Life Is More Than Selecting A Cantaloupe

Over the years, some of which were in the very personal levels in ministry, it occurred to me how difficult ministry is. Not that this vocation stands alone. Not sure any vocation [calling to share the fullest self for the benefit of others] lacks energy and full devotion. None that I can think of.

I almost laughed when I reviewed a church’s budget that indicates the minister is charted on salary scale “to work 40 hours.” Reason for the whimsy I don’t know how ministry, effective ministry that connects the pastor to the congregation and community, is measured by the hour or minute or second.

That’s like a church considering its “wealth” by how much money it has. Wrong. The value of ministry and church’s life is measured by caring spirits that connect. Not about money, but about meaning. IT’s the voice of the heart that matters. The best churches know the difference between cost and value. They also know when the budget is the goal, the result is often compromised to the point of falling short.

We should not give to a budget, which makes the objective meeting the budget. Rather, we should give because it’s in our heart to do so. In a very real way that’s to say the cross is more important than the dollar sign.

Now. Why this visit?

Because yesterday in a full day seminar on Stewardship—with 20 churches, their clergy and laity—I saw in a very powerful way how the challenges of ministry, which are impacted by so much, not the least of which is the very community in which the church resides. Even more, with the energy, attitude, imagination and focus of the pastor, I clapped and cheered for those pastors and their members. For THEY understand ministry is not by the hour, it’s by the efforts, the time shared with others.

Not to name names. They know who they are. I HOPE they understand how much I value them, how much they taught me.

It was not of mild interest we started our seminar to share how we select a cantaloupe. As the cantaloupe got handed around, the “verdict” was offered. Everyone realized this particular cantaloupe “wasn’t ready.” However, the verdict came from many angles. Had to do with smell, softness, the tip pressed, and someone even said the best way was to shake it for the seeds rattling, a sign of readiness.

I laughed because in living, in ministry, in filling each day with value and love and caring, we are different. Very different. The same purpose, though, is to live with focus upon serving God. Live as if there’s no tomorrow. To, as a friend said recently, not die before we are dead.

I give thanks for those who met with me yesterday in San Antonio. They “get” ministry. I celebrate that and ask God to guide and empower them, whether or not they like cantaloupe.

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Today’s The Day; Jason Is Coming Home!

We’ve got some visits to make, our version of gratitude, profound and abiding gratitude.

Most of all and first and always of all, there’s Diane. She kept Jason…day in and night out…from slipping away. She kept him with chin up more than drooping. She kept him to realize Jason is our son, Jason is a father to Jackson, Aiden and Noah.

There’s the City of Austin fellow employees who have donated time and money to support Jason, so he can make it back to work with them.

There’s Amy and Amanda at Wells Fargo.

There’s Vino, Alicia, Shawna, Carissa, Joey, Cindy, Rodney at Randall’s.

There’s Jim at the post office.

There’s Fernando at our post office pick-up box.

There’s best friends ever, Mike and Art.

There’s Catherine and Chuck [recover from back surgery, fella!] and Peter and Bob at St. David’s.

There’s Elizabeth in Austin area UCC ministry.

There’s Dale and Cheryl and Paul and Brian, relatives dear and near.

There’s Tom and Jill in Portland.

There’s the doctors and nurses and therapists at Seton Hospital, Cornerstone Rehab Hospital and Austin Neuro Rehab Center who literally saved Jason’s life, especially our neurosurgeon, Dr. Ashour who acted in a heartbeat so Jason’s heart would keep beating.

There’s those I cannot remember now, but they are alive in my heart…their words, their notes, their prayers for strength and hope.

And in long-distance, with a personal word to each, the best guides in the world [Zorba, Bob, Rabbi Guide in particular], relatives, abiding friendships, that include NIKE [thank you, Lisa and Tom and David] and PGA [thank you, Wiren] touchbases, 60 year classmates from Jefferson High School [especially Jeannette and Doug], ministers from my journey, especially John Thomas and Fred Trost [and Margaret Trost, an angel impersonating a human being!].

