Backstory

backstory heading

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Lectionary Reading

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 and Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 • Amos 6:1a, 4-7 and Psalm 146 • 1 Timothy 6:6-19 • Luke 16:19-31

Backstory

Luke 16:1-13
This parable told by Jesus is often erroneously titled ‘The Dishonest Manager’. The setting would have been the same life situation that the listeners lived in. A life environment where someone was at the top of the income and lifestyle ladder. This person(s) would have been the landowner, employer, and controller of most of the community. The folks at the bottom of the ladder would have lived, and worked, under the thumb of this rich landowner as tenant farmers expected to pay a portion of their earnings to the landowner. These farmers would need to grow high cash crops instead of produce that could feed and sustain them and their families. It was a constant struggle to survive. Inserted into this system was the middle man, the manager, who was expected to collect these payments from the farmers while taking extra for himself. This was a system that, in concept, worked well for all of society. Conceptually, those at the top, the rich and powerful, would allow the money to dribble down to the middle and eventually to the bottom. The problem with any economic or political system is that it is always at the mercy of those with the most power. If the top is selfish and unethical, then survival dictates that those in the middle and bottom become self-centered as well. As Jesus tells this parable he is calling on the listeners to look at what is of true value rather than wealth – what their lives are centered on. As you read this passage remember that it comes after the parable of the prodigal son and before the story of the poor man named Lazarus.

Amos 8:4-7
The prophet Amos began his ministry shortly before the prophet Isaiah began calling the people to return to God. Amos was from the Southern Kingdom (Judah), but his message was primarily directed to those in the Northern Kingdom (Israel). Amos message was so strong and offensive to those who listened that not long after arriving in the north he was forced to return to his southern home. Amos then confronted the selfish practices of the rich and their unethical treatment of the poor in writing. It is apparent throughout this short book that Amos was very focused on social justice as well as the equality of all men.

Psalm 113:1-8
Our responsive reading for this Sunday comes from Psalm 113, the first of six Psalm passages sung in conjunction with the traditional Passover observances. Psalm 113 and 114 are usually sung at the beginning of Passover as a reminder of the works and faithfulness of God. In Psalm 113 we also see God’s notice of, and concern for, the poor and needy.

Our Call to the Marathon

bostonrunner2On Tuesday morning of this week, at 12:18 am, Mary Shertenlieb finished the Boston Marathon over thirteen hours after she began.  Mary had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia five years before and had endured intense treatment suffering two relapses.  Around mile fifteen of the marathon, health concerns required that she return home with her husband.  There, she recouped, took a shower and returned to the marathon to finish miles later. At the finish line on Boston’s Boylston Street stood fans cheering for this, the final runner of the marathon, who had shown them how to run and how to finish.  It was not the way she imagined the marathon to go, or even the day she expected to finish, but she did run and she did finish.

A Marathon for the Kids

As I dropped Andrea off at school on Monday, it was weird.  She was back after two weeks away due to the teacher walk out.  She was ready to be back with, and for, her kids but with a new disillusioned attitude and no remaining hints of political naivety.

teacher walkout 2It was easy for Andrea, and her professional peers, to feel like the previous weeks had been a complete waste.  Ten days gathering in the sun, standing in the Capitol and sitting in legislators’ offices often being treated disrespectfully and unimportant.  They stood on the Capitol grounds as our governor seemed to find every reason to be elsewhere and the Secretary of Education managed to belittle and diminish the entire effort from the isolation of her D.C. office.

It had also been a hopeful ten days, teachers bonding, receiving unforgettable support from parents and our communities, even witnessing an amazing outpouring of encouragement from outside of the state.

Then it seemed to be over; over with basically no progress to be seen.

pablo (57)The teachers had received a pay raise prior to the walkout but felt they could not settle on a note, even though warranted, of self interest.  They stayed out of the classrooms because they knew that their students deserved better. They deserved to have enough educated and certified teachers – not classes of thirty-four kids packed in an inadequately sized room; they deserved a space where there were enough chairs and desks and to not have to sit in folding chairs borrowed from a local church; they deserved up-to-date textbooks and basic supplies not purchased from their teacher’s limited personal income.  They deserved so much more.

