Friday, October 31, 2008

The Unimaginable

UPDATE: I'm delighted to report that Bo is safe and sound as of earlier today. Don't know any more details, but I don't really need to. I'm just happy that this part of the story has a happy ending. Thanks for praying! bb

You know that part of our imaginations that walls off certain things and tries to keep them in the safety of "well, that'll probably never happen"? Those things that are just too terrible to even ponder? This post deals with one of those that's at the top of my list--of most of our lists--and then calls you to take action.

Got word yesterday that my friend Lee's son is missing. The son is Bo, and he hasn't been seen since his class Tuesday night. They're becoming frantic, as one would in this situation. When I hung around with Lee, Bo was just a little boy; now he's probably about 19 years old.

I cannot even imagine what Lee is experiencing just now. Whenever I venture toward that part of my imagination, I quickly recoil back in total terror. That recoiling protects my sanity, I think.

So here's your part: WOULD YOU PLEASE, PLEASE PRAY FOR LEE, FOR JULIE, AND FOR BO? I'll update as I'm able.

I wish...oh how I wish!...this were merely the premise for a CSI episode or for a scary movie. But it's not. It is the unimaginable, helpless reality a Mom and a Dad are facing right now.

Your prayers are most needed and appreciated.


Monday, October 27, 2008


So, we worshipped @ FBC of Ft. Walton Beach, FL Sunday while visiting Mom and meeting Leo.

Some other folks were there too...

Mr. Kossie Akins. His son Clint was my Royal Ambassador leader back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and Clint & I were much younger. Mr. Kossie is a veteran of WW2, which sets the stage for a really touching thing about him. Seems they had some training down in S. FL in the early 1940s as they prepared to go to war. While there, he & some of his buddies went to watch some pro baseball teams have Spring training, and had a blast doing so. After they came back from the war, they went again. And again. It became an annual reunion. Just some guys hanging out, watching baseball, and remembering. I LOVE that image! Now, Mr. Kossie is one of the oldest members of FBCFWB. His beloved wife passed away some years back. And there, Mr. Kossie was Sunday morning. I spoke & reintroduced myself, and he remembered. "Hi, Mike, it's been a long time..."

Lewie & Martha Tidwell. They have kids just older & just younger than my brother and me. Lewie was a banker, but to me back then...and maybe was way cooler that he played church-league softball with us young folks. I'd love to have seen Mr. Lewie play when was a young man, because he was very good as a middle-aged man. A few years back, the Tidwells went out west with the North American Mission Board for a few years to help plant churches. I said, "how do you not ever get any older? You look just like you used to!" His great answer was "Cleeean living..."

Lewie and Martha pray for me every morning, and have been deeply burdened by my cancer situation. I managed to hold it together when he came by & shook my hand & asked after me yesterday. But just barely.

Brian Buckelew spoke. Big, strapping, muscular young man who lives in Nashville. A long way from the shortish little guy I knew back in the day. Brian's dad is a Dr. in FWB.

The Valentines. Their son Miles was in my HS class, and went on to play football @ LSU. (but he's a great guy anyway...*winks*) They, too, looked like they did 30+ years ago.

Libba Clark. Still greeting at the door. Every greeter should have a smile like hers and an east Alabama accent like hers. Her son Johnny is a year older than I, and is being used mightily by the Lord. In prison. As an inmate, which he'll be for the rest of his days. Mrs. Libba told my Mother once, "I always prayed that the Lord would use my children...I never dreamed that this is how He would say yes to that prayer..."

Dale Winslet. My age. Still a big, strapping guy. Dale was there by himself, just singing his heart out in praise. Like me, Dale didn't always sing those praise songs quite so loudly. But God's grace forgives, heals, calls, and restores. For which Dale & I are most grateful.

Nancy Hale. Still singing in the choir. Her Dad was the long-time, much-beloved pastor of FBCFWB who had a huge impact on me. (Which impact was not fully realized until after I had largely left his considerable orbit, but which I am so grateful for now). Her son used to be in my Sunday School class when he was in college. His wife was too (before they were husband and wife). They're very gifted singers & players & song writers. (Anyone from Temple B.C. remember Curt & Noel?) Now he's on staff at a large church up in the Jackson area, and is expecting a daughter tomorrow morning.

Mary Hailey. A servant-hearted widow. Much like this other servant-hearted widow I know in that church...from whom I'm descended. I had a great time of fellowship with Mrs. Hailey and her husband in their home back when we were on staff w/ Campus Crusade. Such encouragers.

Vicki Staples. Very talented organist. Always smiling. Her daughter was also in my Sunday School class in college days.

Wiley Burch. Usher extraordinaire. Every male usher should have a voice, a smile, and a handshake like Mr. Wiley. Both he and his wife have had health issues in recent years, but you'd be hard-pressed to know that. They lived in Hattiesburg for a while before moving back to FWB. So he always asks about Hattiesburg.

Benny Bowen. Retired elementary school principal, and my Mom's boss. One of those behind-the-scenes guys who is just always there, steady as a rock.

Gary Stanford. My cousin & one of my best friends growing up. Had a part in helping me come to know Christ and in helping me come to know Lisa. But other than that, he's not very important in my life...*huge grin* We roomed together @ Bama, which was huge in helping me get back on course academically, personally, and spiritually. Gary was in his usual place up in the bass section of the choir. He sings in the first service, then teaches youth Sunday School, then attends the second service because his 9th grader does so. Gary remains one of the steadiest, godliest, and all-around best guys that I know. That view is shared by many others. His son is a senior @ Bama, and his daughter is a freshman @ Florida.

