When a thread….Part 3

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A different shade of Blue(s)… or how two victory parades will always represent life and death…and life, to me and my bride.

St. Louisans had a historic moment to share when the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup on Wednesday, June 12.  Without telling my own version of a similar story told by so many about that night, about how my family screamed and shouted, how over the past many months my wife became a hockey fan and fell in love with the boys in blue and can explain the “forecheck” better than most, I’ll simply say one thing we knew was that we were going to the victory parade.

The last time we went to a victory parade of this stature was when the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 2011.  That was a life-changing time for us and not because of the World Series. Let’s do a quick recap….

Thursday, October 27th, 2011: Game 6 – The David Freese Game – I will always remember Nikki buckling at the knees when Freese hit THE triple.  So great.

Friday, October 28th, 2011: Game 7 – The Cardinals win the series – Almost anti-climactic. You just knew after Game 6 they were going to win it.

Sunday, October 30th, 2011: St. Louis Cardinals World Series Victory Parade – It was a great St. Louis moment for us.  A great, great memory.

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But it was secondary.  It paled in comparison. The St. Louis Cardinals, the atmosphere, the excitement of being in the middle of such a great celebration really didn’t mean all that much to us…comparatively speaking.   

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Oh wait…I missed a day.  What in the world happened on Saturday, October 29th that made those other three days look so insignificant? Let’s fill in the blank.

Thursday, October 27th, 2011:  Game 6 – The David Freese Game 

Friday, October 28th, 2011: Game 7 – The Cardinals win the series 

Saturday, October 29th, 2011: The pregnancy test revealed a “+” sign.

Sunday, October 30th, 2011: St. Louis Cardinals World Series Victory Parade 

We’ll always remember those four days.  To feel so alive for what was to come, enjoying the parade and the excitement of the city, thinking really hard for the first time in my life… “how in the world does one actually change a diaper?!”  So many mixed emotions.

Like so many in St. Louis, a large number of my childhood memories are tied up in the St. Louis Cardinals.

Listening to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon calling the games on the radio as the sun went down on yet another of so many summer nights as a kid.  Not understanding why Shannon’s voice got all slurry as the game went on.   Dad letting us stay up just a bit later to listen on the radio.  Going to games with him and hoping he’d buy me a hot dog.  5th row behind the visitor’s dugout.  Company tickets.  The time he caught a foul ball. 

And as I type I’m getting such a rush of nostalgia and wishing I could go to another game with him and chat about everything.  Or not say a word.  Just be there with him not thinking about the things that clog the mind.  Just be.

Those four days will be about David Freese, the championship, the parade, YES!, and it doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of that time, but it will truly be about the moment within those days that we found out we were bringing another life into this world.

So now here we are.  Over 7 ½ years later.  The St. Louis Blues have won the Stanley Cup!!! Woohoooooo!!!

As a kid, the first time I ever stayed out later than the single digits on the clock was to go to a Blues game with my best friend from childhood.  (For all you hockey-heads, he lived next door to Mike Liut and I got to swim in the Liut’s pool as a kid.  I thought it was the greatest thing ever.)  Stayed up until 11:30 p.m. after the game.  I was such a wild man!

I remember our family going to the mall during a Blues playoff game against the Calgary Flames in 1986.  My dad said he wanted to go to J.C. Penney.  So off I went with my brothers to see the reason.  He took us to the t.v. section… so he could watch the game.  When Calgary scored a dagger of a goal, Dad just quietly walked away.

Like so many I’ve watched hundreds of games over the years and I have my list of “time and place” of multiple moments of playoff heartbreak the team has wrought to my guts, but I also know I have those in my life who are absolutely fanatical in the best way possible in their devotion to the sweater that transcends shear fandom. Nothing but good vibes for every single one of ’em.

But I digress….

We attended the parade, another victory parade, but this time we were accompanied by that precious life we found out about 7 ½ years ago.

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I don’t know when it hit me, but when they announced the date of the parade, June 15th, I had mixed emotions.  If the Cardinals parade will always remind me of a life beginning, this Blues parade had the chance of always reminding me of a life’s end.

Let me explain…

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019: The St. Louis Blues win the Stanley Cup!!! – Watched and celebrated with my wife, my daughter, my brother and his family.  Like so many, my voice was toast for days. Lifelong memory made and saved into the brain computer.

