Back on the Horse

When I was a little guy, about 5-7 years old, I was visiting my grandparents in Southside, West Virginia. Their house was right across the road from a farm owned by the Hopson’s. I honestly don’t know what drew me to Hopson’s farm beyond the fact that I was not from the country, but I was drawn to it for sure. They had cows and pigs… probably a lot more animals than that, but cows and pigs are what I remember. The cows would graze near the road and “look in our eyes”! I don’t know if it was me or my brother who was scared of the cows “looking in our eyes”.

jim-on-pistol.jpg One day, I went for a ride on their horse, Pistol. Someone led me because I was not an experienced rider. I don’t know for sure who was there. What I do know is that they walked Pistol and me across the pasture to the other side, near the highway. What I didn’t know at the time (that would have been extremely valuable information) was that Pistol had a habit of running as fast as he could to the barn. That’s it. No particular reason, but to run as hard as he could to the barn where he would just stop running. Sounds like Forrest Gump.

Somewhere along the ride, the person who was leading Pistol had either let go of the reigns or didn’t have a tight grip. Pistol decided to take advantage of the situation and go to the barn. He wasn’t interested in a leisurely stroll, but bolted for the barn and I didn’t know what to think. Here I am, a little boy on the back of this horse running like his tail was on fire. Panicked and not knowing why he was running or how far and long he would run, I began to reason that I must jump or fall off. I started scooting to the side so I could get off. Fortunately, falling off of a running horse is much scarier than staying on, so I stayed put. Pretty soon, Pistol reached his beloved barn and stopped.

The whole ride couldn’t have lasted more than two or three minutes, but it was indelibly marked in my memory. I am so thankful that I was not successful at getting off while he was running. If I had been, that day might well have been remembered for something else.

Family, do you remember that day? What do you remember? Who was there? What time of year was it? How old was I? Did you see me on the horse? What did you feel in that moment? Afterwards?

Life goes on

lifegoeson.gifMy last post has been up so long that one might think I am in mourning. If you thought that, you were mistaken. I am doing well. Erin and Justin are on their way to Berkeley. Mel is getting settled in Med School at SLU. Kat is doing well making her home in the mountains and Danae is turning the music therapy world upside down.

Jeanie and I are figuring out what life looks like with the offspring out of the house. Yes, life goes on.

Empty Nest

emptynest.gifI am full of hope and expectation for the empty nest thing to be good. It is the right time of life for our daughters to be on their own. It is wonderful how they are all so independent and full of life and expectation. I am very proud of each of them. But right now, the silence is deafening!

Twenty six years ago, our house became noisy and our lives began to be centered around someone else. Startinig today, it is just the two of us again. Like so many things in life, I can see the good, in the long run, but right now, it hurts.

What would you do?

A little over a week ago, I learned that I have a network that I can tap into. I have few readers who have vastly different gifts, talents, strengths and experiences. (spoken in a whisper: Don’t tell, but I think that we are the Body of Christ… you know fingers, toes, ears and all.) That last one was a warmup for today’s question. This is for one of my daughters.

sanfrancisco.gifWhat would you do if you were a young newlywed and you were about to move all the way across the country from North Carolina to San Francisco? What if you planned a trip to find a place to live and you were only going to be there for a day and a half. How would you find a place to live? Money is very much of an object because you are a grad school student.

I have been out of the apartment finding business for so long that I don’t remember the old rules. The new rules, I suspect, are much different. I know they take credit histories and stuff that I don’t ever remember. What information will they ask for? How do you know it is safe to give them your SSN? Bank account numbers? What’s reasonable?

Ready… set… GO!

High Pastures

cimg0062a.JPGIt was just a week ago. The venue we had planned to use for our retreat had fallen through. We had a little over a week to find something. I was fresh out of ideas. I was depending on the others to figure something out. I wanted to contribute, but I couldn’t. Then I thought of asking you, my readers and all four of you responded! The chalk picture thing might have worked, but at ded’s suggestion, we had already booked High Pastures for the night. Thank you all for thinking about us and giving your ideas. I felt like we had the honor of having you to help us plan. I felt the presence of the Body of Christ in action.

