Saturday, December 25, 2010

Possibility: Christmas and Matters of the Heart

Christmas 2010: Possibility. From the most familiar version of the Christmas story found in the gospels, Luke 2, there is this recorded announcement by angels to shepherds in verses 13 and 14 (NIV):

Matters of the Heart: Possibility. Now, I will get personal; this part is mostly, for me, more of a journal entry than part of a blog entry. But feel free to peek over my shoulder. I hope you will – you know, I enjoy your company on these little visits.

This blog began as the result of my return to faith, my return to relationship with God, after years of anger, denial, mistrust, hurt, wounding, and wandering. A return to possibility.

From last December until about April, I went through a process of healing in my heart (coming into more wholeness of heart, to cast it in terms I used in the section about Christmas). I was reconnected to many things that I thought were dead, gone, lost forever. I was put back in touch with possibility.

You can read about this journey, if you are interested, in what I call The Vision Cycle , outlining a dream and vision for ministry as I conceived of it earlier this year.

Sometime in May, and continuing until very recently, I've gone through a time of feeling growing disconnection from those things, or my idea of those things and how they were supposed to work themselves out. When I felt the reconnection to possibility, to dreams and ideas I thought had perished from my heart forever, I began to try to figure things out, schedule how things were supposed to happen, to help God work this out.

Of course, it didn't happen like I thought it would. It didn't look like God was moving at all the way I thought he would – and should.

Then, over a period of several months, most of this year, something else occurred that took me by surprise and touched an area of my heart which I also thought was long dead, gone, lost, and – for my part – willingly left behind as something I didn't want or need, something that only complicated all the other possibility that God had opened my heart to earlier this year.

For most of my life, I desired relationship. In my earliest journal, from 1976, when I was only 11 years old, the most common topic is just that: my desire for relationship, for a wife, for marriage. At the time, that desire focused itself on a 9-year-old friend of my sister's. The earliest book I wrote about reading in those days (even though I read much more, as I always have) was a book about dating and marriage.

Even after I became committed to ministry as the focus and priority of my life at age 14, I envisioned that eventually that ministry would have as one component a relationship out of which that ministry would proceed.

When I married Charlotte, I thought that was the relationship I had been longing for; and, indeed, in many ways for most of our marriage, it was exactly that. I loved completely and deeply, with abandon; in short, as I have written elsewhere, “in those ten years, I loved for a lifetime.”

When that relationship ended, the hurt, wounding, and grief was just as complete and deep, just as with abandon, as our love had been. Part of my heart died, and I thought it was beyond reviving.

Well, over the course of much of this year, through some innocent circumstances, and without my even suspecting it, my heart has been touched, revived to possibility, in this area. Maybe I could love again; maybe I want to love again.

After years of denying it, of proclaiming to those who voiced their thought, especially that they were praying for me about this, that “the last thing I need or want is a relationship. Never again. Not for me. Save those prayers – you're wasting your time,” I find myself open to this possibility.

Of course, there is a context for this opening of my heart to possibility. Suddenly, quickly, and totally surprisingly to me, it wasn't just a general, ephemeral idea, but it was the possibility of relationship with a particular person, whom I knew only casually through other circumstances which had resulted in some level of friendship.

So, as things happen, I decided (after much debate and discussion with myself, God and others – mostly Terry, my great friend and confidante in things great and small) to see if this wonderful woman would be interested in going out, to explore possibility, to get to know one another better in that context.

As it happened, I did go on a date, much to my surprise and delight, something I thought I'd never even desire to do again.

Also, as it happened, while we remain friends, it was clear that she was not in the same place as me with the idea of possibility where I was concerned. In short, she said very nicely and gently, that even if she were interested in that possibility (for serious relationship), it would not be me that she would be interested in. Say that however you want, but the result is the same: I am not her type, I'm not a person she is or could be attracted to.

So, just as before when I felt reconnected to possibility in areas of ministry and purpose, so now I am reconnected to possibility as to relationship only to be firmly disconnected from my idea of how that possibility might work itself out in fact.

And, on this Christmas day, 2010, here I sit: my heart open to possibility of things that I thought were long dead, gone, vanished, never to return, but feeling very disconnected from my idea of how those things would unfold in my life, choices and circumstances.

I sit on the cusp of possibility, but with no idea how those things are to work themselves out in my heart. I am clueless. And I hate that.

But, that is exactly where God wants me. God's priority in my life (and in yours, my dear reader) isn't whether I'm in ministry or driving a truck; in a relationship or single; his priority is, as it always has been and always will be, bringing me into wholeness of heart out of which I can relate to him in the fullness he desires for all his children.

