Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Echoes & Shadows

Do you see the shadow?  It's always there.

Today is Christmas morning, which at our house means presents, lights, laughter, food, of our most fun days of every year.  I love Christmas and all the trappings of the season--I am my Daddy's son after all!  But in all the echoes of making new memories & chasing old ones (I do a lot of both this time of years), there's a shadow.

I love Christmas cards.  Greetings from friends & relatives, both near and far.  A reminder of family and friendship, two things that make me very happy.  But even looking at pictures and reading cards & letters, there's a shadow.

I love to look through my own pictures from days gone by.  My family I grew up, and my family that began when Lisa & I got married 29+ years ago.  I can hear the joy-filled echoes, again, laughter, family,...But even then, hearing the echoes of Christmas laughter gone by, there is a shadow.

I love taking pictures of landscapes and looking at others' pictures of landscapes.  The beaches of my youth, the woods along Longleaf Trace (where I ride my bike), the mountains of TN & CO & Southern Poland, the high plains of the upper midwest...again, I'm my Father's son.  But even looking at the beauty & wonder of earth, or when gazing into a clear star-filled sky, there's still a shadow.

Luke's Gospel records a humble birth, out in a stable in a small, overcrowded town of little consequence at the time.  Smelly shepherds were the only guests to "ooh & ah" over the infant boy in the stable.  But all of heaven rejoiced, even as a throne was emptied for the first & only time in all of eternity.  A star lit up the sky.  Multitudes of angels sang & heralded the arrival of this One long promised.

"Unto you is born this day in the City of David,
a Savior Who is Christ the Lord."
"You will call His name Jesus,
for He will save His people from their sins."

This is what the angels said.  One was anouncing His arrival to the shepherds on a hillside.  The other was said to the baby's Mother when her role in the unfolding of God's redemptive plan & the fulfillment of so many prophecies & promises was made known to her.

And there, the shadow fills in.  How, after all, is one "saved from their sins" before a Holy & Righteous & Just God?  By a sacrifice.  One death for another.  Temple worship in those days was a bloody affair.  Innocent animals screaming as they were brutally killed to atone for the sins of people.  For people back then couldn't follow enough rules well enough to make themselves good.  Better than another, sure; but when compared to a Holy & Righteous God?  Thus, atoning sacrifices were required.  Scapegoats bore sins into the darkness.  And the shadow became much more clear.

People today can't follow enough rules well enough to make ourselves good either.  This is confirmed by a quick glance at the news.  Or into a mirror.  We live under a shadow.  The same shadow Jesus was born under.  The shadow of death, depravity, destruction, despair.

My God, why?  Why are so many things amiss?  Why is there such death, destruction, disaster in our world today?  Why have you forsaken & forgotten us?

And then we celebrate Christmas.  And if we look closely enough, we'll see a shadow behind the celebrations.  Both our celebrations today and the angels' celebration that first Christmas.  Stare long enough, and the shadow becomes a bloody cross outline on a hill.  The only truly innocent person to ever walk this earth screaming as he's brutally killed to atone for the sins of others.  Me.  You.  Only, unlike all the sacrificial animals through those years, He gave Himself up, facing death voluntarily.  Joyfully, even.

Spend a moment wondering why there's Christmas at all. As Mr. Tumnus said in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, "Always winter & never Christmas...just imagine." Imagine living only in shadow. Another illustration is Tolkien's Nazgul characters, who live forever, but who have fallen into shadow.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
"It.  Is.  Finished!"

And the veil of the temple separating the very presence of God from His people was torn in two.  And the shadow fled.

One day, the shadow will never again be seen.  The One born that first Christmas will return and make all things new.  Redemption of His people will be complete and eternal. 

 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face....And night will be no more.
They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
(Revelation 22:3-5 ESV)
 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
(Revelation 22:20-21 ESV)

Merry Christmas!  Rejoice, for any shadow we now experience is but temporary.  Tolkien's Sam Gamgee in Lord of the Rings: “Is everything sad going to come untrue?”  Yes it is, Samwise.  Yes it is.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Two Ticket Stubs

It’s just two football ticket stubs.  Specifically, two 40-year-old football ticket stubs.

December 31, 1973.  A rainy night in New Orleans, LA at the old Tulane Stadium.  An epic showdown between two storied college teams coached by two legendary coaches.  Notre Dame Fighting Irish v. Alabama Crimson Tide.  #3 v. #1.  Ara Parseghian v. Paul “Bear” Bryant.  There were future college coaches dressed out & playing in that game.  There were also future NFL Hall of Famers playing.

And there was a short kid with a bad haircut up in the stands, sitting with his Dad.  Also in their group were a couple of aunts and a cousin.  (All were wearing Crimson.)  The boy wanted to wear his hair long like his peers were doing.  The Dad preferred high & tight.  The compromise was not a thing of beauty.

But none of that mattered that New Year’s Eve.  They were there to watch their much beloved Crimson Tide play football.  The short kid had cheered for the Tide for as long as he could remember, dating back at least 9 years.  The Dad had cheered for the Tide a lot longer.  Neither had ever attended the University, though the kid would do so in a few years.  In truth: the kid began cheering for the Tide mostly because the Dad did so.  In short order, his fandom became his own.

They shared some heroes, one of which was head coach for the Tide.  In fact, they got to meet and shake hands with Coach Bryant shortly after the game due to a family connection.  Their official seats were Section UB, Row 18, seats 19 & 20.  They wound up sitting just beneath the press box in an unsuccessful attempt to stay dry.

They watched a fantastic game between two very good teams.  In fact, Alabama had already been named the U.P.I. National Champion; back then, the champions were voted on before bowl games commenced.  The game went back and forth, as often happens on a wet and sloppy field.  Coach Bryant would say later that it was the best game he was ever part of, as a player or a coach.

The short kid would agree.  But not because of the game’s outcome.  Notre Dame won, 24-23, on a late field goal.  Alabama had downed a punt on Notre Dame’s one-yard line, but couldn’t keep them hemmed in.  The Irish were able to run out the clock.

So, why did this kid think this was the best game he ever saw?  Because there was a hero in the house.  Not Coach Bryant, although he was a hero of the kid’s.  Not John Mitchell or John Hannah or John Croyle, though they were (& are) heroes of the kid’s too.

This particular hero was sitting in Section UB, Row 18, and either seat 19 or seat 20.  The boy idolized his Dad.  Still does.  Others who knew the Dad did and do too.

This would be the only Alabama Crimson Tide football game the boy and his Dad would attend together.

Just 11 months later, the Dad would die suddenly of a heart attack.  And the kid’s world went gray.  In some significant ways, the kid’s world is still gray all these years later.  There are parts of his soul and psyche that were wrecked and crushed by his Dad’s passing that haven’t been restored.  Every kid—especially every boy—wants to be welcomed into manhood by his Daddy.  When that doesn’t happen…when it can’t happen…when it will never happen…the world never quite seems to get fully back in order.

But there are glimpses of that order and of a long-promised, long-awaited restoration.  19 years after that Sugar Bowl game, the kid went to another bowl game in New Orleans with another man he deeply admired.  Once again, Alabama was playing in a big game against a powerful foe.  Once again, it was the Sugar Bowl.  The Alabama Crimson Tide v. the Miami Hurricanes this time.  Though Miami had the Heisman-winning QB then, Alabama destroyed them, dominating in every phase of the game.

But that’s not why this is near the top of the kid’s favorite-game-ever list.  The kid was sitting next to his Father-in-law this time.  Thus, the kid’s tears were discrete—but still very present—as he both treasured the moment with another of his heroes and role models, and as he ached with longing to rewind the clock back to the 1973 Sugar Bowl one more time and shake a Crimson & White shaker alongside his Dad.

Recently, the kid and his beloved wife were going through some boxes, and found a treasure.  Two ticket stubs.  “40th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic.”  “December 31st, 1973.”  “Section UB, Row 18, Seat 19” & “Seat 20.”  And the memories flooded back again.  As they do every football season.  And every December.