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Thursday, June 13th, 2019: Postgame recovery! – Trying to sleep, reading anything and everything.  Eating up the sight of St. Louis buzzing, even for just a few days.  No sarcasm. We’ll take any and all positivity.

Friday, June 14th, 2019: Planning my mode of attack in navigating downtown.

Saturday, June 15th, 2019: St. Louis Blues Victory Parade!! 

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  …and

June 15th, 2017: James Cleon Akridge exited this world (4:25 a.m.)

June 15th, 2017: James Cleon Akridge entered the Next World (4:25.000000001 a.m.)

June 15th, 1939: James Cleon Akridge entered this world

(Almost makes me nervous for June 15th, 2020.  If you can’t find me, I’ll be in a corner somewhere listening to Pink Floyd trying to keep my mind occupied.)

So we celebrated a Blues victory, soaked in the positive vibes of the city we love so much, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about someone else a bit.  Stanley Cup parade, my dad’s would-be 80th birthday, marking 2 years since he moved on to Heaven, being with my daughter thinking about the parade in 2011, etc. 

After the parade, the family met at White Castle to remember one of Dad’s favorite past times… eating White Castle in the parking lot.  As we were outside eating our gourmet feast, people were yelling at us from their cars, “Let’s Go Blues!”   

When I think of that particular morning of June 15, 2017….

It feels like it happened many years ago and yet it feels like it happened last week.  Like a dusty memory that was created just days ago.

When I think about the day he died, I think less about what I was feeling and experiencing and more about how those feelings and experiences were the complete opposite of what my dad felt and experienced. On that day he truly felt life for the first time. He truly breathed for the first time. He could truly see for the first time. He could truly hear for the first time.  

For a man who had such a beautiful voice, I feel a real curious excitement when I think of the first sound that he heard.  Nikki wondered, as my dad entered heaven… was Jesus waiting for him with a birthday cake, a party hat, Dad’s friends and family who had gone before, and billions of his new closest friends?  Jesus is the source of all joy.  Who knows?  I love the thought…

Being alone by his side the moment of his death I experienced a draining and an emptying of something I couldn’t quite explain, but it was quickly replaced with a realization, a reminder of a Truth that I knew deep down that began to bubble up. Almost as soon as grief entered in, the recovery process began.

While in that same moment he was experiencing not an emptying but an immediate filling up, a fullness that needed no explanation of something he completely believed but had never seen… and now was fully realized. A complete understanding of “what it all means” and an eternal peace that fully enveloped his being, accompanied with the realization that this “peace that passes all understanding” would never leave.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever and ever.”  Psalm 73:26

It’s not worthy of a repeat telling but to say, Nikki and I were crushed by a life event less than two weeks before Dad left this dirt, a pain that left some scars, but…

Dad would be so satisfied for us now.  

We have found a school that has been so good for his “little darlin’” and our hearts, and we have found a church that has been so good for our family and our souls.  

When Dad moved on, God provided a warm blanket of recovery that He has slowly continued to wrap around us by His grace, by His people.  

We still feel as if we’re in recovery.  Myself a bit more than Nikki. Still feel a bit adrift. Like we haven’t quite made it back to shore.  

Maybe we never will?  

Maybe instead of a slow return, a slow recovery to where we were emotionally, mentally, spiritually, we’ve been permanently bumped off course….and that’s exactly how God planned it.  

Paul lived with a thorn, Esther dealt with loss, Peter dealt with shame and regret, Jacob left with a limp, so many examples, and as believers we are susceptible to our own temporal “injuries” and pain in order to push us further into making an eternal impact. God is in control. He….wastes….nothing.  Pain is a part of this journey.  But so is Hope.  “Here I am, send me.”

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And as for grief…like it does for those who have lost a loved one…it fluctuates.  You’ll go days feeling fine, and then see the most random thing on a random street and it’ll bring back a memory from childhood and grief will sucker punch you in the middle of eating a bean burrito.  Grief can be a sneaky little punk. “C’mon Mr. Grief! Just let me eat my burrito!!”

But regardless of grief, regardless of its level, there are lives to love.  

