December 15, 2010

Last But Not Least

I have spent a good part of the last two weeks saying goodbye.  After ten years of work with the Oklahoma United Methodist Church as a program coordinator, I'm retiring.  Everyone wants to know what I'm going to do.  I'm not sure I have given anyone the same answer.  Basically I say that I'm moving on in life, not looking at retirement as an end so much as a new beginning.  There is small talk about travel, home projects and lots of golf.  But I have been spending most of my time lately just saying goodbye.

In the big picture, the importance of moments like these isn't so much in what you have to say or what you think you might be doing someday.  It's about the ending of relationships, the work relationships that have developed with others for so many years.  I looked through my Rolodex this morning.  There are literally hundreds and hundreds of people that I have been in touch with during the last ten years at work.  It's amazing how connected we become, not only with family and friends, of course, but with business colleagues, too.  It's important to bring closure to as many of those relationships as possible.

Too often we just move on in life without considering what others think about it.  Of course, with some family and good friends we talk about everything that's important to us and wouldn't think about making such major changes in our lives as retirement without letting them know about it.  I remember a friend from graduate school/seminary days who after three years of classes and times together just left to go home.  I chased him down and let him know how angry I was at his indiscretion and thoughtless action.  We weren't the closest of friends, but not even a goodbye?  That didn't work for me!  After more than thirty years since that happening, we're still in touch.

So one of the last things I'll be doing before I retire is to contact as many of those I've worked with through all the years to say goodbye.  It's the least I can do.

November 11, 2010

Structure and Purpose

It's Veteran's Day today.  That brings all kinds of thoughts to my mind.  The military has been such an important part of my life.  It still is today. 

In 1967, after two rough years in college preparing for "the ministry," I joined the U.S. Marine Corps and left home to find my place in the world.  A buddy of mine, which I didn't even know that well, came by the house one day and we talked about enlisting.  The Vietnam War was in full swing and we thought it would be better to join the Air Force, but when we got to the recruiting station, the Marines looked better for some reason.  So, off we went 120 days later to Boot Camp.  I never saw my buddy again.

Not to get into a long rendition of stories, and Lord knows there are many of them, I do want to mention the importance of the military in my life.  It gave me structure and a purpose, things a young 20-year-old needed very much.  It also gave me a reason to leave my faith behind and live according to my rules.  I did well in the institutional environment and rose through the ranks about as fast as I left my faith in God.  A prodigal?  Not really!  I knew what I was doing.  I knew the comings and goings of my decision to leave God and family behind was hurtful, but I did it anyway, figuring I would be able somehow to pull myself out of the mire of drugs and broken relationships that followed as night follows the day.  Besides, there was always the military to fall back on, right?  It would always be there for me, right?  Much later I learned that only the Jesus Christ was always there for me.

Anyway, today I'm going to go to my grandson's school to eat lunch with him.  The school is celebrating Veteran's Day by inviting parents and grandparents who are veterans of the armed forces to share a meal with their children.  I certainly have a lot to share with my grandson.  It's amazing to me, though, that after all these years the military is still providing structure and purpose to my life.

October 20, 2010

The Steps We Take

It's a series of steps, this journey we call life.  Isn't it?  From the cradle to the grave we are moving somewhere - somehow.  Many take the easy road, though it's hard to see that any road that we may take is all that easy.  A few choose to take the hard road, though that usually isn't so much an individual decision as a set of circumstances that makes things tough.  Most of us just take the next step in life without a lot of thought about it.  Thinking or not, if you add them all up our steps are a journey.  And its that journey and the stories we have to tell about it that make life interesting.

Having said that, there is much about our journeys that have to do with our decisions.  Not everything, if anything, is decided for us.  Oh, sometimes we'd like to think that others or Someone or Something is guiding our way.  The truth is that we all have to decide the steps we take for ourselves.  It's a decision to be here now, writing and reading these words while trying to figure out for what it all means.  There must be some meaning to all of this, shouldn't there be?  If there isn't, then it is so easy to wander off or to just stop and drift into meaninglessness.  That, too, is a decision that we make for ourselves.

I don't want to wax philosophical here, but I believe that at the outset of any endeavor it's important to lay the foundation for one's thoughts and ideas.  I've mentioned in previous posts how important is my faith in a God who has revealed Himself.  I've also related something of the importance of certain decisions in my life, how it seems that two or three of them were of such great significance that entire new directions on the journey were made at those times.  For me it's all about faith and decision in taking these steps of the journey that we call life.  So, about that I'll have much to say later.

I hope you're doing well these days.

October 15, 2010

More Than A Prayer: God, Help Me

It all started one day on the road to Graceville, FL.  I had heard from God before and many times since, but never had He revealed Himself to me like this.  The day changed my life.  It gave me confidence in my faith and a desire to follow Him more than ever before.  My wife, two children and I were moving from Oklahoma to Florida.  We were all packed into our 1972 VW Superbeetle along with all our belongings.  The car was so heavy that the rear tired bowed outward.  Every hill was an effort to make it over.  To save time, we turned south onto a small county road, leaving the highway on the way to Selma, AL.  It was a beautiful early summer evening.  It had just finished raining and the air was fresh and clean. 

