Recognizing The Voice

When I was considering what to write about my parents this week, since they each had birthdays within the last 7 days, I thought of so many little stories. One such story popped in my head that I thought was interesting, but really, only in a different context.

I remember when I had my first job back in high school. I had an after school job as a delivery boy for a local florist. One of my duties as the kid in the store was to make the little boxes that were used to transport flowers from the store. Some were long and narrow, fitting for long stem roses, and others were more square, good for corsages or or smaller arrangements. In order to put these boxes together, I would go upstairs to the attic of the store. It was windowless and uninsulated. It got very hot in the summer, and very cold in the winter. And, you could hear just about anything that happened outside. One afternoon, I was up there making boxes, when I heard a familiar sound. I heard a car door close and a jingling set of keys. That’s not unusual since the parking lot was just outside.

After hearing this particular door and keys, I instinctively headed downstairs. Co-workers asked what I was doing when I stood in the room looking toward the front door.

“My mom is here.”

My co-workers were looking at each other with puzzled expressions on their faces. I was in a windowless room. How could I possibly know my mom was coming in? This was long before cell phones, so there was no way I could have been tipped off that she was there.

Sure enough, only seconds later, in walked my mom.

As I thought of this story this week, I thought of the level of intimacy and knowledge I had of those simple sounds. The car door and the jingling keys. While every car has doors, and every car requires keys, I recognized that door and those keys. I wasn’t even straining to hear this sound. But when it was there, I knew who it was and reacted instinctively.

When I turned my life over to the Lord, one thing I had to learn was God’s voice. I know that phrase, God’s voice, conjures up spooky thoughts to those who figure I’m being literal and walking around looking into the air above me as if I were looking for UFOs. But for me, I have often experienced God’s voice speaking to me. Not some mystical audible voice coming out of the sky or plants, but in my heart. Perhaps at some point, I’ll share a story with you which demonstrates what I’m talking about, but for the sake of brevity, (though it might be too late for that now), I’ll save that for another time.

My point is to say that we should be so keenly aware of God’s voice that even when we’re in the middle of something, we recognize His voice and respond immediately and stop to listen. God brought that story to my mind this week, and it serves to remind me of the level of familiarity He desires to have with me. That whether it’s in the mundane
activities of my life, during quiet moments, or during the storms of life, I will recognize His voice and be drawn to meet with Him.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Yes, 5 days following my mom’s birthday, there is my dad’s. She’s a cradlerobber, ya know.

My dad is, and was a man’s man. He was born in San Francisco in 1935, so his family story is very similar to the one you’ve heard many times over about being born to immigrant parents trying to provide for their family in a new country during the Great Depression and World War II. My dad had to work in his father’s butcher shop from a very young age. When he was of age, he joined the Marines. Even when he was young, he was something of a thrill-seeker. So joining the Marines seemed like a pretty good fit for young men who live life to extremes.

Moving ahead to his post-military career, he was a police detective in San Francisco for more than 20 years. One interesting story which will tell you a little something about his mindset versus that of the average, normal-thinking individual, is when he saw the office memo advertising the creation of a new task force; the bomb squad. My dad happened to work in the building in which he would need to apply, so he sprinted up several flights of stairs while the memo was still floating to the ground in his wake. He was certain there would be a line of guys jumping on this fantastic opportunity. When he arrived at the appropriate office, there was one person in the office to welcome my sweating, out-of-breath father.

“Why are you out of breath?”

“I wanted to apply for the bomb squad, and I knew there would be a crowd. Am I too late?”

“Crowd? Nobody wants this job. You’re the only one who has contacted us.”

Typical of my dad. He has always seen the world pretty clearly through his own lens, and doesn’t understand that others can’t see what he sees.

