Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Scrabble

Have you ever played the game Scrabble? You remember how the game goes. . . dozens of beige wooden tiles spread out on the board. Each is impressed with a letter of the alphabet. Each letter is assigned a value. Infrequently used consonants have the most worth. You choose seven tiles at random and try to make words with your alphabet concoction. Shuffling letters back and forth, you arrange them into whatever combination of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, or prepositions your tiles reveal. Not just any word will do, you want to put the most valuable word down, because the Scrabble board itself is a matrix designed to reward your ability to put the right words in the right place. Also, you must find ways to connect your words with the words of others in the same game.

For me, the writing process is much like Scrabble; it's about using letters to make words, but not just any words. I want to put together as few words as possible that merge into thoughts and perspective that capture my experiences on the matrix board of living out life.

So I shuffle words. Write them down. Read them. Reread them. Rewrite them. Edit them for grammar and spelling. Then, return to them again, and again to censor what I've written! Why? Journaling usually has a lot of ME in it and could be interpreted as narcissistic. Understandable. Perhaps it is.

OK, call me stupid, but how do you master the art of writing about your life and journey without writing about your life and journey? Communicating what speaks to your senses, and what speaks to your spirit just can't be completely stuffed away in your inner space. Deep inside, your life--anyone's life--is a story worth telling. Writing builds a connection between people who may not even know each other.

A friend of mine, who also loves to write, described journaling succinctly, Writing cleanses the soul. All would probably agree on this one thing . . . the soul can become choked, cluttered, scattered, badly soiled and in need of cleansing. Writing leaves me feeling cleansed, yet choosing the words is a difficult process. I can arrange consonants and vowels into any form from any words in the English language. I can even put down words that would be best left off the board.

That being said, I am reminded of Sandy and me playing Scrabble with Justin and Josh when they were just kids. They could not resist the urge to put words like snot, poop, boogers, fart, peeing, puking, etc. on the board. . . they thought they were being funny. On second thought they, too, were using cleansing words.

Anyway . . .

Scrabble, anyone?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Two Easters

On Easter morning, we repacked our gear and headed for the border crossing. . . I was over 10,000 miles from the beautiful sanctuary where I normally proclaim God's Word, sitting beside a large river that forms the boundary of two countries. On one side of that river is religious freedom and on the other side, Christianity is violently opposed.

I have seen the sunrise on many an Easter morning, yet the events and memories of most of them are vague: what we ate that morning (probably ham); what we wore (probably dress-up clothes); what the weather was like (more than likely chilly); who was beside me when we took the elements (probably parents, wife and kids, or surrounded by deacons), and where we went after the service concluded (most likely to our parents' or some friends'). For the most part I cannot recall vivid memories.

But on Easter morning, 2005 . . .

Our bus ride through Laos, which should have taken 6 hours, has turned into a 13 hour odyssey. We are at the border crossing, but it is closed for the day. Once again, we tramp from hostel to hostel trying to find a place to rest our weary bodies. Once again, we go to bed very late, and trust God to work out any details. We have been out of communication with our U.S. contact for about 36 hours. It's a little nerve-wracking.

Now, even before the border opens, we are foraging at a little hole-in-the-wall cafe for something to eat. Melancholy thunderclouds are building in my spirit. I miss my wife, kids, and spiritual family back in the southeast. But equally heavy is this: the greatest adventure of my life is drawing to a close.

Though where I stand it is Easter morning, Christianity's holiest of Holy Days won't arrive in the U.S for another 13 hours, Eastern Standard Time. Shuffling 360 degrees in my beaten, muddy hiking shoes confirms there are no tall-steepled churches to be seen. None! Yet, I have no doubt that within a stone's throw Christians, driven underground for their own safety, are about to break bread and drink from the cup.

As sunlight emerges from beyond the horizon we, too, want to celebrate the Lord's resurrection . . . on Communist soil. From the makeshift cafe' we have a loaf of bread to symbolize the broken body of Christ. We have mango juice and coffee to represent the shed blood of Christ. Each of us have Scripture committed to memory. So we take the elements and pray. Our act of worship ascends into God's presence as a sweet sacrifice.

The Journey has ended. Mission completed.