Decades ago, Oklahoma decided that public education was not important.  Evangelicals talked about God being ‘taken out of the schools’ while, at the same time, the very hard working and caring teachers hid in the pews praying, and hurting, for their students.  Politicians realized that reducing taxes was a reelection coup and that the ‘unGodly’ schools were an easy target of budgetary reduction.  ProLife became the holy label while the birthed children, along with their education, healthcare, mental health, shelter and food, carelessly became the casualty.

The truth was, and is, that God remained in the schools because the most vulnerable of those created in his image had been abandoned.  Abandoned by those tasked with being a light to the world.

On Monday, as their one success, their raises, was being targeted, the teachers returned to the classrooms anyway.  They returned to prepare their students for required exams and to the very real future that is tough, if not impossible, without adequate knowledge.  A truth that even Christ himself addressed. The teachers returned thinking that they had failed those very students.

They had not failed.

Author Anne Lamott writes that Change is not a sprint but a marathon. Our teachers began a marathon. They, battered and abused, passed the baton on to others so that they could get back to their beloved kids.

On the Sunday in the middle of the walkout I shared with my congregation that I had truly experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit while on the capitol grounds the previous week.  Even though we doubtfully feel it, it is still there and all over the state.  The Spirit is in classrooms, it is in the homes, it will be with the voters prompting them in the upcoming elections.  The Spirit will be everywhere that children are clamoring to climb up on the lap of Jesus. Everywhere that Jesus is saying, “let the little children come unto me!”

The Spirit will continue to be in our state.  In our churches, in our homes, and in our classrooms. Anywhere we are willing to accept, listen and follow, the Spirit will be there.

It’s not over, it is a marathon.  We still have a ways to go.

My Marathon Experience

child backpackAlmost twenty years ago I dropped my oldest child off at Monroe Elementary for a typical day of first grade. I did not know that day would set me off on a marathon.  As he shut the door of the van, I could not help but notice, as my tiny first grader ran in, there were may unrecognized adults exiting the doors of the school.  He had to squeeze through them to get to the building and to his classroom. 

I soon saw the “Vote Here” signs which brought clarity. Our school was a polling station and that these unknown adults were wandering throughout the school after having voted.  While I loved the idea of my kids witnessing democracy in action, I also knew that we live in a world which is not always so idealistic and sometimes very bad persons take advantage of very positive idealistic situations.

This unexpected morning experience set me on personal marathon that would take twenty years. I spoke to the principal about this influx of unknown adults venturing throughout the building, she sent me to the School Administration who sent me to the County Election Board.  The Election Board sent me on a mission to find a better place for the voting.  I ended up at a Mormon Church who agreed to host the voting.  I victoriously returned to the Election Board who informed me that this would be an unacceptable location since the election workers could not drink coffee or smoke at the church building. Not yet willing to give up I went to the election workers who unanimously agreed to abstain from any forbidden vices for voting days.  A return visit to the Election Board led to the revelation that my solution was an unacceptable and would not be implemented.  My final journey was to my mailbox where I found a letter from the Election Board telling me to leave them alone.

I had failed. I quit the marathon. Kind of….

As a result of my efforts, the principal asked me to begin a program for dads at our school called WatchDogs. It was the first WatchDog program in the city and the state. An amazing group of dads in our school took a day off of work each month to patrol the halls and help where needed. Dads that had never regularly been in the school before were now integral parts of the day to day operations.  Their children were proud to have them there and the dads were engaging with their own children in a manner they had never done before. Dads provided security, but more importantly became acquainted with the peers of their children, the teachers and staff of the school, and found that they could be a part of this all important essential element of their community.  The program is now all over our city and state.

Sometimes our marathon take us to places, and makes things happen, that were never in our planned running route.

I also continued my call for more school security and a plethora of areas of concerns.  One of these areas was to campaign to have the school playground off limits during school hours.  It alarmed me to watch as complete strangers were permitted to walk across the campus, through the middle of children, during recess.  I was told that the school was not allowed to restrict such access to members of the community.

Voter IDA couple of months ago, twenty years after I began my marathon, I received a new voter ID card, it was for a new location.  Our public schools have reconfigured all buildings for increased security and voting does not fit into the increased security plan.School sign

On an evening walk, I then cut through the playground of Monroe Elementary.  There I saw a sign that restricted access to the playground during school hours.  I took a picture, stood and stared, and realized that I had crossed a finish line.