Of course, my beloved aunts. Aunt Margaret & Aunt Frances, my Dad's sisters. Frances roomed with my Mom at Bama in something called "the co-op house." Students reduced their housing costs by living there because they had to do a lot of the work in cleaning & maintaining the place. Regrettably, Aunt Frances wasn't there Sunday morning. Chemotherapy takes one out of public circulation. Joyfully, she's finished w/ her chemo and will be back in church in 2 weeks. More joyfully, she came over to Mom's to see us Sunday afternoon. Still smiling, laughing Aunt Frances, despite her own medically-hellacious summer of cancer treatments. Aunt Margaret invited me to speak to her Sunday School class yesterday morning. What a great joy it was to speak to a group who have been praying for me in their private prayer lives and as a group! I think I only choked up twice, which is pretty good for me given the setting...

Aunt Frances & Aunt Margaret spent a fair amount of time trying to keep my brother & me out of trouble when we were young. With some success...but not with total success. And, of course, we shouldn't have stayed out of trouble, knotheads that we were... Both of them were widowed young (Hodgkins' Disease and heart attack). And both a very strong, sturdy lighthouses, pointing the way home for me and for so many others. May my faith and joy be just a hint of theirs.

It was such a privilege to be around these (and others) who prayed for me, taught me, loved me, and occasionally disciplined me. My manifest faults are of my own doing. But if you see any good in me, now you know where it comes from. My Lord providentially landed me among a group of excellent saints at Ft. Walton Beach, FL when I was one. Now that I am 4(garbled) years old, it is not a stretch to say that those people and that church were/are huge parts of shaping me. As one lady said after I spoke to Aunt Margaret's class, "what you shared goes back far beyond this past summer..." I totally agree. Any truths shared were first taught by word and by deed there in the hallways and from the pulpit of FBCFWB.

And I will always be grateful for that shaping and for those marvelous saints of the Lord who invested in a hammerhead like myself back when it seemed the investment would never pay off. Maybe...just maybe...opportunities like Sunday morning's speaking help some realize that the diapers changed, the koolaid served, the RA classes, the Sunday School and Training Union classes, the love, and yes, the admonitions were worth it after all. I'm nowhere near where I ought to be. But I'm a looooooong way from where I used to be. For which progress many there @ FBCFWB deserve credit.

Oh, how I wish I were a better steward of the gospel placed into my life so lovingly by so many back there. But oh deep are the roots I have, even when the fruit seems lacking. Seasons like this past summer test and challenge the roots of one's being. And by the grace of God, the roots so tenderly cultivated there @ FBCFWB held.

You know those little snot-nosed kids who run around the church seeming to demand all of the church's attention? Those little twits who suck up so many of the church's resources? The ones who make you just shake your head in sadness? Well, keep loving on them and investing in them. For one day, years from now, one of them may come walking into your Sunday School class as a guest speaker and make a point of saying "Thanks!" By God's grace, they'll say it in glory with you forever.

To God be the glory for the rich spiritual roots He caused me to have!

In His Grip,

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kind of Blue

50 years ago, one of the greatest jazz albums ever was being conceived in the mind of Miles Davis. 50 years ago next Spring, he and an amazing cast of musicians went into the studio and did their musical thing. In less than 10 hours, they got the job done.

And we are all better off because of it. (of course, 50 years ago next Spring, I was born too, but that's another post for another day...;) )

The album is called "Kind of Blue" and represents a new type of jazz. In jazz-speak, it's referred to as "cool jazz." Cool jazz was a reaction against the frenzied bebop that was so popular at the time. Whereas bebop relied on a bunch of notes played in rapid succession, cool jazz relies on the silence between the notes. Note: I love both types. Charlie Parker's frenetic sax playing, for example, is among my faves; but it's very tiring to listen to because it demands so much of the player and by extension of the listener. Cool jazz, on the other hand is very relaxing.
Charlie Parker is...the middle of a very loud & crowded dance floor with music thundering. Great fun, and quite wearing. Kind of Blue-vintage Miles is Friday afternoon sitting on the back deck enjoying a glass of tea & watching the dog sleep next to you. (I always play KoB when we go to the beach...Saturday morning when the beach is quiet, the breeze is gentle, and the sun hasn't made it unbearable outside yet.)
Not sure if jazz is your thing? Pretty sure jazz is not your thing? Pick up a copy of Kind of Blue. I know young folks who are head-banging rockers by nature who also love KoB. One such person lives in Oxford & is related to me.
Miles Davis on trumpet...Julian "Cannonball" Adderley on alto sax...John Coltrane on tenor (have mercy!)...Bill Evans on piano (aside: check out his album Waltz for Debby for more very good cool jazz)...Wynton Kelly, also on piano...Paul Chambers on bass...Jimmy Cobb on drums (the only one of the bunch who is still alive). They were in the studio for less than 10 hours total. Brittney Spears spends more time than that to record her...stuff! When one is a master of one's craft, and chooses to join with other masters, it just doesn't take very long to get it right.
The result is incredible! Rolling Stone magazine...Rolling Stone!...rates Kind of Blue as the 12th best album of all time in any genre. Again, my son who tends toward hard rock likes it. My daughter who tends toward Counting Crows or rap likes it.
You know how some music is great for its period, and then years later...not so much? That's not at all the case with Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. It has aged very, very well. Perhaps even better now than then, which is, of course, one sign of very good music. Yeah, there's been some very good jazz recorded since 1959. (My current favorite? Astral Project from New Orleans...great stuff, and a NOLA Jazz Fest favorite of ours and many others.) But for my money, this particular CD is as awesome a collection on one CD as there is. Go check it out!
"It's always been a gift with me, hearing the music the way I do.
I don't know where it comes from,
it's just there and I don't question it."
Miles Davis
Among my favorite songs of any genre are a couple of Miles pieces. My Funny Valentine & 'Round Midnight. Actually, neither of these are on Kind of Blue, but I just thought I'd throw that in. The versions I have (on other CDs) are live. And oh-so-tasty. The album Kind of Blue plus these two songs are among "most heavily played" on my ipod and/or itunes.
Check 'em out. I'll be listening to Kind of Blue on my computer tomorrow morning while polishing up a scintillating lecture on Commercial Loan Policy for Banking class. (note that commercial loan policy isn't pretty dadburn cool in & of itself, but Miles in the background will sure help...) *smile*

Monday, October 20, 2008

Following in the steps of William Carey...

