Learning To Dance

It’s said that “you can never go home again” but what I thinks meant by that is that you can’t go back in time. And while that’s certainly true, at the same time it can seem impossible to move out of your past and into the present, let alone into your future! Despite all of that, earlier this year I did make a move! I moved my family from south-central to a new place in south-west Missouri,back to my hometown!

Not only my hometown,but to the very neighborhood I grew up in…

Even though I consider myself to be a sentimental person who as such is well acquainted with the “slings and arrows”which so often accompany it I’ll admit to being caught off guard by my subsequent reactions. It took a while for me to sort out why on a certain level I seemed angry about how so many things I remembered had changed! Like I was caught in the throes of some childlike egocentric fit over not having been “consulted”.

I didn’t say that the feelings were “right” only that I was having them!

Another thing I wasn’t really prepared for was the onslaught of questions that living in such close proximity to my past would move to the front burner of my mind or the rough terrain I’d have to traverse to find the difficult answers they demanded! Questions like…

“What the heck happened to my education?”

or

Just exactly where and how did my life “Jump the shark” so to speak…

 I want to make it really clear that this isn’t just some sort of pity party I decided to throw for myself nor am I attempting to fix blame on God or anyone else. Some of the events of my life have been rather unfortunate and apart from my aforementioned personal search for answers my intent or purpose in writing about them here is to encourage others who’ve had or will have similar experiences.Understanding our own issues of the past can be the key to moving beyond them into a better future! I can hardly express how important it is for me to be able to look back on my life and instead of feeling despair regarding certain aspects of it, to feel hopeful. Hopeful not only because I survived it but because I somehow found the courage to go on and the faith to believe there was something better waiting for me somewhere. lastly,to express my thankfulness to my Father in heaven who did then,and does now hold me in the palm of His loving hand!

I’d like to start with this video clip which was probably taken in the summer of 1971 when I was 10yrs old. As I watched it I remember being taken aback at how happy I appear to be! This video was taken by my father during one of the most difficult periods of my life,within a few months after my parents’ divorce.

The surrealistic background music provides a fitting contrast to the seemingly carefree display caught on the clip. It truly is a reality vacuum! Not only had my family recently changed in a not so good way, I’d also been the victim of significant sexual abuse on several occasions by people close to me. I’d recently become involved with a local church and had accepted Christ as my Savior, been baptized,and then when I stopped coming…forgotten.

I watched helplessly as my father who I worshiped became increasingly distant and more invested in his new life and family and less in me. I found out what it was to be hungry and to not have sufficient clothing that fit properly. And so at my lowest point,to then have my mother on whom I had become quite emotionally dependent begin spending a great deal of time away from me further compounded my feelings of insignificance. I was still just a bit too young to roam the streets after dark like my older brother…so I spent a lot of time at home alone.

When I watch this video…

I wonder what in the world I had to dance about!

And then it hit me…

I was playing the best cards I had in front of the one person I loved the most in the whole world! And despite everything wrong that had happened in my life up to that point in that moment,I chose to dance!

To block out everything else and focus on the only thing I felt had the potential to save me…

His love!

In my mind I was just doing what I’d always done…performing!

But what I was really doing was sort of the ultimate act of defiance.

I was in effect saying to the circumstances of my life,

You have not defeated me, you’ve thrown just about everything you could at me.

And guess what? I’m still dancing!

Isaiah 54:17

 No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.

It still inspires me…But what happened after that? You’d think that someone with that sort of “sand” would probably go far in life. I think what happened to me, and what happens to a lot of other people too is that we eventually become convinced that there’s nothing in this life worth dancing (or smiling) for!

When the subject of my education comes up what happened is no surprise considering I’d been a dedicated addict for almost six years at the age of 17. What I struggle to understand is why my school counselors and administrative staff chose to ignore what was happening. I attended a vocational course in the mornings which I was bused to and from daily and then spent the afternoons in various classes. As that last semester of my junior year came to a close I believe I was simply overwhelmed by the assignments which were due. Not knowing quite how to handle that I chose to simply skip the last eight days of afternoon classes…and so I flunked the eleventh grade!

I understand that I wasn’t the only “problem child” they were dealing with but I wonder could they of made a phone call to my parents? Aren’t there policies in place concerning this type of infraction? One last thing,anyone that reads this who attended my high school or any high school in the seventies for that matter knows what it was like as far as drug use on campus is concerned,and so, after they failed as an institution to provide a safe and secure environment for students to learn in and I become a victim of that I’m appalled that they could then decide that the thing to do is throw me out!

This took place during a time when my mother was going through another divorce from her second husband and we ended up moving from an upper class home in an exclusive neighborhood into a small two bedroom apartment. I did enroll the next year at a different school and lasted maybe a month before my principal at vocational school suggested that what would be best for me would be to quit school and get a GED. I did get a GED, and that was basically the end of my formal education although in truth I believe I learned precious little from formal schooling past the age of about 12.

