Without A Rudder

For the past few years, my lead pastor and I have gotten away for a few days in the Fall to do long-term planning. We’ve been blessed to have families within our church who have second homes at the beach that have afforded us the opportunity to disconnect from life for a few days to plan out the sermon series for the entire year.

Two years ago, we were able to get away to the Outer Banks and this past Fall we went to Norfolk on the coast of Virginia. It’s amazing how well you can think and how clear your head can be when you intentionally set aside time. We had a productive few days and although it was work, we felt recharged when the time away was over. Sure, there was some emotional and mental exhaustion from what we accomplished, but the sense of accomplishment and the relief of knowing that things were planned out was fantastic.

While most of the time was spent around a table with Bibles and a whiteboard, we tried to find some intentional time to do something fun. Being as we were on the Chesapeake Bay, we decided that if we finished at a certain time, we would go out in the two person kayak. We had been told by the owner of the place where we stayed that a few miles down the coast was a neat little restaurant where we could stop in for lunch. With our destination in mind, we set out, a little later in the morning than we had intended.

We had also been told that the best time for kayaking on the Bay was earlier when the water was smooth and calm, resembling a pane of glass rather than a body of water. I don’t think either of us had been out on a kayak before, at least not a two person kayak. While we get along well together, the true test of any friendship or relationship is a new situation experienced together for the first time.

After dragging the bulky kayak to the beach, we readied ourselves for the journey. While the waters couldn’t be accurately described as “rough,” they weren’t exactly calm and smooth either. We both got into our seats and settled in for the long journey.

I really can’t imagine what we looked like to any innocent bystanders observing us from the shoreline. I wonder if someone thought there was something wrong with us as we just weren’t moving well. We tried to get into a rhythm of rowing but it didn’t seem to matter. We worked harder and harder, rowing with all of our might, but the shoreline just didn’t pass as fast as we had thought that it would.

Now, we had observed some dolphins in the mornings that we had been there but we didn’t think that we would see them again, especially while we were actually out in the Bay. While we were struggling to move forward and after a time or two of capsizing, we seemed to find some kind of rhythm, although no one would have been recruiting us for a rowing or kayaking team.

As we made our way through the water, we heard a sound behind us and as we turned to look, we saw a school of dolphin coming up alongside us. As we inched forward through the water, they move ever closer to us until they were seemingly right on top of us and around us. To be honest, it was a bit unnerving. I’m not the greatest swimmer in the world and while dolphins are playful and not harmful animals, it still made my heart beat faster and faster.

Behind me, my lead pastor was giggling like a schoolgirl. The excitement within him was palpable and I couldn’t help but laugh as well at hearing his excitement. It was all a little surreal, paddling a kayak through the Chesapeake Bay with a school of dolphin swimming all around you. It took our mind off the fact that we were going nowhere fast.

After what felt like forever trying to get to our destination, we finally decided that this was going to take way too long and the end result may just have been exhaustion rather than something more rewarding. We turned the kayak around and started making our way back towards the place where we were staying. There was disappointment in us both as we weren’t able to accomplish what we had set out to accomplish, but the reality of the situation had settled upon the both of us like a storm on the mountains, and like that storm, the reality wasn’t subsiding.

As we got sight of the house in the distance, our paddling became more furious. We edged up to the shore and got off the kayak. As we did, I looked down at the back of the kayak to see the rudder there, laying sideways and clearly doing no good for us. I looked at my lead pastor and said, “Were you using the rudder at all?” He gave me a quizzical look, something that I’ve grown accustomed to, and said, “No.”

At that moment, we both looked at each other again and started to laugh in realization of what had just happened. We had been on a rudderless journey. While we were struggling and fighting to get through the water, our rudder sat there limp and useless because it wasn’t pointed in the right direction. Instead of helping us move through the water, it had been hindering our progression. Two former-engineers-turned-pastors didn’t have the sense between the two of us to have realized the importance of the rudder to help us on our journey.

It seemed like a metaphor for life. How often do we set off on our journey with sights set for the destination without checking to make sure that not only are we headed in the direction but we’ve got everything necessary to get there. Maybe we rush into the journey without a plan. Maybe we don’t have the directions and think we can do without them. Maybe we’ve failed to listen to some wisdom or advice that someone has given us.

Regardless of how we find ourselves in the situation, I think many of us can be on a journey through the water without a rudder. We’re fighting and pushing ahead but if we had just checked one thing, our journey would have been so much smoother.

We both learned a valuable lesson that day, and we won’t soon find ourselves duplicating our mistake. I can look back on the moment and laugh but it’s also a helpful reminder for me to think about what I need before I head out on a journey, even something small that’s forgotten could make way for a much more significant problem.