Imagine four guys getting together for a day long retreat for the purpose of going deeper in friendship. What might that look like? We didn’t know either, but we can invent it as we go. The reality is that we don’t make up anything in an of ourselves. I didn’t make my brain, I didn’t create my body. Any good ideas I have are not because of anything I can take credit for. We owe it all to God who lavishes his goodness on us all.

I can imagine your asking about now whether since I am expressing thanks to God that I might be over and done with the doubting and questions. Rest easy (or not) I am as full of questions and doubts as ever, but this one thing I am sure of. There is a God and for some reason He loves me. I still have lots of things I just don’t get. I hope I always do.

My friends and I decided to set aside a day to get away and hear the hearts of our friends. We talked about things that are important to us, we dreamed, we went digging for treasure in our dreams. We call it “heart spelunking“. We learned and practiced tools for better communication. We experienced the benefits of each of our God given gifts. We felt deeply and experienced breakthroughs. It was difficult at times and incredible throughout. We joked and laughed, spoke our fears and dreams and cried. It was truly an auspicious day.

When I have gone to conferences and retreats in years past, my objective was always to have fun or to learn more. These days, I find that my objective is to invest in things that will help me be the person that God made me to be. Don’t get me wrong. I want to have fun. I do want to learn, but not fun for the sake of escaping life nor learning just for the sake of learning. I long to maximize my time here on this planet because I realize more and more how short it is.

highpastures.gifI am so very thankful for the weekend, for great friends, partners in life, your thoughts and prayers and a God who loves me in spite of myself. I am also thankful for the people who invested their precious resources into creating the High Pastures Retreat. If you need a place to get away from everything, I highly recommend it.

What would you do?

drive-in.jpgI want ideas. I recently wrote a post that I began by saying that I just wanted to be heard and I felt heard. Thanks. This time I want ideas. If you had a small group of friends who wanted a private place to hang out for an overnight trip, where would you go? It must be a place that can handle a last minute booking. A small group of guys that I do life with want to get together this coming weekend and the place we wanted is booked. So we are scrambling to find another venue. Any ideas would be much appreciated.

Why I Value Creativity

cave-painting.gifI value creativity because I see God in it. I love it when someone creates something new. In a way, that is closely linked to my value of variety. I appreciate art in whatever form I find it because I studied art appreciation! Whether music or painting or sculpture or knitting or web design or photography or landscaping or architecture. The unusual causes me to pause. There is something unique in a person’s artistic expression. Something of the fingerprint of our Creator that is a part of us all.

I enjoy being creative. I like putting letters and words together with a photo or two or three to create a message that was never said quite like this before. There’s a risk in the writing and publishing. Will people like it? Could I have done it better? Will it make a difference? When I play music, I wonder if I shouldn’t hang it up because someone else can play better than I. Is that the right note? the right accent? the right feel? I turns into a perfectionist game, which I can never win. Creativity isn’t right. It isn’t wrong. It isn’t even about right or wrong. That’s the wrong measuring stick.

The value of creativity is from the value of the creator. Creative ventures are an expression of something that is inside of us. It is like nothing else. If you like my music or not does not set the value of the music. If you like my blog or not, does not set the worth of the art of my writing. Your opinion of the quality of my art is different than the value of the expression of my art. Does that make sense?

michaelbrecker.jpgI like jazz music, but I do not like all jazz music. There are some artists that I enjoy listening to a lot more than others. Pat Metheny is one of my favorites. I also love the sound that Michael Brecker got out of a saxophone. He was amazing! I was so sad to hear that he passed away earlier this year. I love listening to live jazz more than studio jazz. There is something raw and creative about hearing the music as it is produced. The occasional mistakes, the wrong notes, the intonation problems, the missed cues… everything. It is art. No one wants to make mistakes, but that’s part of the creation. The risk one takes when you pick up the horn.

