Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Best Birthday Gift Ever

I often miss things that are right in front of me. I can be standing in the middle of the railroad tracks, and not see the train bearing down one me. Those people always catching on to things just a split second after everyone else? Meet the poster child.

So let me break this very long story down into a bite sized segment for you, because it's really good stuff. This morning I preached on "Four Enemies of Faith." One of those enemies is trusting in what you see, rather than what the Holy Spirit confirms in your heart. After all, II Corinthians 5:7 says that we walk by faith, not by sight.

Nearly 27 years ago, my mother died in a horrible head on car-bicycle accident. Just the day before, mom and I had been having a small argument about the clothes I wore, the choices I was making, and the lack of direction in my life. She wanted better things for her son. She wanted me to let her know when I came home safely from work, even if it meant waking her up. She worried. After she died, God answered my prayer about her salvation when he led me to her Bible. She had written on the inside cover - "Be Saved, Romans 10:9." I knew her future was secure.

Fast forward about 25 years. I was looking through her Bible not too long ago and found a bookmark with her name on it. I assume it's in the last passage she read. So I opened to Psalms 91 and read the verse she had circled, "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." I was furious. For the first time, I blamed God for taking her. If He really promised that He would protect her, then where was He that night? Why did He let her die in that accident? Why would He lead her to that scripture only to allow her be killed? I knew better, but I was still very angry with God. However, His Holy Spirit within me told me I had to let the anger go and walk by faith. But the questions prevailed.

Fast forward again to last Thursday. Five times I began writing five different sermons. Nothing stuck. Every Pastor who has preached for any length of time understands that frustration, but this was like hitting a brick wall over and over. It was late Friday night before I finally had the message about faith. As I studied scripture, I was reminded again of my anger over what I found in mom's Bible. That's when God dropped the answer in my heart like a mighty anchor. We walk by faith, not by sight. That verse from Psalms 91 wasn't bookmarked by accident. It wasn't there for mom.

It was meant for me.

God had it there for me to find. He reminded me that through the years, when I wandered from the faith, when my marriage was on the brink, when I came back to God only to nearly throw it all away again when the enemy attacked, He was there to see me through. God has been more faithful and kind to me than I could ever deserve. God answered my mom's prayers. He DID command His angels to guard me. As tragic as the night was, and as much as I wish I could go back and make it all right again, the circumstances have shaped me and molded me into the man I am today. I understand that now. I see it by faith.

So this morning as I fought back the tears, I shared that story with my church family. I did my best to connect my experience with theirs. My prayer is that it helped someone in their faith walk. But you know, God wasn't through putting His exclamation point on His message. My wife teaches Kid's church, and rarely gets to sit in on our worship services. So as I was sharing this story with her at home tonight (and she understood the point before I even got to the good part) I suddenly stopped short. "Do you know," I said, "that mom would have been 70 years old today?" I preached that whole sermon without realizing... today was mom's birthday.

Typical of my mother. She gave me the gift instead.

Friday, February 25, 2011

May I Just Say... Yum?

Someone, somewhere, on some blog I recently read had a very interesting essay on the identities we create online. I'm not talking about some idiot stalker who pretends to be someone he or she is not, but rather how we can mold or shape our own identities into who we would like to be; who we would like others to think we are. Are we truly honest with others, and to a larger extent, with ourselves now that social networking has shrunk the world even smaller?

Years ago I worked for an "oldies" radio station where I created my own on-air persona just for fun. I had our listeners absolutely convinced that I was the world's biggest fan of Bobby Darin. We played it up, too. We raised money for charity by urging listeners to have me sing "Mack the Knife" on the air. I would always introduce Bobby as the "Undisputed King of Rock n' Roll." Bobby's official web site dubbed me, "The Most Dedicated Darin Fan Ever." We even built a Bobby Darin shrine in the studio lobby. A pregnant listener swore she was going to give birth to her baby there. I don't know why. She didn't.

A few years later, I moved on to a country station, where I supposedly fell in love with Sara Evans. I made it an on-air quest to meet her, which I finally did when I bought myself backstage into a meet and greet that lasted all of 30 seconds. I got front row tickets to another concert where I wore a t-shirt that read, "Yes, My World Really Does Revolve Around Sara Evans." And to our listeners, it probably seemed that way.

As a Youth Pastor, it was Mark Schultz. Don't even get me started on that one. My youth group must have known human videos to nearly every song he recorded.

But here's the thing. Those "identities" really did creep into my personal life. I have more Bobby Darin, Mark Schultz, and Sara Evans CD's, photos, autographs and assorted stuff than I know what to do with. I still listen to Bobby and Sara regularly. It's hard to let go of the fun of it all, even though I'm officially retired from radio.

