Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dog Blog

I have a writer friend who let’s her dog, Jack, post on facebook a couple of times a week (I guess it would be more accurate to say that she helps him post on her facebook page). Jack certainly is adorable, and he shares pithy slices of wisdom – “Jack’s Tips for Healthy Living” – to go along with the cute photographs she takes.
Scout Labradoodle checking to make sure I'm still here
Scoutie! Consequently, I’ve considered collaborating with Scout Labradoodle on the occasional blog post. I guess we could call it a “dog blog!”
Yesterday we had to make a quick visit to the vet’s office for a booster shot. The rain was torrential, so I left Scout with Christine (the clinic manager and a wonderful friend) for around 45 seconds while I moved the car up close to the entrance. 45 seconds! You know that’s not a lot of time in the great scheme of things. But, 45 seconds or 45 days, it was still a glad reunion for Scout! She burst through the office door and jumped all over me in excitement before bounding into the back seat of my car.
Scout evidently sees life in two very clearly defined categories. With my family. Not with my family. There’s no middle ground with her.
Scout has an uncomplicated view of the world. Everything comes back to relationships. Nothing else really counts.
  • Scout laughing about something....
    She could be tired, hungry, sick, recovering from surgery (she once ate significant amounts of pink fiberglass insulation!), soaking wet from a sudden rainstorm, or in trouble for stealing something potentially edible from Rebekah’s purse, … but all is right with her world if only she’s with her people.
  • Or she could be living it up with her favorite food, lying in her personal cool spot on the tile, heading out for a three-mile hike around the neighborhood, or sorting through her box of toys… yet none of it means a thing if she can’t share it with the people she loves.
She’s on to something, you know.When I think about how much time and effort people dedicate to acquiring goods and services, things advertised to improve our lives and make us happy. Then I consider how much effort goes into valuing and nurturing relationships. Our spouse. Our children. Our parents. Our friends at church. Our neighbors.
Maybe we should get ourselves a more uncomplicated view of the world. A dog’s view:
  • People = good!
  • Stuff = merely decorative.
At Bible-study Tuesday evening, Charles tagged our Corinthians study by reading the following from the end of the second book.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
It sounds like something Scout Labradoodle would wholeheartedly agree with.
- Woof!
Disclaimer: All photographs were taken within a few minutes of Scout’s most recent grooming. Being a real labradoodle, she may or may not look anything like these pictures in real life. (no offense, Scout!)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Adding our own charge to life

Adding our own charge to life

Fun, fun, fun....
Sunday morning I got a great lesson in the connection between what we choose to do and how we feel in general. In fact, I got two.
The first was the improvisational rock prelude I did with the Praise Band before 8:30 worship. I already wrote about this in advance (Friday’s post, “Rock-’n-roll, baby…”), but the reality on Sunday morning so far exceeded my expectations and I was pretty much blown out of the water.
I gave the band a heads up during rehearsal:
“Around 8:20 I’m going to lay down twelve measures of a standard rock sequence on my guitar,” I said, “then I’ll simply repeat the pattern till it’s time to stop. Tim will drop in fairly soon on lead guitar, then Roland on the drums. After that I want any or all of you to join us as you feel led.”
That was it. What it turned into was Spirit-filled improv. Trumpet, base guitar, trombone and more. The music literally drew people into the sanctuary and – by the time we were done – the whole church was full with anticipation and smiles and the desire to worship together
Wow! I chose – we chose – by a deliberate act of the will, to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4). The result was awesome, and it had a profound effect on the entire hour of worship.