And, to be quite honest with you, for me and for you, God cares little (relative to other things) exactly what circumstances that wholeness takes place in. He does place desires in our hearts, and I believe he does have purposes and plans for us; but those are secondary to his primary goal of reaching my heart, your heart, and bringing us more fully into relationship with himself.

So, what am I to do with this desire for ministry, and now, this surprising desire for relationship? I do not know. And, when my heart is open to God's love and influence, I do not care.

In those moments, I only want to be in this place where God has me, this place of possibility, this place of becoming whole in heart, of coming more fully into relationship with him. In this place of possibility, if I allow this work of healing toward wholeness proceed, the rest of it will work itself out, and I will have the wisdom I need at the time I need it.

My prayer for this coming year is that I would keep my heart in this place of possibility, of openness to God and whatever he has for me, no matter what that is. And, that's my prayer for you, too.

Cast Away. In this context, I will mention that, as I do every year near Christmas, I recently watched one of my favorite movies, Cast Away, again. Toward the end of the movie, Tom Hanks talks about this idea of possibility in the context of what has happened to his character in the movie.

I link to this Youtube video which contains that monologue: Cast Away.

You never know what the tide will bring in.”

Until next time . . . live in possibility . . .


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Links in A Wonderful Chain of Circumstance

If you have read either of my blogs very much at all over the past several years, you know that I love and make much of those seemingly unrelated circumstances in which one thing leads to another, and ends up making a beautiful pattern upon one's life. So it is in this entry.

This American Life:  “Going Big”.  For several years, after being introduced to it by Terry when we first started teaming in the spring of 2007, I have listened to the weekly public radio program This American Life on XM Radio. It is by far my favorite program of any kind on radio or TV. For the past couple of years, I have downloaded the weekly podcast of the show. I usually put several shows on a memory card, and Terry and I listen to the show when we are both up and awake on the road.

Several weeks ago, during one of our TAL marathons, we heard an episode that originally aired in 2008, “ Going Big”. The first segment in that program is about the work of Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone.

I was riveted to my seat as I listened about the pioneering work being done with children and families in Harlem, and I immediately began to assimilate ideas from what they were doing with what I eventually want to do with Our House, as well as in my current work with Jon through Big Brothers.

The segment on TAL was based on a book written by Paul Tough . . .

Whatever It Takes.The book of that title tells the story of the work of Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone. I found it and checked it out from the library the next time we were home.

One of the most life-altering parts of this story was a section in the book in which Paul Tough does a survey of various views and studies from the past 40 or 50 years looking at the causes and possible solutions to endemic poverty, especially in urban settings. Some of the more recent work focused on children and how and why some children perform better in school than others, including in standardized testing used to gauge progress of children across the country.

What these studies reveal, and one of the core focuses of the work of Harlem Children's Zone, is that the primary determining factor for how well children will eventually do in school, and, typically, in later life, is the verbal stimulation or lack of it and the type of verbal and personal interaction children are exposed to in the first three years of their lives.

Let that sink in: the words a child hears, the kinds of words they hear, and the level and type of direct interaction a child has with his parents before that child turns three in large measure determines the chances that child has for the rest of his life.

There are many reasons for this, perhaps, but one of the most interesting elements of how all this works is the fact that during those formative years, a young child's brain is still literally growing and developing, creating the neural pathways in the brain that will be the foundation for the rest of that person's life. And a primary driver of how many and what kind of connections the brain forms are literally words – the amount and the kind of words.

As a Christian who believes that the Bible speaks a great deal about the importance of words and their power to create and destroy, this information took on even greater significance for me, especially as I think about the work I have done and want to do with children and families – the work I'm doing with Jon right now.

It makes the importance and responsibility of being a parent or other influence in a young child's life take on even more significance than I had imagined. And a primary driver of what direction that influence and parenting will take is based on something we rarely even think about: words, verbal interactions, reading, and all else associated with those things.

Waiting for Superman.  So, while I'm reading, thinking about, meditating on, and praying about what I've digested in Whatever It Takes, last weekend after my time with Jon, I decided I might like to go to a movie. I got online and was thinking about going to see The Social Network, so I was checking showtimes for that.

I glanced down and saw a movie I'd never heard of:  Waiting for Superman. The description said it was a documentary focusing on educational reform. It was produced by the same folks who made the documentary (which I haven't seen) An Inconvenient Truth.  Since all this stuff from the book was still on my mind so strongly, I decided to see what they had to say in this movie.

I couldn't believe it when the documentary first started: the first voice and face I saw was Geoffrey Canada, who was one of the major focuses of the movie's discussion of pioneers and reformers who are leading the way in transforming the education of young children. Talk about getting my attention!