There are lives to get into and people who are hurting who need encouragement.  Like Jesse Ventura said in that classic Shakespearean level film that’s a favorite among the theatre elites… Predator…. “I ain’t got time to bleed.”  So you press on in as little of your own strength as your temporal self will allow and you get out there and impact eternity.

As I get older and think more frequently about my own mortality, I care less and less about the things of this world.  I wholeheartedly acknowledge it’s easy for me to say this when I know there will be food on the table tonight, a roof over our heads, and clothes to keep us warm.  I acknowledge this fact.

But my caring less and less about the things of this world doesn’t come from a bad place, it simply comes from an eternal one.  

This world just doesn’t satisfy, and those who say it does make me nervous.  

Not that I don’t find enjoyment from it, I do, and not that I think finding enjoyment from it is bad, I don’t, but I simply don’t find lasting fulfillment in it apart from what is eternal. 

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”  Hebrews 13:14

Maybe that’s why Dad always seemed so calm when I was a kid.  So at peace.  He knew this life wasn’t the end and he lived like it.  I know he wasn’t a machine. He was human. He was a man. He had real, legit hardships.  He had hopes and dreams that were dashed. But above all that, he just seemed at ease with this life.  Almost a detached whimsy? That’s why in the end he never seemed to let things ruin him during the years I was growing up in his home like I saw in some of the homes of my friends.

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But as he got older, I noticed he became more easily emotional, he worried a bit more (or simply showed it more), his body failed him, and it always reminded me of Ecclesiastes 12 when the Bible speaks of this world slowly taking away certain enjoyment, taking its toll in the later years of life and how it can “draw the shades a bit more on the world” for various reasons as you grow old. 

I don’t blame him.  I have no negative thoughts about this “change” as he got older.  I think for those who believe, your spirit simply longs for heaven.  This life can be tiring.  And even though we know we are here for a reason, a divine Purpose that never moves us to bow out, our spirit desires that eternal rest that only a Home going can bring….and that’s not a bad thing.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  2 Corinthians 5:6-8

But in the end, it’s God’s timing for eternal rest.  He doesn’t just have a purpose for us while we are here.  He is Purpose.  Both now, and into eternity.  Knowing it, living it, can bring a taste of that eternal peace into our temporal hearts on this side of heaven.  And praise be to God for that.  That’s a victory worth celebrating!   

Lastly, I wrote and recorded a couple of short and simple instrumental songs on the piano shortly after he went Home.  My dad loved music so much as do I, it just seemed right to try and express what was going on in my mind through song.

The first is called “James” and the second “When He Turns Us Golden” (Job 23:10), and both were written as I was thinking about him during his time as my earthly father and as my eternal spiritual brother who I knew, but will one day know eternally better.  Instead of words, I used keys on a piano to describe my thoughts at the time.

“James”

 

“When He Turns Us Golden”

 

I still think about dad most days.  And I won’t say I think about him less and less, but I do think about his earthly self less and less and think about his existence in heaven more and more.  My dad is eternally alive so I prefer to think about him full of life, which he very much is, and not just the Polaroids of the mind of the part of him I interacted with, who completed this journey here on earth.

“And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  John 11:26

I look forward to seeing my Savior.  I look forward to seeing my dad. And I can’t imagine the parade that will happen on that day when the Lord brings all of His children Home.

“And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:4

 

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15 of 1,000,000+ reasons why….

In honor of her birthday….15 of 1,000,000+ reasons why Margaret Nicole “Nikki” Flynn Akridge is my favorite person in the land.  (2018 version)

“Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her…” Proverbs 31:28

Some of these scream for an eye roll… but the older I get, the less I care. Roll away, world.

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1. She loves her Lord.  That love fuels the good in her.  That love fuels her love for me, our daughter, and everyone else who crosses her path.  The best thing to happen to me and our daughter is that #1 is so very true.  

I could stop the list here and it would explain it all…but what fun would that be?!           

 

2. She lives life passionately gentle.  Not weak.  Not passive. 

You need real passion to navigate this life and the people in it to engage them with a loving and confident gentleness that changes lives…..not a judgmental self-righteous bravado that alienates them.

One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands says it this way…..

”She’s leaving her mark without leaving a bruise.”

