A Boy At Play

We have a didactic this week in my CPE program on working with children.  Perhaps the best part of the whole thing (and there are many good things) is that the presenter encourages us to play and create during the presentation, and she has provided wire brush cleaners, play clay, crayons, colored pencils, colored paper, bubbles, and glitter pens.  It is quite fantastic to play.  All sorts of memories come up as I play and draw and create:


A Chair of Clay (with a wire brush twirled seat cushion)A chair.  A simple chair.  But memories emerge just thinking about the chair.  The chair is just about sacred in some ways.  I remember my grandmother sitting on a chair every morning reading her bible, and she always sat in the same armchair.  She knitted, read, filled out crosswords, gossiped and shared her love on that chair.  But the beautiful thing I remember is that she sat on a chair and read her bible every day out loud.  As a kid, the bible was read to me by my grandmother accidentally, or rather it was read to me in a sacred way.  A chair is also the place where I minister to folks in the hospital.  There is a special moment when a patient asks for me to sit down and invites to be a part of their story and pain.

Glasses from wire brush cleanersAhh, the glasses.  Just a short memory about glasses.  When I ever put on grandma’s glasses, the concave nature of the glasses made me feel like there was always a pit in front of me and made me very cautious as I walked.  It was so fun to walk around the  house and avoid the pit, all the while having grandma and grandpa laugh at me!

A flower from clay and wire brush cleaners

I just love it when I get to play.  There’s just something sacred, something so beautiful about getting to play and create!

A Father’s Time

I think a Father’s Day blog is a little overdue?  Maybe?

Anyway, my father is John.  He works hard like most fathers, but he has a certain work ethic that kind of sets him apart.  Like, he doesn’t know how to stop going kind of work ethic.  And he is blue collar, not a whole lot of or much education.  That’s part of what makes him so lovable- he is simple and works hard.  But there are other interesting things about my dad that I celebrate:

  1. My dad has a strange diet.  He eats very little, but has lots of crackers and chips and salsa and salads.  For a while I had to be concerned that any place we went to eat, no matter the ethnic food, that it would have to have a ceasar salad.  That made things interesting, but my dad has branched out and likes a lot of things that I like as well and enjoy cooking for him- fish tacos, salmon and guacamole.  I love that I can eat with my dad, even if just a little bit!
  2. My dad likes wine, and also some off market beer.  Although my dad doesn’t like dry wines, he has his own personal love of softer, fruitier, lighter wines like chardonnay.  It’s fun that on our trip to Mexico, I got to have wine at every meal with a father who enjoyed the fellowship of family over a glass of wine and laughter!
  3. My dad takes some risks.  Well, lots of risks.  When he works, he takes risks by working too hard.  Or by putting together sheds with little directions and only his gut feelings.  Or by doing something dangerous with a knife or tool just to get the job done.  But the risk I remember is when my dad chose to become a co-coach for my baseball team midway through my Little League season.  I probably did not like it much at the time, but I have always been grateful and respected my dad for doing that.  My dad also chose to play sports with us when he may not have been all that great- unlike other dads who teach their kids sports, my dad chose to play along with and seemingly learn on the way.  That kind of risk is worth a lot of respect and love.
  4. My dad has seizures.  What is so cool about those?  Nothing of course.  But my dad has always shown great perseverance and courage with those.  He has never admitted being afraid of them or worried about what they could do to him.  But he has pushed through, even to his detriment at times.  But that is cool though- that his work ethic of pushing through and continuing to go has a redeeming factor when crap happens.  That has also happened in our extended family too.  When crap has happened between family members or traumatic things have happened, he keeps going and seemingly doesn’t let it drown him.  He calls it thinking positive- but I don’t buy that because it is wishful.  I call it perseverance and stubbornness, and I actually think that those are cool.
  5. My dad is a prankster, and loves a laugh, a la the photo below.  My dad loves to be cheesy and laugh and “joke” with people, and in his corny humor he actually is funny and I love it.
My Dad in the middle in the white shirt!

Seriously, who is this guy?  Well, he is my dad and I love him, because his strengths and skills reveal a simple and caring and hard working man, and his quirks and strange behaviors show to be a real dad.  He is my dad, and I love him!

Dad and Mom!

The Sounds of Summer #1

I heard on NPR yesterday a series on the sounds of summer.  I was so intrigued because summer for me is so special- my favorite season in fact and no less so because my birthday usually comes around in the summer!