As I thought about all it took to get that sign I began to think of all the others who were part of my marathon, a list that included my own mother.  I attended this same elementary school and would pablo (55) walk to school each day.  One year, homeowners of a house on a busy street which was part of my walk, planted new grass and restricted pedestrians from walking on their lawn. This meant children like me, on our way to school, would be walking on the heavily traveled street.  My mom, possibly the original safety marathon runner, went and had a very frustrating talk with the homeowners.  They refused to budge on their restrictions and she refused to quit the marathon. She called the city and did anything else that might lead to an acceptable solution.  Facing defeat at every turn, she revisited the owners of the house several times, who eventually worked with my mom to come up with a safe solution.  She raised her arms in victory and ran under the finish banner and then passed the baton on to someone else which eventually came to me.

marathonA Call to the Marathon

Teachers, your time has not been wasted.  You have run the toughest part of the marathon.  Raise your arms out to pass on the baton.  Pass it to the parents who are now at the capitol, to the voters who will soon cast their ballots for change, to all the other Oklahomans who care about the children, and to those who echo the words of Christ as he said, “Let them come to me!”

It is not about quitting but rather about enlarging the marathon, including others to run with the baton.

To the rest of us, look for the marathon that God has waiting for you. I can’t say what your marathon will be but I can say that it will be about God’s created and His creation. It will be about those created in His image which widens the possibilities to everyone everywhere. It will be about being a demonstration of the actions and life of Christ much more than the words of a preacher.  It will be about love.

Our marathon is what John talks about as Walking in the Light and then later in I John refers to it as Abiding.  The Apostle Paul call it a race.  It is about life, led to reveal God’s love and to live smack dab in the middle of the life Christ has called us to.

It’s a life long marathon.

Let’s run.

Rick

Transitions are Tough

hungry birdsOver the past few months we have had the honor of witnessing the birth of several birds in nests scattered outside our house.  

About two weeks ago, there was an even greater thrill as we happened to be watching as three little birds prepared to leave the nest outside our bedroom window.  We realized this was taking place as they began to take turns flapping their wings while jumping around the nest.  

Then it got interesting. The largest of three walked to the edge and stood there.  Teasing us with many “will he fly off now?” moments.  Finally, he took the leap, and it was truly a leap, straight to the ground with a thud.  The remaining two birds, a bit more hesitant, followed the example, and seemed to have the same failure as their larger sibling.  From what we could see, none of the three succeeded in the art of flight, they all just fell to the hard earth. We were certain that this was the end, they had all failed flying and we would soon be in the bird burial business.

Even in the surety of their failure, we continued to watch, often having to run to windows in different bedrooms.  We saw the squirrels coming closer as if they had been waiting for this moment.  We also knew that there were other, more aggressive and larger, birds witnessing this embarrassment, or, should I say, opportunity, unfolding.

We, in our infinite wisdom, were sure that these little birds we had become intimately attached to, had not been ready to attempt flying and had met their doom.

As we continued to watch, however, we noticed their mom and dad.  Neither was grieving or blaming the other.  Instead, Dad was watching from the highest branch on a bush near the back fence, while mom was standing on the ground, strategically positioned between dad and the babies.  As she stood there you could see her aggressive stance ready to attack the other opportunistic creatures.  One at a time, mom escorted the tiny poor fliers to the bush by our back fence, their new home, where dad received and congratulated each one with the bird equivalent of a high five.  It was not long before all three ‘not yet ready for flight’ birds were back with mom and dad and ready to continue their journey and their training….only now with more privacy, at least from the nosey Anthony family.

I have to be honest however, for the four humans watching, it was a pretty scary process. We gave up hope many times.

Later, as I thought through the experience, I remembered I had been awakened that morning to a very busy, and noisy, mom and dad.  While I had grown accustom to the parents feeding the birds early each morning, this morning, the morning of the kids’ first attempt at flight, mom and dad seemed to be executing the feeding process with a special and intense urgency. The children were receiving an extra portion of breakfast with a veracity that, as to yet, had been unseen. Don’t be fooled, they had always enjoyed feeding time but nothing matching the intensity of this day.  Mom and Dad knew the kids were going to need even more strength and power than ever before.  The kids, for their part, were taking advantage of this preparatory process for an adventure that was far greater, and riskier, than anything the nest had ever offered over the course of their entire lives.

