Homeward Bound

Location: Bartlesville, Oklahoma, United States

I am a 45 year old homebuilder, married to Karen (Mason) Taylor. We have three children, Lauren, Jenna & Brandon.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Jenna will rise up

The first time my daughter Jenna used the phone to call a friend at age six or so, her telephone etiquette was somewhat lacking. She moved promptly past the stage of identifying herself and asking for someone at the other end of the line. When the other party answered, she simply said, “Who is this?” So we kid her about phone skills, especially when she is talking to her boyfriend on the phone and trying to discreetly keep us from hearing the conversation. With this history of Jenna-phone-speak, I answered the telephone about 12:30 this past Sunday afternoon after eating too much pork and potatoes at Mom’s dinner table. After saying hello and hearing the soft voice in the receiver, I knew it was Jenna…but I played along anyway. I said, “Who is it?” “Jenna”. “Jenna who?”, I continued. Then she said, “Dad, I want to be baptized.” And it kind of took my breath away…so I stopped kidding around and told her how exciting that was.

After thinking about her decision that afternoon, Karen and I sat a couple of rows behind the teens at Sunday evening services and waited impatiently while we endured a lot of old hymns since it was our monthly Sunday singing service mingled with four prayers from our shepherds. I was trying to be worshipful and focus on the moment, but I couldn’t. I wanted the service to be over and the invitation song to be sung and to walk down with Jenna and sit on the front pew. I had always wondered what baptizing your own child would be like, but after experiencing that with Lauren this past summer, this seemed totally natural to me.

Karen and I have grand ideas about baptism and ceremony and celebrating spiritual birthdays…maybe we’ll get to that yet. But it seems with Lauren and Jenna, we simply let God move in His own way and let Lauren and Jenna move in their own time without any prodding...we have felt pretty strongly about the idea that it is their decision...and the phone calls from both girls have been wonderfully exciting and even a little surprising in some ways, even though they are both "older". We talk a lot in churches about ages of accountability, but I believe that my kids and all kids are accountable to some degree at the age of two. And with each passing year, they are more and more responsible for their own decisions and answer more and more to God. At some point, I think they begin to hear the call and voice of God more than mine. In geometric terms, the horizontal slope of dependence upon their earthly dad descends and intersects the horizontal slope of dependence upon Father God as it ascends. Somewhere to the right of the slope intersect, God becomes more important than Ma and Pa. That's the way it seems to me anyway...and that is when I think many children contemplate baptism. Anyway, Karen and I have never had any misgivings about "getting them in the water" and we have had to endure a few stray odd comments from friends from out of town like, "Have you got yours into the water yet?" which makes me emotionally and physically wince with frustration. It almost seems to some that the goal is getting them into the water, instead of creating an environment in which they can grow and fall in love with their Creator and Redeemer. Don’t get me wrong, the water part is lovely and beautiful and incredibly important. It’s just not my goal for my children any more than it is a goal for me to walk them down the aisle and give them away in marriage. Karen and I, mainly Karen, have prayed for our children to find a Godly mate from the time they were conceived…and I think the other part of that prayer is that they will first find God and fall in love with the very idea, essence and being of God. Betrothed to Christ Jesus as it were. Not just glad to be at the wedding and be the one giving our children away to a distant suitor, but a suitor who loves them as fiercely and passionately as we do…even more in fact. And that is why we seek to give them away to God, because we as parents can never fill their souls with the beauty and wonder and joy with which God can fill them.
So we let go…agonizingly and slowly and stubbornly…but with confidence and trust that the God who watches over our own comings and goings also will watch over those of our children as they seek His face. I got a little sidetracked…

The invitation finally was offered and we walked to Jenna’s row and we weren’t the only escorters. Lauren and Brook and Heather walked down with her. So we all sat on the front row smiling and waiting for the song to end and it did. I whispered in Jenna’s ear, “I’ll just say a couple words then have you come up and ask for your confession, then we’ll go to the back,” and she nodded her agreement.

I felt as if I could hold together emotionally as I told the story of her calling earlier that day…then I glanced down at the misty-eyed face of my daughter…and I broke up a little…but went on to tell her what many folks already know about her. That she has a heart that is tender, a heart that seeks to console and comfort those who hurt, a heart that smiles and laughs easily with just about anyone and a heart that beats alongside those who don’t always fit in with the popular crowd. What I wanted to say but didn’t in my emotional turmoil, was that is the very heart of God, the heart of one who helps those who can’t seem to help themselves. What I did manage to tell was a story of when Jenna was about six years old and we were vacationing in San Antonio at Seaworld…and it was raining all day long. We were all in rain slickers, hurrying to get from one place to another, and my sister Terri, who has trouble keeping up with fast walkers…especially in a driving rainstorm…was dragging twenty yards behind my family. I looked around for Jenna…and she wasn’t there nearby and I turned and looked way behind and through the hard rain…I saw Jenna had gone back and grabbed her Aunt Terri by the hand. Jenna has never let anyone fall behind the group and she has always been that way…and that is the blessing of hope that I give to her…that she will continue that Christian mission in her life of not letting people fall behind without walking along beside them.

