Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Long & Winding Road - 2 From the Archives

(These 2 were originally published around this time of year a couple of Decembers ago.  They are deeply autobiographical & intensely personal.  If you're still reading, please read them in sequence.  If you have it in your mind that a professing Christian professor & Bible study teacher like myself has always been a man of great faith & academic success & good moral, better cinch up your seatbelt before reading any further as there will be some turbulent air ahead.  I republish these not because of scintillating writing nor profound theology contained therein; rather it's my hope & prayer that you will see the fingerprints of God and perhaps be encouraged about some bends & bumps in your own road.)

(Note: the 2 titles below are clickable links that take you to the specific blog entries)

Darkness...And Light
36 years ago today, I abandoned the Christian faith.

It was right after we got home from Dad's funeral. (Dad died of a heart attack as a young 47-year-old)

I snuck out into the back yard, and literally shook my fist at the sky. I said "God, if this is what you're about, I quit! Leave me alone!"...


Grace in the Darkness
Having just pondered here a season of darkness for me, I wanted to illustrate how those days were not *all* dark. With a head fake too; you've been warned...*smile*

Almost immediately after renouncing my faith (or trying to...) some friends in town showed up within just a couple of days....


(Back to the present)
I wouldn't have chosen MANY aspects of this journey, but I am SO VERY THANKFUL for where it--and the God Who providentially orders it--have taken me!

Because He came & is coming again,

Friday, December 14, 2012

To Old Age & Gray Hairs

"What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."

Ralph Waldo Emerson is reputed to have said this.  Regardless of the true origin, it's some wise words.

And descriptive of this guy I used to know.

He was a country boy, in the very best sense of that phrase.  Loved the outdoors, loved travelling & exploring, enjoyed hunting & fishing, greatly enjoyed time with his family (both immediate & extended), servant-minded, hard-working,...

He was passionate about his duties & responsibilities as a husband & a father.  If the men of my generation & the next were equally passionate about those two high callings, many of our nation's problems would be alleviated.

Related, he was mindful of the heritage that was his and the legacy he would leave after his time.  If the men of my generation were similarly mindful about this, some additional problems our nation faces would fade a bit.

He was a man of great faith that he passed on to others.  To my knowledge, he never spoke from behind a pulpit.  He did teach a Sunday School class for many years...a class full of three-year-olds.  (again, servant-minded)  His was not the public speaking type passing on of his faith.  His was more Susanna Wesley than John Wesley.  Behind the scenes, lived out before his family and in the marketplace.

You every Christian's faith is supposed to be lived out & passed on.  (whether a preacher, a business person, or, well, a keeper of 3-yr-olds...)

He was short in stature, but towering in impact.  He was very handsome, but lived as if he never noticed.  He took the heritage he was given and magnified the good while leaving the spotty parts behind.  With the way he lived his life, he put on a clinic on how to love a wife and father children.  (VERY important distinction: there is an ENORMOUS difference between creating a child and fathering one.  The former involves doing something that most any 13-year-old guy is capable of doing.  The latter requires lifetime of focused, intentional, challenging work.  We have plenty of the former these days; far too little of the latter.)  He taught many how to live out the Christian faith in a business setting.  Not so much by verbal teaching or writing; those are easy to do.  He taught it by doing it, day after day, week after week, year after year.  He showed how to be a faithful church member, serving in behind-the-scenes ways that most don't want to do.  (Such as the 3-yr-old Sunday School class.)

He lived a life & faith that FAR outlived him.

In auto racing, drivers speaking of "drafting," which is following behind another car with that other car doing the hard work of cutting through the resistance.  Drafting requires much less energy & effort, because the car in front does the hard work & faces the difficulties.

I've been drafting off of this guy I'm describing for 53 years now.  38 of which have come since his faith became sight.

On December 14, it will have been 38 years since my Dad entered eternity.  I haven't gotten over his passing.  I don't think I ever will.  Frankly, I don't intend to get over it, for it teaches me & challenges me on an almost-daily basis.

I have recently shared with a couple of friends whose Dads both died suddenly that nobody expects them to be their Dad.  That is true and is great advice...that is very difficult to abide by.  All these years, I've been drafting & chasing after being the man/husband/father/churchman/employee that my Dad was.  If anyone's wondering, I'm not there.  For a few years after he died, I tried hard NOT to be like him because I was angry that he died.  For decades since, I've tried hard to be like him.

Neither approach has worked.

But by the grace of God, I'm perhaps closer to being like James E. Madaris, Sr. than I used to be...while still maintaining my God-given identity as his son who is different from him.

On today, Friday, Dec. 14, I may well smile at nothing apparent.  I'll be remembering that great smile that made the ladies of Lowndes County, AL go weak in the knees in the 1940s...and this one lady from Coffee County, Mom.  I'll be remembering his laugh, which is a huge part of that heritage that he passed on as part of his legacy.

This Friday, I may stare off into the distance at odd times.  I'll be remembering him driving us all over the country (literally!  I've been in all 50 states.) and around Western Europe.  I'll be remembering weekend camping trips near home such that he could go in to work while still hanging out at a campground at night.  I'll be remembering catching speckled trout, largemouth bass, red snapper, and king mackerel beside him.  I'll be remembering the fantastic sound of a highly-trained hunting dog as we followed along behind up in the hills of Lowndes County, Alabama.

I may re-read one of several books I have about the Alabama Crimson Tide football team.  I'll be remembering listening to and watching games with him.  He was a huge fan. I suppose he was what some call a "sidewalk alum"...which is a derogatory term for those who never actually attended the college whose team they support.  But seeing as the U.S. Army Air Corps in Japan at the end of WW2 in 1945 didn't have a football team, and neither did the Gadsden School of Trades, and seeing as that's where Dad spent the next few years after high school, I'm quite OK with Dad being a serious Bama fan.  (Aside: if you're one who gets all snooty about who's a "real" fan of your preferred team, I feel sorry for you, because you discount great fans who represent your team well.  People like my Dad.)

He & I only ever attended one game together.  A bowl game.  A national championship game.  Against Notre Dame.  The Irish won by one point; despite that, it's one of my favorite Bama games ever, because I sat in the rain beside my Dad & watched it.  I've been remembering that game for a couple of weeks now, ever since it was decided that Dad's & my Crimson Tide would again face Notre Dame in a bowl game to decide the national championship.

I'll likely fire up some Hank Williams, Sr. on my ipod.  Dad loved Hank, who hailed from the same neck of the central Alabama woods as Dad & his family.  I'll chuckle too, remembering Dad singing Hank's lines to Mom: "Heeeey, Good Lookin'...whaaaaaacha got cookin'?  How's about cookin' somethin' up with meeeee?"

I'll probably call my beloved brother.  Partly because he's my best guy friend & I really enjoy chatting with him.  Partly because maybe that reflects how crazy Dad was about his own beloved siblings.  And partly because he's James E. Madaris, Jr...I've drafted off of Jim for a bunch of years now too.

I'll call Mom, of course.

I'll call my two greatly-treasured children.  Partly because I'm just moonbat-crazy about both of them (one of whom bears my Dad's first name).  Partly because after his Lord & his wife, Jim & I were Dad's most treasured things on earth.  (Which is, of course, as it should be.  See above comments about fathering a child.)

I'll look at some pictures again.  I'll be remembering his 5:00 shadow on my cheek in an end-of-the-workday hug, and the smell of Old Spice aftershave.  There are some men today who fancy themselves too macho to hug their sons.  I pity such a cowardly, incomplete approach to manhood and those who grow up in it.  I am SO thankful that my Dad hugged me.  If you're wondering, my son James' Dad hugs too.  *smile*

I'll also be wondering again why I don't look more like him.  (Did I mention that Dad was very handsome?)