The preparation before, during, and even after, was calculated and amazingly exhausting and emotionally draining.  At least it was to us humans, we were exhausted and spent even after having only experienced it from the spectator seats.  As the five birds disappeared into the bush, we four humans headed to the kitchen to feed ourselves and to prepare for the semi-calculated and amazingly exhausting and emotionally draining adventure of our average day that lay ahead.

I cannot claim to have any real empathy with a mom and dad watching their children take a necessary and deadly leap in order to move ahead in life. 

I can, however, say I watched my oldest child walk up the ramp to enter pre-K at Monroe elementary in August of 1998 and then, not too much later in the day, driving by the school to assure myself that he was not standing in the middle of the busy street (my wife later admitted to having done the same thing).  I actually remember watching, and hating, the transition, as each of my five kids walked the same ramp over the next five years, and driving by later just to make sure they, too, were not standing in the middle of the street.

Then, this year I watched as that same son walked another ramp to receive his college diploma followed by a drive to Stillwater later in the week to enroll my fourth child in her first year of college.  This means that we will be driving her to live in a place that is not our house in less than two months.  In the meantime, we have taken our third child to the airport to fly away to a summer volunteering experience in Hawaii as number two headed to Colorado for her summer job.  Finally,  I have listened each day as our youngest has gotten himself out of bed very early each morning for cross country practice and lawn mowing.

I lay in bed wandering when we transitioned to a time when he no longer needed me to wake him up and take him to practice or work.  I lay in bed wandering when he, our fifth little bird, approached the edge of the nest.

Maybe I do have a little bit of empathy for my dear mom and dad red bird friends that lived for a short time outside my bedroom window.

Paying Attention,

Rick

totalled Toyota VanOh… and we had to say goodbye to our Toyota van on May 4th due to the fact that we were rear ended by a school bus as I was driving Andrea to school (the irony has not gone unnoticed).  Goodbye to the van that each of our children learned to drive in and where almost 300,000 miles of memories took place.  It was tough to see it driven away on the tow truck.


Transitions are tough.

Next Door Blessings

lizard 2Around dusk, I ventured up the street to our neighbor’s house.  They are on vacation and we have been taking care of their lizard, fish, plants, mail, and newspapers.   We go up twice a day to feed the fish, water, collect newspapers and mail, and turn on/off the lizard’s lamp.  The lizard still has crickets hopping around so there is no need to feed him (or her, we don’t know) until he cleans his seven-day-old plate.  We love these neighbors.  I have known the husband since seventh-grade, but have really only had consistent interaction with him over the course of our decade in the neighborhood.  The recent interaction has made me wish I had branched out from my own group of friends in high school.  We love the way they live, the way they raise their kids, the way they have integrated their two different faiths, and the way they make you feel very important with every engagement.

Across the street from them is a retired couple who are also wonderful. They are Jewish.  The husband grew up as the son of a Rabbi.  There is a reason I mention their faith. It is Christmas Cookiepertinent and not just my attempt to convince you that I am open-minded.  In all of my adult years, they are the only neighbors who have ever brought us homemade – and decorated – Christmas cookies.  They frequently ask me about our church and our kids.  They are genuinely interested.

Across the street from us are recent transplants from Britain. They are very kind and respectful and join us in our skepticism of the local television weatherpersons when it comes tornado season.  They take refuge in our tornado shelter and, together, we attempt to estimate which of the broadcasters’ rants need to be taken seriously.  They are very smart. He is a physics professor at the local university. Regardless of actual intellect, however, all they have to do is begin speaking with their British accents and we automatically give them credit for great wisdom and discernment. It is like having sat in the living room with soccer goalMaggie Smith at Highclere Castle wondering for weeks afterwards if you were insulted or complimented.

On one side of our house, we have a neighbor with a huge soccer goal cemented in the front yard.  When we initially moved into our house, they invited our soccer-playing children over to use the net anytime.  I have always appreciated the eye-catching net for use as a landmark when giving directions to our house.  I don’t think the previous owner of our house liked the net, or these neighbors.  She repeatedly called the police when they attempted to cut the limbs from her old and gigantic tree which were resting on their vehicles.  The police would inform her that the neighbors were permitted to cut the limbs which were stretching over their property, but she continued to call and complain anyway.  During the first year living in our home, a devastating ice storm toppled that entire tree, causing a section of the trunk to fall and strategically land on three of their cars.  No insurance lawncovered the damage – ours nor theirs.  They never complained to us and have always been beyond gracious.

