Making Memories, Slowing Down, Being Flexible

IMG_2566I’m coming up to the halfway point of my cross country trip with my family. We’re about 3100 miles into the trip and it’s been an adventure. I’ve never had to change the oil on a trip before. It wasn’t because of bad timing on my part, it was because we’ve just drive THAT many miles.

We got all the way to Carlsbad, New Mexico and finally had to use our camping gear that had been stored in a roof cargo bag. Turns out, with the high temperatures and high speeds that we had been driving (all within the speed limit), the cargo bag didn’t fare very well. So, we were forced to move everything that had been on the roof into the car. 5 people, luggage, a plug-in cooler, camping gear, and everything else that we had, all packed into a mini-van.

Sound like fun yet?

We’ve seen the Biltmore House, Graceland, the French Quarter, the Civil Rights Museum, the Alamo. Carlsbad Caverns, and we’ve not even gotten to Hollywood yet.

It’s been a whirlwind and my brain hasn’t been able to process things nearly as quickly as I am seeing them. My camera shutter is going off a mile a minute and I’m wondering when my wife is going to ask the inevitable question of how many pictures I’ve taken on the trip and whether I’m going to actually include anyone in those pictures.

We’ve changed our plans here and there, abandoned destinations, added destinations, been forced to accommodate for unforeseen circumstances, and tried to keep three kids nine years old and younger occupied and under control for the thousands of miles that we have driven. Throughout all of it, there are three big lessons that have emerged. Make memories. Slow Down. Be flexible.

I have been constantly amazed at the fact that the things that I think are going to capture my kids seem to be met with ho-hum responses while the things that I wouldn’t have expected would garner excitement and response are the ones to which they react to the most strongly. It’s the moments which you least expect which are the ones that will probably last the longest.

I’ve witnessed the sun rise over the desert mountains in New Mexico with my son on multiple mornings. As we watched the sun climb up the horizon, I couldn’t help but put my arm around him, hold him a little closer, and realize that we were sharing a moment together, no one else. We’ve been to gift shops galore, bought the T-shirts and the snow globes, but it’s moments like these that will make the largest mark on my kids.

Although we’ve been to some amazing places, seen some amazing things, my daughter seems to want to judge the places we stay on their swimming pools. So, taking time to swim in these pools has had to be part of our routine, as much as possible. They’re all pools to me, but they hold some kind of magic for her. Not sure why, but there’s really no point in arguing. Swimming pools on rooftops in New Orleans to swimming pools in the desert in New Mexico, they all seem to capture the eye of my four year old, and I bet she’ll remember them when everything else seems to fade away.

Memories can’t be forcefully made. I’ve had to remind myself of that over and over again. As much as I would love to create moments along the way, the ones that stick are the ones for which I never planned, the ones that sneak up on me, the ones that just happen, without any pre-planning or contriving. Those are the moments that make for the best memories, and you just have to go with them.

There have been moments when we’ve had to put movies on the DVD player for the kids. As much as I would love for them to be as enamored with the landscape as much as my wife and I have been, I know that they just aren’t and I can’t force it. One of the films we brought along for them to watch is “Cars,” the Pixar movie. The more I watch that movie, the more I fall in love with it, and although I didn’t actually watch it (I just listened to the audio as I drove along), I couldn’t help but have my heart strings tugged when James Taylor sings about “Our Town” and I began to realize yet again how quickly things can change around you.

At one point in the movie, Lightning McQueen (the main character) and his love interest, Sally, go for a drive. It’s something McQueen isn’t familiar with, after all, he’s a race car. The idea of just going for a drive on a country road doesn’t really make any sense to him…..until he does it. Sure, his motives weren’t pure at first, but then he realizes what can happen when you just slow down.

I’ve found the same thing. When I stop rushing around and slow down, I see things that I didn’t see before, I hear things that I hadn’t heard before, the world just looks different to me. Slowing down means that I can’t pack my schedule so tight that there’s no breathing room. When my schedule is so jam-packed, the inevitable response from me will be frustration because there is no margin of error built into my schedule. Plans are good, but planning too tightly will simply result in frustration and, eventually, anger. That’s never a good place to be.

Finally, I’m learning to be flexible. I’m learning that it doesn’t matter if we take a detour. I’m learning that you can’t see everything and that the things that you want to see might not be what everyone else wants to see. Flexibility is not a family trait that I have inherited (I’ve blogged about it before), so I’ve got to work a little harder at it. But as I work to be more flexible, it leaves the space that I talked about above and it also leaves space for the memories to be made.