I'll look at his business card again, wishing my educated mind was as sharp as his relatively un-educated mind.  And wishing that people who encounter me in my profession would remember me as fondly as those who encountered Dad in his do.  There are many who think degrees & education make one wise, & thus those who don't have the degrees & education aren't wise.  If that's you, you should've met Dad.  He is one of the wisest men I've ever met.

I'll read the poem again, and remember.  This particular poem is found on the back of every business card Dad ever gave out.  It's called "The Little Chap Who Follows Me," and its imprinting on the business card humbles me still now.  On the front of the card was the name of the business Dad started; on the back was the poem.  Jim & I were his priorities, and he announced that to every supplier and potential customer.

I'll reflect on his flaws, which were there.  And on my own, which are far greater in number and magnitude.

I'll ache the familiar ache again. 
One day, I won't have to miss him any more.
Until that day, I will always miss him. 

And I'll thank God for raising up a country boy and shaping him via family, location, education, giftedness, experience, hardship, triumph, and faith...such that he would be just the perfect Dad for Jim & me.

And I'll thank God as I do often but not often enough for His saving grace that redeemed James Madaris, Sr....and his son, Mike Madaris.

"So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come."
Psalm 71:18
Dad never made it to "old age & gray hairs."  But most assuredly he proclaimed God's might to another generation & his power to those to come.  I am so very thankful to be part of "another generation" and to be one of "those to come" who got to...get to! in the enormous shadow of a short but mighty man who walked this earth for far too few days.
However many days I have left, Lord, would you empower me to proclaim You to another generation & to demonstrate your power to those to come? 
By your grace, would you allow me to outlive my life just as Dad continues to outlive his? 
Would you enable me to be as good at my vocation as Dad was at his, and to similarly impact those in my workplace orbit as he did those in his? 
Would you forgive me for falling short despite living with such an incredible example of what a Christian man should be for those 15 1/2 years? 
Would you enable me to love & cherish & honor my wife as Dad did his? 
And to parent my adult children as he parented his teenage sons? 
And would you empower me to serve in my church as Dad did in his?
Thank you, Lord.
And thanks, Dad.  See you soon.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

"We Need More Patients Like You..."

...said the P.A. out at M.D. Anderson.

"You're the miracle patient,"  said a nurse there last year.

"Metastatic Melanoma patients three years out are...not many."  Dr. Homsi, my main medical Dr. for 4 years.

None of these quotes are aimed at drawing high-fives & attaboys for me.  I want you to think of what's behind each one of them.

Picture with me.  You're on the way to another day at work.  You work for one of the great healthcare facilities anywhere.  You are close to the top of your profession.  You're probably fairly well paid.  (Aside: from this patient's perspective, I certainly hope so!)

And yet, despite all of that, you know that you'll spend this day the same way you spent most of your days at work: giving people bad news.  In many cases, VERY bad news.

Where do such people come from?  How do they face such grim workdays on a regular basis?

I couldn't do it.  The worst things that ever happen at my job are a student failing a test or a class or not graduating because s/he didn't make a high enough grade from me.  That's rough, and I dislike any of those scenarios. 

But that's not in the same UNIVERSE of bad that the average medical professional at Anderson (and other such facilities) faces on a daily basis. 

During the course of 20-something appointments seeing various Drs. & NPs & PAs & nurses, ranging from pretty bad-news visits to very good-news visits, I've asked.  Pretty pointedly.  "So, how do you handle coming in here knowing that you'll be the bearer of news usually from bad to VERY bad?"

The consensus seems to range from "We focus on the good news" (see comments above) to "We try to comfort whatever the news" to simply looking away & saying "It's tough..."

After nearly 30 visits in 4 years, plus 4 surgeries, plus 2 cycles of high-dose immunotherapy, I am still simply awestruck at the men & women out there.  They're good at what they do, sure.  But lots of people are good at what they do.  What strikes Lisa & me is the depth of feeling & passion about what they do, in the face of what has to seem like an absolutely overwhelming hill to climb.

Again, I'm WAY outside the boundaries of probabilities for stage IV metastatic melanoma patients in terms of, well, still being here.  Every good Dr. or nurse or NP or PA puts the patient first & foremost, and most try to relate to the patients as people.  But picture doing this, knowing that your personal connection with your patients is likely to be rather short-term.

Lisa & Jim & I have commented that there's a feel out there that--at the risk of overdramatizing it--feels like those folks show up at work thinking "this could be the day"..."the day we've all worked toward & waited for"..."the day when this insidious thing called cancer is pushed back into the darkness of unpleasant memories"..."when an outright cure is found."

That goal & expectation is part of the DNA of Anderson (so to speak).

"The mission of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is to eliminate cancer in Texas, the nation, and the world through outstanding programs that integrate patient care, research and prevention, and through education for undergraduate and graduate students, trainees, professionals, employees and the public."

Simple, isn't it?

108,000 patients last year.  1 0 0 8 0 0. 
10,000 patients participating in clinical trials.
$623,000,000 spent on just on cancer research last year.
6,800 medical professionals trained there last year.
18,000 employees total, spread among 50 separate buildings.
1,100 volunteers.

I've NEVER felt like I was merely part of a production process.  NEVER felt like just a number.  It's always "How are you doing, Mr. Madaris?"  P.E.T. techs, nurses, phlebotomists, patient transport folks,...

Which probably explains why "for the 6th consecutive year, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has been named the nation's top hospital for cancer care" by U.S. News & World Report.  (press release here)

"We shall be the premier cancer center in the world, based on the excellence of our people, our research-driven patient care and our science. We are Making Cancer History. "

"Everyone at MD Anderson - each one of our 19,000-plus employees and 1,100 volunteers - contributed to us remaining the number one cancer center in the nation," said Ronald A. DePinho, M.D., who is experiencing the national ranking for the first time as president of MD Anderson. "It's an honor we share with all of our patients, survivors and their loved ones, who challenge and motivate us every day to pursue our mission, advance our knowledge and improve each person's experience at our institution."  (quoted in the press release linked above; emphasis mine)

(1-minute video with Dr. DePinho, MDA's President; I loved the phrase "that will bring this disease to its knees.")

I say again, I'm in awe.  And I am so very thankful.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I Cannot Imagine

I hung out with three veterans today on Veterans' Day.  Two pilots & one logistics/admin type.

One is my Mom's husband Leo.  Leo was a USAF pilot who flew various fighter planes throughout his career.  As a squadron commander in Vietnam, he had to write those terrible letters to brides & parents & children that begin, "It is with great regret..."  He knows the sound of anti-aircraft fire hitting his plane & the look of the trails made by S.A.M. missles coming toward the plane he was flying.  He once landed a plane with one of the two engines knocked loose by a-a fire; the plane was scrapped because of this.  He knows how to drop close air support ordinance on enemy troops, thereby greatly assisting our own troops.  I cannot imagine.

The other two are my brother Jim & his wife Sandi.  Jim flew anti-sub P-3s for the U.S. Navy around the Atlantic during the bad old days of the cold war.  He knows the chill of pre-flighting a plane and seeing nuclear weapons attached, and knowing that a certain set of circumstances + commands could've resulted in him launching & thereby beginning a nuclear war with the (then) Soviet Union.  He knows how to identify a submarine as a "fast attack" or a "boomer" (missle-launching) sub.  He knows the screech of the missle-lock warning in his ear that signalled that they had been "locked on" by enemy ships' anti-aircraft missle systems.  I cannot imagine.