When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
John 10:4
"I'm honored to have this opportunity to share with you our sheer joy at following in the steps of William Carey..."
With the verse above as his backdrop, and "following in the steps of William Carey" as the opening line, Tom Thurman delivered the William Carey lecture in our chapel time at WCU.
It was incredible!
I am so very blessed and honored to call Tom & his wife Gloria friends. Let me tell you just a bit about them.
There's an old hymn that goes like this:
There’s a call comes ringing over the restless wave,“Send the light! Send the light!”
There are souls to rescue there are souls to save,Send the light! Send the light!
Send the light, the blessèd Gospel light; Let it shine from shore to shore!
Send the light, the blessèd Gospel light;Let it shine forevermore!
Tom said that he & Gloria used to sing that hymn often. Very stirring words. One day, he felt impressed that God was telling him "I don't want you to send the light; I want you to take the light over the 'restless wave'."
So, in 1965, Tom resigned his pastorate with his young bride, and headed across the pond. Way across the pond. To what was then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Ferociously, militantly Moslem, combined with Hindu. A vastly different culture...with a completely different and challenging language. You know the pictures we see on the news of nearly annual flooding on a vast scale? That's Bangladesh. A long, long way from Monticello, MS.
35 years later, Tom and Gloria came back home. Their sons--both raised in Bangladesh--came to America to attend college. One son, Philip, is a dear friend of mine. He was on staff @ my church for a while; now he pastors a church up north of Jackson. Couple hundred members, mostly totally unchurched previously. The church started...(wait for it) Philip's living room 5 years ago. As I told Tom this morning, Philip is doing up north of Jackson exactly what he saw his folks do while Philip was growing up in Bangladesh. Philip is one of the most effective evangelists I have ever run across. Speaks 4 languages fluently, and can scramble his way through some others. The missionary focus of Tom & Gloria Thurman lives on in their two sons. I 'spect it is taking root in Philip & Lori's three children too. BTW, I asked Philip once what language he thinks in. Despite graduating from Mississippi College & Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and despite working in Atlanta for a few years, and despite marrying a Mississippi girl, he told me that he thinks in Bengali. "Home" to Philip means Bangladesh.
Monday morning, Tom showed us his copy of the Bengali translation of Scripture that William Carey translated. That's William Carey the guy...back in the early 1800s...the "Father of the Modern Missionary Movement." William & his associate travelled in the same part of the world back then. There are churches over there that still today have markers commemorating their speaking there. When Carey completed this particular translation, he remarked that his life's work was complete. He died shortly after. Tom calculates that he and Gloria are either the 9th or 10th generation of missionary in that part of the world. So when Tom spoke of "following in the steps of William Carey," he was speaking very literally.
So many stories, many of which I have heard while sitting in Tom & Gloria's living room in Columbia. Here's just two.
Tom offered a young man a ride in his rickshaw one day in the mid 1980s. Made contact, shared addresses, and kept in touch. A couple of years later, due to his continued contact with Tom, that young man became a Christian. An outspoken Christian (like we're all supposed to be...). The local Moslems were not amused. After prayer one day (ironic, huh?), they took the young man and beat and tortured him severely. (I'll spare the details, which are gruesome to ponder). Left him for dead. He was found the next day (still unconscious) and taken to a hospital, where he eventually recovered.
The end of that story? That same young man's reaction to the beating was to follow in the steps of Paul and Silas who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ. The guy has started 7,000 churches in villages all over Bangladesh & eastern India. Over 300,000 & counting former Hindus & Moslems will be in glory because of the guy. Who will be in glory because this soft-spoken, southern gentleman from Monticello, MS was listening to a call that he himself gave to his church regularly. To take the light...the blessed gospel light. And that's just one of Tom & Gloria's spiritual children.
The other story involves a war. Remember George Harrison's "Concert for Bangladesh" in the early 1970s? Great concert/album. But the event that inspired GH to put on that concert was the civil war that ultimately resulted in "East Pakistan" becoming "Bangladesh." When the war broke out, Tom & Gloria prayed for direction. Nobody would have blamed them had they come back to America with their two young sons. They stayed. Philip remembers listening to the artillery & mortars around their village. The morning after one particular mortar barrage, Tom & Philip went walking through the village to check on their neighbors. The Moslem shopowners came up and said "Mr. Tom! You are here! We have hope because you are here..." (yeah, I know...chokes me up too, and I've heard/told the story a bunch of times...)
On behalf of Tom & Gloria Thurman...and William Carey before them...and Paul & Silas before them...will you go? More than that, on behalf of countless millions who have yet to hear...the countless millions who are "all His own" and who are waiting to "follow Him" and to "hear His voice" and join us in the white-hot eternal worship party around the throne...will you go?
Note carefully, as Tom reminded us this morning, it's wherever you are. Your home. Your neighborhood. Your workplace. Your county. Your state. Your nation. And maybe, just maybe, the other side of the world.
They're all waiting...let's all take the light!
p.s. - thanks, Tom, for following so well...and for encouraging and challenging all who cross your path...and for letting me sit in your living room as a friend. Your reward in glory continues to grow. Only eternity will show how great it is.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Lesson of the Busted Concrete

George Jones entered eternity late last week. (not the Silver Fox of country music fame who sang "He Stopped Lovin' Her Today"...I'm thinking of a much more significant George Jones)

George's son Barry was a year ahead of me in high school and we also went to UF together. Last I knew, Barry was in Birmingham as an engineer of some sort. George's beloved wife Lil worked with my mother for some years.

