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Missing the Boat

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I’m driving across the state alone tonight. Just left granny and papa’s house after dropping Cherokee off to pick up her car on her way to her first year of college at Mizzou. I’m headed home, driving highway 54 through small town Missouri, towns with populations of 150 at most. Towns where everyone knows everyone…the gas station is also the local bait store, post office and barber shop…towns where the nightly entrainment is sitting on the front porch watching traffic pass through town. Scattered along the countryside in between each town are thousands and thousands of acres of farmland. Rolling hills and green meadows, populated with the currency of choice in these parts…cattle. Run down and ragged barns standing as evidence of both a generation long since passed, and a generation carrying on the family business. Evidence of a life of hard work and family values. Evidence of my own life passing me by.

As I write this, I’m stopped at a gas station in one such town, trying to rest my eyes at 10:00 p.m. for what is still a three hour drive home. I’m tired and need to rest to finish this drive, but my mind is racing with thoughts of missed opportunities. Your mom and I were talking the other day about the similarities between me and her dad. Two of them that really stuck out for me are how we both always have several projects going at once…some never get finished, but we always have several things going at once, constantly pulling us in different directions. The other is that we are both away from home for extended periods of time when we’re working. Him being an over-the-road truck driver kept him on the road all week, coming home on weekends. My job keeps me away for 2-3 days at a time, and even when I’m “home”, I’m usually preoccupied with one of the many projects or other “things” I am juggling.

That bothers me. I’m glad we talked about it the other day, because hearing your mom make those comparisons has helped to open my eyes to the opportunities I’m missing with you. NE, you wanted to come with me on this trip today. You cried when I said no, and it broke my heart. I really wanted you to come…I did. I would have enjoyed spending the day with you. You would have enjoyed hanging out with me. Now I’m sitting here alone, with a missed opportunity gone forever. I said no to you because I don’t want SI to always see you coming with me while he stays home. It’s not fair to him to do that all the time, and it’ll cause him to resent you (and me) for it…yet he would not have faired well on this 10 hour cross-the-state road trip. You would have done well and enjoyed it. SD starts middle school tomorrow, and it wouldn’t be fair to her to keep her on the road until after midnight the night before the first day of school. And as I sit here kicking myself for making the wrong decision, I realize I’ve made many of these bad choices recently, and it causes me to be alarmed that I’m failing as a dad, in not taking every opportunity I have to spend time with each of you…one-on-one and all together.

Your mom and I used to joke when we were first married that we could never survive for very long in a small town. As a young married couple in our 20’s, small town life was too slow for us. We needed the fast pace of the big city to keep us out of trouble…to satisfy our hunger for keeping busy and moving. Now that I’m 38 with three young children at home, the youngest a two year old, I’m driving past homes with couples sitting on their front porch watching traffic pass by…and it’s looking pretty darn good right about now! A slower pace looks pretty enticing. I know “the grass is always greener” but I have to take pause and reflect on my life…our lives…and wonder if I’m missing the boat.

It seems like I’m always chasing the next “thing”. Always searching for something. I have Christ in my life, so I should be content, right? So what am I searching for? I think I’m yearning for more time with you. I’ve created an environment in which I’m constantly being pulled in different directions, and I need to bring myself back to what’s important…you. I think in my quest to go out and live life, I’ve taken on so much that I’ve caused the reverse to happen, and life is now passing me by. I don’t want to be the guy who sits on the front porch and lets life completely pass me by, but I do want to be able to sit back and enjoy life right where we’re at, a slower paced life, and embrace the opportunities I have to spend it with you.

I’m really struggling with my choice not to bring NE today…kicking myself for this. From here forward, I will be working to find the balance…to find a slower pace in life, so that you don’t grow up with a dad who’s always gone…or too busy for you. I’m missing the boat here, and I promise to do all that I can to get it right. Next to Christ, your mom and you are the most important “things” in my life. It’s time to start making sure my actions are aligned with my words. Time to jump in the boat and cast off…together.

Love,

Dad

My Deepest Condolences

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DW, where do I even begin?  We’ve had a rough go, haven’t we?  If I could go back and start over, I think I would.  There aren’t many things in my life I would say that about.  I believe that our mistakes…our hardships…our struggles…our adversity…they help to define us.  They make us who we are.  They are the steps that take us down the path of our life.  Changing even one can have a ripple effect that would change our life altogether…take us down a completely different path and alter our life forever.

