Monday, December 14, 2015

Dear Dad

All the merry-hearted sigh…
Isaiah 24:7 (excerpt)
Dear Dad,
It’s been 41 years.  Hard to fathom.
December 14, 1974 wrecked my world when your faith suddenly became sight.  After your funeral, I walked away from the Christian faith.  At least I tried to; thankfully, God wouldn’t let me leave.  Despite a very challenging 10 or so years in the wilderness, He kept wooing me back with situations & with people (one of whom put this ring on my finger 31 ½ years ago).  So here I am, a walking, talking Christian who takes our shared faith very seriously, albeit one who’s still flawed & imperfect in so many ways.  Amazing grace indeed!
I’ve served our church in a few ways these past 26 years.  I even teach in our College Bible Fellowship now!  (You’d have called that “Sunday School”)  Unlike you, nursery work didn’t fit me.  But I LOVE teaching college students about the Gospel on Sunday mornings.
Dad, my life is great, despite myself.  I’ve blown it so many times in so many ways, but as you know better than I, God’s grace & presence are incredible.  I can’t wait to experience that fully there with you.
I’ve been missing you HARD for 41 years now, Dad.  As a guy wrote in a song some years ago, “I would give anything I own just to have you back again.”  But as true as that is, I’m equally certain you wouldn’t come back given the choice.  And looking through a glass darkly (as Paul wrote), I see that requesting your return would be NOT the best for you, just because of how indescribably awesome Heaven is.  Your arrival there didn’t improve Heaven nor make it sweeter.  But your departure sure made this world less so. 
Today—and every day—I’ll just be thankful for you & the life you lived & the faith you demonstrated before me for 15 ½ years of my life.  
Thanks, Dad, for giving me more “Daddying” in 15 ½ years than most get in a lifetime. 
Thanks for showing me how to love one woman & cherish her & honor her.  Thanks for working hard for your customers and for your family.  Thanks for having so much fun, and for bringing your family along for the ride.  Thanks for the ping-pong matches & pool games & basketball coaching & tennis matches & games of catch in the yard & card games & board games.  (I’ve never been able to switch hands & hit a tennis ball left-handed like you did, which is unfortunate since you may recall that my backhand was not great in my playing days.)  Thanks for being a good friend to the Hays & Huddleston families.  Thanks for the fishing trips to the pier on Okaloosa Island and the hunting trips to Central Alabama and the water-skiing lessons and the times sailing in the Bay behind the house.  Thanks for buying me my first-ever album—Peter, Paul, & Mary’s In the Wind—thereby launching me on a deep & abiding love of listening to a lot of types of music.  My two children inherited that love of music by the way. I still have that album by the way; it’s framed & in my home office.  Thanks for buying me a saxophone and getting Charles to give me lessons.  Thanks for being a “band parent” on all those Friday nights at Choctawhatchee HS.  (& Thursday nights at Meigs Jr. High too)  Thanks for all the travel, both the long trips like our Europe & Alaska trips—I’m still in awe that you drove us around Europe and that we drove all the way from FWB to Alaska & back!—and the weekend and nearby summer camping trips to Rocky Bayou & over to Pensacola.  Thanks for spanking me when you did; I definitely deserved more of them.  Thanks that it hurt you every time you had to give me one.  Thanks for tearing up when Jim or I would threaten to run away from home like knuckleheaded little boys sometimes do.  Thanks for laughing with us.  Thanks for letting us see you cry on occasion.  Thanks for teaching me to cherish family heritage and to thoroughly enjoy time with extended family.  Thanks for showing me how to honor your Mother; I’m working on honoring mine like you did yours.  Thanks for working in the three-year-old nursery all those years; I’m still astounded by that.  Thanks for honoring your pastor and church, & thereby showing me how to honor mine.  Thanks for being well ahead of the curve in terms of race relations.  Thanks for modeling excellence in business and grace toward customers and suppliers.  And everyone else, for that matter.  Thanks for giving me my first job with an actual paycheck.  Thanks for making us come help with inventory at the store.  Thanks for playing with Jim & me when you’d come home after work.  I still can’t decide whether that was more for Mom’s sanity or simply because you enjoyed time with your boys; I’m pretty sure it was both.  Thanks for the fact that your coworker Gabe would instantly cry when Mom, Jim, or I walked into the office supply store even 15-20 years after your passing.  That speaks volumes about what kind of boss you were.  Thanks that my family name is well-respected in northwest FL 41 years later not because of me, but because of you. 
Thanks for printing the poem “The Little Chap Who Follows Me” on the back of every business card you ever gave out for Madaris Printing & Office Supplies.  41 years later, I still get chill bumps—and a few tears—pulling your business card out of my drawer & reading it again (which I just did).  “A careful man I have to be…a little fellow follows me…”  Jim & I still follow, Dad.  I hope—I really hope—you’d be happy of how the last part of that poem looks in our lives: “I’m building for the years to be, the little chap who follows me.”
I love you, Dad, and miss you very hard.  Especially tonight, looking at the lights on the Christmas tree the night before the 41st anniversary of your homegoing.  I’ll be fine, Dad; really I will..but not today.
The Gospel that you believed & lived is the same Gospel Jim and I believe & live.  Jim & I speak often of the hope of Heaven; for you it’s no longer hope.  It’s reality!  As another song says, I can only imagine.  But one day, I won’t have to imagine it any more.  And I won’t have to long for another chat with you, for we can sit by the waves on that heavenly shore & talk.
I can’t wait!
Thanks again, Dad.  See you soon!
p.s. – There’s a new guy there named Jimmy.  He’s just been there a couple of months by our time.  Would you please thank him for filling in some of the gap in my soul left when your faith became sight?  I called him Papa, and I am missing him pretty hard this Christmas season too.  He raised your younger daughter-in-law Lisa, and he had a HUGE impact on me & on his other son-in-law these past 35 years.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces…
Isaiah 25:8a

