Friday, June 28, 2013

My Friend George

It was my first day of doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. We were asked to find a seat around a large square of tables. I sat down next to a guy in a tweed sport coat with a distinguished looking, salt and pepper beard. We didn't say much at first, but soon we got acquainted. "I'm George Flanagan."

So began a wonderful friendship that has spanned and blessed the past twenty-one years of my life. George and I, along with John McCallum, have enjoyed the journey so much more together than we ever could have apart. So many memories . . .

I remember sitting through seminars, listening to lectures, debating theology and talking shop, with George's natural gift of sarcasm always shining through.

I remember the freedom that George felt to identify B.S. whenever he heard it, and I don't mean Bible Study.

I remember George visiting the churches I served many times through the years to train our staff and lay people in vital ministry skills, and always getting the same feedback about him - there's nobody better than George.

I remember countless rounds of pretty pathetic golf, usually just the two of us, George often stopping in the middle of the round to stand under a tree and talk or to ponder why we didn't bring more golf balls.

I remember the day George showed up early to hit a bucket of balls and lost the head off of his new K-Mart driver.

I remember lots of meals, the unhealthiest food we could find, cinnamon rolls, onion rings, greasy bacon cheeseburgers, but the conversation was healthy indeed, keeping us both stable and grounded through all the ups and downs of ministry.

I remember the stunned look on George's face when he came to pick me up for a retreat and Suzanne told him that she and our three preschoolers had decided to come along. Priceless.

I remember George's music, strumming and singing the 60's, Pete Seeger, and all kinds of folk songs and ballads because, "all the new stuff sucks."

I remember the phone calls in times of crisis and need, George's gentle spirit and encouraging words, and the comfort I felt in knowing there was a friend I could count on for anything, anytime.

More recently, I remember George complaining about one part of his body after another, on the golf course, in the car, on a walk, just about everywhere, causing John and me to wonder, "Just how old is George?"

After all these years, here's the truth of it. Everyone should have a friend like George Flanagan. Then everyone would be blessed as I have been blessed. And that's no B.S.

A very happy 65th birthday to my friend George. God's best blessings on you and your family.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Summertime

Summertime Sights:
  • the lights of the Little League ballpark against the fading twilight of summer evenings
  • a long line of people waiting at the window of Dairy Queen
  • boys and girls lined up to march in behind the flags at Vacation Bible School
  • lots of signs - Welcome to Kentucky or North Carolina or Colorado or New Mexico or wherever, "Smile!"
  • our special friend, Gail Gray, hitting a home run and rounding the bases on every single evening of Little League baseball
Summertime Tastes:
  • cold watermelon
  • buttery corn on the cob
  • homemade ice cream
  • a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich
  • burgers and dogs grilled over charcoal
Summertime Sounds:
  • fireworks booming away with "Oohs" and "Ahhs" in the background
  • lawnmowers humming around the neighborhood on evening walks
  • the spring of the diving board and the big splash of a can opener or a cannonball
  • the crack of a bat hitting a baseball, Little League or major league
  • the cool sound of a bicycle with playing cards pinned against the spokes
Summertime Smells:
  • fresh cut grass
  • breaking in a new baseball glove
  • fish around the boat dock on the lake
  • smoky charcoal, cooking supper in the backyard
  • the cheap bubble gum that came with the baseball cards
Summertime Heat:
  • hot vinyl seats in our station wagon 
  • hurried steps across the hot concrete from the pool to my towel
  • picking up and putting up bails of hay on hot afternoons
  • two a day football practices under a blazing August sun
  • funeral home fans, the only A/C in a country church
Summertime Joy:
  • The day I learned to ride a bike on the Kroger parking lot.
  • The night our Little League umpire, Shorty Aker, told me I could be a big leaguer some day. (I didn't know at the time that he said that to all the boys.)
  • Making it across the pool without touching the bottom, finally qualifying for the deep end and the diving board. 
  • family reunions, long Saturday afternoons at the park, Grandpa smoking his pipe and telling great stories, Grandma just shaking her head.
  • Seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time with my family and throwing snowballs at my brothers in July.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Twenty Minutes with Dad

As Father's Day rolls around again, some familiar feelings and thoughts come to my mind. It's been twenty-four years since Dad died. He was just sixty years old, stricken with colon cancer. I was twenty-nine, a young pastor and a new father to our newborn baby boy, Sam. Losing your dad and becoming a dad simultaneously is a tough transition, a strange mingling of tears and laughter, grief and joy. Two days after Sam was born, I picked up Suzanne and the baby from the hospital and drove them to Kansas City to another hospital, so Dad could see and hold his new grandson. I have a picture of Dad in his pajamas holding Sam there on his hospital bed, but I don't look at that picture often. It's just too painful, even now.

A few weeks after Dad's passing along came Father's Day, my first as a real dad. I remember thinking, "Can I be the kind of dad to this little guy that Dad was to me? Can I give the same gift to my children that my father gave to me? Well, I can try."