As I mentioned the other day when speaking of my mom, she was the type who loved to serve people. I honestly don’t recall my dad ever being in the kitchen to even make himself a sandwich. Mom took care of everything. He worked hard. He had a very demanding job which weighed on him mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

In 1982, my dad made a significant decision which would alter his life, and all those who he has come to know since. He became a Christian. I was 17 years old at the time, so I figured this was just an older person who wanted to get into Heaven. But in reality, things wouldn’t change. I was wrong.

Way wrong.

The very same man who never had to pour his own glass of iced tea or do a load of laundry, has since become, who I call, the male Martha Stewart. I am skipping a million details so this doesn’t turn into the Moby Dick of blog posts, but the man I know today is light years from the man I knew growing up. No better or worse. Just changed. He is the most generous and compassionate man I know. Very highly principled, but not at the expense of his dignity, or that of others. Due to my mom’s illness, he has assumed all duties required to maintain a home. He is the cook, the maid, the nurse, the accountant…all while maintaining his tangible masculinity. My mother is his life. He takes such incredible care of her. She couldn’t be in better hands. She adores him, and needs him like never before.

He is a true hero and role model. I’m fortunate and blessed to have such an example in my life. I don’t know that I could ever equal the man he is, but I certainly will do well to try.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

~Ephesians 5:25-33

Hallmark Moments

This past Sunday, the message in church was about leaving a legacy for “our children”. When I was very active in the reverse mortgage industry, that was a huge topic. Working with seniors who needed to use their home’s equity in order to keep their homes, help them with medical bills, help their kids, make home improvements or what have you, was eye-opening to me. They need to accept the concept that leaving behind a home, while it’s a great thought, is not the definition of a legacy.

Sunday was a bit of a difficult morning for me. It was what I call a “Hallmark Sunday”. At the end of the service, they even brought all the children in from their classes and programs, and had them line up throughout the auditorium. Hundreds of kids. It was very cool, even dramatic…but also difficult for me. I have always longed to be a daddy and to continue the heritage which was passed on to me by my parents. My 44th birthday is now less than 4 months away. It seems increasingly likely that I will never have my own kids. Heck, I think the odds are against me to ever even get married. My friends who care about me and see good things in me like to encourage me that it will happen, but there are no guarantees.

I’m finding myself in a similar situation as the seniors I serve. Like them, maybe the legacy I leave behind will not be in the form or to the people I had hoped and planned. Even if I never have my own kids, I hope that I’ll be able to leave behind something of value to the generations which follow me. But you can’t leave behind something you do not have. There is the key. Character, integrity, maturity, compassion, spirituality…these are all qualities which are important to me. It’s not material possessions.

The stock market and the economy can take away your wealth. So many have lost their homes. Many have lost their jobs. But no one and nothing can take away your character, integrity, maturity, compassion and spirituality.

Comfort Zone Remodeling?

OK, I’m sure you’re well aware of the fact that I’m in a new city, new church, blah blah blah. One thing I’m having to adapt to is the different type of Christmas production I’m going to be part of this year. Since 1998, I’ve been part of the great Christmas productions at Bethel Church in San Jose. Those things are pretty epic, and it was a real honor to have done solos and felt like a significant part of the tradition during my time there.

Now, as part of a new church, I’m facing new realities. First, they do a different type of Christmas production. For the past few years, they have done a theatrical adaptation of A Christmas Carol, simply called Scrooge. I’ve been part of productions like this in the past, and even part of a show themed after the original grumpy old man. Being the new kid on the block, I’m taking a significantly reduced role compared to what I’m used to. Hey, I’m fine with that. I am learning my role here.

Yesterday I was asked if I would be interested in being in some kind of ballroom dance scene. I can already hear some of you laughing over the visual image. Knock it off. Don’t make me post embarrassing photos of you on here. You know I have them.

I haven’t decided yet whether I’m going to do it. I have to admit, that wouldn’t exactly be in my comfort zone. I’m a singer…not a dancer! But I’d feel pretty stupid not doing it simply because I think it’s goofy. I’ve got a little Fred Astaire in the red suit on one shoulder, and a Gene Kelly in the white suit on the other.