3.  She doesn’t try to change me.  She loves me in a way to enhance any good that is in me in order to help me become the best version of myself.      

4. She is passionate about sleep.  I admire someone who can be asleep seconds after they turn out the light.  She loves sleep so much she grins when it’s bedtime.    

5. Her support.  If I said I felt like God wanted us to head into hell with a bucket of water she would ask one simple question, “When do we leave?” 

Her support doesn’t encourage in me some pompous testosterone-filled dictator…. her support encourages a humble and fearless sacrificial servant leader for our family.  Though I don’t always succeed in being that leader…the encouraging support is always present. 

6. She will demolish a long held belief the second it occurs to her it was simply something indoctrinated into her mind by flawed man, and not inspired in her heart by Truth.  I’ve seen it happen.  She’s not afraid to veer, even uncomfortably so, if it will lead to Truth.

7. She doesn’t give me a courtesy laugh.  Ever.  This guy’s gotta earn it.  

(Or maybe I’m just not that funny?  Ummmm….nah.  That couldn’t be it.  Perish the thought.)

When we were dating I promised her I was going to make her laugh at least once a day for the rest of her life.  Some days I’ve reeeaaallllyyy gotta work.  But when I hear that unmistakable laugh?  I’ve learned over the years that promise was as much for me as it was for her.

8.  She never feels inferior.  She never feels superior.  She’s not impressed.  She’s never condescending.  She knows everyone has their peaks, everyone has their valleys.   

Kings and strangers are treated the same. 

9.  This list will not help me “score points” with her because I’m never required to score any.  She doesn’t keep score.  Her love for me isn’t based on what I do for her….which inspires me to do things for her.  (Funny how that works.  She’s pretty smart.  Hey, wait a second.…) 

10. She is diabolically forgiving.  I don’t mean simply with me (though she very much is), I mean with everyone else. 

She has faced hurt, betrayal, slander, disrespect, sexism, and ugliness.  She doesn’t fight back.  She simply rises above.  She knows who she is in Christ.  She forgives.  Not as some poor little helpless flower…but as a powerful and confident woman of God.

Observing that forgiveness helps me.  She’s probably a bit further down the road with forgiveness.  I forgive….I say the words and mean it….and sometimes my guts still turn.  But she is my example that my bravado, my anger, is misplaced.  Move the passion to something more impactful.  Something eternal.  Change this world.  Impact the next.  She is a tower of example. 

Aren’t we all a work in progress?  I certainly hope so.  Oh wait… I checked the Bible… it says we are.  No worries.  I forgive you.  See?!  I’m learning!   

11. She allows me to sing purposefully bad and dance purposefully awkward (in order to fulfill what is mentioned in #7), and never raises a fuss.  

(Ok…not entirely accurate…she keeps a straight face to show disinterest in order to discourage said singing and dancing.) 

12.  People want to be around her.   She’s calming.  You feel at home.  At peace.  When I got a sense of it for myself shortly after we met…it was game over.  You can have this, that, and the other…I want peace.  I want “home”. 

“Charm is deceitful and ‘beauty’ is vain,  But a woman who fears the Lord, will be admired and praised.”  Proverbs 31:30 

13.  Before we started dating I went to a country music saloon (not a big country music fan) just to be around her.  At the time I didn’t know what it was about her that made me do it, but it had something to do with #12.

14.  I never knew how much I would enjoy watching her be a mother.   During our years of marriage and ministry together, engaging numerous lives, I’ve watched her be a mother to far more than just our daughter.  I never tire of being a witness to it.

15. She loves her Lord.   

This past year has been a challenge for various reasons.  Many of the “15 reasons” I’ve written here have been voiced and/or written by me before.  But they feel deeper now.  They hold a more holy and unspoken space deep in my gut.  They hold more sway.  Our devotion to one another, to the Lord, has taken a deeper turn.  God is so good.  

She would be uncomfortable with me sharing this list if I didn’t emphasize that anything and everything good in her comes from God.  From our loving, holy, gracious, and merciful God.    

So in a way this is also a list of appreciation to the Lord.  For being so good to me.  For being so good to us.  For allowing me to meet Margaret Nicole “Nikki” Flynn Akridge… almost to the day…over 16! years ago.  God is good. 