I won’t lie and say that there hasn’t been any frustration on the trip. There has been shouting. There have been tears. There has been anger, but I think that should be expected considering the circumstances. But we’re doing our best to make this trip of a lifetime really live up to what we’ve been calling it all along. The. Trip. Of. A. Lifetime.

We’re so incredibly grateful for this time as a family and I don’t even think that we will fully appreciate just what it’s meant to all of us for months and years to come. We’re reaching the halfway point and I can’t wait to see how this adventure goes!

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A Sobering Picture

IMG_2143Our country is in a sad state. We’re divided over politics. We’ve got two pretty crummy options for president. We continue to deny that we have a race problem. We need some healing!

While in Memphis with my family, we visited the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum is housed in what used to be the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and continues across the street into the boarding house where James Earl Ray, his assassin pulled the trigger on that fateful April evening in 1968.

My wife and I had contemplated whether or not to take our kids to the museum. In truth, it was probably more for me than for them, but I still feel like it’s never too early to get kids to think correctly about race and race relations. Did they take it all in? No. Did they see things, hear things, and read things that they can’t unsee, unhear, and unread? Probably, but isn’t that our lives every day?

My daughter was too young, she just didn’t get it. No crime there, it’s hard to be four years old and be thrust into this crazy world and the various issues that we are facing. My oldest probably got way more than I think he did, enough so that I need to figure out how to get some one on one time with him in the near future to talk through his own processing of what he saw, heard, and read.

The first thing that we noticed as we went into the museum was that we were in the minority. There weren’t many white folks in there, and that kind of made me sad. Why? Did others not think it was important? Did they come on other days? Was this just an off day?

As I looked around at the mostly African American patrons, I wished that I could see things through their eyes. I felt as white and privileged as I am. I knew that my perspective was skewed in such a way that there was something that I just couldn’t see, something that I just couldn’t feel because of who I am. As they looked at the statues of slaves, of oppressed, of tormented African Americans, I wondered what they saw. As they looked at the displays of those who had stood up, who just couldn’t take it anymore, I wondered whether there was a pride in them, a pride in seeing someone stand up for what was right, of seeing someone finally put their foot down.

As we walked through the museum, I knew that I had to skip so much of what was there in order to keep our sanity and the attention of my young children. My four year old was running ahead. As I read what I could, as I looked at the pictures, as I took it all in, there were some sights that made me well up. For instance, to see the mugshots of some of these African American women who had stood up for what they believed, you could just see it in their faces, they were pissed off. They’d had enough. They weren’t going to take it anymore, not in a Beastie Boys or Twisted Sister kind of way, but in a real, legitimate way, in a way that says, “We’ve had enough of being treated as less than human!”

As the story of civil rights unfolds around you through pictures, through voices, through news stories, you arrive at this sacred place, the reconstructed rooms where Martin Luther King, Jr. and his friends and colleagues stayed on the night of April 3, 1968. Did they know what would happen just twenty-four hours later?

Then you walk across the street and see things from the other side, from the eyes of the killer, the man who thought that violence was the way to solve a problem, the man who snuffed the life of a man who, though far from perfect, had accomplished so much for black people and minorities in this country.

There are moments in life when you can sense that there is something different, something special, something sacred. This was one of them. To say that I wanted to drink in the moment seems to shortchange it, to cheapen it. I wanted to freeze time to hear the voices of everyone who had stood in this place, to drink in all that I had just absorbed, to hear what they experienced while they were there.

IMG_2204After we left Memphis, I asked my wife to stop by the home of Medgar Evers in Jackson Mississippi. Two men. Two activists. Two families shattered by hate. Two places where death was in the air and where hate did its best to conquer love and freedom. It was all a lot to process, but I did my best.

I wonder what others think when they walk those hallowed walls. I wonder what they feel when they look at those rooms, when they look through those windows, when they see things the way that two men on different sides saw things one day in April nearly 50 years ago.

I wish somehow we could require people to walk through these walls, but you know the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” You can’t force people to see something that they aren’t willing, aren’t capable of seeing. So, I did the next best thing, I brought my kids, and when we were done, we had a little talk. We talked about why people would hate others because of the color of their skin. They couldn’t come up with any really good reasons, in fact, I don’t think they could come up with any reasons. For that, I am proud, because there aren’t any good reasons.