There’s my new very special friend, Jessica Cox, who tapped her love and prayers with her toes and Hugh and Jane in Tucson and Don and Barbara in Colorado Springs.

Thanks and a tip of my fishing hat to my favorite Cowboy in New Mexico, the very Slim Randles himself.

There’s the unnamed who listened and nodded and said, “Our prayers for you and Jason and Diane.”

Prayers matter.

Our visiting, because the “Austin Prayer Warriors” have asked, is when he’s ready, Jason and Diane and I will visit so Jason can nod and hug. Eyes will not remain dry.

Such a special day. Jason’s coming home! Even more, though, to me a day when the future refuses to be dull and cloudy…all the time.

Most of all, very most of all, THANK YOU, GOD, and JESUS and the LIVING SPIRIT OF HEALING. AMEN! Hallelujah!

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Jason Is Coming Home!

A new piece of information, “Mark, please take measurement of our outside and garage-entry doors and Jason’s doors—his bathroom and bedroom; let’s make sure they’re wide enough.” That’s probably the best request, which is actually an invitation so the walker and wheelchair will have good entrance.

Because. Make that BECAUSE. Jason has received clearance to get home tomorrow, which would make it a very good Friday, April 6, 2018.

So many of you—the vast most of you—have chronicled with us Jason’s bumpy road to recovery, which began with the hematoma surgery on January 7. So many times the darkness seemed to be the only verity worth noting. We continued, though, in very large part because so many of you contacted us with your prayers and hopes for recovery.

Jason will be home. He will continue to recover, get his strength back, not worry about calories. Well, that’s not true. He will count calories to become more with his meals. Weight needs to be gained because the wait [get it?] to come home is over. Took this picture yesterday…and hopefully he’ll mend more quickly at home with us and has every opportunity to return to his City of Austin job. Thanks be to God and friends and prayers…abounding gratitude!

Go, Jason!

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When History Has A Voice

I cannot say I was surprised; yet, many surprises, many of which ached the soul. Have returned from my 60th high school reunion. A touch here and there for fishing [we never did figure out which side of the boat to “cast our herring!”].

Mainly, though, to reconnect. I thought we’d need nametags. But, wasn’t necessary.

Found it continued flow of blessings and affirmation for those who attended. Found three graduates of our grade school, Vernon in Portland. Rather than say “Hi, how are you?”, we began, “In, into, to, by, for…” in unison offered the prepositions, taught by Agnes Carter in the 8th grade. The others looked with puzzlement; we winked at each other.

Remembered one graduate…she and her husband celebrate 60 years of marriage. The memory of her was so affirmative, told her what I remembered from the 8th grade was very much about genuine and honest and kind. Wonderful.

Learned from another how he’s got a goal…to play on 1,000 different…make that DIFFERENT—golf courses before he cannot find the green any more. I should contact my buddy, Gary Wiren, in North Palm Beach…Wiren knows something or more about golf, a PGA Hall of Fame guy.

Then, the sorrow and the pain and the “Oh, No!” How some classmates had died…and in each instance it was from Alzheimer’s. And in one case somehow money wasn’t protected so her spouse now must live with their son. I ached. How another is battling the challenges of life. How another battles breast cancer…with all the medications. How…how…how.

I say prayers for each of them. The ones who are healthy and vibrant, even if the step is slowed. The ones who find, far more often, a half-full glass.

Then, to listen to Jeannette, my primary purpose to get to Portland. I’ve shared in previous blogs how “it’s her fault” I went into ministry. At the age of 16 she didn’t offer that, she proclaimed that! Her one-woman show, ‘Strangers When We Meet,” was a window looking at Jeannette, and then at times it became a mirror as she shared with unflinching, yet welled eyes honesty about how life doesn’t stay away from Good Friday, but Easter always win. [Hey, got to tag a little with theology here.}

And then, Doug. Have shared many insights from my life-long friend, literally since birth, who lives with Kathy in Eugene. They’ve been married a thousand years. Doug is so focused upon helping those whose limp is so very evident. Then, to visit about our shenanigans on Holman and 25th, our time in high school and the limping and then smoothing times our each growing to this point in life.