Now let’s party!!

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“An excellent wife who can find?  Her worth is far above rubies.  The heart of her husband trusts in her without reserve, And never has reason to regret it.” Proverbs 31:10-11

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When a thread…Part 2.

(I wrote this over several days following my dad’s passing, the wake, and the funeral.  Like “Part 1”, this was what I was feeling at the time so I didn’t really edit what was written over the past couple of weeks.  I don’t know….just didn’t seem right to change anything.)  

FullSizeRender (5)(The casket was made out of Missouri Pine and built by an Amish community.  It was described as warm, subtle, calming, etc., just like Dad.)

I watched him take his last breath.

For those of you who have experienced that moment, you’re just not sure how to react.  I can only share my experience…..I was shocked, scared, relieved, and desperate all in the same moment.

The temporal reaction to an eternal event.

Let’s back up….

Hospice had said a week or so before his passing that we were looking at 6 months or less.  Then a few days later it was changed to 3 months or less.  A couple days after that it was 3-7 days.  Then on the day before his passing, a Wednesday, we were told he may not make it to Saturday.

For whatever reason, I think of the famous I Love Lucy episode where Lucy is working in a candy factory, I think, with a conveyor belt moving by as she is supposed to box up the individual candies as they pass by.  She gets behind, she can’t box ’em fast enough, and hilarity ensues.

That’s what it felt like as the prediction of how long he would be with us kept decreasing. It was like the conveyor belt of his life kept going faster and faster, rushing toward his departure.  Every time I heard a new prediction I kept thinking, “What’s going on?!  Slow down!  Wait!”

But then I would hear him cough again.  I would hear his lungs rattle with fluid.  I’d try to have another conversation with him and he just wouldn’t be able to get the words out and he’d get frustrated time and again, and I could just sense he… was…. sick of it.  This was no way to live. This wasn’t living.

Temporally, I was praying for a miracle, I was praying he wouldn’t leave us.  Eternally, I was praying he would.

Without going into details the Lord moved my gut to spend the night with my parents on that particular Wednesday, the day before his passing.  Several people came by the house that day as we finally found a window of time where Mom, myself, and my brother Travis could leave for a spell and take care of some funeral arrangements.

Even after the rough report from the nurse we were sure he was going to be around a bit longer, even if it was just a few days…it was 12 hours.

It all started to change, a reality that made me go numb really started to set in when we returned from the funeral home and one of Dad’s friends was talking with him about Heaven, about going Home.  A lifelong family friend, who also is in the medical field (and a complete angel to our family during the last 24 hours), was also in the room.  I knew she was in there but we hadn’t made eye contact. When she walked out of the room and her eyes were watery… I sorta knew…..

That night Mom and I made a deal… she would stay in his room until 4 a.m. while I slept in the spare bedroom to try to get some rest, then at 4 a.m. we would switch.  A bit after 4:30 a.m. she came in the room and asked if I would go with her and check something out.  I figured it was simply time to switch and she needed help moving him in the bed, or helping her with his medicine or something, but as I walked in I realized Dad was taking his final breath.

I was shocked, scared, relieved, and desperate all in the same moment.

I don’t know how to put into words what it felt like, as mom was outside the room calling the nurse, the feeling of grabbing Dad’s shoulder, shaking it gently and listening to myself say, plead, beg, “Dad….hey Dad…c’mon…Dad…”  I don’t know how to put that into words.  So I won’t.

I think back to being a little boy and dad walking down the hall to wake us up to go to school.  Sometimes he would wake us by singing in the hallway.  As a kid I’m sure I was so annoyed when he would do it.  But what a fantastic thing to wonder what song he heard when he truly opened his eyes for the first time?

So it’s been two days since the funeral.  I don’t know how to describe it.  Like many of you who have gone through the death of a loved one, the whole process (their passing, the wake, the funeral service, the cemetery, etc.) seems like a dream.  Like you’re having an out of body experience watching the whole thing but not really comprehending what is going on.

Leave it to dad to have a funeral that turns into a worship service full of singing, applause, some laughter, smiles, and as strange as it sounds….a real sense of Hope.  Sure, many tears were shed, tears of sadness, thoughts of not having him around anymore, but many of those tears were also tears of worship..at the beauty of such a beautiful God…of such a beautiful sense of Hope, a beautiful acknowledgement of what our Lord did in and through the life of one of His own.