Yet we still find ourselves in this place, at this time, in our country. Black men are threatened and fear for their lives just for being black. Police officers fear the retaliation because of the actions of a few. The rest of us play armchair quarterback because we think that the media is actually portraying things fairly and balanced. There are at least three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth.

As I walked through the museum, I wanted to hug every African American brother and sister that I saw to tell them that I saw them for who they are. I wanted to tell them that my heart broke for them, for their families, for their children. I wanted to ask them what I could do. I wanted to, even for just one minute, feel what they were feeling inside, good, bad, and ugly.

In the end, we can only affect the people who are directly around us in hopes that the ripples of that change might go out from where we are, into our communities, into our towns and cities, into our states, and throughout the world. Change starts small, but when it’s combined with the force of others moving in the same direction, it becomes a momentous force that can rise up and conquer. But that force doesn’t come when we separate ourselves, when we segregate ourselves, it can only happen when we come together to hear what others are thinking, feeling, and doing.

I’m not doing enough, but awareness is the first step, education is a close second. Where we go next will be the challenge. The first place that I can start change is in me, I can only hope that it snowballs from there!

At the end of Lonely Street

IMG_2199My family and I toured Graceland the other day. It was kind of funny going from the Biltmore Estate and the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. That’s not to say that Graceland wasn’t impressive, but it was just……different. Biltmore was home to a tycoon while Graceland was home to a king, but we all know that money can’t buy you love, or happiness, or all of the things in life that seem to matter more than possessions.

Walking through the halls and rooms of Graceland, I was mixed with both a sense of awe as well as a profound sadness deep inside. It felt almost like hallowed ground, and I hesitate to even use the term “hallowed” but there’s no other word that I can find to describe it. It was almost as if you could feel Elvis in the air, hear his voice ringing through the walls.

The tour didn’t include the upstairs, where Elvis is supposed to have breathed his last breath. We walked through the first floor of the house, into his dad’s office, into the trophy building, and to the racquetball building. His accolades, accomplishments, and acquisitions were on full display for everyone to see. In some ways, I felt as if I was going over a friend’s house and having him show me all of his treasures and awards, bashfully boasting, but not with an arrogance so much as in an effort to be accepted, to be loved, to prove something to me.

As I meandered through these buildings, taking in all the features, seeing Elvis’ achievements, awards, outfits, and more, I started to think about the fact that he died at 42, a year younger than me. There is no mention in the house of his broken relationship with Priscilla. There is no mention in the house of how he died and what he had gotten into by the time of his death. No, this was a place of homage to a king and one of the reasons why it’s good to be king is that people might only remember the good things that you did.

IMG_2102At the end of the house tour, you find yourself in the Meditation Garden, where Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother are all buried. Standing there a day after the five year anniversary of my mother’s death, I thought that I was going to start bawling like a baby. But why? It’s not like I knew him, but like I said, I was overcome with a deep sadness as I thought about him, his achievements, what he had become, and what he might have been had he lived on. As I saw my children walking through the garden ahead of me, I choked back the emotions that were desperately trying to rise up within my throat.

I stood over his grave, thinking about this man whose end had come too soon. I thought about what he had accomplished in his short 42 years and I wondered what he thought and what he felt in those last hours of his life.

After walking through the house and garden, we walked through the Lisa Marie, his custom airplane. We walked past his cars, his motor toys, and a few of his motorcycles. I’m not sure that you could call it “excess” but he liked things that were nice and he wasn’t afraid to pay for them. He had the money, after all, and looking at it all, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was trying to find something else with all this stuff, if he was trying to find the very thing that no amount of money could ever buy.

He had acquired a lot of stuff, had racked up lots of awards, he even had been quietly philanthropic with his money, giving to charities here and there without the usual self-trumpeting of most celebrities. He was the king of rock and roll, the man who had started it all with his swinging pelvis. His legacy was there before me, I had walked past it and I could hear it in the air, almost feel it.

Sure, he lives on, some may say, in his music, in this mansion, and in the hearts of all of his fans. But I wish that I could have jumped in a time machine and traveled back 50 years or so. I wish I could have hung out with him in the Jungle Room, picked up his guitar and jammed with him a little. In much the same way that Elton John sang about Marilyn Monroe, I think I could say the same thing about Elvis, I would have loved to have just had a conversation with him, to hear his heart a little bit.

