August 26, 2011

A Good-Bye Letter to MOM

(A much longer post than usual)

A Good-bye Letter to Mom

Dear Mom,

I just wanted to write you a letter to say thank you for all that you were to me.
You were amazing and I miss you so much already, even though only 2 months have passed.

Your life gave me life. I was an infant conceived in your womb, carried lovingly by you for 9 months and brought into the world with great pain and joy by you.
You cuddled me, nursed me, changed me, rocked me to sleep.
You cooed with me and gently encouraged me to take my first steps.
You sang over me, prayed over me and laughed over me.
Your love was the strong foundation that my life was launched upon.
Thank you for your love and your tender care.

You loved me in the midst of your own pain and suffering as you watched the love of your life slowly die in front of your eyes. My first two years of starting life were being celebrated even as you were living the last two years of daddy’s life. You were a strong woman for sure.

I couldn’t conceive of what it meant to lose my daddy but you carried me through what I did not know I was living through. You held me over the casket and I blew on daddy’s face in an effort to awaken him. Yet, he did not get up...but you had to get up the next day and the next and the next to care for a young toddler who was learning to trust, learning to speak, learning to live.

Thank you for the effort you put into me at a time when you felt like you wanted to die yourself.
Many times you probably wanted to just lie down and stay there for a week but little Larry was too active to let you do so. Thanks for getting up and building into my young life.

Your prayers over me and your insistent effort to teach me to pray before every meal and before I went to bed, still have impact upon me today 52 years later. Your prayers changed me in ways I won’t even know of until heaven. Your prayers were always sincere and filled with faith. You were never an exhibitionist in prayer but you prayed simply, earnestly, and perseveringly.

You are probably the reason I fly all over the world and adventure into the remote places to share the gospel of Jesus. Taking me on a trip to Africa when I was only four was a huge undertaking for a young single mom. I might not remember too much of that trip but it planted something in me that not only lived on, but grew and now is bearing fruit in the Philippines, Ethiopia, Kenya, Indonesia, India, etc.

You modeled a love for education and love for hard work...when I was only five you left the familiar, the life of comfort and off you went to graduate school in Anderson Indiana to get a teaching credential...that year was a great adventure for our little family of 3. I would see you typing papers late into the night....reading, learning, writing....these became my passion as well and its you that I have to blame for having insatiable appetite to keep I am thinking of a second doctorate...a Ph.d in Global Leadership. Thank you for passing on this love.

You were the consummate teacher...whether in the fifth grade classroom at school or in the Sunday School classroom or in the youth group or in the Choir...or in were always teaching, sharing, helping others develop and you passed that on to me as well. I love to stand in front of a group and share something that will help them reach higher.  

Your love for the church of Jesus is one of the greatest treasures that I imbibed from you. Every time the doors were open to the First Church of God in Hugoton Kansas...we were there. We were front row. We were involved. You were leading something. You were volunteering for something. You were championing some new cause at the church.  You saw the church in both her beauty and brokenness, but you emphasized the beauty of His bride. I love the church largely because you loved the church.

When you married my step-dad you took a big step that I didn’t fully understand at age almost 11. I liked dad, but I had been your only man and it was an adjustment for me. I had no idea about the joy or the pain that that relationship would bring to your life. I rejoiced that you had a companion...and was happy to have a dad in my life...even though he was stumbling forward in that role.

I watched you live and love out of a commitment to your marriage vows. There were some tough times in that relationship but you were like a bulldog who refused to let go of that which you were devoted to. In the last years of your life it was a great joy to see the way in which dad cared for you in the midst of your cancer. I learned that even the best intentioned relationship, even with Christians, can face uphill times, and that the climb is always worth the effort. I believe my marriage is better and stronger because of what I saw in you.

You were always my cheerleader, my number one fan, the one who believed I could do great things. You weren’t the kind of mom to brag all over town about your kid....but when the other person brought it up, you were happy to say the “Amen!” You never pushed, but always offered to help me try new were there to help me build a car for the Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby...I was the only kid who didn’t have a dad helping them...we built a cool car but it was pretty slow! You were there to help me with my first public talk ever...a 4H presentation on “The Care of Your Hare”...a riveting speech about taking care of rabbits (we had 30 of them at the time) were there when I decided to do Competitive Swimming and was the slowest guy in my age division...I wanted to quit before the season was over but you wouldn’t let me. You were there when I decided to ride bulls (steers actually) in the Little Britches Rodeo...that lasted only a few seconds.

You were at every game I played in football and basketball and every track meet. You were there cheering me forward, never expecting me to win but always expecting me to do my very very best. And when I started to win and set new track records in the quarter were beaming with pride while telling me not to get full of pride.