This Saturday will be the 39th anniversary of my Dad’s passing.  A couple of weeks later, his beloved Crimson Tide will once again play a traditional powerhouse in a Sugar Bowl.

My hope is that 40 years from now, any number of little boys will be hearing from their Dads about the Sugar Bowl when they sat next to their Dad and watched their beloved Crimson Tide play.  (Or their beloved OU Sooners, for that matter!)

Just as I’ve been remembering that game 40 years ago when my Dad & I sat there in Section UB, Row 18, seats 19 & 20.  The ticket stubs are just pieces of card stock paper.  The memories they evoke are rich and amazing and priceless.

I remember, Dad.  I still miss you hard and often.  Thanks for 15 years of absolutely fantastic Daddying!  I’m a cheap knockoff of you in every regard, but your two grandkids who grew up in my house are fantastic, despite their non-fantastic Dad.  Like you, I married an amazing Bama coed.  Speaking of your grandkids, you’d be very pleased to know that I’ll be attending a bowl game in Nashville with your 3rd grandson as we watch his alma mater play.  I can so easily picture you wearing Red & Blue and cheering on your grandson’s Rebels for all but one game every Fall.  I expect I’ll both smile at random times and shed a discrete tear while sitting beside my son.  (He’s named after you, by the way.)  Also, your 1st granddaughter just completed her testing process, and will soon begin working in her trade of choice.  Like you, she’s a craftsman entering a trade.  She now cuts my hair; by the way, you’d like how it looks now.  Much closer to your preferred length than to mine ca. 1973.

I love you, Dad.  See you soon.  Can’t wait!  Roll Tide!  Thanks.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Glimpses of Eden

Saturday, I caught a few glimpses of Eden.  (There were other glimpses too; I'll get to those in a minute.)

I was driving through north Mississippi, enroute to a football game.  North Mississippi is absolutely beautiful this time of year.  Hardwood trees shedding their leaves, which means they are in the glorious colors of Fall.  Cotton fields white unto the harvest.  Garden patches lying dormant, awaiting Spring & planting season.  It was a gorgeous reminder to me that once upon a time, there was a place rich with color and life and growth.  The One Who created that place pronounced it “very good.”  Every now & then, He sends a reminder of it.  My drive across north MS was such a reminder.

And then there was my arrival on Ole Miss’s campus.  Like pretty much every university--hopefully including the one where I work--Ole Miss reflects to me the latter part of Genesis two.  Adam was charged to work the garden and cultivate it.  (Aside: work is absolutely not the result of sin!  Another topic for another day…)  My son has a very significant job that grants people hope where there was none before.  He was trained & educated for that job at Ole Miss.  I join him in being quite fond of the place.  (See my post from a while back “An Alma Mater That Isn’t Mine” for more.)

But the university & its beauty (Ole Miss is really a beautiful campus, btw) & the buildings on it were just a quick reminder.  It was the people, gathering to watch a football game.  They were joyfully greeting friends, hauling food to the early-morning tailgates all over campus (11:20 kickoff), teaching their children about things like why the speed limit on campus is 18 mph (hint: guess what number Archie Manning wore while playing at Ole Miss), and what the alma mater is, and what “tailgating” means.  There was joy there, as there almost always is on gameday in Oxford.  (Aside:  Ole Miss’ alma mater is beautiful both musically and lyrically; it came up on the radio as I was nearing campus.)

James & his buddies were there, in full regalia (suspenders, bowtie, peacoat, red shoes,…the works!) working their tailgate.  They share food & drink with passersby, whether fellow Ole Miss fans or fans of the visiting team.  Two of the guys are married, & one of the ladies is expecting a child soon.  I swapped hugs, greetings, & delivered some goodies my wife had prepared for the occasion.

It was to me a grand reminder of Eden.

But unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend the game.  You see, there was another set of reminders Saturday morning…glimpses also of Eden, but sadly, of Eden in an entirely different direction.  Not the Eden of Gen 1 & 2; rather, reminders of Eden after the Fall of man.  Brokenness.  Irreparable brokenness.  Devastation.

I got the call as I was nearing town.  Lisa’s Mother had taken a turn for the worst.  Markedly for the worst.  Thus, I hugged my son & his buddies, delivered the food, and turned around to head toward a hospital ICU in Meridian, MS.

Her heart was not able to keep doing its job sufficiently.  Her husband of ~60 years—himself recovering from a serious medical concern—was brought to the hospital to visit with his wife.

Our bodies are broken.  Words like “broken hip”…”cancer”…”congestive heart failure”..."chemotherapy"..."intensive care"...even "hospital" confirm this.  Even hard-working country folks who love the Lord reside in bodies that are broken and will ultimately fail.  Like my inlaws.

Our world is broken.  My Father-in-law was a front-line combat medic in Korea during one of the many wars of the 20th century—bloodiest century in human history, despite all of our amazing areas of progress.  Knowing that Veterans’ Day was approaching, I spent time pondering while driving through the beauty of north MS.  And time remembering him, my Dad, my Grandpa, my brother, my sis-in-law, my nephew, my uncles, my friends…and praying that a day will come when there will be no more war.  But being thankful that until that day comes, there are so many who are willing to put on the uniform and swear an oath.

Why was my Father-in-law transported to the hospital Saturday morning?  Essentially to say “goodbye” to his wife.  The impact of this world’s brokenness reaches VERY far…even as far as ripping apart marriages, by divorce in far-too-many cases, or by the passing of one faithful spouse into eternity.

I wept when Lisa told me of her Daddy’s coming to say goodbye to his bride.  I wept for him a long time; then, selfishly, I wept for me.  For one day, unless the Lord should return first, one of us will say the long “see-you-later” to the other one.

Think marriage is all giggles & grins & puppy dogs?  You should've been there in the ICU, watching a man's man say goodbye to his life companion.

I got to be in the room with my Mother-in-law for a good while Saturday afternoon.  Then I kissed her head and left.  (At Lisa’s suggestion; we begin a new term today at WCU, and I had a sudden & dramatic schedule change late last week when a colleague passed away suddenly.  Again, brokenness.)  I’m pretty sure Lisa’s Mom never really knew I was there, which is OK.

This morning, I got the phone call from Lisa.  Her Mother’s faith became sight around 3:30 a.m.  No more labored breathing.  No more pain.  No more old-age.  No more wondering what lay ahead.  It is well with her soul, for she knew Whom She had believed, and was persuaded that He is able to keep that which she had committed unto Him against that day.  This day, as it turns out.

In the midst of many glimpses of the far-reaching impact of sin & the resulting brokenness, there were yet more glimpses.  Glimpses not of the Fall nor of brokenness, but of the grand & glorious restoration by the One Who said “Behold, I am making all things new.”  Glimpses of grace-filled promises.  To repair…to rebuild…to do away with death and sickness…to restore.

My Mother-in-law believed in those things.  I do too.  Lisa says her passing was very peaceful.  She was restored.  Her death was precious in the sight of God (Psalm 116:15).  An old Southern Gospel song that she loved spoke to this hope and to what lies ahead for us; to what she now knows.  I have heard her sing this while cooking or cleaning in the kitchen.  I have heard her quote this when lightheartedly pondering the next life.

Just a taste of those lyrics:

I will meet you, I will meet you,
I will meet you in the morning over there.

If you hasten off to glory,
Linger near the Eastern Gate,
For I’m coming in the morning,
So you’ll not have long to wait.

Keep your lamps all trimmed and burning;
For the Bridegroom watch and wait.
He’ll be with us at the meeting
Just inside the Eastern Gate.

O the joys of that glad meeting
with the saints who for us wait!
What a blessed happy meeting
Just inside the Eastern Gate.

Written by Isaiah Martin, 1905.

One day, brokenness will no longer be present.  We will not need soldiers, doctors, nurses, bone-marrow-transplant pharmacists, funeral homes…and we will no longer need the word “Goodbye.”  There will be no more glimpses of pre-Fall Eden; there will only be the place that He is preparing for all who love Him; a place whose glory far surpasses that of pre-Fall Eden.

