Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bran Muffin or Bacon, or Both?

As I am sitting here enjoying the morning, it is quiet. I have purposefully set myself up to have a few hours to write, which I do it best in places that inspire me in different ways -- the mountains, Starbucks, a balcony overlooking the beach. Today it is Whole Foods. The newest store in Austin is a smaller store not far from where I drop off my son at school. 

Whole Foods is an amazing place where people-watching is at a premium. The headquarters are here in Austin, and they built a flagship store downtown that is just incredible. Healthy foods are the foundation with just about anything, and everything you need to feed your body well can be found there. My wife and I have, on many occasions, chosen a date night as an evening strolling the isles and people-watching at the mega-headquarters grocery store. It always includes taste testing then eating something new, organic and healthy.

Today I was craving a bran muffin with blueberries. I bought a four pack and a half loaf of cranberry walnut bread cut thin. I also ordered a medium organic coffee with almond milk and cinnamon. As I sat down to enjoy my treats I thought, ‘Who am I?’

Since when do I want a bran muffin? Why am I so intrigued by local honey and Truvia natural sweetener? Let me check … Boots? Yes. Jeans? Check. Ranger belt? Yep. Starched button-down long sleeve? Yep. I drove my dirty ole’ Dodge truck over here. I am half shaven and have a healing wound on my hand from a weekend fishing mishap. I am still the good ole’ boy I think I am -- I think.

As I ponder my cravings I look up and notice that there are old pickup truck tailgates hanging from the ceiling in different directions as decor over the registers here. Older ones -- now that is cool. 

I am stuck in a weird place right now. I realize I live a life polar opposite of where I spent many days on along my life trail. I grew up a city boy, and I crave the country life. I am about as conservative as one can be, yet I love this hip and cool place called Austin. I enjoy the energy of the boys and girls I mentor and crave time with the wise and intentional Sages I have in my life. I love bacon, eggs and biscuits with strong black coffee for breakfast, yet I am here filling a craving I had for a bran muffin and agave nectar.

The music in the store changes from something I have never heard, an eclectic sound, to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Charlie Daniels. How appropriate.

The really amazing thing, the one thing consistent in my life today, is my desire to know Jesus and live a life as an honorable man -- a man who claims Jesus as his Lord of lords, King of kings. A man who will fight a battle against the wrongs and deviant claims of the fallen angels and Satan himself. To be a person, a man, who stands for something, who is compassionate and caring and has meaning in his life. One who is penitent when wrong, walks with a joy that is shared without conversation and truly prays when I say, "I am prayin' for ya."

John Eldredge, (“Wild at Heart”), talks about the poser. The guy who is living one way and portrays another, one who wears one hat in public and a different one at home or at church. We all do it at some level, smiling when we are not happy, laughing at something we do not find funny, agreeing to something to get along or get ahead. I have been that guy for years in so many areas. The difference today is when I uncover myself posing, it bothers me. I don't want to do it. I don't want to be that person.  

Life is full of all types of opportunities, challenges, foods, stores, people and places to be or be from. I am free to choose. I can enjoy my bran muffin today and thick cut fried crisp bacon tomorrow. I can choose today to be in a good mood or fill my pockets full of rocks and sticks and be weighted down with the burdens of unhappiness and anger. Of course I have to take into consideration my waistline, my cholesterol, my sugar intake and if there will be time for a nap after breakfast. Many of the choices we make today have long-term consequences. Decisions from our past come back and we have to deal with them. In almost every situation we have to make a choice, eat it or not, be there or leave, face it or run, believe or not. Today I choose to enjoy being where God has me. It is a good place.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Unconditional Bob

A phone call in the middle of the night almost never brings good news.

"Hey, my car is broken down." "Hey, so-and-so is headed to the hospital." "Hey, can you come get me out of jail?” No one wants to get one of these calls at night, but if you have kids or family it is going to happen at some point.

Shirley and Bob Baker, my mother and stepdad,  were probably asleep. Waking up and first thinking, "What is that sound?"

Clarity comes quickly and they answer the phone.

"Mrs. Greaney,” the voice on the other end of the line chimes in a monotone voice.

