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….

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.

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.

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

We saw that 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 I truly believe there wasn’t 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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Christmas 2016 – Ministry Newsletter

christmas-2016

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Christmas 2015 – Ministry Newsletter

Christmas 2015 – Ministry Newsletter

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Why we continue to do what we do….and continue to love being irresponsible…..

My wife and I teach together, as in we-are-in-the-classroom-at-the-same-time-teach-together.  I also run a small non-profit, Rhapsody Ministries, Inc., that helps missionaries through prayer and financial support and anyone else who crosses our path in need of anything from monetary help to a listening ear.  Periodically, Rhapsody will sponsor a worship service for whoever happens to walk through the door.  The ministry is small but effective in what it seeks to accomplish.

Along with the ministry of parenthood these ministries make for a fulfilling existence. What they fail to do is lead us toward the traditional trajectory of “building a career and a diversified financial portfolio.”

We’re fine.  We don’t make a ton of money.  Combined we make less than most and we receive zero benefits.  If it ever comes out how much we make people kind of look at us like we’re lying, telling them a joke and they’re not sure if they should laugh, or they realize we’re telling the truth and they look at us like they’ve seen a ghost.

We live below our means.  We don’t spend what we don’t have and if God asks us to give away what we do have, we find a way to give it. We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about retirement even though we know we’re supposed to be worrying about retirement. I assure you our lack of worry is not out of some reckless financial irresponsibility.  We are fully aware of the path we are on.

I have a business and marketing degree and while I am not an expert I do have a full understanding of financial planning, 401k’s, compounding interest, and hiding money under the mattress.  We know the risks and we know these are our prime earning years that will never return.  We both have our Master’s degrees and years of valuable experience gained well before this current chapter in our careers.  The last three jobs we’ve accepted have been pay decreases from the job before and we know about the “opportunities” we have allowed to float on by.  Each day we trust God will provide for that particular day.  The day ends.  As best we can we begin the next day with the same trust.    

We live this way with our eyes wide open and many of the eyes staring back at us shake their heads and wonder why we are living so “irresponsibly” and why we are wasting time, why we are wasting our careers, why we are wasting our lives.

A few comments to boot…..

“Why do you keep teaching at that place?”

“The leadership doesn’t treat you guys very well so I wouldn’t trust ’em.  Look at what they’ve done to you in the past.  They’ll drop you cold if they need to regardless of what you’ve accomplished.”

“You work for how much money?  No benefits?  Hmph.  They’re taking advantage.”

“Why aren’t you trying to promote Rhapsody in a way that would attract more people?  You really need to sell it better to get more people in the doors which would bring in more money.”

“You guys both have your Master’s and years of experience together.  You should be doing more with your lives.”

“You need to think of your family.  You have a daughter now, you know.”

“You’re just lazy.”

I could go on, but why?  Everyone travels their road.  Everyone makes their choices. Or as Troy Dyer says in the film Reality Bites, “You ride your own melt.”

As honest as I can say what I’m writing isn’t about how “humble” I am, a need for any “Hang in there buddy, you’re doing great!” or any attempt to convince you of some perfectly pure piety.

I am well aware that better people than I are suffering because of their beliefs in other parts of the world and down the street from where I live. Me?  I have it so rough I’ve never missed a meal.  I could hop in my car and buy four bean burritos and a soft taco from Taco Bell with no fear other than digestional. (new word?)

When people talk to me about why we do what we do.  The best way I can explain it?

My gut doesn’t turn when I do it.

When we are in the moment doing our best to inspire some amazing teenagers, when I’m preaching, when I hand money to a missionary who needs it to continue their work, my gut doesn’t turn.  Does that make sense?

