Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Movie Tip

Saw a good film the other night.

It's one of those limited release flicks so it's not showing everywhere. It's worth seeing, though.

It's "Away From Her'', starring Julie Christie and Olympia Dukakis. The story is of a gently aging husband and wife who discover that Alzheimer's is slowly showing up and invading their relatively happy space. A decision is reluctantly made to place the wife in an elder care facility, and the plot winds around all the pain and loss and sadness that this generates, as well as the stretching of the human spirit.

What you have here is a slow-paced, reflective look at the whole business of aging and wrapping up and finishing a lifetime. How do you best do that? How do you conclude years of joys and tears and memories? How do you say goodbye to someone you've spent a life with?

It seems to me that babyboomers ought to be going in droves to view this film. Professionals involved in nursing home work or retirement center jobs should see it, too. Ministers would benefit as well. It offers a keen look at the inner dynamics of individuals who come down to the final years of the lifespan and have to make sobering choices and experience hefty changes.

The hour and a half spent at the cinema for this celluloid narrative might make us a little more sensitive as caregivers. It might move us to spend our youthful days better. It would certainly remind us that when we approach the end, what will matter probably more than anything else is the quality of the relationships we've had and nurtured. Strenghtening our marriages now will help us avoid a lot of guilt and regret later, too.

Staying committed to our partner all the way to life's conclusion is a beautiful ideal depicted in this movie. A love that sticks by and takes care of the spouse even when that one is no longer at his or her best is the highest demonstration of genuine agape.

Find this motion picture. Purchase a ticket. Buy some popcorn. Sit back and be prepared to think...and feel. You may shed a tear or you may not. It's a gripping crash course for all of us, though, in what's just ahead. We may as well step out of our denial. We're gonna get old, if we live long enough. And we're gonna die.

Regrettably, this good film doesn't point to a hope beyond this life's curtain going down. Sure, there is something heroic and romantic about having lived out one's days fully and well, even if nothingness is on the other side of the last breath. But how pointless and meaningless and empty and without hope or joy is a life, however long, that ends up being just a blip when compared to the immensity and neverendingness of eternity. Praise the Lord for the assurance that we Christians have of living forever! And what an absolutely incredible life it's going to be. While I applaud so much in this movie, I ached to see portrayed before me two more representative samples on the screen who had seemingly bought into our culture's thinking that this life is all there is and you better grab for all the gusto you can right now. How tragic.

Thank you, Jesus, for your resurrection that guarantees mine!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

If I Had A Hammer...

My oldest son, Ryan, gave me a most unusual Father's Day gift.

To some dads, this present would not have been odd at all. For me, though, it seemed a little strange.

I looked inside the gift bag and noticed something wrapped up down at the bottom. I surmised quickly that it was probably a necktie, or maybe a book. Imagine my surprise when I reached in, unrolled the paper, and discovered a hammer!

For me?

Anybody who knows yours truly is aware that I'm no handyman. I hardly know one tool from another. Never built anything. Avoid nails and pliers and screwdrivers like the plague. Would just as soon call in and pay outside help to hang a picture on the wall. Absolutely zero carpentry skills.

Why was I getting a hammer, albeit a nice, new one?

I remembered that Ryan, 26, and Christie were moving into their new home that very weekend. Was this a subtle hint, a request for assistance with all that had to be done as their residence changed? Surely not. My son knows all too well my limitations in the manual labor department.

Then I read the card.

He thanked me for the "construction" I had done in his life as he grew up. He expressed the hope that I would do some similar work with his son, Micah, my new grandson. The tool was a symbolic gift. A metaphor. A picture. The hammer was a token of gratitude for spiritual building in the past and a challenge for the future.

I understand what he meant but I feel so unworthy of the compliment. Sometimes all I see are my failures as a father. Believe me, there were many. Nevertheless, this simple gift was a powerful encouragement to me and spoke louder than words.

All of us have some building to do. Not just with literal bricks and mortar and paint and lumber. Not just in adding on a room or a deck, or in refurbishing a den. Spiritually, we should constantly be cooperating with the Master architect-contractor-owner of our lives as He works to expand and enlarge and decorate our souls. It's an ongoing process. Check 2 Peter 1:5-9 on that. You and I are works in progress.

