We are Here Because They Were There

James Frazee was a 90-year-old man in our church. He stood out to me primarily because he was the oldest man in our contemporary service. Not that electric guitars or drums were his preference. He just wanted to be there with his grandkids. It wasn’t until he got sick that I learned the backstory of James’ life. He’d never tell me but his kids did as we planned for the inevitable funeral. James was a prisoner of war at the end of World War II. He actually escaped and spent a number of days dodging the authorities in Germany. When he finally found his way back to the US forces, he was malnurished, but alive. He was a hero with the medals to show for it and I didn’t even know it. All he would ever say about his life and career in the war was this: “Let’s take care of our men. We are here because they were there.”

A few years ago, I was honored to perform his funeral with the coffin draped in the stars and stripes. He showed me what a hero’s life looks like. A hero isn’t a big guy on a large stage. A hero is an average man who has the audacity to believe he can make a change in the world and someone who doesn’t care if his name is somehow tied to the achievement. A hero is a result of timing. Right man, right time, right place, right attitude. In other words, heroes are the product of divine appointments and every man has at least one. They become heroes because of their awareness of the divine manifest Presence and they act in accordance to His command.

We have many celebrities but far too few heroes.

Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. 38 The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
Hebrews 11:32-38

Hebrews 11 gives you a number of profiles of heroes. Not perfect, but ultimately faithful. That’s really what defines a hero: faithfulness.

Thanks, James Frazee…  You are not forgotten.

 

 




7 Reminders during Grief

Throughout Dad’s illness and death, I knew one thing. I would learn. God has given me the gift of experience. Yes, gift.

C.S. Lewis said it perfectly:

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God how you learn.”

This post is a reminder to me. I need to remember this experience as I engage with others who lose a family member or a close friend. Here are observations I’ve jotted down in my journal as a reminder of the universality and distinct uniqueness of those who grieve.

  1. Realize that my energy level is very low. I won’t suddenly be able to do all the things I used to do with the same verve and passion that I did before my loss. I’m trying to catch up.  Lots of things hit all at once during Dad’s homegoing and I’m just trying to hang on. I have no doubt that everything will be back to normal. I will be better than I’ve ever been. There will be a depth and a drive that I didn’t have before. Just keep in mind that I’m messy right now and your grace is love personified.
  2. Please try your best not to “should” on me. It’s counterproductive. In other words, don’t say I should be thankful that my loved one is in heaven, not suffering etc, etc… I know that. But I’m not handling the “should”s of life very well these days.
  3. There will be glimpses of life before loss but, at first, they will be short and they’re not maintainable. You’ll see me laugh and you’ll think I’m fine. In those moments, I do feel fine but also there will be periods of deep anger and disappointment. Unless you spend a lot of time with me you probably won’t see the snot, and sweat and existential angst. Let’s both thank God for that but please keep in mind that it is there.
  4. Realize that I struggle with remorse and regret. It’s crazy, but I am reliving every care decision and have haunting notions that if I could have done this or that, that I would not be experiencing the loss.   At a recent event, I ran into an old friend of the family. She hugged me and whispered, “You did good.” It was the most healing thing for me because I struggled for days about what I could have done better.
  5. In the same sense, I’ve had to make a ton of decisions over the past few months. My decision-making muscles are fatigued right now. So if I seem to have lost the ability to give you a straight answer, well then… there’s your reason.
  6. If I didn’t respond to you during the funeral, I truly am sorry. I know that I didn’t recognize some people right off the bat during the funeral or visitation. I’m a scattered person on a normal day. Royally scattered was I during those first few days.
  7. Death, grief and responsibility have no finish line or period. Keep in mind that just because one parent died, we’re still struggling to care for the other parent who is struggling too and to a much greater extent than we are.

And the journey continues. I’m so thankful for connections that guide me through times of exhaustion and malaise. I’m also thankful for a Savior who is there every step of the way even in our times of unknowing.




Prayer is Releasing

In every line of the Lord’s Prayer, there’s a common thread. It’s releasing. We scan through the words and notice that the Lord’s Prayer is radically different from the modern mantras of mortal yearning. Instead of coming to God to change our circumstances, we encounter a releasing of ourselves into the gracious hand of the Father who knows exactly what we need before we ask.


Our Father who art in Heaven

I release my urge to play God with my circumstances.

Hallowed be thy Name

I release any preconceived notion that am better than others in comparison to the reality of You.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven

I release my kingdom to embrace yours.

Give us this day our daily bread.

I release the desire to be a self-made provider.

And forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors.

I release forgiveness to those who’ve wounded me and I recognize and repent for the wounds I have cause to others and even to myself.

Lead us not into temptation.

I release my long-held belief that I am more powerful than my sins and addictions.

Deliver us from evil.