So is it any wonder that now, in this vast world of social networking, there's a whole new identity? Really, I didn't expect the pancake thing to take off like it did. A certain someone we'll call "The Drama Queen Who Shall Not Be Named" tacked the nickname "Pancake Head" on me. Not very original I know, but it's the best she could do. I suppose it was easier to spell that "Pancake Connoisseur." At any rate, the identity stuck, and here I am. Problem is, like Bobby and Sara, I've adopted the identity. I've come up with more odd ways to cook a pancake than Bobby Flay has to barbeque a hot dog. And you know what? That's okay. It really is. You see, when I die I hope people gather around my ashes before my wife sprinkles them off the top of the White River Lighthouse and say, "You know, Pastor Tim was a hoot. He sure enjoyed a good pancake, didn't he?" And then they'll laugh. I hope they laugh heartily.

That, my friends, would be an awesome legacy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why Not IHOP Instead?

I really don't like dreaming.

I don't get the funny little dreams about flying, walking around school in my skivvies, or being back together with a long-lost love where everything is sunshine and roses. No... I dream about making french fries at a fast-food restaurant. I don't even eat there, and it's not because of the greasy food, either. No, this is just another in a series of those nutty dreams I have because I'm trying to improve my life, and fear tries to rule the day.

We had our first intercessory prayer meeting at church last night, and I prayed for the strength to lose the weight I've recently gained back. It's been a struggle all my life, but I had it under control for a number of years. Well, I tried to fit into my favorite suit coat (which I wear about twice a year) last Sunday, and... nothing doing. That baby wasn't even close to being buttoned. That was a wake-up call. So I asked my friends for prayer, and to join with me in believing I can conquer this nasty demon once again.

So what happens? I dreamed that I was hired at a greasy fast food joint, working the fryer. I had some sort of weird teenage co-worker who took orders from the drive thru, while I filled the bags. Most of the time I had to go track him down and tell him there was a car in the drive-thru, because he was in a back room watching television. One of the orders was even returned undercooked. I didn't do it, by the way. I was in charge of the greasy fries.

Anyway, our "restaurant" also had an exercise program. It was part of some winter contest to see whose business could lose the most weight. Our place was working in teams. Of course, I was paired with the lazy co-worker, who wouldn't exercise. So, I munched on a sugary peanut butter cookie instead. Nice.

So hopefully, I'm awake now... although I fear I'm having a dream within a dream again, and I'm going to wake up to find all this typing was useless. But if I am truly awake, then I have conquered the first hurdle of the morning: Breakfast! I had a dry piece of fat-free wheat toast and a bowl of corn flakes with skim milk. Now I'm off to the gym to walk a mile or two, and then I'll head to work to consume large quantities of coffee with fat free creamer.

The pancakes will have to wait.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

From the Corners of My Mind

These are the thoughts that keep me up at night...

What's the deal with Betty White? She's everywhere all of a sudden. If I fall off the radar screen, I hope I can make a comeback when I'm pushing 90.

I wish that the church would get as excited about Romans Chapter 8 as I am. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in us! Are you kidding me? That makes me want to earn the title "Holy Roller" in a very literal manner. Look out church... Pastor is taking laps around the pews! Imagine what the church could do if we really took hold of that amazing truth.

Why hasn't Dee Gordon been promoted to the majors yet? So what if he only weighs 102 pounds dripping wet? The kid can play some serious ball!

Living peaceably among all men is turning out to be a lot tougher than I thought, especially with all the political upheaval from Wisconsin in the news. I want so badly to weigh in with my opinion, but two things stop me. I promised no politics on the blog this time around, and I have too many teacher friends that I don't want to offend.

Did I just say too much anyway?

Are they going to give CSI an Emmy for bumping off "She who shall not be named?"

This was the first morning in years that I really felt fat. My New Year's Resolution to lose 30 pounds is going in the wrong direction. I couldn't put my favorite suit coat on this morning. *Sigh* What's missing in my life that I'm filling with food? I know I have to answer that question to take control.

I'm afraid of the answer.

Very. Afraid.

You know what else scares me? Looking in a mirror at night.

My wife has had my last name longer than she had her maiden name. I apologized for that today, and she just shrugged. Her maiden name was among the most common in the U.S. Ours gets misspelled constantly.

Really bad grammar is like nails on a chalkboard. You didn't seen the snow today. You saw it. And by the way, does anyone on Facebook under the age of 30 know the difference between "you're" and "your?" How about "there," "their," and "they're?"

