Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Tale of Two Legacies

If one ever needed evidence that our culture has lost its collective minds one only has to turn on the sports news over the last 48 hours. Two things have transpired that reveal the dark underbelly of who we have become as a culture and as a people.

Former world heavyweight champion boxer "Smokin" Joe Frazier died Monday night at the age of 67. Frazier had only recently been diagnosed with liver cancer, dying only about a month following his diagnosis. I remember watching Frazier box in the 60's and 70's. I was always impressed by his style...a straight forward, never back down approach that endured a great deal of punishment but somehow managed to come out on top. Something about Frazier resonated in me...and I became a fan. I wasn't a fan of boxing as much as I was a fan of Joe Frazier, the way he handled himself; the way he refused to back down; the way he won.

Frazier wasn't perfect, far from it. His greatest struggle was found not in the ring but in his heart in the years after his career had ended. Muhammad Ali waged psychological war against Frazier in the weeks leading up to their first fight. The damage done to Frazier by Ali's words was far greater than the physical punishment that Ali visited upon him. It took yeas for this quiet man of dignity to overcome the hatred that he carried in his heart towards Ali. Frazier won his greatest battle when he overcame that hatred. He accomplished what few persons are able to do...he overcame himself.

I wish I could end this commentary with Joe Frazier, but I can't. On the same day that the death of Frazier broke another man died in a sense. That man is Joe Paterno, longtime coach of the Penn State football team. Paterno has long been regarded as one of the finest men in all of sports. He was placed on a pedestal, an example of what was right in sports.

But Paterno's legacy, if not dead, is surely mortally wounded. The story that broke over the weekend involved the actions of Paterno's long time assistant coach. The man is alleged to have sexually assaulted boys as young as 10 years old over an extended period of time. The most damning of the allegations, as they pertain to Paterno, is that Paterno had knowledge of the assistant's behavior and reported it to his superiors...and then did nothing. It is a coward's excuse to say that Paterno fulfilled his obligation when he informed his superiors. His obligation was not to the school or to his assistant: his obligation was to protect the 10 year old boy who was the victim  of the assault. Paterno has kept his silence in the years since, but now the cat is out of the bag.

Paterno may never face any legal accountability for his actions, but his legacy is tarnished forever. Paterno was respected as a man of character, integrity, and a leader of men. But a leader of men doesn't sit silently  and allow the kind of behavior that Paterno was aware of. Even if this was the only incident that Paterno knew about it was enough. He should have pursued the incident and ensured that this man would never have the opportunity to abuse a young boy again.

Joe Frazier and Joe Paterno.....one overcame a heart filled with hate and created a legacy that will live beyond his years. The other destroyed his legacy for reasons known only to him and will find out that the price was far too great, whatever it was.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Remembering Amanda

Amanda Prewitt Doss along with her two children were killed recently. The killer set fire to the house after fact in what I'm guessing was an attempt to conceal his crime. This is a tragedy in any sense of the word. Whatever Amanda had done in her life she did not deserve to have her life brutally taken from her in that way.

I'm writing about this because I knew Amanda. She was a member of our youth ministry at FBC Redwater, TX in the late 1980's. Amanda was very bright and well spoken. Quick witted and inquisitive, Amanda kept me on my toes. She made me laugh.

My fondest memory of Amanda will always be the love acceptance she extended to another teenager when he first came to church. The young man had a bad reputation, but that didn't stop Amanda from placing his name on our youth prayer list. No one was more surprised than I was when the young man came to our revival services a short time later. I was on the platform when he came in. Amanda looked back and moved to go sit with him. She walked with him down the aisle that night when he came to confess his new found faith in Jesus.

I regret that I fell out of touch with Amanda in the years that followed. I'm sure her life was filled with the struggles that plague us all, but if I knew Amanda she found a way to make her life and the lives of those around her better. She wasn't perfect, but she had that way about her.

The world is a dangerous place. Terrorists ply their trade with deadly effectiveness. Natural disasters remind us that we are not as in control as we'd like to think. Everyday is filled with dangers and trouble. It's enough to make you lock yourself behind barred windows and high fences.

But I choose not to.

I believe that God is truly in control of all things. I accept that all these happenings are a part of His greater plan and purposes. I may not understand the "why" but I do believe that there is a purpose being played out. I also know from personal experience that He is with those who grieve and mourn and weep. Amanda told me how she came to faith in Jesus all those years ago and I hold to that confession for the hope that I will one day see her again.