"No, it's Mrs. Baker. It used to be Greaney," she says very defining.
The voice on the other end of the phone continues, "Excuse me -- Mrs. Baker. Well, ma’am, we have your son here in the Toyavalle, Ala., county jail, and he gave us your name and phone number to come get him."

I was a juvenile, living on the road then, and they wanted me bailed out and picked up.

I was actually hitchhiking from Texas to Birmingham, Ala. A young teenage kid on the street. I had made up my mind to go visit my mom, brother and sisters, so I took off hitchhiking from Houston. Standing on the interstate in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere apparently attracted the local sheriff’s attention and landed me in the slammer. Dirty coppers.

Several hours later a uniformed officer showed up at my cell door and told me someone was there to pick me up. It was Bob.

At this point I really didn't know my stepdad. I don't know that I had even met him. I was not a part of the wedding. I don't think I even knew about it. My mom, little brother and sisters had moved to Illinois then Alabama after the divorce. I ran away. When you are in jail, having anyone come bail you out is a blessing, and, being the arrogant little heathen I was, I figured Bob should have. After all, he was married to my mother. The drive was quiet. We didn't know each other, and I sure wasn't going to let this guy into my world. Not yet.

That was my introduction to my stepdad. Stellar planning on my part, right? Over the years Bob was patient through each of my disruptive visits. He knew mom loved me and wanted to see me. Another time I proved to be amazing was when I was staying with them in Georgia on an extended visit. It was not unusual for me to ask then to use mom's car. This Friday night the stipulation was that I had to drop my sister off at her destination on my way to wherever I told them I was going. I was driving fast and scaring my sister as I hurriedly drove to her drop-off spot. Before we got far I missed a stop sign and skid out in front of an oncoming car. Mom’s car was totaled. I don't think Bob ever said a word, but I know it was a huge hardship. The car was paid for, and they were struggling.

There is a plethora of information online about step-parenting. lists these statistics. Over 50 percent of U.S. families are remarried or re-coupled. The average marriage in America lasts only seven years. Seventy-five percent remarry. Sixty-six percent of those living together or remarried break up when children are involved.  Fifty percent of the 60 million children under the age of 13 are currently living with one biological parent and that parent's current partner.

The site also lists tips and dos and don'ts for step-parents. Step six says in part, "There is no model for the step relationship except for the wicked stepchild and invariably cruel stepmother of fairy tales. Note the absence of myth around the stepfather. It is vital for the survival of the stepfather to be able to see and delineate expectations for each member of the family, especially the primary issues of upset in step: e.g., money, discipline, the prior spouse, visitation, authority, emotional support, territory and custody."

I wanted to find a Biblical example of the grace Bob has shown me over the years, how he is true to the Word of God. In the book of Mark, Mark 10:13-16, people were bringing little children to Jesus asking him to lay healing and loving hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant.

He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

And He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them.

I think there were plenty of times Bob wanted to "lay hands" on me but not for healing and loving. He could have rightfully banned me from his home. He could have scolded me time and time again. Many times I expected him to shame me for being stupid or taking advantage of my mom or him. He never once did any of that.

Over the years I have made my amends and have come to admire Bob in a way I admire few men. He is the rock my brother and sisters needed in their lives. Even though he had kids of his own he was fully committed to them and my mom. Mom had lived a hard life for a long while with my father and his propensity for alcohol. She deserved to be loved and cared for. Bob is her knight.

It is always the easy way out to ignore, check out, blow off, drink, be angry, leave, physically abuse and just generally not give a darn about so many things in our lives. In my work with fatherless kids and single moms, even the men with whom I am close, I am told the stories of horrific stepdads and the despair and deep wounds that are now burdens on them.

I was the one who pushed back, who wounded and battled the good that was and is Bob. I now strive to be a man he is proud to call his son, the step part matters not. The gift of Bob's love and caring will show up for generations on earth through our family. His love took a broken family and mended the hearts together. I don't know how you pay back someone like Bob. Maybe it is you pay it forward. Sound familiar?

Mark 9:37, "Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receiveth Me: and whosoever receiveth Me, receiveth not Me, but Him that sent Me."