And one final thing... I really wish my blog posts were more positive. I'm trying, really I am. I tend to digress toward things that bug me.

Like Betty White.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Doggone It, Anyway...

How did I hit this jackpot? Not only am I raising a son with autism, I have a dog with A.D.D.

Seriously, I've never seen anything like this mutt. She just... doesn't... get it. She's 9 years old this month, and I still can't keep her from digging into the garbage to chew on used Kleenex. I took my son for a short car ride this morning, and came back to find a pile of chewed up tissue on the bedroom floor. Of course, when I confronted the dog she started shaking like a leaf. Just one word is all I have to say... "kennel!" She marches right into her little home away from home and stays there brooding until I settle down and let her back out again. When she gets out, it will be like nothing ever happened, and she'll start begging me to scratch her butt. Not gonna happen, but it doesn't stop her from asking. Ick. Just... ick. Oh, did I mention the bird seed? No matter how many times she's been warned, she still likes to lick up the seed that falls from the feeder in the front yard. She'll be throwing it up later, but it doesn't stop her.

Yes, it would be unfair to compare her to the dogs I've had before... Peanut, Snickers, or Rascal. Especially Rascal. She was our kid, at least until our son was born. My other dogs were exceptional. This one though, is just annoying. She has never been able to remember the simplest of instructions. If my wife or I tell her "no," she will stop begging about the third time she's told. But 2 minutes later, she's forgotten and she's right back at it. We've tried to reason with her. "Freckles, you're not getting my dinner. The answer is no, it's always been no, and it will always BE no!" Nothing. Nada. It's like talking to a brick wall. After 9 years, you would think she would finally get it! Nope. She still holds out hope.

And it's not like we don't take care of the mutt. We feed her well. We try to pet her and play with her, but she starts in on the butt scratching thing every time. She has her own singing treat jar that plays, "Who Let the Dogs Out?" It's the one thing she does understand. Whenever the jar opens, she tears toward the kitchen like greased lightning. She's allowed to sleep on the big bed. She has her own bed in the living room. But does she use it? No... she finds a pillow or blanket to curl up on and lick until there's a big wet spot. What's so tasty about a blanket?

I've tried to give her away. The answer I get? "Oh, she's cute. But I don't want her either!" Yeah. Now she's getting older. Can't give her away, and I'm too much of a softy to put her down before her time. But I have a feeling that this will be the dog who lives to be 20.

I'm just afraid she'll drive me to the nuthouse first.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Back in My Day, Sonny...

I've become an "Old Fogey" before my time.

Admittedly, I've often joked that I was born in the wrong generation, even though I know that God has purposed me to be here "for such a time as this." In many ways, it's an exciting time to be alive. But I find myself increasingly frustrated as I try to live out my values in a postmodern society where anything goes. Stand up for values that are clearly based on scripture, and you're called intolerant, or worse yet - you're unfairly labeled a hater. I can tell a teen or a 20-something that the sky is blue, and they'll argue that it's red, because red makes them happier. Truth can be whatever makes them content... truth can be whatever they want it to be. Two plus two can equal five, as long as that's what you want. Wouldn't want to offend you by insisting that the answer is really four.

I long to escape to a simpler time. My man-cave is my sanctuary, filled with old radios, a Victrola, Edison Amberola, and reminders of a bygone day when values meant something. I long for an era that passed by before I was born! The raciest thing on the air was Jack Benny. It was the time when Lucy couldn't say "pregnant" on her television show. Not only can you now say it on TV, they'll show you the steps it takes to get that way.

But I know I can't escape permanently. Nor should I. James 1:2 says, "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy." (NLT). What a strange way of thinking. But the Bible always has turned conventional wisdom of the 21st Century upside down while giving it a good shake. If Christ suffered for his faith and for standing up for what's right, then I can give 1/1000,000th of what he did. The fact is, Christians have a job to do, and we can't run or back down from truth. In our "can't we all get along?" world we have to own up to the fact that no, we're not all going to get along. Not as long as there is sin and deception running rampant. But we can respond to a deceived and broken world as Christ did... with the truth, and in love.

As long as I have my man cave to run home to, I'll be fine.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Symphony of Autism

This morning I'm reminded of a favorite line spoken by Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland's Opus. As his wife massaged his back following a long day at work he said, "This is definitely not my gig, Iris." After only his first day on the job as a music teacher he was exhausted, discouraged, and beyond hope that he could ever teach a classroom of High School kids anything worthwhile. In short, it was not what he had signed up for.