One of the most common, if not the most common things you’ll hear Christian ministers say is “God has a plan for your life” and of course I believe that! I also believe that our enemy has a plan for us too…I’m convinced that on the day I made that walk down the isle and knelt down at an altar to accept Christ as my Lord and Savor there was a celebration in heaven! I also believe there was an emergency board meeting in hell! That meeting’s purpose was to put the kibosh on the plans my heavenly Father had for me and subvert the role I was designed to play in ushering in His kingdom.My sense is that there must of been no small amount of surprise and disappointment expressed by the attendee’s that their earlier efforts on my behalf had had so little present effect on me.

Knowing that my souls redemption was a done deal at this point, their only remaining option was to try and stop me from doing what I had the God given potential to do and be in Gods Kingdom by whatever means available to them! I mentioned at the beginning the feelings I’d been having and what I thought they were related to. However at this point I’d have to say that they’re actually directed at the forces of darkness which have for many years stolen so much from me in this life. Who’ve worked diligently behind the scenes orchestrating circumstances and events in my life to do towards me what’s prescribed in the mission statement below…

John 10:10

 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Obviously there’s a disconnect between those two premises…

Genesis 50:20

 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

These are all life verses to me…

They give me hope,encouragement and peace in the midst of my storms!

Romans 8:28

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

King David danced before the Lord. Out of joy that the Ark of The Covenant had at last been returned to Jerusalem. David had to go through quite a painful learning process as he endeavored to lay down his will and surrender completely to God. In my life I’ve been challenged by similar lessons,it seems as though I too was following the example of the Philistines! Learning to trust that God truly does know what He’s doing allows me to be able to sit, (or dance) so that He can stand for me! The answers to our problems are still the same for us today as they were for David then! All of us have a God sized hole which can only be filled by drawing closer to Him! By staying focused on The Father, through our Lord who is Love,which is the answer,instead of on our world and it’s problems! If we can do that, we can also experience the continual joy of being in the Lords presence!

To me,that’s what “learning to dance” means…

The Memories…

It’s been quite a memorable summer in a lot of ways!

The heat was definitely one reason, just about everyone has memories of how they found sweet relief from it. Whether it was in the pool or the pond, in a lake or a stream, most remedies involve finding some COOL water!

They say that summer days are “okay” but the nights are made for love…

Speaking of love and summer night’s, my wife and daughter both “love” all of the little house books which were originally written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  So when we read in a local publication that the  Ozark Mountain Players were performing a play on Friday night August 6-7th  in Mansfield, Mo. called Laura’s Memories we decided to go! We drove the short distance to Mansfield early in the afternoon and took in the tour that’s given daily of the author’s home and the museum which is also on the grounds. It was interesting even for me, to see things like the actual fiddle which belonged to “Pa” and other personal family items.

It was a wonderful night of theater under the stars at the newly built outdoor amphitheater!

I very much enjoyed the overall presentation! An actress who bore a remarkable resemblance to the real Mrs.Wilder introduced each scene in which the players re-enacted stories from her books.

The “Farmer Boys” were quite entertaining!

During the intermission, playwright Terry Spyres took the time to meet and talk to my daughter. She was very nice and my daughter was thrilled to meet her!

I ask you, can there be a better way to spend a summer night then at the fair?

What memories!

I don’t really remember where I was when President Kennedy was shot, I was very young, three to be exact. But I can speak with remarkable clarity about the first time anybody ever gave me a five dollar bill. It was on the way to the fair. We were about halfway across the Glenstone viaduct when my father’s large hairy arm reached over the white leather front seat of our 1963 Buick Riviera into the back seat holding two crisp five dollar bills which he fanned apart with his thumb and index finger towards my brother and I.

I was couldn’t of been much more than six years old…

I have no doubt that I spent at least part of my windfall on a pineapple whip ice cream cone. I think they probably still sell them there although I’m sure they’re not as good now. And corndogs, the kind that they make fresh! I always appreciated the medium sized paint brush that was there to use for slathering on the mustard, “these people really know how to eat!” I thought.

Who hasn’t walked through the gauntlet of carnival game row? Can you remember the scary guy that barked you down?  The guy with an earring and numerous tattoo’s chain smoking a Camel no-filter who by the insistent tone of his gravelly voice left you no choice but to,

“Try a free throw kid, every ones a winner!”

How about a Demolition Derby?

