties or responsibilities that crowd out all the time we should be taking to just enjoy them as it was for our own children!

Our grandchildren are with us at a time in most of our lives where we can focus on keeping the main thing the main thing. An old adage from days gone by is wherever you’re at… be there. The point of that really struck home with me a couple of times in my life. Once was during those years when I was working long hours at the job and going to school part-time. Very often one of my small children would be tugging on my arm trying to get my attention for a moment or two and if I did finally acknowledge the tug; too often I was only half-there with an ‘uh-huh’ ‘that’s nice’ when they may have just told me they set their sister’s hair on fire! The other time was when I was older and my mom was quite a bit up there in years, a widow all alone and she would call every day to talk about absolutely anything. Sometimes, it seemed like she talked about everything. One day I caught myself ‘uh-huh’ and ‘that’s nice’ to my mom as I clicked away at my computer while she may have just told me that she was going to run off and marry the mailman and join a Wallenda Brothers High Wire Act! It hit me hard that someday I would miss those phone calls and I committed myself that I was going to be stronger at ‘being there’ when I was talking with my mom. Now that she, too, is in glory I’m so glad I did.

One of the dividends that comes from having the time to spend hours with my grandchildren and to work on wherever I’m at -being there is that I get to practice what it was I loved about my maternal grandfather. Most of the times I was with him, there were usually several of my cousins in close proximity. Being deep in the heart of West Virginia, you couldn’t throw a dead cat without hitting a relative of some sort or another. But no matter how many of us curtain climbers were there vying for Papaw’s attention, whenever I was with him; it was as if I was the most important person in the whole wide world to him. Now I get to enjoy helping my own grandchildren all feel like they are the most special person who ever wore hair.

There is another great dividend and that is the total, one hundred percent acceptance and love that our grandchildren give to us. They just love us. Sure they expect that we will take care of them but especially at this very early age, they don’t know beans from apple butter as my mother would say, about what our careers were or how important or unimportant we were… they just love us and most of the time they cannot wait to be with us! I confess, though, to this day I still have no idea what that saying of my mom’s meant and frankly, why does anyone need to know the difference between beans and apple butter? Who cares? I digress.

The grandkids will come running at us as hard as they can to get a hug. Their eyes light up and they are like the former

Courtesy Topps Laser
Courtesy Topps Laser

Cleveland Indian, Carlos Baerga, chugging for home plate. I love to get down in a catcher’s stance and just absorb the full hit of that hug-run. Of course, sometimes they are running that fast because of something they just did to provoke their mother to a fit of temporary insanity and they needed the shelter and protection that only Papaw can give and they needed right now! Just the other day two of my grandchildren were over and I was preparing to leave to do some work I had to do. (Don’t faint or think I’m telling an untruth, I do actually perform functions that bear a striking resemblance to work, at times. Not real often mind you and it is a nasty habit I am trying to break!) I had hugged one of the children and rather than head for the car I went to the study to retrieve one of the multiple things I always forget whenever I am leaving to go just about anywhere. (I think the neighbors have a pool going, every time I leave as to how many times I will go back in the house for something I have forgotten or how far I will make it down the street before I have to turn around and come back for something! So far, I haven’t left a child at home alone or anything like that… yet.) What happened next though is what started me thinking about this running for hugs business.

The other granddaughter had thought I had left without hugging her but when she learned I was in my study she came running at as fast a gallop as anything on two legs under three feet tall can go. Unprepared as I was, with my back to the on-coming assault, she landed hard and grabbed me around both knees (including the new one the doctors just so lovingly and expensively installed.) It was a hug that about made my kneecaps pop off. Glad they didn’t that one cost me about $6,000! You can’t just go down to the Jiffy-Lube and have ‘em pop it back on. And Amazon, no matter what they say, does not have an app for that.

Here’s what I got to chewing on about this whole running for hugs business. I know how good it makes me feel to see those bright eyes coming at me from about two clicks out at full bore with arms open wide. Can you imagine how it would make our Heavenly Father feel if we felt like that toward Him and we would not be able to wait until the very next time we could be, like my grandkids say, ‘At Papaw’s house!’ only at our Heavenly Father’s house? Sometimes we can’t spare five minutes during the day just to stop by and say ‘Hello’ to our God. His Word tells us that He inclines His ear toward us eager to hear what is on our hearts. He knows, certainly, but He wants to hear it from us. Sometimes, our grandkids who are old enough to be in school, will receive an accolade of some type and their Mom will tell us about it. But, I still love hearing it directly from them, too. It is even more special when they are eager to share it with me. I think God is like that with us. Yes, He knows every word before we speak it, but He still wants to hear it from us and He loves when we are anxious to share it with Him.