I’m sure he was a fun guy, he liked to party, but I would have loved to have been there when the party was over, when his friends left, when there was quiet in Graceland, and when he was alone with himself. I wonder what thoughts he thought, I wonder what dreams he dreamed, I wonder whether he had any regrets running through his mind. I wonder who he really was when the lights were off, the cameras were gone, and he didn’t feel like he had to perform.

The day that we pulled out of Graceland, my son and I walked out to the entrance of the RV Park where we stayed and took the picture above. At the end of Lonely Street is the Heartbreak Hotel. Even if you turned off all the Elvis music playing around you, I think you might hear him faintly singing in the air.

It was good to pay homage to the King, a little sad, but he’s left a legacy, despite his flaws. And as we pulled out of Lonely Street towards our next destination, it was fitting that Elvis was playing in the car!

Going to See the King

ELVIS - 1957.jpg

When you grow up in the church, going to Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, you learn all of these church songs that seem to implant themselves in your brain for years to come. That’s usually not a bad thing, depending on the cheese factor of said songs. Being a musician, I have a tendency to think in song lyrics at times, and after 43 years, there are a whole lot of lyrics and songs stored in the neurons of my brain.

As I contemplated my visit to Graceland, I began to sing a song that I heard once upon a time:

“Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King,

Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King…..”

Of course, the song was referring to a different King, but I chuckled as I sang it in my head, with my family around me wondering what might be going through their crazy dad’s (husband’s) brain.

There’s something about going into someone’s house, being inside their domicile, standing, sitting, walking where they once did the same. You see what they saw every day, you step into their shoes, even for a brief, few moments. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that you become them, but you certainly see things in a different light.

As I think about the fact that Elvis and his family have their final resting place at Graceland, I think about others who have chosen to lay their final remains in the places that they love. Having just been to Lynchburg in the last few months, I think about Jerry Falwell choosing to be buried on the grounds of Liberty University, the school which he founded and built from the ground up.

I guess is comes back to legacy, what are we leaving behind? Why do people choose to be buried in the places they loved most while they were alive? It’s not like they’re still enjoying it, right?

Today, we’re going to see the place “where the king slept,” and I’m pretty sure that we’re going to find out that Elvis has left the building. I’ll see what thoughts occur to me as I walk the place where the King walked, step where he stepped, and get a window into his perspective, even if it’s for just a few short hours.

The Adventure Begins

griswoldsFive people. One mini-van. Over 3000 miles. Over a dozen states. Three and a half weeks. That’s the adventure.

In some denominations, it’s traditional for pastors to be given a three month sabbatical every seven years. Having been in my current context for nearly nine years and having experienced significant transitions in life and ministry over those past nine years, the leadership of my church graciously recommended a three month sabbatical for me and my family.

Over the past two months, I’ve visited other communities of faith, spent some significant time with others in ministry, attended some training to become a Strengths Communicator, read, written, and rested. I’ve traveled to Minnnesota, Connecticut, North Carolina, and now, the adventure begins with my family.

Road trips were my vacations as a kid. We didn’t go on any expensive vacations to exotic locations, my parents just couldn’t afford it. We went to Disney here and there, but for the most part, we just traveled up and down the east coast. Growing up, we had relatives in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. We would take trips during the summer to spend time with these family members and although I don’t recall any big expensive experiences that we had, I have vivid memories of all the things we DID do.

Now, my family and I are in the midst of our own road trip and adventure, traveling across the United States, seeing what we can see, connecting with old friends from days gone by, and making memories as we go. The final destination: Los Angeles. After that, we head back home in a roundabout way.

As we’ve planned for this trip, I’ve smiled at how everyone has an opinion of what we should see. Others give us that look that says, “Are you crazy?” One high school friend of mine even claimed that the idea of being stuck together for three weeks in a mini-van was her idea of hell.

Regardless of how crazy we are or how many landmarks, parks, and other things that we DON’T see, we’re still going to have a blast. I expect that we’ll miss some things. There will be arguments along the way. There will be times when we’ll probably want to kill each other, but at the end of the day, there will be stories.

We’ve already started to create our own stories and I can’t wait to see how it goes!

Words

I’m a word guy. I love words. I love to paint pictures with words, to spin yarns, to create metaphors that help people remember things that they might otherwise forget.

Words are powerful, they’re important, they can lift a person up or tear a person down. We can share them quickly and then find that maybe we should have waited a little bit longer for them to escape our mouths.