Mr. George was a very pleasant & very funny guy. All of us friends of Barry's enjoyed hanging around George. I remember a classic line of his from years ago. It was homecoming @ UF (this was back when they were still a terrible football team), and Mr. George had come down for the game. Naturally, a huge party @ mine & Barry's fraternity house was part of the weekend. (George was part of that same fraternity back in his day at MSU) Fairly early in the evening, Mr. Jones pulled Barry & me & a couple other guys aside & gave us this sage advice: "Fellows, I've been looking, and have noticed that there's quite a nice herd of ladies running around here. I believe if I were a young single man like you guys, I could cut me one out of that herd!" I still chuckle at that line today.

Mr. Jones ran a construction business in Ft. Walton Beach. Which is neither here nor there, except for the huge impact that particular business had on me. As many of you know, my UF academic record was...not awesome. *clears throat nervously* Such that I had to lay out of the Spring quarter of my freshman year. I recall Mom telling me that she had talked to George & that he had a job for me. This remains one of the most important jobs I ever had. My job was to clean up all of the junk around where they were building things and haul said junk off to the junkyard. You know all the cool construction jobs that involve hammers & toolbelts &, well, actual skill? This wasn't one of those.

You know the big tubs of liquid cement that they hoist up to upper levels of buildings? Yeah, well, that gets jostled & spilled a pretty good bit. You know what happens to cement after it's poured out? It gets hard. Still with me? Good, because here's where I started my construction career. My very first construction task was to take a sledge hammer & bust up a rather large slab of spilled & hardened concrete, toss the chunks into the back of the truck, & haul 'em off. Did I mention that it's usually quite warm in the Spring in NW FL? Especially on construction sites when one is a sledge-hammer-swinging laborer?

So, why is this such an important job? Because rather early in the morning on my very first day of construction work, I concluded that maybe going to class & studying aren't so bad after all! I will always be convinced that Mr. Jones selected this particular task on purpose on my first day to teach me this particular lesson. And I will always be grateful for the lesson of the busted up concrete. Years later after my stuff was rather more together, I told Mr. Jones about that particular lesson & asked if he did that on purpose. He just smiled that great smile of his and patted me on the shoulder.

I like to think that before dementia took his mind, George Jones became proud of who I became, and recognized that he had more than a little bit to do with that. I'll always cherish that thought too.

Thanks for everything Mr. Jones! Especially the lesson of the busted concrete! You made a huge difference in the life of a young clueless 18-year-old. RIP, my friend & fraternity brother. See you on the other side...

With love and fond memories and much appreciation,

p.s. - please join me in praying for Mrs. Lil and for Barry and Barry's kids and for Karen (Barry's sister), won't you?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Because of Cancer,...

...I am reminded of the brevity of life.

...I am very well aware that the human body is fragile.

...we are aware that there is some absolutely incredible medical technology in use these days.

...we are acquainted with some utterly amazing medical professionals who are giving their lives to the very worthy goals of eradicating cancer and of caring for those suffering from the dreadful disease.

....I am much more keenly aware of the evil, destructive nature of the disease. I hate cancer with a passion!

...I absolutely cherish any & all time I get to spend with Lisa

...I treasure any & all time I get to spend with James & Annne

...I am more mindful of my need to extend grace toward others. (Note: I wish I could say "I'm now showing grace to others"...I am working hard on being what Philip Yancey calls a "grace agent" but I ain't there yet.) priorities have been gloriously re-ordered: faith, family, friends, everything else (in order)

...I am better @ my job (I hope!) and am more thankful for it.

...I am more mindful of people around me (e.g., students, coworkers).

...I've been reminded that I am so very blessed with so many marvelous friends who have gone so far above & beyond.

...I have reconnected with some friends from long ago; high school even!

...I have met and made some great new friends--some only online--but still already consider them great friends.

...I have experienced the Body of Christ gloriously doing what the it's supposed to do.

...I have greatly renewed my prayer life and feel a new sense of urgency about prayer.

...God has greatly renewed my love for His Word.

...God has given me an increased love for the church (capital C - Body of Christ, and small C - my part of it - TBC)

...I have a renewed longing for heaven (note: I'm planning to go there any time right away, Lord willing...but the deep longing is there)

...I have a heightened awareness of the deep pain cancer leaves when it claims a loved one's life.

...I deeply desire to be used by my Lord to impact the world and build up His kingdom. (Would you pray with me to that particular end? Thanks!!)

...Stress? What stress? I'm a 2-time cancer survivor for crying out loud, who has undergone hundreds of thousands of dollars of surgeries, immunotherapy, tests, & such. Lord, let me never forget that so much that we get stressed about (the economy/stock market, anyone??) is so very temporal and not worthy of getting all worked up over!

...oh, I almost forgot this one: Because of cancer, I now look like I lost a knife fight. But be of good cheer; remember that my cancer is sun-related. Thus, these really cool scars will not be on display in public. So relax...*grin*

On a serious note, these are just some of the things I've been pondering during & following our medical year from Hades. I am thankful for every lesson learned! Sure, I might've chosen a different teaching vehicle, but I love the lessons and hope never forget any of them. There's how you can pray for me, btw. Pray for God to cause those lessons to sink in...feel free to appropriate any of the relevant ones into your own life. You're welcome! *smile*


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Dancing with Cinderella

18 years ago today, I became something I had never been before. The entire trajectory of my life changed, and I am SOOOOO much better & blessed because of it.

That morning, October 10, 1990, we called our next-door neighbor to come over & stay with our 2-year-old son. (She still laughs with us about the detailed parental instructions we left with her—limited # of videos, food limits, etc.—all of which instructions were immediately & promptly ignored by her and by James…) Then, off to Forrest Gen’l Hospital we went.