Do you remember the story of the prodigal son in scripture? After he has gone away and unwisely spent all of his money. He is sheepishly returning home, hoping maybe his father will accept him as a servant. But the father has been watching every day hoping he would see his son come home and finally on that amazing day when he looks for the thousandth time that he had looked out that door, he sees his son coming in the distance.

Courtesy ourchurch.com
Courtesy ourchurch.com

This time the son isn’t running to his father; no he has a lot to be ashamed about – but just as he turns that last corner, BAM! His father – who ran all the way from the house – slams into him like William Refrigerator Perry of the Chicago Bear’s fame hitting an on-coming Quarterback with a loose ball in his arms!

Courtesy Freezer3.net
Courtesy Freezer3.net

Maybe, on that first day when we enter heaven, we’ll be excited to finally see our God face to face and we may take off on a dead run for Him and maybe, just maybe, our Heavenly Father will be running full-tilt anxious to hold us! That will be an amazing day – running for a hug.

Keeping Christmas Well

“…even after seeing and speaking with his former partner Jacob Marley wrapped in the chains that he forged in this life; Scrooge dismisses it as ‘…an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave…”‘

Dr. Ross L. Riggs – True North Ministry

As the Christmas season begins ts slip int the realm of ‘Christmas Past’, I sit by the warmth of a wood fire. I’m wearing my favorite slippers, an over-sized knit sweater, covered with a new blanket in support of the 1-325th Airborne Infantry Regiment Red Falcons to which my son is attached, and I’m  in my extra comfortable leather swivel, rocker recliner that is worn-in exactly in all the right places to make ‘Dad’s Chair’ the icon of the family living room. As a kid I never quite understood why there was a ‘Dad’s Chair’ that, whenever he was home, if you were in it and he headed your way; no comment, no explanation, no inquiry, – you just got up and gave hm his chair. Certainly it was, for us, a matter of respect for our father, (also, in part, a desire to make it to our next birthday, but mostly respect). Now I know. If your home is your castle, you might have other ‘thrones’ but there is only one from which the anointed head of the family, the patriarch of the clan reigned and issued from this place a thousand, “Go ask your mother” rulings. But I digress. The spirit of the season for me has always included the reading of Luke chapter 2 which we read at least once or twice through out our time together with a strong emphasis on the birth of our Savior. He came to face the cross and teach us how to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and might and to love each other even as we love ourselves.

When it comes to Christmas movies, in a close tie with each other for their own ranking on my Christmas list are two classics, White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye is a must see. Then, there are several different versions of my next favorite, including the 1939 classic, A Christmas Carol  with the infamous Scrooge. Many stars have taken on that role, even Patrick Stewart who also played Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek and King Richard in History of the World Part II – a cameo role but still played so well, (if an English King Richard can have an accent that is a cross between Scottish, Irish and East-side Chicago.) Scrooge was also once played so very well by a super star in his own right, Mr. Magoo. In all of the movie, the part that, as a child, perhaps was most terrifying and leading to  nightmares, (encouraged by my two older brothers) was the transformation of Scrooge’s door knocker to the face of Jacob Marley. This was spookier to me than even the pointing bony finger of the Ghost of  Jacob Marley - The Christmas Carol

 Christmas Yet to Come driving Scrooge to see his own name engraved into the headstone. That image, slowly taking shape into that door knocker and then its mournful plea which, even after seeing and speaking with his former partner Jacob Marley wrapped in the chains that he forged in this life; Scrooge dismisses it as “ …an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave…”¹

The narrator shares with us at the end that Scrooge “…knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” ²

Now that Christmas 2013 is, as the sports announcers say, in the record book; how do we propose to keep Christmas well until it shows itself anew in the coming year or until Christ has come to make manifest His kingdom  in His 1,000 year reign from Jerusalem? (I wonder how Christmas might be celebrated then?) There is something special about the heart of innocence that lends itself to grasping hold of the true meaning of Christmas. This was our first year with six grandchildren, Emelia Rose joined us for the first time this year. It was watching the grandchildren at Christmas and then the statements of Aaron and Allyson that brought me to the ‘ah-ha’ moment where my brain tells the rest of me that I have just heard something incredible!