The average person speaks about 16,000 words a day. That’s an awful lot of words. That’s the equivalent of about forty-eight pages of a double-spaced paper. Imagine that, each of us could write about fifty pages each day based on what we say.

But I wonder how many of those words we wish we could take back. I wonder how many of those words are words that we’ve really thought about, words that we’ve been intentional about, words that were meant to lift up and not tear down.

I don’t think words mean as much as to some others as they mean to me. We throw around words too easily today. I’ve used the metaphor before, but it serves repeating to say that we live in an age of digital hand grenades where we throw words over the “wall” of the internet and walk away feeling satisfied without always thinking about the “explosion” that is caused by those words that we just threw out.

During my sabbatical, I’ve felt the need to slow things down for myself. I’ve been writing in a journal….by hand. The first couple of days were brutal, my hand hadn’t hurt like that in a while. There wasn’t a whole lot of muscle memory since I’m one who typically writes while staring at a computer screen. But the more that I’ve done it, the easier it’s gotten. I still can’t write as fast as I type, but that’s the point, I can slow down.

I was extended a few invitations in the beginning of my sabbatical. I admit that some of them were my own invitations, inviting myself to visit someone or some place. When I got home from some of these trips, the easy thing for me to do would have been to hop on my computer and write a quick email, to compile my words in 300 words or less and press “Send.” But that felt a little impersonal to me.

I thought about the many cards and letters that I’ve received over the years. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Special occasions. Not so special occasions. The loss of a parent. The transition of a job. I’ve got a file where I keep a lot of these cards and when I’m having “one of those days,” I go to the file and start to read. I read words that someone took the time to write to me, words that were meant to lift me up and encourage me. Someone took the time to use a pen and paper rather than to simply send an email. And those words make me smile.

So, when I got home from those trips, I sat down with some blank cards that I keep for just such occasions. I thought about what I would write before I started, because you can’t just hit “backspace” when you’re using a pen. I wrote, not much, but I wrote. And I think that when those people got their mail and opened up those cards, they realized that I had put more into what was written than just sitting in front of my computer screen. I think that they knew how much it meant to me for them to take the time to spend time with me, to invest in me, to help me out. And I hope they smiled.

Words are cheap, but cheap words can still cut deeply. In fact, the cheaper the words, the deeper they might cut and the harsher the wound.

I’m doing my best to richen up my words. I’m doing my best to think about the impact before they’re out, out of my mouth or out of my hands. Others might still cheapen words, but I’m going to do my best to make sure that I’m thinking about them before they’re out. I’m not responsible for anyone else’s words but my own……well, and maybe the words of my children because they generally copy the things that I say. So, may my words be seasoned with salt and may they be used to build others up rather than cutting them down.

You’re Going the Wrong Way

who can heal americaThere’s a scene in the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” when John Candy and Steve Martin are driving in the wrong direction down the highway. They see a car across the way who is trying to signal to them and the driver yells to them, “You’re going the wrong way.” Candy and Martin think that the guy is drunk and don’t even consider that they actually might be driving down the highway in the wrong direction. Eventually, they crash and their car burns up, leaving them stranded with a shell of a car. I wonder what would have happened if they had simply heeded the advice of the man yelling at them to turn around.

As funny of a movie as “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” is, this scene replayed in my mind as I’ve thought about the events of the last week, month, and even year. As more and more horrible things play out in the United States, I can’t help but wonder whether or not someone is yelling, “You’re going the wrong way” to us, and in our foolishness and pride, we dig our heels in a little deeper, we clench our fists a little tighter, and we keep pressing on, thinking that we’re not the ones who are wrong.

The other day, a news headline on CNN.com read, “Who can heal America?” I thought that it was a perfect question to which many will struggle to come up with an answer. I think plenty of people will have an answer, but I don’t think that any of the answers that they’ll provide will be right. After all, politicians have been “coming up with answers” for years and it’s not gotten us any further away from the dismay that we’ve experienced. In fact, one might argue that we’re worse off than we were before, but we continue to drive in the wrong direction, thinking that it surely can’t be us that’s wrong, it’s got to be someone else. There’s no way that we could be driving in the wrong direction, right?