I.  Can’t.  Wait!

Until then, we have only glimpses.  I pray that we see them and ponder them, whether glimpses of Eden, or of brokenness, or of restoration.

Bye, Granny.  You are greatly loved and will be greatly missed by all of us in your family.  Thanks for welcoming an outsider from NW FL into your home and family.  Thanks for being a school teacher and for modeling how to impact students' lives through education. Thanks for praying for me, for cooking biscuits for me, for raising a daughter that I love, for loving your husband before us all, and for loving my children.  Don’t worry about Papa; he too is greatly loved and will be well cared-for.

See you there in the morning, just inside the Eastern Gate.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Giant Remembered

So, yesterday was the 5th anniversary of my buddy Jason Weathers' faith becoming sight.  As I remembered Jason, I concluded that nothing I say will more closely capture the feelings in the depth of my soul 7/12/08--or 7/12/13--than this.  This piece was started in the intensive care unit of M.D. Anderson, where I was experiencing my first round of high-dose immunotherapy.  I got word that the time of J's departure might be at hand, and started writing.  Then I got word that he had received what Wayne Watson calls "the ultimate healing," and finished writing.  Don't read this for literary merit, for I am most assuredly NOT a poet.  Rather, read it as a celebration of the impact one man's life on another.  Stephanie had her Dad read this at Jason's funeral, which is one of the highest honors I will ever receive on this earth.

BTW, to my great delight, Jason's beloved Stephanie just celebrated her one-year anniversary with her husband John, another man who lives out Ephesians 5:25 in Steph's life ("loved her & gave himself up for her").  I couldn't be happier, and somehow, I think my buddy Jason has smiled at God's goodness to his sweetie & his three treasured children.  (I saw his youngest last night at a restaurant w/ Stephanie's folks; she's such a precious five-year-old!  I didn't cry, btw.  Well, not until I got back to my car...)

Mike Madaris, 7/12/08, on the coronation of my buddy Jason Weathers

Giants still walk the land occasionally.
I know this, because I knew one once.
Physically strong and imposing
But that’s not the topic here,
For, he was not fearsome
Unless you lined up opposite him
On a football field
Or tried to throw him into a pool against his will.
Those aside, He got along with everybody.
Literally, everybody, as far as I knew.
Calm of demeanor, yet loved to laugh.
Quiet in personality, yet loved hard rock.
Intelligent, but not desiring to flaunt that.
Private, yet the son of a very public man
And later, married into another very public family.
In the midst of all, he was a giant.

The courtship. She was the only one.
They met when her Dad took a job at the giant’s church.
And his Dad’s. And his Granddad’s.
The realizing came quickly to most.
These two were a match.
They realized it too.
The courtship lasted until they finished college.
And he remained a giant.
Always loving, yet always honoring.
Serving. Cherishing. As it was intended to be.
Both of them Role models. Giants.
Who else marries a giant, but another giant after all?

10 years of marriage. A move to FL.
3 children deeply treasured.
One looks like her mother, yet like Dad in temperament.
One looks like his Dad, yet tempered like his mother.
And one too young to answer these questions
Each nurtured. Treasured. Celebrated.
Giants are like that about their offspring.

A servant’s heart.
Toward his lady. Toward his children.
Toward his friends. Toward his Lord.
Church service involved the out of the way
The behind the scenes
The un-glamorous
The invisible.
Sometimes giants stay in the background.
Perhaps that is why so few of us believe in them any more.

The servant heart spilled over into career choice.
Especially poignant to me this week
As I have been greatly served and blessed by multiple nurses
As a patient, the best in that field are wired as servants.
Others-centered. Paycheck almost incidental.
Towering over the rest of us.

The dreadful disease with the nasty prognosis
The treatment nearly as nasty
Uncertainty. Doubt. Fear.
In this case, for others more than self
Beloved wife and treasured children.
Parents. Parents-in-law. Brother. Brother-in-law.
Not wanting to burden others with the battle he fought so well.
The larger men among us worry about us like that.

7 months of desperate fighting.
Interspersed with time spent with family and with lesser mortals.
Like me. At Starbucks. Still dreaming of an earthly future that would never be.
Then the end; rather, the beginning.
What, after all, is a last, horrendous week against 30+ years of a towering-above life?
Faith became sight.
Death & disease forever vanquished.
Ultimate Healing. No more illness, no more treatment, no more pain.
“Well Done, good and faithful servant.” The stuff of dreams.
Thankfully, not of legends.
Hopes and dreams realized.
Sin not only defeated, but now utterly removed.
As has been sung, "I can only imagine." He need not imagine any more.
This makes me smile through tears.
Victory won. Decisively. Forever.
It is well…it is well with his soul.
In that land, there are only giants. Now one more.
And this land seems all the more empty.

Rock on, Jason. See you there in the land of the eternal hello, where leukemia & melanoma are seen only through the eyes of grace-filled providence...and only then understood fully. You are still loved much and missed hard by many of us, Bro. Looking forward to that next cup of coffee & to you showing me around!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Long Space In Between (updated post from the archives)

It's that time again; time for the latest followup P.E.T. scan & the next in a series of most-important-of-my-life Dr. appointments.  The scan is Wednesday, and the appointment is Thursday morning.  My typical sequence is to have the scan one day & get the results the next.  The purpose of the scan is to determine whether my cancer has come back.  (I've had seven clear scans in a row, praise God!)  Thus, I thought I'd pull back the curtain & reveal what goes on in my mind & soul every time I come out here for a scan.

To do so, I'm going to rewind the tape & re-post something I wrote for an earlier scan.  As I type this, it's the night before the scan.  I wrote the entry that follows after the scan & before getting the results.  Thus, it's real, true, & perhaps raw. 

Important note: Dr. Bedekian said last time that if this scan is clear, I can drop back to once every four months, which would be great progress, after coming every three months for five years now.  The reason is that I just passed the two-year anniversary of my last melanoma surgery.  Prayers are most welcome, by the way.

(original entry starts)
What goes through one's mind the morning after a P.E.T. scan & before getting the results?  The critical results?

Here are some thoughts I have two hours before that appointment.

Not fear per se, but definitely anxiety that mounts as the clock moves.  A blend of "What will he say this time?" and "How will I react to whatever he says?"

Not to contradict the previous, but there's an amazing calm that comes along with the anxiety.  Of course, I attribute this to the overwhelming grace & presence of God, and to His graciously answering the prayers of many friends who are praying even as I write.  My favorite name of God in Scripture is Jehovah Shammah as I've mentioned here before.  Basically it means "the personal God Who is present."

Of the distant past, friends, family, places, etc.  And of the recent past: surgery, hospital rooms, etc.  Mostly, these fall under the category of things that bring great comfort (even the MDA ones!).  Strangely, I smile a lot as memories come.  And rest assured, I let them come, and even chase them now & then.

Not all of the memories are wonderful though.  Mercifully, these are quickly re-channeled into a wonderful appreciation of grace in the Gospel.  "Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (etc.)

I'm a bit of a dreamer anyway, and this morning in particular brings up quite a number of hopes for the future.  Stay tuned.  Be scared.  *smile*  The future in general gets collapsed into 2 phases: between now & the appointment, which is crystal clear, and afterward, which (mercifully, I think) sort of goes into a fog that I cannot see into very clearly.

My family is never far from my thoughts, but especially out here.  And especially on Father's Day weekend.  I'm struck this morning with the overpowering awareness that--as a writer once said--I am the narrow funnel where history & heritage meet legacy.  My inherited heritage is so deep & rich that I can hardly take it all in.  I pray often that 100 years from now my descendants will be making much of Jesus because of what God did in & through Mike Madaris' life.  Aside: I often teter over into the arrogance of thinking "Boy, I hope they make much of me!"  But as one of my favorite pastors, Crawford Loritts, says, I'm just a clap between two vast eternities; He is the One of Whom much needs to be made.

