Don’t be sorry.

When my Dad died three weeks ago, the news quickly spread and I cannot begin to tell you how many people said to me, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

I understand the sentiment behind those words. In fact, I’ve spoken them to those grieving the death of a loved one. But as I heard those words spoken to me, I thought, “Why are you sorry?” It’s not like you did something wrong. Are you sorry that I have to go through this? Are you sorry that I will no longer be able to go and visit my father? What is it that you regret?

I’m pondering this because I really didn’t feel that sad about my Dad’s death. Mom died fourteen years earlier, and I know that he’s been lonely since then. He lost some of the ability to care for himself about six years ago when we (his children) sold his house and moved him in with my brother. His kidneys failed three years ago, but after we gathered to be with him, he recovered. He didn’t want to eat anymore about two years ago, but after we gathered to be with him, and with a few bowls of ice cream, he regained his appetite. So in some ways, it’s been a long, three-year goodbye. Rather than being sorry he’s gone, I’m actually a bit relieved. I’m glad he fought the good fight of faith. I’m glad he finished the race (for him it was a marathon!) and finally crossed the finish line. I think we should be cheering rather than crying!

The last time I went to see Dad, he was basically unconscious for three straight days. We talked to him. We talked about him. We read scripture and sang songs for him. Not much response. I couldn’t help but wonder, “How long?” You just never know. A body created to live isn’t going to easily give up. All you can do is wait.

My memories of Dad are good ones. I remember the things we did together, the things he taught me, and the home and education he provided for me. I treasure the name he gave me (he was Junior, so I got to be the Third). Instead of feeling like I lost something, I feel like I gained so much. His ninety-five years were filled with family, love, church, work and hobbies. Rather than feeling empty, I feel so full of all the things Dad gave me.

It’s been a long time since I’ve lived near Dad. I’ve lived most of my life pretty far away and only got to see him a few times a year. So I don’t miss his presence, not like those who daily spent time with him. Instead, his death makes me more aware of all the parts of him that shape me.

A few folks have shared with me that they were a wreck for months after their father died. Some can barely hold back the tears when a departed loved one’s birthday comes around, or the anniversary of a death. I feel bad that I don’t feel worse, if that makes any sense. Maybe it’s my British (not Vulcan) heritage that enables me to contain my emotion.

The one thing that occasionally brings a tear to my eye is the mental image of my Dad seeing Jesus face to face. That had to be and is going to be the best moment ever, and that’s what makes emotion swell up in me. Oh, and imagining the shout of the archangel, the sound of the trumpet and then the resurrection. I always tear up when I think of that day. But rather than sadness, it is overwhelming gladness.

So you don’t have to be sorry. You can cheer along with me. You can be thankful along with me. You can share that joy with me.

Look at me!

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Photo by Carlos Martinez on Unsplash

My little friend C. stopped by to see me the other day. With a whopping five-and-a-half months of life under her belt, she has developed quite the personality. When I said, “Hi!” and our eyes met, she flashed a huge smile, kicked her legs and excitedly waved her arms.

But when I looked away for a second to talk to her handler (aka Grandma), I saw out of the corner of my eye that she stopped. When I turned back to her and made eye contact, she smiled and squirmed again. This is my kind of game. I looked away and looked at her over and over again, with the exact same result. She was delighted when I looked but was dismayed when I didn’t.

Reflecting on that brief visit, I thought, “Wait a minute, I’ve played that game before.” We all have. There are times in life when it seems like God has turned away from us, and we’re dismayed. But when it seems like he’s paying attention to us, we’re all giggly and happy. Bad stuff happens and we’re like, “Hey, God, I’m over here.” Good stuff happens and we’re all, “God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!”

King Saul once felt that way. He said, “God has turned away from me and answers me no more” (1 Samuel 28:15). But Saul had turned away from God a long time before that. In fact, when Saul said that, he had employed a medium to conjure up the spirit of Samuel!

Does God turn away from us? Just the opposite. God comes looking for us. Like he looked for Adam and Even in the garden when they were hiding in the bushes. Or like a shepherd who goes in search of a lost sheep. Or Jesus, who shows up in this world to seek and save the lost.

The best reminder of God’s gaze on us comes in the words of the benediction, “The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Numbers 6:25). I hope you’ll never hear those words the same way again, a reminder of God’s persistent gaze upon our lives, so that we can respond with excitement, joy and yes, a giggle!

Note: the picture is not C. She is much cuter!