Then – and this is #2 – something similar happened in my Sunday Morning Class:
It was my turn to teach. I did my usual pre-class reading and general preparation, but I wasn’t really connecting with the material and I showed up to teach without any clear sense of direction.
The story for the day was the Battle of Jericho, where Joshua had his people march around the city one time for six consecutive days, and then seven times on the seventh day, completing the parade with a great shout.
Then, in a moment of inspiration, I asked the class to think about what words (we’re not told in the text) might possibly have been used in the great SHOUT. We finally settled on an appropriate sounding phrase and I had the participants first speak the phrase in  unison, then SHOUT the phrase. We rehearsed a couple of times and then sang the classic Sunday-school song, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho…. and the walls came tumbling down….”
At the end, the class shouted – and I mean SHOUTED – the phrase, “THIS DAY BELONGS TO THE LORD!!!”
It was only a dozen or so people – maybe 15, and most of them middle-aged. But let me tell you, when we shouted like that the adrenalin ran and we were all animated. Immediately, the spiritual temperature of the room rose. The sharing was better, the stories more poignant, the interactions more meaningful…
… All this, simply because we had applied deliberate enthusiasm to something that we did out loud.
The experience was life-charged! I believe that one of the key secrets to living the life-charged life is to make a decision for life, to act on that decision with enthusiasm, and then to live as if that decision has the power to change us. Once we begin, then life flows naturally: Then the trajectory of this particular day; this unique moment; this specific project, or relationship, or meeting – is set in motion.
Life, if we want it to acquire and to retain a real “charge”, requires commitment, it requires a choice fin favor of enthusiasm, and it requires follow through.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Great weekend with "the baby bump" - the Grandaddy Letters...

Great weekend with “the baby bump” – (The Grandaddy Letters)

Rebekah, Naomi, Katie and Vicki (picture on Rebekah's camera, shot by Kelly Black)
Write this on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates…
Naomi lives 1,252 miles away in Connecticut, and we love the home she’s making there with Craig. But, there’s no place like the church that helped raise you when it comes to a baby-shower with gifts and love in equal measure! So Naomi and Craig flew down Friday night for a short but very loaded weekend that left everyone both exhausted and happy.
There are lots of stories to be told – of course – but I think I’ll pick this one because it’s loaded with history. It’s all about the photograph (left) and it begins at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Pensacola in 1983.
Rebekah and I moved to Pensacola in 1982, when she was called as Trinity’s associate pastor. We started a young adult Sunday-school class (because we actually were young in the 1980′s!), and it became an extremely active ministry for young families. Kevin and Vicki Ronan were a key element of that group and became an important part of our closest circle of friends.
In late 1983, Rebekah and Vicki went on a fact-finding trip to Haiti (it led to a long-term involvement in one village and several major mission trips over the next decade). As soon as they came home they both got pregnant and shared the exact same due date – September 15. Naomi was born early (August 22) and Katie came along Sept 25.
Not surprisingly, Naomi and Katie became best friends. The Ronans added two boys and our families remained very close until we left Pensacola in 1996. A few years ago Katie married Pat and moved to Tampa – but Naomi and Craig left Florida for Connecticut about the same time.
Long story short… Kevin and Vicki were in town this weekend and came over to Brandon with Katie for Naomi’s baby shower. And – this is really, really cool – Katie is expecting too. Not only that, but she and Naomi share the same (October 18) due date!
It’s like déjà vu all over again.
This is a story about life. There are literally hundreds of babies born every day, and – all over the world – young families are expecting. In some of these homes – Naomi, Craig, Katie and Pat qualify for this designation – the child will be their first.
The first child marks an awesome opportunity to set precedent as to what kind of a home this family will be grounded in. There is a sense in which Naomi and Craig… and Katie and Pat… are crafting possibly the most important duty of their young lives together.
The kind of home David Henry is raised in won’t happen by chance. A home is crafted in response to the decisions his parents make:
  • Love is a choice.
  • Honoring God in your day-to-day life is a choice.
  • Diet is a choice.
  • Values are a choice.
  • Mutual respect is a choice.
  • Education is a choice.
  • The level of media saturation is a choice.
  • Kindness is a choice.
  • Consistency is a choice.
  • Conversation is a choice.
  • Culture is a choice.
  • Faith is a choice….
In other words, right now it’s all a blank slate…
…But not completely, because the young people bring their personal family history to the table. This is what Naomi posted on facebook at the airport yesterday evening, heading out-of-town, “At the airport waiting to go home to Connecticut! What a great trip this was! This baby is already loved beyond measure!”
They are all loved beyond measure! Naomi and Craig (and Katie and Pat) already know what it means to be raised in families defined by love and faithfulness. I made the following statement in a story in “Chicken Soup for the Empty-Nesters Soul”…. “Our job is to raise children well equipped to leave home and to establish faithful lives that are both fulfilling and self-sufficient…”
Craig and Naomi with Scout - in our kitchen this weekend
My prayer (for all new, young families) is that they, too, will establish families on such a firm foundation of love and faith and grace and commitment. What happens next will be no accident.
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rock-'n-roll, baby...