So after offering that blessing, I asked her to come up and told her to face these wonderful people who love her and have helped raise her up to be a beautiful lady. And I talked about yellow plastic molded chairs in the pre-school room and singing “Jesus Loves Me” and getting a chocolate chip cookie cake for saying the books of the Bible in Ms Loretta’s class. And now she was ready after all her teaching and learning to enter into this covenant for the rest of her life. “Jenna…do you believe that Jesus is your Lord and your Redeemer…the very Son of God?” “Yes” came the soft but sure reply. And we went back to that mysterious room where un-immersed youngsters can’t go but always wonder about what is back there and why does it take so many people to dress and undress the baptizee?

We walked into the cold baptistery water and I baptized my daughter into the Body of Christ Jesus…after failing to calculate her body length and starting her backward pitched dip too far toward the edge nearly knocking her out cold against the acrylic pool edge…I recovered enough to gently ease her down and in so doing, water spilled fluidly and efficiently into the front of my rubber fishing waders. I was wet and cold the rest of the evening. We dressed, came out, my Dad spoke about the “Circle that goes all the way around the world” as we circled and held hands around the auditorium. And then I got everyone wet hugging them. I listened as Jenna and her friends sang on the podium steps, “There’s a stirring deep within me, could it be my time has come, When I see my gracious Savior, face to face when all is done? Is that His voice I am hearing, come away my precious one..."

Listening to those words…I got another lump in my throat.
It’s not easy to let go…and I’m sure Jenna will visit, but I think she heard His voice and heard those spine-tingling words, “come away my precious one."
I know she’s in good hands, besides she was just on loan anyway.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Three Star Movies

Patronizing movie theaters these days is at once maddening yet still compelling. Maddening in the sense that one must endure having feet placed upon the back of your chair or horrid cell phone etiquette or twenty-five minutes of inane and manipulative previews and commercials for Coca-Cola. Compelling in the sense that discovering common meaning among a community of people and laughing and crying together magnifies the intensity of the moment, a moment in which you become someone totally outside of yourself, someone living out life vicariously through characters and story on a big screen in a dark theater, light years from your own reality.

I won't spoil the movie for you by telling you the storyline, but "The Family Stone" is one of those movies that moved me to call it a three star movie. One of the greatest speeches about life and living that I've heard was given by North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano just a few days before he died. He spoke about three things a healthy and vital human should do every day. Laugh, cry and think. I love that idea about how we spends our days and have begun to apply this to movies. If a movie evokes all three behaviors, it is a three star movie.

Go see it if you get a chance...preferably with someone you love and care about. It made me laugh...it made me cry...it made me think.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Understanding Cyberteen

I enjoy the boredom of the holiday season. It is December 23 and I am sitting in my living room enjoying the calmness of doing nothing with urgency. Reading a bit of a Wall Street Journal article about how children nurtured within the context of families who tell and live out stories in their daily lives are more emotionally healthy. Amen. This is a strange state of being for me…near boredom…the antithesis of hectic. Simply embracing the moment without a goal to achieve, a list to complete, a job to fulfill or a punch list to punch. One of our four cats, Oreo I believe judging by the stupidity of the behavior, is rustling the branches of the Christmas tree. Brainless cat is enamored with O Tannenbaum. Oreo likes to crawl amidst the center trunk of our brightly lit and decorated nine foot tall Christmas tree and begin a slow but stubborn climb toward the peak bent on some unseen Catnip treat hiding amongst the ornaments and trinkets near top.

As I contemplate boredom, I realize that my children interpret this differently. We speak different languages and our communication styles show this. We can’t even agree on what is boring. Boredom to my children is “having nothing to do.” To me, having nothing to do is the essence of peaceful bliss and relaxation. Which isn’t exactly what I thought when I was sixteen. I thought my hometown, Bartlesville, OK was a stodgy and boring place to live and grow up and I wanted to graduate high school, go to college and then settle somewhere a lot more exciting. Somehow I wound up back in Bartlesville and my definitions of excitement and boredom have significantly changed.

