The Latest 02-28-2016

It was one year ago today that Wendy, me and a small army of friends, moved our stuff into our new house. It was a typically chilly February day in Iowa and the snow was falling ere we finished lugging in all the boxes. What a difference a year makes. It was 70 degrees and gorgeous yesterday as Wendy and I walked around the neighborhood. We sat on the glider rocker on our front porch, soaked in the sun. We reminisced about all the ways VW Manor has taken shape over the past twelve months, talked about our queue of things we still need to do, and dreamed of possibilities way out in the future. Bottom line is that we are continuing to feel extremely grateful and blessed.

Drinks, Cuban Cigars, and treats on the patio at McQuade Pub!
Drinks, Cuban Cigars, and treats on the patio at McQuade Pub!

The weather was warm enough last week for Kevin and I to enjoy the year’s first cigar on the deck at McQuade Pub. I had been given a precious gift of Cuban Cohiba cigars late last year and have been itching to have one. Miss Linda prepared a lovely tray of goodies for Kevin and I to enjoy as we quaffed and puffed away in the bearably chilly evening. The Cuban contraband was awesome (thanks, Matthew!).

The past couple of weeks has been marked by concern for my folks. Dad has had a long struggle with his heart going out of rhythm. Meds haven’t worked to remedy the problem and last week he was scheduled for a heart ablation that was abandoned after it began when his heart abruptly went from atrial flutter to atrial fibrillation. He spent three more days in the hospital as they tried yet another nasty med (when they require hospitalization for the first three days of taking it, you know it’s not aspirin). While Wendy and I were with the folks at home on Thursday afternoon his heart went back out of rhythm again and now there’s a big question mark regarding what’s next. Dad’s string of health issues from cancer to cardiac arrhythmia, coupled with mom’s slow but unstoppable descent into Alzheimer’s, has layered life with  a certain worry-tinged melancholy. Nevertheless, we’re so thankful for their supportive and loving community at Woodlands Creek, and we’re looking forward to taking them out for dinner tonight!

One of the things that I’ve learned as the father of young adults is that they will incessantly make a liar out of you. Two weeks ago when I wrote my last installment of The Latest I reported that Madison was staying in Colorado Springs and had made application for an apartment there. A few days later she called to report that she’d decided to make a counter-offer on a job she’d turned down in South Carolina and it was accepted. So, Maddy Kate is making plans for a move to Columbia to work as a territory manager for Laura Geller cosmetics. Well done, MK!

Taylor has continued to make inroads with the Alzheimer’s Association as she passionately pursues her creative calling to tell the stories of those with early onset Alzheimer’s. She continues to apply for positions on both sides of the pond and to do whatever she can to make ends meet and pay the bills. We were so blessed that Taylor was able to (put that CNA training to work) help out with grandpa and grandma this past week.

Playhouse high water mark
The line of dirt across the yard and sidewalk shows how high the flood waters reached over the holidays.

I made a business trip to Tennessee this week, taking the opportunity to make the drive and make an overnight visit to the lake on both the way there and the way back. It was great to check on the Playhouse and make sure all was well. There was record flooding on the lake back during the holidays and it was fascinating to see the dark line of debris across the yard marking the high water. It was good to be there, even if was only for a few hours. It means summer is coming and we’ll soon be grilling out, taking sunset rides in the boat, and enjoying listening to Pat and Ron calling the Cubs’ game as we sip our drinks on deck and/or dock!

Director Kevin McQuade directs Spence Ver Meer and Jana DeZwarte in USP's "Almost, Maine."
Director Kevin McQuade directs Spence Ver Meer and Jana DeZwarte in USP’s “Almost, Maine.”

Rehearsals for Almost, Maine continue. We’re just over six weeks from opening night and are off-book. Wendy and I continue to relish the opportunity of working with our friend and director, Kevin McQuade. Our fellow cast members have been focused, hard working, and a joy to work with. It is going to be an amazing show! Do yourself a favor right now and mark your calendar for a date night on April 14, 15, 16, or 17. Make a trip to Pella for dinner and a really inexpensive evening of  really good live theatre. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Theatre Central "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"

Speaking of dinner and live theatre, Wendy and I enjoyed a night out with the VLs on Friday night and last night we had a date night ourselves with dinner and a performance of Theatre Central’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Pella Opera House. We then enjoyed drinks and conversation after the show with the McQuades and a few of Central’s profs.

 

The (Other) Love Chapter

“…abide in my love.”
John 15:9b (NRSV)

There is a chapter in Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers in the city of Corinth that has been forever known as “The Love Chapter.” It is probably the most recited words of God’s Message read at weddings. It is most certainly on the top ten list of beloved scriptures by most people who have such a list. The passage provides a definition of what love looks like.

