Monday, June 12, 2017

Sweet Notes

Today is my Dad's 95th birthday. We had a family reunion/birthday party at the new place on Saturday with little furniture, muddy yard, and cousins (some familiar, some new). There had been the enormous task of getting ready with chairs and reformulation of crowd control due to the rain the day before. It was a moment of intense preparation with everybody kicking in and helping out.
We had at least 65 people with a range of ages from a couple of months to my dad. It was loud and messy and busy. The bathrooms got a workout, the kitchen and living room were filled, there was a steady stream of kids up and down the stairs, in and out the doors. Dad handled it all pretty well. Ambient noise renders his hearing aids worthless, so everything had to be repeated time and again. I'm sure he struggled with the identity of all the kids, grandkids, great-grandkids.
In the midst of all a sweet lady from a another life ago sent a note to my son-in-law to pass along to Dad. In the midst of the storm, the cleanup, and the wind down I did not see it until last night. I've attached the note.


I met Nell & Grady Jolly shortly after my husband died (1975). Highland Church of Christ had a bus ministry. Each bus had bus captains and they were on the route where I lived.  Every Saturday morning they would knock-doors. It was on one of these Saturday mornings that I met Nell and Grady.  This meeting changed my life, as well as my entire family’s life.

I remember how sincere and caring they were, but most of all I remember Nell’s smile and kind eyes.  She had a gentleness and strength that is difficult to put into words.

They shared Christ with me and invited me and my children to church.  I declined.  They then asked me if my children could attend.  I was ready to say no, but there was something about their sincerity that changed my mind.  They assured me the bus would pick my children up and bring them back at my front door.  So I decided to let them go.  Nell never gave up on me and never missed an opportunity to share Christ.

Thanksgiving night of that same year, my children spent the night with relatives.  I was alone and had a sort of crying episode. I felt so alone and so forsaken by God. I could not think of anyone to call but then I remembered Nell.  I called the Jolly’s and spoke to Nell.  They came to my home.  I only wanted to talk to Nell.  She came in alone. She comforted me as only a Christian could do and I got through it.

There was something about Nell that I could not explain at that time. I now believe that I saw Gods love for me in her eyes.

There is not a past history of the Church of Christ in my family system, but when I think of the Church and how I am a member I remember Nell.

As a result of Nell and Grady Jolly’s dedication to the cause of Christ and how they allowed Christ to ministry through them, I, my children, and their families are members of the Church and my son is a dedicated elder.

Jacqueline Williams
The note came at a moment in time when I remembered Mom's passing in May 1982 from cancer, and Dad's birthday today, barely a month between. It took me back to the big blue busses. The canvassing on Saturdays. The constant work to corral all the kids from the busses who didn't live on our side of town, or look like us, or think like us. The moment included the intense pride I had/have in my dad and my mom that they were decades ahead of the social involvement it takes to beat racism and the constant criticism they took from church members and neighborhood members.
Dad is a simple guy. And he is not distracted by politics and religion. He and Mom saw something that needed to be done and he recruited help and money and dedicated his time to the mission.
Was all that worth it? See above. You tell me. It is easy to condemn the church in a lot of situations and rightfully so. But when you see a story about someone who saw a need, would not be dissuaded and fulfilled the need. And helped make the "church" change to respond to the need. It makes me proud.
Godspeed to all who simply do the right thing. Who leave a legacy of work, hope, compassion, and lives changed. He is my hero.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Listening to Different Voices

My new habit at the new place is to grab a mug of coffee, slip through the door, and find a porch chair to settle into. Our little island is surrounded by cedars and oaks and hackberrys and elms and makes for secluded and private escape. The sun slowly creeps over the tree line to the east and lights the trees from the very tip top and slowly makes it way down to the ground. It is s peaceful, relaxing moment. Made especially nice because I leave the cell phone in the house and am shut off from the world and the intrusion it causes.

