Time-Our Most Precious Commodity

Sundial-Make-the-Time

The text read “So how would you feel about going to Indy the weekend of Oct. 17th?”. It came from my youngest son. The timing wasn’t good.  I had just returned from a trip to Indy two weeks prior and was preparing for a business trip to Dallas. “I have two tix to Notre Dame USC in South Bend”. “I’ll buy your plane ticket”. It was clear that my son was anxious for me to spend the weekend with him and take in a great game.  How could I say no to that?  To say it was a great weekend would be the grandest of understatements!  We had the best time visiting friends and family, catching the game and being on the road, just the two of us.  Had I not made time for this weekend, I would have regretted it for years to come.

We spoke about jobs, women, future plans, tattoos and kicked back a beverage or three.  It was a reminder to me of what great sons I have, not that I had much to do with it. To pass myself off as the model father would be dishonest. While I took advantage of this opportunity to spend time with my son, there were too many times that I didn’t. We have made some great memories along the way-I just wonder how many memories were left unmade because I didn’t  make time. How many such moments did I not experience because I was too busy. It’s shameful and regrettable. And sadly, once the moments have passed, they can’t be recaptured.

We live in a world that spins as a hectic pace. Whether you are chasing a career, remodeling a house or even a fixture at your local church, our time gets divided by the things we choose to prioritize. I can’t make that event because it’s my poker night, or I will miss your birthday party because I’m singing at church. Don’t misunderstand me-there are things in each of our lives that we do as eternal investments, but in doing so many times we miss the chance to invest in the here and now-our adult children ever maturing or our grandchildren who remind us, if we pay attention, of just how precious and fleeting time is whether we are in the moment or not. Time passes at the same pace for all of us but some are much better at recognizing Kodak opportunities.  None of us are guaranteed a certain quota of time-it’s as if we are in a constant game of musical chairs, wondering when it’s our time for the music to stop and to find ourselves the odd man out for additional time, left to face eternity with no more opportunities to create memories for those we leave behind.

As I write this I just turned fifty-four years old.  As I look back on my life so far, the best memories I have are not of the things I had, the cars I drove or the salaries I made. The best times were when I was with people I loved just doing life together-Christmases, vacations, walks on the beach, making snow women with the kids on the block, playing monster at the playground with the grandkids-riding roller coasters with the boys-the things that will keep me company when I am old and alone. I don’t want any more regrets of time wasted, of memories lost at the expense of something so temporal to even remember. But how many of us have made the same mistakes in the name of chasing the dream. That, sadly, I have been very good at.

In the New Testament Jesus reminds us how foolish it is to say tomorrow we are going here or there and make this amount of profit, etc, when in fact we don’t have any assurance that we will be around in the near future.  It is certainly not in error to plan for your future or make plans for events or activities, but to do so in arrogance as if we have all the time in the world and not taking advantage of today is a mistake Christ didn’t want us to make. As always, His words are true for us on numerous levels if we will but listen.

This week is the twentieth year anniversary of the film back to the Future about time travel.  While the movie was entertaining, it certainly was far from realty.  What we wouldn’t give to go back in time and make better decisions, eliminate events that weren’t so important after all and replace them with those we didn’t take advantage of. But time has only one direction, forward. We can make time that that is still before us but none of us can substitute for the time that has already passed. The weekend I spent with my son will be one I’ll always remember and will serve to further remind me that whether taking in a road trip for football, or spending the afternoon on the golf course or sipping a beer at a NASCAR race, time spent with my kids is never wasted. The same may be said of siblings, spouses and close friends. When we leave this earth it won’t be the toys we acquired, the titles we held or the degrees we earned that will be remembered, it will be the moments, the toasts, the laughs and a few tears.  These are the real things that make up life. These are the things I want to spend the balance of my time pursuing. A plaque on the wall is nice; a Notre Dame ticket stub or a golf score card is priceless.

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A Mother’s Love

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The bond is formed the instant she realizes something strangely wonderful is happening. Her hopes are confirmed with the news that she has conceived. She is about to experience the miraculous cycle of life-a new life created in love is developing inside her womb and the countdown begins to the day when she will first see his eyes. Already she is protective-already, there is no son like the one she’s about to bear. The blessed day of his introduction to the world arrives and he is placed upon her stomach for the first time. His appearance, his perfection, his cries instantly remove all residual pain that accompanied his entrance-she is in love with this wonder from God.

Through the early months the bond grows as this miracle receives from her breasts. Every day brings something new.  As she holds him she can see how he fixes his eyes on hers, how he studies her expressions and listens to her sounds of love, until that one special day, when all the cute baby gibberish yields to that first recognizable word-Mama! Her name formed in his tiny mouth brings with it a level of euphoria that only a mother can fully appreciate. He recognizes and accepts this unconditional love he is receiving from this lady and has given it a title-Mama. She feels a blessing words can’t adequately express.