I said all that to say this. I wish I had understood that art is not about perfection when I was a youngster. I think I would have tried pushing the boundaries of artistic expression more. There was music inside me that I was afraid to express. I distinctly remember hearing tunes and musical arrangements, but I didn’t think I had what it took to make it happen. As a young adult, I wrote a short piece for piano (real short, like just a few bars). I really liked it, but I couldn’t seem to finish it, so it remains… unfinished, unshared. Oh, if only I could take my 49 year old mind and heart back to my 10 year old self. If only…

Express a new thought

Place the words just so. It is

Creativity

I can still create and I can appreciate the creativity in others. How do you express your creativity?
value-creativity.gif

Why I write

monkwriter.gifWhy do I write? Who am I writing to. Of course this being a public blog, I am writing to anyone who wants to read it. When I first began this blog, I didn’t know who I was writing to and that is right where I needed to start… by just writing. After thinking about it, I realized that my heart’s desire is for my family to know who I am. I frequently find myself wondering about my grandparents and my great grandparents. What were they like at my age? What did they think about? What were the joys of life for them? What did they fear? What did they desire? What did they do for fun? I don’t know the answers to those questions because they didn’t leave a record. No journals or diaries. No books. I imagine there were lots of reasons that they didn’t write… but that is the best I have, my imagination.writing.JPG

I don’t think everyone comes to a place in life where they ask these kinds of questions… but some of us do. The smart ones ask while their grandparents are still living. Unlike them, I waited until one by one, they passed away. All is not lost, however. My dad recently shared a sermon that my great-grandfather M. C. Lewis delivered which I published here. I took some video of my grandmother Anderson telling stories before she died. I hope to edit and publish her stories too. The Family History section of my blog is dedicated to these family stories. Another project that I have begun is transferring video from old 8mm movies to the computer. I published some of these on my old Home Movies blog. One day I’ll get around to incorporating that with this blog site, but not tonight 🙂

The Dream

I had a dream a few years ago that I hope will explain a little more why I write about me… publicly. In my dream I had died, but I was able to walk around and experience everything as if I was alive, but no one could see me. It was much like inmydream.gif the movies. The dream begain after my funeral was over and everyone got together for fried chicken and potato salad (mom makes a mean potato salad). I didn’t see everyone there, but I did see my mom. She was standing and staring into space with a despondent look on her face. I felt so bad for her that I walked up and hugged her. I knew she wouldn’t be able to feel it, but I wanted to hug her so badly. When I put my arms around her, I couldn’t really feel her, but her eyes opened wide and she gasped! It was as if she could feel my presence.

Now I was feeling excited. I thought that if I could make her feel me, maybe I could interact with the “real world” in other ways. I tried moving things to let them know I was there, but nothing worked until I picked up a pen and wrote on a piece of paper. I could actually write notes to them! I found myself writing to them about what I thought was important. My daughters were making decisions about things and I wanted to tell them how I felt about their decisions, so I wrote it down.

Suddenly, I woke up. I was dazed and unsure if it had been a dream. It felt so real. I sat up on the side of the bed and waited for a minute or two as my mind cleared. I soon realized it must have been a dream, but I was still feeling rattled. I prayed and asked God what He wanted me to do with this dream. I knew there was more to it than just a dream, but I was confused.

I felt God whisper to me. Not audibly, but it was like a knowing, complete thought. He said, “It is real.” You will have the ability to communicate to your loved ones after you die. If you write the things that are important to you now, they will have them when you are gone.

That dream has driven me ever since. I want my writing to communicate to those I love now and those I love and care about in the future. I want you to know who I am. What I think about. What I dream about. What I fear. What I long for. I want you to know my questions and my doubts. I don’t want my ancestors to put me on a pedestal as if I was some kind of super man who never doubted or feared. I am a man who struggles and wrestles with life and with my faith.

That is why I write.