 

 

 

A moment of joy: from loose to snug

Jinhao-X750-Shimmering-Sand-Medium-Nib-Fountain-PenOne of my favorite fountain pens is a Jinhao x750 that I guess you could say I actually got for free when I took advantage of a BOGO deal at the Goulet Pen Company. It’s got a medium nib with a really cool looking Shimmering Sands body, writes really smooth and has a little bit of heft to it, which I really like.

Unfortunately, after I had only used it for a few days, it wouldn’t cap snuggly. Now that’s not a big deal, but it was annoying. Capped, it would rattle just enough to bug me. But hey, it was free (even if  bought it, it costs less than $10), so whatever. I put it away, then got it out again when some other pens were out of ink. And that’s when it happened.

As paused while journaling, I was fiddling with it while posted, twisting it around, and when I capped it, it fit snuggly. I tend to twist a pen just a little when capping/uncapping, and that is how it worked loose. Again, this is pretty small potatoes, but I felt such joy in that moment. An ever-so-small annoyance solved. Just like that.

I had promised myself I would chronicle those instances in my life that bring me joy, and this is one of them. I find this fascinating. I don’t need something big, spectacular, expensive, or mind-blowing to bring me joy. Just something simple, small and even trivial.

What other simple things bring joy? Finding a dollar in a pair of jeans. Finding marrow bones for Samson in the freezer at Publix (lately, this has been a rare find). Reaching in the bag and finding one more french fry. Feeling a little hand grab my finger to walk with me.

What simple, ordinary moments bring you joy?

Christmases two and three

img_8086.jpgToday was crazy fun as we had Christmases two and three. I picked up my son, daughter-in-law and grandkids at the airport last night and got home about 10 pm. We planned to open Christmas gifts with the children this morning and our secret Santas and white elephants tonight. It was way more fun than I anticipated.

Take a pile of gifts and stir in a one, two and three year old and you have a recipe for an energy-filled Christmas “two” morning. We had so much fun with the current Paw Patrol and PJ Masks characters, and doctor kits that we didn’t want to break away for our traditional breakfast of cinnamon rolls, quiche and fruit.

We spent a good portion of a beautiful Florida December afternoon outside, playing hide and seek, swinging and following lizards and frogs. In the evening, we had a rare gathering of my whole family four generations including my wife’s parents, our three children and their spouses, plus the three grandkids. As Elijah began grace by saying, “Our Father, thank you for this food…” I felt incredibly thankful for this rare moment of togetherness.

After a supper of filet mignon, salad and curly fries, we had Christmas “three” and opened the hand-made secret Santa presents we made for each other and chose our white elephant gifts. Our evening was blessed with laughter, personally crafted gifts and the best gift: togetherness. There’s a gift I wouldn’t exchange for anything else in the world.

With family spread out around the country and work commitments that limit travel, time together is a rare moment and precious gift. img_8083.jpg

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Paths of Grace: Joy

Transcription of Sunday, September 10, 2017 sermon. Audio here.

September 10 cover picThis is the hurricane edition of the sermon for Sunday, September 10, 2017, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost.

This is our final week of exploring God’s paths of grace. Today’s the best one of all because we follow out Lord down the path of joy.

In this morning’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah spoke of this reality: “With joy you shall draw water from the wells of salvation.”

In the Psalm, Psalm 118, the psalmist invites us: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

In the epistle reading, Philippians 4, Paul commands it. He writes, “Rejoice in the Lord! Again, rejoice!”

In John chapter 16 verse 22, Jesus promises, “You will rejoice and no will will take your joy from you.”

My fear is that some of you have gotten lost. Continue reading

Jesus laughing

Today’s Advent candle was pink. On this Sunday the theme of joy resonated through the lessons. So I wondered out loud today, is joy a common response to God’s presence with us?

David danced for joy when the ark came back to Jerusalem. Unborn John the Baptist jumped for joy when the unborn Son of God showed up at his mom’s house. The magi rejoiced with exceeding joy when they saw the star. When God shows up to save, joy follows.

Even God rejoices. He rejoices to be with his people, to be reconciled to them, to see their lives restored. I wonder how many people picture God as a happy, joyful God rather than a stern, angry God.

We have a picture of a laughing Jesus in our house. I brought it for the children’s sermon today and asked, “Why do you think Jesus is so happy?” One young man, probably about five, said, “I think Jesus is laughing because someone just told a joke.” I really liked that answer. I like to think of God as someone with a sense of humor. If the Son of God can experience grief, why not joy?

In John15 Jesus wants his disciples to have the same joy that he has, so he must be joyful. Every time someone could see or hear again, got up and walked, or even came back to life, I like to picture Jesus filled with joy, seeing his creation restored.