Sandy was also an officer in the USAF for her career.  She worked in supply & logistics & in hospital administration.  She knows that behind the budget numbers & boxes of requisitioned supplies are military men & women needing medical care.  I cannot imagine.

Had we been in town today, at church I'd have seen my friends Jim & Lance.  Jim served in Iraq with the Marine Corps, and Lance served with the Army.  I might have seen my friend Bob.  Bob was a pathfinder with the U.S. Army during the Normandy invasion in 1944.  His were literally among the first Allied boots on the ground in our invasion of Hitler's Fortress Europe.  I would likely have seen my friend Philip, who served as a gunner on an armored personnel carrier in the Army.  I would also likely have seen my friend Gary, who serves with the Army, and who has served in Afghanistan.  I cannot imagine.

One of my students does missle defense; he returned from a year deployment earlier this year.  He knows the sound of his defense systems taking out missiles aimed his way.  He also knows the rumble of the explosions caused by a couple that they didn't knock down before hitting the base.  Another friend from WCU is a crew chief on a cargo plane.  He has accompanied caskets home from the middle east.  Caskets that were flag-draped and were not empty.  He has greeted the grieving families "on behalf of a grateful nation."  I cannot imagine.

My Dad served with the Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the USAF.  His first duty post was with the Army of the Occupation near Nagasaki, Japan.  Just after a nuclear bomb there helped end WW2.  Lisa's Dad served as a combat medic in Korea.  He was assigned to a rifle company very much in harm's way.  He knows the sounds of bullets pinging off the rocks around him as he was tending to a wounded soldier.  I cannot imagine.

A day is coming when soldiers & sailors & airmen will no longer be needed.  When "He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4) 

I. Cannot. Imagine.

But just as the veterans mentioned experienced & trained for things that I cannot imagine, so we will all one day experience war's end, when the Lord Himself will render war obsolete.  Until that day, I honor those who put on a uniform & take a pledge & stand in harm's way on behalf of a nation conceived in liberty.  I thank God for raising up men & women exemplified by the few I've mentioned here.  It's easy to build a monument and to salute a flag.  That requires very little courage.  But what our veterans have done?  Courage beyond measure!

Whatever your thoughts on the current administration or on any particular current military conflict, I hope you took time to honor our veterans today.  I hope you take time to honor them every day.  For truly, every day that we are free is Veterans' Day.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Killing the Phantom

"In dreams he came..."

Most of us are haunted by one. He is personal. And vicious, though perhaps not at first glance.

I'll describe mine, so as to once again capture him. And attempt to banish him again.

He is a brilliant scholar. Productive in his research. Cutting-edge in his thinking & in his understanding of his field. Always abreast of the latest developments.

He is also a marvelous teacher. Inspiring. Motivating. Never boring & repetitive. Innovative in his delivery. Energetic. A mentor to many.

In addition, he is a great colleague. Loved by all of his coworkers. Serves willingly and with excellence on all committees and on all other university assignments.

Conversant in academic disciplines across campus. Welcome over cups of coffee & around the lunch table, regardless of which school or department on campus the group hails from.

At professional meetings, this guy is the one everybody loves to see come walking up to say hello. He's well-respected and his research presentations are always packed.

Off campus, he is also a smashing success. Known in the community. Successful in his consulting practice. A key part of his church's ministry. An amazing husband. A marvelous father. A great neighbor.

Sounds like quite a guy, huh?  He is!  I know him quite well.

Here's the thing...this guy doesn't exist!

He's not real, except in the sense of the song from the Phantom of the Opera..."he's there, inside my mind..."

He is the phantom who haunts me. Has for most of my life, though he has changed over the years. He's the ideal that I've created, and he's who the enemy of my soul brings up on a daily basis. "See? You're nowhere near as great as this guy...why don't you give it up?! What's the point? You think you'll ever come close to this? What a fool you are!"

Here's how to kill your own phantom:

--Recognize that s/he is not real! Sounds simple, but actually can be quite difficult. Well, it is for me, anyway.

--Recognize that it's true that you'll never measure up...and that's OK! Which leads to the next one...

--As one of my favorite pastors often says, preach the Gospel to yourself on a daily basis. Another recently said it this way: "We need to be reminded of the Gospel every day, because we forget it every day."

Here's the Gospel in a nutshell: the bad news is worse than we think! We're really pretty much scumbags from a spiritual perspective. And yet...the good news is immeasurably more awesome than we think. At our worst, Jesus Christ died in our place. He faced agony & separation from God so that I wouldn't have to. God justly punished my sins by imputing them to the sinless One...and showed His amazing grace by imputing Jesus' righteousness to me, a scumbag who will never measure up to my own phantom, let alone to Christ's ideal for me.

"God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."
Romans 5:8-11

And thus, the phantom vanishes.

You see, I am loved and treasured and cherished by the King of the universe just as I am. More loved than I can possibly  fathom.  I don't have to be anyone else. I am free from measuring up to the phantom. That phantom who haunts my days and nights all too often does not even come close to measuring up to my Lord who "loved me and gave Himself up for me." Therefore, I am free from the phantom.

Note carefully: I was not redeemed & reconciled so that I could become a slacker!  I definitely am called to grow and to change and to become ever more like my Lord, which transformation only happens by His graceful work in my life as He shapes & molds me. In my case, that means I am to grow & change as a follower of Christ & as a college professor & as a man & as a church member & as a husband & as a Dad. So in that sense, the phantom will always haunt my days and nights, as he should. But only to inspire & encourage insofar as he--the phantom--reflects my Lord's wishes for me...never to condemn.

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus"
Romans 8:1

That mythical guy I described earlier? I'll never be him. I'll try, but it'll NEVER happen. Would you pray with me that I can focus on who I AM and not on who I'm not? In so doing, the phantom will fade into irrelevance & insignificance, and I will live up to who I'm supposed to be.  For, you see, I am His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that I might walk in them.  (Ephesians 2:10)

Still trying to kill the phantom,

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Katrina, 7 years I thought about it back then...

As I sit here, some of Hurricane Isaac is pounding my house with the hardest rain we've had in the ~36 hours since Isaac started menacing the midsouth Gulf region.  Isaac is "only" a Category 1 hurricane; max sustained winds "only" around 80 mph.  And, both Hattiesburg and New Orleans, LA broke daily rainfall records as a Cat 1 storm came ashore (slowly!).  Care to guess when those now-broken records were set?  Yep, you guessed it: 7 years ago today when a MUCH stronger storm rolled through.

Again, Katrina's rain records have been shattered today, and it's raining harder right now (8:15 p.m. the day after Isaac first made landfall) than it has in the last couple of days.  Turns out, Captain Obvious, that a Cat 1 storm that moves VERY slowly, does a LOT of water damage.

Anyway, with that background, I wanted to replay some of my thoughts from our time in Katrina's sights 7 years ago.

What follows are two of my xanga posts from those days just as I wrote them back then...only the images are new, plus the conclusion at the bottom.

xanga post #1. (at about 4:30 a.m. on the day Katrina came ashore...I woke up through the night to monitor. At the time, I was Director of College Planning & Placement @ PCS, a very good private high school in town.)==========================================
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!
Psalm 29:3,4,10,11
I love the picture in v. 10: "enthroned over the flood"...

I'm expecting power to disappear in the not-too-distant future. Know that He is king, and that you are loved & prayed for!