On our other side is a retired widow who has taught us the meaning of tenacity and determination.  She is always there to express concern and offer help.  She has admitted that one of her chief goals in life is to make me look bad, her strategy is to spend every day either re-mowing or perfecting her already perfect lawn.  Andrea, and the kids, often ask, “Why can’t our lawn look like that?” as we pull into our garage.  When the other trunk of our tree fell onto our roof, this neighbor climbed the ladder to our steep, and icy, roof to help me place a tarp over the holes caused by the fallen tree.

We are very blessed.

I often fail to recognize and appreciate the blessings we have on our street.  I often fail to look around and pay attention.  I often neglect to fathom these and so many other next door blessings.  I often let every nature of meaningless and trivial distractions keep me from seeing what is right in front of my eyes.

I am determined to pay better attention, I’m determined to see those blessings right next door….beginning today.

Paying Attention,

Rick

Being Human at the Apple Store

I recently revealed my humanity, in public, at the Apple Store, my kids were horrified.

It was unexpected.

As an adult, I have honed the skills of hiding the fact that I am human.  I have crafted an ability to react to situations, or events, that let people know that I have neither feelings or emotions.  I have skillfully learned to keep a fence around myself that permits only the closest family members to see any vulnerability or pain.

However, I am human.

I exposed this humanity recently on a visit to the Apple Store.  If you have never been to an Apple Store you may not have a point of reference to understand.  An Apple Store is much like stepping onto another planet, especially if you are an old guy like me.  There is always a crowd and, upon entering, no one seeks to help, or even acknowledge your existence.  There is no eager employee to please you or even to attempt to sale you the Apple products.  It is your job to identify the employees, which are always the hippest looking people in the mall.  Once you have made a positive identification of the employee it is your responsibility to approach him or her.

It is best to not look desperate or needy.

I ventured into the Apple Store in an effort to drop off my son’s computer.  It had quit working during his summer job in Hawaii; yes college kids can lead a rough summer existence.  He had mailed it to me hoping to get it repaired and working before the fall semester.

It didn’t take long for me to recognize the look on the Apple Employee’s face; you don’t just drop off a computer and expect it to be repaired at the Apple Store. I had violated one of the core principals.  You need to have made an on line appointment and an exact time scheduled to meet with a technician.

Right there, next to the kiosks for flying helicopters, sea salt skin care products and teeth whitening products, you need an appointment. I didn’t have an appointment.

I looked at the face of the employee and then the crowd sitting at tables around me and immediately felt very old.

“There are six people with reservations in front of you,” he said, “it will be awhile before you can see a technician. You are welcome to wait.”

He was very polite.  I came to the precipice of not being very polite which was evident by the fact that I turned to find my daughters gone.  They had made a quick exit to stand outside the store eliminating any possibility of being connected with the crazy old man who didn’t have an appointment.

Somewhere during this exchange, while I said arrogant things like, “I expected better from you guys than this,” I mentioned that I did not have time to wait as I needed to get my youngest son to Children’s hospital.

My son, who is actually fifteen, has had a difficult year health wise. At this moment he had already had two surgeries on his left kidney area. A local urologist had gone in twice to cut stuff out that was blocking the flow from his kidney to his bladder. This had originally revealed itself through his experience with intense pain and continued to cause him agony even after the first and second surgery.  We had recently consulted our amazing pediatrician, who had referred us to the state Children’s Hospital.  Within hours, and before ever meeting us, or my son, these specialists had reviewed his case and made an appointment.  

I was in the Apple Store on the day of the appointment.

As I told the hip and functioning Apple employee that I needed to get my son to Children’s hospital, my humanity began to flow out of me.  My eyes became red and began to swell and my voice began to sound like my dog when the back door is not opened quickly enough at meal time.

I was embarrassed.  I have spent a lifetime keeping this persona separate from anything anyone ever sees, and now it was showing.  I was becoming a progressively increasing display of humanity for the world to see; it was showing in the Apple Store in front of the hip young employee who was able to grow a full beard and then keep it trimmed just perfectly.

As I looked at the young man I saw his countenance change. He continued to look hip and cool but suddenly he didn’t seem to just see me as the guy who was too old to comprehend the way things work at the Apple Store. He got the manager who quickly told me that they were going to see what they could do to get me to the hospital on time.