Rock-’n-roll, baby…

Me and Tim - getting down Thursday afternoon...
It may well be true that I am backed up, over-commited, pressed up against some hairy deadlines and seriously behind in two-three big projects. But, and this is fundamental to the life-charged life, I also understand how critically important it is that I maintain some  balance.
If not, then how could I possibly begin to write another new book? Let alone one that purports to advance my fundamental premise that we are called to live “The life that truly is life…” (1 Timothy 6:19)?
Consequently, when my friend Tim (McRoberts) suggested we get together at church, plug in our guitars, and jam for a couple of hours Thursday afternoon, I was there in a heartbeat. Because I’m always going to be a better writer when my soul has been refreshed.
So we plugged in, tuned in, turned on, turned up, and launched the “session” by laying down a twelve measure rock riff in E and seeing what developed. For me, the exercise was all about repeating the correct chord sequence and trying my best to pay attention. Tim is the one with the flair for lead guitar. I have to say, though, that we managed to knock out some great sounds between us.
Consequently, we’ve decided on a prelude strategy for church this coming Sunday. Instead of playing some gentle interpretations of the morning’s praise tunes during the few minutes before worship begins, I’m going to lay out the 12 measure rock sequence on my guitar. Tim will join in the second time or third time through. Then our drummer, Roland, will get on board.
After the third or fourth repetition, I’m going to invite the rest of the Praise Band – one instrument at a time – to add their instrumental voices. By the time pastor Tim steps up to the pulpit to begin the announcements (try to begin the announcemnts!), the entire building should be rocking… It won’t necessarily be raucous or screaming loud, but it will be different – and a lot of fun. I’ve got to be honest – I really can’t wait!
So what’s my point? It’s simple, really. We are not one-dimensional people, yet it’s so easy to approach life by wearing out the same groove over and over without applying any improvisation or imagination. This is how it can go – “I’m busy, I’ve got a lot of work to do, so I’ll put my nose to the grindstone until it’s done.” But sometimes it turns out the best answer is more like this – “I’m busy, I’ve got a lot of work to do… so I’ll go to the church and play some rock-and-roll for a couple of hours!”
I may or may not come up with some extra-genius writing insight just because I took a two-hour redirect. But I do know my heart and soul were refreshed. The point is not the product so much as it is the journey; but at the same time, I’ve seldom taken a refreshing side-trip on my journey without a direct benefit to my work… and my faith.
Tim, laying it down
Psalm 150 - Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy house of worship,
praise him under the open skies;
Praise him for his acts of power,
praise him for his magnificent greatness;
Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
praise by strumming soft strings;
Praise him with castanets and dance,
praise him with banjo and flute;
Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,
praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
Let every living, breathing creature praise God!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Launching a life-charged summer