Events of the day moved along as scheduled for a while. Then progress just stopped. A Dr. said there was no reason to be alarmed, but that he had a hunch. Thus, the events of the day deviated from schedule. Surgery was ordered. A gown was ordered for me.

18 years ago today, I watched a miraculous surgery from start to finish. Standing a couple of feet away from where the actual cutting was being done. Pass out? Not on your life! I was much, much too excited to pass out…. It was an amazing day. The surgery itself—and the watching thereof—is one of the single greatest events of my life.

For on this day, Rebecca Anne Madaris entered the world & was welcomed to the planet by her Mother, her big brother James, and me.

"She spins and she sways to whatever song plays
without a care in the world
And I'm sitting here wearing the weight of the world
on my shoulders
It's been a long day, and there's still work to do;
she's pulling at me saying, 'Dad I need you
There's a ball at the castle and I've been invited,
and I need to practice my dancing…
Oh please, Daddy, please' "

I was the goofy, doting father. Still am. Becoming/being the father of a daughter bored into the depths of my heart & soul and taught me things about myself and about the nature of my Lord that I am still trying to get my mind around. What a blessing!!!

2-year-old James never wavered a bit in his confident prediction that it would be a girl. (We didn’t know…tried to find out, but Anne didn’t cooperate…*grin*) When I would try to convince James that a little brother would be OK too, his constant response was “no we don’t; it a gull.” He was right, and I am most blessed because of it.

I’ll spare you from the thousands of images & word pictures that today brings to my emotional heart. Well, Ok…maybe just a knew it was coming! *smile*

"So I will dance with Cinderella
while she is here in my arms
'Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oh I will dance with Cinderella,
I don't want to miss even one song
'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight,
and she'll be gone"

Anne has been a lover of words since before she could even pronounce them or understand them. Mom’s husband Will used to chuckle about infant Anne trying to make the same noises come out of her mouth that the rest of us were saying. I’ve written in this space about Anne’s lifelong love of singing and of being sung to. She also has long enjoyed reading and being read to. One evening around age 2, Anne disappeared into her room & reappeared with 4-5 of her books. She marched into the living room, plopped herself up on the couch next to her Mother and said “teach me to read.” It came across as “I’ve got a spare 5-10 minutes, so let’s go ahead & take care of this reading thing…”

Rebecca St. James was a favorite of hers, along with Point of Grace. And of course, there were the daily viewings for several years in a row (literally!) of Cinderella and The Sound of Music. And then, school...Anne was most disappointed when she got to kindergarten and discovered that there was no actual homework involved. (Aside: this view of homework changed somewhere between kindergarten and, oh, 12th grade…*grin*) Not long after, I was granted the incredible privilege of baptizing Anne after she professed faith in Christ.

"She says he's a nice guy and I'd be impressed;
she wants to know if I approve of the dress
She says, 'Dad the prom is just one week away
and I need to practice my dancing…
Oh please, Daddy please' "

Anne is still a lover of words, music, and people. She’s a good writer who loves to read. (My own theory is that there is no such thing as a good writer who does not love to read…) She loves to sing and to listen to a wide variety of music. And she shares with my Mother a remarkable trait: Anne has never met anyone that she does not already know! (my description of both of them...BTW, Anne & Mom are both "Daddy's girls" too as I was just thinking about it...) She loves meeting new people and learning what makes them tick. She has a quick mind with a neat ability to synthesize new information and to learn new things. Basically, she thinks very well.

Oh I will dance with Cinderella
while she is here in my arms
'Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oh I will dance with Cinderella,
I don't want to miss even one song
'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight,
and she'll be gone...She will be gone

And now, as of today, she’s 18 years old. Yesterday, I literally watched her draw her first breath and learn to walk and talk. Last night, I sang to her regularly. Early this morning, she rode off to prom with some hammerheaded, hairy-legged boy. Now she is 18. You know how some birthdays seem to have huge significance? 13…21…30…50 (*sigh*)…Well, 18 is one of the biggies.

I haven’t a clue what Anne’s future holds. My prediction is that it will involve music, thinking, and people. I do know that I am deeply enjoying watching her calling work itself out. And I know that our shared Lord is shaping and molding her. Mainly, though, I know that Anne’s potential is huge, and that she’s ready to grab hold of her future, and that wherever I am, she will always have a home and a warm place of welcome and rest and a cup of coffee and a long bit of conversation. Anne is one of my favorite people on the planet. Time spent chatting with Anne over a Starbucks cup of coffee is time redeemed, to use the biblical phrase. Time well spent. Time enjoyed immensely.

"She came home today with a ring on her hand,
just glowing and telling us all they had planned
She says, "Dad the wedding's still six months away,
but I need to practice my dancing…
Oh please, Daddy please' "

Today, I announce again to all that I am the father of an amazing, complex, fun, creative, beautiful, talented, intelligent daughter named Anne whose future is incredibly bright and promising, and whose past has absolutely blessed my socks off. I, among men, am a man most blessed and gifted in the daughter God gave me. (note: in the son too, as written about earlier this summer…)

So I will dance with Cinderella
while she is here in my arms
'Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oh I will dance with Cinderella,
I don't want to miss even one song
'cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight,
and she'll be gone

The bold & centered words throughout this post are from Steven Curtis Chapman's incredible song "Cinderella" that he wrote when his younger daughters were 3 & 4 years old and his oldest daughter was 21. The song makes me tear up 100% of the time I hear it or read the lyrics. Including right now. Go here to hear this song & see SCC's music video of it; well worth the time to listen! BTW, after the song at the link, Steven explains what prompted the song...Also worth a listen.