I release my appetite and familiarity with the evil one.

For thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the Glory forever.

I release my personal possessions, properties, fame, and strength to embrace all that is You.

When we release all these things life becomes much simpler. Even when things are difficult we find rest and release.

  • So you are finding yourself in a lonely place? Good. The divine presence of God has been wanting to say something to you.
  • So you are financially ruined? Good. Perhaps you are here to discover how illogical reliance on money really is.
  • So you are exhausted? Good. It’s time to rest. The rest of Christ is the best rest you can have. Breathe. Drink deeply. Find rest for your soul.
  • So you are feeling tested? Good. God is setting you up for greater stewardship.
  • So you are grieving? Good. God is giving you a glimpse of the cross and his sorrow over lost humanity.
  • So you are angry? Good. As long as you are angry about the right things. If you are, knock a few tables over.
  • So you are empty? Good. This could be the perfect time for the Holy Spirit to rush into the void.
  • So you are confused? Good. There’s no better time to cry out to God.
  • So you can’t sleep? Good. Now is the time to be awake and listen.

Life becomes a celebration and a conversation with our Creator if we are willing to surrender everything over to Him. The other option is to keep striving when transformation and rest is waiting at arm’s length if we would only surrender.




3 things I learned at Louisiana College

Recently I was asked to share about my time at LC. This invitation allowed me to reflect on how this school, from 1981-1985, changed the way I looked at the world, my faith and my call.  I thought of three things LC taught me inside and outside the classroom.

1. I learned the value of hustle.

During those days I worked as a…

  • Youth minister
  • Hay Bailer
  • Corporate trainer
  • DJ
  • Custodian
  • Resident assistant
  • Tuxedo Delivery guy
  • Camp Counselor
  • Chucky Cheese Mascot
  • Santa Claus

Because of the value of this virtue, I paid my way through college apart from a $325 loan from my mother that I don’t think I ever paid back.

2.  I learned the value of Connection

I learned that Life is best lived in community…

It’s the kind of community that I found through my brothers in TAK and my church. As Solomon wrote:

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.  For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

3. I learned the value of Heroes and some of them were on campus:

Welby Bozeman, Frank David Bennet, Connie Douglass, Robert Lynn, Jackie Barton, Mom Holloway, Sarah Francis Anders, Larry Pate, Jerry Reynolds and so many others.

The others were the myriad of voices that shaped my worldview. I am so thankful for a college that introduced me to…

  • Martin Luther King Jr. who taught me the need for justice
  • St. Francis….a love of simplicity
  • Will Campbell ….The power of a story
  • G.K. Chesterton…Zeal in the public square
  • C.S. Lewis…The power of a good fight
  • James Weldon Johnson…Lyrical power of suffering and faith
  • Uta Hagan…Sense Memory
  • E.E. Cummings…Typography as an art form
  • Jim Elliot…Sacrifice is more valuable than long life
  • Fannie Crosby…Disabilities lead to glory
  • Lottie Moon…that any slow boat to China is worth it when Jesus is your captain
  • Dorothy Day… that a Christian must be a radical
  • Teddy Roosevelt… to get in the arena and fight
  • Calvin Miller… showed me there’s a song inside me
  • John Cowper… that I am not alone in sorrow
  • Stephen Schwartz… taught me to dance on a Baptist campus even if you aren’t graceful
  • Corrie Ten Boom…to forgive greatly
  • Detrick Bon Hoffer… that silence is not permitted in the face of Evil
  • Vincent Vangogh…that art is theology
  • And Brennan Manning taught me grace, grace, grace!

But most of all LC fostered a new understanding of the most important One in my life.

He’s my secret Treasure amidst the lies of gold
The Captain of my vessel, the Guardian of my soul
The Champion of my battles, my Warrior in the night
My Guardian, Provider, within the fiercest fight
He’s Architect and Builder of my forever home
A Friend that’s like none other. I never walk alone.
He speaks when I am speechless, my Compass when I’m lost
Forgiver of my cruel debt despite the brutal cost
His love song is redemption, a Troubadour of grace
When I’m lost and lonely, He is my Resting Place
When everyone deserts me, He is a faithful Friend
The Seer of my journey- beginning to the end.
The Hero on His stallion, the Warrior on the hill.
Holy Justice Giver, with a master swordsman’s skill.
My articulate Defender speaks pro-bono in my stead
My Guide through lands of dragons, and by His hand I’m led
He is Enough for yesterday and forever more
My Brother and my Father, my Refuge and my Door.
He is the holy Poet, His sonnet is the sky!
The perfect, true Philosopher. He knows the reasons why.
Far more than any force on earth and higher than the sun
And when we think it’s over, His story’s just begun
He is the Hunter of the lost, the ones who hide in shame
He seeks out every wounded life. He knows each one by name.
He is my great Physician, with a gifted Surgeon’s hand
Composer of a masterpiece and Leader of the band.
He’s everything that’s gallant. His presence makes me free
The Artisan of glory, His love my mystery.