I hear ya, Mr. Holland. Loud and clear. I hear you every morning that my 14-year old son wakes us up in the middle of the night because he can't sleep more than a few hours at a time. I hear you when my wife and I pass each other in the hallway with barely a mumble because we're too tired to communicate. I hear you when my son is stomping and screaming because he wants a car ride, it's 5 minutes before the school bus is going to arrive, and he has no other way to communicate his frustration. I hear you when I'm changing his pants because my teenager isn't potty trained, and may never be. In the movie, the Hollands raised a son with a hearing disability. And every time I watch the scene where Mrs. Holland screams, "I don't care what it costs, I don't care what some dumb doctor says, I want to talk to my son!" I cry in frustration. I get it.

Raising a child with autism isn't what I signed up for. An hour ago, I was sound asleep... but Zachary wanted breakfast. This just happened to be my day to get out of bed. As exhausted as I am from the weekend, my wife is just as tired. We had a good weekend; a healthy weekend both personally and professionally. But there's no time to celebrate; we have a job to do. We have a son that demands our attention 24/7.

It's funny the things that pop into your head this early in the morning (or late at night, take your pick). Call it God-inspired, or just my head working overtime, but I never made the connection before between Mr. Holland and the poem that has brought me through this incredible journey with autism so many times. It was written by Emily Perl Kingsley and it's called, interestingly enough, "Welcome to Holland." Emily, you nailed it.

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

Happy Valentine's Day, Zachary. I love you, kiddo.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

5 Days That Changed My Life

This is not shameless self-promotion. On the contrary, today's post is about some friends of mine thousands of miles from home.

It has only been four months since I spent 5 days at Mission of Hope just outside of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, but it seems like a lifetime. I miss the people terribly. It's still hard to comprehend how a few short days left such a mark on my life. That's my personality, I suppose. I promised my wife long before I left for the missions trip that I wouldn't allow Haiti, and especially the children "get to me." Well, I've shattered that promise to bits through no intentional fault of my own. I can't get rid of the images of hungry kids, grieving mothers, lines of desperate folks clamoring for a bag of rice, and hard-working people who only want an opportunity... a chance at normalcy. I still feel the sting of tears when I recall the beautiful sounds of children praising Jesus at Church of Hope in a language I didn't understand, yet it sang to my heart like no song I've heard before.

And so I long to go back. I long to dirty my hands and build a home. I long to hug a kid, and pray for them. I want to see how my friend Argon is doing in his new house. I want to know if Monica's baby lived. I want to share another laugh with the man whose prized possession was the machete he used to keep his tent village free of nasty weeds. But it's all in God's good timing.

For now, there is something I can do. There is something you can do. I've made a commitment to support Mission of Hope through sales of my book, "God Could You Turn Up the Volume?" I don't keep a penny... every cent of profit after paying off the publisher goes directly to Mission of Hope. We used the book for a three-month study in our Christian Education classes. It makes for a good small group study book. You won't find deep theological truths... but you will find hope and gain a better understanding of what it means to slow down, take a breath, and listen to God speak into your life. I believe you'll be a stronger Christian for having read the book. I believe in it, because I believe God gave me the opportunity to put down the words.

So click on the picture on your right. Get a copy. Get several. Not for me, but for my friends.

They need us.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What I Did This Winter

Okay, so my last post was the least popular to date. I think I'll lighten up and stop complaining about the world, at least for a while.

So. We're into the second week of the second month. Cabin fever has set in a little too early for me this year. I'm a couple weeks ahead of schedule. Trouble is, there's no place in Michigan where I can run to get away from the ice and snow. I sure can't afford to go any further south. So here I sit, waiting for Opening Day of the Loons baseball season in April. Fortunately, I have my seats reserved. Here's hoping I can fit back into my jersey by then.

What have I accomplished so far this winter? Very, very little. We kept Christmas in the closet this year. No tree, decorations, or gifts. It was actually very relaxing and stress-free, just enjoying dinner with the family. Well, that part is never entirely stress-free. But it was tolerable. We had our own little annual New Year's Eve party for two with pigs in a blanket and sparkling grape juice at midnight. Broke my 40 day coffee fast at 12:00:30 a.m. Slept through the Super Bowl and didn't care. Let's see... I got bored and spray painted "free snow" on the 7 foot pile at the end of my driveway. So far, no takers.

And that's about it. Is it any wonder cabin fever has set in? At least when summer comes around, I can relax in the backyard swing with a cold iced tea and watch the grass grow.

That is, unless the sun burns it all away.

Monday, February 7, 2011

E.T. Phone Home... Now!

It's official... I've become an alien on my own planet.