It wouldn’t be a proper fair without some type of a grandstand show! Whether it’s a concert, a truck pull, a beauty contest, an actual stock car race or whatever. I’m partial to dirt track car races myself, the kind that put enough red clay dust into the air that you can actually taste it! Along with the horrendous noise of the un-muffled engines, the burning smell of rubber, gas and oil, it’s an experience that never fails to get my adrenalin pumping! It’s sort of a man thing, although I have seen lots of women get plenty excited rooting for their favorite driver!

I need to turn this little trip down memory lane back towards the house…I hope that I’ve reminded you of some special memories you have of summertime. I hope that I’ve provided my daughter with some good times that she’ll be able to look back on with fondness someday. I’m thankful for my memories, they’re like snapshots we keep in our hearts of the moments when we forgot about everything else except the fun we were having! I’m also thankful to God for how He continues to care for me and my family in these tough times. Who like my own father, knows my needs and who’s gifts to me aren’t based on what I deserve but instead on His great love for me!

Thanks Dad…

Remember is a place from long ago
Remember filled with everything you know
Remember when you’re sad and feelin’ down
Remember turn around

Remember life is just a memory
Remember close your eyes and you can see
Remember think of all that life can be

Remember

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Harry Nilsson-Remember

The True Vine

It’s quite amazing to me how much insight the seemingly insignificant objects and circumstances of our lives have to offer us if we’ll just stop for a moment to look and listen. Like word pictures on a life size screen they patiently wait for us to focus on them to impart to us their message.

Last week I gathered together the remnants of the partitions that I had moved from the ministry center and used them to construct a playhouse for my daughter. It worked out nicely because I also had several bundles of shingles that had been left sitting in the yard by my brother in-law to use for the roof and this was the proper motivator for me to deal with them.

As I was sitting outside admiring my handiwork one evening in the relative coolness that so blessedly replaces the intense midday heat of August,  my attention was drawn to the artificial vines that I had draped across the structure. I was impressed by their realistic appearance as they moved with the occasional light summer breeze.  So beautiful! Unlike the real vegetation in my yard that was starting to wither from the heat, they were unchanged…

I saw these real grapevines growing and so I snapped this shot to use for comparison.

They look as if they’ve been through a hot summer. Most of the leaves have wilted and fallen off allowing a better view of the delicious fruit they’ve given their all to produce.

All of this vine viewing caused me to take a serious look at my own spiritual life.

Is my Christian life just about appearances?

Do I really have a connection to the true vine?

Given the choice,would I rather not “get real” if it meant that I couldn’t remain unchanged and indifferent to my environment?

Am I really so superficial that I’d prefer to be something with practically no value primarily because it required nothing of me other than to go through the motions?

Am I “okay” with never bearing any real fruit because deep down I know what a drag it is being a fake…

John 15:1/5

1I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

5I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

My recent evangelistic/ministerial efforts fell pretty far short of what my hopes were for them but I feel as though I learned many valuable lessons in the process. I’m still very interested in seeing my vision of a ministry center happen, I think it’s a great idea that could produce a lot of fruit!

Basically the idea is for the church to connect with people by providing assistance with many of the common issues that are causing both the churched and unchurched so many problems today. It’s more than just mentoring, it’s free help with things like exercise classes and health maintainence information, diet and food issues, money stewardship, family skills and counseling, substance abuse and addiction support meetings. All centered around the practical application of biblical principles as the solution to every need!

Why not put it all under one roof and make it convenient and organized so that people could be more easily helped? There would be paid teaching/training positions as well as a lot of volunteer work done by members of  local congregations which would provide their members with great opportunities to  stir up the gifts within them as they serve God and their communities!

According to the statistics I’ve read put out by The Barna Group we’re losing the battle for souls in this nation. If I were to speculate as to why that is I’d have to say that it seems as though the church has gotten a reputation for being about all of the wrong things. We’re hypocrites, child molesters, thieves and con men in peoples eye’s who it seems really only care about one thing and that’s money!

And according to author Anne Rice who recently “quit” Christianity,

we’re primarily known for what we’re against, not what we’re for…

What better way can you think of to let people know what we’re actually “for” ?

This can be accomplished by promoting what it means to live victoriously in a tangible way they can easily relate to.  As the true vine we’re called to love above all things, which can perhaps be defined as being willing to ask,

“How can I help?”

We as the church must attempt to reach everyone that’s “wrestling” with all of the weapons that have been formed against them by the powers and principalities of our enemy. The only way that we can lose is If we continue to do nothing but sit back and wait for the lost to come to us instead of going to them.  Instead we should be open compelled to do whatever it takes to share the good news of salvation and deliverance with everyone who’s life is plagued by the effects of sin!

The Father gave us the resources to build multi-million dollar churches, He left us with His Holy Spirit to help us, and He sent us Jesus who defeated the Devil for us so that none of these weapons can prosper against us unless we allow them!

What will we as the church do with all of that?

I guess that depends on who and what we really are…

Philippians 4:13

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.