As I read Jesus’ words to His followers on the night before His crucifixion, I found myself realizing the number of references Jesus made to love. This morning I find myself pondering all that Jesus had to say about love, and it was a lot:

  • Jesus’ love was modeled for him by God, the Father.
  • We are to abide in Jesus’ love.
  • Obedience to Jesus’ command is the gateway to abiding in Jesus’ love, which Jesus’ modeled in obeying God, the Father and abiding in the Father’s love.
  • The command is this: love one another, as modeled by Jesus
  • The greatest love is sacrificial, giving my life away for the benefit of my friends and loved ones
  • Jesus gave the command to motivate the action. He desires and expects us to love one another.

Wow. That’s a lot to chew on. Paul may have described love in his letter to the believers in Corinth, but Jesus gives clarity to where that love comes from, where to look for a model, and what I am expected to do with that love. This is the “other” love chapter.

I leave this morning’s post pondering this one thing:

May it ever be said of me: The dude abides.

 

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featured image by R. Cogswell via Flickr

Chill, and Follow

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
John 14:1a (NRSV)

When I was a boy, my mom used to complain about my pessimism. I fretted and fussed on a regular basis. The glass was clearly half empty in my mind, and I was perpetually certain that life would soon suck the other half dry and leave me with nothing. I have distinct memories of sitting at our kitchen counter and getting a lecture from my mother about always being a pessimist (and not really knowing what a pessimist was).

Jesus said that there is “fruit” that becomes evident in the lives of those who follow Him. As I look back at my life journey to this point, one of the things that is evident to me is that my relationship with Jesus has taught this pessimist about living with faith.

Wendy will tell you that my pessimistic spirit has not completely left me, and there are still times that my heart slips back into my natural, glass half-empty fame of mind. However, what Jesus has taught me over the years is that there is a “letting” that occurs with a troubled heart. “Do not let your heart be troubled,” He said. I allow my heart to be troubled. I choose in to the anxiety. I give fear and anxiety permission to place shackles on my spirit.

The other choice Jesus gave His followers was to believe. “Don’t let your heart be troubled,” He said, “believe.” Believe that Jesus is working all things together, even my present circumstances, for the good. Believe that God will provide. Believe that there is purpose in my present pain that I cannot see in the moment. Believe that if I embrace the mystery of the moment I will someday look back and see with clarity what that purpose was. Believe that God is with me. Believe that God is for me. Believe that God will direct my steps. Believe that God’s grace is sufficient.

Today, I am reminded just how much I have come to trust God and how much of my daily life has become predicated on faith. It’s a bit wild, actually. Taylor likes to blog about writing letters to her younger self, and this morning I find myself thinking about writing a note to the pessimistic boy getting lectured by mother at the kitchen counter.

Listen to your mother, little man, and don’t let your heart be troubled. Choose to believe what Jesus tells you. You can trust Him. Chill, and follow.

Embrace the Mystery of the Moment

Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
John 13:7 (NRSV)

There was a lot that Jesus’ followers did not understand. It is a subtle, but recurring theme in John’s biography of Jesus:

  • Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
  • They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.
  • Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word.
  • Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
  • His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

Along my life journey I’ve discovered that I almost always desire clarity and understanding, but it quite regularly eludes me in the moment and in my immediate circumstances. It is only when I reach a waypoint down the road that I look back and perceive with clarity and understanding how God was at work around me, in me, and through me. I have come to accept that there are some things that will continue to elude me until my journey is over and I am safe at home.

At least I’m not alone. I take heart today in the realization that Jesus’ best friends and closest followers on this earth were perplexed in the moment, too. Being physically present with Jesus and hearing His every word, they still didn’t get it until further on down the road. Maybe it’s time for me to cut myself a little slack.

I’m reminded that this life journey is, for me, a faith journey. I will rarely have clarity and understanding in the moment. I am, however, assured of the hope that God will complete His good work in me. Having looked back at how He has brought me to this point, and all that He has faithfully accomplished thus far, it is evident that I can trust that my present circumstances are part of the plan.

You do not know now what I am doing,” Jesus says to His followers, “but later you will understand.”

Indeed.

So, go with it. Trust. Have faith.

Embrace the mystery of the moment.

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featured image by odreamer via Flickr

There Will Always Be Naysayers

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”
John 12:4-5 (NRSV)

A few months ago I received a call from a person who had attended worship with our local group of Jesus’ followers a week or two before. The caller had taken issue with the message that had been delivered by another one of our members and was mightily upset about it. I listened to the complaints and asked a few questions to try and understand, but it became clear to me that what this person heard and what they read into the words that had been said were not consistent with the message I heard. I’m not sure where the vehemence was coming from, but it was unwarranted.