Down at the river we climb into long skinny boats awaiting to ferry us to freedom's side of the Mekong River. Even from halfway across the the river we can see our friends gathered, elated and relieved that we are safe and within sight. Little children are excitedly running up and down the shoreline. I believe all eight Roadmakers feel like returning heroes--our lives forever changed . . .

To the present - Easter Morning, April 24, 2011

My sister, Barb messaged me this morning and said, "I wonder what Dad's first Easter in heaven is like?" My response, "I can only imagine." On the 29th of April it will be a month since he was safely ferried from foreign to eternal soil. Since that brief exchange with my sister, the refrains of an old and folksy gospel song come to mind.

This world is not my home. I'm just a passin' through. My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven's open door, and I can't feel at home in this world anymore. . .

Dad, you were the last of your family to break camp and make the crossing. In your last days on earth, like so many that fade into that thin place between the temporal and eternal, you had eyes to see things and ears to hear things to which we remained blind and deaf. Often you reached out to an unseen hand or called out to your "Papa" and mother. To your younger brother Skip. To your sisters.

I thought of the little children that excitedly welcomed the Roadmakers back from their journey on that Easter in 2005. In heaven, I imagine there was a little guy named Glendon running up and down eternal shores, wide-eyed, glad that his hero-father had finally come home . . .

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Space

Last Sunday evening Sandy got a call from our health club from one of our employees. He wanted her to know that a man had collapsed while on the treadmill and that he had called 911. Health club or no, such things happen from time-to-time, and it is standard procedure to alert EMS and have them provide the professionalism exceeding that of a first responder. Sandy got the details and we were satisfied that everything was under control. I called a few minutes later, and things had taken a drastic turn for the worst. Now, two nurses who had been working out, had rushed to the fallen man's side giving him CPR, then AED to resuscitate him as he lay sprawled on the floor. EMS had just joined the life saving effort. Sandy and I jumped in our vehicles and sped off for the club. When we arrived we learned the man had died. The club was empty.

Strange events then began to unravel around the situation. First, our employee was new, so he was not sure who the man was. He had already begun going through our daily stats (every member is checked in and we have a picture ID of them), and wasn't sure which of the many male members that he scrolled through was him. The body had already been removed, so I asked for a description of the deceased. Was he: caucasian or a person of color; his approximate height and age; was he obese or skinny, etc) and began going through the process myself. Based on the description, I was quite certain I had pinpointed the person we were trying to identify, but I still wasn't absolutely sure. Simultaneously we had someone in the men's locker room looking for any ID that may have been left in a locker. Nothing. Checking the around the treadmill where he collapsed, and actually pulling it out into the middle of the floor, we searched to see if his cell phone, or keys, had skittered under it. Nothing. We went out to the parking lot and began checking the vehicles that remained in our general parking area. Through the process of elimination we stood before the only unidentified vehicle, a small pickup truck. Doors locked. Cupping my hands against the tinted windows, peering in I could see nothing helpful. The truck bed had one of those snap-down covers, so we popped it open and looked for something that would provide a clue. Nothing.

The coroner arrived, so once again we swept the club in search of confirming ID. At the treadmill, it occurred to me that following the chaos, the wrong treadmill may have been identified. It had been. It was the one to the right, and in the cup holder was a set of keys, and on the key ring was the name of the deceased.

At most times many in the club knew our 51 years old member, and everyone liked the guy. But that night not a single person knew him, and he died in the midst of strangers.

When he joined the gym I distinctly remember him telling me of stints that had recently been put in his heart. "It's my wake-up call. I've changed my diet. Already lost 40 few pounds. I'm gonna take better care of himself." George pledged to me.

That night after I crawled into bed a haunting hounded me. Recurring thoughts of entering the pickup vehicle (after we found the keys), intimated that I had violated sacred space looking for proof-positive to identify the deceased. The moment was surreal. Leaning across the passenger seat the span of my arm could reach any point in the cab. Slowly and visually I swept that little space, maybe 2.5X4.5 feet, then opened the glove box. Neat and orderly, but no registration to be found. Coiling from the cigarette lighter, was a phone charger with a phone on the end of it. I lit the screen. Nothing. Next, flipping open the console, the first thing I saw was a bottle of hand sanitizer, a CD, and a couple of receipts. And there, standing on its edge, against the wall of the console, was a wallet. I said to the coroner, "Here's what we have been looking for."