Soon the dependence from limited mobility gives way to the first steps. She feels pride and yet another strange feeling-the birth of worry. Now she has to watch over him with more diligence and remove any obstacle that might bring him harm, a task that from that day forward will never end. She is now his protector-a guardian against anyone and anything that might cause her son harm, a task she undertakes ferociously.

He is now a young free spirit, active, fearless, experimenting.  The day comes when the father removes the training wheels from his first bike, expecting a fall or two, a possible abrasion and maybe even a little blood-a learning curve that must be met. She is not ready for this day and wants to follow closely to catch him when he falls and save him from the pain, but the father holds her back-it must be done if he is to learn. He falls, looks immediately to his mom but gets back on the bike and takes off. The bond grows some more.

They spend the days dancing in the kitchen, working in the garden, shopping for groceries, playing in the park. He is her constant companion and joy and fills her days with laughter. She hardly notices his unkempt clothing, the dirt he drags onto the floor, the mess he leaves at the kitchen table-she sees an angel at play and finds great reward in being a witness to his every move, grateful for this time that just the two of them will share, and not fully appreciating how quickly it will pass. The bond grows.

As much as she wants to turn back time, she can’t and the first day of school arrives, way too early. With all the hesitation of a mother bird pushing her chicks out of the nest, she releases him to the world for the first time and plans nothing for the first few days so she can be waiting and relieved when he exits the school building, another aspect of her experience that will never entirely go away. She watches as he becomes a social being, making new connections but still heavily dependent on his mother’s bond, something he too will never fully outgrow.

She is there to witness the effects of his growth, with full knowledge of what’s to come, but like the removal of the training wheels, forced to watch it happen and be there for the scrapes. She prays for him and awaits the inevitable-the first fight, the first colorful words he learns, the first time he notices a girl, the first kiss, the first boyhood crush and the first heartbreak. Each time she is there with healing and comfort and protection-the bond grows.

The years seem like months as he receives his high school diploma and prepares for college life, most likely far away from home and from his mom for the first time. Nothing has prepared her for this day-the motherhood manual didn’t address this scenario and her faithful prayers are put to the test beyond what she was anticipating. She has dealt with colds and baby teeth, cuts and bruises, dates and broken hearts-she has never faced separation! He has always been the little boy placed on her stomach at birth, close, safe, dependent. She doesn’t like this feeling-it’s uncomfortable, but again a necessary part of the cycle of life. For perhaps the first time she feels unneeded. The best of marriage doesn’t fill her need to mother. She prays for his safety and her comfort.

Finally, he is home again, and with news-he has found love. She experiences another strange sensation. Joyful for his return but faced with the reality that she will have to share her son with another who will fill all the needs that until this time she has met. Again, she has to release him. At the wedding she is the honored guest of the groom. She has learned to accept her new daughter into her life-she hopes as a mom she has taken advantage of every opportunity to prepare her son for adulthood. She takes a quick mental survey to see if she left anything out. With the words “I do” she feels a sense of pride and accomplishment.

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She is not ready for the overwhelming flood of emotions as she gets another chance to dance with her son, now a man. He has become the embodiment of everything good she has instilled in him from the first day their eyes met. He holds her with a sense of love, appreciation and gratitude that only a son can fully express to his mom. The bond has outlasted every strain that was put on it-it is strong and tangible. The song can’t last long enough-she doesn’t want this moment in time to end-it is her reward and she is relishing in it with every note and every step. This is a mother’s love for her son in full manifestation. The bond is secure.

Love completes its cycle as news come that she is soon going to be a grandmother. The day comes when her grandson is placed in her lap for the very first time. The bond is formed.

Hope in the Midst of Incomprehensible Tragedy

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While our community is still coping with the tragic loss of two police officers and a heroic civilian in a recent senseless act of crime, another inconceivable tragedy occurred a little closer to home. Two young children, the boy four years old and his sister just two, belonging to a childhood friend of our daughter, lost their lives when their home caught fire and all desperate rescue attempts failed. Both parents made valiant efforts to save them and received severe burns in the process.  Fire and rescue personnel on the scene burdened with the task of finding and retrieving the children were shaken and grief counselors were dispatched to the site. The loss of these two precious lives is devastating and the healing process will be endless and perhaps never completed.

How can any person explain such a tragedy in any way that makes sense? What words of hope and comfort can one offer that has any measurable impact on the extreme hurt and infinite grief that a parent or loved one experiences in such an event? Words become hollow-cliches become a mockery and even the most heartfelt sentiments are lost in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. And there will be those who will raise the question, where was God in all of this, a question that is hard for even the most devoted of Christians to fully address without sounding like a generic Hallmark Card.

It is in times like these that we must lean on what we know to be true and find some level of comfort in the words of our Savior. We all sang that song growing up in church, Jesus Loves the Little Children. We know from the recording in the Gospels this is true. Listen to the words of Christ recorded in this story in Matthew 19;

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children. ”And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.