Launching a life-charged summer

It's that time of the year!
Back when I was a school teacher I loved June-August for many reasons. I never taught summer school because those few weeks were  an amazing opportunity to spend time with my own children. Lots of family “field-trips”, state parks, bike rides, beaches, the neighbor’s pool, museums, board games, books, picnics… and very little in the way of television.
Then Rebekah would try to take three weeks of her vacation in one block and we’d travel – extensively and on the cheap. Here are some of the more memorable family trips:
  • The “heritage tour” to the UK when Naomi and Andrew were eight and ten…
  • Washington, D.C. and all the state capitols on the east coast…
  • Our Civil War Battlefields bike tour – four bicycles strapped to the back of one minivan (we watched the entire Ken Burns Civil War documentary over two months prior to the trip)…
  • The epic 7,000 mile drive to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and back to see the Saguaro, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Arches National Parks – and more…
  • Several weeks at a beach house on Pensacola’s Santa Rosa Island
  • Appalachian Mountain hiking; a bucket of crabs and some nutcrackers in Maryland; innumerable state park cabins… and the Alaska Cruise from Seattle that marked the end of the “family of four” era as Naomi met Craig and a new family was launched….
Anyway… point being that summer has always worked well for us as an opportunity for recalibration, restoration, reinvention and re-creation. Having Andrew and Naomi living at home helped us to be more deliberate about crafting and enjoying those kinds of experiences.
We're all "under construction" to some extent...
Today we are out of the loop of school calendars, spring breaks and the long summer stretch. Except, that is in terms of church, and that is where this summer is already budding with the beginnings of promise.
First Presbyterian of Brandon is already reconstructing our physical facilities – so why not the folk who worship here too? We’re not the kind of congregation that closes programs down for the summer, mothballs Christian Education, or runs anything at half speed – but we do try to encourage folk to change-up some of their routines and try something new.
Consequently, and in light of the fact that half the campus is under construction, the Discipleship Ministry Team is offering a smorgasbord of mid-week learning opportunities that I’m really looking forward to.
So yesterday I joined a group of 12 for week-one of a month-long seminar on Paul’s journeys through Galatians, Thessalonians, Corinthians and Philippians. The instructor is our resident New Testament scholar, Charles Willard. Charles is a PhD with a lifetime of experience in ministry, grace and academia… including accreditation for post-graduate programs in theological education.
Some of the more than 30 people who showed up at fpcBrandon Tuesday evening to kick off the first two seminars in our summer series
I’m citing all that academic mumbo-jumbo to underline my point that summer reinvention needn’t be lightweight or shallow. The primary purpose – so far as I plan to experience it – is refreshment and renewal. This leaves us (at my latest count) with a list of six most excellent “r”-words. So I’ll repeat them below, along with the following recommendation. Take some time to think seriously about what each word/concept might potentially mean for you, especially when it comes to making plans for the coming weeks:
  • Recalibration
  • Restoration
  • Reinvention
  • Re-creation
  • Refreshment
  • Renewal
Oh, one more observation. These are all great words when it comes to the life-charged life. And it’s no accident that they all find their best expressions in the context of faith.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When sick is a full-time job

When sick is a full-time job

Shands Medical
Yesterday I got up uber-early to head up to Gainesville with my brother, Geoff. He had an 8:30 appointment with the transplant specialists at the Shands Medical Center. His clinical day, Monday, was Shands in the morning then Moffitt in the afternoon and lots of time on the phone with the Miami transplant center in between.
Essentially, being sick is a full-time job.
Shands turned him down. But the trip wasn’t an entire waste of time because you learn something every go-round – and this was the first opportunity I’d had to actually sit in on a conversation with one of the doctors.
Essentially, Shands said “no” for the same reasons Mayo did  in Jacksonville… then more besides because it’s been a few months since the comprehensive Mayo evaluation and a couple more things have gone south since.
I’m not posting my blog today to hang all my brother’s personal medical details out for public view, but to talk about a couple of Big Picture stories that Geoff’s journey bumps up against and sheds some light on.
First is the enormity and complexity of liver disease. The doctor told us there are 15,000 people on the transplant waiting list at any given time – and around 4,000 procedures annually. One reason people don’t get new organs is availability, and the other is when the team doesn’t think a new liver would solve the problem.
Another story is cost. Cost is a tricky issue to talk about because there are a lot of internal contradictions, logical non-sequiturs and “1,000 pound gorillas in the room”.
Nurse updating files, questions, etc etc etc.....
First of all, cost is entirely irrelevant if you don’t qualify for a procedure for medical reasons. Then, and certainly related to this, no amount of money is capable of effecting a cure that’s not there to be had. At the same time, all resources are in a finite supply, so both benefits and expertise are allocated according to industry standards. It’s a fact of life in that enough money will certainly buy preferential access… but dollars probably won’t buy a liver you can’t use, and money certainly won’t change the medical facts of your case.
We also discovered that cost-cutting measures back at Geoff’s old workplace (the people who provided medical insurance as an employment benefit) directly impact his point of service options. Simply put, when my brother’s old boss decided to switch to a cheaper healthcare policy, Geoff lost benefits. Thanks, “Admiral”, you greedy office dictator, you’re a blankity-blank prince…
The doctor at Shands was personable, friendly, engaging, knowledgable, familiar with Geoff’s file, frank, realistic and – this is important – attentive. He was not rushed or conscious of time, he fielded every question and he wasn’t evasive out of fear that we’d quote him somewhere else or attach unreasonable expectations to his opinions. Above all, he obviously respected Geoff, Geoff’s medical knowledge, and his level of understanding. The doctor even offered concrete suggestions as to what specific questions he would have addressed next if Geoff had been accepted as his patient.
So, kudos on the doctor… but ongoing disappointment in Geoff’s liver. His liver is supposed to be a vital organ, but it seems to have commitment issues, and is continuing to move toward an increasingly vulnerable future.
I may be learning a lot – but I don’t necessarily like what – now – I know.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