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A Perfect Storm Moment

Next month, it will be the three year anniversary of my dad’s death. July marks the five year anniversary of my mom’s death. While time has healed, there are still moments when the pain feels fresh like a newly skinned knee.

I’m not sure if it was just the combination of a lot of things or not, but this morning was a tough morning for me. I dragged myself out of bed and ran six miles, feeling as if I had expended all of the energy I had by the time I walked back up to my front door.

When I walked back into the house, it was still quiet. This “spring ahead” thing is tough on kids (and their parents). I wanted nothing more than to just go back to bed, but I went through the motions of my daily routine. After going to the bus stop with my boys, laying in bed with my daughter watching the Disney Channel, and doing my best to muster up enough energy to move ahead with my day, I finally got out the door.

I’ve saved four voicemails in my cell phone. Two of them are from my mom and two of them are from my dad. There are days that I just need to hear their voices. Their statements are comforting to me and hearing the words “see you soon” always both break and warm my heart simultaneously. It was to those voicemails that I went as I drove to Starbucks this morning.

The messages don’t do the same thing to me that they once did when the pain and hurt was really fresh. I think I’ve come to a place where they actually bring me more hope now than they do despair. The inflections of words, the emotion in my parents’ voices, the love that they shared, all of those things are evidenced within just a few sentences left on a voicemail.

The messages were over and I switched back to listening to music in the car. As I pulled into the parking lot of Stabucks, the song “Cinderella” came on. I don’t think that I fully appreciated that song until I had a daughter. We’ve danced to it a time or two, but just like those voicemails, that song has the ability to rip my heart right out of my chest as I imagine my four year old daughter grown up and me walking her down the aisle on her wedding day.

As the song ended, I just sat there in my car. My eyes were dry, but my heart was aching. Within twenty minute period, I had experienced a swath of emotions. Up, down, all around. To top it off, it’s a rainy day and a Monday. Karen Carpenter sang it well, “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” I took to social media and proclaimed that while rainy days and Mondays might get you down, what happens when you have rainy day Mondays?

Within a half an hour, I was cranking along. That’s the nature of the beast, the further away from the situation I get, the better my recovery time.

As I sat in Starbucks listening to the clanking of equipment and the banter of the baristas and patrons around me, I couldn’t help but smile. The rainy days always seem to make the sunny days brighter. The chilly days always seem to make the warmth strike me just a little deeper than before. The moments of pain somehow seem to make the moments of joy last that much longer.

Sure, there’s still pain, there’s still grief, and there’s even still the occasional tears, but the hope that I hold onto in those moments will sustain me and carry me on. Rainy days and Mondays might get me down, but they also help me prepare for what’s ahead, and thinking about that, I just can’t help myself from smiling!

Gaming Together

When I was a kid, we just didn’t have a whole lot of money to enjoy some of the amenities that a lot of my friends had. Personal computers weren’t what they are today. Texas Instruments. Apple. Radio Shack. All of these companies produced computers but they cost a small fortune (for my family) and didn’t offer near the variety that computers and gaming systems offer today.

TI-994A.png

After being pestered by my brother and I for years, my parents finally broke down and scrounged together enough money for us to have a Texas Instruments TI-99-4A. I’m not sure how much my parents paid for it, but I’m sure they made some sacrifices to afford it.

The graphics were horrible, it was slow as molasses in January, you needed to connect it to the TV, and it probably froze frequently. But it was ours, we loved it, and we realized it was a privilege to have it and to play it. We never spent a whole lot of time playing on it, not the way that my kids and other kids today spend hours at a time on one game.

One of my most vivid and cherished memories of my childhood was game night at the Gibson house. As a pastor, my dad would often have to work in the evening. He would have counseling appointments, prayer meeting, more counseling appointments, and an assortment of other commitments that would take him out of the house frequently between Sunday night and Thursday night. The most memorable question to my dad was, “Dad, do you have to go out tonight?” A reply of, “No” to that question was always followed by an inner celebration of sorts for me. I’m pretty sure that among the next questions to escape my mouth was, “Can we play a game?”

Funny, the only game I really remember playing with my dad was Bible Tic Tac Toe. Needless to say, he pretty much won all the time. As he got older (and so did I) I think he migrated to an assortment of other games, most likely due to my mom’s influence. Still, when it came to games, my mom was the expert.

Yahtzee. Uno. Scrabble. Dutch Blitz. The list probably goes on and on, but those were the games that I remembered. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my mom got her love of games from her mother because I can remember playing Scrabble with my mom and grandma for hours. My grandma was a Scrabble fiend, I think she kicked my tail hundreds of time. Her reputation for Scrabble was such that I even remember my brother mentioning her love of the game at her memorial service after she died.

