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….

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.

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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 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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