Always...ALWAYS!...worship seems to just bubble up.  PLEASE don't be impressed with Mike's spirituality here!  I don't create this worship, nor grit my teeth to do it; it's called forth from me almost involutarily, which is just a marvelous experience.  Yesterday, about 5 minutes before boarding the shuttle to MDA for my scan, I was overwhelmed by a couple of hymns that came from my soul.  ("At the Cross", especially the verse "Amazing mercy, grace unknown, and love beyond degree!" and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" of which I prefer the version by Selah.)  So, yeah, that was me doing the subtle macho guy tear wipe that we disguise as scratching our face or fixing our hair or something.

There's a brief glimpse into what the long space in between a scan & getting the results of that scan looks like for me.

In about 2.5 months, I'll go back out there & do this all again.

Rejoicing in Jehovah Shammah,

Sunday, June 16, 2013

To Timothy, My Beloved Son

(It's Father's Day.  Better freshen up your coffee.)

As you're aware if you've read much I've written, my Dad died suddenly when I was 15 years old & when he was seven years younger than I am now.  I haven't fully gotten over that, & don't expect to this side of Heaven.  Indeed, I've reached the place where I don't even wish nor intend to get over it.  One day, though, I won't have to miss him any more.  Lord, haste the day!

But meanwhile, this Father's Day post is not about my Dad.

Instead, I'd like to celebrate some Dads who have had a significant impact on my life despite the fact that I'm not their son.  My hope in doing so is four-fold.  First, I hope that any Daddies reading this will realize the HUGE impact they have on their children's lives, and will endeavor to make that a positive impact.  Second, I hope any men--Dads or not--will realize the huge impact they can have on people who aren't their children, and will begin/continue to do so.  Third, I hope any single ladies will wait for a real man, rather than settling for a gutless punk little boy who thinks he's a man because of what he convinces you to do for him physically.  Finally, I simply wish to celebrate some men who I view as huge grace notes in the score of my life.  None of these men wish to be celebrated; all will/would be embarrassed to see this.  And certainly none of these men can ever take the place of my amazing Daddy, James E. Madaris, Sr., who I miss palpably on an almost-daily basis; all of them would agree with this, by the way. 

In no particular order, here are some Daddies worth celebrating.  (Note: there are many such Daddies; consider these but a sample.)

Dr. James L. Monroe
Dr. Monroe was pastor--and then pastor emeritus--of First Baptist Church of Ft. Walton Beach, FL, my home church.  In the memory blur that is Saturday, Dec. 14, 1974 & the next few days, Dr. Monroe stands out.  He came to our house & was there when Mom told us Dad had died.  Others were too, and I'm thankful for all of them.  But Dr. Monroe was the embrace I ran to immediately after hearing the news.  There in our living room, I remember crying out "But I wasn't ready!"  I can still hear his calm voice, "Mike, nobody's ever ready for this."  I've gone back to that great word many times in the 38 1/2 years since.  Though a superb theologian & preacher, Dr. Monroe didn't try to explain things to me, nor did he preach me a sermon; both would've been ill-received at that moment.  Instead, he just showed up & sympathized with a hurt, devastated, angry 15-year-old.  I'm so grateful!

In the days, weeks, months, & years after, I attempted to abandon my faith (which journey has also been written about here).  I pretty much gave up on church.  And sadly, on God.  Despite that, Dr. Monroe never gave up on me.  On multiple occasions, I spent time in his office seeking his wise counsel.

The last time I saw him I was on staff with the faculty ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.  (I wonder which of us was more surprised that I, of all people, was in full-time vocational ministry...)  Dr. Monroe took me to a restaurant where we pounded down some BBQ ribs.  With sauce running down our forearms, he told me he was proud of me.  Then he asked me what the Lord had been teaching me lately.  Thankfully, I had an answer.  Then I asked him the same question (which was pretty cocky of me!).  He said, "You know, I've been reading in Haggai,..." & away he went.  I marveled then & now that this man who had been a preacher for decades was still learning new things about God & the Gospel.  May we all finish so well, straining toward the finish line, never thinking that we know all we need to know!

William D. Huddleston
The Huddlestons are lifelong family friends of ours.  Mrs. Huddleston taught with Mom, and Mr. Huddleston was a principal.  We also went to church together, and I still see them when I'm at FBC back home.  Well, most of them.  Mr. Huddleston's faith became sight some years back.  But that's the end of the story, getting ahead of myself.

Do you know folks that are just easy to talk to?  Who laugh a lot, without being frivolous & unaware of the gravity of life?  That was Mr. Huddleston.  Just a solid guy.  Our families hung out before Dad died, and after.  Somehow, after Dad's homegoing, I found myself gravitating more toward Mr. Huddleston.  Mostly, just listening, though we did talk college football (he had season tickets to FSU games for a while.)

His faith became sight some years back too.  Like Dr. Monroe, he finished the race & kept the faith.  And along the way, had a significant impact on this weasly little guy who was in his daughter's class & who seemed to be around his house periodically.  Mr. Huddleston's handshake & smile & congratulations on my marriage, college degrees, and the birth of my children were big "welcome to manhood" moments for me, even though I didn't realize it at the time.

Dr. John Morrow
Uncle John is my Mom's brother-in-law.  He's a radiologist, now retired.  I have several outstanding uncles; Uncle John is one of them.  A very wise man, but always humble.  Not many wise men can balance it with humility, but Uncle John does & always has.  A superb sense of humor, that I've treasured for decades now.  Uncle John will speak hard truth when needed, but always with a sense of optimism & "You can do this" and "I believe in you." 

After Dad died, Uncle John would call periodically to check on us.  Sometimes he would talk to Mom & see if there was anything he could do to help.  Other times, he would talk to me & ask me how (a) I was doing, and (b) how Mom is doing.  That's an easy question to ask; the difference here is, Uncle John always stood ready to drive down from Alabama to FWB if needed.  How I cherish his wisdom, his example, his making us laugh, & his being a role model of what a patriarch should be!  Also, the fact that he trusted me enough to ask me how Mom was doing was another big "welcome to manhood" moment, as were the times he has told me, "I'm proud of you."  Just now, I'm remembering that he was among my first phone calls when James Madaris was born in Indiana; somehow, that seems important now.

Charles T. Madaris, Jr.
My Dad's oldest brother.  Uncle Jr. was another favorite, before Dad died & after.  A retired Colonel in the Air Force, he & his family had lived all over, but he landed back in the hills of Lowndes County, AL where he and his wife grew up.  Somehow, that sense of connectedness with roots is inspiring.  Uncle Jr. was servant-minded& amp; fun loving; great combination!  He always wanted us city boys to have fun whether we were visiting his home in Braggs or the lake house on Lake Martin.  There were motorcycles to ride through the woods, inner tubes to roll down the hill into the lake, guns to shoot, animals to hunt, fish to catch, and indoor games as well.  Some deeply-treasured memories are of hunts with Uncle Jr.  Not so much for the hunt itself, but rather for the circle of men that I felt part of on those days.  Uncle Jr. always shot last; "There he is, Mike; take him!" Then after I usually missed, he'd knock down the quail or the dove or the squirrel & attempt to give me credit.  It was as if Uncle Jr. extended a hand & pulled me up toward manhood in so many ways (the hunts just being one of those ways.) 

I only saw him lose his composure one time.  At the family Christmas right after Dad died, I took the present I had bought for Dad with me--a collection of Hank Williams' greatest hits.  (Back story: Hank grew up not far from where the Madarises had grown up, and not far from where Uncle Jr. lived.)  During the family gift exchange, I gave it to Uncle Jr. instead.  Seeing his emotions brought home to me that it's OK to love a brother, and also that it's OK to grieve & to show emotion.  Uncle Jr.'s passing has always been poetic to me.  It was the only time I recall him going hunting by himself.  His heart gave out while out in the woods; his tombstone reads "Gone to the Hills."  I still thank God for this man who's been gone several decades now, & who I still miss quite often.

