The Tragic Story of Bruce Jenner

I grew up in the 70s, and like any good, old American household, our pantry was stocked with the typical food staples found in American households: Kraft macaroni and cheese, Campbell’s soup, Wonder bread, and other items. When it came to breakfast, especially in the year when the United States of America celebrated its bicentennial, the only choice that was both American and remotely healthy was Wheaties.Bruce_Jenner_Wheaties_pole_vault

Back then, when there were special offers on the side, back, or bottom of cereal boxes, they were usually worthwhile. Sure, there were still those crummy, cheap plastic toys at the bottom that you ended up tearing open the box to find, but there were also the forms that you had to fill out. If you filled out the form, sent some postage and handling money, and were willing to wait eight to ten weeks, you would have a nice surprise waiting for you in the mailbox one day when you came home from school.

My reward came in a long cardboard cylinder. Feeling like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story,” I would rush home after school every day to find out whether or not that cylinder had arrived that day. They claimed it would only take eight to ten weeks, but in the mind of a young child, that seems like an eternity. But the day finally came, and it arrived!

When I opened it, there stood the picture of physique and fitness, the Adonis of America, the Champion: Bruce Jenner. There on a poster about 18 by 24 inches was this athlete poised with his javelin, not only making his mark on athletic history and in the process making a mark on the minds of every aspiring young athlete who dreamed of some day being an Olympian, just like Bruce.

Fast forward nearly forty years and that same Adonis is no longer gracing the cover of a box of Wheaties. Instead, he’s now on the cover of Vanity Fair. His name is no longer Bruce and, in fact, he is no longer a he but now a she. In this issue of the publication, she has announced that she will now be referred to as Caitlyn. It’s not the attire and outfit of an Olympian that he dons but rather a minimal corset which accentuates part of his body that didn’t look that way all those years ago.

But how did he get here? How did Bruce become Caitlyn? What’s the story that none of us knew?bruce-jenner-cover-vanity-fair

Leave it to Diane Sawyer to provide us with the answers in an exclusive interview. And answers were just what she was seeking to find when her exclusive interview aired on ABC on Friday, April 24th.

I missed the interview when it originally aired. I caught bits and pieces on the evening and morning news that weekend. It wasn’t until much later that I watched it. In fact, I thought that the hype that the media had made of Bruce Jenner and his gender transition had mostly blown over until I saw the cover of Vanity Fair and the Annie Leibovitz picture that graced its cover.

To be honest, I was hoping that it would all blow over. I still struggle with the fact that our country has such a warped sense of importance in that we make a bigger deal over celebrities and their personal lives than we do about the injustices that are happening around the world. I find myself caught up in this ALL. THE. TIME. I want to care more about stuff that’s important but I get sucked into reading the gossip rags while waiting in line at the grocery store.

But this wasn’t blowing over and in some ways, I felt like in much the same way that Jenner had been lauded as a hero back in the 1970s because of his Olympic feats, he was now being lauded as a hero once again because of the decision that he was making after what he described to Sawyer as a lifelong struggle. According to Jenner, he had been hiding what he was really feeling inside for the majority of his life.

Jenner’s story is moving. Regardless of your viewpoint, it’s hard to hear someone talk about the struggles and discomfort that they’ve had for their lives. It’s hard to hear about the loneliness, the confusion, the brokenness, the struggle, and the general feeling that he was living a lie. No matter what you think about the issue, I don’t think anyone ever wants to hear someone talking about a point that they had come to when they thought that the best thing to do would be to walk into a room, grab a gun, and end the misery that they had been experiencing for a long time.

As one interviewee during the program said, “It’s impossible to hate anyone whose story you know.”


We are storied people and when we hear the stories of others, they move from being anonymous characters in a drama played out before us. They are no longer nameless, they are no longer faceless, they are no longer generic. When we know their story, we can’t so easily disassociate ourselves from them. No, we can’t hate anyone whose story we know, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will always agree with them simply because we’ve heard their stories. We might understand them better, we might know their hearts and their passions, but understanding and agreeing are not the same.