A Doubting Place part 3

The comments on the previous two installments of this wrestling with doubt have helped me. There’s a natural ebb and flow to life and I’m not exempt. Thanks for asking good questions and for drawing me out without offering fixes. That is what I asked for. My friend who comments as “ded” asks…

“Do you doubt God as an entity (your story of being invited on His lap would say you don’t), His goodness (ditto) or what man has determined is the way you must be before Him?”

Ded, the answers depend on when you ask. I am thankful for a strong faith in God. I was raised in the Southern Baptist church where I received a mix of godly teaching and a lot of other stuff that “shouldn’t” be in the mix… but there they are… I have seen God at work in my life and the lives of so many others, and I just cannot walk away from that. God is faithful. At the same time, I have questions and doubts that are very real.

To my fellow Christians who are very bothered and disturbed by this whole line of discussion, I ask you to be patient and stick with me. I have not abandoned the faith. I am trying to be real. If it is too hard for you to read or to follow, don’t try. Everyone is not at the questioning place that I am at, nor should they be. This is my story. Although I have been asking these questions for a long time on the inside, I’m just beginning to feel free enough to ask them on the outside. My desire is not to cause anyone else to stumble.

My questions and my doubts are RAW because that’s how I am feeling them. Sometimes I have no doubts at all. Other times, I doubt the very existence of God. That usually doesn’t last too long because of the experience I have. God has been faithful to me. He has guided me through so many difficult times.

Another whole class of struggles that I feel are due to the polarization caused by the conservative political front in the US. These people seem to equate conservatism with Christianity and that angers me. God is not a Republican. I think that one reason that I feel such strong emotion about the politicization of Christianity is that I used to do it. I used to be so “in your face” about my beliefs. After all, I had all the answers. Now I find that the older I get and the more I learn, the less I know. The Jesus that I read about in the Bible got upset with the religious leaders for politicizing their faith and weighing down the people with burdens they could not bear. However, He was compassionate, full of grace and forgiveness to the “sinners”. What I see in the conservative Christian movement is just the opposite. I see power struggles and condemnation of “sinners”. I have a question to throw back at them. What would Jesus do? Really?

Being this raw, real and honest is not fun… but I believe it is good. I heard N. T. Wright tell an interesting story about this particular species of ant. These ants follow one another unquestioningly and if they are not careful, they have been known to eventually form a huge circle. Now imagine all of these ants following the one in front of them because that one knows where it is going. Eventually they starve to death because of their behavior. I don’t want to follow unquestioningly. I think that God is big enough for my puny little questions. If not, he’s pretty small.

A Doubting Place part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about my feelings of doubt in the moment. My friend, Anthony, reminds me in his reflection that it is in the dark where we find the light… well, he didn’t remind me personally, but his message was timely. I don’t want to doubt, but I want to be ok with my doubt. Does that make sense? Over and over this God whom I worship makes Himself real to me. I doubt and he comes through. I question and He takes me to deeper depths to reveal Himself to me.

masks1.gifI know I am taking it somewhat out of context, but in John 8, Jesus said that that truth would make us free. I value truth and I believe that it very much does set us free. When we live behind masks, we create illusions that we have it all together. Then others see us as having it all together, so they put on their masks so that we won’t know that they are a mess. So, one by one, the masks go up and we hide behind them. All the while we are dying inside. We want friends we can confide in. We really want to have true confession. We want to live lives of truth, but it is uncomfortable. Scary even. Jesus said that the truth would make us free, but he didn’t say it would be easy or comfortable.

I am not the one to argue what truth is or to come up with scenarios to test the boundaries of truth. When is it ok to tell a white lie sorts of exercises. But I know what I mean by truth. I know when I am hiding behind the mask. The truth is, I am a mess. If you don’t see that, you haven’t really been reading my blog. Do a search for the word, “mess” and see what you see.

Do you have doubts? Are you ok with that? Do you see others as having it all together? I haven’t read this book, but I love its title, The Only Normal People Are the Ones You Don’t Know That Well. I say, “Let’ s take off our masks and be real.”

A jimazing view of life