George Styles
Was married to my Dad’s oldest sister.  Uncle George & Aunt Daisy were our neighbors & landlords when Lisa & I were first married.  His impact on my life, faith, & marriage is incalculable.  Remember my “Learning to Dance” blog entry last week about couples married for a long time?  Lisa & I saw two great dancers live it out before us for the first three years of our married life.  I’m eternally grateful.

Uncle George exemplified the phrase “green thumb.”  He made things grow more and better than most people.  I still miss his “German vegetables” dish.  He was also very handy around the house, helping me fix a number of things.  Though a quiet, gentle man by nature, he had as strong a set of forearms as I’ve ever seen.  And though a principal, he worked hard outside building, cutting, gardening, etc.  A military veteran; South Pacific in World War II.  One of our absolute treasures is a collection of letters compiled by his younger son, Ben.  Uncle George & Aunt Daisy were relatively newly married during that time when he was away, and so they wrote letters very regularly to each other.  A long-distance, time-travelling clinic on how to love a spouse.  But then, Lisa & I saw the live version 40 years later.

I’ve written here before about how Uncle George & Aunt Daisy got me back to attending church when I moved to Tuscaloosa.  He usually sang in the choir, but I personally enjoyed the times he didn’t.  That way, I got to enjoy his beautiful tenor voice singing the hymns.  Uncle George’s faith became sight some years back.  Can’t wait to hear that tenor voice sing again, and to see his smile, and to tell him “thanks.”

Don Madaris
My Dad’s youngest brother.  Uncle Don also helped my faith in a number of ways.  I remember when Uncle Jr.—his older brother!—died, I fell apart.  As I snuck away to fall to pieces in private, he followed me.  There, through our shared tears, he loved me & helped me begin to make sense of it.  Uncle Don is a very talented musician and a good writer as well.  He served in south American and in Mexico, before retiring in New Mexico.  I thank God for him helping teach me how to praise God again after some years of not wanting to.

Jim Parker
Mr. Parker taught us 9th grade Sunday School at First Baptist.  A man's man; big game hunter, strong, handsome, and truthful.  I still recall him telling us, "Boys, some folks will tell you that sin isn't fun; let me tell you, they're not telling you the truth!  And that, fellows, is why we're so susceptible to it.  It's fun, and dangerous, and spiritually deadly."  Frankly, I don't recall much of his actual teaching other than the previous sentences.  But I recall that he loved a bunch of knot-headed 9th grade boys, while helping us have fun and teaching us the Word and telling us the truth about life & faith.  Some years back, I took him to breakfast when I was home.  As I thanked him for his impact on me, this picture of masculinity broke down & cried.  Through his tears, he said, "Thanks, Mike, but there are so many I missed..."  I'll never forget that breakfast nor his words.  A passion for the Gospel and for people.

Dr. Ronnie Kent
A local pediatrician.  Ronnie would be my Adult Bible Study teacher today if I weren't called to teach myself.  I still consider myself one of his students.  Lisa & I landed in Ronnie's Sunday School class the first day we visited Temple in 1989.  And all these years later, I still find myself wondering "What would Ronnie do with this passage?"  Earlier today, as I was preparing my teaching for Sunday, I again had that thought.

Ronnie helped teach me "the depths of the riches of the knowledge of God" by being my teacher.  He taught me how to serve the church by being a deacon & lay leader.  He taught me how to be a husband and father by letting me see him lead a family.  He taught me how to take prayer seriously on multiple occasions when I've shared a prayer concern with him, and he stopped & prayed for it right there on the spot, in public or in private settings.  He taught me how to be an encourager by, well, being an encourager!  I'm delighted and humbled and honored that Ronnie is my friend, and a role model of mine.

Dr. John Mayfield
A local veterinarian.  A country boy from Smith County, Mississippi.  And a discipler of men.  I still remember that Sunday night in 1990 when Johnny locked that strong, forceful arm around me in a hug & said, "Listen, Me & Sandy are starting a Masterlife group, and you & Lisa need to be in it."  (It wasn't really a question!  )  And he & Sandy poured themselves into us for the better part of the next year.  I'll never be the same.  The first time I wrote my story & shared it was during that time.  The first time I ever had a serious evangelistic conversation was during that time (with Johnny by my side).  I still remember our three-hour prayer time one Sunday; before that, I doubted I had three hours' worth of things to pray about.  That afternoon revolutionized my prayer life!  He's the one who first spoke of "my ministry."  I thought church staff folks & missionaries had ministries, while the rest of us just sort of hung out & supported them financially.  Johnny helped me see otherwise.  I could take you to the spot in the parking lot where I asked him to pray with me about a possible job change; he did, but said "How would this new job affect your ministry?"  I said, "What ministry?" and he said, "The one you have over there at the university."  Changed my whole approach to my job, and I'm forever grateful.  Johnny's one of the few guys who has unfettered access to my life & thoughts.  I remember him putting that same hug on me a few years back & saying "When's the last time you & Lisa went on a date?"  After I stammered, searching for an answer, he smiled, interrupted me, & said, "I'll ask you again next week, & I'll expect a better answer."

Praise God for men who hold other men accountable & who ask hard questions!

Ethan Pope
A minister who now lives in Dallas, and one who had a HUGE impact on me.  Aside from being my friend & wise counselor in many areas, Ethan helped teach me how to study the Bible in depth.  I came to realize that he was basically passing along what "Prof" Howard Hendricks--his seminary professor--had taught him.  Ethan had been on staff with the Josh McDowell ministry, which is a division of Campus Crusade for Christ.  (I'm still a fan of Josh & am still awed that he & Ethan are on a first-name basis.)  Ever know anyone who just never gets rattled?  Who is always steady & confident & wise?  Who has helpful council in virtually any situation?  That's Ethan.

Johnny Tatum
A businessman, Johnny's the other guy who helped teach me how to study the Bible in depth.  Once I spent a couple of days with him going through 2 Timothy in depth.  And then, Lisa & I spent approximately two years under his leadership studying the book of Romans.  Just Romans.  And I came to realize, we had not nearly exhausted the book!  I thank God for Johnny building into me a love of studying the Bible, along with some tools for doing so.

Keith Seabourn
Keith is Chief Technology Officer for Cru (formerly "Campus Crusade for Christ"), but when Lisa & I were on staff, Keith was part of Christian Leadership Ministries--the faculty ministry that we served with for seven years.  Do you know anyone who always has a good, wise, biblically-sound, humble answer to any question you ask?  That's Keith.  Keith & his beloved Kay served in Nigeria for some years before moving back to the states.  I have two vivid memories of life-changing moments I spent with Keith.  One was when I asked him how he was called to ministry.  He said when he was a student at Texas A&M, Dr. Bill Bright came & spoke on campus.  As was Bill's wont, he challenged the large group of students to "come help change the world" by joining staff.  Keith to me: "Mike, that Gospel call resonated with me then, and still does now."  The other was when we were all in CO for staff training one year when Keith turned 50.  We had a small party for him that was a lot of fun.  But Keith asked if we could have a shared prayer time.  I still remember his quoting from Psalm 90; "So teach us to number our days, that we may present a heart of wisdom."  One of the most vivid prayer moments of my whole life, realizing that this guy who had already been part of very significant ministry for the Lord was still desiring to use his time wisely, rather than chilling out & coasting.

In his last letter before his execution, the apostle Paul referred to Timothy as "Timothy, my beloved son."  Paul was not Timothy's biological father, nor his adoptive one.  Paul was recognizing Timothy as a leader and as one who had been impacted by Paul's life & message.  None of the men listed here have referred to me that way, but I consider myself the recipient of a small piece of the mantel of their leadership & gifts.

I thank God for raising men.  Real men.  Men who are unashamed of the Gospel.  Men who love their wives, publicly and privately.  Men who raise their families and sacrifice for them.  Men who love the church, and who celebrate when any part of the Church--not just their local fellowship--brings honor & glory to God.  Men who are themselves humbled to be recipients of God's grace in the Gospel.  Men who will wake up tomorrow morning, numbering their days, and impacting lives and eternity.  Men who are believing Jesus' Great Commission, but more, are living it out in their daily lives.  (Take note, by the way: only one of the men listed above was actually a paid minister.)  Men who are finishing the race & keeping the faith, while impacting us other lesser men with the Gospel and encouraging us to also finish well.