But I am not alone out there. The aviary apparently has a much earlier alarm than I would have guessed. It usually starts with the crows. Their morning conversation is loud and raucous. They jeer and squawk at each other at full volume. Caws are rusty and raspy and incessant.
Pretty soon the mourning doves kick in with their cooing. A subtle and amazing tune that at first earned them their name, but now I tend to think of it as morning note, not a mourning note. But I can see where they earned their name. Cooing through and under the crows loud noise.
Mockingbirds chime in about that time with a repeated three or four note call. Varying very little each time with the same note repeated four or five times at the end. With a little work I can get close to their call. Not sure what I am saying, but they keep coming back to me with the same tune.
And underneath it all is a soft tune I can't quite put my finger on. It is by far the sweetest, but almost lost in the cawing, the cooing, and the calling. And it is not there every morning. Some mornings it is early and chimes right in, other times it is absent. But I find myself listening for it. For some reason that song speaks to me more than the others and it is the rarest and hardest to hear. When it happens it creates a space of peace and calm.

One morning not too long ago it occurred to me that this symphony of bird calls is reflected in my life. The harsh, insistent call of work and demands and pressures caws and squawks and demands my attention. It is never ending, every day, all day. It presses my mind and heart and my soul.
And, as my bride will tell you, there is a small stream of sadness wending it's way through my life. Perhaps I have been wounded or have done the wounding and can't easily escape the scars. It is always there, sort of a mournful sound underlying all the other noise of the daily grind.
Also there, due to some life shift a few years ago is the need to have a repeated song in my life. Disciplines that lend a steadiness that would otherwise swallowed up by the restiveness and the bleakness.

But there is a another song. Not often heard. A song of peace and calm. A song of hope and joy. Straining to hear over the blaring world, the tattered heart, the dulling routine, is the song of tomorrow. When the old book tells us of the voice of God it usually comes in the form of a whisper. Not often heard. But sweetest in note.

My struggle is to be able to hear the best and sweetest song of all. Distraction pulls me away from the art of listening. But maybe if I spend more time on my porch with my coffee and my thoughts the song will get easier to hear. Maybe that is where the life of hope is headed.

Godspeed to everyone who can hear all the songs and realize that each is needed. But I hope that you and me can also hear the sweetest one yet. Above all the others.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A World Away

Last night I had the very special opportunity to eat dinner with four of my greatest treasures, 3 granddaughters and 1 grandson. It was the usual mix of requests for water, the normal turf battles over dining chairs, and the spill zone was larger than usual. Afterwards was the always exciting bath times, reading a book before bed and prayers. Oh, and the agonizingly slow getting pajamas on by a 2-year-old who insisted she could do it herself. Grandaddies drink these moments in like a thirsty plant in the desert.

Another part of my day was spent in a trustees meeting at Global Samaritan Resources where we discussed an event to be held in Abilene on March 25. It was the usual discussion of logistics and money and personnel. But running like a low current under it all was the urgency and passion of these men and women to help others that they did not know, nor would ever meet. But the goal is simple, feed those who are trapped in refugee camps who would rather go home, or as a second resort to go somewhere safe. But trapped and starving in extreme and dangerous situations.

The arguments for and against immigrants has been more than vetted. Even American Christianity can't seem to find any middle ground. Some oppose all immigration for security sake. Others promote full immigration status to all and work out the security later. And there seems to be someone spouting any point in between. In this sense we are a divided nation, and a divided Christian world view. It is not my intent or desire to argue any of these points. Everyone has a found an opinion that works for them and I haven't the skills to persuade otherwise.

But the Christian world view calls for us to help. I think James said that religion that God finds pure and faultless is to look after the orphans and widows. On that we can all agree. So Global Samaritan has found a way to help that does not alter the security of our loved ones.

Global Samaritan Resources acquires and supplies fortified food in boxes. Each holds 216 servings of life-sustaining meals. Or to put it in human terms,  enough food for a family of 6 for a month. A Month. This is the first level of Christian help by Global Samaritan. Instead of saying, "Be fed and filled, I'm praying for you." Global Samaritan is putting food on the plate, sent with prayer and hope.