At the same time, we're to be building up other people. That's to happen in the fellowship of the church as we encourage and confront and teach and admonish and pray for one another. That takes place, too, in the family as we nurture and correct and discipline and love our spouses and our children and our grandkids. We add on whole new rooms in each other's spirits. We deepen the capacities of one another for rich, vibrant living.

So, yes, to do all that we must have, among other things, hammers for the soul. You notice that these particular tools have 2 parts, enabling 2 different functions. With one side, you press nails in. We all need truth and grace and love and direction placed in us. Sometimes(ouch!) that hurts. At other times we hardly feel it. With the alternate side, nails can be pulled out. There is stuff in our lives that ought to come out. And we all make mistakes. This side of the hammer affords us the chance to make a correction, to start over. To have a fresh beginning.

Perhaps all of us would benefit from giving and receiving these symbolic, metaphorical gifts occasionally. Not all the time, please. Usually we need those neckties or books or new shoes or shirts or CD's. But from time to time, "picture" gifts could serve useful purposes.

They could illustrate for us, in ways that words never could, just what we mean to someone else or what they mean to us. They could, with specificity, describe character traits or personality styles or ministry skills that we didn't know we possessed. They might serve as fresh motivators to get us actively engaged in people's lives so as to be a blessing, since something about us was noticed and observed, something that made a difference.

Imagine getting, or giving, a pencil sharpener that communicates that lives are shaped and sharpened by interaction with someone. Made better(Proverbs 27:17). Visualize the gift of a pillow, that offers the message that one feels comfortable around another. Somehow relaxed. Or that worries and fears can be brought to one and peace can be found. How about a pack of seeds? They suggest that a person is sowing kindness or good deeds or a worthy example. A vase of flowers illustrates that an individual brightens up a room, or adds color to life, or brings fragrance to a friendship. A world globe reminds us that we're to have a mission heart for the planet. A simple but beautiful rock provides an opportunity for one person to reveal to another that they find stability and quiet strength in the relationship. A can of spinach may be a way of telling a friend that they seem to have a knack for bringing to a conversation or a discussion or even a disagreement what is needed even if it's not easy going down.

You get the idea.

Thank you so much for my gift, Ryan. I will treasure it. I mean that. I really want to live up to the sentiment you sought to convey when you gave it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

It happened 45 years ago this week.

I went away to camp for the first time.

I was 10 years old and had never been away from home, separated from my parents, for an extended period. Our Minister of Music at church awarded some of us in childrens' choir the opportunity and privilege to go to Childrens' Music Week at our denominational state assembly grounds, Eagle Eyrie, in Lynchburg, VA for 6 days.

I didn't want to go.

Call it late separation anxiety or whatever you like. I didn't want to leave the familiar surroundings of home and family. In all my fears and forebodings I probably begged my mom and dad not to make me go. I was actually afraid as I recall.

I am so very thankful all these many years later that my parents did not give in to my pleadings. They insisted that I go. They packed my suitcase and sent me off with the other kids.

New friends were acquired. There was fresh scenery. Beautiful mountains. Different foods. Great music to learn and present. My horizons were expanded and I was stretched as I had to do some things for myself that my folks normally did for me. I was impacted by new ideas and impressions and the change in pace and locale.

I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I had just stayed home that week. I think being away profoundly affected me. From then on, I wanted to go on all church trips. The travel bug really bit me. Since that July camp decades ago I have been lots of places and my heart's desire is to see as much of the world as I can. It was like whole vistas opened up for me back then. Maybe that's why these days I'm such a big proponent of, and cheerleader for, kids going to camps and on retreats and off on mission trips.

Even as adults, though, there's a part of us, down deep inside, that prefers to remain where we are. We struggle with change. We seek out the comfortable, the secure. It's easier that way. It's more predictable. More manageable. But we have to resist that impulse. We gotta keep moving and growing and reaching and learning and exploring. If we don't we'll get stale and stuck in a rut. We'll have less and less fresh water to offer other people. We'll become stagnant and boring. It's imperative that we move out of our comfort zones. Read a book. Learn a new skill or develop another hobby. Take a trip. Volunteer for some ministry or engage in a venue of community service. Visit art and history museums. Brainstorm lots of options when problem-solving.