I "Heart" Dad's Day

My credentials to celebrate Father's Day! Andrew and Naomi in New York last month
I’m opening this weekend’s blog entry with a simple riddle. Here it is: Today (Sunday) will be my 30th Father’s day as a dad. However, our oldest child, Andrew, is just 28 years old. That should be enough information. You do the math and figure it out.
(I’ll either post the answer at the end of the blog, or maybe I’ll make you email me for it…? Hmmm, what to do? OK, here you go. Post your solution to this riddle as a “comment”, then we’ll see who gets it first.)
Being a dad has been (and continues to be) the most amazing journey. I believe it’s accurate to say the simple fact of children has accentuated/exacerbated pretty much every other experience in my life and – essentially – multiplied the rest of the story to the power of amazing.
  • It’s like adding jalapeno peppers to an otherwise fairly tame recipe…
  • or spiking the egg-nog…
  • or putting rocket fuel in your lawnmower…
  • or  switching out the mini-van engine with a race-car motor…
  • or exchanging a ten-minute family slide show for a full-length family featured movie directed by Spielberg…
  • or having The Stones sit in with the church choir…
  • or planning to remodel the back porch, but the guy from Extreme Home Makeover shows up – with a bulldozer and 100 construction workers….
Yeah, that’s it. I think I’ve nailed it! Life before children was like, “I think we’ll paint the walls and maybe re-do some of the screening…” Then the first Father’s Day comes along and – after that – it’s all, “Get out of the way, people, we’re demolishing your entire life and we’ll be building you a new one.”
It’s the same life, essentially; it’s just the same life but now it’s life-on-steroids; it’s a “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” that lasts a good two decades before it settles down some; and then it’s still radical, but all wonderful and grateful and laced with grandchildren (or soon will be) and… yeah, that’s it.
My dad at brunch Saturday
So anyway, I drove down to Ellenton yesterday to take my dad and my brother Geoff out for brunch. (Mum and Dad are usually in the UK this time of the year, so it’s the first time in I don’t know how long we’ve done this together – it was a real treat.) And I thought about how you can be 82 years old (and eleven months minus a few days, but who’s counting…) and still be a dad, and still love your kids because the wonder of that relationship will never change.
And I felt profoundly grateful for the gift of a dad who I can talk with, and who can have brunch with me at 83-(ish); and I really, really wished that my children could have been there too.
My dad has been a dad more than 57 years now. My brother, Geoff and I sure have added some jalapenos to his salad (and some rocket fuel to his lawnmower… and some Rolling Stones to his church choir…)!
Love you, Dad – DEREK
Miss you, Andrew & Naomi – DAD(DY)