Go, and do likewise!  And hold me accountable for doing so too!

Humbled and honored to be friends with such giants,

p.s. - Again, these are but a sample of the many men who have connected with me & impacted me.  There are so many others who deserve mention too.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Vivid Air Signed with Their Honor

69 years ago last night, this guy I know--one of my heroes--didn't get any sleep.  I imagine it's rather hard to sleep when yours will be among the very first Allied military boots to land on Hitler's fortress Europe.  My friend was a pathfinder with the 101st Airborne; he parachuted in very early in the a.m. on DDay to mark the drop zones for the massive drops a few hours later. 
General Eisenhower addresses a group of paratroops preparing for the DDay invasion.
He won't talk about it.  I can only imagine, but I understand, and most assuredly do NOT press him on it.

There aren't many of them left.  And we are worse off because of that.

Important note: there are still heroes walking among us doing amazing feats of arms in the face of a hostile enemy.  I salute them all; men before whom I stand silent, except to say "Thanks."

But World War II in gen'l--and the DDay invasion of Normandy in particular--seems to have produced heroes in very large volume.  Some made it home; some didn't.  In just the first four hours of daylight in June 6, 1944, there were 9,000 U.S. casualties (combo of wounded & killed.)  During the next few weeks of the campaign, there were tens of thousands more.

Some, like my friend, parachuted, jumping into what looked like a maelstrom of gunfire, often landing in flooded fields.  Some were towed across the English Channel in gliders; these crash-landed on purpose.  Some went over the sides & out the front of landing craft like the picture below.

U.S. Troops wade ashore toward Omaha Beach.
All of them displayed a level of courage I've never approached.  When I was in my late teens & early 20s, I was focused on being cool, making it to the beach, learning to scuba dive the springs of central FL, attending college football games, and getting a date.  These guys were focused on living until sunset.  And then living until the following sunrise.

Four years ago, on the 65th anniversary of DDay, a buddy & I drove down to the DDay museum in New Orleans.  The museum staff had invited every known survivor of the 1944 invasion to come.  A couple hundred showed up.

I doubt I'll ever walk among so many towering heroes again this side of Heaven.  It was awesome in the truest sense of the word.

Last year, my buddy brought me some hallowed ground.
This is a small bag of dirt from Omaha Beach & Utah Beach in Normandy.  Omaha & Utah were the two American landing zones.  I keep these where I do my morning times with the Lord & with reading books.  Looking at them just now reminds me that I need to be thankful more often.

One day, I hope to visit Normandy.  I hope to stand on the beaches.  I hope to stand atop Pointe du Hoc.  I hope to visit the U.S. cemetery just inland from the beach.  There is absolutely no chance of me remaining composed when that day comes.

One final story.  A guy recently spoke of his uncle who was tasked with cleaning up the beaches of Normandy.  He never spoke of that day to anybody for the rest of his days.

I hope we always remember, even as those who were there leave us on a daily basis.  As President Reagan said in his fantastic speech at Pointe du Hoc on June 6, 1984, "Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your 'lives fought for life and left the vivid air signed with your honor.'"

War is hellacious, brutal, uncomprising, deadly,...and sometimes absolutely necessary.  As on June 6, 1944.  If you know any veterans of World War II, make a point of thanking them.

Now I need to go look at my two small bags of dirt--hallowed ground--and remember & celebrate & pray & give thanks for some heroes I never met.  (And for one that I see quite regularly.)


Sunday, June 02, 2013

Learning to Dance

You’ve seen the dance.  It’s so great that it almost goes unnoticed.

A senior adult couple is best at the dance.  A young married couple is surprisingly not nimble at it, contrary to what I thought when I was half of a young married couple.  (Perhaps contrary to what you think as well.)

Next time you’re around a couple that has been married for decades, observe the dance.  It will take your breath away.

In the manner of highly-skilled dancers, this couple moves together while retaining their separate identities.  Their movements are separate & unique, but they work in combination so well that it seems choreographed.  They anticipate each other’s moves & reactions & wants & needs.  In the great description of a friend of mine, they go beyond completing each other's sentences...they complete each other’s thoughts.

(And that’s why young married couples don’t dance so well.  Not an indictment at all, but the dance as I’m describing it above only comes after years of studying each other & living in very close proximity through good times and bad.)

I’m learning to dance.  I’ve come a long way, by the enabling, transforming grace of God through the love of my wife.  But I’m quite certain that I still have a LONG way to go.

Today is Lisa’s & my 29th anniversary.  When I got married, I basically didn’t have a clue.  (I may not have many clues now, but I have lots more clues than I had June 2, 1984 in that church in southwest Alabama!)

A couple doing the dance will laugh a jokes unspoken, but shared in memory.  They’ll finish a sentence that the other one hasn’t even started yet.  They’ll smile at each other, knowing that they just shared a thought & perhaps a reaction to the thought…without a word ever being spoken. 

Lisa & I have had multiple instances recently of one of us saying something that the other was thinking at that very moment.  Maybe we’re learning how to dance.  It seems so.  I hope so.

I can’t wait to learn more of the dance, for among men, I am most blessed in being given the extremely high honor & privilege of being Lisa’s husband.

With thanks for 29 years & hope for many more,

Monday, May 27, 2013

Who's On Your Mind This Weekend?

It's Memorial Day.  A day set aside to honor those who didn't come home. 

But to me, the phrase "those who didn't come home" is too broad for today.  Almost like Stalin's edict that "one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."  Thus, my question: Who--what specific person--is on your mind as you celebrate Memorial Day?

I've been thinking of three men I never met, just as representatives of the MANY thousands who should be remembered this weekend.  And every weekend.

One is from around here: Lance Corporal Roy Mitchell Wheat, USMC.  LCPL Wheat was from Moselle, MS, which is a small town just a few miles up the road.  A friend from church's Dad was a classmate of his.  A stretch of interstate that runs past Moselle has been named for him, as has the local post office.  If you look at his information below from the Virtual Vietnam Wall, you'll notice a Congressional Medal of Honor.  LCPL Wheat died on August 11, 1967 in Vietnam when he jumped on an antipersonnel mine that had been triggered.  In so doing, he died, but his fellow Marines were spared injury. 

LCPL Wheat's name appears on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Panel 24E Line 101.

Roy Wheat was 20 years old.

Another man I've been thinking of is Major Carl Wilson Drake, USAF.  Major Drake was originally from Ohio, but was based out of St. Petersburg, FL with the 421ST Tactical Fighter Squadron, 366TH Tactical Fighter Wing, 7TH Air Force.  His younger son was the first guy I met on the University of FL campus when I showed up for registration in the summer of 1977.  Randy & I became fraternity brothers, & hung out a lot during my time in Gainesville.  Major Drake's F4 fighter plane was shot down over Cambodia on June 18, 1970.  His body was not recovered; thus, he is officially KIA/Body Not Recovered.

Major Drake's name appears on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Panel W9, Line 65.

Carl Drake was 37 years old.  He was born the same year as my Mother.

The third man I've been thinking of is the uncle of one of my dear friends.  The uncle was on Iwo Jima in 1945.  His last radio transmission was one word: "Incoming!"  There were no remains.  Which means he's one of ~94,000 U.S. soldiers & sailors & flyers whose remains were never recovered.

In addition to those two who died when I was a kid and the one who died before I was born, I recently read a good article called "America's Forgotten War".  The article was about World War I, the so-called "war to end all wars."  Just last week, we visited my Granddaddy's gravesite in Selma, AL.  Charlie Madaris was not a combat casualty, but was there in the trenches in that war.

Here's a WW1 statistic for you: 117,000 U.S. soldiers KIA in 19 months.

Enjoy your Memorial Day activities; I am doing that.  But at some point, pause & remember those who didn't make it home from War.  Debate the merits of the various wars America has been involved in all you want.  I do.  Lambaste seemingly clueless political leaders making foreign policy decisions through the years.  I do.