In the midst of hearing Jenner’s story, I have more questions than answers. I wonder what distinguishes an issue that if confronted and faced becomes a courageous act from an issue that if confronted and faced simply becomes just another issue. What is the determining factor for us in deciding where we draw the line on issues? How do we know whether we are being courageous or if we’re just going through the motions of following our heart? What determines when our response to an issue makes us pioneers and spokesmen for “millions living in the shadows” versus simply just standing up for what we believe?

I honestly struggle with the fact that the words of the Declaration of Independence have become distorted to us. The inalienable rights that we speak of, that the founding fathers wrote about, those rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, they have been skewed. Is it possible that the order in which they are named were in order of importance as seen by our founding fathers? Somehow, it seems, we have elevated the pursuit of happiness to the highest order of the land and we are willing to sacrifice anything and everything in order that we can pursue that happiness. Jenner’s kids just want their father to be happy.

Jenner’s words seemed to parallel Lady Gaga’s when he said, “I was made this way.” At the heart of who he is, in his soul, as he states, he is a woman. Forget the fact that he has lived his life as a man, as an impostor of sorts. He even goes so far as saying that this is how God made him and that, “God put me on this earth to deal with this issue.” Jenner believes that God made him to have the body of a man and the soul of a woman.

Jenner said, “this is not an issue that you can just walk away from.” I agree with him. The world is changing and there is no longer an option of doing nothing, of sticking our heads in the sand and wishing that everything would go away. As those who follow Christ, we can no longer simply spout out rules and regulations, carefully choosing the ones that conveniently fit our comfortable ideologies and casting away the ones that don’t. We need consistency.

In the midst of it all, we can’t forget that things are not the way that they were intended to be. Yes, we may have been born this way, but the way that we have been born is not necessarily the way that God intended us to be. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, their decision was more far-reaching than they ever could have imagined.

Is it possible that our feelings can betray us and that our pursuit of happiness can actually run contrary to our pursuit of what God really wants for us? Is it possible that the idea of taking up our cross daily really means sacrificing our wills for the sake of following Christ? Is it possible that, like Paul, we all may have been born with a thorn in the flesh, something that we constantly struggle with that can never be quenched, with which we can never feel fully comfortable in our own skin?

My heart breaks for Bruce Jenner. He hopes that his transition will bring him peace. Some hope that his transition brings him happiness. But that peace and that happiness will never be fully realized, will never be fully felt unless it comes from an indestructible source, unless it’s a peace that surpasses all of our understanding. I hope that Jenner can find that peace, and more importantly, know the One who provides it.

The World Is Different

It was more than a year ago that a local husband and wife were out for a morning jog when a car hit and killed the wife. In the aftermath of the accident, the running world rallied around a cause to keep the memory of this young runner, mother, and wife alive with Meg’s miles (or Meg smiles).

The driver of the automobile that hit the woman was recently sentenced to four years in prison. The surviving husband, a local police officer, was interviewed after the verdict and he shared what his family has been going through in the year since they lost their wife and mother. His children haven’t been able to sleep and his 8 year old, in what he called a true moment, told his father that the reason that he hadn’t been able to sleep since he lost his mother was because, “the world is different.”

When I first read the article about the interview with Scott Menzies, that phrase haunted me. I turned it over and over in my head, thinking about what it meant and how true that it was….and is. I thought about the end of The Lord of the Rings when Frodo and his friends are sitting around a table in their local pub, hearing the familiar sounds that don’t feel so familiar anymore. They look at each other with acknowledging looks that tell each other that they understood what the others were thinking. The world was different.

When things change, there’s usually no way to get them to go back the way that they once were. I’m sure that’s the way that Scott Menzies and his family have felt. How painful for his three young children to have to come to that realization that the world is different and that it can never go back to what it once was for them.

I can understand a little of what they are feeling with the loss of my own parents. The world is different now, things have changed. Although I was much older when I lost my parents and the circumstances by which they died were not nearly as tragic as the Menzies family, for anyone who loses someone, there is a realization that they all must come to in facing the new world, in facing the fact that things are different and will never be like they once were….

Well, not on this side of eternity, at least.

Tolkien uses the phrase, “everything sad is coming untrue” to describe the vanquishing of evil. It’s a phrase that I replay in my mind over and over again, thinking about what is to come when I’ve found myself focusing far too much on what’s been lost.