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

To An Absent Friend On World AIDS Day

 (Update of a post from a few years back)

He was a tall, strapping, muscular guy who had worked in the offshore oil business.

He had a very nice high tenor singing voice, and loved to use it.

He loved to talk. And to laugh. He & Lisa & I did both rather frequently.

And he had HIV. Which became full-blown AIDS. Which took his life far too soon.

The means by which he contracted HIV is utterly irrelevant here. HIV can be transmitted/contracted in multiple ways, some sexual--homosexual and heterosexual--and some not.

It's World AIDS Day. Which always causes me to remember my friend, and to miss his company.

I met him at the church I attend. His was a faith that greatly. He confessed that he had not been faithful to live according to his faith. I assured him that I have my own batch of sins, which I submit is a much larger batch than his was. I 'spect you have your own batch too...we all do.

He taught me oh-so-much about love and grace. He gave both freely.

In one of our chats, he told me that he felt like a man without a country.

1. He said many in Christian circles who knew of his illness kept their distance from him because of his illness.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
Luke 7:39

Shame on us!!

Then turning toward the woman he [Jesus] said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 7:44-50

2. My friend also said that when he went to the AIDS Support Group meetings, they kept their distance because of his Christian faith. Ironic, isn't it? One of the more marginalized groups in our society would further marginalize one of their own because of his religious beliefs.

"I left the church because I found so little grace there...I came back because I found none anywhere else."
Philip Yancey

So what will you do with World AIDS day?

Will you ignore it completely?

Will you wag your finger & speak of HIV/AIDS as God's curse on a lifestyle?

(If so, you need to ponder how you'd respond to the heart-broken parents of an infant in, say, Africa, who has been diagnosed with AIDS & explain to them God's curse on their tiny baby's lifestyle...)

Will you wag your finger at the church and at Christians for the above finger wagging?


Will you honor the memories of those you know who have suffered and died from this horrible disease by how you live your life?

Will you pray for and love and serve those who have the illness now?

(BTW, what's your stereotype of an HIV sufferer? I ask, because I have a HS acquaintance who is HIV positive. And a fitness machine. A lawyer who rides his bicycle all over the place competitively & who does triathlons & such. He regularly does stuff like high-speed 100-mile bike rides. A few summers ago, he was the first openly gay, HIV-positive person to do Race Across the West where he competed with the world's greatest endurance athletes. The race is from Ocean Side CA to Durango CO. That's 860 miles in 3 days! It's billed as the toughest part of the toughest race in the world ["Ride Across America"]. Jim, too has helped crash my own stereotypes...)

Will you pray for and give toward those who are spending their lives to eradicate this illness?

God have mercy on us. All of us. Those with HIV and those without it. Help us be thankful for the days and the health you give us, and help us love redemptively and NOT judge pre-emptively. And above all, I ask You to magnify Yourself today on World AIDS day through Your church and Your people. May we reflect Your grace and demonstrate it far and wide. Today, and always. In the name of Your Son Jesus, Who was tortured and killed unjustly, Whose death offers redemption and life, Amen.

Thanks, Cecil, for all that you taught me. See you later. Can't wait for that next hug, bro!