The documentary was excellent and it continued the process I had begun with that episode of TAL in focusing my thinking and ideas around this issue, and what I eventually would like to do with Our House.

A Chance for Application.  I've heard many times, mostly in the context of biblical truth for Christians, but it's equally applicable to other contexts as well, that “it's not the truth you know but the truth you apply that changes your life.” In other words, it's not enough to get information and knowledge, but what you do with it, how you incorporate it into how you live your life, that makes the difference.

Another way I've heard it expressed is the difference between simply having information in your head and a living understanding in your heart. Until something gets into your heart, where the rest of your life is centered and from which all else proceeds, good or bad, it makes no real difference.

So I've got all this information and it's challenging my thinking and has huge implications for the way I will approach the work of Our House one day. But what am I going to do about it now, what difference is it really going to make in my life right now?

Enter Jon. Ironically, at just the time I'm encountering all this, Jon's grandmother tells me that the one area he needs help in especially in school this year is reading, vocabulary, verbal skills. Anyone who is around me even a little while knows that reading is one of the passions of my life, as is writing; well, anything to do with words.

So the stage is set to put some of these things into practice in the small scale work I'm doing with Jon here in Topeka. It will be a classroom for both of us. I will keep you posted.

The Power of Influence.  I include this in a separate section because, even though it involves Jon, it doesn't have anything to do directly with what I've been talking about in that very cool chain of circumstance, and took place a while before I heard the program on TAL that started that process.

A few weeks ago, Jon was having some problems in school, both behavioral and academic. One day when I went by Jon's house for our regular time together, his grandmother told me about what was going on, and she told me she was at a loss about what to do, and she asked me for my help. She gave me copies of all the daily progress reports from this school year so far in order that I could see exactly what, according to his teachers, he was having difficulties with.

Jon and I hung out at the house for part of the day, and while we were working on other things, I had a chance to read through all those reports. And I was left wondering just how I thought I could make a difference in this situation. I mean, I'm not around during the week when Jon's in school, so tutoring him in a traditional sense was not an option. And we're only around each other a few hours a week on the weekend, and a few minutes on the phone during the week.

Then, that brought to my mind the even larger questions about how much influence on Jon's life I could really expect to have. I mean, he loves me, respects me, and he enjoys the time we spend together each week as much as he enjoys anything else in his young life. But, against the backdrop of all the other influences in his life, how could I imagine I could make even a ripple on the surface of his life for the long-term, and especially in something so central as his education?

My thoughts had taken a rather negative turn, as you can tell, and I was frankly discouraged, and felt really helpless and powerless. That in spite of the fact that over the past twenty-five years working with kids and their families, I know first-hand the power of influence one can have for good or ill on other lives.

So, as I was sitting there reading all this stuff, every once in a while glancing up at Jon who was working on some kind of art project with glitter glue, I prayed, asked God for ideas and wisdom for this situation, and trusted that he would somehow influence me so that I could influence Jon.

I finished reading all these reports, sighed, closed the folder, and looked over at Jon. I called him over and had him sit down across from me, and we were knee-to-knee, eye-to-eye, face-to-face. I told him I'd just read over all the things from his teacher (he was there when his grandmother was talking to me about all this, so he was aware of this).

We talked about the difficulties he was having, and about different ways of handling frustration, anger and disappointment. I encouraged him to ask for help before it got to the point that all his emotions fought their way out in acting out or other behaviors.

I told Jon that I would be keeping up with how things were going at school. I told him that I knew he could do his best – and that all he needed to do was the best he could do. (One of the problems he was having was caused by frustration in feeling like he was falling behind the other kids, and he would just get to the point of giving up and quitting altogether.) I encouraged him to not compare himself with the other kids and how he thought they were doing, but to do the best he could do, ask for help, and that would be good enough.

I told him that if he could do his best, and could try the different ways to deal with anger and frustration that we had talked about (we even role-played a little bit), over the next few weeks, at the end of that time, if he had shown some progress, we would do something special that we wouldn't ordinarily do. I didn't have a clue what that would be, but I thought I would have time to figure it out.

All that was just sort of a shot in the dark. I didn't know how much, if anything, would even be in Jon's awareness come Monday morning when school started.

The next Sunday, when I went by his house, I pulled up and Jon came running out the door yelling, “ Allan! Allan! I had a good week in school!”

So it began. I hugged him and told him how proud I was of him. That was over a month ago. Since that time, he has not had one negative report from school, he's been doing his work, making progress, and asking for help. Every time we talk on the phone or see one another, the first thing he tells me is that he's had a good week that week at school. All confirmed by his grandparents and teachers.

So today, we did our special thing: we went to Kansas City to Dave and Buster's and spent the whole afternoon playing video games, having fun, laughing and celebrating.