Lots of water under the bridge since that Father's Day. Three kids from diapers to diplomas, learning to walk, learning to drive, learning to live. Thank God for Suzanne, an amazing woman and mother with a stubborn and persistent love that none of us could have made it without. It's been a wonderful journey, with highs and lows, mountains and valleys to be sure, but worth every step, every day, every year.

Well, I'm not twenty-nine anymore, teetering along somewhere on the upside of middle age. During the course of the years there have been a few times when I would have given anything to just have twenty minutes with Dad. Moments of crisis, bewildering times, crossroads of decision. "Lord, you've got him for all eternity, but I just need him for twenty minutes, just a little time to talk to him." But that prayer always went unanswered. My request was denied. All such conversations must wait until we are both on the same side of the curtain of death.

But what if the answer was yes? What if I could have twenty minutes with Dad? What would I want to say? What would I need to ask? What would we talk about? As I pondered these questions a few thoughts came to my mind. Here's my twenty minutes with Dad this Father's Day:

Time sure is funny, isn't it, Dad? Strange how those twenty-four years since you've been gone can seem like just a week or two and other days it seems like you've been gone forever. Must be nice to be on the other side, beyond time, no clocks or calendars, just one big now. Sounds good to me.

Dad, it seems so strange to me that you never grew old. You lived and died as a young man. Half of your children are already older than you lived to be. I remember hearing you talk about your retirement plans, lots of hopes and dreams, chapters of your life now left unwritten. A wonderful novel compressed into a short story.

I regret so much that our children know you only through me and Mom and the stories we tell. I wish they could have known you, Dad. You were such a good grandpa. And you would love our kids, Dad. Each one has a little bit of you and I'm grateful for that. You would be proud.

I miss watching football with you, Dad. I remember our last game, watching the Super Bowl in your hospital room, just the two of us and Joe Montana coming through for you. And I miss playing really bad golf with you. Every time someone shakes their head at my golf swing, I just say, "My dad taught me how to play."

I miss our sermon talks, discussing scripture, sharing stories, when I was just starting out. Just last week I was looking through your sermon file, Dad, checking out what you had preached on Galatians. I love reading your sermons, because as I read, I hear them in your voice. You're still preaching to me, Dad.

I have the sermon you wrote and preached for my ordination service, Dad. Remember what you said afterwards? I told you it was the best sermon you ever preached and you said it was probably the only one I ever really listened to. Got me there.

Thanks for letting me into your ministry, Dad, when I was first feeling God's call. Thanks for giving me a little window into your life and work, an invaluable gift for a young preacher. I guess God knew you were going home early, so He let you give me a little boost, a head start, the short course on what it means to a be a pastor. Sure, seminary helped a little, but you were my mentor, my model.

You told me it would be hard sometimes, not always a church picnic, and you weren't kidding. You taught me that ministry means sometimes doing things you would much rather not do. And I remember when you warned me that in the dark, troubled days of ministry, the only thing that will keep you going is the unshakable awareness of God's calling on your life. And, you were right on all counts, Dad. Thanks for bracing me for the hard times even years in advance.
 
I still meet folks from time to time, Dad, who knew you, worked with you, people who were blessed by your life and ministry. I love that. I love it when even those who may be strangers to me seem to know what a gifted and godly man you were. It's amazing to me to see how your influence and ministry continues to bear fruit so many years later. 

You sure would be proud of Mom. That incredible woman you married has managed to keep your family together and growing and loving each other just like you knew she would. It broke her heart to lose you, Dad, but after a few years we began to realize that maybe, just maybe, she was the strong one. She's the glue that holds it all together, just like you said. 

And, Dad, don't you worry about Mom. Whatever she needs now or whenever, we're all lined up like Christmas morning at the top of the stairs. We'll be there for her, Dad, every step of the way, until you can take care of her again.

On this Father's Day I know I am among the blessed few who can remember and honor and give thanks and say from the heart, "The finest man I have ever known was my father." Thanks, Dad. I love you. See you later. -Drew  

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Toying with Talent

Bertoldo de Giovanni is a name even the most enthusiastic lover of art is unlikely to recognize. In his time, he was an important sculptor but none of his work has lasted. His chief claim to fame is as a historical connector. He was the pupil of Donatello, the greatest sculptor of his time, and the teacher of Michelangelo, the greatest sculptor of all time.

Michelangelo was only fourteen years old when he came to Bertoldo, but it was already obvious that he was enormously gifted. Bertoldo was wise enough to realize that gifted people are often tempted to coast rather than to grow, and therefore he kept trying to pressure his young prodigy to work seriously at his art. One day, he came into the studio to find Michelangelo toying with a piece of sculpture far beneath his abilities. Bertoldo grabbed a hammer, stomped across the room, and smashed the work into tiny pieces, shouting his unforgettable message: "Michelangelo, talent is cheap; dedication is costly!"

What separates people is not so much their innate abilities as their motivation. Few of us live up to our potential. Excellence does not always require great gifts so much as great commitment. - Gary Inrig, "A Call to Excellence"