One of the things I’ve learned along life’s journey is that there will always be naysayers. For every person who tells me “great job” after I give a message, I know there is an equal (or greater) number of people highly critical of me and what I said. For every person who says they value my leadership, there is an equal (or greater) number of people taking pot shots at me behind my back. This is life. Even Jesus had critics. While He rode waves of popularity, there were always those objecting and arguing with everything He said and did. Raise a man from the dead and they want to kill you. But, that was nothing new. There were numerous times, from Nazareth to Jerusalem, that the crowds wanted to kill Him. In today’s chapter, we see evidence that the criticism and questioning came even among his closest followers.

Today I’m reminded that I can’t control what others think and say. There will always be naysayers. People get out of sorts for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it is for conscious reasons, though I find that often a naysayer’s anger comes from hidden places in the heart which they have not explored. My job is to try to be understanding, gentle, loving and kind while standing firm in what I know and believe to be true.

Unexpected Events in the Narrative

…after having heard that Lazarus was ill, [Jesus] stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
John 11:6 (NRSV)

One of the things that has always fascinated me about Jesus’ story, is the way in which Jesus is aware of the bigger picture of all that is happening in and around Him. There is a master plan that is being carried out. The conflict between Jesus and the religious powers-that-be has been growing for some time, but it is all part of the Great Story narrative that God has been authoring since Genesis. Jesus continually speaks and acts in a way to move the narrative toward its prescribed conclusion.

Life and death, death and resurrection are the grand themes of the Great Story. Jesus knows that events are falling into place. Characters are in their places and the cues are being called. Jesus will soon play His part in the grand climax of the story. He will die and then rise again to life in three days. For those who had ears to hear it, Jesus has been saying it all along…

“I will destroy this temple and raise it in three days.”

“Just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the fish, so for three days the Son of Man will lie in the earth.”

In today’s chapter, Jesus hears of Lazarus’ illness and chooses to stay right where He is. He is waiting for Lazarus to die. This is part of the story, though for Mary and Martha their brothers sudden illness and Jesus’ subsequent refusal to act must be both unexpected and frustrating. Jesus must allow Mary and Martha to suffer the grief and sorrow of their brother’s death, knowing the eucatastrophe that will ultimately allow them to experience the power of Life. The author of creation is a master artist and writer, and He is calling the shots. One dramatic miracle, the resurrection of Lazarus, will accomplish multiple layers of purpose:

  • Lazarus’ resurrection will foreshadow Jesus’ resurrection.
  • Jesus’ miracle will up the ante. He has revealed power of sickness and nature, but now He raises the stakes and will publicly reveal His power over death itself.
  • In upping the ante, He will force the hand of His enemies. They will feel compelled to go all in.

Over this past week, Wendy and I have experienced a small handful of unexpected life events that have us scratching our heads. We can’t see clearly where circumstance is leading for us or our loved ones, nor do we have focus regarding how these small events fit in the bigger narrative of our stories. This morning I am reminded, and encouraged, that the author of creation is a master story-teller, and I can trust that He is writing our own stories to fit perfectly into the Great Story narrative.

 

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Mom’s Valentine’s Day Present

We are blessed that the progression of my mother’s Alzheimer’s has been slowed by meds. We’re thankful for each day we’re able to continue to enjoy together. I’ve read that music and images are positive stimuli for those suffering with Alzheimer’s, triggering memories and hopefully lubricating the brain to continue remembering.

With that in mind, I put together a little video for mom (and dad) for Valentine’s Day this year. Some old family photos and music that hopefully gets the synapses firing in a positive way. The Dixieland jazz that accompanies photos of her as a little girl is from Bix Beiderbecke, an Iowa native. My mom’s dad loved Dixieland and attended the Bix festival in Davenport. My mom told me that when she was a teenager, the Crew-Cuts’ Sh-Boom was her favorite song. She repeatedly played it so much that it drove her father crazy (I remember having similar thoughts about N’Sync), so that’s what I chose for pictures of her as a teen. The Lord’s Prayer was sung at their wedding, and I can remember my mom listening to Whitney Huston’s CD a lot, especially after watching The Preacher’s Wife.

Our plan to take the folks out for Valentine’s dinner was scuttled by weather, but I had a chance to swing by their apartment this week and play them this video. It was fun to hear their memories, laughter, and to witness her tears as she watched. At the end of the video she wiped her tears and said, “God has been so good to us. We have been so blessed.

I hope she will enjoy watching this video over and over again. And, I hope it will continue to remind her of God’s faithfulness and blessings through the home stretch of her life journey.