I’ll keep you posted.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Today is my mom’s 73rd birthday. I have no trouble in posting her age since she doesn’t have a computer, so she’ll never know. Besides, caring about such things has long since become a thing of the past.

There were times while I was growing up that my mom had to be very much like a dad for me. Don’t misunderstand. I had a dad while growing up. But due to the nature of his job, there were many times when he just couldn’t be home and take time to spend with me in those “father/son” bonding activities. One event which has always stuck out in my mind was the time my mom decided to take me to the local speedway in Petaluma, CA where I grew up. It’s a 3/8 mile, semi-banked clay oval track. Now to appreciate the irony of this activity as I do, one would have to know my mom. She was pretty much the original girly-girl. Not materialistic in any way, but there was nothing about her to suggest she’d actually be into stock car racing. Finding my mom at a race track is slightly less likely than Snoop Dogg recording a CD of Willie Nelson cover tunes.

But that was my mom. She was always willing to take me to things and give me things that boys do and need, even if she didn’t understand or like it.

In the early stages of my parents’ 8 year term of living in Costa Rica, I came across a scene back home as I was walking through a school yard on my way to a softball practice. I saw a group of young boys, ranging anywhere from probably 6 years old through 15, playing basketball. I remember there were only 7 boys. You can’t have three on one team, and four on the other. So what did they do? Yep, someone’s mom was out there with them. She was wearing a long skirt and funky shoes which were clearly basketball inappropriate. She knew nothing of the game, evident by the way she played defense…when her team had the ball. But she was out there anyway…playing with her kids.

I literally had to stop…and broke down in tears. In fact, as I write this, my eyes are welling up. Why? This scene didn’t include my mom, but it reminded me of her in so many ways. Until that moment, when my mom was thousands of miles away living in a foreign country doing ministry for God, this scene demonstrated my mom’s love for me. Her devotion to me. Her commitment to make sure I could do all the things a little boy needs to have a healthy development.

Today, she is physically unable to participate in activities such as car races or basketball. Heck, she can’t even make me my favorite meal or dessert. Being unable to do things for others is the most difficult thing for my mother to accept. Having to rely on others to wait on her and take care of her is very difficult for her. She spent her life serving and taking care of others. The men whose lives were so well taken care of by this remarkable woman, must now take care of her. I’ll tell you more about my dad on Thursday, because that’s his birthday. But today is my mom’s day. Anything good in me came from her. Anything good in me is God’s reward to her.

Mom, you’ll never read this…but I hope my life and my love for you tells you that I remember everything you did for me. Everything you gave up for me. I never saw most of the tears I know you shed for me throughout my life when I had difficult times. Your strength in times of crisis has been an inspiration to me. Your tenderness and sacrifice to make sure others wanted for nothing is something I can only hope to emulate.

You are the standard by which all others are measured.

I love you. Happy Birthday.

25 Years; Getting Better All The Time

Last night in choir rehearsal, the director asked a simple question to the group. He asked how many in the room had been a Christian more than 20 years. The reason he asked was that a couple of weeks ago, when we last sang, he had a little trouble being convinced we were really believing what we were singing. It was a fantastic song, and we sang it well. But there is another part of communicating a message in addition to just getting the words and notes right. It’s in our sincere joy. Our sincere expression. Our sincere passion.

Then I started thinking of the amount of time it’s been in my life. I made a commitment in my life to serve the Lord in 1983. Some of you reading this may not completely understand what that phrase means, or what it means to me. Hopefully, if you know me, you understand that it doesn’t mean carrying a 25 pound bible under my arm and using it to beat people over the head with all it contains. Hopefully you have seen in me a man who is much like anyone else. I have struggles, I have victories…just like anyone else. I just wonder where I’d be if it weren’t for Him. Everything in my life, 25 years later, has a direct link to that single decision in 1983.

