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,