One particular memory that emerges for me now: Camp Star Trails.  As the Lifeline interns prepare to go to Camp Star Trails this week, I am struck by how that has been a constant piece of my summer for 6 years.  Unfortunately I cannot go this year.  But it is good stuff.  The sounds from this camp are so precious.  The sounds of “500 miles” (song) and “Birthday Cake” (song) as well as the shuffling of hundreds of dancing feet as morning aerobics played loudly on speakers every breakfast.  Being a fool, dancing like a fool, and being a kid again- priceless.  The sounds of wrestling around the cabins with the kids as I body slam and get tackled.  The sounds of water balloon fights between Cabin 17 and Cabin 18, letting kids laugh like never before.  The sounds of kids playing in the pool, splashing each other, throwing water balls at each other, boys and girls trying to impress one another and hear the latest news on who likes who.  Special sounds.  The sounds of boys talking and pretend farting all night long because they are too giddy to go to sleep.  The sounds of tired and exhausted adults telling the kids to go to sleep.  And the sounds of weepy and tearing adults, surrounding these sick kids and their precious siblings, and saying goodbye and thanks for the memories and the opportunity to love, laugh, and care.  Those are the sounds of tears of joy, tears that reflect an experience of great relationships that end and force us to line the drive as the kids leave in busses as we scream goodbye with noisy cascade of balloons giving visual voice to our gratitude.  This is a sound of summer that I love.  It is a summer sound of friendship, and one that changed my life as I move towards pediatric chaplaincy and finding my love for being a kid.  Precious sounds.

But even as I talk about those sounds of summer, I realize that there are some other sounds of summer that are deeply precious to me.  One I will share is that of drive in movies.  Oh, the sounds of family sitting together, with the popping and almost rhythmic crunching of popcorn in me and my brothers mouths, the hand held speaker sitting close to the back of the truck.   My family didn’t see a whole lot of drive in movie but I always remember them in the summer.  The sounds of excitement as we pulled in and looked for just the right spot- while I could hear the patter of feet making their way to vendors and food courts.  It was a sound of adventure, of newness, of excitement.  It was a beautiful sound- it is a sound I look back on and feel ashamed I was so excited over this or that movie- but it was a sound that carried a love of life and being around people.

I look forward to sharing more sounds and stories of summer as I hear the memories again!

Sweet, Sweet Oplin…

So I returned to Abilene this weekend spur of the moment.  It is a difficult time to come back into town because it is Oplin Church of Christ that brings me back to town.

Douglas Foy Sellers, or Doug, and we called him, passed away after a long, hard life this Wednesday morning.  But you would never know that he had a hard life.  He led with a genuine character and a love of telling stories that rivalled none.  I remember him ordering food for me wherever we went.  I remember him calling me up to tell me that “God has put it on our (Doug/Ruth) heart to buy you a pair of boots.”  I told him that I couldn’t argue with God and that it would be a blessing, and it surely was.  Doug was genuine-himself- said what he felt and normally what he felt was compassionate and caring and I knew that he made a deep impact on my life.  No, he wasn’t the greatest person I knew, but he was one of those special people that reflect what life is all about and show you that life can be what you make it.  He had a hard life, but he made it a story of God’s love and grace in his life and made that story somehow full of compassion and joy and then told everyone about it.  His wife told me before the funeral that he didn’t need to preached into heaven, and surely he didn’t need that at all, because Doug knew God all too well when he was here and God was with him- I needed to see that was possible when I came to Abilene.  Thank you Lord for Doug Sellers.

And Bill Nichols, another member of Oplin, had quadruple bypass surgery this past week.  He is doing well now, but he certainly went through the ringer with all his heart trouble.   But he is back, recovering well, and calling out his wife for telling him what to do!  I love that family.  His words of gratitude for me are well received, but I am struck by the insights this experience brings up.  In all of Bill’s despair this week, he has learned how much he is loved and cared for and just how many people are thinking about him.  In all of Bill’s despair, he has been able to find that God is working and that God’s fingerprints are all over his life.  I was struck because as I look back, my time in Abilene has God’s fingerprints all over it.  God brought me into relationships with Jeremy Hegi, Wilson McCoy, Laura Clark, Chad Lukkason, Jerry Taylor, Armando Canales, Victoria Canales (Blue’s grandma), Chris Boknevitz and Steve Sargent.  God brought me into relationships, more to the point, with Oplin- with Doug and Ruth, Bill and Rose, Chuck and Cora, the late Evelyn Scott, Lowell and Winona, Robert and Lori Oglesby, Tom and Heather, Mckenna and Bailey, and the sweet Maxine.  These relationships had God’s fingerprints all over them.