So now I proceed to deal with not having a dad around to talk with, bounce ideas off of, laugh with, or just to simply be in the same room.

Nikki and I had been through some life altering stuff just days before he passed and Dad is the one I would have called to have another one of our many conversations we’ve had over the years.  He would comfort me with his soothing voice, and wisdom was his specialty.  What I wouldn’t give to share some belly bombers from White Castle with him, and as they do their worst to our insides and we laugh at why we did this to ourselves yet again, and simply talk about life.

If some were to say it sounds like I leaned on him a bit too much, so be it, but I would only counter with… it was the Spirit that lived and breathed and moved so freely inside of him that I leaned on a bit too much.  So be it.

It’s been a couple of weeks since he passed away.  Honestly, because of the goodness of God, the further out I get from that moment of watching him breathe his last I try to concentrate on what happened next in that moment…for him…and what I was able to experience as our last act on this earth as father and son… and how it connected with our first.

During my birth, the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. Apparently I was stubborn enough to survive and yes, ha-ha, I’ve been stubborn ever since. Dad told me the story many times about how he never listened for a heartbeat so close, the rhythm, as he did with mine during those few scary moments.  I can’t help but think back to that story…how he was there for my first breath…and I for his last.

But then eternally… as I was watching him breathe his last it occurred to me, I was also watching him breath his First.

I miss him.  Always will until I see him again.

And I was shocked, scared, relieved, and desperate all in the same moment.

But now…I’m just relieved.  For him.

Praise to our Lord who is our Precious Hope.  Who doesn’t simply give purpose….He is Purpose.  The Hope that was in the heart of my dad is the Hope that is given to all who believe.  He is the great Peace Giver.  To Him be all Glory, Honor, and Praise.

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“…then His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies…”

 

 

 

 

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When a thread on the cape of your hero is being pulled…..Part 1.

(Part 1 – This was written over the last 10+ months when it was clear, short of a miracle, my dad wasn’t going to be with us for much longer.  I wrote a line here, a paragraph there, random thoughts, not really edited, with the last line being written a couple weeks before my dad went….. Home.)

My dad was my hero growing up. Like many sons I felt like he could do anything. Two memories come to mind….

First…One day he climbed up a tall and monstrous tree (at least it was to me…when you’re 5) to cut down some old rotting limbs. He completed the task with a saw in one hand and a strong grip on a random branch with the other.   To my young eyes he was a fearless giant in a land of mere mortals.

Second…I remember as a young boy he would play football with me and my two older brothers. On one particular play he caught the ball and I raced after him in an attempt to catch him.  I couldn’t. Now I wasn’t the fastest runner to ever lace ’em up, but I was playing sports, in passable physical shape, and for what I lacked in size and strength I made up for in speed….. and I could not catch my dad. Hero.

Dad was in a hunting accident as a teenager.  His left hand, arm, and shoulder were severely injured because of the incident, and remain in this condition to this day.  He doesn’t have anything near a full grip, full range of motion, or full use of his left hand, arm, and shoulder.  “Shot” from the shotgun shell remain throughout his left side.

Did I ever hear him complain about his “condition” or see him use it as an excuse?  Not once. How many of you knew this had happened?   How many of you knew his left hand was largely disabled, or at best, unable to provide anything near a strong grip?  Ever noticed it?

That tells you just a bit of what kind of man he is.  How many of us would use it as an excuse and say things like,

“Yeah, but my hand.”

“Yeah, but unfortunately I can’t help you move, you know with my bad arm and all.”

“No son, I can’t play catch with you.  My arm feels a little weak today.”

“Sorry, no piggy back rides today.  My shoulder isn’t feeling good.”

Never.

If you’ve learned about his injury for the first time…let me copy and paste an earlier paragraph…

One day he climbed up a tall and monstrous tree to cut some down some old rotting limbs. He completed the task with a saw in one hand and a strong grip on a random branch with the other.  To my young eyes he was a fearless giant in a land of mere mortals.

Knowing this as a child, knowing the difficulties he had growing up….in my mind….he…could….do….anything.