I share the picture of Doug and Jeannette…and will keep it forever…or at least through all the tomorrows I can register. I winced when Jeannette shared in our breakfast how our ancestors, whom we share, are Volga Germans from Nordka, Russia. Fifty percent end up with Alzheimer’s. Ouch. My hope is both of us can stay on the healthy side of fifty percent!

A good time. A great time. An anguishing time. A suffering time. All part of life. Far more than the theme of a reunion. It is the very pulsing of our human journey.

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Look, Ma…No Hands!

I have a friend, sort of, who thinks more highly of the self than he ought to think. Sometimes I think his first name is Donald.

Another tact that I’m smitten with. People who never live up to their minimum, people who have more money than brains or humility or caring. People for whom it’s apt: “There’s less there than meets the eye.”

It’s now Saturday afternoon, March 24, the day before Palm Sunday, the day when people fete Jesus in the parade, saying, “Alleluia!” The surface is to praise Him. The deeper is to ask for His help, “Jesus, please save me!”

We know what happens in less than a week. We know.

And, honestly, many if not most of us fasten more on Good Friday than any other day, when we feel “nailed and cursed and pushed lower and lower so we have to reach up to touch bottom.”

Then, moments ago I saw this UTUBE—think that’s what it’s called. Emotionally it is such an upper, reminded me of my new friend, Jessica Cox, who lives in Tucson, who flies an airplane, is a Black Belt and drives her own car, even plays the piano…without arms.

Earlier today—a quick side-note—finished the final edit of the new novel, “Living Without Arms,” and couldn’t help but quote Jessica, “Never say ‘I can’t’, and know that you don’t need arms to uplift people.”

In my novel the last chapter introduces Nathan and Tricia’s new child, who kicks like mad but is unable to hug. They know that, but THEY can HUG and the future….it’s coming.

This UTUBE brings so much inspiration…from a young man who was never chosen for the neighborhood pick-up basketball game…then…well, look at this…it brings so much hope…so much. Maybe to you also. Please.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/good-news/teen-who-lost-his-hands-makes-3-pointers-on-the-basketball-court/ar-BBKCOCU?ocid=spartandhp

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Life And Death Visit

Through experience, death comes in more than one manner. It can be an enemy, shortening life. It can come as a friend, an act of deliverance. In any case, I’ve seen both today.

The bomber bombed himself in Austin. Terror-striking many of us, because of the unpredictability. In my neighborhood circular, some commented about packages they didn’t order on their porch. It heightens alertness; even more, fear and dread. It ended yesterday when the bomber was identified, tried to escape in a car and blew himself up. There is relief. Even more, though, there is such a constant acting of self-contempt that knows no boundaries and beliefs, with fuller belief that to take others down is the best self-elevating step. Not for a breath, but whoever knows when the neighbor is really the enemy?

Another death, though, I need to share. I’ve mentioned many times how much I respect and love Joanne Carlson Brown, my Methodist clergy buddy in Seattle. She and Christie were married; it was such a glorious wedding with their District Superintendent marrying them. Yeah for the Methodists on this one!

I also shared the terrible struggle for Christie, battling a brain tumor. It was SO DIFFICULT on her, but no less on Joanne. Day after day, hour after hour, sleepless night after the same. Yesterday Joanne shared that Christie died at 7:45 a.m., quietly in her sleep.

My sense of it is her death was deliverance, setting her free from the travailing handicap of fighting the pain and the uncertainty. She is free. Joanne, no less, who loved the fullest love, knows her spouse is at peace. My sense of this, how it can have value, comes from the Apostle Paul, “Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.”

Joanne? I love you and will support you in any way I can. No less, hundreds and hundreds gather, your parishioners at Tibbett’s United Methodist Church in West Seattle, your colleagues and your friends, yes perhaps especially those who join you in supporting Pittsburg teams! Be good to you and know our caring spirit and loving presence is non-negotiable! Shalom.