My children have inherited my witless childhood desire to shake the dust from this sorry little town. And they have inherited the same sense of boredom and impatience with the ways of grown ups and traditions. I was nosing around my daughter Jenna’s Xanga blog a few days back and she wrote this little gem, “We HAVE to go to my Dad’s business Christmas party and it is soooo boring.”

That’s how kids write nowadays. Just like we wrote in junior high passing notes under the nose of the teacher and skipping vowels and punctuation marks. But with the advent of internet communication, one must learn new languages to properly address and understand what goes on within the blogging and email cultures within which our children have immersed themselves.

I’m not sure the notes and communications propagating on the internet these days by my kids are any more sophisticated nor eloquent than those from my era. They are, however, capable of being accessed electronically by the entire cyber world…if anyone really cared…which is doubtful…except for a few glassy eyed parents who sometimes monitor bemusedly these ruminations from teens searching for meaning and a sense of self-worth measured by how many respondents are reflected underneath their posts. And as a parent, you have to learn how to read again. The language has changed. It’s cyber teen. For instance, here is a typical note by Jennifer, a forty year old mom, written to a friend as a normal adult might phrase a typical boring adult letter.

“How are you doing today? I’m well, but things are a little slow. Goodness gracious, this snow we’ve been getting is terrible. My mother-in-law, Mabel ran her car off the road yesterday and took out two mailboxes and a golden retriever. You would think our tax dollars would pay for some good road crews to clean this mess up and get our kids back in school. Well, I saw you and Hank at the American Legion dance last night…after all these years…you are still a striking pair. Well, my tea kettle is whistling and I have to go. Feel free to write back when you are able. I look forward to talking with you at length when we both have time to sit uninterrupted. It’s always a pleasure when we get to see one another and visit. I love you like you were my own sister,
All my love, Jennifer

Here now is how Jennifer as a teenager would word the same letter today…this is a real letter…I’m not making this up.

WSUP NMH OMGSH Can’t believe the snow…Yay…no school woohoo!! Ummm hey…saw you with what’s his name lol U 2 R adorable together…haha
well, g2g…comment me back ttyl lylas Jennifer

Well…it does save space

Ummmm hey…g2g comment me back Woohoooo! I’ll ttyl


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Bee Gees and New Birth

Fifteen years ago i watched my eldest daughter Lauren as she entered the world with eyes searching for the ceiling, a mess, covered in the stuff that kept her alive for nine months. And I was lucky enough to hold her first after they wiped her off a bit.
Today, she called from camp near Stillwater, OK. She wanted to be baptized. So Karen and I, Mom and Dad and our younger daughter, Jenna, drove over and I baptized her in a swimming pool. I pulled her up from the water that symbolizes the cleansing, healing rain from Heaven that is Jesus blood, and it seemed that she was coming out of the womb again, only this time with eyes searching the heavens, knowing she is a little farther from her dad now, but a little closer to her real home, her real Father. But I still got to hold her first again. And I am thankful for that time.
Karen said on the way home that I get to do more than her, that she carried her inside for all those months, yet I was there (more there than her because of medication) when Lauren was born, and I got to baptize her, and maybe someday, will walk her down the aisle at her wedding. I get to do all the cool stuff. Maybe so.
Holding her moments after she was born, physically and spiritually, and walking alongside her as she has developed, physically and spiritually, with God's providential hand leading us along as parent and child gives me a feeling that I can only understand by reading about how much God loves me. I remember driving home from the hospital one cold December night in 1989 listening to an oldies AM station because that was all the old Datsun radio would receive. The Bee Gees song, "You don't know what it's like to love somebody, the way I love you" was playing and as I drove along the Jersey countryside all alone, I thought about how happy I was to be a father, a feeling I never could have anticipated until it happened. You had to actually experience it to understand the emotion. So I sang, I sang out loud and I sang without inhibition, "you don't know what it's like to love somebody, the way I love you."
The sentiment with which I sang wasn't what the Bee Gees sang about. But I didn't care, that's how I felt, so I sang, loud, like I was in a shower and I was Pavarotti.
And that's how I felt today. Maybe that's how God feels when one of His is born again. Maybe He sings out long and sings out strong, along with a host of angels or two.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

What's in Your Wallet?

