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Archive for October, 2013

Coming from a guy who loves life, I can’t believe that I am going to encourage funeral-a-week attendance. Ok, maybe every month? Oh, yes, even if we never knew the person. You might get some strange looks, but consider the benefits.

A regular visit to the dead can actually make us more alive.

A case in point was the memorial service of Tom Eames, the brother of a good friend. When the minister asked if there were any present who would like to say a few kind words, I remained motionless like most. But the whole atmosphere changed rather quickly when, one by one, friends of the deceased began describing the quality of faithfulness that Tom exhibited throughout his life. 

To a person, the overwhelming commonality of their brief talks was that they had a friend that they would deeply miss. And each testifier knew his life was richer because Tom’s life was now indelibly written on their own. There was a true heartbrokenness as each returned to their respective pew, hunch-shouldered and teary-eyed.

It left me with the obvious question: Do we speak of the living as well as we do of the dead? If we knew who was next, what impact would it have on our conversations with them? It also hit me that I was a bit envious of Tom. You see, there is no guarantee that my funeral would fill a church like his did. 

I really wonder if developing the habit of regularly attending funerals would truly help me grasp the value of relationships. Would going from funeral to funeral keep life’s poignancy utterly fresh in my mind? David, the brother of the deceased, reminded me that such a ritual was not really a novel idea.

“Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies – so the living should take this to heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:2

As they say, funerals are for the living. Perhaps, by consistently burying some unkind words and thoughts and unearthing gracious ones, I might be the kind of friend who will fill the pews.

BELOW: UNDER THE CATEGORY OF “YOU-NEVER-KNOW,” TOM WAS THE BABY, BUT HE DIED FIRST. Image

JUDGING FROM THE TESTIMONIES OF HIS FAMILY AND FRIENDS, YOU COULD SAY TOM FINISHED STRONG:

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“Where do you call home?”

That’s a question strangers ask each other in a line at a ski lift or a Starbucks. Usually, there is not a slight hesitation in the response except for those who grew up as “Army brats” or their parents worked for IBM (a.k.a.”I’ve Been Moved.”)

From the cupola where I often sit, I look down on many trees and shrubs. One particular Yew bush seems to attract a lot of different species of birds. They fly into it and “disappear” like residents walking into their high rise apartment.

If I had x-ray vision or made the effort to investigate at ground level, I would probably find several nests in there. What attracted my notice was the way they’d fly in and out. It was as if they always had a safe place to go to “disappear.” A home.

The sanctity of a house, the concept that “A man’s home is his castle” or even the idea of a “man cave” adds a security to life that few other things can match.

“Where do you call home?” Watching those birds disappear made me think of the invisible. Our bodies can pull up in the driveway, get a peck from the spouse and slump into our favorite chair. To the outside world, the minute we enter our “castle,” we have disappeared from their sight.

But where does the heart go when it needs respite and needs to deliberately find the branches that hold the nest for our safe landing? Our souls can get out of sorts. As we go through our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and beyond into the “senior years,” life presents more variables than the bubbles of school and youth.  We enter the world of greater complexities with regard to relationships, job, health, finances, faith, geography and the sublime territory of losses – whether through death or through a freedom taken away or a relationship gone awry or whatever. We find ourselves uttering that dreaded cliche, “It’s complicated.”

In my younger days, I waited tables. One table in my section was a breeze and I was the diners’ hero because I had the luxury of doting on them. Two tables was not that bad. Three tables began to require efficiency, four tables demanded synchronicity with myself and the kitchen and the bar, five tables demanded error-less steps with a painted smile while six or more required nothing short of grace and good shoes.

And so it is with each passing decade, the need to disappear appears to reappear quite often. Where does my soul go? The Hebrew King David is one of my favorite historical figures because nothing ever seemed that easy for him and I can relate. At one point, his own followers wanted to kill him. His soul did a disappearance act that would make Houdini jealous.

“So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. David’s two wives had been captured…David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him… BUT DAVID FOUND STRENGTH [DISAPPEARED] IN THE LORD. 1 Samuel 30: 4-6

My birds find their refuge in the Yew bush. Me? I’m with David.

Where do you call home?

 

BELOW: YEW IS BIG BUSH TO THE RIGHT. (NO, YOU CAN’T SEE THE BIRDS, THEY DISAPPEARED INTO THEIR HOME.)

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I don’t want to sound like the perpetual optimist and a man of faith. I mean, how bad is that?

But like you, life has throw some bad storms my way. You know, the kind where cliches just don’t cut it.

“God is using it.”

“Look for the silver lining.” (Notice they didn’t say “gold lining.”)

And the one voted for “Most Irritating:” “This, too, shall pass.” So does the bus that just ran over me, but somehow I just don’t feel any better looking at its tail lights.

That’s when I remember about my stubbornness and my propensity to want to hang on to pain like my grandson who likes to show his bruises…repeatedly.

It keeps happening in the natural, too.

Tornado warnings in upstate New York aren’t that common, so we tend to pay attention when we get them. Just a while ago, a storm was blowing hail sideways. Even cats know enough to ditch when it gets that bad. In the middle of that chaos, it seems like it will never end. You always trust that your house was built to withstand Mother Nature’s fury. But, somewhere deep in the back of your mind, you wonder just how bad the storm can get. It’s a bit unnerving when The Wizard of Oz is stealthily playing with your memory.

So, just to let nature know that she can test my faith all she wants, I have developed a habit of going to the back of my house after such storms. And there it is, time and time again. The sign that rewards optimists and reinforces that, this too shall pass.

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©2013, El Shaddai

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For us old folks who used white-out on IBM Selectrics, Smith Corona and even dabbled with those typewriters of antiquity with the arms that swung from underneath, the gravitational pull toward computers was fast and furious. 

For our younger friends, the old images of the journalist or author plucking at his keys and issuing some exasperated sighs and expletives before, in explosive fury, grabbing the top of the paper in the typewriter as if going for an enemy’s throat and ripping the thing from the rollers and crumpling the paper-not-just-politely-putting-it-in-the-_____-trash before heaving it over his right shoulder is a true picture of the frustration of making a, or if including the white-out, mistake in the plurol, uh, that’s plural.

While some, like Andy Rooney, might have romanticized about getting it right the first time without leaning on the crutch of auto-correct, others like me would rather forever white-out those memories of disgust.  failure.

Just recently, I noticed in the middle of typing a word that I was mispelling (sp?) it and realized that, within an INSTANT, it would all be “taken care of, thank you.”

I have been an auto-corrected Christian for a long time, meaning that I know my sins are INSTANTLY forgiven. In reality, however, that’s not how it always feels. Sometimes, either through volition or ignorance, I was recognizing sin as I was committing it or it lingered in my heart. Worse yet, I ponder whether I get sloppy with sin because of the assurance of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. May His blood be stained on this writer’s page that I might never take that for granted.

How freeing it would be to truly know the auto-correction-by-Christ the way we know, and now take for granted, the breakthrough by Microsoft. No more walking around really wondering if Christ could really forgive what I did…10 minutes ago…three weeks ago…that blunder 18 years ago…

…10 minutes ago…three weeks ago…that blunder 18 years ago…

“It is finished.” From the Gospel of John, Chapter 19 and verse 30.

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“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Isaiah 1:18

 

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