The world is different now.

Every time that I drive by the memorial that has been set up at the site where Meg Menzies was killed, I feel as if I am on sacred ground. I say a prayer for Scott Menzies and his family. I don’t pray for the driver of the vehicle like I should, but that’s probably something that I need to start doing as well. His family has experienced a different world as well, nothing is the same for them either, and there is nothing that they can do to return things to the way that they once were.

The world is different, but different isn’t always bad, especially when there is hope beyond that difference. We can’t see things in full, but only in part. I equate it to trying to do a puzzle without the cover, we don’t really know what it is that we are building, we haven’t been given the whole picture, but do we trust that there is One who sees things in full, who knows all things, who is sovereign over it all?

Yes, the world is different now and it’s not always easy to take. Things will happen that will challenge our thinking that will disrupt the normality, simplicity, and comfort of our lives. Where do we find hope? It’s a question that I constantly return to and one that I think that we all ultimately need to answer.

Just for context’s sake, here is my original post about the tragedy that took place last January:

And here we are…

wtc-introSeptember 11th comes every year. There’s no stopping it. For me, it’s a dual edged sword. Not only does it remind me of that fateful day 13 years ago when terrorists hijacked 4 planes and flew them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, but it also reminds me of my mom. September 11th was my mom’s birthday.

I could feel my anxiety rising within me a few days ago. No matter how much I tell myself not to get uptight about it as it approaches on the calendar, it’s easier said than done. I could feel the pit in my stomach, the tightening of my neck and back, and the long sighs that would somehow find their way out of my mouth.

Today is a somber day, a day to remember. When the United States first experienced the tragedy that happened 13 years ago, the tagline, “We will never forget” could be seen all over; coupling the tragedy with my mom’s birthday has assured that I would not forget either.

If you go to New York City, you will see the memorial where the towers once stood. Although I’ve not been there yet, I imagine that there is little indication (other than the memorial) that those events took place there. Things have been cleaned up and fixed. The memorial has been erected where there was once a gaping scar in the earth. While the visible evidence of the tragedy is no longer there, the mental and emotional evidence will always remain.

I can remember so much about that day as the news spread of what had happened. Living 50 miles outside New York City, it felt even closer to home. I knew people in the City, fortunately, they had not been physically injured in the midst of it all, but how many more lives were lost, families impacted, lives shattered and changed.

13 years later, are we any closer to peace in the Middle East? ISIS runs rampant, making the atrocious events and behavior seen in the past look like child’s play in some respects. Evil has not died, it still lives on. Hatred still fuels wars and disagreements. 13 years later, what have we REALLY learned?

Dates are powerful, at least they are to me. Maybe it’s because I’m a “numbers” guy. Numbers stay with me and I can remember them randomly. I will always remember this day. Can we all? But beyond remembering, can we move closer to finding peace? Can we put an end to the strife, enmity, and bloodshed? I fear that we can make a lot of noise to say that we want to move towards peace, but we can never quite get there……..not if we do it on our own.

Take a minute today to remember.  How is your life different today than it was had the events of 9/11 never happened?  What are you doing to make a difference in the world where you are?  Where do you go to find peace?  Many places that offer peace are simply offering shallow substitutes that don’t last but promise the world.  May you find the peace that passes all understanding, the gift of life. and the living water that offers those who drink the chance to never thirst again.

Facing the Inevitable

Robin-WilliamsOver the last few days, I’ve read article after article, seen news story after news story, as people have remembered Robin Williams. Who was he? What were his struggles? What were his triumphs? How did he come to the point where he ended everything?

As I’ve read the articles, I’ve agreed with some, been encouraged by others, and downright objected to others. As someone who writes a lot, I kept asking myself whether or not I had anything to add to the conversation. I have vowed that I don’t want to be “that guy” who simply writes to jump on a bandwagon. I only like to write if I feel that I’m saying something different.

As I’ve waded through all of these stories, two things have stood out to me. The first had to do with all of the talk about whether or not suicide was a selfish choice. The other thing had to do with how suicide was being portrayed, how were people addressing this issue of someone ending their life?

