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.