The manager had heard about the revelation of my humanity from the employee, he had also unlabeled me.  He then brought out the technician, who, incidentally had an even more hip and unshaven beard.  The technician had also learned about my exposed humanity and began telling me about his own experience with his humanity.  His twins had be born premature and spent months in Children’s Hospital before he and his wife had been able to finally take them home.

He assured me that this whole humanity thing is normal, even after my crackling voice kept me from being able to respond to the manager who checked back in to make sure I was doing alright.  The manager said “I hope everything turns out ok with your son.” to which I could say nothing.

As I sat on the hip stool, in the hip store, I began to realize the power of humanity when we cease to be labeled or label others.  The raw response of humans to humans.  Humans that do not have a name tag attached to their old man clothes that says “I am not cool”; “I am too old”; “I am too stupid”; “I am ugly”, I am uncoordinated”; “I am unclean”; “I am a male”; “I am a female”; “I am unacceptable”; “I don’t know what I am”; “I am not worthy or your time”; “I am human.”

What happens when we began to see all of humanity as God’s beloved created.

As I left the store, it occurred to me that this was a great learning experience which had given me the knowledge of a very powerful tool.  Tears, emotions, and humanity.  I had the fleeting carnal thought that this was something that I would need to remember in the future.  I now had something much more powerful than anger and arrogance.

God quickly reminded me that this was, indeed, a learning experience but not for me to use selfishly. This was a learning revelation that showed how God looks at all of us. He looks at us as humans.  He does not see us with labels or name tags that identify our current struggles, our confusion and doubts, our mistakes and sin, our humanity.  He sees us as humans with a beating heart.  A heart that screams out for help, assistance, and acceptance.  A heart that is crying out for God. He sees us without any name tags or labels.

When Christ was writing on the ground at the feet of the accused adulterous woman, while the men stood with stones gripped tightly in their hands, he was discarding the labels that had been placed on the woman.  He was taking off her ‘slut’ and ‘immoral’ name tags and replacing them with tags that said ‘human’ and ‘loved’.  He was seeing the woman through God’s eyes.  Eyes that were then able to lovingly and compassionately say,“Go and sin no more.”

He was looking at a human…..just like him.

wristbandTomorrow my son will have his fourth surgery.  His human family, including his human dad, will be in the waiting room for the endurance.  I have kept the parent’s wristband on my arm since his third surgery to remind me of my humanity, my son’s humanity, and God’s love for all of humanity.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Being Human,

Rick

Priceless Moments

Theater with Isaiah and DadLast night Isaiah, our youngest son, and I went to the IMAX opening of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Going to an opening night was, and still is, not something I am giddy about doing and last night was no different.  We purchased our tickets two weeks early and Isaiah gave me a daily, if not hourly, countdown.  When the evening finally came I was surrounded by individuals of all ages (mostly in their late twenties and up) who are Marvel fans, and all types of superhero and science fiction fanatics who know every detail of every Marvel, superhero, and science fiction creation in existence.  They were robustly telling jokes about the genre before the movie (jokes I did not understand), they cheered at the all the previews, especially the Star Wars preview (not to mention the appearance of Hans Solo and Chui, who I did recognize), and there was a handful dressed as Avengers characters in costumes that would have been the envy of Hollywood designers.  It was something that I swore that I would never do in the entirety of my life, but I did.
There were, however, extraordinary circumstances.

Last December Isaiah landed in the Emergency Room in immense pain.  With our intense medical background, Andrea and I had diagnosed him with something ‘bad and scary’.  We could not make a more in-depth analysis without the help of technology which we do not have…..we also needed the people to read and treat anything discovered through that technology.  After hours at the E.R. we were sent to a urologist who did surgery finding many things that he, with a shocked look on his face, claimed to have never seen in his 27 years of medical work.  When we finally got to see Isaiah following the surgery, none of the nurses were there to greet us due to the fact that they were all on google looking up everything they had just seen inside of my son.  I was told that the surgeon had actually called all the nurses into the operating room to see this anomaly in medical history.  When we finally got Isaiah home, and began the week plus long process of cleaning up blood in the bathroom, he rested with the dreaded knowledge that the doctor had the same process planned for six months down the road.