In His Grip,
the beach bum
(xanga post #1 ends)

(See the intersection of I-59 & another couple of major-ish roads right in the midle of this picture? That's Hattiesburg (a.k.a., "The Hub City" because of the confluence of roads). Yeah...we took a beating here too...the eye of the storm passed right near us just a few miles to the west of my house)

xanga post #2. (Written a few days later from Mom's place in Ft. Walton Beach, FL)
Sounds Katrina. A pleasant, Eastern-European sounding name. One pictures a pretty young lady at the marketplace.

Or the most devastating natural disaster to hit America since the San Francisco earthquake & fire in the early 1900s.

Here, then, are some of the sounds I’ll always associate with Katrina.
● the sound of gentle, misting rain early Monday morning that belied the fury to come
● the banshee-like cry of 120 mph winds whipping down my street…an eerie, otherworldly, malevolent sound unlike any other
● the swooshing sounds trees make when being whip-sawed back & forth in those same winds
● the cracking sounds of 75-foot trees straining to hold themselves vertical
● the thud those trees make when crashing to the ground after surrendering to the power of the wind
● the incongruously-pleasant ringing of our wind chimes Monday evening with the tail end aftermath of the storm gently breezing its way through the Pine Belt
● being awakened to generators and chainsaws being cranked
● the sound of sausage being cooked over our propane camping stove
● the sound of my neighbor’s well-pump beginning to give up its precious cargo of water
● various neighbors & distantly-located relatives asking “Is everything OK?” after the storm
● increasing concern in Mom’s voice in successive voice messages left during the time in which no phone service was available
● total relief in her voice when I finally reached her Tuesday morning to tell her we were OK
● total defeat in my neighbor’s voice as he described how their camping trailer had been badly damaged when the shed it was stored under collapsed (they were scheduled to head out this week for a month-long camping trip…)
● the voice of a guy in my Sunday School class to a policeman directing traffic in the middle of highway 98 (because the traffic lights were out): “Hey Buddy…want a Powerade?”
● the sound of a guy’s voice at a gas station in Mexia, AL…some 130 miles or so from Hattiesburg saying “we do have gas, & we are pumping…where are y’all from?” and “do y’all have a place to stay?”
● the relief in Mom’s & my Brother’s voice as both said, “well, I’m glad y’all got out…”
● James saying “it’s like it’s not real!”
● the sound of the shower at Mom’s as I stood under it last night
● the sound of the air conditioner at Mom’s kicking on last night…yeah, I shed a tear…
● the choking up of a WKRG reporter on the MS coast after the storm as she spoke of people coming up & asking her if she had seen loved ones
● the guy’s voice from the MS coast: “I can’t find my wife’s body…the house split in half…I tried to hold on to her…she said ‘you can’t hang on…just take care of the children…’…we’ve got nowhere to go…I’m lost…”
(Note: I’d like everyone who uttered the idiotic sentiment “I wish a hurricane would come here…” or "cool, the hurricane's coming here..." to be required to watch this clip once a day, every day during hurricane season…)

“The Lord sat as king in the flood…”Hallelujah! He still reigns!
the anxious beach bum….who is anxious to hear reports from many a beloved student…know that you are both loved and prayed for!
p.s. – Wednesday, 9/7 – we still don’t have power in H’burg…but James & I have sure cut up many a tree/limb…
p.p.s. – school resumes next Monday…*and the crowd goes wild*
(05 post #2 ends)======================================
(Gulfport is directly south of Hattiesburg)

(Hattiesburg is just north of the fourth "S" in "Mississippi" here.)
As I write this--8/29/12--I sit in air-conditioned comfort, with a belly full of freshly-grilled burgers. The rain is lashing my city right now, but so far (*knocks on wood*) no damage here.  Meanwhile, just down the road a bit, people are battling wind, rain, and storm surge.  Providence smiles and frowns. Definitely has smiled on us so far; definitely frowned on others. His ways are higher than our ways…
I 'spect my nerves will always react a bit when a storm forms & is heading this way...

Thank You, Father, for sparing my home & my family & my neighbors. Thank you for sitting as King in the flood in August, 05...and for sitting as King right now and forever.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Just Another Day at the Office

(Originally written a couple of days ago; been percolating on it since.)

In one of the cafeterias at Anderson, Lisa & I were greatly enjoying lunch after my P.E.T. scan.  This couple roughly my age sat at the table next to us.  They ate, mostly in silence.  He looked at a magazine half-heartedly after he finished his meal.  She stared into space, wiping tears & hoping he wouldn't notice.  She cried hard for a good while.

Then there were the two little twin girls with a lady I took to be a grandmother.  I heard her say "We can go back up & see Mommy after lunch, but not just yet.  She needs to rest."

Near one of the coffee shops was a guy apparently doing business on his mobile phone.  It's pretty common to see a businessman doing his thing out in public.  But it's rather uncommon to see said businessman hooked up to an IV pole via multiple sticks & bags.  (Unless one is at M.D. Anderson...there, it's not uncommon at all.)

As I stood just outside the Melanoma & Skin Center celebrating via phone & text message, a lady came out from the Thoracic area.  She was by herself.  She was weeping.  Barely-controlled weeping.  I've been a patient of Thoracic four times myself.  My favorite surgeon is Dept. Head there.  It was there, just over 4 years ago that a Dr. said the dreaded words "Stage IV Metastatic both lungs" to Lisa & me.  I felt her pain.  I wondered if she was crying because of what she'd just found about her own medical situation or someone else's.

There was a guy sitting in the Melanoma waiting room.  His Dr. came out & sat next to him to pass along his test results. (Which were apparently good.)

Down in the lobby coffee shop, there were three folks laughing & talking.  One of them had the same sort of wristband on that I wear.  It's great to see folks with such friends that would spend a day at what can be a very depressing place because their friend is undergoing testing and/or treatment.  But the laughter is very temporary there.  One's mind never wanders very far away from the reality of why they're there in the first place.

Near an elevator, there was a couple with a young, elementary-school age boy.  He was in a wheelchair.  Wearing the chemo hat.

The hotel shuttles & taxicabs kept up their non-stop dropping off of patients & patients friends/family members.  The gift shop had a fresh batch of t-shirts; it also had a fresh batch of the special caps one wears after chemo has removed all of one's hair.

It's just another routine day inside the University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

These images rewound in my mind as I sat on my front porch last night enjoying the stillness, the (relative) coolness, and the distant thunder & flashes of lightning.

One day, there will be no more cancer.  No more tears.  No more "Mommy needs her rest."  No more need to send folks home to Hospice care.  No more need for IV sticks & chemo poles, P.E.T. scans, & something called "post-op".  Come, Lord Jesus!  Haste the day when our faith with become sight and there will be no more sickness & sorrow.

Until then, I thank God on a very regular basis for the wonderful facility that is M.D. Anderson, and for the amazing folks on staff there.

So, all of these buildings in the foreground comprise
part of M.D. Anderson's facilities...

Have you been thankful for medical facilities like Anderson lately?
Have you interceded for those searching for cures?
Have you been thankful that you don't have an M.D. Anderson patient number?

More important, have you prayed for your friends who are entering Anderson & other such places?

Until a cure is found,

Saturday, August 04, 2012

(Update of an earlier post) I love Graduations...and hate them too

In May, 1983, I walked across a stage at the University of Alabama and received a degree & a handshake from the president of the University. In my case, it took 6 years and 3 different schools to get there, but that’s another story for another day.

A few years later, I received a M.A. degree. Then, in 1990, I received a Ph.D., which could well have been viewed as that year’s sign of the imminent return of our Lord.

