Monday, August 31, 2009

An Old Fashioned Night To Remember

This past Friday night, I was fortunate to take part in a very special and heartwarming night of music and memories.

Paul and Marjorie Ferrin, (left), are very well known in the Christian music arena. Paul has done it all, and knows just about everyone worth knowing in the Christian music world. He is a true legend. Paul and Marge happen to be the parents of Kent, the music pastor at my church. As the elder Ferrins now do in their so-called retirement, they came to Rocklin to host an old fashioned hymn sing. If you click on the link, you'll be taken to their website to learn more about them and their ministry.

In the pictures I'm featuring here, you'll see a sampling of t
he folks who attended the event. By the time the evening got underway, the house was pretty full. These pictures were taken about 30 minutes before we started, so you still see a lot of empty seats. But you'll also notice that the main demographic for the evening was a bit older than you might typically see in a church event of this size. There were many younger folks there too, including many teens, but as you can see, this really appeals to the older folks. They are who I want to focus on for this post.

As the evening went on, I was filled with warm feelings of happiness, but also a hint of sadness.
The joy came in knowing I was a small part of giving these folks a taste of spiritual nostalgia. We even took requests from people in the audience as they leafed through hymnals to find the ones they found most special to them. The sad fact was, because most churches don't even do hymns anymore, we actually had to borrow hundreds of hymnals from another area church just to facilitate our audience and choir. These songs are part of our heritage as Christians. These people are part of our heritage. It was a night not only to honor our musical heritage, but also those who have gone before us. The world has so changed in their lifetimes. In some ways, for the better. In many way, for the worse. But it's not only the world that has changed. The church has changed. In some ways, for the better.

In other ways, not so much.

I am proud to have been part of a night which, if only for a night, focused on these facets of our heritage. In talking with dozens of folks in attendance after it was over, it was clear that it was an important night to them. They felt the love the Ferrins have for these timeless songs and the messages contained within them. Paul even shared some great stories of the songwriters which provided deeper insight into those who penned such wonderful songs.

I think it's important for us to pay honor to those who have gone before us. I think it's also important for us to not ignore the songs written generations, even hundreds of years before us. These songs and their lyrics haven't all of a sudden become irrelevant simply because we have iPods and laptops.

Just as our country has holidays to remember our heritage and pay honor to those who sacrificed for our freedom, I believe it is equally, if not more important to remember those who are so important to our spiritual freedom we enjoy today. The fact is, our spiritual freedom is being threatened. War has been declared against our faith, not just from distant lands, but within our own borders.

We would do well to learn from those who have gone before us to learn how to fight to retain our freedom.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Notebook and Other Bittersweet Reminders

You know, sometimes you just have to wonder about God's reasons and methods of communication. There's a guy I know who believes with all his heart that God confirms things to him by the presence of stray pennies. If an idea pops in his head, and there is a loose penny on the ground, that means it is from the Lord. Other people feel God can use fortune cookie messages, or a song on the radio. Hey, who am I to say?

In looking back over the past week or so, I've run into several thought and emotion provoking moments which have been tender, and heartbreaking. It started one late night last week when I was unable to fall asleep. I turned on the TV and began playing cable roulette. Flipping from station to station looking for a channel upon which to land and settle in. I came across the Oxygen channel.

Yeah, I know.

What movie is on? None other than The Notebook. Hey, I'm a guy, but even I can appreciate this great story. As I watched it...again, it brought to my mind the love story of my parents in my mom's final years. The unconditional and sacrificial love my dad had for my mom even after her passing in March.

Then yesterday, I was strolling through the grocery store after church, and noticed an elderly couple sitting in the little dining area inside the store. They had a simple little lunch. They weren't even really talking together, but you could tell they were simply enjoying one another's company while sharing a meal. As I walked by, I tried to imagine the thousands of meals they've probably shared together over their years. I wondered about the many memories, precious and tragic they've experienced together. I wondered about how it must feel to be at that age and sharing a simple meal in a grocery store with your life's best friend.