For my son, the only saving grace from the pain and discomfort coming from the procedure that had been originally promised as minor and ‘no big deal’, was the fact that anytime his sisters annoyed him he could ask them, “Do you have a stent from you kidney through your penis?”  This seemed to obtain him special kindness and treatment.  My bunch has never shied from the use of anatomically correct words such as penis but the whole thought of a stent through that section of the body especially brought me to my knees….not to mention to the place of granting my son his every wish. I became an unfunded one man Make-A-Wish foundation.

So, about two months early of his six month second surgery, he began to to have the same pains that had originally led Doctors Rick and Andrea to seek outside medical counsel.  Whenever your fourteen year old is able to adequately identify his pain as coming from his kidneys, and then correctly point to the location of the kidneys, you know you have to take it seriously. The outcome was that, less than two weeks ago, he had another surgery leading to another stent….yes, from the kidneys ultimately traveling through the aforementioned penis.

This time his sisters were less quick to jump at his reminder of the penis, however, his dad, who also has a penis, once again became putty in his hands.

Days after his surgery I took him to a 10:30pm IMAX showing of Furious Seven.  Furious Seven, by the way, is one hundred and thirty seven minutes long movie not including the previews or the pre-movie special IMAX effects meant to awe you with the capacity of the world’s largest movie screen.  I know this because, thirty minutes into the movie, I illegally looked up the movie time on my phone without going outside of the theater to not bother those sitting around me.  I figured the guys, and girl, that make up the Furious Seven bunch originated as law breakers so surely they could tolerate the whole phone thing, not to mention that I am old and it was way past my bedtime.

I must admit that I now buy senior adult tickets for myself.  I don’t think I am actually the true age of a  movie attending senior adult but two years ago, on a movie outing with my wife, the attendant automatically sold me the senior ticket while giving my wife a special “super young not senior adult” ticket.  I have created this age category for the ticket that the ten year old handed Andrea while stars were spotted in his eyes; my ticket was just dropped on the counter.  I was offended until I realized that my ticket was three dollars cheaper than my wife’s “super young not senior adult” ticket.  At that point, I willing became a senior.  Three dollars is half the price of a refillable bucket of popcorn (that is, if I were permitted to still buy popcorn, or anything else tasteless and delicious at the theater, by the czar of acceptable food….Just in case my wonderful wife is reading, we did not buy popcorn with the fifty cent butter, last night).  If had had known earlier about this financial three dollar windfall when I first received the application for membership in the AARP at the age of fifty, I would have automatically signed up.

ThorBack to last night where I was sitting on the third row of the largest IMAX theater in the country, evidently an hour early is not enough time to get a seat that does not require you move your head from side to side to see the entire screen, for the opening of what will surely be the biggest movie of the year until Star Wars opens in December.  I was the only one there asking his fourteen year old embarrassing questions.  I was the only one being quickly squelched by his ‘too cool for dad’ freshman.  I was the only one who didn’t understand why Thor, sitting in front of us, had female breasts. Or, as my son’s friends asked, “Why does Thor have boobs?” when they saw the picture he sent out.

I was actually fully aware of what had landed me in these theaters at much too late of an hour and with entirely too many excited fans.   Last week, when I traveled eighty two miles to take my two college students out to dinner, my oldest child, Caleb, admitted to encouraging his little brother to take advantage of his medical misfortune by “milking this for all he can with dad”.  It is working.  I think I may have to eliminate the Xbox, or whatever game system Isaiah is now playing while concocting devious plans with his bother (this discipline plan is destined for failure as soon as Isaiah mentions the stent in penis situation).

So, I sat through another super hero movie heavy on action and a plot that is far too complicated, and involves entirely too many additional super heroes and plots, for my tiny brain to comprehend.  It was not horrible, and it was well over an hour into it before I turned to google to find out that the movie was one hundred and forty one minutes not counting the previews or IMAX special effects.  We sat to the very end with the other theater full of super hero fanatics, and I mean the very end, to make sure that there was not a second post credits scene.  Spoiler alert: there is not.