There’s a very powerful passage in 1 Samuel 8 in the Old Testament. Samuel, the prophet and priest, has gotten old and his sons are wayward, and the people want an answer to their problems. So, they ask for a king. Why? They say, “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” As Samuel talks with God, God tells him all of the things that a king will do to the people, a king will enslave the people, he will steal from them and oppress them, he will take their possessions and their children from them, and when they cry out to God, God will not answer them.

It seems that America has wanted to be just like everybody else. We want a king to lead us, we want a president who can fix this mess, but if we’re looking to find someone who can save us, who can fix this, who can heal America, we’re going the wrong way, we’re heading in the wrong direction. A president will only do what we’ve seen presidents do countless times in the past, but presidents will come and go, political leaders will rise and fall, but there is only One who will remain forever.

We’re going the wrong way and we’ve got to turn around, but I don’t think that finding the right president is the way to fix the problem. The problems need to be fixed in our hearts before we can try to fix them externally, after all, you can make things look nice and pretty on the outside all you want, but if you don’t fix what’s broken on the inside, then it’s just window dressing.

America doesn’t need the right president, America needs a change of heart. We need to stop the car and turn it around, but we’ve got to humble ourselves and first realize that we’re going in the wrong direction.

Telling the Stories

While visiting family in Connecticut the other night, we all found ourselves sitting around a table listening to my wife’s grandmother tell stories. She told stories of trips that she took when my wife was young, stories of trips she took when my father-in-law was young, and stories of trips she took when she was young. We all laughed as mental pictures ran through our minds.

As I sat there at the table listening, I was struck by the fact that I was participating in something special. It was something that has been going on for generations and generations. Stories were being passed on, not by writing them down, but by the oral tradition of storytelling.

I wondered how many people before me had done similarly. Many of them might have done it around campfires or candles or lanterns that barely lit up their meager homes. Here I was taking part in something special.

After my mom and dad died, I didn’t have any major regrets. Our relationships were good and there was nothing between us that had been left unsaid. There was no bitterness or anger, no resentment or animosity, there was simply love, respect, and appreciation. If there was anything that I regretted it was not paying more attention when I came across situations like what happened the other night. I regretted not having asked the millions of questions that run through my mind even now. I regret not having heard, ingested, and memorized the stories that I so desperately wish my parents had passed on to me.

Not too long ago, one of my kids had taken to asking my wife and I to tell him a childhood story every night when we laid down with him before bed. It was a bigger challenge than I thought that it would be. At first, I kind of thought that it was a drag, what did he care what I did when I was his age. Then I began to realize just how important these stories were to him, to the point that I found myself thinking about what story I might tell him that night as I daydreamed throughout my day.

Stories are important to us. We are storied people. We can write things down and pass them on that way, but there is something about the oral tradition. There is something about hearing a story weaved out before you. From my own experience, I think some of my stories grow when they are told orally. The fish might be bigger, the car ride may have been longer, the rain may have been harder, and every detail that I tell may just grow a little bit with each telling of the story. That’s part of the fun of it.

All of this talk of story just solidifies in my mind how important the next few weeks will be for me and my family as we go on our adventure. As we weave our way across the United States, I wonder what stories will stand out the most to my kids. I wonder how they will tell them a few weeks from now, a few months from now, and a few years from now. I wonder how they will grow. I wonder how much longer the journey will get as they pass these stories on to all who will listen.

I’ve got to find a way to remember some more of the stories of my childhood. I know that they’re there in the recesses of my mind, waiting to be mined and dragged from their hiding places. I’ve got to give them some more thought and make sure that I share as many of them as I possibly can, after all, my kids might not always ask me to tell them and there will eventually come a day when I won’t be around to tell them all the things that I never had the chance to.

Tired

Reading about the senseless loss of another few lives of black men is growing old for me. I’m tired. I’m tired of the hurt that it causes my black brothers and sisters. I’m tired of the fear that it creates in them and their children. I’m tired of the excuses that pour from both sides once the shots have been fired. I’m just tired of it.

I’m not naïve enough to think that these men who were victims of the latest supposed police brutality shootings were completely innocent. They had to have done something to have gotten them to the place that they were at, but was it really to a place where an irreversible decision needed to be made, one that would change the course of lives for two families?

I’m also not naïve enough to think that the media gets it completely right here. It’s got to be a little unnerving to be a police officer and always be questioning your next move. Who will be filming you with their cell phone? How can the context of the situation be adequately portrayed in a few minutes of shaky video from a cell phone?