Then last night, I watched an episode of a show I enjoy, Gene Simmons Family Jewels on A & E. In it, Gene's girlfriend Shannon went to an antique shop and purchased an old end table. When she got it home, she found some old love letters inside. She tracked down the original recipient of the letters, and was also able to help her track down a vintage photo of her long deceased husband. When Shannon was able to present the photo to the woman, her face lit up as if, in that moment, she was transported to the day the photo was taken.

All of these moments happened within the past several days, and each one reminded me of my mom. The joy she had when thinking of her husband. The joy she had when I would call or visit. The love my parents had. The friendship they shared. It was wonderful, but also painful.

While those memories came, I was also reminded of how precious love is. To this day, I have been, as they say, unlucky at love. The one thing that breaks my heart personally is the thought of living the rest of my life alone. From the movie, to the elderly couple in the store, to the joy on the woman's face when reunited with a long lost priceless picture...I tried to figure out what God might have been trying to communicate to me. He's not a cruel God. He's not really trying to rub my nose in what others have that I don't, and may never have.

I still don't know what it was all about. I may never know. But I'm trying to take these moments from the past several days and simply learn from them. I'm trying to appreciate the tiniest things which really define what love truly is. So many people are looking for travel and workout partners. They're looking for people who like to dance, go white water rafting and hike. I guess that's all fine. But I simply want a lifetime of stuff which make moments, like these ones I've described, possible.

Maybe it will never happen for me. But for those who are still looking for it, ask yourself if the person is substantive enough to thrill your heart when you're in your 80s and sharing a simple meal in a grocery store. Are you with someone who, even when nothing is happening, there's no one with whom you'd rather share that nothing, and everything. Are you with someone who, even when no words are being spoken, they're communicating to you that their life is made complete because you're in it. Are they going to be there with you when you can't remember them or even your own name? Are they going to be there when illness has made it impossible for you to take care of the most fundamental and essential things for yourself? Will you do those things for them?

I know this post is pretty melodramatic, but at the same time, maybe it's something someone needs to read and consider. I don't know.

Mom, I miss you. I miss the joy on your face and in your voice when you're surrounded by those you love most. I miss listening to you. I miss the way you made me laugh when you weren't even trying. I don't know that I'll ever experience what you and Dad shared, but I hope to someday. Your story was the most wonderful love story I've ever seen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bad Breaks Are Opportunities

There are seasons in each of our lives which just seem brutal to endure. Sometimes we just feel beaten down by it all. Defeated. Demoralized.

I have to admit, I've been feeling varying degrees of all this recently. Don't worry, it wasn't necessary to hide the cutlery or anything like that. There just comes a time when, no matter how solid your faith, you just wonder if there's any end in sight.

Here's a little example of what I mean. Earlier in the week was a series of baseball games between the Giants and Dodgers. This is a storied rivalry that dates back over 100 years when both teams were in New York City. While the rivalry stirs up a lot of emotion, there was also a lot on the line because both teams are at the top of the standings, fighting for a precious playoff spot at the end of the season. With all this drama, each of the games included some unexpected challenges for the Giants. There were numerous bad calls by the umpires, each of which went against the Giants. This isn't simply a fan's overreaction to close calls. In each incident, the replays clearly showed the errors. And in each case, the calls went against the Giants.

The point is, life is complicated enough. Life has its own drama and challenges. Just like a baseball game, even in the midst of it all, there are moments of excitement and opportunity. Even happiness. But when stuff goes wrong that just shouldn't, you have to wonder "are the breaks ever going to go my way?"

Yes, eventually things will turn around. As in the case of the Giants game yesterday, they actually won despite the bad breaks. The key is to rise above the challenges. Rise above the things that seem unfair. Rise above the victim mentality. We must be of such character that when things are stacked up against us, something rises up within us to overcome the obstacles and win anyway. Even if the outcome isn't as we had hoped, at least we didn't quit. Challenges are simply opportunities to be an overcomer.

Sometimes life lessons come when we're not even looking for them.