There is so much stigma connected to the word “selfish,” that it’s hard to look at it with fresh eyes. I was doing what I could to try to understand exactly what someone would mean to say that suicide was NOT selfish. I had some conversations (1 live and 2 digital) with people who had been personally impacted by someone close to them committing suicide. I wanted to hear from them about something that was troubling me, because from my vantage point, suicide seemed selfish.

While every single case of suicide is different, it seems that those who take their lives may actually believe that their actions are unselfish. They may feel that they have been a burden to those whom they love and who are caring for them. They may feel as if the only way to find peace is to end it all. The notion of selfishness comes out more from the survivors than anything else. We ask ourselves, “how could they do this to us?” Didn’t they care? Yes…..they cared, sometimes too much.

This whole tragic end to the life of a loved and respected person has brought into the limelight the way that we handle depression. It has been becoming more acceptable to talk about it, to share your need for help, to find medication, and to just educate about depression overall. I have heard too many horror stories about how people in very visible positions have been treated with their own admission of depression, especially pastors. It’s a travesty to think that we fail to extend grace to those who brains are being affected by something. If those of us who follow Christ really believe that sin tainted the whole world, why should our brains be somehow resilient, resistant, or immune to the impact of sin?

A lot has been written about Robin Williams’ freedom, primarily with a Tweet that the “Genie” is now free (based upon the character he played in the Disney animated feature “Aladdin”). It’s true that he is free from the earthly demons that plagued him, from the depression that drove him down, from the addictions that constantly beckoned him back like the sirens to Ulysses, but it doesn’t negate the fact that there has been a tragic loss of life, that there is a family that is now short one family member, and there is one more statistic to show how deadly and dangerous depression and mental illness can be.

Personally, I have been grateful to see more discussions opening up to the severity of depression, primarily discussions among those within the church. Having had parents who struggled with depression and struggling with it myself, I am grateful that we can begin to talk about something rather than sweeping it under the rug or simply labeling whatever fits our comfortable world. Depression is easily overlooked and unseen, while it’s not any one person’s responsibility to see it in others, we all need to keep our eyes open to the people to whom we are the closest.

I mentioned the other day that a young woman shared her story in our corporate gathering time this past Sunday. She shared how she had hid what was going on inside of her from everyone around her. It’s not the hardest thing to do, especially when those around you aren’t really paying attention. We are a distracted and busy society that only slows down when we are forced to do so. May we take such a tragic situation and learn something from it, not that will keep for a day, a week, or a month, but that will sink in for a lifetime.


Visiting with family in Connecticut, my wife’s sister came over to her parents, where we were staying, with her two boys, their ages corresponding with my boys but off a year so that our two pairs of boys make a successive four year sweep. They all get along well and my in-laws yard is full of adventure and excitement. My father-in-law, a general contractor, has sheds and gardens and tractors, things that mostly excite young boys, especially during summer when the world seems completely “open for business” for boys their age.

As I was lying on the bed, enjoying some time with no responsibility to catch up on the reading I haven’t done in forever, I began to hear a scream, nothing too unusual given the excitement that emerges when these four play together. My parental instinct was to first, determine whether it was a cry of pain and hurt and second, to determine whether that cry was emanating from one of my own children.

Once I realized it wasn’t my child (I breathed a short sigh of relief) and followed the sound to see what had happened. Turns out that my nephew had come across a bee that was none too happy with him. Whether he had stepped on its nest or had just thrown the insect off course from its usual business, it decided to repay him with a sting……and my nephew made it known what had happened.

As I walked into the den where the wounded child was being cared for by his mother, I was struck by the poor kid’s words. He kept saying, “Why?” over and over again. “Why did it sting me? I didn’t do anything to bother it.” My heart went out to my nephew and I began to think long and hard about those words and how often I had uttered them, or at least thought them, to myself.

In fact, I think I’ve done my best to avoid those words over the last few years. I’ve been faced with all kinds of things and my natural instinct is to curl up and cry, like my nephew, decrying against the injustice that’s taken place, proclaiming my own innocence in the midst of circumstances that seem to indicate my own guilt. Why? Why did this happen?