The second level is genius. Local church kids, local school kids, local grandkids, local kids of all sorts and status are invited to come and decorate the boxes. To send a message around the world to other kids that they are loved and thought of and prayed for. The creativity is unleashed on these boxes by kids for kids. The lesson here is that there is another kid somewhere in the world who cares and loves these refugee kids. Do you see the teaching moment happening?

And the third level is just as vital as all the rest, but far more subtle. Scripture tells us that good overcomes evil, not the other way around. We will never be able to bomb ISIS into understanding our love for them or the world. But we can provide food and hope and prayer for the true victims in all this. The refugee kids did nothing to deserve this except to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time. But if we can provide a moment of compassion it will destroy the world of hate they have come to know. And we do it with a beautifully painted and created box that costs $50 to develop.

As I watched 4 of my 7 grandkids last night eating well, playing with their cousins, and sleeping safe I thought of another 63 year old grandfather. A grandfather who is perhaps watching his grandkids go without another meal, to see them try to sleep with no food, no warmth, no rescue. And the panic rises in me about what I would do and think. What ways could I help with no resources? It is at that moment that a box arrives, colorfully painted with food. And I would praise whatever God brought this salvation to my greatest treasures. Grandaddies everywhere know the gratitude when someone takes a moment and cares. And I would lift a silent Thank You to that other granddaddy who took a moment and few dollars to send a moment of peace.

Godspeed to all the kids who will decorate, the parents and grandparents who will donate, and to a God who fills us with compassion instead of self interest.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Caring for a Memory

Over the past couple of years I have been helping my dad with his finances (checkbook, making sure the bills are paid, advocating for him with the investment people, etc). Dad is still aware, but has experienced an emerging confusion about how to deal with all this. So once a month I go in and visit and balance his check book and ward off the "leaches" that attach themselves to seniors.
His emotional progression has been from being angry at himself about not being able to keep track. The most common phrase, "You don't know what it like to be stupid!" And all my assurances that he is not stupid, but is just entering another phase. He was aware of his lapses in memory and ability discern the changing world and it made him mad. Now he doesn't realize he has asked the same questions over and over in just the last few minutes. So our visits have become an endless conversation loop about the same concerns he seems to be focused on at the moment. The upside is that he no longer gets angry about forgetting, because he doesn't realize he has forgotten.

For those who don't know him or remember him from years ago, it is hard to realize the difference. Until the last few years he was a funny, accommodating, ACTIVE guy, with no deceit in him at all. To my chagrin I have fallen far short of this model. He always had something going and was looking for new things to do. His common directive to me as a kid was, "While you are resting, you need to...." and give me chore to do. I never realized I spent that much time "resting".

My emotional journey through this has been another matter. Over the past few years I have become the one "directing" and he was the one responding. The role shift was painful. There is something in me that still wants to be the good son, to be obedient, to emulate the best aspects of my dad. To have him proud of me. And to be the one who has to shift him away from what he wants to do and be feels is in direct conflict with the "good son" perception.

We are moving he and his wife to an assisted living facility. A move he has made clear he does not want to make. And for the first time in decades we are in direct conflict about the direction of his life. The decisions being made are for the first time for me a direct violation of the obedient son model. And it is painful for me as well as for him.

I have noticed in myself a very gradual slide after each visit towards depression about the decisions I am having to make. And after this last visit, while eating dinner with my bride, I broke down completely. Surprising us both. But it made me wonder why this was so difficult? Everyone goes through this at some point. Part of the answer seemed to be buried somewhere in the knowledge that I was struggling with the two versions of my dad. The version I have known for the first 60 years of my life would never have needed or tolerated this intrusion by me. But the last 2-3 years have shown me another version of my dad. The one I am helping is confused, he is less capable physically. He needed my help. But this is not the dad that I grew up with.