But this ALL of that aside.  Today, honor the memories of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in War.  Today, as General George Patton said, be thankful that such men lived.

Today, voice a prayer for the friends & families, who will never ever truly get over their loved one's death.

It's Memorial Day.  Who's on your mind?

If you are able,
save for them a place
inside of you
and save one backward glance
when you are leaving
for the places they can
no longer go.
Be not ashamed to say
you loved them,
though you may
or may not have always.
Take what they have left
and what they have taught you
with their dying
and keep it with your own.
And in that time
when men decide and feel safe
to call the war insane,
take one moment to embrace
those gentle heroes
you left behind.
Major Michael Davis O’Donnell
January 1, 1970
Dak To, Vietnam
On March 24th, 1970, Michael O'Donnell along with crew mates Berman Ganoe, John C. Hosken, Rudy M. Becerra, John Boronski, Gary A. Harned and Jerry L. Pool went Missing In Action. Although remains for all crewmen were not recovered, this crew is now considered accounted for. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

I am Judas

He followed Christ on earth.  So do I.  But that's not nearly all that Judas and I have in common.

Yes, he followed Christ.  But he was very concerned that the rules & proper procedures be followed. 

I am Judas.

He seemed to have decided he was more important that his fellow followers. 

I am Judas.

He thought they didn't fully understand Jesus like he did.

I am Judas.

He didn't care for Jesus' extravagant grace when the recipient didn't fit Judas' preconceived notions of who was worthy.  He forgot that he himself wasn't any more worthy than the "least of these." [Heavy sigh] 

I am Judas.

He loved the idea of the radical Jesus overturning the system.  Then he discovered the rewards for becoming part of that same system, and changed his mind.

I am Judas.

There's reason to believe that Judas used his position in Christ's group of followers to his own benefit, possibly even to the point of mis-allocating things that were Jesus' to himself.  Stealing money in Judas' case; stealing glory--or attempting to--in mine.

I am Judas.

He loved the roar of the crowd, and apparently got caught up in it such that he missed the point of Jesus' teaching.

I am Judas.

He betrayed Jesus.  [another heavy sigh]

I am Judas.

When he realized that he had blown it, he pathetically & feebly attempted to fix it after it was too late.

I am Judas.

Despite all of these many shortcomings, Jesus still had close fellowship with him, even knowing that Judas would fail and betray him.  Jesus invited him to the table to eat.  Jesus fed him.  Hung out with him.  Showed him great grace.

I am Judas.

Lord Jesus, by Your grace, and only by Your grace, may I run well the course you have remaining for me.  You know my thoughts, the number of hairs on my head, the result of my next P.E.T. scan--and every one after that.  You know the time of my departure.  You know my sinful tendencies and temptations and weak points and struggles.  Lord, I come empty-handed, with absolutely NOTHING to give You to merit Your saving and sustaining grace.  I echo Your friend Peter: "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."  And yet, praise God, You don't.  Instead, You forgive, and forgive, and forgive,...far more often than 70 times 7 in my case.  I do NOT deserve to share communion with you, now or at the marriage supper of the Lamb.  And yet, you freely offer both.  May I never get over your grace.  And by the fullness of the power of Your Holy Spirit, Lord, enable this weak, trembling, woefully-inadequate follower--who deserves a gruesome end like Judas--to finish well.  As the hymnwriter said, "And when before the Throne I stand in (You) complete, Jesus died, my soul to save, my lips will still repeat." 
Finally, Lord, I echo the prayer you heard on the cross: "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom."
With faltering words, tear-filled eyes, and a thankful heart & marvelous hope because of both Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday,

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Long Wait...

(From the archives; as Lisa & watch the clock tick toward this next most-important-of-my-life Dr. appointment where we'll hear the results of the P.E.T. scan & brain MRI.  Slightly updated 3/15/13.  Your prayers are MOST appreciated today & always!) 

(Originally written the morning after a scan in June 2011, before getting the results.)

What goes through one's mind the morning after a P.E.T. scan & before getting the results? The critical results?

Here are some thoughts I have Friday morning in my hotel room, 2 hrs before that appointment.

Not fear per se, but definitely anxiety that mounts as the clock moves. A blend of "What will he say this time?" and "How will I react to whatever he says?"

Not to contradict the previous, but there's an amazing calm that comes along with the anxiety. Of course, I attribute this to the overwhelming grace & presence of God, and to His graciously answering the prayers of many friends who are praying even as I write. My favorite name of God in Scripture is Jehovah Shammah as I've mentioned here before. Basically it means "the personal God Who is present."

Of the distant past, friends, family, places, etc. And of the recent past: surgery, hospital rooms, etc. Mostly, these fall under the category of things that bring great comfort (even the MDA ones!). Strangely, I smile a lot as memories come. And rest assured, I let them come, and even chase them now & then.

Not all of the memories are wonderful though. Mercifully, these are quickly re-channeled into a wonderful appreciation of grace in the Gospel. "Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (etc.)

I'm a bit of a dreamer anyway, and this morning in particular brings up quite a number of hopes for the future. Stay tuned. Be scared. *smile* The future in general gets collapsed into 2 phases: between now & the appointment, which is crystal clear, and afterward, which (mercifully, I think) sort of goes into a fog that I cannot see into very clearly.

My family is never far from my thoughts, but especially out here. And especially on Father's Day weekend. I'm struck this morning with the overpowering awareness that--as a writer once said--I am the narrow funnel where history & heritage meet legacy. My inherited heritage is so deep & rich that I can hardly take it all in. I pray often that 100 years from now my descendants will be making much of Jesus because of what God did in & through Mike Madaris' life. Aside: I often teter over into the arrogance of thinking "Boy, I hope they make much of me!" But as one of my favorite pastors, Crawford Loritts, says, I'm just a clap between two vast eternities; He is the One of Whom much needs to be made.

Always...ALWAYS!...worship seems to just bubble up. PLEASE don't be impressed with Mike's spirituality here! I don't create this worship, nor grit my teeth to do it; it's called forth from me, which is just a marvelous experience. Yesterday, about 5 minutes before boarding the shuttle to MDA for my scan, I was overwhelmed by a couple of hymns that came from my soul. ("At the Cross", especially the verse "Amazing mercy, grace unknown, and love beyond degree!" and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" of which I prefer the version by Selah.) So, yeah, that was me doing the subtle macho guy tear wipe that we disguise as scratching our face or fixing our hair or something.

There's a brief glimpse into what the long space in between a scan & getting the results of that scan looks like for me.

In about three months, I'll go back out there & do this all again.

Rejoicing in Jehovah Shammah,

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Finishing Well - Remembering Prof

Howard Hendricks' faith has become sight.  Christianity--and the world in general--have lost a towering figure whose impact during his lifetime is incalculable.  (Personally, the guy who taught me how to study Scripture in depth learned how to do that under Dr. Hendricks, or "Prof" as he was widely known.)

I had the great pleasure of hearing "Prof" speak a couple of times during our days on staff with Cru.  Just fantastic.  I remember him sharing his own story of coming to faith out of an unchurched background.  "Sunday School?  Why would I want to go to school on Sunday?" (in response to an invitation by a Sunday School teacher when Hendricks was a kid in Philly.)

I can both see and hear Prof speaking to a group of men.  "You need a Paul--an older guy who's building into your life.  You need a Barnabas--a soul brother at your same life stage.  And you need a Timothy--a younger man into whose life you're building."

And I can see him & hear his voice raised as he stepped from behind the podium while speaking to 5,000+ folks all in ministry.  He pointed at us & said, "You wanna know why I'm so fired up about accountability?  Because it's already hard enough for me to share my faith as it is; I can't have any more people like you crash morally."

Great sense of humor.  Amazing teaching.  Married for 66 years.  Taught at Dallas Theological Seminary for--get this--over 60 years.