Amanda has exchanged this flawed, imperfect world for the presence of God.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

For Allison

Last Saturday was a very trying day for me. That morning I watched as my wife and daughter both ran a 10K race (that's 6.2 miles for the uninitiated....and yes, I had to ask!) and then that evening my daughter graduated from high school. I watched two of the most important women in my life accomplish some pretty cool stuff.

Over the course of the last few months I've become very much aware of the passages of life. My daughter can now say that she can run 6.2 miles AND is a high school graduate. I actually think that she's prouder of the distance running than the graduation. But to me the significance is that she is moving into the adult world...a world that I'm not sure is ready for her.

Allison, I wish you every happiness and joy. I know that hard times and struggles will come to your life as they do for all of us, but I pray that you'll find the never ending joy of Christ in each of those moments. Your mother and I have done everything we can to prepare you for the possibilities of life, but no one can truly prepare you. There is much that you will have to come to grips with on your own. Please never forget the faith that you profess or the one in whom you have placed that faith.

You are stronger than you realize, both physically and spiritually. But never let your strength make you feel sufficient. Lean on His wisdom and love for you, allowing His Spirit to fill you and guide you. Only in the surrender to His will can you find peace and direction and wisdom.

I will never forget the day when you were four that you told me that you didn't need my help. My heart broke that day and I shed tears over what those words meant. The day is drawing ever closer when those words will be truer than either of us could realize. I must trust the Lord to guide you when I cannot. My prayer is that you will trust Him as well.

I love you.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thoughts on Providence

If you are a facebook friend or a follower of my blog you know that I have struggled over the last several months with extremely serious heart problems. These problems culminated in triple-bypass surgery, a defibrillator implanted in my chest and a stent following a minor heart attack in January. Needless to say, life has been "interesting." I have become accustomed to my own mortality and resigned to the fact that the rest of my days would be a struggle with pain and fatigue.

But it turns out that I was wrong.

Yesterday I was given some of the best news I've had since my wife said "yes" all those years ago. My heart function has improved to the point that it is now considered normal. I am not considered to be suffering from congestive heart failure at this time. How did this happen? We could talk about my commitment to exercise and a better diet or the medicines doing their job or any number of factors. But I believe the real answer came from something that was not said in the clinic yesterday....The Nurse Practitioner pointed to the sky and said "It means that there's a purpose for you to still be here..." She was completely right.

I recently performed a funeral for a man four years younger than myself. He dropped dead from a heart attack. No warning, no symptoms. He was here one moment and gone the very next. That situation was hard on me....knowing that there was no reason why that shouldn't have been me. But God has a purpose for keeping me here.

God has a purpose...That's an interesting thought. So much of life seems random and meaningless. The images coming from Japan shake us with their scope and starkness. Can there be any purpose in such devastation? I have quite a bit of experience with devastation, especially on an emotional level and I want to tell you that there is a purpose in it, and that good can and does come from it. As a Christian I believe that God is using all of the events in my life to mold my character into a better reflection of Him. People talk all the time about wanting to die well....I want to live well. I want people to look back at my life and be able to clearly see a love and devotion to God that filled and directed every decision, every action, every word and thought. I figure that will insure dying well.

God has granted me a healing that I never asked for and never thought I would receive. I am grateful beyond words, but I hope that the life I've lived over the last few months was a witness enough of God's power to sustain us even when life isn't what we'd hoped or bargained for.

Perhaps someday I'll understand God's purpose for this season of my life...not that it really matters if I do or not. What matters is that I use this season in a way that brings glory to Him. That's the only purpose that really matters.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

For the son I never held

Monday was one of those days that has a deeper, more profound impact on you than you realize. The impact was not from anything that happened during the day itself, but something that happened a long time ago. Twenty-two years ago Monday my second son Timothy was born. He lived only minutes and then joined his brother Johnathan in heaven. I never saw Timothy alive, a fact that haunts me to this day.

Johnathan's death was sudden and unexpected and frightening. Like any first time father-to-be I bonded quickly with my son. When Johnathan died a part of me died too, and I was hesitant to embrace the prospect of being a father again. From the beginning of the pregnancy everything was different. Different treatment plan, different emotions, different me. I had a very difficult time embracing Timothy. I am ashamed to admit these things, but they are the reality of those moments.