I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying to allow for my theology to become more reformed (and transformed) from the distorted theology of my childhood. Maybe I had read too many Old Testament stories that had shaped my theology without enough grace. Maybe I had heard one too many sermons that had pointed me towards blaming someone for difficulties and tragedies that would occur. Regardless of its genesis, I had formed some theology in my mind which equated tragedies, trials, and difficulties with something that I had done. After all, bad things don’t just happen to good people, do they?

Ahhh, but yes they do. And if we allow ourselves to go there, we ask ourselves, “Why?” We want to know, like my nephew did, what had been done to deserve it. And the reason that I’ve done my best to avoid that question over the years is because we will always find a reason why we DON’T deserve it. We will always find ourselves innocent of anything worthy of such punishment. We will always wonder why us and not somebody else.

I so badly wanted to grab my nephew and tell him to get used to struggling with the injustice of it. The cynic in me would probably tell him to thank me at a later date, regardless of how I might have warped his theology and viewpoint. But I let him continue to cry and ask his mom why it had happened. He’ll come to it on his own one day, my cynicism need not encroach on his own formation.

But it was a reminder to me that, “Why?” isn’t always a good question to ask. More often than not, I’ve tried to shift the question from “Why” to “What.” What will be different from this? What can I learn? What can I make out of this injustice or trial or tragedy? More to the point, what can God make out of it?

When you do a funeral for a six month old who should have lived long past his parents, trite, comfortable, rehearsed answers seldom work the way that one might hope. When you are faced with a diagnosis that seems bleak and impossible, those same answers are likely to evoke bitterness and rage. When you survey the landscape of your life to find multiple tragedies coming on the heels of each other, trite answers will not suffice. In fact, answers, even well thought out ones, rarely assuage.


I don’t know……

Those three words have been among the most important ones that I have had to learn. They aren’t words that are easily acceptable or desirable, but they’re the only ones that can really bring any closure to the search.

Life brings with it bee stings and pains that cut deeper, physically and emotionally. What questions are you asking when you’re faced with those pains? I hope to understand more one day, but until then, my search can come up short. Faith upholds and strengthens, but it doesn’t always give adequate answers. God knows, and I know that, but sometimes, I just want to know too. I’m hoping that there will be a day when I will, but until then, I’ll just keep pressing on.

A Solemn Place

New-York-City-9-11-Memorial-aerial-renderingIt seems that every generation has a moment that they reflect upon with great solemnity, poise, and poignancy. Some generations have had multiple events or moments. Some of those events have actually been time periods that spanned the course of days, months, or even years. Regardless of the length of those events and moments, they all are felt deeply by the generation that was most affected by them. That’s not to say that one of these moments is more powerful or impactful than another, but we hold on to the things that impact us the most deeply and personally.

For me and my generation, the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 may very well be the defining moment of solemnity. Just as past generations can remember where they were when Kennedy was shot or MLK was shot, or war broke out, so most folks who were old enough to remember that fateful September day can remember what they were doing and where they were when they got the news and as the images poured over airwaves and throughout the internet.

This month the September 11th Memorial Museum will open to the public. When I read that, I wondered to myself who might want to go. I know that there will be many who will want to, including myself, but why? Why do we want to go? Probably to remember. The museum will stand as a stark and even harsh reminder to us of what we are capable of as human beings. It will bathe us with images and thoughts that may have dispersed from our minds long ago yet which have plagued and haunted the minds of many whose lives were much more deeply impacted by these events than our own.

I remember going to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. I went by myself, and I was glad to have done that. It wasn’t an experience that I felt like I could share, it was something that I had to experience on my own. That museum impacts each person who enters into it in a different way and I expect that the September 11th Museum will have a similar result. That’s not to say that the tragedy of September 11th and the tragedy of the Holocaust are comparable, but the depth of emotion that they will evoke from those who enter in will be fairly similar, I expect.

It’s not uncommon to revisit the location of tragedies and powerful events. The hotel where MLK was shot has become a museum. Pearl Harbor and the site of the sunken battleships still stands as a reminder to that fateful December day. People visit the beach of Normandy, Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and many other places and they will continue to visit these places. I can only hope that we visit so that we don’t forget, after all, a people who forget the events of the past are destined to repeat those events.