There are things with you that I would do differently, though…knowing what I know now.  Having the information we had at the time, I believe we did the best we knew how.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.  Those are my demons to deal with now, and I’m forced to move on.  Not for the reasons you may think, but because three other children are relying on me now.  I pray I learn from our relationship and apply those lessons to your adoptive siblings.  I believe God used the six years you were in our home to accomplish His will.  We may never know what that is while we’re on this side of eternity, but I believe He knew exactly what He was doing.  I have an idea what I think that might be…but that’s not something I’m read to share.

I’m writing this today because I learned yesterday of the passing of your grandma.  I am sorry for your loss.  I truly am.  Through all our differences and disagreements…through our arguments, harsh words and hurt feelings…through all of it…my heart hurts for the pain and loss you’re surely feeling.  I know she was a HUGE part of you…a rock in the stream of your life.  I pray the pain subsides quickly, though I know the void left in her absence cannot be filled.  I know the loss of a close loved one is extremely difficult, and I pray you and your family are comforted through surrounding each other with love.  I pray that the memorial service for her was filled with loved ones come to honor her life.  I pray that you can find comfort in Jesus’ arms and that God would use this difficult time in your life to draw you closer to Him.

I pray for a day when we can reconcile our relationship.  If that day does not come in my life, I will continue to pray for your safety and your relationship with God for as long as I live.  Be safe son.

Love,

Jay

Death – Part 1

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Originally written July 29, 2010

I heard a saying once, that the only guarantee we have in our life is that we’ll always have taxes. Another person told me once that we can always count on the government to tax us to death…they’ve even created a “death tax.” I can see where they’re both coming from, but I’ll add one more guarantee in life to those…death. Death is a natural part of every life, human or otherwise. Every living creature on this Earth has been moving toward death since the very instant God first breathed life into it. You and I are no different. We will all die when God calls upon us in that final moment.

In the course of my career as a Firefighter and 911 dispatcher, I have seen and experienced death far more than I care to recount. Everything from the old and infirmed to the young and vibrantly healthy. Expected deaths from long-term illness, sudden deaths due to unforseen medical issues, sudden loss due to accidental trauma, and even violence. Death awaits us all in one form or another, and we NEVER know when it calls our name.

Within the last week, two people whom I knew passed away. The first was a man of God…served in the church and no doubt helped to plant countless seeds for Christ. I had an opportunity to visit with him in the hospital before he died…one final time. He had been ill for over a year, and we hadn’t seen him for several years. I knew he was ill, but quite honestly we weren’t close enough friends that he was on my mind much. I’m very saddened to admit that he was “out of sight and out of mind.” My heart aches and weeps knowing that, and it hurts me to admit it openly.

I do so, though, in the hope that you learn from my mistake. You see, I had the opportunity to visit with him one last time in his final days…when I got the call that he was dying, I was told that he wasn’t expected to make it through the week. I didn’t take advantage of that opportunity. I was so wrapped up in what I had going on in my life that week, that I put it off, saying to myself, “I’ll go tomorrow.” Four “tomorrows” came and went. He died without me ever paying him that visit. I wasn’t able to comfort him as a brother in Christ…to reassure him and his family that his life on Earth made an eternal impact for God’s glory. He knows that now, because he’s sitting with God right now, but I will regret that decision, and my soul will cry out for forgiveness every day for the rest of my days.

The second guy was someone with whom my only interaction was minimal at best. He was an employee of a local grocery store…the guy who brings the shopping carts in off the lot. I only shop at that particular store when I’m on duty at one particular fire station close to that store…maybe two or three times a month. I never knew him except to know that he ALWAYS had a smile on his face…was always very friendly to us…struck up conversations with us, going out of his way to just talk with us. He struck me as a man who was never afraid to work to support himself…he seemed to take pride in his work, and to take pride in developing relationships. He told me once that he used to be a college professor, I think. Very educated and well spoken…up to date on current events. He was a pleasure to be around, and brought a smile to my face many times. I will truly miss him.

He died alone in his home. In the heat of summer, with no air conditioning. His absence went largely unnoticed for four days. He was found by police responding to a request by his employer to check on him after he failed to report for work and phone calls went unanswered. Alone. No family to comfort him, he was hot, uncomfortable, suffering, in distress. Alone.