You were my campaign manager when I ran for President of the State Youth Group and we won that campaign with the motto “Walk a Mile for Walkemeyer”. We were big time then.

You would cringe when ever I told you I was off on another grand adventure (camping trip to the draw, backpacking trip to the Rockies, riding my bike 350 miles to Denver, road tripping to Indiana when only 15, off to Explo 72 in Dallas when only an 8th grader, motorcycle-ing to Two Buttes, flying a Cessna to pick up my prom date in Colorado, etc.) but then you would offer advice, warnings, and prayers. You gave me freedom...probably too much freedom, but what a great time I had because of your belief in me.

I was a rambunctious but good kid...your morals were ingrained in taught me not just the rules, but the reasons behind the rules and you pointed out to me the pain in the lives of those who violated them. I never really wanted to be like the crowd even though I wanted to be liked by the crowd. You were always there with a motherly quote to direct my decisions. Thank you for that kind of guidance...being clear without being smothering.

I remember all the times you cared for me in my multitude of injuries. Broken arms, broken collar bones, three knee surgeries, back surgery, and a host of smaller owies... you were there with motherly care, good cooking, and encouragement to get back up..

Thank you for the way you loved my wife...she and three other APU students lived with us for three months of summer as we ministered together. You taught her so many things that how to cook...and you embraced her even before you knew she would be my bride. Once we were married you were an excellent mother-in-law...supporting without meddling, coaching without coercing. You loved my wife like your own daughter and were proud of each of her accomplishments.

When Deb had a cancer your heart was broken and your hands were moved...once again you dropped everything and came and cared for her and for me with a strength and faith that made the journey much more bearable. Thank you.

When Lindsey came along you stepped into the grandmother role with an infectious enthusiasm. Lindsey felt cherished, cared for, and encouraged by the presence of Grandma in her life. Those summers you kept her so she could learn to ride horses, do chores, pick in the garden, and feed goats are some of her most special memories. Your prayers and wisdom guided her and helped reinforce the path we were leading her down. Today she exhibits much of your pluck, your morals, and your attitude to life. Thank you, Mom.

When we adopted Anjelica, you embraced her as well. Even though she was already 18 you decided that if we were taking her as a daughter, you would love her like a granddaughter. You made her feel accepted when she could have felt so alone and crushed in the world.

TJ was the same way...and it was a miracle that your health rebounded enough for you to be present and a wonderful addition to Lindsey’s and TJ’s wedding. TJ loved you like his own grandmother because you made him feel so special.

Resilient. That’s the word that describes you best. Like the Timex watch ads of long ago, “you took a licken and kept on ticken”. You bounced back from the loss of your first husband, the loss of your farm, bankruptcy, emotionally tough times in your marriage, the loss of your second husband, and in the end you bounced back from your cancer diagnosis. Your resiliency stemmed from your deep faith in the one who bounced back from death. Jesus was your reason and your power to “come back strong” after each blow that life dealt you. Thank you for that model.

Thank you for the way you walked through your last five years...your courage in the face of the cancer that was robbing your body of strength was a testimony to me of your daily reliance upon the power of God. Seven days before you died you insisted that you not miss church on Sunday. It was Sunday and if you weren’t dead you should be in God’s house to worship Him...and you were. It was fitting to me that you went to God’s house forever on a Sunday. It was like you waited until Sunday to die.

Thank you for waiting to die until I arrived. I prayed otherwise. I talked to you on the phone and encouraged you to go home to Jesus before I got there. I didn’t want you to suffer. But you had different plans. They thought you would die on Thursday, then Friday, then Saturday, then Sunday morning...but you hung on till I got there Sunday evening. And then, although you had been unresponsive for 24 hours...when I kissed you on the cheek and told you I loved you, two large tears rolled down your if to say, “I love you Larry and will miss you too”. With all three of your kids there, loving you, singing over you, praying for you, blessing you...two hours after I arrived... you went HOME to your reward.

Proverbs 31:25-31 is the only fitting closure that I can bring to this letter to you, Mom.
The last verse Proverbs 31:31 is my prayer for you. Thank you, Mom and I love you, Mom.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
  she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
  and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
  and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
  her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
  but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
  but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31 Give her the reward she has earned,
  and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

With All My Love and Until I See You Again,
Your Son,
Larry Joe

August 24, 2011

Stretch- The Secret of Effective Leadership

I like to work out at 24 Hour Fitness. 30 minutes of cardio followed by 30 minutes of weight lifting is a panacea for me. My muscles respond and grow if I am faithful at this. But there is a part of my fitness routine that I am woefully inadequate in....STRETCHING.

My wife is a faithful stretcher and seeks to influence me in the higher ways of stretching. But I am a slow convert. It just seems to me that stretching doesn't accomplish much. Cardio- my lungs and heart expand...Lifting- my shirts get tight around the biceps. Stretching...I don't see immediate results.