Things aren’t always what you think they seem to be when you first assume that you know what they might be. Yogi Berra, who once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it," would be proud of that sentence. What made me conjure that wandering grammatical construction was a receipt obtained from a bookstore in the Salt Lake City airport on June 30, 2005.
At first glance, it would appear that I’ve just checked out of a seedy triple x adult bookstore and I have some explaining to do if my wife finds the receipt. Here goes honey:
"Naked" is a memoir by David Sedaris.
"Bad Girls of the Bible" is a book selected by my fifteen year old daughter, Lauren.
"Desire of the Everlasting Hills" is a book by Thomas Cahill about how Jesus Christ became the central figure of Western Civilization.
And all the xxx’s is my obscured credit card number
So I’m really a fairly decent family man passing through Utah on my way to LA for a family reunion accompanied by my three children and my wife. One would not deduce that from viewing this receipt. Anything but.
I didn’t purchase these books in a Salt Lake City airport with foreknowledge of how the book titles would be compressed on the receipt to make it appear as smut to make a point about intellectual or spiritual obscurity. It simply was a serendipitous alignment of retail receipt printing.
Or was it? Do we fail to view and observe and act because our minds are grounded in empirical observation? Have we fallen in love with the rational at the expense of the mystical? Do we believe only in the things we see, the observable, or do we really live as Paul suggests, peering at the "substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen?"
I’m convinced that we can find the grace-infused touch of God all around us. Amidst the horror of subway bombings and child abductions and death is an underlying message of hope. Sometimes it takes some spiritual awareness to see it, a sort of contemplative viewing of the underlying good in the world that is the touch of God. Sometimes we have to look hard at the receipt, and know that what it appears to be, adultery, violence, murder, pornography . . . is really something else, a soul longing to know it's Creator. We can become so calloused and hardened to world views that we simply accept them and assume the worst . . . about people, about ourselves, about strangers, even about the fellow sitting across the pew . . . despite investigation that reveals the better side of the world God created and the better side of people in that world.
Jesus saw past the grime and grit of crusty fisherman and invited them into a journey with the King of Kings. He saw past the failed relationships of a mixed-race woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar and peered into the gaping hole in her heart longing to be filled with the Spirit of God.
The world saw a sinner gawking from a sycamore tree where Jesus saw the heart of one willing to live out justice and mercy and compassion. And when Jesus marveled at faith, it wasn’t even someone you would guess, a Jew like Himself, but rather a Roman centurion.

To borrow a phrase from a credit card commercial, "What’s in your wallet?" Or your neighbors? How’s your vision? Can you spot a brood of vipers? Can you look upon one who has the faith that can move a mountain? Can you tell the difference?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Twelve Hair Cowlick

I am nothing if not a compassionate, charitable Christian toward those who suffer the same pain and suffering that I have endured. As I shaved the head of my thirty-nine year old brother at midnight recently, I graciously and compassionately led Toby through the valley of the shadow of male pattern baldness.

My six-years-younger-than-me little brother has black hair with just a hint of white creeping into the mix with a strongly pronounced cowlick dominating his front hairline. Since he lives in upstate New York, I see him maybe every six months, and we assess the rate and progress of one another’s recession. And I don’t mean our economic fortunes.

The last few visits, I’ve noticed more scalp on the top of his head and a thinner cowlick. Toby has steadfastly refused to “go short”, the mantra of many thinning males, instead choosing to comb across. He even told me that his barber had recently given him a mini-version of the comb-over wrap that millions of hair-thickness challenged men have resorted to as a solution to scalp showing. Once, in my younger full-haired days, I observed a fiftiesh gentleman sitting in front of me and a buddy at a Miami U. vs Tulsa college football game. My buddy and I remember only two things about that sunny Saturday afternoon. Miami crushed TU, and this man displayed the lowest hair part in the history of thin hair management. He had deluded himself with the notion that nobody would notice that his part originated at the back of his neck and traveled around his wrapped head just above his left hear. My friend had a way of getting me laughing about things in situations where to outside observers, there didn’t appear to be anything funny going on. But he kept making cracks about the part of this man’s hair beginning halfway down his back and to this day, when I see my friend, we still talk about it. Now my buddy and I have shaved heads and it’s not so funny anymore. We’re bald. But we have chosen to embrace our baldness not by attempting to part our hair just above the left ear, but rather by wallowing in our minimal coverage, to love and indulge it. And at some point, he and I both had to take the plunge, the leap from the fraternity of virile male strength-and-beauty-is-my-hair, to the sacred brotherhood of those who have given up and shaved their domes.

I believe it was W.H. Auden who wrote, “We would rather be ruined than changed.” That first change, the first buzz-cutt, is like jumping out of a plane with only an umbrella to break your fall. It’s a step of that requires incredible courage. You’ve passed into the sacred brotherhood and there is an admission of middle-agedness, of fleeing youthfulness, of saying goodbye to your comb, brush and hairdryer.

