Monday, October 27, 2008

Weather and God's Time

The first time I remember weather was as a kid living in Houston and Hurricane Carla came across the top of us. I must have been 4 or 5 and I remember during the eye of the storm playing with my Tonka trucks on the front porch. In the yard out in front there was debris scattered all about. – I don’t remember being scared, just how calm and quiet it was.

The second time I remember weather was when I was about 8. We were camping on top of a mountain in Colorado watching a storm in the valley below. Suddenly a tornado dropped out of the clouds. We were above the storm and could see everything happening as the tornado whipped trees and wrapped branches and long grasses around power lines. Then it was gone. I was frightened and wanted to know what we would do if it came up the mountain.

A few years ago I took up bow hunting. One evening as I sat in a tree I had chosen as my hunting stand, I heard a rumble. It sounded like a large truck or train off in the distance. I looked across the field adjacent to my tree and beyond at the hills in the far distance. I could see clouds moving my direction; a front was moving in.

As I sat there, the clouds came closer and the sound grew louder. I could see in the far distance the treetops begin to bend toward me and sway. Then it got closer. I could see the tall grass in the field I was looking over bend and whip as it came at me. Then it hit me, the cold front blew over me and the temperature dropped. It pushed past and kept going up the hills until the front consumed everything I could see in both directions. It was awesome.

A year or so later it happened from that tree again. The second time I knew what was coming, so I was giddy with excitement. There was nothing at that moment I could think of but how God was blessing me with a view of His power and His wonder.

Today, I was on the balcony of my hotel in Corpus Christi, Texas. The week of meetings now over, I had risen early to drink coffee and reflect on the day ahead. I looked over the bay and saw a grey blanket that encapsulated the horizon. I could see the water tossing and turning at the front edge, the sails on the docked sailboats begin to flap hard and fast. The wind, then rain, came over the hotel and soaked it in a shower of cool fresh air and water.

I know there are times when I truly cannot for the life of me figure out what God is doing in my life, why he is not answering prayer when I think He should or why the pain and struggling. Recently I am trying to learn that the hardships are a time of learning and a time to draw closer to Him, to rely on Him. Amazing thing is, through that, I get a lot of relief.

We are all going to have hardships and struggles, bad things happen. But I wonder how those who do not have a Father, who don’t have God in their lives ever make it? I find I lean on Him more every year. I hunger for Him, like that front I watched from the tree the second time. I knew the experience like I know the joy of relying on God. I anticipated the weather change and wonderful, exhilarating feeling. If I never get in the tree, go outside or pay attention, I surely will never experience it. I want to live my life with as many of those moments as I can get. Unafraid of the tornadoes in the valley or the beginning and end of the hurricane – but the wonder of His love for me and how I can have it come over me each and every day.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The War at Home

Jason has been a warrior his whole life. I have heard stories of his childhood obsession playing with green army men for years. He would play for hours in his room or in the yard strategizing and destroying the enemy. The most recent story I heard was when his soldiers would die, he would bury them then forget where and they would be lost.

“I didn’t just dig a hole and stick them in it; I had a service and all. I did it right,” he explained. I can tell you somewhere in south Austin, buried in the yard of his childhood home, are possibly thousands of small green army men. The graveyard.

It seems that some people know their destiny early. They, I believe, are the lucky ones. They are driven to be whom they know they are. After high school Jason went straight into the National Guard. A week or two into it he called home and wanted out. His mom and I talked and she decided to put the kibosh on his leaving.

“No, you don’t want to regret this,” she coaxed him. He knew in his heart she was right. He completed the time with honors.

Not long after returning from his National Guard training and duties he was milling around trying to figure out what he was going to do next. Police work became his next objective and he started his education at cop school. Upon graduation he found a position in a small town east of Austin and went to work. Police work was good to Jason. He shared story after story of his days and nights on the job. He loved his work and you could hear it in every word.

As he began his emersion into police work, each month he would report for National Guard duties. Then came 9/11. The world was thrown into frenzy. Americans raised their hands over their hearts and were proud to be Americans as we took on the terrorist of our world. They had attacked us all around the world and we were detached, but now they were in our country and everyone felt the heartache and patriotism. We are Americans and this is our country and that cannot happen here. Jason was standing tall ready to go should they call.

Eventually he moved to a bigger city and a new position in their police department. There he had drug duty and sting operations -- he loved all that. He always said, “I want to be in the tough part of the city – the rough side.” He usually was.

After years of weekends and summer training Jason’s time with the National Guard was coming to an end. He had never been called up to fight in Iraq, some don’t. He was well into his new job and had gotten married and had a newborn baby girl. Everything was in place. Except for one thing -- he had to decide, do I re”up” with the guard or not.