So I am caring for a memory. When he is finally gone, I will not reflect on this current version. My memories will swirl around the funny guy that always found chores for me, the guy who would be moving before my mother or his current wife could finish a request of him, the guy who was always working outside, The guy who believed that God wanted him to do something, the guy who never said anything negative about anyone. The decisions now being made are in honor of the first version, in honor of all he has meant to me. Realizing this has lifted the depression a bit.
So to honor the first version, I care for the current one.

Godspeed to all out there who have gone through this. You have my respect. Growing up is not very much fun.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Glimpse of Courage

Every so often I read something or hear something that makes me stop and consider it further. Usually it takes me a moment to figure out why the idea, or story, or thought made me stop. We are inundated with news and comments, opinions (Lord the opinions) views, analysis and it is a task to even begin to accommodate them, much less assimilate them. But this past week something hit me that revealed a sliver of human courage. A type of courage we very rarely see anymore.

I was panning through the AOL news headlines when the face of a toddler popped up on the screen. . "Family of Lane Graves, Toddler Killed in Alligator Attack, Won't Sue Disney" Now toddlers hold a special place for me with four of my grandkids having outgrown this stage, but three still in it. The picture of this little boy twisted my heart as I tried to ponder the despair that his family and, in particular, his parents must be going through. Each of us who have lived for any length of time in this journey know that things happen and the world is shifted in some way. Most of us have had these very circumstances, or close calls, or at least have the empathy to understand how destructive this kind of event can be. We can also understand the anger and frustration of having to cope with a loss so devastating, so encompassing,

If this were me, I  would be lashing out at anything and everything trying to find a way to equilibrium that probably would never fully arrive. We can say all the trite and threadbare phrases about heaven and God's will and angels. But I will tell you that somewhere in all of that I would be ready and eager to start someone else's suffering for uttering those phrases. From experience I will tell you there are not words to describe the depth and intensity of a 3AM confrontation with a God that has not watched as vigilantly as he could over your little ones. It is at these moments that "righteous anger" takes on a whole new meaning.

So I stopped and read the article. The parents admitted to be being permanently broken. The regret and the confusion and the shame and the despair dripped from every quote. But the article talks about a foundation they set up in little Lane's memory. A purposeful moving on to help. A recognition of the shape of their world and their hearts having been changed forever. In the midst of the devastation of their lives, instead of retribution and blaming, they exhibited a pure and powerful and supernatural courage. It still makes my chest hurt to think of this type of courage. Courage in the face of total loss.

Do I have that type of courage? This was not the courage of sacrificing my life for someone I love. This was sacrificing my right to retaliate, to bring someone to justice, to call to account. Lane was already gone, there was no sacrifice to be made. And as I father and grandfather I will tell you there is not a more helpless feeling than to realize that I could do nothing...nothing. It reminds me again that the courage of the cross, the courage of these parents, the courage of those who have lost it all is the courage it takes to do nothing. To simply let it go.

Godspeed to all out there who have suffered this sort of devastation, to those whose journey will take them to this moment. Courage is not the ability to change the outcome, but the courage in the face of all injustices to do nothing. To look forward, scarred and hurt, and try to find a way to help. Perhaps the courage to understand.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I'm Baaack!

Well this has been an interesting 6 months.

Somehow I got locked out of my own blog.

My cell phone crashed and took all my contacts with it.

We sold our house and bought land. So we are living in really cozy arrangements. (600 sq ft)

Along with my phone crash I lost all my blog ideas that I think up during the week.

So, with this new access I will be posting a few things that have been on my mind and lately on my heart.

But here is a thought for my few and faithful readers.
For the past couple of years I have felt the urge to write something beyond the short blog posts. These I write in a single sitting, usually straight through with only spell checks and the occasional rewording to make the tenses work.
However, this will take a little more thought and discipline to get it on paper. Not really my nature.
One thing I have considered is writing a bit at a time and letting as many read it as possible and see where it leads. It may require starting another, specific blog with a more limited access.

Anyway, it is good to be back.