It's no surprise, really. The Bible says we are aliens and strangers in this world. I just didn't think that the truth of it all would hit me as hard as it did this morning. As I was getting ready for work, I watched in disgust as the Today Show promoted the newest hot song among young people, called "F--- You." Yes, they promoted it. There's a stark difference between reporting and outright promotion. The so-called singer of this monster hit said he allows his ten-year old to listen to the song, but he's not allowed to say the word. Please spare me. If it's not okay for the kid, why is it okay for Dad? There's no shame there. What a double standard.

I don't understand a world that promotes and celebrates that kind of garbage. I don't understand a world that thinks the Faith Hill Superbowl commercial was even remotely funny. I don't understand why it's offensive to air a commercial that might cause someone to open a Bible and hear a truth. I just don't understand the world I live in anymore. Sure, some back in the 1950's were offended by the music of Elvis. I get that. But there's a stark difference between Elvis Presley singing, "I Love You, I Need You, I Want You," and Kid Rock or Eminem giving us the disgusting details.

I guess that's why John wrote,
"We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one" (I John 5:19). I, for one need that assurance that God is still in control, and He will still have the final word.

And I won't be ashamed to listen to it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Time Passages

I once asked a co-worker how long it would take before I'm no longer considered a "Flatlander." That's the nickname those of us who live in northern Michigan tag on the thousands of tourists who invade God's country on the weekends. She said that in order to be a true northerner, you have to live up here as long as you lived down there.

Phooey. I'm calling it good right now. Next month marks exactly 20 years since my wife and I took a giant leap of faith and left southeast Michigan for the great northeast. I think I can safely say I've made my mark on my new home. Better yet, northern Michigan has made its mark on me. Yeah, it's been an interesting ride. Twenty years ago, I began a news department at a small, 3,000 watt radio station in the middle of nowhere, and within two years won "Station of the Year" from the Associated Press. Our son was born here. I played Santa Claus in the downtown Christmas Parade for ten years running, until I turned my life around and lost 135 pounds. As part of a great morning radio team, we raised money for fireworks, cancer prevention, and local little league teams. I served four years on the local school board, two of them as Vice-President. I tutored underprivileged kids, served several years on the local Arts Council, joined the Optimists Club and taught 4-H. I was part of the broadcast team that called the game as our local football team won its first state championship at the Pontiac Silverdome. My wife and I were privileged to be invited by our State Representative to sit on the House floor during Governor Engler's final State of the State address. I've mentored young people as a job coach and later as a Youth Pastor. I called it quits on my radio career after 25 years and began serving God after graduating from Bible School. When God called us to take an even bigger leap of faith and help to rescue a failing church, we found the true calling; the reason He ordained us to be here in the first place. Next week, my wife will be honored as our fellowship's "2011 Michigan Sunday School Teacher of the Year." What a ride. I'm not bragging... we've been blessed. Very blessed.

I shudder to think of the people we never would have met, the adventures we never would have had if we hadn't made that decision two decades ago to pack up and move. Sure, part of my heart will always be back downstate. That's natural. I grew up there. But the truth is, I matured up here.

In the months after we first moved, I would roll down my window while swerving to avoid deer and yell loudly at the passing motorists heading back downstate on Sunday afternoons, "Enjoy the ride. I get to stay here!" I'm more convinced than ever it's for good. I love the north country.

I'm home.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's a Blizzaster!

It's days like this that I am especially glad I gave up on my radio career. Normally, I would have been in my driveway digging out at 4 a.m. from the foot-high drifts in order to drive like a maniac through the snow to tell people they need to stay off the roads. Never mind the constant ringing of the telephone from parents and kids calling in to find out if they have school at the same time I'm on the air reading the school closings.

But as I watched news coverage of the "Blizzard of Twenty Eleven" this morning, I was more than just amused at the coverage. I was appalled, even embarrassed by the sheer idiocy of the reporting. Here are just a few examples:

Reporter: "It's a blizzaster!"

Reporter: "AAA says that everyone should stay off the roads today." 15 seconds later, the camera cut to a shot of the same reporter driving down the road with someone from AAA in the passenger seat describing how bad the roads are.

Reporter to driver: "How's the roads?"
Driver to reporter: "Slippery"
Reporter: "There you have it!"

Reporter to caller: We have a Mrs. Bugg on the phone, who tried to get out this morning. Mrs. Bugg, are you there? Mrs. Bugg? (Silence) Well, Mrs. Bugg was telling me earlier that she got stuck. If Mrs. Bugg is staying home, you should too.

And my personal favorite of the day (I swear this is true). Posted as a crawl along the bottom of the screen: "This just in to the newsroom: roads are slippery!"