I began to think of the fact that, aside from my relationship with my parents, this is the longest everyday relationship I’ve ever been in. I know many people who have been married 25 years or more. Some have a rather ho hum attitude about their marriage and their spouse, while others still have this indescribable joy to be sharing their lives with their mate. Some complain about the quirks of their spouse, while others would admit their life would be devastatingly empty without their life mate being by their side.

As I began to assess my 25 year (and counting) relationship with Jesus, I can say that there have been many times we’ve disagreed on the way I think things should have gone. There have been times I felt He was being unfair. There have been times I’ve failed Him and broken His heart. There have been times where I was really mad at Him. There were times when I wondered if He really cared about me. There were times I wondered if He was even listening to me.

When thinking of all these things, I began to wonder why HE would still want to be in a relationship with me! The fact is, He loves me more than my simple human brain can comprehend. And the fact is, I love Him more today than I did 25 years ago. Heck, more than I did 25 days ago.

Life continues to have its challenges. I know it always will. But I know that as I continue to surrender myself to Him, He will make my paths straight, and He will come through just in time…every time. I’ve never known that the way I do now. I knew it in my head, but now I know it better in my heart. What a great relief it is to know He loves me unconditionally.

Writer’s Funk

I’ve never wanted to fall into the trap of feeling like I had to write something here. I mean, it’s not my job or anything. But it’s weird. I don’t like letting a lot of time go by without having something that stokes my heart and mind, yet, it seems that’s kind of where I am right now.

I’m feeling a little melancholy right now. I can’t blame it on gloomy weather or the change of seasons because it’s beautiful out, with temperatures in the 80s today. I think life, like seasons, is just kind of cyclical. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, you’re just in a good mood. Other times, for no obvious reason, you’re just kind of in a funk.

For the most part, I think I’m fine. I’m not walking around
all mopey and depressed or anything like that. I have so much to be thankful for, so much to look forward to. But at the same time, I’m having to consciously rise above the instinct to just kind of emotionally endure the day. I’m pretty sure I know why I’m in this little slump, but I think I’ll just kind of keep that between God and myself for now.

Nothing personal.

The key for me is to hang on to the sense of expectancy that I’m on the verge of some really good things. I have to admit, right now I’m really having to dig a little deeper to keep that in view.

The power of Zero

The number zero is often, and logically seen as representing…well, nothing. When we begin counting things, we always start with one. People think one is the beginning. In reality, it all starts from zero.

A quick example to illustrate my point. When we see a Space Shuttle launch, we wait with great anticipation as we watch the countdown. Five, four, three, two, one…we have liftoff! If you watch the giant digital clock at launches, you see negative numbers as it counts down, then positive numbers as it times the length of the mission following liftoff. To go from sitting on the launch pad to hurtling into space and orbiting this great planet, it had to go through zero.

I enjoy war movies. Yeah, I’m a guy. Sue me. But if you’ve ever seen the movie Full
Metal Jacket, you have undoubtedly seen the famous tirades of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, played by R. Lee Ermey. While the scenes of Hartman berating his recruits offered awkwardly memorable and even humorous quotes, it was an accurate portayal of how and where men off the streets were stripped down to nothing. Stripped of their identities, their histories, their egos, their individuality…everything. From that point, they could then be built up into Marines.

We are in a powerful place when we are at zero. Being at the end of ourselves is where God begins. Sometimes we start to act on our own strength, and we end up needing to undo the stuff we’ve done that God never intended for us. This can be awkward, even painful.

Today is a day of renewal. What areas in your home are cluttered with stuff that has accumulated over time. Your garage? Your office? It’s tough to move around in a cluttered room, isn’t it? It’s even hard to add things which can be really good, even necessary, into a room that is overstuffed. What about the areas in your life? Has work consumed you? Church activities? Seeking social outlets? Bad relationships? Even good things can overtake our lives and schedules and keep us from quality time with God and our families.

Now is the time to find the power of zero. From there, great things can happen.