But my wife, as usual, has a wisdom I don't yet possess. She understands that with stretching comes flexibility, resilience, adaptability, prevention to pain and injury, increased muscle capacity.

There are a lot of leaders who work hard but haven't learned the wisdom and power of STRETCHING.

Stretching is the SECRET of the RUBBER BAND. Have you ever tried to "shoot" a rubber band? If you don't stretch it far enough it has no power and flies nowhere. If you stretch it too far it simply breaks. But if you put the right amount of tension on it. WHAM it flies further than you imagined it could.

There are 10 Stretches for Leaders that I have identified. Let me share just one.
STRETCH between your REALITY and your VISION.
Reality is defined by where you are right now and what you have to work with currently.
Many leaders want to VISIONIZE without regard to their present reality.
They want to start from where they wish they were or where they inaccurately think they are.
Integrity in reality assessment is crucial.

Vision is defined as "a clear picture of your preferred future that produces passion in you today"
Many leaders never get a truly clear picture of where they are headed so there is no tension in their rubber band. Vision clarification is vital.
Being fully attached to REALITY and yet STRETCHING towards a defined VISION, that is where the power lies.
The power resides in the ability to STAY in the TENSION.
It is our natural tendency to want to ease the tension and become SLACKERS.
More to be said on the subject...but my prayer is that God would help me learn to STRETCH more effectively (and Deb...I promise I will start joining you for more stretching in the gym, too).

August 22, 2011

The Pastor, The Leader, The Papa

High in the mountains of British Columbia...learning, growing, breathing deep, looking down on my life, out of the trees and seeing the forest. 

Just finished two excellent books from two radically different Christian writers. Eugene Peterson writes, "The Pastor" as an instructive memoir of his life. Bill Hybels, writes "Axioms" as the lessons of leadership learned from a lifetime of leading a mega-church. 

Both resonated with me and pulled my mind and heart towards excellence before my God. 

The church as the family of God is a beautiful entity that Jesus calls his very own "bride". To be the "friend of the bridegroom" and assist in preparing the bride for her wedding day, is a role of the highest honor. To be called "Pastor" is to be entrusted as the humble servant of the greatest love of Jesus' heart. To authentically love people, (one by one and as corporate one called local church), is the highest honor of living. 

Yet I am called to serve by leading, called to love by leading, called to exercise a gift of leadership. Called to rally this beloved one of God into an advancing army that does great damage to the kingdom of darkness. An army that is led forward into specific battlefronts, an army that is organized, supplied, and motivated. I must be a general that promotes other leaders and delegates authority and responsibility. I must lead by example...leading from the front...leading from the most risk-taking position available. As the Army slogan shouts, "Be all you can be!"...I must call us a body of believers in Long Beach to "Be all WE can be!" Call me Leader and there is passion and urgency that is captivating to me. 

Yet in the midst of these roles there is another glorious call that whistles like a soft spring breeze through the trees of my life -- it is the call of being "Papa". The Spirit knew the preeminence of this role when he wrote, "How can one care for the church of God if he does not first lay down his life for his own household?" To spend quality time with grown children and find that "Papa" is still a delight to their lips is a source of inexplicable gladness. To hear them pray sincerely and passionately before our meals together. To hear them laugh as we dive off the boat to swim in the lake. To walk into church with them carrying their Bibles...these are the highest delights of this "Papa's" heart. 

Call me "Pastor" and I am honored... Call me "Leader" and I am motivated....Call me "Papa" and I am satisfied. 

August 20, 2011

The Laughter of My Daughters

There are few greater delights than having the "grown kids" around the table.
We are 1600 miles from the realities of life and ministry in Long Beach.
We are sitting at the family dinner table in our home away from home.

After a great day of playing on the lake, a delectable pasta dinner, we are playing a crazy game of Dominoes and laughing...but there is a duet of laughter that sounds like Handel's Messiah to me.

It is the laughter of my two born into our home and one chosen into our home.
The older "born" daughter laughs with the joy of being secure in the 27 years of living in the love of her parents, the stability of a healthy, holy home. Her craziness an expression of her freedom to be herself because her foundations are so deep and firm. Her experience of grace has been a steady, slowly building gratitude for the family she was placed in at birth.

The younger "chosen" daughter laughs with the joy of being secure in her new parent's love.
The pain of loss and disappointment is being replaced choice by choice, grace by grace with the laughter of blessing, acceptance, and affirmation. While living with a sense of love and loyalty for her deceased, birth family, she is embracing the new love of her chosen family and it is setting her laughter free. She sounds like a 7 year old with a lilting silly laughter that is the music of heaven to this father's ears.