Something is wrong and I’m tired of it. There are no excuses. If people are apprehended by police officers, regardless of their race or color, they need to do what they are asked to do. If police find themselves facing suspects who don’t immediately comply, they need to escalate the situation according to their protocols. Somehow or another, there has to be some kind of intervention here. It’s got to stop……NOW!

I hate that I read headlines like those of the last few days and simply move on to the next thing. I hate that they have become so commonplace to me that I’m feeling desensitized to them. I hate that I look like an apathetic jerk because I feel like I’ve read the same story over and over again. I hate that I have friends who are full of anger, full of hurt, and full of fear, for themselves and for the people they love.

Yes, black lives matter. That’s not an overstatement when you look at the headlines that we find ourselves continually facing day after day. Something’s got to give.

I am a white man and I am sorry. I am a white man and I don’t fully understand. I am a white man and I’ve not done everything that I can do to make a difference. I am a white man and my heart is breaking because violence has shown once again that it is the easy way out of conflict.

Our country might think that they’ve come a long way in the area of race relations just because the 1960s are behind us and because the North won the Civil War, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t do all that he did so that we can still be facing these headlines nearly 50 years later.

I’m tired. Are you?

Expect the Unexpected

When I began my sabbatical a month and a half ago, I went into it with a plan. There were three goals that I had, there were books to be read, training sessions to be attended, and meetings to be had. Over the course of the seven weeks of sabbatical so far, some of the best things that have happened have been the things that are unplanned, unexpected, and unscripted.

It’s taken me quite some time in my life to come to a place where I embrace Plan B. I like structure, I like the familiar, and I like control. Flexibility is not something that runs in my family, anyone who knew my father knows that well. Happiness is a warm and familiar blanket, even if that blanket is tattered, worn, and falling apart.

My family has been visiting with family over the last week and a half. Family has always been important to my wife and to me. We both have had good relationships with our siblings, our parents, and our extended family. We’ve been truly blessed in that regard as we know that isn’t the case for all of our friends. I’ve often silently rejoiced in the relationship that I have with my in-laws, well before I lost my parents even. Family is something that you can’t choose, but it’s also something that is too easy to take for granted until you lose it, which I know from firsthand experience.

Among the adventures and events that we’ve been a part of in our time away, we were able to spend time at a family gathering last week with family that we don’t get to see or talk with all that often. In talking with one family member, I felt that the conversation had only just begun and that we needed some additional time to unpack some things together.

The other day, I was finally able to connect with this family member. We met up and spent a few hours together and at the end of that time, I marveled at the unexpected blessing that the time was for me. I told this family member that our time together wasn’t even on my radar screen last week when we got here and it certainly wasn’t on my radar screen when I started my sabbatical. The time spent together was encouraging, challenging, convicting, and insightful. I’d like to think that I’m different than I was before we got together.

There are moments in life when I get a strong sense deep inside that I should be doing something or should stop doing something. As a follower of Christ, I believe that it’s the Holy Spirit that is prompting me along the way. What constantly amazes me (although it shouldn’t) is when things that I have held deep inside are confirmed by people who have not been part of the ongoing conversation, with whom I haven’t shared anything. The fact that they are able to offer relevant insights without knowing the specific situation is a testament (in my opinion) to the fact that there’s something else going on beneath the surface, forces at work that go far beyond me.

It wasn’t just this conversation, although this conversation was certainly a highlight, it was lots of conversations along the way. As painful as it’s been for me to lose my parents, it’s been a reminder to me that there are still others that I have that are valuable to me and who can offer insights. I’m not trying to replace my parents and what they brought to my life, but I am trying to appreciate what I still have right in front of me. Conversations over lunch, conversations over coffee, conversations at the end of the day, these are the things that mean so much to me, the things that aren’t scripted and yet give such life to me.

I’m growing to expect the unexpected, but the only way that can really happen is to live life with an openness, with open hands and open arms. Yes, it’s important to have a plan, but it’s in the space around those plans that we can learn the most, that we can find the most life. When we plan things so rigidly and pack our schedules so tightly, we don’t leave room for the unexpected to take place, we’re simply rushing from one thing to the next, becoming zombies and slaves to the schedule.

During my time away, I have found my own need for space, for breathing room, for rest, for openness. The conversations and moments in life that I have appreciated the most have generally been the ones that haven’t been planned, that have come on unexpectedly.

Here’s to expecting the unexpected, it’s in those little crevasses along the way that we can find life.