After my parents died, my brother and I went through their stuff and divided it between us. There wasn’t a whole lot of things that had significant monetary value, most of the items had more sentimental value than anything else. Among those belongings were my parents’ games. Having kids of my own, I wanted to have the chance to play some of the very games that I had enjoyed with my parents with my own kids.

It will be three years next month since my dad died and five years in July since my mom died. My kids are getting older, the two oldest being among the best readers in their classes. So, having endured hours and hours of video game playing by my two oldest, I thought that the time had finally come to dig out my parents’ Scrabble game.

I asked my wife where we had stored it and she told me. I’m not sure what was going through her head when I asked her, probably something like, “You can’t be serious!” It seemed a risky proposition to attempt this game with a seven year old, a nine year old, and a four year old (the four year old would be on someone else’s team), but we did it anyway.

The result was much more enjoyable than either of us would have expected. The Scrabble board was utilized much more expansively than either of us would have imagined. Other than the fussings of my four year old (which are fairly typical in anything these days), I think that we all had fun.

family Scrabble

My heart was warm!

Since my kids have been able, we’ve played games with them. Chutes and Ladders. Candyland. Headbandz. Yahtzee. Pie Face! Now we can add Scrabble to that list. And I’ve successfully begun to pass on a family tradition.

It’s funny, it was almost as if I had gone back in time as I played the exact game that I had played for years and years with my mom and grandma. I could almost hear them laughing, taunting, encouraging, and laughing some more. I even found some decades old scraps of paper with scores of played games between me and my grandma. I’m pretty sure she always won.

Yes, my kids still love their gaming system. Yes, they’ll still spend hours on end playing in front of the TV, but I’m really encouraged to know that it’s possible and even enjoyable to take a break from those gaming systems and pull out an old-fashioned game to sit around the kitchen table and laugh together.

After all, the family that games together, stays together, right?

 

3/3/00

Every year on this day, I can’t help but thinking what happened in the year 2000. On March 3, 2000 (3/3/00), I asked my wife (then girlfriend) to marry me. I’ve blogged about it before (see here), but every year, I am astounded at just what happened that day.

Now, my marriage is far from perfect. If I’m honest, I can see my own deficiencies and inadequacies come through. I see my faults and foibles, my sins and missed marks, but there is something about marriage that shows me a picture of God.

We were made for relationship. God did not create us in order that he would have something or someone to play with, robots to heed his every command, or groveling servants who simply obey his every whim. God created us to experience the relationship that had existed between the persons of the Trinity from eternity past. Marriage gives us a picture of that when two people come together to make one.

All too often, we can look at our marriages and think that they are there to fulfill our every wish and desire. We want what we want and when we don’t get it, we think something is wrong. But the longer that I am married, the more I see my own selfishness, the more I see just how deep it runs, and the more I realize that marriage is about being changed and transformed. I’m not who I need to be, but I’m moving in that direction……I hope.

I got married a little later than my peers. It’s not that I hadn’t had relationships that had been serious before, but I just don’t think I was ready or in a place where marriage would have been viable had I not waited as long as I did. I fear that my marriage would have ended in divorce had I got married earlier than I did.

But on March 3, 2000, I was given a gift. She said, “yes.” She said, “yes” to an engineer who eventually became a pastor. She said, “yes” to a home that was only a few minutes away from family but eventually was a half a day’s drive to family. She said, “yes” to not one, or two, but three kids. She said, “yes” to walking alongside me when I buried not one, but two parents. She said, “yes” to an adventure that would lead us to North Carolina and Virginia. She said, “yes” to watching her husband be beaten, battered, and bruised by those who claimed that they were striving to be like Jesus.

In front of a small group of friends and family, I asked her to marry me and she said, “yes.” We celebrated the next day with our family, a few months later at a party with a larger crew, and fifteen months later, we were married.

There are many days when I look back and I wonder what I did to deserve her, and then I realize that I didn’t do anything, that’s grace. Many days I wonder how much more she can put up with, and then I realize that’s grace too. As I wrote in the song with which I proposed to her, “Your love makes me more than I dreamed of, more than I wished for or ever thought I could be.” Every day I get a picture of God’s grace through the gift that he has given me in my wife.

Like I said, we’re far from perfect. We both have issues, I haven’t found anyone who doesn’t have issues, but we’re moving through them. It’s not been an easy road, but the journey has been rewarding and the changes that have taken place in us are not of this world.

I celebrate the gift of grace that came to me through a woman saying, “yes” sixteen years ago. She’s said, “yes” every day since and in that “yes” is a gift that I experience every single day.