I know that folks tire of grandparents bragging on their grandchildren and I don’t intend to tell you that my amazing, incredible, and practically preferable in all ways grandchildren, numbers 1-6, (since I cannot keep their names straight, I’m planning on issuing them numbers) are amazing, incredible or practically preferable in all ways. However, it was the heartfelt love and their genuine desire to put someone above themselves is what so drastically caught my attention.

My wife and I had spent Christmas Eve night at Dave’s and Suzanne’s home and when Christmas morning came it was a time of great anticipation and for the grandkids, a release of every pent-up wonder that is so magical with kids at Christmas. As I sat watching the first moments of the scene unfold, Aaron, my oldest grandchild who is 7 came bolting toward me with a most excited voice!  “Papaw, Papaw, I got my wish! I got my wish!” Thinking some prize toy had been found under the tree, I asked him what it was. He replied with as much excitement as I have seen any child at Christmas, “Santa brought my dad the back massager for his chair that I asked for; because my dad’s back hurts him a lot!” You could have soaked up my heart with a sponge because it melted right there on the spot. But my lesson was not yet complete from the Spirit of Christmas Present!

As I recovered from my first lesson, I watched as an equally excited Allyson went straight for her Mom to exclaim, “He did it! Santa came into my room and got it!” I needed to know the answer on this one!  Suzanne explained that Allyson had a favorite stuffed animal, a pink ‘Nemo’ fish. It apparently had a small spot of  ink on it and Allyson had written a note to Santa to ask him to please take the fish with him back to his workshop and ‘fix’ it… are you ready, so that Santa could then give that fish to a small child who really needs it!

Did I mention that Aaron and Allyson are 7 and 6 years old? Yes, at times they pick on each other as siblings often do. I can remember admonishing my children when they were youngsters and fighting between themselves to “Pretend you love each other!” So there are plenty of normal events with Aaron and Allyson but, if ever there was a set of shining examples as to how to Keep Christmas wellI believe that it is with carrying just these types of attitudes all the year. Some of us need to know how  to get such an attitude of love in the first place. I will tell you that it does not come naturally. It is, however, a gift. At this Christmas season and throughout the year, you can find the answers you seek in God’s Word. If you  don’t know who to ask; drop us a note and we will be glad to help. You can find us at

May the New Year find you grateful for the year that has passed, anticipating the year that is ahead and knowing that through every day, God is holding you in His hands, knowing the end from the beginning and every day in between. And as Tiny Tim was known to say, “God bless us, every one!”³

¹http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3097440-a-christmascarol

²http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3097440-a-christmascarol

³http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3097440-a-christmascarol

When Your Elephant Drops

Take the time you need to refresh and revive yourself and your teammates, particularly your life-mate and then, when the time is right, your signal to rejoin the forces on the field will come… I knew when my elephant dropped it was time to get back to work.

 

 

When your elephant drops the time has come to change what you were doing and move on to what you should be doing. That is a wise piece of sage advice that I made up just a few hours ago. I have no doubt it will last for centuries and grace the finest of Chinese cookie emporiums the world over, especially those whose home base is somewhere in upper New Jersey.

“What brought me to this amazing revelation? You ask. Okay, so you didn’t ask; but you are curious enough to keep reading. Perhaps you know my legendary wit; well, half-wit. Maybe, you are hoping that if you read this all the way through you can help my family get the evidence they need for a permanent commitment. Whatever your reasons, I encourage you to read on. I believe it will be worth it.

When your elephant drops the time has come to change what you were doing and move on to what you should be doing. A very simple piece of logic really. All of us need a cue to know when it is time to move on in life. Maybe we need to move on to a new job, a new home, or perhaps, a new fiancé’ (I’d be careful on that one). It might not be something nearly as earth shattering as that. You may need to move on from one normal, everyday task to another in order to try to accomplish as much as possible before the day winds down unto its coming night. No matter the size of the task, it is important to know that when the elephant drops, that is your cue to move on.