Resigning with the guard meant a lot of things. It meant he would be able to continue to work on the pension and other rewards he would eventually receive when he completed his service. But it also meant he was probably going to go to Iraq for a period of time, most likely a year or more. A decision that meant leaving his wife, new baby daughter and other family. It meant months of boot camp style training with long days and short nights.

We had long talks about the pros and cons of going to Iraq and the chances he would take. He went to council with others and prayed about it with his wife. When he told me he had decided to go and that they had a date for him to leave, I was mad. How, why, why now with the baby?
But I know why Jason went; I know why he is there. He is there because since he was little boy, he has been preparing to be an American soldier. He is there because deep inside Jason, ingrained in this young man with everything going for him, is the desire to serve his country. He is old school patriotic. He is willing to give his life so others may be spared the tragedy of 9/11 or something even more horrific. He is, like so many of our American soldiers, committed to the calling of God and country.

Don’t tell me American is anything less than great. Don’t put our president or our soldiers down in front of me. I stand next to my nephew who is headed to Iraq; I am humbled by his bravery, his honor of country, his willingness to die to protect his nieces and nephews. He is willing to sacrifice all he has for you and me. He is a man. I pray a legion of angels will protect him as he goes forward and that God will use him to minister to others in His great commission.

We can agree to disagree here in America and not have our hands cut off, our families killed, our daughters beaten and raped because of the freedom our soldiers have sacrificed for. So, tell me, what are you doing?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lee and I

Lee and I meet in the kitchen each morning at about 5:30 for our morning coffee and to discuss the way of our world, as it is that day. This routine just recently restarted from days gone by, over 17 years ago.

Lee is a friend I met at a 12-Step meeting way back in the late ‘90s. I had a few years clean and sober; he was trying to get a few days. We have built a friendship since those days, which is very special and important to me.

Lee has done some amazing things in his life. He is the only person I have ever met who actually ran away from home and joined the circus. At 14 he and a friend dropped out of school and were headed to Kemah, Texas, to work on the oyster boats. Along the way they passed a circus. For the next year they worked as setup and tear down hands for one of the big Shriner Circuses of that time. He traveled the country that year, and his stories and photos are wonderful.

When Lee got back from his jaunt with the circus, he wasn’t home long before he signed up for his next adventure as a merchant marine. Lee, at the tender age of 16, was off on his first ship and toured India and Japan, including Hiroshima. That was in the mid ‘60s when Hiroshima was a strange and rare place to visit. What a trip.

I can tell countless stories, Lee stories, but I won’t here. Just suffice it to say he is the most energetic and adventurous person I have ever met.

Since I have known Lee, his life has been centered around his daughters. He had custody of them both and his biggest joys, tears and wishes have been centered around them. Now both are young women with kids. When he gets hugs and kisses from his granddaughters, he absolutely lights up. A single dad raising girls is one of the most difficult things I could imagine. So much to teach them and lots of girls things that frankly I don’t think most men can even talk about aloud.
So as we sit and drink coffee, my workout partners at the gym go on without me. They don’t wait, and I am not rushing off. I love this time of day, and to spend it talking with Lee makes it a great day – no matter what happens after that.

As I write this I am planning a meeting with the CPA and some doctors. We also have to work in a visit to the hospital and talk with Hospice. Both daughters, their kids and Lee’s sister are at our home, and we need to get back to the grocery store sometime today, too. On most days this stuff would be just another day, but right now nothing is trivial or without cause. Planning and making sure things are taken care of and at the same time keeping the wheels on the family cart is tedious and wearing, but through it I find a peace from God and things fall into place.

Lee has cancer of the liver and stomach and I am not sure how many more mornings I will be able to sit with him and drink our morning coffee. By the time this is printed, he may be better, he may not. The doctors couldn’t administer his chemotherapy this week because he is too weak; I expect he will remain too weak for the treatments.

As we prayed over him Tuesday night he gained a sense of peace. Everyone saw it and it was so clearly God’s hands holding him. I know that Lee has accepted the Lord as his personal Savior, and I will see him in heaven. I can just imagine him there, in perfect health and all his glory. Planning adventures and exploring the depths of heaven and what it has to offer. If you can get in trouble for pushing the limits there, he will. God will be spending overtime on my buddy Lee when He finally gets him, whenever that is. I did my part down here, Lord. When you get him, don’t say I didn’t warn you -- he gets up early, likes his coffee strong and has a lot of things to do. Until then, it’s one teaspoon of creamer and a teaspoon of honey with Lee’s coffee about 5:20 a.m. and I will be there.