The years have blunted those feelings, but not the memory. I am grateful that God has blessed me with six other children and I have learned to love them with all my heart. I do regret that I couldn't enjoy our brief time with Timothy but I rejoice that he has always only known the peace of God's presence. That knowledge is my hope, the thing that gave me the strength to take the step that started me to life again. Timothy's memory is the understanding that God is always active in my life, even when I can't see Him or understand what's going on. I can honestly tell you that I have come to the point that I wouldn't want him to leave heaven to be with me for any reason. I know that one day I will be with him and that is enough.

My life has been filled with disappointment and sorrow, but it has also been filled with the hand of God. From the very first moment that I placed my trust in Him He has been active. God's plan has always been to guard me from the worst while teaching me about who He is. His purposes are not always clear to me but I have come to understand that His desire has always been to draw me close to Him. I have come to understand that death is not something to be feared because He is greater even than death.

Thank you Timothy for teaching me how to live.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Random Thoughts for a Tuesday

There's a definite chill in the air this morning...the kind of chill that makes you walk a little more quickly. I enjoy it because it makes me feel more energized. Knowing that this chill will soon be gone, replaced by the busyness that is my life makes me appreciate it all that much more this morning. Like so many others, my days all start before the sun comes up and ends well into the evening. As I reflect on my life I realize that it has always been this way. I'm way too busy. Too busy to enjoy life, my wife, my kids, my work. Too busy to enjoy anything. That's been one benefit of the long period of recovery from my heart surgery and subsequent heart attack....lots of time for reflection. Reflection, when focused on the right things, fuels the soul and promotes positive change. Who of us couldn't benefit from changing some things?

One of the things I've thought about this morning is the lack of civility and concern that has come to characterize our culture. This was driven home to me the other day as I read through some posts on an Amazon discussion board. It seems that we've forgotten how to disagree without being disagreeable. I genuinely enjoy discussing issues with those who don't share my viewpoint, it's a learning experience. There are few anymore who seem to be able to discuss their differences without pursuing a "scorched earth" policy regarding those who disagree with them. I am grateful for those in my life who have taken the time to teach me through disagreement. Yes, there are some issues that I can never change my position on, but there has never been someone who I cannot learn from by engaging in a reasoned, intelligent discussion with. Perhaps our inability to have those type of discussions has more to do with our loss of the ability to reason and learn for ourselves than with anything else.

As I've waited for the sun to rise this morning I've thought of old friends who I've lost touch with through the years. They represent my biggest, and perhaps only regrets. I am grateful for websites like facebook and classmates and the opportunities they represent to reconnect with old friends and to share laughter once again.

I guess I've gone about all the damage I can at this point in the day. As the title of this post indicates.....random thoughts. I hope your day is a good one.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Thirty years ago I met this tall,slender, quiet brunette in the post office of my college. To be honest, that was about all I noticed about her at the time. She was very, very quiet. She also embarrassed easily, as I found out a short while later when I did my very best Elvis "Happy Birthday" impersonation to her in the student center.

That would have probably been the end of things if it weren't for the efforts of another girl that I met that day. She encouraged me to ask the brunette out, which I did, and then encouraged me to ask her out a second time.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Today marks the twenty-sixth anniversary of the day that brunette said "I do." Twenty-six years is a long time for just about anything. If we were a car we'd qualify for one of those "antique" tags....But for us, well, me at least, things still seem fresh and new. We've never had a lot of anything, except for kids, and probably never will. That used to bother me, but I've learned that there are some things that are far more important than stuff. My wife is the one that taught me that. And that's just one of the things she's taught me.

There has been lots and lots of laughter along the way and more than a few tears, but through it all she has been central to my life. A friend from college tells me that many of our friends knew that we belonged together from the start. "She completes you" another of our friends says. I think that puts it well...."she completes you." I cannot imagine my life without her. She has become my best friend, my running buddy, my strength and compass. She's not perfect, that's my department (haha!), but she's perfectly suited for me.

She has never been able to see herself the way that I do. Her strength, creativity, and ingenuity are lacking in her sight, but amazing to me and to others who know her. She's raising six kids and a husband (I'm sure the last one is the hardest)and somehow doing it without losing her sanity. Now THAT'S impressive.

The world may not think that today is a very important day, but to me it is of supreme importance. When that young woman said "I do" twenty-six years ago today she set me on a course far greater than any I could have ever imagined for myself. Thank you Lyndra, for twenty-six exciting, adventurous, fun filled years. Here's to many, many more.

I Love YOU!