I don’t know if he had a relationship with Christ or not. Why not? As a child of God, my command from Him is to spread the Gospel of Christ to EVERYONE I come in contact with. I failed this man. I will regret that, and my soul will ache every day for the rest of my days. It’s too late to impact his life for eternity, but I pray that I will be a better child of God from here forward, never missing an opportunity to share Christ. I pray that you will learn from my failures. I pray that you will be strengthened from my weakness.

The lessons I want you take from this message are these:

1. Your time on this Earth is limited. Nurture the friendships and relationships you have. Grow them and stay close to those you love. Never miss an opportunity to share the love of Christ with others. Never miss an opportunity to be with a friend, no matter how close you are, during his final days. You only get one chance to get it right. Family and friends are the most important things, second only to your relationship with Christ. Don’t ever forget that.

2. Always treat others with respect. No matter how different from you they are. Everyone has a story, and every person on this planet is created in God’s image…worthy of your love. Your time. Your respect. If God can love every person equally, we can certainly try. So many times I blew off that shopping cart guy. Wrapped up in my own selfish needs, I brushed him off so many times. Oh, how I could have shown him so much more love. So much more respect. So much more time. He probably would have still died alone in his home…my talking with him may not have changed that. But it may have. I won’t know until I stand before God to answer for my time here in this life.

You’re not always going to get it right, but my prayer for you is that you learn from my mistakes. I pray that my time here impacts your lives for eternity…for Christ. I love you.

Love,

Dad

Tossing Rocks

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I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what my first post would be, and with the recent passing of my grandmother, I think it would be fitting to start here:

My grandmother, Lela Gertrude (Trudy) Stanley, 85, passed from this life to meet her Lord and Savior at 11:48 a.m. on Monday, February 7, 2011. I received the call on Sunday night that she was near the end of her life and would most likely not survive through the end of the week. I was on duty, and throughout the night and into Monday morning I felt an increasing need to be with her. She was my last surviving grandparent, and the regret I now face with not having spent more time getting to know each of my grandparents will be with me forever. On Monday morning, NE and I packed up and left home to drive down to Texas to be with her and my mother. Shortly after we left, we received the phone call that she had already passed away…I would not make it in time.

We continued our trip, and settled into a new “routine” for NE and I for what was the next two weeks in Texas. On the Friday following my grandmother’s death, I took NE and his cousin to a local park to play and burn off the combined energy of two 3-year old boys. There’s a small crick running through the park with a walking bridge over it to a field on the other side. It was nearing sunset, and as I was enjoying the view of the sunset on the water, the boys began tossing rocks off the bridge into the water. I’m always amazed at how much enjoyment a child can get out of what we adults see as the “mundane”. These two boys were giggling, screaming, laughing and running back and forth to toss little rocks off the bridge, and it soon began to remind me of the times I spent with grandmother collecting rocks. While my memories of her are few, I do remember several times walking through a park, along a river, through a field, in the yard with her and searching for rocks…just seeing what we could find. As the sunset cast sparkles on the water beneath us and the boys enjoyed themselves, I was filled with emotion and awe at how much pleasure can be found in such a simple act. I had a brief, passing thought as I watched, so I took out my phone and jotted down a quick thought. Over the course of the next several hours, God helped me turn that one thought into the following. I was privileged to have been given the opportunity to read it at my grandmother’s graveside service, and I pray that as you read it you find an application for the message within for your own lives.

NE and his cousin NW throwing rocks into a crick today reminds me of times spent searching for rocks with grandmother Stanley and that with each rock tossed in the water, no matter its size, the water’s flow is forever altered.

Some are very tiny in comparison to the river, and at first glance you don’t think they have much affect. They’re easier to find…one glance along the creek bed and you’ll see hundreds of them scattered about. When tossed in, they disappear quickly from view, sinking lazily to the bottom and skirting along the river bed before coming to rest somewhere downstream. While their impact alone is minimal, there is still an impact. Though not often seen by the human eye, and combined with many more of the same size, these small pebbles can alter a river’s course, even if only by inches.