*wipes tears & composes self yet again despite having listened to this song about 176 times*

Stevie Wonder sang it so many years ago: Isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she wonderful? I can't believe what God has done…Through us he's given life to one…

Happy 18th Birthday, Anne!!! I love you and am so proud of you. We need to practice our dancing a bit more, don’t we? *smiles*

"Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all."
Proverbs 31:29

With much love,

p.s. - Got a little girl at your house? Go along to every ball at the castle and dance every dance and enjoy every tea party and reading session and ballet lesson and soccer game and whatever else comes along with that. For, as Steven Curtis Chapman said, all too soon the clock will strike midnight, and she'll be gone...MAN, did this day get here in a hurry! I'd give all of my possessions for one more reading of Bosnipian Blastoff or singing of Firefall's "Dolphin's Lullaby" ("Doffin" as Anne called it) or coloring session...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Shadow & Substance

"It ain't the shadow, it's the substance that I'm after."
Rahlo, Blacksoil Project

Rahlo is a friend of ours who has a really remarkable & unique ministry. An English major in college, he is a lover of words and puts them together very creatively and very well. His medium? Hip-hop music. Blacksoil Project is the name used in his musical creations, btw. Hip-hop is not usually my preferred musical groove, I'll confess...but I love Michael's stuff. (I was just listening to his stuff on my ipod while working out this morning). His words are great and deep...and the music pulls you on through a workout!

The above quote is from a song he wrote after the birth of his son. The entire song is incredible, but I love this particular quote, which is a recurring theme throughout the song. There, in one sentence, I believe my buddy has captured what should be the heart of all of us who claim to follow Christ. I also believe that he has nailed a number of people who are chasing the shadows, rather than the substance. The song goes on to say "take a sip of the real before you die..." There's my challenge to me and to you today. Step aside from the shadows & pursue the substance. Take a sip of the real. You won't regret it!


p.s. - Want more info about The Blacksoil Project? Go here to his website. I would particularly call your attention to his store link. I don't (yet!) own the Lewis-inspired Out of the Silent Planet CD, but I do own all of the others. Neither do I (yet!) own a Blacksoil t-shirt. But I will soon. BTW, you can also hear samples of his music by clicking on the audio link.

p.p.s. - Rahlo is married & has a number of young children. He's a native of Hattiesburg, and played college basketball @ U. of New Orleans (yeah...he's not short...) His wife played hoops @ Iowa (she's not short either!). Rahlo says he's not even the best shooter in his own home!

p.p.p.s. - Aside from CD & t-shirt sales, all of their funding comes from personal support. Want to be part of reaching a segment of the harvest field that's not beating down the doors of our churches to get in? Shoot Rahlo an email & ask about becoming a monthly ministry partner. I guarantee you that you won't regret it. He does his thing in schools, in prisons, and all around the world. Click on the "contact" link on his website & you'll see a picture. And if you're wondering about longevity, Rahlo's been in ministry for 20+ years & in the music ministry for a number of years. Again, I guarantee that you'll love him & his family. We do!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Praying with Moses

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!”
The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger,and your wrath according to the fear of you?
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!
Psalm 90:1-3, 10-12, 14, 16-17

(back to Mike)
These are the words of "Moses, the man of God." Yeah...that Moses. Who spoke with God face to face as with a man. Who encountered God up on the mountain in such a powerful way that anyone else who touched the base of the mountain would perish. Who witnessed God's supernatural power and provision in the wilderness in ways that still blow our minds today. In other words, a man whose prayer life I'm curious about! And here's one of his prayers, recorded for posterity.

Notice where Moses starts. The majesty and eternality of God, and our utter dependence upon Him. Pretty good starting place for prayers, don't you think?

He also addresses our unworthiness to come before God at all. And the challenges life brings. "toil and trouble." Life's like that sometimes, isn't it? Frequently, perhaps.

To me, the hinge verse is the one in bold italics above. It's been one of my favorites for some years now. "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." That is, in light of (a) Your eternal majesty, Lord, and (b) our sinfulness, and (c) the challenges life brings in its brevity, teach us to be good stewards of the days You give us so that we can get a heart of that wisdom will flow from our very being. As my favorite pastor said just yesterday, "theology should always lead to biography." Moses knew that; do we?

Then Moses said, (paraphrasing) "as You grant us good stewardship of our days and grant us a heart of wisdom, Lord, satisfy us with Your love such that we rejoice. And, us Your work, and show our children Your glorious power. Finally, Lord, make the work we do for You stand."

Psalm 90:12 first spoke deeply to my soul at a friend's 50th birthday party some years back. We had laughed and eaten and basically abused this guy for turning 50. Then we had a prayer time, which was awesome in & of itself. But my friend--who has been a role model & mentor for me in so many ways--closed out the prayer time in thanksgiving and then with this particular verse. It was a holy moment when the Lord's omnipresence seemed real & palpable in ways that made this ancient Psalm come alive.

Moses' prayer list:
--celebrating the unchanging majesty & presence & provision of God
--reminding himself of the brevity & toils of live
--asking to be taught good stewardship of his days in order to receive a heart of wisdom
--asking for God to satisfy him with His presence and His love
--asking for God to show him what He is doing
--asking God to show His power to his children
--asking God to establish the work of His hands.

A pretty good prayer list there. And mine this morning, as Psalm 90 came up in my time with God.

Would you join me in praying with Moses?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

National Suicide Prevention Week

Because of the week--which I had forgotten about--I'm reprising & excerpting some (edited) thoughts I had in Late May/early June 07 when a great friend--who had quite an impact on me--ended his own life. I doubt I'll ever fully recover from that.

If you need a happy, cheery, lighthearted post, come back later. This one isn't it. But I hope you'll let these words--mine, Donne's, & the others'--speak to you. I'd say "enjoy," but I 'spect you won't. I don't really mean for you to, frankly.

(excerpt starts here--the first part down to the ==== is what I captured in the evening after Mark died. Somehow, some of the writings of John Donne ministered to me greatly that evening. The part below that is from 8 days after he died when the dust had begun to settle.)