But now….Dad is sick.  It’s happened over time.  Gradual.  A slow burn.  Parkinson’s. Bronchitis. Various heart issues.  Various lung issues.  Coughing up blood.  Spills.  Having trouble breathing.  On and on.

I feel like I’m unable to blink as I watch this cruel…slow…descent.

I’ll be perfectly candid.  It’s one thing for your hero to go out in a blaze of glory…..

….but it’s another to see the spark slowly fade from their eyes.

I’m not ready for that spark to fade.  I want my daughter, Maggie Grace, to see it one more time.  I want him to see her dance in her first recital in the spring.  I want them to share in another laugh. They have such a special bond that others have noticed. When my dad walked in with me as she was being held in the ICU, we both marveled and laughed at how big and strong she looked.  When he held her for the first time in the hospital he couldn’t get past the word “Grace” when he began to sing “Amazing Grace” to her.  As he sang I promise they were the only two people in the universe.

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When she was younger she would stay with my parents a few days a week.  During those days we always noticed…she was loving to all, but with pure honesty she always gave a bit more to her Pa.  She always held on a bit longer.  Sat in his lap for an extra moment. Smiled a bit wider.  Laughed a bit louder.  We can’t be at the end of their story, can we? But that’s a discussion for another time.

I haven’t had a true conversation with him in a few years.  I want to talk with him.  As I speak in the past tense it isn’t because he is no longer with us, but as of now barring a miracle from God…he is no longer with us.

I miss my dad.  And I feel like I’m unable to blink as I watch this cruel…slow…descent.

As I write this I know what we’re going through as a family is nothing unique.  Millions of sons, daughters, wives, etc. have dealt with a fading family member.  But millions of people have broken an arm and that knowledge doesn’t help the pain subside when it happens to you, does it?  The pain is still there, regardless.

One of my first memories…walking down to the basement and seeing him leaned over the clothes hamper on his knees praying.  My dad was my rock.  Gentle.  Calm. Commanded respect.  Very few words and a whole lot of action.

I only remember two instances of him raising his voice and one was when one of my brothers gave him some lip.  It never happened again.

Yeah, we were punished.  We had rules.  But we felt secure with him. We felt loved.

We noticed how he treated my mom was how he treated us.  Gentle. Loving. Patient. Always with the combination of complete power and complete tenderness.

As for how he treated others….the same.  For those of you who know him….when he walked into a room everyone just seemed a bit more at ease…a bit happier?  more at peace?….I don’t know how to explain it other than the Spirit moved through him with an electricity I’ve rarely seen in anyone else.

Dad has a velvet voice when he sings.  Smooth.  Comforting.  Like a warm blanket. When I was young I didn’t appreciate it.  He was just my dad who sang a lot.  Yeah, people would say, “Man, your dad sure can sing.”  I just thought they were being nice.  I would see people cry as the words left his lips.  I always tried to figure out why people loved to hear him sing so much.  He clearly hadn’t cornered the market on having a good voice. So many others have good voices but however many years ago I figured it out. When he sings…. you believe him.  So many singers go through the motions but there was never a “performance” he simply phoned in.

Sincerity was a constant companion in his life.

Everywhere I go when he would introduce me to someone, to one of his friends or old acquaintances, they would say hello and half of the introductions concluded with the person saying, “Hey, your dad has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard.  I don’t know what it is but I love to hear him sing.”  We know what It is.

Dad introduced me to some pretty rough characters over the years.  One of the many down on their luck he would help without judgement.  One in particular said, “You know what it is about Cleon?  He’s a straight shooter.”  Yeah.  That’s definitely him.  On one hand he would never mince words.  He didn’t say things to simply make you feel better if he wasn’t speaking complete truth.  On the other hand….and I’m not making this up, not embellishing, not exaggerating….I never heard him say an ill word about anyone. Ever. Not once.  I’ll let that sink in….

But now a thread on his cape is being pulled.  Slowly.  Cruelly.  Without remorse.  And I feel like I’m unable to blink as I watch this cruel…slow…descent.

It would be easy to think, and I am currently, that it’s unfair for a man who has lived life with such excellence to fade so slowly, so discouragingly, to almost impossibly be able to live these days with dignity.

