Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Little Red Wagon

Our sixteen-year-old needs a place to park his new (OK, new to him) car, so we spent the weekend cleaning out the garage, re-organizing, and getting rid of stuff we don't need/use/want anymore.

We are getting rid of the little red wagon.

I had a red wagon when I was small. I have a few memories of it. Dad used to pull me to the store to buy candy. I remember riding downhill in it as though it were a sled on wheels, using the handle in a vain attempt to steer.

So, sixteen years ago when we had a son, I bought a little red wagon. My father once again was in charge of pulling my children in it through the neighborhood. My main use of it was to pull them to school on the first day of kindergarten.

It is not something that we used a lot, obviously. For the last years, it is has been a makeshift storage bin in the garage for extension cords, gas cans, and most recently seashells that the girls picked up last March on the beach and have been meaning to clean for the last six months.

Clearly, there is no reason to keep it. We don't use it. The kids are too big for it. It is old. It is taking up needed space.

But it pains me to give it away.

I expect that we all have little red wagons in our lives. We don't have a good reason for keeping them around, but they make us smile. They evoke memories. We just know that if we keep them around, we will find a use for them sometime.

Then keener minds prevail, and the wagon goes on the pickup, headed for Goodwill.

That's ok. I would rather use the garage space for Trey's 2003 blue Mustang than for the 1993 red Radio Flyer. The very new memory of seeing his face when he got the keys will not be erased either.

They can take my wagon away, but they cannot erase the memory of seeing my kids pulled by their grandfather. They cannot make me forget the walk from our house to the new Harpeth Valley Elementary School for Trey's first day of kindergarten.

Value your wagons. Value more the kids you pull in them. One is a symbol for the other, and symbols can be discarded while the symbolism remains.

If you see me smiling this week, I might just be remembering the little red wagon.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Week of Memories

I write this on September 13. I expect many of us have spent the last week living with memories, as have I. But before I get to the obvious nighmarish memories that we have all shared from that day eight years ago, let me start with two other memories that make this week quite special for me.

September 9, twenty years ago: Gena said "Yes." I became a fiance'. The idea that someone would agree to spend the rest of her life with me - would commit her very life to mine - is still hard for me to comprehend. The idea that that person would be the one who continues to bewitch and amaze me is quite breathtaking. That she would love me remains a mystery and a gift.

September 10, sixteen years ago: Trey breathed his first breath. I became a father. More mystery - that I could participate in the creation of life. That love could result in this incredible gift is beyond what any of us really understands. Now I watch him drive, interact with his peers, discover life and love, lead, and continue to learn to follow Christ. Amazing.

September 11, eight years ago: I was leaving my Tuesday morning Bible study group that met (and still meets without me) at Belmont University in Nashville. I turned on my radio at about 8:05 central time and - like you and everyone else - was shocked and saddened and concerned by the news. In fact, I was so taken that I drove absently through a school zone and got pulled over. Fortunately, no one was hurt. (The judge let me out of the ticket - a testament to the universal recognition of the effects of the news of that morning on all of us.) We still fight battles across the world that are at least tangentially related to that event. We live a little more carefully, take more time being cleared to get on airplanes, wonder a little more about the events of racial profiling we see around us, and pray more about our immediate futures than we did before. We see that void on the NYC skyline and remember. We visit a field in Pennsylvania or the side of the Pentagon and remember.

I am glad that this week - a week of most horrid memories for us all - is also one with memories for me that are transcendent. There is a lesson here, even if you did not get engaged or have a child born this week: God's gifts can be found through the smoke. He truly gives more grace.

Monday, September 7, 2009

God Is Love - A Lesson from a Funeral

It is the most basic of Christian ideas. It is what we have heard so often that many of us are no longer moved by it. God is Love.

I have heard more than one churchgoer say something along the lines of "I hope this sermon tells us something deeper than just God is love."

I don't think there is anything deeper than that.

I was a part of an event - a funeral, of all things - several years ago that has left images indelibly imprinted on my mind. I have told the story often, and I want to tell it here.

One of my very favorite verses comes from the little book of Zephaniah. “The Lord your God is with you; He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love; He will rejoice over you with singing.” That does not say that God rejoices when we do things well, when we sing just the right notes. He rejoices over us, period. We are His.

This point was brought home to me a few years ago at that funeral. Grant Cunningham was my age. We met the first day of Welcome Week at Baylor. You could not miss his absurdly curly red hair or his infectious grin. Seven years later, we found ourselves, both married by now, as members of the same church in Nashville. I had gone to Nashville to practice law. Grant had gone there, like so many others, to write music.

Unlike so many others, Grant was good at it. He was real good. He won Dove Awards. You may know Point of Grace's song called “The Great Divide.” Grant wrote that one.

And then, at the age of 38, with twin two year old boys, in a recreational soccer game of all things, Grant died in a freak accident.

I will never, ever forget Grant’s funeral. The music scene in Nashville can produce much in the way of cynicism and me-first oneupsmanship, but there was none of that to be seen that day, as an outpouring of love and respect could not be contained. The biggest names in contemporary Christian music were there; some, like Michael W. Smith and Nicole Nordeman, sang in the service because Kristen asked them to. Others were simply crying and worshiping in a memorial for their friend.

But then something happened that I had never seen before in a funeral service. After Pastor Scotty Smith finished preaching a powerful, evangelistic message that Grant would have “Amen”ed, Scotty moved to the side, the lights dimmed, and a screen descended from the ceiling. The projector came on, and we saw Grant’s face. It was a videotape of Grant singing – apparently at a writer’s night showcasing some new material – the song that turned out to be his last #1 hit. You may know the song “Blue Skies.”

I know it sounds hokey, but you will have to trust me when I tell you that it was heart-rending to see Grant’s face and hear his voice sing his words from a screen suspended over his closed casket.

When the song was over and the screen went dark, the room sat in hushed reverence. Then, without a script or a prompting, I saw Grant’s father stand up on the front row and begin to clap. Just standing there, back to the thousand or so people in the room, looking at … what: – the casket?, the blank screen?, his own tears?, I am not sure – and standing alone and clapping. I was devastated – it was a father’s applause for the life’s work of his son. We in the room were transfixed, for this was not an ovation for a great singing job – I promise you that Point of Grace sings “Blue Skies” far better than Grant could ever have hoped to sing it. Instead, we were witnessing a father watching his son’s last performance and showing his unashamed approval.

Don’t miss the message. God is rejoicing over us. When we come to the end and the tape of our life’s accomplishments is played, it will not matter how well we sang. What matters is that we are His. God will review the tape and stand and applaud and hand us our crown of glory and honor.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are. He is everlasting God, and we are His.

And God is love.