It’s the same feeling, or non-feeling, I get when we’re at a concert “that no Christian should attend” and a stranger comes up to us and just starts talking.  Talking to us like he’s known us for years and God allows us to send him away encouraged and hopeful.  It’s the same feeling when I’m preaching and know that what is being said through me is going to turn the light on for someone and it had nothing to do with me.  It’s the same feeling when I share something painful about myself, but see the recognition on the listener’s face that they’ve been there as well and want to hear what my next step was to get past it… because their proverbial foot is ready and aching to lift.

I have a ton of things that frustrate me about the job(s).  Things I would do differently. Things I should do differently.  Things I wouldn’t do, period.  People involved who in my humble opinion are in the wrong line of work.  All the normal stuff of the American worker, eh?  The list is long.  But the fact remains that no matter how frustrated I become, when I’m doing what I was meant to do for this time in my life my gut still won’t turn.

When I was making money.  When I was chasing after the temporal and attempted to bleed in some eternal at the same time to make myself feel better… my gut turned.  I knew something was off.  It took me years and several 50-gallon drums full of frustration, but I arrived at the following conclusion……

On its own this world has nothing to offer me.  On its own this world doesn’t, and won’t ever, deliver.

And this is big……..in my lifetime it was never meant to.

I am here to do quite the opposite.  By God’s goodness, and other words too holy to write, I am an eternal soul and my task is to be the one doing the delivering.

If this sounds a bit off, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything.  Just sharing. But I do confidently suggest that one need only to look into the face of a discouraged listener or frustrated teenager when the light comes on, to see years of their own despair due to circumstances I wouldn’t pretend to know anything about melt away.

It’s why I honestly feel very little when people who love us look “concerned” for us, they look at us with a sort of pity in their eyes.  When they do that?  My gut doesn’t turn. Perfect peace.  And I’m usually the one inwardly harboring concern right back to them.  Not at all combatively.  Not at all condescendingly.

We’re content.  More than content.  We always wanted our marriage to be centered around Christ and making an impact in this world.  As best we know how, both are being accomplished.  I wish people weren’t uncomfortable with our contentment.  I wish they weren’t uncomfortable with our way of living this life.  I wish they would stop hoping that one day we will see their version of the light and we finally chase after the treasures of this world.

Do I have days where I ask myself, “Joel, what are your doing?”  Yup.  But do you know when that typically happens?  When I’m wanting this world to deliver.

So as a school year continues and Rhapsody continues to evolve I’m always waiting for my gut to turn and then I’ll know it’s time to walk away and turn the page to the next chapter.

We all have choices.  We can choose to take chances and make an impact or we can choose to not.  We can choose.  That’s the beautiful thing about God.  He allows us to choose.  He doesn’t force it.  But we would be wise to pay attention to the occasional nudge.

I may look back on my life and think I blew it.  That I didn’t take everything this world had to offer.  But I don’t think so.

Every person born is given a certain amount of clay to mold with their lives.  How we choose to live our lives, how we choose to spend whatever time we have on this earth will shape the clay into something in the end.  No shortcuts.  When we breathe our last it’s going to be our finished work of art, and each work will reflect God….. or whatever took His place.

With that I’ll close with two quotes.  One from The Shawshank Redemption and one from Braveheart.  

“The Shawshank Redemption and BRAVEHEART?!” Casting a pretty wide net of artistic sophistication there eh, Joel?”

Yeah.  But why not? We shouldn’t be afraid to take things we can use in our lives regardless of the perceived datedness or ridiculousness of the art from which we take it. So I take it.

Take it away Red and William.

“Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”

“You know what happens if we don’t take a chance?  Nothing.”

 

 

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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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“Maggie Grace, General Mills, and do Chocolate Fruit Roll-Ups make sense for your diet.”

As I watch my wife hang out with my daughter it’s natural to have quite a bucket full of emotion and thought.  During their hang-out time I walked over to the couch and took this picture.  It looks like Maggie Grace wanted a fist bump.  I obliged.