Done right, it is liberating, cleansing. You feel freed from the bondage of hair vanity. Very few people can really understand this. My wife tried to tell me that when she cut her hair once, I gave her a funny look and that because of that hair trauma, she felt my pain, but I told her no, she could never feel the pain my brother and I now share. She would never be in our sacred brotherhood any more than we could enter into her sisterhood of childbearing. For a man to lose something so powerful and symbolic is emasculating and difficult for a female to comprehend. We wallow in our misunderstood pity alone with one another.

So I consoled my brother and helped gather him into the bosom of male-bonded-bald-brotherhood. I told him about how my daughter had no compassion for me and that when she observed my fresh hair cut, she would react one of two ways. If she liked it, she would say, “Nice head dad”. If she didn’t care for it, she wouldn’t say anything, but simply start laughing and sometimes point derisively to places, sprouts of hair, I may have missed, since I shave it off myself without a mirror.

As I shaved Toby last night and reassured him that he was still a man, his wife Debbie and my wife Karen walked into the room. I continued to bravely reassure him that life would be better now, through the muffled snickering of the inconsiderate females now observing and belittling. Through it all, however, I couldn’t bring myself to shave off the front area, the cowlick that had been so cute when my little brother was a baby. So I left it much longer and shaved the rest. I stood back. I looked. I tried not to think about how comical a twelve hair cowlick looked, but I couldn’t. So I said, “That’s the first twelve hair cowlick I’ve ever seen!” Then the two women who didn’t know any better fell onto the kitchen floor in doubled over laughter. And I, the one who felt his pain, couldn’t stop laughing. We were laughing in that way that is uncontrollable and that tightens the stomach into painful convulsions. May the good Lord forgive me.

Perhaps though I’ve found a silver lining. For in becoming less, our baldness gives us more. More of what we came into the world with. Thinly veiled heads, lots of scalp showing, newborns all over again. Jesus talks about this when he says, “. . . unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

To paraphrase Psalm 131, one of the shortest Psalms:
I do not concern myself with great hair or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child with its mother,
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

Think I’ll laminate that and send it to my brother to post on his bathroom mirror.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Mockingbirds in Hell

It’s difficult to cite an example of a movie that depicts the kind of war transpiring in Iraq these past two years, but the war reminds me a little of the scene from “The Dirty Dozen” when Charles Bronson and Donald Sutherland and others use alternate red and blue arm bands in a war games exercise. It was against the rules, but what difference did it make? They were on death row anyway! There are no rules when your life seems to be a death sentence, and so the battle often comes down to engaging an enemy that is often unseen or wearing the wrong arm band. I read this week that American deaths in the Iraqi war had reached 1,500. It seems like much more. Just had a local boy featured on the front page of our hometown paper, killed in action.

War is hell. So they say. I’ve never been to either place, war or hell. But even if war is hell, film makers sure make it look palatable, even glorious, notwithstanding some of the more recent Hollywood fare like “Saving Private Ryan”.
I would love to think of war as noble and congruent with my more vintage hollywood images of war in movies like “The Great Escape”. Steve McQueen defiantly tossing the baseball against the wall of the stalag cooler was the very definition of the word cool. War in my pre-pubescent world of the 1960’s was glory and honor and patriotism. A number of years later, a friend of mine at Harding University (1981) remarked, “We are the only generation of this century to be cheated out of a war.” His tongue was firmly planted in cheek, however, there was a militarily patriotic melancholy entrenched within his statement. He believed the part about being cheated or missing out on the glory. And so my generation was limited to the field of theory and ethics and argument, ‘what would you do if faced with the decision to pull the trigger to take a human life’ questions, spurred by trips to the movies to see “The Deer Hunter” or “Apocolype Now”.

While driving to church during the beginning of the 2003 Iraqi war, I listened to the radio coverage of the conflict. I listened to a radio correspondent describing a desert scene from the front line on the Kuwait/Iraqi border. American troops were kneeling in the swirling sand, their head coverings removed, facing east, accessing this moment of anxiety. The very precipice of battle. Their heads were bowed as they knelt and prayed. There are indeed no atheists in foxholes. And as we faced armed conflict in a region of the world where life began and conflict has seemingly always raged, where Abraham lived out his faith in God, we looked as a nation at the reality of mankind’s history of faithlessness and of war. Endless war and strife and desolation.

It is compelling how life can become more vivid in the face of death. How war brings to life a perspective that can only be brought into focus through the grit and grime and hell of war. We are living in a moment of fragile social and political uncertainty. We are living in a moment of great upheaval and anxiety. A moment when we all ask questions. What is important? My job? My family? My country? My God? Iraqis? And in this moment of suspended, lingering questioning, this hold-our-breath pause before another outburst of killing, before the next big terrorist attack, we would all do well to stop. To stop and remember who is sovereign. Who controls the cosmos. To remember the one who makes wars cease.