Cycling — Walking Them Home

Dad: Do you have the car? Are we going home? Me: No, we can’t go home. You’re in the hospital. Dad: Oh. When are we going to go? Me: I’m not sure. We have to find a place for you to rehab. Dad: Can we go home. Where’s your car? Me: Dad, we aren’t going […]

via Cycling — Walking Them Home




A Prayer of Collective Repentance

Lord, have mercy upon us. We have shouted more than we have listened. We have looked through rage and defiance and have brutalized our brothers and sisters. We have forgotten your Word, which calls upon us to turn the other cheek, to defend those who are on the bottom rung, and to live at peace as long as it depends on us.

We have politicized the Bible and have taken scripture out of context to reframe it so that it fits our personal worldview.

Forgive us, Lord. We’ve forgotten that our kingdom is not of this world, that we are all aliens, and that we have a greater work to fulfill. This work is a labor of love, and if we are to be honest with You, we have not been laboring very well. As a nation we have sold our birthright for a crude pot of rage.

Lord of Compassion, we have forgotten what it means to listen to our brothers’ words. We have discounted their stories and we have lacked the empathy that leads to understanding. May we weep for America as You wept for Jerusalem.

Prince of Peace, we need You now more than ever. We don’t need editorials, rants, or bullhorns. We just need You. Lord, shatter our pride. Make quick word of our prejudice. Keep us from coded words, false pretences, and sarcasm. Hold a mirror to our souls and collectively, let us see our iniquity.

Lord Jesus, Son of God may we look at the cross and remember how You suffered under the greatest, deepest triangulation of injustice, betrayal and vitriolic anger while praying, “Forgive them.” Teach us how to love like that.

May the Church lead out in love and courage. May we bind the wounds of the brokenhearted and diffuse the anger of a dying culture. Transform us Lord. Teach us how to season our words with grace.

We pray this in the Name of the One who wept,

Amen…

 




When Jesus is in the House

Just another time to worship… Then, suddenly, something happens. Flecks of the ceiling are falling on the teacher’s shoulder. The flecks turn into chunks and out of a gaping hole a paralyzed man is lowered down by four guys in the first elevator in church history. The man is healed and the people went away amazed saying, “We’ve never seen anything like that before!” If only church was like that more often. Drug addicts are welcomed and then healed. Homes are restored. The prodigal son walks in and the down the aisle smothered by a family weeping for joy. These things happen. I’ve witnessed them. It’s then that we can truly say, We’ve never seen anything like this before. Why don’t we see it more often? I think it has a lot to do with two things: Very few people think creatively about how to get their friends to Jesus, like those four guys did in the story. And, sadly, I think we lose sight of the fact that Jesus, the wonder-maker and the game-changer is in the house.




When You Say Farewell

We all learn that people come and people go. You could lose the one you love in the turn of a road, in a sudden bend in the stream and life in its infinite mystery vanishes like the morning dew in the warm break of dawn.

The universality of loss is indellable. I remember dropping my best friend off at the airport in Nashville. I can still see him smile and casually wave goodbye as I pulled away merging back into traffic. I had no idea that would be the last time I’d ever see him. That’s life. And that’s death.

Accidentally or intentionally…

Sweetly or somberly…

Long farewells or brief goodbyes…

People go away…

Something inside says this is not the way it should be.

Others turn their backs. This is the lesson we all learn. Some graves are not found in cemeteries. They are cloistered inside our souls. Through emotional illness, anger, misunderstanding or fate we lose and say farewell to those we love. There are no ceremonies to mark their departures.  But there is One that hears the sound of our weeping and whispers, “Me too.”

The creator of reunions… He is the One in the gap of our disconnection.

His name is Jesus.
The Matchless King who wrapped himself
in a garment of earthly flesh
Jesus
The Christ
And Peter said, “You are Christ the Son of the Living God.”
Jesus
The Anointed One sent from the throne of the Father
Jesus
The Lord,
Whose arrival was announced by a host of angels.
The Lord – the Master of our lives.
Jesus
Our peace… not a state of mind but a Person. For He is Peace.
Oh war-torn world, prepare yourself for the coming of the Prince of Peace.
Jesus
Wonderful Savior- If you have ever come to the realization of who we are and who He is, and what He does, how can you doubt that
Jesus’ Name is Wonderful… Counselor The God who listens and directs.
He is light in darkness,
Voice in silence, and wisdom in a land of lostness.
Jesus
The Mighty God
Jesus
The Everlasting Father
Have you ever mourned the loss of a father or mother? See the joy of a Father who never dies. He lives forever.
Jesus
The Word of God
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was
Jesus
The fourth man in the furnace
Jesus
The Friend
The One who never leaves.