I am curious to check out the museum, but I don’t know when I will be ready. I am grateful that our country has felt it important enough to have designated a museum for it, my hope and prayer is that the poignancy and power of the events of that September day will live on through this museum, not in a sadistic and tortuous way, but in a way that helps us all remember what happened and never forget those who were lost along the way.

Running the Race

meg menzies memorialA little more than 3 months ago, my community was hit hard when a young mother was out for a training run for the Boston Marathon with her police officer husband. They were getting a late start as the school bus that carried their kids to school was late. As they followed the rules of the road, running against traffic, an SUV swerved off the road, missing the husband but hitting the wife and mother of three. Hours later, she was pronounced dead.

In the days and weeks that followed, it was pretty incredible to see not only the local community but the running community, both nationally and internationally, respond. People ran for Meg and her family. People ran to carry on her legacy, a legacy that was cut too short at 34 years. All over the world, the story of this unassuming mother was being told and the faith that propelled her and which now propels her family forward has been proclaimed.

Yesterday, the 2014 Boston Marathon took place. It was a solemn day as the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing were remembered and honored. And somewhere in the mass of people who ran the race was Scott Menzies, the husband of Meg Menzies, the woman who had been training for the marathon when her life was cut tragically short by the alleged drunk driver who had swerved off the road. He was running the race to see what she would have seen and to experience what she would have experienced. He was hoping that he would feel her and that she would be behind him, pushing him across the finish line.

This story is so multi-layered, kind of like an onion, when you peel a layer off, you continue to find more. In these days of social media, the story unfolds even more broadly. As I read stories and looked at pictures on Facebook yesterday, I saw the pictures that my friends who live in Boston had posted. They were watching the race with their families. I saw the posts on the Facebook page created in honor of Meg Menzies. I saw the chief of police who Scott Menzies works for holding up signs along the race path, he and his wife having traveled to Boston from Virginia to cheer on his fellow officer.

Yesterday morning, I drove by the intersection where Meg Menzies was hit back in January. Every time that I drive by, I turn my radio off and drive in silence, sensing that the moment is sacred and that the ground is hallowed. It’s hard not to be overcome by emotion as I see the street sign strewn with running sneakers. It’s hard not to think about the Menzies family and all that they have endured. As I drove past, I prayed for them, and especially for Scott as I knew that his run would be an emotional one.

The words of Hebrews 12:1-3 seemed appropriate as I thought about Scott and his run, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” I imagine that the witnesses that surrounded Scott were not just earthly witnesses, but heavenly ones as well.

Life goes on, races are run, and marathons will continue, but I imagine that no race will ever be as important to Scott Menzies as the one that he ran yesterday. Police officers put their life on the line for strangers and citizens every day, and for that, they are rightfully considered heroes. Yesterday, Scott became a hero for representing his wife, at least he did in my eyes. Well done, sir, well done.

My original post after the tragic accident:

Here’s the Washington Post story on Scott Menzies and his run:

And the local Richmond news report with Scott’s interview before the race:

The Needle and the Damage Done

philip seymour hoffmanLast week, I wrote about cancer and the diagnosis that my mom had received 3 years ago which led to her death 6 months later (read the post here).  Cancer hits everyone and knows no boundaries, but people don’t choose to have cancer.  On the other hand, drugs and drug abuse know no boundaries.  They will impact the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the black or white or yellow or brown, even the unborn can be impacted when their mothers are drug abusers.

Yesterday, Hollywood was dealt a heavy blow when Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment of an alleged drug overdose.  When he failed to show for an appointment with his children, friends of his went to his apartment, only to find him on the floor of his bathroom, allegedly with a needle in his arm and bags of heroine in his apartment.  At 46 years old, his career was full of all kinds of films.

Among those films, I recall seeing him for the first time on the big screen in “Scent of a Woman.”  Over the years, he has been in some of my favorite movies.  He seemed to have been a regular in the films of P.T. Anderson, of which my favorite was “Magnolia.”  His character, a male nurse attending to a man dying of cancer, held such an incredible amount of sensitivity, vulnerability, and kindness.  Although the part seemed small in comparison to those of other actors within the same film, he managed to hold his own among the like of Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, and many others.