Psalms 46 tells us to “cease striving and know that I am God”

Sometimes when I think about war, I think back to Harper Lee’s novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Atticus Finch explanation to his son Jem regarding the proper targets when shooting his new air rifle received for Christmas. “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” When Atticus daughter Scout asked Miss Maudie about this, Miss Maudie replied, “Your father is right. Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us. They don’t eat up people’s gardens or nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

We are at war with an often unseen enemy. And I pray for our country and our troops and civilians in the line of fire. But I also pray for the mockingbirds. For the many innocent people in Iraq. Children of our troops face the very real possibility that they will lose a father or a mother in this conflict. We pray for the innocents. For the mockingbirds. For those who don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out and only want their Dad or Mom to come home alive.

If you are anything like me, this whole world upheaval leaves me feeling a little helpless. What can I do? I’m only one. I have no leverage. Nothing I do can really affect change.

Dallas Willard in his book, "The Divine Conspiracy", gives us an idea about what we can do based on a story from Luke 9. Jesus takes this little child in his arms and say: “Here’s your ministry. Give yourselves to those who can bring you no status or clout. Just help people. You need this little child. You need to help this little child, not just for her sake, but more for your sake. For if you don’t, your whole life will be thrown away on a silly contest to see who’s the greatest. But if you serve the child, often and well and in secret and cheerfully, then the day may come when you do it without thinking, ‘what a wonderful thing I’ve done’. Then you will begin serving naturally, effortlessly, for the joy of it. Then you will begin to understand how life in the kingdom works.”

Maybe we can change the world. One relationship at a time. One greeting at a time. One child at a time. One moment at a time.

And finally we would do well to remember that in war and in pain and in death, we have a God who is making a place for us. A home. A place where there will be no smart bombs, no torture chambers, no dictators, no political or nationalistic conflict. A God who soothes and comforts and heals.

At the end of the Revelation to John we find justice restored, and a God who comes to be with those who have suffered the most in a cruel, unjust, and violent world. A God who does not roar and strut like the ultimate dictator but who gently “wipes away all tears from their eyes.” Rev 21:4

v 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them.” v 4 and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.....

Saturday, February 19, 2005

As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner wrote a book published in 1930 titled, “As I Lay Dying”. I was reminded of that title this past Friday night and early Saturday morning as I lay dying in my bed.

Early in the year, I began a fitness program blending cardiovascular workouts with weight lifting. Apparently, I lifted one too many Swarzeneggers. On Tuesday, I began to feel a pain in my sternum. On Wednesday, the sensation had fully developed and lasted through Friday evening when I lay dying. This is how I would describe my pain. Picture Tiger Woods addressing a teed golf ball with a driver in his hands and you are facing him and in his line of fire, only 10 feet away. He swings, but instead of hitting a golf ball, he hits a glass marble, and the marble travels about 140 mph and lodges in your chest, your sternum bone. Now picture the pain not so much on impact, but how it would feel about 10 seconds later. It felt as if Tiger had pelted my sternum about 10 seconds ago for about 3 days, but only when I inhaled. And it’s worse when I lay down at night. I’m a sight. I have a little bit of perspective on labor pain now. By taking quick short breaths, I could keep my lungs from expanding into the ribs too much and putting pressure on the sternum. I’m walking around the house in short slow choppy steps breathing in short quick bursts, bent over and moaning. I’ve become nothing short of an 80 year old pregnant woman in a Lamaze class with a glass marble in my sternum. My daughter has a cat named Bobbie… chicken cat…afraid of its own shadow. Bobbie could take me out right now and slay me.
I’m beaten, humbled and vulnerable.

So Friday night I go to bed at 10:00 after taking 4 ibuprofen. I’m there for 3 hours rolling and writhing. Belly, back, left side, right side, quarter to right, quarter to left. All positions hurt equally.
Then hot and cold flashes began, some form of the flu with fever and chills cycling in and out. As if that wasn’t enough, RLS began. RLS is an acronym for (I’m not making this up) “Restless Leg Syndrome”, which afflicts a small percentage of the population. The sensation is as if the leg(s) attached to your torso are not really yours, yet you feel them, and you have the overwhelming urge to move your leg anyway you can. It’s almost like claustrophobia-under-the-bed-sheets, only your legs get it, and they are not yours. Let’s see now…
Chills and hot flashes
Pulsing pain in my sternum but only when I inhale
I’ve slept about 4 hours sleep in the last two days

So I sit up in bed, blanket is draped over me like a human tee pee, and I have this little pow-wow with God. I say, “Lord, I’ve had enough. Let’s end this one way or another. Take me home or make me better.”