On the untimely passing of a dear friend...various words collected from John Donne (Note: these are from multiple poems of his)

Yet nothing can to nothing fall,
Nor any place be empty quite;
Therefore I think my breast hath all
Those pieces still, though they be not unite

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,

"Now his breath goes," and some say, "No."

Turn, thou ghost, that way, and let me turn this,
And let ourselves benight our happiest day.

THOU hast made me, and shall Thy work decay?
Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste;
I run to death, and Death meets me as fast,
And all my pleasures are like yesterday...
Only Thou art above, and when towards Thee
By Thy leave I can look, I rise again;
But our old subtle foe so tempteth me,
That not one hour myself I can sustain.
Thy grace may wing me to prevent his art
And thou like adamant draw mine iron heart.

This is my play's last scene; here heavens appoint
My pilgrimage's last mile; and my race
Idly, yet quickly run, hath this last pace;
My span's last inch, my minute's latest point;
And gluttonous Death will instantly unjoint
My body and soul, and I shall sleep a space;
But my ever-waking part shall see that face,
Whose fear already shakes my every joint.
Then, as my soul to heaven her first seat takes flight,
And earth-born body in the earth shall dwell,
So fall my sins, that all may have their right,
To where they're bred and would press me to hell.
Impute me righteous, thus purged of evil,
For thus I leave the world, the flesh, the devil.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture[s] be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then ?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more;
Death, thou shalt die.

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him. And perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that...
No man is an island. entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

(back to Mike) So long, Mark. I loved you very much. So did many others. I wish you had known that, and that knowing could've made a difference. As long as I have breath, your legacy will not be reduced to events of that last morning; rather, it will expand to years of faithful loving service and obedience and ministry and seeds sown on fruitful soil that will, by God's grace, bear fruit for years to come. I am a better man...and a better husband...and a better mentor...and a better friend...and a better teacher...and a better apprentice of our shared Lord and Savior because you were my friend. Those thoughts are true of others too. I wish you had known those things too, and that knowing could've made a difference. Thanks, my friend. See you in the land of the eternal dawn! This world seems all the colder and alien today, and that one seems all the closer and more vivid and real...
With much love and a grieving heart,


What's inside of a container spills out when it's bumped;the same thing happens with people...First, let me promise not to continue dwelling on my friend Mark's suicide last year. Second, let me remind any reader(s) that such a thing leaves a very large wake that jostles the rest of us who are left behind pretty severely for varying lengths of time. Third, let me emphasize to all--if anyone's wondering--that adult friends of Mark's are in varying stages of dealing with his death. We're going through a journey through the valley of the shadow of death just like our young friends; your prayers are welcomed...and ours are passionately and repeatedly offered for our young friends.With those things said, I offer some semi-random blurbs...musings from these last 8 days.

--Encourage the encouragers in your life!
Wonder who those are? Then all who knew him, think of the image that comes to mind when I say these words: Coach Bryan. That, my friends, is an encourager. Make it a point to encourage such folks in your life, for they are a gift from God, and despite appearances, they need encouragement too.

And from the flames
As chance would have it
The Soulforged will come into light
And from the flames
As chance would have it
The Soulforged, the stainless will rise
Blind Guardian, "The Soulforged"

--Soulforged...a great song! BG is a metal group from Germany that's been around for nearly 20 years. James just turned me on to them last year. Their lyrics are very good and thoughtful, and the hard rock they produce is outstanding. Aside from the music, one of the reasons this has become a favorite song of mine is the image of a soul being forged in the flames. (alert: slight context violation by me...but humor me) I am certainly different as of these last months since Mark's passing. Better, I hope...more Christlike, closer to my God, a better man, more loving, more tender toward those around me, etc. And I'm here to tell you: I hate the forging process! But I'm confident in the work of my Maker, Redeemer, and Shaper...even when the process of forging my soul makes me hurt.

--In the midst of questions I cannot answer--never will be able to answer this side of glory--I am drawn back to those things that I know are true. To wit: the Gospel is God reaching through the muck & mire & crap & such to redeem His beloved. Not to immediately remove the beloved from the muck & mire & crap...but to redeem them in the midst of it. We serve a real God Who works in real ways in the midst of a real world. Would I do it differently? Yep. And it would be much worse, and less glorious. Any physician would agree that pain is an absolutely essential survival mechanism for the human body. One might argue the same point in the spiritual realm too, methinks. And through it all, I hear the words of the prophets: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" and "You are loved with an everlasting love" and "My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them."

--God's word is truer than anything I'll ever feel. That sentence is borrowed from a lady who watched her best friends die in a flood that she barely survived by climbing up a cliff. She then had to ID the bodies of her friends at the morgue. So her words come from the perspective of "been there, done that, it sucked, here's some truth."

--I love my friends. Those my age, and those *coughs* much younger than my age. *coughs again*

--Words matter. Those said, and those left unsaid.
The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.
Harriet Beecher Stowe

--Friends are vital to life. I mean to life itself. And I have not cherished mine enough.

(back to Mike today, Oct 08)
That's what comes to mind as I'm reminded of Nat'l Suicide Prevention Week. Suicide sucks! It's almost basketball season; I don't guess I'll ever be able to watch a hoops game without remember my buddy Mark...especially in Rees Gym @ PCS. I will always be grateful to our shared Lord for Mark's impact on me, as noted above.

Would you pray with me that I'd never again let a friend suffer such anguish & hopelessness alone?

Miss you, Coach. See ya later.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

No Rocks a-Cryin'

So, yesterday afternoon, I left work a bit early to go to a concert. But wait...not just any concert, mind you. This was the Southern Invitational Choral Conference High School choir concert. Why, you ask? Well, see, there was this one soprano singer who has stolen a large piece of my heart. (hang on...this will make sense & be OK in a minute; I promise!) Lovely young lady. Delightful conversationalist. Friendly & outgoing. Great personality. And did I say lovely? Also, she looks a bit like her mother, who stole a huge piece of my heart over 25 years ago. This particular singer changed the entire trajectory of my life nearly 18 years ago. (Actually, in a couple of weeks, it will be 18 years ago) I'll never be the same because of this singer, and I am so grateful to my God and to her.