Hoffman had been nominated for the Academy’s Best Supporting Actor 3 times and was nominated and won Best Actor in 2005 with the film “Capote.”  By all rights, he could have been called a successful actor…..

Yet, what effect did that success have on him?  While he may have been considered successful, could he have been considered content?  Joyful?  Happy?

What drives a person to find solace, comfort, significance, and meaning at the end of a needle?  How long do those things last when they are provided by such a fleeting and temporal solution?

Solomon, the wisest man in the Bible, wrote these words in Ecclesiastes 2, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;  I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.   Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”  The wisest man, and one of the richest too, did not deny himself anything and all that he found was meaninglessness.

When things like this happen, it’s a chance to reflect, a chance to contemplate what is most important in my life.  It’s a centering moment that helps bring poignancy into a potentially complacent life.  Where does one find hope even when they have been “successful” in the eyes of the world?  Every path, every attempt will lead to disappointment.

Later on in Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes, “For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?”  And even later, as he comes to the conclusion, he writes, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Many have lived and died before me, but few have had the wisdom of Solomon.  His words are to be taken to heart.  If we follow other paths, we will find that the endings are surely disappointments.  But what about the path that leads to life?

Success can only carry us so far, but we will eventually need something more.  Where will we find it?  When we do, how lasting will it be?

A Scar on the Calendar

irene and jon - carrie and jon weddingThree years ago today, my life changed dramatically.  It was the day that my mom was given the fateful diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.  It’s not an anniversary so much as it is a scar that appears on my calendar every January 31st.  Three years away from the actual day, I can feel the dread closing in well in advance of the actual day.  It seems to envelop and overwhelm me like ocean waves at the beach, like fog overcoming everything that stands in its way.

It was a Monday morning and I knew that my mom was in the hospital only because my aunt had alerted me to this fact the night before.  She hadn’t been feeling well and after bearing with her discomfort and pain all weekend long, she finally succumbed and went to the hospital.  Everyone was expecting something, but I don’t think any of us expected what would actually be spoken.

Cancer.  It’s the one word that instills fear and horror in me.  I’ve tasted the results of it too many times over the past years.  I’ve witnessed to fathers and mothers who lose children, sons and daughters who lose moms and dads, brothers and sisters who lose siblings, and friends who lose friends.  It knows no prejudice, it knows no demographic which it doesn’t embrace, it simply invades and takes away.

When I heard the words, “It’s not good” from my father, I expected the worst.  I assured him that I would be there soon and held it together while he was still on the other end of the phone.  Once we hung up, I let out the loudest wail that I have ever uttered and crumbled like a pile of ashes onto the floor.  All I could scream was the word “no” over and over again.  In that moment, I could see no hope, I could see no sunshine, all I could see were the dreams that we had of what could be being dashed to the ground like fragile pieces of glass, shattering into pieces that were barely recognizable from what they once were.

That began a long road that we would take for the next nearly six months.  Appointments.  Consultations.  Family meetings.  Phone calls.  Silent prayers.  Tears.  I did my best to hold myself together for everyone else.  My mom was doing the same thing.  I so vividly remembering my brother, father, mother, and me in the back of my aunt and uncle’s minivan driving from one appointment or another.  I sat silently next to my mom, simply holding her hand, hoping that some ounce of courage or hope might travel through me to her.  As she began to weep, I looked at her and said, “what?”  As if I needed an answer, she softly replied, “I don’t want to be a wimp.”

My mom and “wimp” could hardly have been used in the same sentence.  I had seen so many displays of strength over the years and heard the stories of strength that had come before me.  She would never own that strength herself, she rested in the hands of her Father and she was never one to shy away from the explanation for that.  She never failed to have an answer when asked of the hope that she possessed, even as the darkness of cancer began to close in, even when she knew that the future was as bleak on this earth as she had anticipated, even when she knew that she would not hold her first and only granddaughter… least not on this side of eternity.