Then I started thinking about the teaching of being careful for what you pray.
And I thought about my beautiful wife and three wonderful children…and decided they still need me.

And I began to think, I’ve never really sincerely prayed that this pain, this agony, this burden that’s beating me to a pulp…I’ve never really prayed for God to take it away. It hit me between my spiritual eyes like that marble hit my sternum. And I started praying…for sleep, for relief, for peace.

I was asleep inside ten minutes.

Was it psychosomatic?
Was it medicine finally kicking in?
Did God begin to heal me?
Or was it that my faith had been so small before?

I dunno…but next time a tightness develops in my sternum…I’m not waiting…I’m going down to my knees.

Monday, February 14, 2005

A Romantic Song

Tonight, after cooking dinner for my wife Karen, and giving her a box of chocolates, I'm going to tell her how much I waaahhhh! brrrrrrrr! Hey! her.

One of the funniest and most "Romantic" songs I've ever experienced was at my sister and brother in law's wedding in Tabernacle, NJ. Clark & Dawn Sutherland chose some rather unconventional processional music.

Rather than stroll down the aisle in a non-instrumental c of c using the traditional Wedding Processional accapella, they chose "The Romantics" song, "That's What I Like About You" turned up full volume. The place was rockin' and just about everyone was either laughing or smiling at the uniqueness of the "romantic" moment.

Here are some of the lyrics in case anyone wants to serenade their sweetie tonight:

what I like about you, you hold me tight,
tell me I'm the only one, wanna' come over tonight, yeah
what I like about you, you really know how to dance,
when you go up, down, jump around, think about true romance, yeah

waaahhhhh! hey! hey, uh huh huh, hey hey hey hey, uh huh huh, brrr
hey, uh huh huh, hey

Now that's what I call romantic...brrrr, hey!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Heavenly cobbler

I have never sat down in reverent anticipation before a bowl of blackberry cobbler without paying my respects to Grandma Taylor. Maybe it’s simply a fleeting thought before I dig in; sometimes it’s lingers and I smell her kitchen and see her laughing face; other times it borders on the ethereal and we share a moment together as I enjoy the unique blending of sweet cream swirling into the tart berries and flaky crust. Something about the way she made it…I’ve never had better. Perhaps it was the freshness of the produce picked from the fence row along the dirt road south of her home in Caney and knowing that I helped pick the berries with my siblings and Grandma.

I married a berry picker from New Jersey. She claims that she was once fired from a summer picking job at a blueberry farm for improper picking. They called it “scatter picking” which meant picking the biggest and best berries on the bush and moving on without cleaning all the berries from the bush. Karen has overcome that vice and has been rehabilitated. She’s one of the best pickers I’ve seen. Fingers working the bushes like a pickpocket in Times Square. There’s an art to pickin’.

Not just berries…women.
Somehow, I think my berry picking days with Grandma made me a better person and a better picker. My wife still carries on a berry picking tradition with our children. They’ve picked blackberries in Copan and blueberries in Skiatook, once even being filmed by Channel 6 early one morning. Somehow it seems healthy and invigorating and life-affirming to in some small way harvest food from the bounty of God’s goodness.

It’s not always easy. Storms blow in. Rain pelts our uncovered heads. We fall into the temptation of picking only the easy berries. Thorns pierce our hands and scratch our arms if we don’t pay attention. But the effort is rewarded with something just short of heaven. Grandma’s heavenly blackberry cobbler. Maybe we won’t eat in heaven, but I’m still going to ask for that recipe when I get there.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Watching Cialis Commercials with Grandma