It’s sad that Doug has moved on, though I celebrate with tears of joy that he is God’s embrace now.  It’s sad that Bill has had quad heart surgery and is struggling, even though I celebrate his recovery.  It’s sad that Oplin doesn’t have a long future- but I celebrate because God is a God of surprises, and Oplin was the greatest surprise I have ever known (I did not see Abilene as offering very much).  And I praise God for how he works mysteriously and through darkness and surprises to touch us deeply.  Praise God for Oplin Church of Christ!  May I ever be a missionary of theirs who reflects in my love the God who is working in them!

Oplin Church of Christ

Nouwen’s “Reaching Out”: Prayer

From Nouwen’s book Reaching Out, 94-95:

So, the paradox of prayer is that it asks for a serious effort while it can only be received as a gift.  We cannot plan, organize, or manipulate God; but without a careful discipline, we cannot receive him either.  This paradox of prayer forces us to look beyond the limits of our mortal existence.  To the degree that we have been able to dispel our illusion of immortality and have come to the full realization of our fragile mortal condition, we can reach out in freedom to the creator and re-creator of life and respond to his gifts with gratitude.

Prayer is often considered a weakness, a support system which is used when we can no longer help ourselves.  But this is only true when the God of our prayers is created in our own image and adapted to our own needs and concerns.  When, however, prayer makes us reach out to God, not on our own but on his terms, then prayer pulls us away from our self-preoccupations, encourages us to leave familiar ground, and challenges us to enter into a new world which cannot be contained within the narrow boundaries of our mind or heart.  Prayer, therefore, is a great adventure because the God with whom we enter into a new relationship is greater than we are defies all our calculations and predictions.  The movement from illusion to prayer is hard to make since it leads us from false certainties to true uncertainties, from an easy support system to a risky surrender, and from the many ‘safe’ gods to the God whose love has no limits.

Wow.  Prayer as a gift.  Prayer as a risky surrender to the God whose love has no limits.  Prayer is not something we turn to only when things go bad and we need to manipulate God, but rather prayer is a way of the heart that acknowledges the deepest presence and absences of God in life.  Prayer is the place where the heart and mind come together and meet God- and that is the gift of prayer.  It is not simply a tool, not simply a method, not simply a formula, but the gift of a relationship that often surprises, often mystifies, and always loves.

How do I pray?  How do you pray?  Perhaps this changes how any of us pray from what we need alone to adding in gratitude, or moments of silence, or celebration, or perhaps it means we need to speak honestly to God in our prayers (I prayed with a guy one time who prayed in tears God, don’t take my daughter for my damn mistake!).  For me, it is an insight that reshapes prayer.  Every protest, every request, every gratitude all is centered in the reality that prayer is a gift to me.  It changes what I pray for because I can no longer pray in good mind for things that feed my illusions that I am in control, that I know best, that what I want matters more than God, that I know what life is all about, or that I can determine the values of life.  But prayer as a gift and risky surrender- that changes prayer from a tool to a way of life.  If prayer refocuses on God, then no person garners so much significance that any loneliness, any despair, any disturbance, any failure, or any hostile word keep me from the presence of God.  Prayer is that kind of gift of a way of life.  No matter what, how does prayer as a gift and prayer as a risky surrender change your prayer life?  Encourage our prayer life?  Deepen our prayer life?  All good questions.  May God bless your prayer, the prayer of your heart.

Psalm 63:1-8

God, you are my God, I am seeking you, my soul is thirsting for you, my flesh is longing for you, a land parched, weary and waterless.  I long to gaze on you in the Sanctuary, and to see your power and glory.

Your love is better than life itself, my lips will recite your praise; all my life I will bless you, in your name lift up my hands; my soul will feast most richly, on my lips a song of joy and in my mouth, praise.

On my bed I think of you, I meditate on you all night long, for you have always helped me.  I sing for you in the shadow of your wings; my soul clings close to you, your right hands support me.