Brutal.  That’s a word that a friend, brother, and fellow pastor uses over and over again.  It’s the best word that I can use to describe the events of that day and many days following.  As I come face to face with this day yet again, the pain cuts me afresh, as if it never left me.  My mind drifts off to what could have been and I remember that those are just dreams and visions, not to be realized.

Sure, I know where she is.  Her pain and trouble are gone, but you never tell that to someone in an effort to bring them cheer and hope.  Chances are, the person who is grieving knows so many of the things that you want to say to them….and they don’t necessarily need to hear them.  In fact, that was one of my mom’s greatest gifts, the gift of presence, and the gift of listening.

I miss that.  I miss her smile.  I miss her wisdom.  I miss all that she was, and still is, to me.  I can’t wait to see that face again in a place without time, without pain, without death.  In the meantime, I will simply wait.  I will ache.  I will hurt.  But I will hold on to hope, a hope that lies in the One who conquered death, who conquered pain, who redeems and restores.  That is the only hope that I can find.

So, every January 31st I will see a mark like a scar on the calendar.  I will do my best to face it with my head held high.  Cancer can conquer life….at least for now, but it cannot conquer hope.

Facing Tragedy

candleMy community has been hit hard by the tragic death of a young wife and mother who was killed by a drunk driver while out for a morning run.  While I did not know the young woman, it’s hard not to feel the pain in my heart knowing the hole that is left by her loss.  She had three young children and was seemingly in the prime of her life.

It almost seems inevitable that when tragedy strikes, everyone becomes interested in God, in some form.  Usually, at least in my experience, the interest is more in disproving him or at least chastising him for allowing such a tragedy to happen.  If God is loving and good, how does he allow for such a tragedy to take place?  Why didn’t he step in and intervene?  Couldn’t he have protected her?

Trust me, I’ve been there before.  While I’ve not had something this dramatic happen in my life, I’ve experienced loss and my family has experienced its share of loss.  I’ve been at that place where I’ve looked to the sky and asked, “why?”  I’ve felt angry and frustrated, wondering how a loving God could allow such tragedy to strike so deep.  When something tragic happens we can come up with lots of reasons why it’s even more tragic.

It was just over a year ago that one of my best friends lost his 6 month old son to a rare form of pediatric cancer.  It was devastating and the wound cut so deep that on the first anniversary of his death, it still seemed so fresh.  Those who have experienced loss know that anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions can cause an overwhelming flood of emotion to sweep over them.  The old adage is that it never gets any easier.  You just learn to cope better.

I spoke at the funeral of my friend’s baby.  It was among the most humbling and difficult things that I have ever experienced in my life.  Answers seemed to fall short, but I leaned on God for comfort.

When we experience loss, what do we lean on?  Each other?  Our jobs?  Our communities?  Our God?  We can turn to so many different places to find hope, but most of them fall short of providing us hope that is lasting, hope that doesn’t fail us.  While I wonder why tragedies happen, I also wonder how people who don’t believe in God survive such tragedies.  I genuinely don’t know.

Some might say that it’s inner strength and self-assurance, but there has to be more to it than just that, doesn’t there?  Why do some people respond so differently to tragedy?  How is it that two people can experience similar tragedies with vastly different results?  One rises above the fray and chaos of loss while the other gets stuck down in the midst of it.

When we experience tragedy, or are a witness to it, it has a way of being the great equalizer for us.  It lends us perspective.  We hug our loved ones a little tighter, kiss them a little bit longer, stare at them for a few seconds more.  Life is a vapor and when it’s swirling around us, we have a tendency to forget that.

The older I get, the more tragedy seems to strike around me.  Maybe I wasn’t quite as aware of it when I was younger, maybe I thought that I was immune to it because it seemed such a long way off in the distance.  Regardless, I am learning more and more each day to capture moments when I meet them rather than putting them off for a more convenient time.  Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today, especially as it relates to your friends and your family?

God knows all of the intricacies of his creation, I don’t.  I will never understand why tragedy hits some people and avoids others.  I won’t understand how bad things happen to good people, at least not on this side of eternity.  I still rest in Christ alone.  I still lean on the solid rock for my footing and foundation.  I still believe and trust that his plan is good and his ways are sovereign.  Call me what you will, this is where I find my hope.