Since then, I have attended numerous college graduations, and I actually love the ceremony. As a professor I get to don the robes & the hat and be part of the platform party w/ my colleagues. I dig the significance of the ceremony, the motivation of the speakers’ remarks (well, most of them…), and the general pomp & circumstance of it all.

But the coolest part to me is afterward, when I get to shake hands w/ my students who have just walked across the stage & received a degree. I *LOVE* this part of the day! “Mom, this is Dr. Madaris”..."Babe, this is Dr. Madaris, my Finance professor"...(etc.)  Utterly awesome, in the real sense of the word “awesome.”

And yet, in all of my goober-ish enjoyment of graduation, and all of the excitement of the new graduates, there’s a decided bittersweet feel. I really love my job, in large part because I really love college students. (well, most of them…) I like to think that over the course of battling with duration, net present value, market efficiency, supply & demand, futures contracts, gap, CAMEL ratings, time value of money, internal rate of return, monopolistic competition,...and the other goodies one covers in econ & finance classes, at least some of those students become friends. Which means that graduation = saying goodbye to friends who are (mostly) moving away. I do NOT enjoy that part of graduation day. Even with the excitement of the day and of students/friends moving into career type jobs, I’m not very good at saying “goodbye.” I totally agree with C.S. Lewis, who said (paraphrased) “the reason saying goodbye is so hard is because we were never meant to do so.” One of my favorite descriptions of heaven is this: the land of the eternal hello. I can’t wait.

So, to all new WCU grads, know that you are loved, and that you are prayed for, and that you will be missed (well, most of you...*grin*). Now go succeed wildly in whatever path your life takes! And know that as you do so, there's this aging-but-still-hot econ & finance professor in H'burg who will always consider it a deep and humbling and profound honor to have been a small part of your education.

And as we say in Alabama, y'all come back now, ya heah? ;-{D}

Much love,

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
(Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

p.s. - Remember, with your next paycheck, however large or small,...*grin*

p.p.s. - Already looking forward to that cup of coffee next time you're on campus.  *another grin*

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Nameless Fear

"Rumor grew of a shadow...a nameless fear..."Fellowship of the Ring

I'll name that fear: metastatic melanoma.

(Apologies for letting you all see behind the curtain, so to speak....but here it is.)

The line above from the opening narration of the movie version of Fellowship of the Ring absolutely nails what happens every three months.  Mercifully, that shadow is hidden most of the time; but it's still very much there for anyone who has ever had an aggressive form of cancer that's prone to come back.  (Like, say, metastatic melanoma.)

But then comes the trip out to Houston.  And the reminder that this is NOT one of those fun travel adventures that Lisa & I really love to have.  We're here for a reason.  And that reason makes the shadow grow, slowly & steadily.

We check in to the Motel.  "We'd like the medical rate, please."  And the shadow grows.

Right now, just across the road, 2 things I really love are set up: training camp for the NFL's Houston Texans, and also the Ringling Bros. circus.  And neither one really really pierces the shadow very much tonight.

This particular trip, we had help shoving the shadow & the fear back.  We spent a fantastic couple of days over in Austin with my Aunt & Uncle, who went WAY out of their way to make us feel like special guests in their home & city.  We had a total blast!  I told them when we left that they had screwed up in reverse; now we'll need to swing by their place for a couple of days every time we come out.  *smile*

But then came the very nice drive through the TX country side.  The familiar Houston traffic (even on a Sunday afternoon!).  The signs "610 South."  And the shadow came out of hiding.

(Again, forgive my whining here; just trying to let you in on what this trip does to one's psyche every single time.  To mine, at least.)

This time, the shadow jumped out of hiding early, as we got the 3:00 a.m. call that Mom was transported by ambulance this morning with what appeared to be angina pains.  Seems she's fine, except for some blood chemistry issues that are being addressed.  A very clear & present reminder that medical stuff happens unexpectedly.  And that it is breathtakingly real.

Also, this particular trip has Lisa & me away from home when our baby boy turns 24 (today).  And when he officially starts his job as a real live pharmacist (tomorrow).  Yet another way that cancer disrupts.

I hate cancer!

I do not fear a P.E.T. scan.  An IV stick, the injection, a mandatory 1-hour nap to allow the stuff to circulate, and the ~40-minute scan.  No biggie.

However, my blood pressure will be elevated tomorrow morning as we watch the clock tick S L O W L Y toward 11.  Walking in for the results appointment is good for an extra 20 points on my systolic number.

In a matter of seconds, we'll get the word.  Four times in a row now, we've heard the magic, shadow-dispelling words "Your P.E.T. scan looks great; all clear!"  Three years of P.E.T. scans prior, we did not hear those words. 

Thus, the shadow.  The nameless fear (OK, it's now named.)

I do not fear death, for I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day.  But I do fear what a bad P.E.T. scan could imply between now & that day.

I fear its effect(s) on me physically in terms of treatment, but also its effect(s) on my life.  I fear an epitaph that says "A nice enough guy I guess."  I fear dishonoring my faith & my Lord by not making a difference for the Kingdom & for the Gospel.  I fear leaving my family ill equipped & provided for.  And, to be sure, I fear chemo (which I've never had).  I fear bone marrow transplants (ditto).  I fear immunotherapy (which I have had).

So, if you're expecting a lighthearted post with a pleasant conclusion, it's not happening.  Maybe next time.  *smile*

And should we hear the magic, shadow-dispelling sentence again, this post will be an embarassing bad memory that makes me have a sheepish grin.

For three which point I could write it again.

Thanks so much for your prayers & friendship during this journey!

"And You were the one Who filled my cup.  And you were the One Who let it spill.  So blessed be Your Holy Name, if You never fill it up again.  If this is where my story ends, just give me one more breath to say, 'Hallelujah!'"
from "Broken Praise," by Todd Smith (based on the story of Job; one of my very favorite songs)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Musical Bike Rides

Thought I'd explain the various types of bike rides using music lyrics.  I've been on most of these, and will likely do so again.  In my own riding, there's no clear pattern as to which type of ride shows up when.  Anyway, here's a description of rides I've taken.

REO Speedwagon Rides:
“Keep Pushing, keep pushing, keep pushing on…even if your strength is gone…”

These are the rides where you just don’t feel it at all, but you keep going anyway.  Aside: REO’s “Keep Pushing” is one of those songs that’s in the soundtrack of my life; pulled me through some dark days back in the late 70s.

Foghat Rides:
“Slow Ride…Take it Easy…”

These are rides where you’re not going after any personal bests in speed or distance.  You’re just cruising.  Or recovering from surgery, whichever. 

Creed Rides:
“I’m rusted & weathered, barely holding together…”

These are similar to the REO rides, except that these are more frequently caused by getting blown off the road by someone way younger—or way older!—than you.  Sadly, I have a lot of these rides...

(And yeah, I know; it's UTTERLY uncool to have any association with Creed. One of the great things about being my age is, one's pretty much uncool by definition, regardless of what music one's listening to...thus, one can indulge whatever guilty music-listening pleasure one wishes. It's actually rather freeing, come to think of it. *grin*) 

Molly Hatchet Rides:
“I’m travellin’ down the road & I’m flirtin’ with disaster….”

I’ve seen these, but have never had a fast enough bike to do one.  (yeah, that's's the bike's fault...that's the ticket...*smile*)  You’re riding so fast that the slightest “oops” would mean a colossal wipeout.

Nightwish Rides:
"They're screaming at you, 'Lock up the wolves!'"