As always, Godspeed on your various journeys.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day Journey

Last Friday I sat in on the Veteran's Day program performed by the student body of Red Oak Elementary. There was the usual themes and songs from each of branches of service. A rousing and emotional program, and I don't mean that in a sarcastic way. For the entirety of the program I thought about my dad, now 93 years old, flying combat missions over Germany at the age of 22 or so. Having to be responsible for 9 other men, wondering every time it was wheels up if he would return both to base and home. He has never talked much about it. I don't think it is the trauma of the missions he flew, but more that Dad never really looks back. He has always dealt with the next moment and doesn't concern himself with the history or the contemplation that brought him to this moment. And now that the memory is failing and the body is grinding to a halt he is thinking of the next moment about final arrangements and making sure there is not going to be a problem for those he leaves behind.

But in the moment of the Veteran's program I reflected on the happenstance of my not serving all those years ago. Of course in those days, no one willingly joined. There was not the sense of national devotion to all things military. My contemporaries were compelled to go via a process called "the draft". For those of you who don't know or remember how this worked, it was known as the lottery. A bad kind. 365 birthdays were dumped in a wheel and whenever your birthday came out of the drawing was your "draft number". At the age of 18 every male was required to sign up for the draft. There were a lot of conversations about what we would do if drafted, the preference of service, and the uncertainty about what that meant. My 18th birthday came towards the end of the Vietnam war. By mid-1972 (I graduated in spring 1972) the US was beginning to pull out of the war. So the draft numbers would have to be pretty low to worry about the prospect of being drafted. All I remember was that while comparing our numbers between a good friend of mine, the number I drew was in the 300's, his was 9. Not good. He joined and never saw time outside the USA. But the idea that one would join out of patriotic duty, or sense of service  was foreign in that moment. While my dad and his contemporaries rushed to the enlistment centers after Pearl Harbor, my contemporaries were looking for loopholes or the most direct route to Canada to sit out the conflict. Theirs was a noble war, ours was a point of national debate and contention. And to summarize what my friend with the bad luck to draw a low number told me later, "you can avoid anything in the military if you learn to use the system". It was a different time and a different war and a different attitude.

As the program wore on I wondered (again) how my life would have been different had I served at the moment of my 18th year. Would I have survived? It is hard to imagine not surviving when there is a 40+ year history since that moment. If I had survived I would have come home a couple of years after a normal college start. Would I have met my bride? Probably not. What would my life have been like without her? I can't imagine it. And all the things that follow, kids, grandkids, jobs, friends, places we have lived, would have been entirely different. Not to mention (and perhaps the most compelling thought string) how would I have been changed by the events? How would I be different? What would my journey look like now? What would my views be on the different journey that I would have traveled? It is almost impossible to imagine because we are the sum of our decisions. And each decision is based on the experiences we alone have had.

Which brings me full circle to the program last Friday. We each travel our own journey. There is no changing the moment just past or the cars in the long train leading up to it. You see the sum of who I am in this moment is less conscious planning and more opening doors that lead one to another until I find myself in this place. Our journey is as unique as our fingerprints. Would I now go back and change the moment of an 18 year old and miss the journey with my bride, my three kids, their spouses, my grandkids, our friends (both old and new), on and on and on? I can't trade and wouldn't if I could. The things I find most precious came to me because of MY journey and the sum of MY decisions. And as I thought of my dad and his journey that included placing his life on the line, it occurred to me that it is part of what has made him important to me. Our journeys were not the same, but it is important that they not be.

My hope is that my journey will reap some of the same results as my dad's journey which included a time of uncertainty over the skies of Germany. Hopeful that the fruit will be compassion, integrity, honor, mercy, faith, and last and certainly not least is a sense of humor about it all. The success of the journey is in the satisfaction we have received. And each of us is the only one who can determine if the journey we have traveled has been worthwhile.

So on this day of honoring our veterans, it is important to note that this portion of their journey has crossed for a moment with ours. But the journeys are all meaningful, all part of who we are, all are important.

Godspeed to those who have gambled it all, in particular the veterans. And more specifically my dad. 1st Lt. Grady B. Jolly.