Drained, I just wanted to go to sleep, but sleep would have nothing to do with me. Soon I found myself looking at the things that were in my space. A space about the same as the cab of Georges' truck. To my left, Sandy, my wife of 33 years dreamed and slept. I am not alone. To my right were books. . .

Guns, God, and Rock'n' Roll by Ted Nugent
Senior Year-A Father, A Son, And High School Baseball by Dan Shaughnesy
Deep Survival-Who lives, Who Dies, and Why" by Laurence Gonzales,
Jesus Calling a devotional
Booker T. Washington-American Hero-BTW Society
NIV Bible with SaultoPaul embossed on the cover,
Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
Common Sense by by Thomas Paine
Revolution In World Missions by K P Yohannon
Radical by David Pratt
Backpacker magazine

Books . . . each one with a page dogeared to let me know where I left off reading. Some barely started. Some half read. Some just perused. Some almost finished. Some finished. Some I have read multiple times. All being read simultaneously.

In my space, no more than the span of my reach, are the clues that lead me to an understanding of my true identity. For any and all who read this post, I would encourage and you to check your space? Most likely, somewhere in your physical world are clues. Be quiet, and like a sleuth studying evidence let the evidence speak. It will not lead you to believe you are who others want you to be, or the person you may think you have convinced others you are. Instead, there will be a trail of clues that tell you who you really are. That's what I found in my space. . .

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Adventure And Art

Knowing how stingy sleep had been to share its restoring power with my father, I sat quietly at the foot of his bed, rather than waken him. Since I last saw him at Christmas, his plethora of illnesses steadily followed its consuming processes leaving him a shadow of his former self. In his morphine induced condition his still giant hands (size 21 wedding band - which is 10.5 sizes larger than an average man) constantly fiddled with the oxygen tube that puffed its breathe into each nostril. Paper thin, as fragile as tissue, his skin clung tightly to his cheek bones. L-shaped splints padded with cotton and wound with ace bandages covered the soles of his feet and calfs protecting them from painful ulcers that grew larger as dad shrunk and grew weaker. Cards and notes covered the walls. Family pictures and colorful floral arrangements covered the nightstand. Dad was surrounded by expressions of love and encouragement.

Sitting there, I began to time-travel in my thoughts and emotions. Sometimes I was the 10 year old boy following his father through the woods as he followed deer tracks on freshly fallen snow. Memories of clutching my weapon - a 38/40 carbine, so old it had a saddle ring - were so vivid my heart began to race as I relived my first hunting experience that took place four and a half decades ago. There were flashbacks of watching his ballgames and him watching my ballgames. Times when as adults we played the game together: he pitched, and I caught. Though a physical man of extraordinary toughness and a war hero, my father had a melancholy artistic side revealed through his sketching, drawing, and painting. Just about any flat surface in the house had some evidence of Dad's doodling. For several years he attempted to formally cultivate his latent talent through art lessons. Interestingly, the requirement to sketch a nude model, dad's loss of interest in lessons, and his decision to quit happened simultaneously. My mom may have weighed-in on that decision.

Dad sometimes woke up under a dark cloud. Along with a love for the outdoors and physical activity, we share a melancholy and artistic temperament. I try to sketch and paint with words, and like my father, my melancholy is a strong current running through me. I am quite familiar with awakening under a dark cloud.

Sitting there in the silence, it struck me for the first time that Burleigh Shorey in his truest self was a man who loved Adventure and was an outdoorsman as much as time would allow. Being the truly quiet man he was, I believe it was through Art Dad longed to sketch, paint, and draw pictures to replace thousands of words he found so hard to articulate.

Since then, I've come to realize that, more than any other factor in my life, who my father is has most greatly molded who I am. Adventure and Art were at his core - Wilderness and Words are at mine. Now it all makes sense: why I spent 30 years of my adult life in pulpits--both in the US and in foreign countries--trying, with color and passion, to communicate the Word; why I began that Wilderness journey to pioneer new churches and inspire other sojourners to brave the rough and tumble advancement of the Kingdom.

In death, Dad shook off every hindrance to pursue his earthbound dreams. No longer does he yearn for adventure, he is enjoying an endless Adventure. Now, the frustrated artist is himself a master and a masterpiece.