The mid-sized pebbles are a bit bigger. While relatively easy to find, there are fewer of them. They fit perfectly into the hands of these two toddlers, and the right one can be perfect for skipping. When dropped in the water, they make a bigger splash, a little more noise, and a slightly larger wave. They sink quickly from view and may roll along the bottom of the riverbed for quite a distance before coming to a stop. Their impact on the water is a little easier to envision, and it takes fewer of them to change the river’s path. Many of them together can even dam the river if placed properly.

Larger, heavier rocks – boulders to these two toddlers – are harder to find. There are fewer of them, and you have to seek them out. Finding one that a toddler can actually carry down to the water’s edge is more difficult. However, once he drops that sucker in, you immediately know you’ve got something. It hits with a big “ka-thunk”, and the splash is huge! The waves ripple farther out and last longer. It sinks quickly and embeds itself in the muddy bottom. It stays right there, and the water immediately begins to curve around it. The flow of the river has immediately been changed. It will stay there until some act of God or man moves it, and even after it’s gone, it leaves a hole in the riverbed that may take years to fill. The water will continue to flow, but as it passes over the hole that’s left in the absence of the boulder, its course is still affected, albeit differently than when it was there.

The passing of my Grandmother this week reminds me that the people in our life are just like the rocks being tossed by these two toddlers. The tiny pebbles are like the hundreds and thousands of people we pass every day. The single mom with three kids in line at the grocery store. The inattentive driver who cuts us off in traffic. The couple walking hand-in-hand in the park. The countless people we pass every day, most of whom we never give a second glance, can often impact our attitude, our actions and our behaviors, even if for only one hour. Like tiny pebbles that disappear quickly from view, skipping along the riverbed, these are the people that skip through our day and our lives. Gone just as fast as they came, we don’t give them much thought once they’re gone.

The mid-sized pebbles are like our friends and acquaintances, the people that come into our life with a little more splash. They bring us fellowship and inspire us to be better people. They stay with us longer, and the impact they have on us is longer lasting. Like the perfect skipping rock, the good ones come by once in a lifetime.

The larger rocks – what are boulders to these toddlers – are like our family and closest friends. Like the rock that sinks in the river bottom, our parents, our children, our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents and best friends influence us the most. They lift us up when we’re down, they inspire and encourage us to follow our dreams, and the imprint they leave on our lives is permanent. As our lives pass, we are forever changed by the “boulders” placed in our life. They’re harder to remove too. When they’re gone, there’s a hole that remains that will take years to fill, and yet we could go a lifetime without ever filling the void they leave.

Whether a tiny pebble or a large boulder, every toss of a new rock into the water forever changes the future of the river. Likewise, whether placed in our lives by God or through someone else’s actions, every person we encounter will forever change our lives. The life of every person we encounter, whether for a moment or a lifetime, adds meaning and character to our own. From our “boulders” we pick up some of their behaviors, their attitudes, beliefs, habits, likes and even dislikes along the way. Our “boulders” help to shape who we are and who we become. Taking a boulder out of the river of our life, be it by act of man or God, has an everlasting effect on who we are and who we become. Our life path is forever altered.

Grandmother Stanley was one of our family’s boulders. To each of us she represents something special. Each of us has our own special memories with her and with her and grandfather. They each taught us to love and respect family, because when it comes right down to the end, family is all we have. The family they raised spread their wings and grew bigger, forever altering our family tree. Trudy Stanley, though you’ve been taken from our river, the imprint you’ve left in each of us will carry on forever. The hole that has been left in your absence will never be completely filled, and we will carry and treasure our memories of you forever. We will miss you dearly. May your river now and forever flow strong in the presence of our Lord and may you and grandfather walk peacefully hand-in-hand through eternity.

As you read that, you’ll most likely begin to see who the “boulders” are in your own lives. That’s good. Knowing who they are helps you to appreciate them even more while you have them. Your mother, and each of you are “boulders” for me. You each represent a huge portion of who I am and who I’ve become after God placed you in my life. My challenge to you comes from Proverbs 18:24 “A man of too many friends comes to ruin,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” There are people out there in your world who are lonely, who need a friend…who need a “boulder” of their own. Instead of seeking to find a “boulder” for yourself, seek to become one for someone else. Ask God to show you the people around you in need of a “boulder” and then find a way to become their friend. It is then you will discover that in doing so, you’ve placed “boulders” in your own life.

More on how much I enjoyed my two weeks alone with NE to come…

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