As we settled in for the last leg of our trip a dark thunder cloud billowed up before us.  Strapped on top of the car, our luggage and some other things were covered with plastic, but it had come loose and was flapping in the wind.  I needed to repair the plastic before we drove into the rain.  When I came over the next hill, I looked to the right and saw an old, abandoned house with a turn-in circle drive to the mailbox.  I quickly turned into the driveway.  As soon as I did, the car began to sink in the mud.  I tried to keep the car moving to get out and back onto the road, but it was too late.  By the time we got to the mailbox, the car had sunk to the axles. Shifting the gears only make it worse.  We were stuck.

I looked at my wife and said, "Well, we've got to get out of the car and see what we can do."  We all got out and I began to push-pull to no avail.  After a few frantic minutes, I looked to see what I could find to put under the tires and/or dig us out.  On the old house porch, I saw a shovel and went to get it.  By the time I got there, a noticed a man was was sitting in a chair.  He looked like he was homeless.  He was probably just sleeping there.  Anyway, I asked about the shovel.  He just looked at me with a twinkle in his eye.  He didn't say anything, so I took the shovel and went to dig the car out of the mud.

When I got back to the car, I dug and put things under the tires, trying to make some traction.  Nothing worked.  In fact, the more I tried, the deeper the car got stuck.  After about ten minutes maybe, I was at my wits end.  Dropping everything, I simply bowed by the car as my wife and children stood by and prayer, "God, help me."  Now, there hadn't been two vehicles pass us on the isolated road we were on during the whole ordeal.  There was no one to ask to help us.  It hadn't been more than a few minutes, though, when an orange county work truck came over the hill.  I flagged it down and they threw me a chain and pulled our car out of the mud.  After they got us out, I tried to pay them but they declined only saying, "Don't you know any better than to pull off the road in Lowndes county after a rain?"  I explained we were moving, but would keep that in mind. 

After they left, I returned the shovel to the porch.  I was going to thank the man that was there when I got it, but he was nowhere to be found.  I went back to my muddy car and we drove off into the rain with the plastic still flapping in the wind.

September 30, 2010

Turns in the Road

I remember like it was yesterday.  It was my choice.  It was a big choice, though it didn't seem so at the time.  I was in college, my second year, taking courses for per-ministerial training and thinking I was headed for the Episcopal priesthood.  Only 19 years old, though, I knew I didn't know enough of what the world was about to move ahead with my career goal. 

Sitting one fall day in the south end of the campus enjoying the warm-cool weather, I decided to put my education on hold and go "see the world."  I didn't really know what that meant, but I knew I had to do it.  I had to go out and learn what it meant to live in the world by the people I would someday be ministering to in my church.  It turned out to be one of the biggest turns in the road for me.

I've always thought that life, and our living of life, really could be boiled down to just a few big decisions.  You know what I mean?  Those moments when we are pliable and open to new directions and possibilities.  Those times when we're able to shut doors behind us and move on without any sense of regret or loss.  As if all there was in life is what there was to be in life.  And all that really mattered was making the choice.  Taking the turn in the road.  Courageously and with assurance that whatever is ahead would be easily taken in stride.  All obstacles would be overcome - certainly and without hesitation.

Maybe is was just part of the whims of a starry-eyed teenager, but I think not.  I've always been most at peace with myself when I stepped out in life on faith, if you will, and just went for it.  Now, I'm facing retirement.  Forty years plus since that day on the south university campus.  And that feeling is in me again.  I believe a turn in the road is ahead, maybe like I've never experienced before.  So, be it!

September 19, 2010

New Days & New Ways

Hello Everyone!  My how exciting to begin a new blog.  I'm looking forward to sharing a lot about what I see is happening, how it is doing so and what differences it is making in my world and maybe in yours.  I'll spend most of time time looking through the lenses of my worldview - politically independent and religiously evangelical Christian - but I hope to hear from many with differing views.  I look at blogging as a way of sharing personal views with an inclination toward stretching and moving into new realms of thinking and living.  It helps to be able to express yourself through the written word, an  art that I am constantly trying to improve upon.

I've had some experience blogging before as part of a church-run blog, but it became so negative and full of opinions that I was actually glad to see it go away.  There I spent a good deal of my time arguing social justice issues, especially the give and take of the homosexual agenda on our American and church cultures.  I learned a lot and was pushed to new understandings in my experience.  Here, though, I wish to spend the most of my time relating the more personal things that I have on my heart and mind right now and how I think those things might make a difference in the world.

So, who am I?  I am a late middle-aged man who is on the brink of retirement.  Born just after the beginning of the baby-boom generation, I've seen enough of life to have a little wisdom, but not so much of life to have given up seeking new days and new ways in this wonderful gift called life.  I look forward to hearing from you and hope you're able to make sense out of what I've got to share here.