I've had a few of these too.  The great thing about our rails-to-trails deal is that it's through the country & thus one sees wildlife--deer, squirrles, birds, even saw a large number of turkeys on a ride one time.  However, that's also the bad thing about it on occasion...wildlife--the kind one would rather not see.  Snakes & wild dogs are the biggies under the "rather not see" category.  And in a couple of spots, the domesticated dogs can be a problem.

Disturbed Rides:
“I'm indestructible...”

These are rides where you feel like you could ride all day.  A sports scientist would describe these as being “in the zone.”  This has happened to me a few times.  Simply exilharating!

(See, this is the sort of thing that runs through my mind when I'm riding. Maybe it's the oxygen deprivation...)

Let's expand the list.  Hit me up with your lyrical bike ride descriptions. 

Leave me your ideas by including the group & song line.  (Reminder: this is a family type blog; PG-rated or better on the language, please.) *smile*


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Celebrating a Flawed Church

23 years ago, we wound up in Mississippi; shortly after, we joined an amazing church.  And a flawed church (the same church).  To paraphrase Tony Campolo, I know it's a flawed church because it allowed me to join!

Here's the thing: your church is also a flawed church.  This is true wherever your church is located, and whatever its slice of the denominational pie.  Repeat after me: "I attend a flawed church."  Hopefully, yours--like mine!--is a good church, but it is flawed.

(If you disagree that yours is a flawed church, then either you don't know very much about it, or you don't know what the word "flawed" means, or you don't understand the concept of & need for grace very well.)

Now that we got that straight, let's proceed with talking about my flawed church for which I am so very grateful.

It was a good church long before I came.  Long before I was born, actually.

In the 22 years we've been members,  the church has had three pastors and two interim pastors.  The church has survived two of those leaving under significant clouds.  The church has survived excellent staff leaving as God led them to other avenues of service (aside: three former staff members have planted churches in different areas--Jackson, MS, New England, and South FL--that are all doing well and are all seeing adults come to Christ out of totally un-churched backgrounds.)  The church has moved locations; for a while, we were a multi-campus church.  The church has survived a former staff member's flagrant attempt to split it up and/or take it down.  That's just one of a few very nasty situations the church has survived.  (If you're wondering, there are multiple blog entries in my "draft" folder about that situation that will never see the light of day, as they are too non-edifying.  You're welcome.)

My church is flawed because--like your church--it is led by flawed staff members.
My church is flawed because--like your church--it is led by flawed lay leaders.
(For example, mine has this one deeply-flawed dude that leads an adult Bible study; elderly gent who hails from the beaches of NW FL originally and who is now a college professor.  *clears throat*)
My church is flawed because--like your church--it sometimes focuses too much on its own members.
My church is flawed because--like your church--it sometimes doesn't focus enough on its own members.
My church is flawed because--like your church--it sometimes focuses too much on facilities.
My church is flawed because--like your church--it sometimes doesn't focus enough on facilities.

Basically, my church is flawed because--like your church--it is led by and attended by flawed people.  Like me.  And like you.

And yet, by the sustaining grace of God, this flawed church is still there, proclaiming the Gospel and impacting the community and the world.

And me.

Only that same grace of God could work through such a flawed church as mine.  (And yours.)
Only that same grace of God could work through such flawed people as me.  (And you.)

My particular church has just called a new pastor; he'll start today.  We were out of town when he visited--thus I've never heard him preach & never met him.  But I'm hearing a lot of excitement about the guy.  I know I'm excited about a new pastor, & thus a new phase in the life of my church.

I'm thankful for my flawed church that proclaims a perfect Gospel of a perfect God who send a perfect Savior to live a perfect life and die a horrible death to obtain salvation for a flawed people who would attend flawed churches from the 30s A.D. until, well, at least now...I'm prayerfully optimistic that if the Lord tarries, my flawed church will still be proclaiming that perfect Gospel long after my faith becomes sight.  Mostly because that perfect God is still on his throne dispensing grace beyond measure on flawed people and their flawed churches.

Very excited about this new chapter in the life of my church,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10 ESV)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

For Ron. For Marilyn.

I knew Margaret well.  She was one of my great prayer warriors these last 4 years.  Even as her own cancer & accompanying treatments grew worse & kept recurring, she would smile, hug Lisa & me, and ask how I was doing. Then she would tell me she was praying for me.

Margaret's faith became sight earlier this week.  She leaves behind her beloved Ron, in addition to a daughter & son-in-law.  Margaret & Ron were married 39 years.

To me, Margaret models Paul's last words: "the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:6-7 ESV) Well run, my friend. See you soon. You'll be missed by many of us until that day. I pray we all finish as well as you did.

I don't know that I ever met Chip.  But I've known Marilyn since high school.  She & I played saxophones in the high school band.  Marilyn is a gentle, calm, sweet woman of great faith.  Even when her beloved Chip's cancer situation kept progressing.  Chip & Marilyn were married 24 years; 10 of those years were spent battling Chip's terminal cancer (that was known to be terminal early on.)  Like Margaret, Marilyn would always quickly move past her own cancer situation (Chip's), and go to encouraging me.  "How are you, Mike?"  "I'm praying for you."

Chip's faith became sight this week too.  Left here are his beloved Marilyn, a son, and a daughter.  Marilyn even took the time to let me know of Chip's passing just a few hours after it happened.  To me, Marilyn models Job:  "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. "  (Job 1:20-21 ESV)

Chip's obituary contains these words: "Although diagnosed with a terminal disease at the young age of 49, Chip accepted his fate with grace and focused on the positive moments of each day given to him. He fought a courageous battle with cancer never giving up hope and always living a life of example for those around him. He showed his children daily how to live with adversity as he focused on the lives of others rather than himself. "

If you're waiting for the magic words, you won't find them in this space.  Cancer fatalities just suck.  (forgive me, but they do)  I don't grieve for Margaret & Chip; they're infinitely better off now than they have been in years.  My heart aches with grief for Ron & for Marilyn & for their respective families.  Profound theologizing rings hollow just now.

John Piper said something to the effect that there are some emotions so profound that they can only be captured with poetry.  Below are some words a guy wrote right after one of his close friends died of cancer, leaving behind a husband and young children.  I think he captured a couple of key themes.  First, the helpless despair that families & friends feel when their loved one departs this world.  And second, the hope that sustains even in the midst of the seemingly impenetrable darkness of death.

I love the phrase "Ultimate Healing" and adopted it into my own regular usage when I first heard this song years ago.

Chip & Margaret have both experienced the "Ultimate Healing."  Cancer no longer has any hold on them.  Margaret's obituary contained these words:  "She closed her eyes on July 17, 2012 and in the same instant opened them in heaven and saw her Lord and Savior."  Exactly.  Ron & Marilyn and their families are left behind, grieving with a grief that would crush them apart from the grace of God.  And yet, in the midst of that grief, they're modeling for the rest of us what faith looks like.

Have a read and a listen, and then pray for a grieving husband and for a grieving wife, won't you?


Home Free
Wayne Watson

I'm trying hard not to think you unkind.
But Heavenly Father, if you know my heart,
Surely you can read my mind.
Good people underneath the sea of grief
Some get up and walk away; Some will find ultimate relief

Home Free eventually
At the ultimate healing we will be Home Free
Home Free Oh I gotta feeling
At the ultimate healing
We will be Home Free

Out in the corridors we prayed for life
A mother for her baby, A husband for his wife
Sometimes the good die young, it's sad but true
Though we pray for one more heartbeat
The real comfort is with you.

They say pain has little mercy
And suffering's no respector of age or religion
I know every prayer gets answered
But the hardest one to pray is slow to come
Oh Lord, not mine, but Thy will be done
Let it be...