She is close to a month old.  We didn’t hear too many positive bits of advice, sadly, before she was born.  I would say 95% of the advice we received was in the category of, “Your life will never be the same.  You have no idea what you’re in for.”  Fair enough.  But it would have been nice to hear something positive.  My wife and I took mental notes to be positive advice givers.

I want to take this moment to say I never finished this post.  I will tonight.  I am continuing this about six months later.

I wonder about the world in which we have brought Maggie Grace.   Below is a pretty recent picture.  She has already changed so much.  But this post isn’t about the melancholy of the days zooming by.

mg7

Aaaaaaaaaaand I still haven’t finished this post.  Maybe it’s a sign?  

Stop typing!!! Stop typing!!! It’s a trap!!!  

Let’s finish this post with random thoughts and anecdotes.  That’ll show ’em….and it will also get this post out of my queue.

I just finished a bowl of generic Fruit Loops for dinner.  No Toucan Sam for this guy.  It’s some wacko looking dragon thing on the box.  Weird man.  I think something is in those loops.

We need new furniture.  Our couch and chair are peeling.  Maggie Grace probably thinks their chocolate Fruit Roll-Ups or something the way they release themselves from the cushions.  As if she knows what Fruit Roll-Ups are.  But still.

That reminds me of seminary.  Rented a house with some guys and if I remember correctly we didn’t have a couch but we did have four recliners in the living room.  Maybe three.  I remember watching the debut single from Audioslave on the television while sitting in recliner #2, Brutus, and thinking the band was going to be great.  The singer from Soundgarden and the band from Rage Against the Machine.  Can’t miss!  I played the song for Nikki and after the blistering opening rips your ears off she said, “This sounds unbelievable.  What a riff!”  Or something like that.  Audioslave didn’t work out like I’d hoped.

Miss that place.  I really miss seeing cockroaches scattering when I would stagger into the bathroom in the middle of the night.  (By the way, after a couple of weeks the jumping stops.)  I miss sitting in a chair with wheels at the entrance of the kitchen and being able to roll to the refrigerator without any force on my part because the house was literally splitting in two and that particular half of the house was the slanted half.  (That, my friends, is a run-on sentence.)  I sincerely miss those days.

I’ve never slept so well as I have since we’ve had a baby.  Weirdness but it’s so true.  For me, great sleep is longer naps through the night.  I’m not much of a sleeper.  I always wake up with a song in my head.  So frustrating.  But still.  I sleep great now.  All the Negative Nancy’s and Negative Norbert’s were wrong.  She hasn’t interrupted our sleep.  The kid sleeps 12 hours and when she wakes up she just lays there until we go get her from her bed thing.  Yeah.  I know.

Oh.  You were wondering about Negative Norbert?  No.  It’s not a thing.  I’m not a sexist.  Negative Nancy?  Yeah.  I’ve heard it.  We need a male version.  Want to keep the peace.  So I went with Norbert.  Great name.

That sounds really close to Go-Gurt.  Norbert.  Go-Gurt.   Okay.  Not real close.  But Go-Gurt?  Is that the best the Yoplait and General Mills marriage could come up with?

Let’s do an experiment.  I’ll start typing again in ten seconds……..

Awesome-Gurt.

I bet myself I could come up with a better name in ten seconds.  I came up with Awesome-Gurt.  I win General Mills.  I won my bet with myself.  What did I win from myself?  A Fruit Roll-Up.

Uh-oh.  Fruit Roll-Ups.  Which are also owned by General Mills.  This is getting weird.  It’s those generic Fruit Loops man.  They get in your head.  All of those delicious fake fruit flavors turn your brain all wiggly.  Wait………………………hold on………I need to do something……….no.  The real Fruit Loops are not owned by General Mills.

Maggie Grace really likes it when I play guitar.  Or is she laughing at me?  Nah.  She wouldn’t do that.  She’s too busy peeling crap off our couch.

Here’s another picture.  Sleep my little lady.   Dream of your Savior and beautiful music.

Photo on 2013-02-22 at 16.50 #2

Goodnight.

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