But then I realize….then I remember….I know Who is pulling the thread….and I am able to blink.

“..and one day the past will be like a forever frozen pond…and the present will only flow with His beauty.”

 

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I was married 10 years ago today. 10 reasons why my wife is a keeper…….

Just a warning…..I’m going on 4 hours of sleep over the previous 2 nights.  I don’t know what is going on.  Maybe this isn’t the best time to write this?  Or maybe it’s the perfect time?  Either way…..

10 reasons why my wife is a keeper….

1. Whenever she enters a room peace is not far behind.  It’s weird, but in the best possible way.

2. She can burp louder than you.  No really.  She can burp louder than you.  If you hear a low and powerful rumble, it may not be the thunder of the gods…..it may be my lady.

3. She loves God more than she loves me.

4. The Joneses don’t interest her.

5. Really generic one here…..she’s an incredible mom.

6. I love sitting back and watching her as she interacts with others.  People always want to be around her.  If you know her you know she doesn’t seek attention.  She has no need for attention.  Yet….people are drawn to her. (It was one of the first things I noticed about her before we started dating.)  It never gets old to see students happy and waving when she walks in the room.

7.  Gooey butter cookies.

8.  Some people in her life don’t understand why she does what she does.  Why we do what we do.  Why we continue to “waste” our lives and our “potential earning power” among other so-called disappointments.  It never stops her from pushing on in her quest to impact as many lives as she can until the day the Lord takes her Home.  Her security isn’t wrapped up in this life.

9. She never tries to change me.  She simply supports me and helps me on my journey to become the best version of myself.

10.  She loves God more than she loves me.  This one deserved two spots on the list.

Happy Anniversary, Margaret Nicole Akridge.  My pursuit continues……

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Kebede Teshome

Most people chase after temporal riches, and though I have my own thoughts on the matter I don’t begrudge anyone their “success”. But it is a privilege to be called a friend by someone who lived his life to help others and change this world without any attempt to gain an ounce of fame, fortune, or credit apart from pleasing his Lord.

It was an honor to attend the funeral of Kebede Teshome this past Saturday. A truly great man who earned that title by the only Measure that counts.

Though we didn’t see each other as much over the last few years, I will always remember his encouragement to me during those times when I felt I was stumbling a bit out of the blocks as a new preacher.  Sometimes after I finished preaching and felt drained, he would simply come up to me and give an encouraging word or a big bear hug and tell me how the Spirit spoke to him through something I had said.

Other times he would just smile at me.

For those who knew him, if he smiled at you, you believed him. I can’t think of a much higher compliment for someone in these cynical days in which we live.

On a lighter note, I will always remember playing golf with him. I never saw him laugh harder then when we attempted to play a round of golf in the pouring rain and my tee shot on the first hole hit a tree and landed right back in front of my feet. I wondered if I was going to have to let him use my asthma inhaler because he could hardly catch his breath from laughter. Remember it like it was yesterday.

If you ever left his presence discouraged then something was wrong with you. He truly exuded the love and joy of Christ. He was such a great example…..and still is.  He left an incredible legacy of love.

Right after the funeral, a friend from a different circle who didn’t know I had attended a funeral, reminded me of a great song and it resonated.

“You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been. A place that has to be believed to be seen. Home. I can’t say where it is but I know I’m going Home.”

For those who knew Kebede, I think these few verses sum it up.  For me anyway….

The first verse speaks to how he lived his life. The rest sum up the end of his earthly life but the beginning of an incredible journey.

Romans 12:12 – Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  (The guy lived this verse.)

2 Corinthians 5:8 – We are confident, I say, we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Psalm 116:15 – Precious in the sight of the Lord is the passing of his saints.

Matthew 25:23a – His master said to him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Kebede loved to sing.  And just like his smile you believed every word when you heard him sing at the top of his lungs.  So in closing I want to share one of my favorite hymns.  It’s an old one, but only in the temporal sense.

The words will ring true for eternity…..

We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blessed
And our spirits shall sorrow no more
Not a sigh for the blessing of rest

In the sweet by and by
We shall meet on that beautiful shore

“Well done my good and faithful servant.”  We’ll see you soon.

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July 28th, 2012

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