Sometimes I reflect on whether my response to the approach of death eventually will be like my deal with going to camp those long years ago.

Will I dread it? Will I put up all those old resistances? Will I cling, white-knuckled and tenaciously, to this life when the summons comes to journey to the world beyond? I don't know. I just don't know. The fears and apprehensions may surface again because the next life is, still, so unknown to us. And we like it here. We're settled. We feel safe. It's all so natural. We shudder at the thought of breathing our last breath here and going somewhere to stay that we've never been before.

There is comfort, however, as I ponder all this. I have a savior, Jesus Christ, who has already taken that trip and come back to tell about it. He died and then rose from the grave. His saving work on the cross and through an empty tomb assures me as His child that everything will be okay when I come down to my final days.

And I have a heavenly Father who, like my earthly mom and dad in 1962, will not yield to my fright but will lovingly and firmly encourage me to launch out on the journey of a lifetime. He'll say, "Come on. Take my hand. You can't begin to dream or imagine what's in store for you out there. So much to see and hear and taste and explore and feel. So many worlds. So many sunrises. And absolutely nothing to be afraid of, ever. Come. It's just a step." Talk about the ultimate adventure! Wow.

I guess tiny newborns know something of this. They struggle through the birth canal and cry as they enter this loud, bright, cold, big place even as those who eagerly await their arrival smile with delight. After they've been here a little while and gotten their bearings, if they somehow could remember their former existence in that cramped, dark, humdrum, albeit warm and cozy atmosphere known as mother's womb, would they want to go back to it? Would they trade the exhilirating colors and shapes and sounds and trees and beaches and giraffes and symphonies and pizzas of this new place for their previous residence? I seriously doubt it. Life here becomes a fascinating trek.

It will be the same for us when we embark for Heaven. Tough to let go of the here and now, but incredibly awesome when we get on that side.

Thanks, Mama and Daddy, for not relenting in July, 1962, but insisting that I go to Eagle Eyrie. You probably never knew that you were altering my life direction for the good.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

In The Zone

There'll be a Twilight Zone marathon on TV this week.

Twice a year, at July 4th and New Year's, the Sci-Fi channel shows back-to-back episodes of this old classic series for a couple of days.

I'm always hooked. I become a couch potato. I sit there and watch these reruns, hour after hour.

What's the attraction?

Well, I like that antiquated black-and-white feel every now and then. I sorta enjoy Rod Serling's cigarette smoke-laced introductions to each story. I delight in seeing how some of today's popular actors looked back then, when they were just getting started. These tales of time travel and UFO's and life on other planets fascinate me. They make me think. They get my imagination cranked up into high gear.

The sets were spartan and cheap, and the plots fanciful and outlandish, but I'm always not only entertained but intellectually stimulated by this TV drama from decades ago.

Maybe what it is that resonates with me is that the themes touch on some of the deepest questions and longings of the human heart. The narratives track some of the great aspirations and dreams of the spirit. Watching these episodes as a Christian adds to the thrill factor, because I realize that there will one day be a fulfilment of some of these hopes and yearnings that are portrayed on the screen.

One day we will have the privilege of living forever without dying. One day we will be perennially young, in both body and spirit. We will possess a constant future-orientation. I think the Bible implies that we'll have the challenging, exhilirating opportunity to visit and perhaps develop and rule over other worlds to the glory of God. The age-old quest for peace will finally be satisfied. Maybe we'll even have the chance to go back in time occasionally, to study history and to have God show us why things happened as they did. Wow!

Ecclesiastes 3:11 reminds us that God has put eternity in our hearts. We were created for more than just a few short years here. We were made for much more than simply gratifying our physical selves. God fashioned us for Himself, to live for age after age after age in ever-deepening awareness and learning and growth and experiences. We will travel and create and worship and love and work throughout the eons to come because of the reconciling ministry of Jesus(Colossians 1:15-20). Regrettably, unbelievers only have now, but Christ-followers have an awesome destiny ahead.

Okay. Sofa reserved, snacks ready, remote close at hand, all family rights to TV programming ceded over to me. I'm gonna love this marathon! What I really love is the certainty that one day the twilight will break into full, glorious morning.