Wisdom, the Bible tells us can be found with many counselors. It can be found with age and experience. Sometimes wisdom is born of trial and error, with the emphasis on the error. I have found, over time that I learn much deeper lessons from my mistakes than from my successes. Success seldom requires a review, a debriefing to understand the why of it. Although it is a good idea to do such an evaluation, normally, we accept the fact that if we were successful it is because we were right or good and as long as we are our amazing self then we will continue to be successful. At least that is the reason I don’t re-evaluate a great many of my successes, at least not like I evaluate my failures. The failures I prefer to limit from happening again; so, I evaluate my process to learn how to avoid the same mistakes a third or fourth time. (I did not say, ‘second’ because I usually don’t decide to re-evaluate until I have failed at least twice. My first failures are always accounted to ‘the wrong part’, ‘the wrong instructions’, ‘the wrong day of the week’ – certainly not anything I could have done! After the second failure I grant, begrudgingly, that perhaps it might be something I am doing incorrectly.

Yes, wisdom comes from a multitude of sources. I have found, as a grandfather now for nearly eight years, that wisdom comes to me through the eyes, the insight, the lives of my grandchildren. I don’t think I learned nearly as much from my children for two reasons. First, I still thought I knew a lot about life and things. Second, I was just trying to keep up with them most of the time. The song, “It’s a Wonderful World” sung best, I think, by Louis Armstrong; allows us to see life through the eyes of the song writer and looking at the children, he says, “They’ll learn much more, than I’ll ever know…” and that is so true. So, our grandchildren can teach us once we have reached an age where we realize we don’t know nearly as much as we thought we did. They can teach us, too, when life has slowed enough for times of introspection and taking stock of where one is in life’s journey.  Sometimes such lessons are prompted by a statement, bluntly spoken by our grandchildren. Recently, my eldest told me that I can really take on the role of Santa now that my belly has gotten as big as it has. Good, honest, tongue-biting truth. It’s great!

By now, the number of surgeries I have had in the past fade in memory, overtaken by the pain that arthritis can bring to those same areas that surgeons fixed so effectively decades ago. A police service related shoulder repair, now needing to be a shoulder replacement has enough arthritis to keep Bayer in production; except that a previous perforated ulcer make aspirin a no-no. My spinal fusions from police related injuries and the bone taken from my hips for those repairs now provide plenty of opportunity for creaking and popping as I try to move stealthily through the night on my way to the bathroom for the fourth time, trying not to wake my wife or the dogs. To interrupt either is not good. If I wake the dogs I have to take them outside in the cold and wait for them. If I wake my lovely wife, she doesn’t get enough rest with as hard as she works now without me waking her; so I try to let her sleep whenever she can. Then there is the arthritic knee that the ‘Doc’ recently told me has to be replaced. I tell you that to say that if I could find a way to do all of my work and social engagements, business meetings, phone calls and meals within the confines of my Jacuzzi, I would.

Warm (to boiling) hot water is the only real relief. I am very thankful for the medications and all the other things that are done to keep me functional; but it is the escape in the warm water where my brain is freed up to think. Our thirty year old Jacuzzi hot-tub downstairs gave up the ghost some time back so I am relegated to our garden tub Jacuzzi in our bathroom; for which I am eternally grateful. It is, however, garden sized. As my grandson will tell you, I am built something more like a “Horse pasture –long in the inseam, wide across the shoulders (and belly) with the pasture taken in just a little around the hay feeder” – I will use the garden tub as long as I can fit in it and get out of it. Silly us to allow the design of our bathroom to include steps up to the Jacuzzi tub. When we built it no one needed hand rails or maybe a floor level entrance to step in and out of without trying to go over it like a high hurdler at the Moscow Olympics. Still, if there was a Nobel Prize for pain relief, Jacuzzi get s my vote and that is where the elephant comes into the story.

I share my Jacuzzi with an elephant. I know that sounds a little crazy but, I also share it with two ducks, one rubber one plastic. The elephant, too, I should clarify is a one piece plastic mold elephant about the same size as the rubber duck. I don’t get much time to play with them but from time to time one of my grandchildren will ‘visit’ with me while I am catching up on my Weekly Standard, National Review or NewsMax. I also do many of my Bible devotional readings there, too. As I said, if I could, I would work throughout the day there. Electronics however do not fare well in warm water. Even my revered Weekly Standard et al., have succumbed to the water on more than one occasion.

When my grandchildren pay me a visit and it becomes ‘grab a bathing suit and sit with Papaw in the Jacuzzi,’ invariably along with the rubber duck, out comes the plastic elephant. Known best for his ability to spring to the surface after being held at the bottom, he is an all-around favorite. If we had a large swimming pool, I fear they would want a real elephant to see if he, too, would spring up from the bottom of the pool! When the grandchildren are not around, the elephant stands guard at the edge of the Jacuzzi as if looking forward to the time that the children play with him again.