To use an analogy from track, Howard Hendricks leaned into the tape.  As Paul told Timothy, he finished the race & kept the faith.  (2 Timothy 4)

O, that you would raise up men to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Howard Hendricks, Lord.  Raise us up like Prof to be faithful all the way to the finish line.  Make us faithful in our marriages, and in our teaching, and in our discipleship as Prof was.  Help us love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her as Prof did.  Make us men who love Scripture and who study it all the days of our lives as Prof did.  Make us think it a sin to make the Bible boring, as Prof said.  Show us not the many things we might do, but rather, focus us on the one thing we must do, as Prof taught us.  May our lives model 2 Timothy 2:2 just as Prof's life did.  And may we always be careful to give You the glory for whatever you choose to do with our lives.  Just like Prof.

R.I.P., Prof!  Thanks for blazing such a clear trail for us to follow.
Mike, your long-distance 2nd-generation student.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cry "Glory!"

The day after an EF-4 tornado rolls through my town, and when it's still raining like crazy with the near certainty of more tomorrow, King David's thoughts on God's power over nature give great comfort.  Psalm 29 (ESV)

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
  ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
  worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.

The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
  the God of glory thunders,
  the LORD, over many waters.

The voice of the LORD is powerful;
  the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
  the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
  and Sirion like a young wild ox.
 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
  the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth
  and strips the forests bare,
  and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
  the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

May the LORD give strength to his people!
  May the LORD bless his people with peace!

(back to bb) Please join me in praying for those--including several friends--who have suffered great loss of property in this tornado.  May we, His people, cry "Glory!"

Friday, February 08, 2013

Remembering An Absent Friend

In my years on earth, there has been some very good music recorded.  (Of course, when one reaches my age, the sheer quantity of music around suggests that there should be at least some good music...*smile*)  Recently, the ipod shuffle rolled around to this one old-school Doobie Bros. song. "Down in the Track" from the album "What Were Once Vices..." A very nice shuffle-blues-rock groove.

As always, the song made me remember a good friend from long ago. This past year was the 35th year since my class graduated.  I know people have different reactions to HS reunions, but I love ours. HS was a good life season because of some *great* people there. They pulled me through some very dark days, & made me smile along the way.

Doug was one of those people. I wanted to see him at our 30th reunion (the last "official" reunione we had)...and probably would have. But then I got the news.

I initially wrote the piece below back in 2007, not long after our 30th reunion, but sort of let it lay there in the "just for Mike" category. "Down in the Track" brought this flooding back in my mind. Let me just say, that particular song sounded GREAT in Doug's black van blasted through a bunch of speakers he installed with enough power to be heard from quite a distance away. *smile*

To An Absent Friend – Doug.
Doug was a good friend from 7th through 12th grade. We played in band throughout jr. high & high school. Both of us played saxophone. Thus, I was his section leader in high school; we practiced music together. We spent a lot of time together in school, in band-related activities, and in...other activities...

We rode around in his van…when we were 14. 16 is the driver’s license age in FL. In fact, he drove himself in said van to the summer driver’s ed course we took together before 10th grade. He was 15 then, and driver’s ed was a pre-req to getting one’s license. I thought this was pretty brazen. And very cool. Which pretty much describes Doug as I knew him and remember him: brazen and cool.

He taught me to ride a motorcycle…his. (I still dream of rolling on a Harley.)  He was tough; I was much less so, and thus needed tough friends. We double-dated on occasion. He had a crush on one of our friends; such that he got into a fist-fight with her older boyfriend. I was impressed, even though the guy & his friends, er, won the fight. In the frequent jr. high boys PE dust-ups that would occur, I was OK despite being one of the smallest guys in the class. I was Doug’s friend, and somehow he was never far away.

He taught me the finer points of rolling yards, and other juvenile delinquent antics. Doug knew the unpopulated dirt roads outside of town; these roads were outstanding for figure eights, J-turns, and other driving stunts one should never do. Boy, did we have some fun back then!  Nothing real bad, just “boys will be boys” stupid-guy behavior. Doug was the youngest of 4 sons, with the older two much older & rather successful. Somehow I had the impression that Doug never felt he measured up. I disagreed.  Still do.

But not all was “boys will be boys” behavior. Doug was a very hard worker outside of the classroom. He got me a very good job—with him—on a small garbage truck he drove for his Dad’s waste disposal company. I’ve never worked harder, nor made as much quick money. He also encouraged my musicianship by complimenting my saxophone skills regularly. He encouraged my academic pursuits of upper-level classes too. “Mike, I’m not smart enough to take that, but you are. Go for it!” I think he was smart enough.

We lost touch late in HS & more so thereafter. The last time I saw him was some years ago at a class reunion. Doug was still in northwest FL, and had expanded his Dad’s business into a rather lucrative operation. I was proud, and told him so. I’m glad I did. He told me several times, “Mike, I think of you all the time. Really I do. And I miss hanging out with you.” I think he and I had gotten our respective acts together after some bumps in the road. Mine took a bit longer to get together, but that’s another story that's been told here before.

I would have seen him that weekend at the 30-year class reunion. And we would have greatly enjoyed each other’s company. He would have told Lisa again how fortunate she was, and I would’ve told his wife—whom I never met, as they were married after we lost touch—the same thing.

But about 3 weeks before that 30th reunion, Doug died. “Unexpectedly” was the word the paper used. Nobody at the class reunion knew the details, which is for the best. (A gruesome industrial accident was the cause.)  I just found out about his passing the Thursday afternoon before the reunion via an email. Tears flowed there in my office for my friend.  And for his family.  And selfishly, for me.

With Doug died a piece of my past. And a long-lost, under-treasured friendship. And a piece of my heart. When I was with Doug, I was tough. I belonged, even though I was 5-foot-nothing and a bit of a pansy. It didn’t matter, because I was Doug’s friend. We laughed together, rode his motorcycle fast with both of our long hairdos flying in the breeze, drove cars fast and wild. Rarely since then have I felt that free. Come to think of it, he was one of the very few classmates who never called me by any nickname. Always just “Mike.” Somehow just now, that is an important recollection.

I missed him hard all weekend at the reunion. Friday night when we classmates were all standing around swapping stories and waiting to walk into the stadium in the homecoming parade. When the band marched in, I really missed him. Saturday night at the reunion gathering at a local seafood restaurant/bar as more stories & memories were shared. Paradoxically, his absence was palpable to me throughout the reunion.

Yesterday afternoon on the way home when the classic rock station played “La Grange,” I missed him again. Doug first turned me on to Z.Z. Top; we agreed that Tres Hombres was one of the great rock albums. I still think so today. We loved them and rocked to them; their "Just Got Paid"--one of my favorite rock songs--also sounded great blasting out of the van. (Just last week, I found a collection of Z.Z. Top’s hits on sale and bought it. And the memories and tears flowed again.) So on the first few notes of the song "Down in the Track," I was transported back 35 years or so to the simple house near our junior high, watching Doug tinker with the van or with the motorcycle, laughing as his car—or occasionally, mine (sorry, Mom!)—successfully survived a fishtail or some other idiotic car maneuver. As my daughter grooved to “La Grange,” I thought of the many times I had grooved to that song with Doug back in the day.

Right now, as I sit on my deck, I miss Doug hard. Last week, before I knew of Doug’s passing, I wrote “we remember those classmates who are gone. They are somehow a part of us still today.” Little did I know how prophetic those words would be…

Doug, my old friend, through the sunset and the many tears right now, I hate that you left me. With you back then, I wasn’t the short, slow, uncertain kid. Instead, I was your buddy, and you always made me feel big. I will always cherish that when I think of you. Which I will often. I regret…oh, how I regret!... not being a better friend in the years since. I hope you somehow knew that I loved you as a great friend.

Tonight, I feel small again as I think of you not being around. Northwest FL feels slightly less like home. I hope…I really hope…that I’ll see you again on the other side. Thanks for making me feel like someone who mattered during an incredibly awkward phase of the journey on this side.

I miss you, buddy. Rock on. Thanks for everything. Especially for being my friend.

With much love from your old friend,