Jesus was teaching on the coast around Judea and as usual families followed Him just to hear His words. When I imagine this scene I see children sitting on His lap, playing around His feet and soaking in the presence of their creator, even if they didn’t fully understand who Jesus was. Jesus was very clear about His love for them in His scolding of the disciples for their view of these children.  He further demonstrates His love and affection for them in this next passage found just a chapter earlier in Matthew 18;

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them.  Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.  So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.  But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.

One of the most beautiful things a person can observe is the pure, innocent, untainted love and trust of a child, so much so that Christ Himself established the child as the standard by which we are to be measured and ultimately fitted for our eternal reward. If we want to be great and exalted in the Heavenly kingdom, we must have the same heart and approach as that of a child. How much more value could our Savior place on any living creation! He indeed loves children. He sees every scrape, saves every tear, frames every smile and knows every name! These truths must be the source of comfort when none other can be found.

Just a week or so before this tragedy unfolded our own grandkids were playing and swimming with these two little ones who are no longer with us. We have this guarantee in life-nothing is guaranteed, including tomorrow. Tragedies like this are daily occurrences in our world, and all too distant until you know of the victims involved. As I watched my grandson this week I found a little extra energy, let him get away with a few things questionable and loved on him the best I knew how. He’s just five years old but I need to learn from him in order to inherit God’s kingdom. I don’t know if these two heartbroken parents can comprehend God’s love for them right now. The only way they can experience the love, peace and comfort that comes from Christ during this difficult time is to somehow find the resolve to become like the two precious little ones they’ve lost, loving, trusting and completely dependent on God. I pray they find the strength to do just that and that all of us laugh with those who laugh, mourn with those who mourn and hug our loved ones just a little longer than usual and allow His peace to heal all our hurts.

I Will Never Be Like Him

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He was born into a poor family in rural Mississippi. Upon his birth his mother went right back into the cotton fields where she worked and placed him on the ground in a blanket beneath the shade of a tree that offered little comfort from the 100 degree heat and southern sun and humidity. He was vitamin deficient and and could not fend off childhood illnesses easily. At the young age of just seven, he was made to work in the cotton fields along with adults. Because of his lack of experience and speed, he was beaten mercilessly with the handle of a hoe until sheer adrenaline sped him up. He and hunger were good friends. He was familiar with the pains of an empty stomach. Cornbread and molasses was a welcome treat.  Flour and feed sacks were his daily clothing. 

They would pick 1800 to 2000 lbs of cotton that might yield 400 lbs after being processed. At the age of eight he was put to the plow and would work sun up to sun down. The nearest town for supplies was eight miles away-he walked, and many trips home were in the dark of night before electricity. At age 12 he would work for other area farmers for $1.00 per day, only after his normal work was completed. His dad was not a kind man and would beat him with plow lines at the slightest infringement. This went on most of his adolescent life. He survived childhood Rickets, Rheumatic Fever, heart murmurs, beatings and hunger.  He knew no other life than this.

Perhaps by now you might assume I am portraying the story of a southern slave. I would never be so bold as to draw direct comparisons to their plight, even thought there are similarities in their stories. You may be surprised to find that this is the story of my Dad. It is a story of survival-it is a story of overcoming-it is a story of breaking a cycle through an amazing faith in a God many of us would have dismissed in similar circumstances. And its a story that none of us would have ever imagined as we grew up in our family as his children.

We didn’t learn of our dad’s history until just a few years ago. We were raised in a normal mid-western home and atmosphere. Dad worked for a truck manufacturer and we always had food on the table and clothes on our back. At 6’8″ he was a gentle giant who never unleashed his anger on us.  In fact I can remember explicitly that it really hurt him to spank our butts when needed. Now we understand why. We were never beaten physically or emotionally-quite the opposite!  We were blessed with loving parents who were engaged in our lives and who showed us their faith in God every day. We learned about Christ in church and saw him in action in our parents.  So you might imagine the shock as my brother, sister and I learned of our dad’s harsh upbringing. 

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My dad asked Christ into his life at the age of eight and held to that faith until such time as he was able to leave home and all his past behind him. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says this: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new!  This surely must be true. We witnessed it without knowing at the time. We were raised and nurtured with all the love, the encouragement, the unity that any family could ask for. We didn’t realize it but we were the broken links of a chain from the past that had been ripped apart by the love and faith of an earthly father determined to be free from generational abuse, and a Heavenly Father who honored the faith of two parents living in His love and pouring it out on us.  

My dad set a standard of fathering that I never reached with my boys. With full disclosure now as an adult to the life my dad overcame and the great distance with which he removed himself from his past, I missed the mark dramatically as a dad. Yet I work everyday, just as I did as a kid, to make my dad proud and to pass along something of his character to our kids and grand kids, three generations removed. I only wish our grand kids could know what a great man he is.

I’ve heard of sons declaring to their dads-“I can’t wait to grow up. I’m never going to be like you!”. Well, I’m grown up and I can truly declare, I will never be like him!  Happy Father’s Day Dad!