Elephant

It would be too easy to escape my on-going pain by keeping myself as long as possible in the Jacuzzi guarded by my trusted elephant. However, there comes a time when all of us have to step out of our comfort and be about the business to which God has intended us.

The disciples and others loved to listen to Christ teach. His sermon on the mount as recorded in Matthew was a time of great spiritual learning, encouragement and challenge. Eventually, though, they all had to come down from the mountain and be about the ministry set before them. It is a true joy, at times, to remove ourselves from the hectic world of ministry or other life challenges that come before us; work, family turmoil or illness, difficulties with finances, friends, even schooling and preparation for future ministry. All of these things take a toll on us. They can, too, take a toll on our relationships; particularly those involving close family members. Retreating from the daily stressors is sometimes absolutely essential for us to be able to carry on and to prepare to meet the next challenge. The temptation to not re-enter the fray is high. Some of us have the option to completely step away from some of the areas that cause us the most difficulty. Sometimes that is what God intends for us to do but, most of the time, God intends for us to recharge, regroup, and regain our hold on the reins and be about our Father’s business.

Take the time you need to refresh and revive yourself and your teammates, particularly your life-mate and then, when the time is right, your signal to rejoin the forces on the field will come. For me, today I knew it was time because, my elephant dropped. I never saw him move on his own, but somehow, that little gray plastic elephant worked his way to the edge of the Jacuzzi and plunged trunk first into the water. I knew that when my elephant dropped, it was time to get back to work.

Papaw’s Lap

It was in this setting that was born for me perhaps one of the best memories ever.

The house was clean and comfortable, but its age had long ago warped many of the floor boards. In some places it seemed as if the floors, under the thread-bare carpet, had a life of their own, pitching and yawing; making sounds that defy description. The tar-shingle siding on the house gave away its age and it boasted a wide, welcoming front porch with the mandatory creaking front porch swing from which are born the summer memories of a small boy. The memories are particularly vivid because this particular house was where this boy’s Mamaw and Papaw lived. The moniker is a familiar one for those with roots in the hollers of Appalachia. It was in this setting that was born for me perhaps one of the best memories ever. It is so amazing that, on a day like today, I can relive that experience; although my role has been reversed. I am no longer that small boy reveling in the peace and comfort of his Papaw’s lap; I am the provider of the lap space.

Lap Time
Lap Time

The social networking application Tumblr recently posed the question to me. “What is your favorite inanimate object?” No thought was required. It is my large, leather, fully reclining, 360 degree swiveling easy chair. There are several reasons it takes the 1st place ribbon but primary among those is the access it provides my grandchildren to their Papaw’s lap. I begin to understand now how my Papaw was able to sit for what seemed like hours with one of his grandchildren on his lap. If I was the lucky one, and there was no waiting line of my siblings or my cousins, then it was like being king of the mountain.

From my kingly post, I heard stories about the mountains, silly jokes which my Papaw apparently thought were hilarious by the way he laughed at them, even though he was the one that told them, and special things that were meant only for my hearing. Those special lessons were about kindness, respect, being a man who knows the difference for right and wrong and standing up for what is right.

My Papaw was a pipe smoker, although he would never smoke his pipe if any of us were on his lap; that was his hard and fast rule. Still, today, there are only three smells that evoke such vivid memories for me. The first is a lilac flower. Below my bedroom window of my childhood home was a large lilac bush. A house with no air conditioning has windows open in the summer so the lilac was the smell of a cool night breeze or an early morning wake-up. The second is the smell of one particular perfume for which the real name is totally lost to me. I know it only as the small teddy bear shaped bottle it came in. It was the perfume that my wife wore when we first dated and to this day I can recognize it immediately when she wears it. The third is that of a good pipe tobacco. I can revel in that smell and allow it to take me back to the time I enjoyed so much upon my Papaw’s lap.

I am not certain how my own grandchildren might remember their time on their Papaw’s lap, but I hope they do. I also hope that their memory of it brings smiles to their faces, warmth in their hearts and a conviction to share lap-time with their own grandchildren someday. Even though age is allowing me to forget what seems to be more than I ever learned; I never want to forget the wondrous joy I have gained whenever my grandchildren ask to spend a little time on Papaw’s lap.