A Sacred Connection

The child arrives on the planet and a new daddy shouts, and the grandparents weep with joy, but the mother is the first to see her child deeply. Children are born and you don’t have to teach a mother or child how to feel love. They bring their love with them.

She sees her baby and realizes that the old saying is true- babies come through us but not from us. And God whispers the words He always whispers following another stoke of wonder: “It is good.” He created the child and He created the relationship. There is a sacred connection between mother and child.

And the journey begins on that first day of life and the journey is filled with a vast collection of memories:

The first birthday cake

Mud pies

First steps

Bike rides on Christmas mornings

Lines on the door frame celebrating growth

Time out in the corner of a kitchen

A sudden illness followed by floods of concern

Healing and overwhelming relief

T-ball games

Goldfish funerals

Messy rooms

Adolescent brooding

Consoling heartbreaks

Failures and successes

ACTs And SATs and waiting nervously for results

Unexpected tears upon the realization that the journey into adulthood would soon be over.

The mother and the child

Their connection constantly changing and shifting over 17 years.

And as they back out of the driveway, boxes and memories stuffed away in the trunk, one last time they are off. This time not to camp, or a game, or a weekend but rather to a world of adventure that mothers and father release them to experience. They’ll be back again and again- but the journey has begun. Their daily presence is gone.

But not the love. 

A mother’s love lasts, from birth, to childhood, through the teen years and beyond…

Endlessly unfolding…

The love never changes.

It is held in the mighty hands of Jesus.


 




Sometimes It’s Hard to Sing

 

Every now and then, pain steals something so important to us. External forces or internal conflicts arise and over time, we discover that we have lost our song. How is it possible to sing when our hearts are heavy and our hope wanes?

You lose a friend to cancer. You are unjustly attacked. A child turns his back on you. Your heart is broken by the one person who promised to be with you until death. You lose a job, a dream or a destiny.

If that’s where you’ve been or where you are, allow me to share a little blues from an old songbook called Psalms:

“By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There we hung up our lyres on the poplar trees… how can we sing in a faraway land.”
Psalm 137:1-2 & 4

It happens.

Our song is gone.

Psalm 137 is a snapshot in the story of God’s people. We see life knocking the wind out of their lungs and now they enter into bondage on the wrong side of Babylon’s rivers. The songwriter asks a question we ask ourselves: “How can you sing in the middle of defeat and loss?”

In the seams of this songbook called Psalms, we hear deep guttural cries of the brokenhearted. We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s a friend, maybe it’s a family member, an accountability partner or a maybe it’s you. We have all experienced a time when we turn off the music because darkness flooded into the cracks of our souls. The Bible is filled with these dark moments. They are not censored out and hidden obscurely. They are front and center. Why? Maybe it’s because God wants us to know that in our darkest times, we enter into the fellowship of strugglers. We are not alone. We’ve never been alone. There’s one thing for sure in this life: none of us gets a pass on adversity.

There is nothing more healing during a time of pain and sorrow than to connect with someone you love and hear the words “Me too.” It’s so simple! To find someone who’s willing to admit that they struggle just as you struggle becomes an amazing healing agent. It takes the sting from the pain we face. We often find that our dirges become anthems of grace.

If you’ve lost your song I want to invite you:

  • Sing your way out of it, even if it means singing the blues. (Psalm 30:11)
  • Thank God for what you do have and don’t focus on scarcity. (Philippians 4:6)
  • As much as you’d prefer to climb under a rock, connect with someone who can support you. (Ecclesiastes 4:10-12)
  • Don’t look for the blame. It’s a fool’s errand. (Genesis 3:12)
  • Rejoice in knowing that this event or circumstance will strengthen your character.
  • Trust God’s work in you. (Philippians 1:6)
  • Do not internalize. Let yourself off the hook. (Romans 1:8)
  • Be mindful of your body. Rest, nourish, and breathe deep. (Psalm 46:10)
  • Don’t just pray for escape, pray for God’s glory to be revealed in the midst of it all.  (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  • Don’t get paranoid. There isn’t a target on your back. Really.  (Romans 8:31)

Finally, I want to challenge all of us on the struggle bus to pray honestly. God hates a fake smile as much as anyone. Speak the truth. Make it plain. Don’t hold back. God is not shaken by your anger or emotions. He’s a God who wrestles.

“One bold message in the Book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your disappointment—he can absorb them all.” Phillip Yancey

In despair, look for a friend and be a friend. A friend who can enter into the sacred space without breathing a word of advice or analysis. Ahh… That is a friend to keep and to be. Chances are you know what to do. You just need someone to walk alongside you as you search for your song.

Sooner or later you’ll find your jam.