Here's a video clip of the song.  (Don't worry about watching; nothing to see except the album cover.  Just listen.  4:30)

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Reading Mother

The Reading Mother
by Strickland Gillilan

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings–
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.

I have one of these Mothers too, and so do my children.  So thankful for both Moms.  As the poem says, "Richer than I you can never be--I had (have!) a Mother who read to me."

A related quote--read this one slowly:

"The person who doesn't read books has no advantage over the person who can't read books." 
(Attributed to Mark Twain) 

So thankful that my reading Mother gave me a deep & abiding love of books & of reading!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An Entrance Richly Provided

One of my heroes' faith became sight last night after a long, fruitful life that had a huge impact for the Kingdom.

Ralph Davis graduated from the college that is now known as William Carey University (where I am a professor) in 1949.  His beloved bride Cora Joyce is also an alumna of our school.  They answered an ancient call, and moved away from south MS.  FAR away.  Nigeria & Ghana as missionaries with the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.  (Now the International Mission Board)  They stayed there for 35 years before retiring back in Hattiesburg a couple of years before we moved here.

Mr. Ralph taught Sunday School, served as a deacon, and was a great encourager of many--including this new young college professor who joined their church.  He & Ms. Cora Joyce were so very friendly & warm & encouraging.  They never lost their passion for the Gospel nor for mission work nor for the Church.

One of the great experiences of my life was taking a group of college students over to their home one Sunday night when Lisa & I served in college Sunday School.  The Davises broke out the slides & pictures & artifacts from their time in Africa & started talking.  I watched some 20-year-old college students be totally captivated by some 60-something-year-old missionaries telling stories.  Of course, I was captivated too.

Peter wrote of the qualities the Christian life should entail.  (Peter didn't know Mr. Ralph, though he does now.)
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV)

I can't think of a better summary of Ralph Davis as I knew him. 

Peter goes on to say this:
...if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(2 Peter 1:10-11 ESV)

I am absolutely confident that this is what happened Monday night.  Lisa said that if we'd been paying attention, we might have heard the heavenly rejoicing.  It's going to be so very much fun to meet people from Nigeria & Ghana in glory whose story starts "This couple from Mississippi came to our village..."

Please join me in praying for Cora Joyce, and their children & grandchildren as they say "see you later" to their husband, father, & grandfather.  And rejoice with me and with them that because of the truth of the Gospel Ralph & Cora Joyce lived & proclaimed that it really is "see you later" instead of "goodbye."

slightly paraphrased from A Parable of Immortaliy, by Henry Van Dyke 1852-1933
And just at the moment when someone at my side says,
'There he goes! ' ,
there are other eyes watching his coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout :
'Here he comes!'

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Outlive Your Life!

I’ve lived 50% longer AS a father than I lived WITH my Father.

That, my friends, is an absolutely mind-blowing realization!

My little shorties are 23 & 21 now.  I’d love to think I did a decent job these last 23 & 21 years; however, my shortcomings as a Dad are many and manifest, and haunt me regularly.

Thus, my Daddying is yet another area of my life that drives me toward the Gospel.  Grace & forgiveness beyond measure!  As the song says, “Mercy there was great and grace was free…”  I’m so thankful; both of my children are far ahead of where I was at age 23 & 21.  (For that matter, they’re likely ahead of where I am now!)  That is amazing grace indeed, that God would raise up my children to be who they are, magnifying the crumbs of good that I scattered here & there as a Dad, while shattering the boulders of bad that I spread so freely.  I’m grateful that God raises our children so far beyond us!

My Dad left us 37 ½ years ago.  And there is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him in so many ways that I can’t count them.  Throughout the day, these thoughts occur: “I wonder how Dad would handle this situation” and “I sure wish Dad were here; he’d LOVE hearing about this!” and “That’s a joke Dad would love!” (etc.)  Sometimes these thoughts make me smile & even laugh; sometimes they make me shed a tear for the 87-millionth time in 37.5 years; sometimes there’s just a longing so intense that it brings a physical ache.  A longing for one more hug…to feel the 5:00 shadow in that hug…to see that smile again…most of all, to hear him say “I’m proud of who you are as a man.”  Yeah, that’s a wound that won’t heal in this life.  I’m OK with it most of the time.  But then a birthday comes along…or an anniversary…an accomplishment…even a failure…December 14…a Madaris family reunion…Father's Day...and I’m reminded again of the wound.  And am driven again toward God's matchless, amazing, sustaining grace.

It’s been said many times by me, including in this space, but here it goes again: I got more “Daddying” in 15 ½ years I had with James E. Madaris, Sr. than many get in a lifetime.  I am SO grateful for Dad & for how he fathered Jim and me & for how he loved our Mother & for how he conducted his business & for how he lived his life.  There are very few situations that come along where the life & Daddying of James E. Madaris, Sr. does not affect me, his younger son.  Even today, 37 ½ years after his faith became sight.

Which means I am all too often reminded that I am but a pale shadow of the faith & wisdom that was Dad.  I’m taller, but I do not measure up.  I’m far more educated, but am nowhere close in wisdom.  I’ve been married 8 more years than he ever will be, but am still striving to become the husband he was.  I’ve been a Dad 6 years longer than he ever was, but am not in the same universe as he in nurturing a child & being an awesome Dad.  I have a better job by most measures and have done it longer, but am still struggling to be as good at mine as he was at his.  I don’t know the date of his conversion, but I’ve likely been a Christian approximately as long as he was while here on earth; and yet I’m striving to become the Christian man & contributing church member that he was.

You may know such a man.  Perhaps, like me, you were blessed to grow up in the home of such a man.  Be thankful that God raises up such men, who outlive their earthly lives by decades.  And—I beg you!—strive to be such a man (if you’re male) and to surround yourself with such men.  They’re fewer & farther between, but they’re around.  Don’t settle for “I’m not nearly as bad a Dad & man as _____, so I’m OK.”  Keep pressing on!  And as you do, know that the grace of God will enable you to be far more than you could ever ask or imagine…for which I am most grateful myself!

If you’re an unmarried lady—don’t settle for some gutless punk who views you as his servant, a concubine, and a life support system for some particular body parts he enjoys.  There are men worthy of honor and worthy of YOU out there!  Increasingly few, but they’re there.  Wait for one of those guys; tell the tough-guy-wanna-be pansies who think procreating = fathering to hit the road.

My prayer is that we as a society—and we as people—and especially those of us who ought to know better!—will stop conflating procreating with parenting.  There is a HUGE, incalculable difference.

Happy Father’s Day to all!  If your Dad is one worth celebrating, do so!  I sure will be.  If yours is not, be thankful that there are still those who are, and if you’re male strive to become one of those, and if you’re female, wait for one of those.

 So even to old age and gray hairs,
  O God, do not forsake me,
 until I proclaim your might to another generation,
  your power to all those to come.
(Psalm 71:18 ESV) 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


68 years ago last night, a guy I know parachuted into northern France as part of what Gen. Eisenhower called "The Great Crusade."  He survived, fought, was captured, and released.  Nice guy; calm, pleasant,...One wouldn't know that he was among the toughest of the tough back in the day.
I've tried for many years, but simply cannot fathom the level of guts it took to step out of one of these 68 years ago and move ashore up onto & across that beach.

Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower sent all the men a message as they headed across the Channel toward Hitler's "Fortress Europe."
See all the signatures on this copy? This is Sgt. Bob Slaughter's copy.  Sgt. Slaughter--age 19--was a squad leader in Company D of the 116th Infantry of the 29th Division on 6/6/44.  Thus, he was one of the first men ashore that day.  (I didn't have sense enough to come in out of the rain when I was 19, let alone lead mean ashore under heavy fire.)  On the boat the night before the attack, he passed his copy of Gen. Eisenhower's telegram around and got the guys in his unit to sign it.  One day later, by dusk on 6/6/44, half these men were no longer alive.  You should read this article about Sgt. Slaughter, written by his granddaughter.  Sgt. Slaughter recently passed away at 87 years old.

War is always hell.  And sometimes it is absolutely necessary.  When such times arise, I thank God for me like Bob Slaughter who have the guts & the will needed to put on a uniform & bear arms.

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
Isaiah 2:4

Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus!  But until that grand & glorious Day, THANK YOU for those who put on uniforms, take up weapons, and go to war.  Especially today for those who did so on June 6, 1944.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Echoes in the Mountains

There were quite a few echoes in the east Tennessee mountains this past weekend. 

Around 40 Madarises gathered there at my cousin Ben's place in the mountaints near the NC border, overlooking the famous "Dragon's Tail" road so popular with bikers. (Real bikers riding Harleys & Ninjas & such; not people like me who ride bicycles...)  To clarify, this was but a subset of my extended family.  "Extended" here means everyone from my Dad's siblings down. There were 4 generations represented there.  For many, the phrase "family reunion" evokes groans & sighs & fears & dread; this is NOT the case for Madaris family reunions!  They are some of my most treasured times on earth.  Lisa, who married into the family, would agree, as would our children.

There were echoes of laughter.
Pretty much any gathering of Madarises brings with it a lot of laughter, which is one of the many reasons I so enjoy family reunions.  If one's basic outlook on life is sour & borderline-angry, then one must be part of a different family!  We're going to have fun and enjoy the time & the journey together, as we did this past weekend.

Launching water balloons off the mountain.
There were echoes caused by various forms of outdoor activity.
Also de rigeur for a gathering of my family.  This gathering included cornhole, s'mores around the fire, tubing a nearby creek, hiking the mountains, swimming/jumping off the nearby bridge, tossing a football around, even water baloon launching (which is pretty cool off the side of a mountain!).

There were echoes of music.

The Sunday afternoon sing-along
Though our musical talents vary from superb to...less superb let's just say, we enjoy music.  Sunday afternoon, we made it specific by gathering around the piano as Jeanne (our hostess for the weekend), played various hymns accompanied by her hubby on bass and their two sons on trombone & guitar.  We chimed in with favorites from the hymnal, and sang along.  "Amazing Grace"..."In the Garden"..."My Jesus, I Love Thee"..."It Is Well With My Soul"...and other classics that mean much to our family heritage.  Some in the room had allergy attacks that we they tried to hide during this singalong.  *sheepish grin*

There were echoes of conversation.
Another thing that is an integral part of our family gatherings is conversation.  Lots of conversation.  And Ben & Jeanne's place had multiple settings that were oh-so-conducive to chatting; decks, porches, mountain trails, lounge chairs, meal places,...The topics vary widely from very serious to very frivolous, and one can jump into or out of most any conversation at leisure without offending the others.

There were echoes of games.

A serious game of "Garbage."
Of course, the required card game called "Garbage" which is a game I've never figured out.  It involves several people, multiple decks of cards, and a dizzying array of rules.  One cousin accused another cousin & 2 aunts of changing the rules as the game went on; "Garbage" is serious business at Madaris reunions!

There were echoes of others.
As a now-gone cousin told me once, one of the unique and greatly-strengthening aspects of the Madaris family is that we have quite a bit of experience with death.  Early death...death at an old age...death of very young children...And thus, we share a rather profound appreciation of life and of its brevity.  We cherish the memories of those now gone, including, most recently, the senior member of the family, my Aunt Daisy. (written about here some weeks ago).  Her name came up several times last weekend, almost always with a smile and/or a laugh.  This is how we tend to focus our memories of those now departed. 

I also think this is how we keep this particular batch of echoes around family gatherings.  "I remember one time when your Dad said/did _______"..."I know Aunt _________ would be right here digging into this blackberry cobbler"..."Remember _______'s car?"..."Hey, I have some of Granddaddy's garlic plants still cultivated; you want one?" (etc.)

So we heard again the echoes of some of my cousins: Glenn, Bill (also recently departed & written about here), Joe Lel, Joe Henry,...And of some of my cousins' children who left this world VERY early...And of some of our aunts & Uncles: Daisy, Ruth, Jr., James (my Dad), and Evelyn...And, of course, of Charlie & Mattie--my grandparents, who started this whole thing.  A deeply treasured time for was sitting on the deck listening to a few cousins who are not quite as young as I share memories of Granddaddy.  I treasure this, because Charlie died when I was not quite one year old.  Naturally, during all card & domino games, Mattie's echoes were loud, as she loved thrashing us all in card games.  I have 21 years of memories of her, and I could nearly hear that great laugh & see that wonderful smile that I've missed so hard for over 30 years now.

Ben's parents, George & Daisy, who had a HUGE
impact on my faith & my marriage.

There were echoes of sadness.
Again, we have considerable experience with death, both the sudden, unexpected kind and the long, slow kind.  We also have experience with things like heart trouble...cancer...marriage challenges...parenting challenges...Such things are never far from our awareness when we get together.

There were echoes of remembering times gone by.
Other family gatherings, whether at the cabin on Lake Martin or at Grandma's small house in Selma, or at cousin Chuck's cattle farm in central Alabama, or Aunt Evelyn's place just outside of Selma...My cousin Wanda compiled a video of some 4.5 hours of video footage from some of those gatherings.  I plan on blocking out 4.5 hours & watching the entire thing soon.  We swapped pictures.  "I was cleaning out Mama's file cabinet, & found this great picture of you/your Dad/your kids...Thought you might want it."

Over all of these others, there were very strong echoes of grace and of faith.

A few of us attended the church my cousin Ben
(on the left) pastors
Charlie came a rough family background, with a VERY difficult father who--according to lore--turned all of the kids out of the house when they turned 16 to fend for themselves.  Mattie's Mother had a mental breakdown when Mattie was only ~12; Mattie's Mother spent the rest of her days in an institution.  Neither of these sound like ideal family settings to train a couple!  And yet, I nearly guarantee you that all of us who were there--and most of us still living who were NOT there!--are already eagerly anticipating our next family gathering.  The Madaris family is loving & gracious & close, despite being just a couple of generations removed from very tough family backgrounds.  That's just one example of what theologians mean by the big word "grace."  We don't deserve it--especially some of us in my me--but we get to experience it anyway.

My Grandma Mattie remains one of the more godly, Christ-like women of faith that I've ever run across.  Most of us share her faith, to greater or lesser degree.  All of us respect & recognize that her faith mattered greatly to her, and thus that it has helped shaped all the rest of us.  (A newly-treasured photo that was given to me: me when I graduated from high school, standing between both of my grandmothers, both of whom would be gone just a few years after the picture was taken).  One of Mattie's ancestors was an integral part of founding the Alabama Bible Society back in the 1800s; perhaps Mattie's faith--and ours--is traceable back to Abner.  Regardless, Christianity & Scripture have shaped our family.  Shaped us such that we are able to welcome & love those who might have a different worldview (very rapidly become a lost art, that).  I am so very thankful for the Gospel's impact on my family.  Eternally thankful.

There are many of us here...and many of us no longer here.  I can't wait to be reunited in Glory with those now departed.  And to meet those I never met, and let them teach me more about our Savior, and about their own faith journeys from before their faith became sight.

And tell them all THANKS.