I love you, Carebear!

Race and Hollywood

oscars so whiteHollywood has a race problem…

At least that’s what we are led to believe. Leading up to the 2016 Academy Awards, anyone who was paying attention knew that one of the hottest topics would be the race issue in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It seemed strategic that Chris Rock was chosen to be the host and everyone expected (if not knew) that his opening monologue would address the race issue.

Rock did not disappoint. He confronted the issue with his own brand of humor and brought light to the situation. In the process, though, he exposed the fact that while Hollywood seems to have a race issue, the race issue is not limited to only African Americans. There are still issues with other ethnicities not being recognized and cast as well.

Hearing all of this discussion, I wanted to do a little research though. As a straight, white man, it’s easy for me to see that my rose-colored lenses have a tendency of distorting my view of the world. I don’t know the difficulties that many of my African American friends have suffered other than by hearing them tell their stories.

A few years ago, I consulted a respected seminary professor of mine who is African American. I realized that I could gain some valuable insight from this man whom I respected and loved regarding his own experiences. As we talked on the phone, I was astounded at the experiences he recounted of those in the church who had shown themselves to be less than Christ-like in their dealings with their African American brothers and sisters. I could see and hear the strength in my friend and mentor’s voice, having endured hardships to achieve the level that he had, but I could also hear the hint of pain. My respect for him had been significant before this conversation, but it immediately rose as I now had a better understanding of just what he had faced.

My eyes were opened that day. I realized just how important it was for me to build relationships outside of my own homogeneous group in order to better understand the world around me. I realized that just because I couldn’t see something did not necessarily mean that it wasn’t there.

As I heard the criticisms hurled at the Academy, I secretly wished for an African American friend within the industry who could lend me some perspective. Not having one immediately come to mind, I began to think of all of the African American actors and actresses that I could think of. Denzel Washington. Will Smith. Djimon Hounsou. Morgan Freeman. Oprah Winfrey. Viola Davis. Whoopi Goldberg. The list could go on.

All of them had at least been nominated for Academy Awards, some of them had won as well. Were their accomplishments and achievements insignificant? What did those accomplishments say? How did they speak to this issue of race?

But a deeper look reveals how many overlooks there have been. Sure, there have been the Halle Berrys and the Denzel Washingtons, the Morgan Freemans and the Forest Whitakers, but how about “Selma” and “Do the Right Thing, how about “The Help”? The list could go on and on. A cursory exploration of past nominees reveals that more than once has a film depicting African Americans, starring African Americans, and directed by African Americans been snubbed, this year being no exception. Ironic considering how liberal Hollywood considers itself.

But what are we looking for? What should the situation be? Nadia and Leila Latif writing for The Guardian wrote, “What do we want? Change. But who has to do the changing? As Viola Davis said, the only thing that separates actors of colour from everyone else is opportunity. So casting directors need to diversify their thinking. Directors need to demand to see different types of actors. Writers should be making more of an effort to write interesting parts for actors of colour that defy stereotypes, or implementing a Geena Davis type solution (simply change any character in a script into a woman) for race.”

What’s the answer? What kind of change would be acceptable? I’ve heard it said by at least one person that they would rather achieve success because of their talents rather than because of the color of their skin. I have to admit, if I found myself in a situation where the color of my skin had the potential for helping me accomplish something rather than my hard work, I would struggle mightily with it. If there was any question at all in my mind, I think that question would haunt me all of my days. Had I achieved something because I was deserving of it or was it given to me to avoid conflict?

Here’s what I continually come back to though, it’s too easy for those who have never walked a mile in a pair of shoes to immediately pass off the voicing of concerns as whining. If it sounds like whining, it would seem that it might be a good idea to at least get another perspective, especially if your perspective is severely limited. Just because your perspective tells you that something seems overdramatized and sensationalized doesn’t necessarily make it true.

While I don’t agree with his politics, I have to say that Spike Lee is doing his best to affect change, he’s making movies, he’s writing scripts, he’s making a difference and providing opportunities. The list of African American actors and actresses above are an example of those who are working to make a difference. But what can others do to make a difference?

This problem didn’t emerge overnight, it’s been a process in the making. The solution won’t miraculously happen either. If there are films that deserve recognition, be the one to recognize them. If there are actors to be recognized, be the one to recognize them. The old adage applies, be part of the problem or part of the solution.

When I first started hearing about this, I honestly didn’t think there was as big of an issue as people were making it to be. Then I started digging deeper, only to find that there was more to it than my limited perspective had allowed me to see. Judging a book by its cover results in shallow and limited results. Do your research. Dig a little deeper. You might be surprised at just what you find.