I literally watched her take her first breath. And hers was a miraculous birth. Labor just stopped progressing. The Dr. said "I have a hunch..." And so, she was removed. The hunch was justified. The umbilical cord had become wrapped around her neck a couple of times. Had her birth process gone forward without the intervention...well, let's just say that chord-wrapped babies tend not to do too well if they survive. I will always be convinced that the Great Physician chose to stop Lisa's labor and thus protect the lovely singer I'm speaking of...Rebecca Anne Madaris. My daughter.

Anne has loved singing from the time she was a little baby. At first, it was Lisa and/or me singing to her. (Aside: there may not be a more "all-is-right-with-the-world" feeling than singing to a little one as his/her eyes shut in the evening...we sang hymns, plus a wonderful song called "Dolphin's Lullabye" by Firefall--one of my favorite songs ever). Then she wanted to sing with us. Then to us. Then she would sing without us. As she grew, her singing became how we knew she was awake in the morning & ready to get out of the crib. She sang alot. Still does. Most mornings, I'll hear some song belted out--very well, I might add--by my daughter as she does her flossing & moosing & hair curling & hair straightening & whatever else goes on in her room as part of preparing to take on the day. (It's quite a process, but the result is a gorgeous young lady!) These days, Anne's working on putting together a complicated puzzle; thus, the other night I was watching football and being serenaded at the same time. Only, she didn't even realize she was serenading me; she was working on finding puzzle pieces.

These past few years, Anne has been part of the school chorus and of the select ensemble. (Thank you, Barbara Stephenson!) Along the way, Anne developed a very good and strong soprano voice. Her lifelong singing plus a love of listening to many kinds of music has helped her develop a good ear. One of the more awesome life moments I've had (in the real sense of the word...struck with awe) was last year when Anne sang "Till There Was You" as a solo at a concert.

Last year and this, Anne has taken voice lessons through the Carey Institute of Fine Arts from a marvelous teacher, Dr. Connie Roberts. Dr. Roberts has taught Anne techniques that have improved her vocal talent even more. Connie regularly tells me that Anne is very good, and talks of Anne's music future.

I've always thought Anne had a good voice. It's a genetic thing. Lisa has a great alto/2nd soprano voice too. Me? Well, I can pretty much carry a tune...and if I turn up the music loud enough, I can sound just like Chris Tomlin or Larnelle Harris. (or even Leslie West, of Mountain...) But the thing is, there are now other people "in the business" as they say who are telling me that Anne is a good singer. Who am I to argue with the pros? *winks*

So, there I was yesterday, sitting in an auditorium listening to my baby girl and a couple hundred other invited HS singers absolutely knock 3 songs out of the park. One was called "The Famine Song" which I'll get to in a minute. One had a Latin name & words; pretty song, but I wasn't sure if it meant "Lord come help us" or "Dang! My zipper's stuck"...*grin* The third had a spiritual, clap your hands & move with the music feel. It was called "No Rocks a-Cryin'" based on an incredible passage of scripture in Luke 19:37-39:

As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

(aside: if you happen to think that worship should always be somber and quiet, you should perhaps re-read this passage...)

I'm not a good enough writer to fully capture what happened in my soul yesterday as my daughter was up there belting out how there would be no rock a-crying because she would praise her Lord. (paraphrase alert) I didn't cry, but I sure thought about it...*blush*

Now about the song "Famine." Inspired by a visit to the Sudan, where famine & poverty & war are taking an eye-popping toll on the people. The writer--a young man not yet 30 when he wrote this--was captivated by the ladies & their children weaving these amazing baskets to catch water in to help make life a little less harsh during a time of drought that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. This song really did make me lose it, but I got it back together without totally embarrassing all of y'all. The groove is very slow and moving and haunting all the way throughout. The volume rises and falls. Dissonant chords and lovely harmonies blended together. An anguished sort of feel, with some triumphant parts thrown in there. Then the end: Anne & the others snapped their fingers randomly & not in rhythm. It sounded for all the world like rain, which of course is the intent. An awesome effect.

I grabbed the lyrics to Famine, just so you'd know. I'd say "enjoy" but this is not a particularly enjoyable song. Oh to be sure, it is a gorgeous song, but it goes & grabs your soul & makes you aware of the pain & anguish others face--not an enjoyable thing! But one I'm glad I experienced.


Ease my spirit, ease my soul,
please free my hands from this barren soil,
ease my mother, ease my child,
Earth and sky be reconciled.

Rain, rain, rain.

Weave, my mother, weave, my child,
weave your baskets of rushes wild.
Out of heat, under sun,
comes the hunger to ev’ry one.

Famine’s teeth, famine’s claw
on the sands of Africa.

Rain, rain, rain.

(lyrics end; back to Mike)

Anne, don't ever let a rock cry out on your behalf! Keep on singing, doodlebug, and know that there's this oh-so-hot old man who is crazy about you and who has loved all 18 years of the songs you've sung with your voice and with your life, and who is so very excited about what the next pages of the score have in store for you.

I love you!

p.s. - for those of us like me who are...vocally-challenged, let's say...we don't need to let a rock cry out in our place either! My Lord is not so interested in the quality of the notes we sing, but rather in the heart of praise we bring. My slightly-off-key, voice-cracking version of Chris Tomlin's "Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone" sounds great in the ear of my Lord & Savior. So let's all let 'er rip and keep the rocks silent!

p.p.s. - Want to hear "The Famine Song"? Here it is, thought not by Anne & that group. This version has some pantomine & dance-ish movements; I'm not sure if those work or not, but the music is great.