Is there anything sacred, anything discreet, anything mysterious, anything holy... remaining in public discourse today? I refer most notably to conspicuous body maintenance and enhancement products advertised via television into living rooms and public areas across this land. Cialis, (one of the wonder drugs to cure E.D. or erectile dysfunction) offers this not so humble medical discosure in it's advertising, "Erections lasting more than 4 hours may require medical attention" as if somehow they are dutifully fulfilling their due diligence in alerting cautious users about this alarming side-effect. Somehow, I'm thinking alert consumers aren't reading into this disclosure any sense of alarm, but rather a sense of hope. These "nothing sacred" forays by advertisers seeking to invade the wallet of uninformed and unenlightened consumers reminds me that it wasn't always so. I can remember a time when Dick Van Dyke slept in the same bedroom with his wife but in a separate twin bed. Same for Ricky Ricardo and Lucy. My grandmother Davis tells us kids that the word "pregnant" was never used in public and polite company. Which creates in me an aversion to watching any sports on tv with my 94 year old grandmother. I don't want to take the risk of having someone pass out from embarrasment...me. I know, 94 year old folks have seen and heard it all. But still, I'm afraid since she's a smidge hard of hearing, she'll hear, "Injections lost in the mail with four owls may require media attention" and she'll say..."What...what did they say?! And I'll have to tell her, "Grandma, erections lasting more that 4 hours may require medical attention...at least that's what their saying...I don't believe it." My apologies for venturing into musings outside my field of expertise. From now on, I'll leave that to the experts like my brother, Dr. Toby Taylor. You may read his thoughts on medicine and life at www.drtoby.blogspot.com Have a great day and don't watch tv sports irresponsibly.

I Hate Steven Curtis Chapman

I took my wife and three children to a Steven Curtis Chapman concert last night at the Mabee Center in Tulsa. I came away from that concert, which was wonderful, with some distinct impressions.

I hate Steven Curtis Chapman.

I love Steven Curtis Chapman.

I hate Steven Curtis Chapman because he reduces complex theology to very simple faith statements like, "Jesus is life, whooaoah...yea! & "I'm divin' in, i'm going deep..."

I'm very comfortable in my theological complexity and sophistication. SCC has got me humming and singing, "Jesus is life, whooaoah...yea!" over and over in my head like some sixties TV sitcom theme song like the "Flintstones" or "Gilligan's Island". Just leave me alone in my spiritual depth and let me wrestle with God without your simple songs of faith.

I love you, Steven Curtis Chapman, for throwing buckets of spiritual ice water in my smugly satisfied more-content-with-complex-theology face. I love you for bringing me home to the teachings of Jesus that call for "faith as a small child". Where's the verse that says, "Unless you have the faith of a feet-of-clay middle age deacon in the Lord's church", you shall not see the kingdom of heaven?

I'm reminded of C.S. Lewis writing about a time that he felt superior, spiritually above the songs that they had been singing from their hymnal at his home church. And how he long for more depth and spiritual dimension to the songs with which they worshiped God. Then he glanced down at the feet of the farmer sitting next to him. Muddy work boots. And he listened to the song belting forth from this simple man, and he realized how unworthy he was to wear the man's boots. And how his faith could not match the faith of this man who saw God through the earth he tilled and the crops he tended and the simple songs he sang.

I really don't hate SCC, I just dislike being uncomfortable. Maybe that is a mark of conviction.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Building homes one story at a time

I wonder about the younger generation. My sense of wonder increases with each sighting of tongue jewelry or belly button paraphernalia or upon hearing what emanates from the thudding base speakers of the 17 year old in the car a full block away being passed off as music.

And then I remember…I remember being extremely disappointed in the behavior of my son when he was about 4 years old. We lived at 1430 Cherokee Hills Drive in Bartlesville at the time. I walked Brandon outside and we sat on the front step and we talked. We talked about responsibility and expectations and behavior befitting a young lad his age. I wasn’t expecting the world from him, just a little self-awareness, a little more self-control, a smidgen less wild thing behavior. We finished our talk and we went back inside the house and it hit me like a Roger Clemens fastball upside my helmet earhole…Grandpa Taylor had sat with me on that very step when I was 16 years old. Dad and Grandpa were building the house at 1430 Cherokee Hills Drive at the time and I had just received my driver’s license. I was driving the dump truck from the job site to the dump and back and Grandpa saw me gunning the engine and generally driving too fast.
So we sat on that step and we talked…or rather he talked. I just sat and listened. He told me about responsibility and self-control and about being a little too wild. Grandpa never had to tell me twice. I got the message and did better.

I think of that story and my sense of hope renews for the generations that are to come. We all need stories. We need to be like my grandma Grace Taylor and tell our stories too many times until our children & grandchildren roll their eyes with familiar resignation. I pray that we are people of the book, the Bible. I pray that we teach our children and all generations to come, about character and vision and faith and morals from scripture. But I also pray that we never lose the gift of telling our story. The story of our family. For it is in the telling that values and virtue and character and faith are given life in vivid reality.

And our stories and memories become us, the very fabric of our existence.
Daniel Coleridge Taylor once wrote something to the effect that, “…without collective memory, a people or nation ceases to exist.”

May it ever be so...that we intentionally become redundant storytellers...people who tell the story so often that we lose track until our families roll their eyes ever upward.