With that yesterday had the joy of Jason being moved from Cornerstone Hospital to Austin Neuro, a very highly regarded rehab center. This will be Jason’s final step. He’s now eating, walking with a walker, talking and seeing that being home with us is a worthy goal. His three sons rejoice in this option. In any case, for Jason [and Diane who is the greatest mother in the world] this is a day of deliverance…a great step forward. And for our grandsons, I better make sure their fishing rods are working. You think?

And then…another joy in scheduling a visit to Tucson, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, to be with my dear, dear friends Hugh and Jane Smith…and to visit with Jessica Cox and her father, to take notes on what it means to be a parent to an armless child.

Life. It happens. And hopefully, we live more by hope than fear, more by faith than anything else. And. Each day when I drive home I nod to the sign on our front door. It was there for Advent and Epiphany, but continues there for Jason and the Healing Presence of God: BELIEVE

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You Don’t Need Arms To Uplift People

An advisory: I’m writing this from 10 miles high, somewhere in an emotional orbit, fueled by gratitude and not a breath of presumption.

First, an introduction then an affirmation. I remember it clearly, September of 1971. I sat in a stuffy sanctuary in West Berlin listening to a German professor lecture Auf Deutsch about Eschatology—doctrine of final things, or something like that. Suddenly I looked down and over my knee was a foot…not mine. The sock was like a glove.

Harold Wilke, a pastor in the United Church of Christ who worked for our World Ministries asked me if I would wind his watch and set it. It had stopped. I tried to be as casual as possible, because Harold was probably the most impressive person I had ever met. I took the watch off his foot, set it, then became blank, whispering to myself, lips not moving, “How do I put this back?” I guessed. And was right! At least Harold thanked me and nudged me with his shoulder. He was without arms.

Shifting to today. I ask questions of each of you and me. Do you brush your teeth and comb your hair? Do you scuba dive? Do you drive a car? Do you, ladies, put on your own make-up? Do you fly an airplane? Do you drink wine from a wine glass? Do you play the piano?

How many answered yes? Probably, either gender, no more than half affirmatives.

Now, consider this. If you were asked to do all these items with no arms, could you? Would you? Yes? No?

Let me introduce you to Jessica Cox, Tucson, Arizona. I contacted her, completely with no introduction, because I had been told she speaks about living without arms. And, how about this, before I met Jessica, that was the title of my currently finished novel, “Living Without Arms.” In talking with Jessica I was amazed, more, inspired by her joy, her aliveness, her refusal to ever say “I can’t,” her refusal to ever let boundaries impact her. She makes it clear: YOU DON’T NEED ARMS TO UPLIFT PEOPLE!

I had promised to send her the first unedited draft of the novel. On Monday did send her the end chapters when Tricia and Nathan tell their Tillamook church they’re having their first child and it will have no arms. The child is born in the last chapter, to then lead to the next stages of the child’s development in future writings. My vision anyway.

Then. Jessica overwhelmed me with a request. If I would please come to Tucson and visit with her father, who’s also 77 and write a book of his experience being the parent of an armless child. I didn’t think I heard her at first. “Have you ever written non-fiction?” I told her the only non-fiction was in my blogs. She then asked if I would listen to her father and write his reflections so they can publish it. She laughed, “He’s a good talker…would you please be the writer?” I share this because I consider it is God who has tapped me and tapped Jessica. And, certainly it doesn’t hurt, at the age of 35, Jessica Cox was born on my sister, Marilyn’s, February 2 birthday.

So, the future brings promise. I hope it’s possible for me to help them. I am now doing as deep an edit as I can in “Living Without Arms,” and will get it to the publisher. Jessica asked for copies she can send to the many families she works with, in her words, “Who have differently abled children.” I now share pictures of Jessica…with no arms…but a heart and soul and mind that are the fullest of anyone I know.

I invite you and me…change the window you’re looking at her into a mirror…how is each of us doing in living our life to the fullest…and then some?

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