Avengers cast and IsaiahIt was after the movie when the real excitement began. As we exited the theater most of the superheroes themselves, not including the Hulk (I doubt even the big comfy seats in the Director’s Suite would fit that guy), were standing outside the door.  I quickly pushed Isaiah over in Captain America’s direction for a picture.  The amazingly dressed Captain, who quietly admitted to me that his wife had made the costume, asked Isaiah if he wanted the other Avengers in the picture. Realistically, could you really say ‘no’ to a question like that with all of them within hearing distance?  So they all gathered around him, including Thor with boobs, and pictures were taken.  A member of the crowd offered to take the picture so I could get in the shot, however, I, not being a super hero expert, was concerned that these men of super human ability and strength also all had super mind reading skills and could discern that I had previously made sarcastic statements about them so I declined the offer.  Afterall, Thor was holding his hammer, you just don’t take chances when Thor is holding the hammer within striking range.

The way home was one of the coolest experiences of my twenty years as a dad.  My son was so excited that I was concerned we may have to stop at the Emergency Room again.  He was breathing fast and talking faster.  It was a very cool moment.  I smiled bigger than him the entire drive.

It got me wondering if God has this response when He witnesses us have super cool moments.  I know that this is a cotton candy question, especially to those super spiritual individuals, but, still, I ask: Does God enjoy our awesome and incredible, unexpected and priceless moments?  Further I wonder if God now has an increased appreciation for these moments following His time in the flesh.  I wonder if Jesus was surprised by the joy of these moments.  Moments like watching Lazarus return to life or seeing Mary and Martha scream for joy as their brother walked from the grave.  I wonder if Jesus couldn’t resist turning around to see who touched him just to experience the excitement on the face of the woman who had been bleeding for over a decade.  I wonder if He was pumped to see the surprise on the countenance of the Samaritan woman at the well as he treated her as a human being.  Or, the high official who returned home to find his daughter alive.  I wonder if He was restless for the Sabbath to be over so He could appear to His friends.

I think the answer is yes.

Enjoying the Moments,

Rick

Growing Old(er)

growing older 2Later this morning I will wake up to see a fifty-five year old man in the mirror.  Actually I probably won’t really see the fifty-five year old man since the fifty-four year old man lost his glasses tonight.  Andrea says that she wishes she had a penny for all the times I have lost my glasses.  If we did have a penny for each loss we would have the kids’ college paid for in pennies (this is especially true if you add in the times I have lost my billfold, my keys, and the reason I went into the kitchen).  Tonight she also shared that she is impressed with how patient I am, she explained that she would lose it if she lost things as often as I do.  Not sure that was actually a compliment.

As the fifty-four year old man, minus his glasses, went to turn the lights off in the kitchen I put something in my mouth from the counter that was not chocolate.  I was expecting chocolate but without the advantage of sight I will never know what the strange taste was (very different than fifteen years ago when I was changing a diaper and put something I thought was chocolate in my mouth…tonight was a distinctly different non-chocolate taste and experience).  So in the morning, the fifty-five year old will be looking at the mirror without his glasses not knowing who is staring back at him or what that faint odd, non-chocolate taste is in his mouth.

Earlier this evening my daughters offered to take me out to lunch for my birthday but withdrew the offer when I revealed that we may be interrupted by the guy who needs to fix our fence. Our fence fell down in the tornado three years ago, I have kept it standing with everything but duct tape.  My wife also offered to take me out to dinner before we realized we will have to go late in the evening since my youngest son has a doctor appointment to figure out why he is having kidney pains again. This will put us looking at the menu as my second child, my oldest daughter, arrives home from college for her Friday, six am wrist surgery. Finally, as I was about to retire to bed, without my glasses and still with the non-chocolate taste in my mouth, I answered a call from my oldest son, who is also away at college, informing me that the doctor said his flag football rib injury is only a bruise.  I was unaware he was on a flag football team.

Tomorrow I am sure I will get many birthday greetings, including those on Facebook which will make me regret not remembering to do the same back to all those wonderful friends on their birthdays.  However, I don’t really expect to feel very different, except for the inability to read or recognize faces.  It will be a regular day like any other.  A day when I will laugh at the stories from my wife’s day, rejoice at my kids victories as well as their funny stories, worry about everyone’s health and concerns, check my bank account repeatedly, learn things I should have already known or have been previously been told, consider the things that are left to accomplish, try to remember to rest in the Lord, and wonder if I need to go order new glasses.

Oh, and try to remember that just because something looks like chocolate is not reason enough to put it into my mouth.

I think fifty-five is going to be alright.

Older,

Rick