Never underestimate the power of influence and how much of a difference you can make in another person's life.

That's it for now. Until next time . . .


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ugh! Duh! Aah!

Ugh! Or, how I became my own object lesson. I begin this entry with a recent post from Facebook:

Ugh! Wednesday - is that all? 3rd load aft vacation and it feels like the 50th. My sign that this account has served its purpose? Pray for me ... and thanks.

I had just come back from a wonderful week in Georgia ( some photos on Facebook), visiting family and some friends. I woke up and the day just started off with some small frustrations, even before I began driving. I thought, “I just got back from vacation, and I already feel like I need another one after two days at work!”

Have you ever felt like that?

I thought maybe so.

This Facebook outburst was the cumulative result of several months of frustration, discouragement, and just feeling disconnected from so many things I felt like God was reconnecting me to over the past year or so.

I had moved to Topeka to take this job, which I thought would propel me toward paying off my debt so that I could (1) move back to Dallas; (2) get off the road; and (3) follow my heart's desire to work in ministry again. I hoped that my year's commitment here in Topeka would bring me to that point.

However, things haven't sped up quite as fast on my financial situation as I'd hoped (warning: gross understatement in last sentence).

I began to be discouraged and frustrated because things weren't happening the way I wanted or as fast I wanted them to. I began to feel disconnected, all alone in this place I like well enough, but have virtually no connections in.

I began to focus on my circumstances, alone-ness, and frustrations with work, which was beginning to feel more like a job than something I've always loved doing. My thoughts turned away from focusing on positive things and turned inward.

That was the general context for the Facebook entry I quoted above. You get the picture.

Duh! Or, it's all about the heart. A few hours after that first Facebook post, I posted this:

After my earlier post today I spent abt 150 miles gnawing on the bone of discontent before realizing (Duh!) that perhaps it would help to refocus my energies on my blessings. (Ya think?) So to that end, I'm thankful for: God's love and mercy in my life even when I'm stubbornly hard-headed; family & friends; I have a job; my ministry w/Jon. Hmm... I feel better already. What are you thankful for?

I have written before in this blog about the primacy of the heart as it affects and determines everything else about our lives, especially here.

I was focusing on my circumstances, living in my emotions, and when that happens, it influences your thoughts, your beliefs, and, ultimately, your choices. I began to get sucked into the illusion that my problems were all out there somewhere – if only my circumstances would change, if only those idiots would change what they are doing (aside: have you ever done that in a relationship? Thought that if only that other person would change it would make things better, and you'd be okay?), if this, if that.

Allowing those things to be the focus of my attention closed my heart from the influence of God, his love, and his purpose to bring me into wholeness, health, singleness of heart. He was there, he was speaking, reaching out to me in love and compassion, but I had closed my heart to him and his influence in my life in these things.

Okay, so I'm driving down the road toward Denver through western Kansas and then eastern Colorado, “gnawing on the bone of discontent” as I said in my Facebook post. At some point, I just had this thought: “It's not really about all this stuff you're focusing on, you know. It's not about stuff out there somewhere. It's all about your heart. The problem, if there is one, is in your heart, not in all these things you are so frustrated about.”

Hmm. I turned that thought over for a few minutes. Finally, I thought, y ou know, that's right.

Well,DUH!” Smack on the forehead time. I've discovered fire, reinvented the wheel. Some kind of Einstein. I've only been exposed to this truth about the heart in different ways for the past 15 years or so. I've only been around this mountain about a million times before.

Does that ever happen to you? Do you go through different versions of the same struggle, have to learn and re-learn (seemingly) the same lessons?

Okay, a little sidetrack here. I'll come back to the point in a little bit. This is one reason why focusing only on your performance, on your external behavior, on what you do and don't do never leads to real victory or change, and it is the primary weakness of performance-based religion. If you are trapped on a legalistic treadmill where your relationship to God, and how you evaluate your life is simply based on how much you read your Bible this week, how much you prayed, whether you went to church, gave in the offering, the clothes you wear, you will always be focused on the external, trying to force change on your heart from the outside. And it never, ever works.

When I was a teenager, and then into my 20's, that kind of thing was my focus. I did all the right things, learned all the right things, said all the right things. And, yes, I did have a real heart-relationship with God, like many people under the tyranny of performance-based religion.

But, because my focus was on how things looked, what other people perceived about me, I began to fall into this trap that I could never be vulnerable, could never let other people see me struggling, could never allow others to see that I didn't have it together, that I wasn't really the star of the youth group, and later, the mighty man of God with the successful ministry.

I hid my struggles, my failures, my weakness. I was following the example of Arthur Dimmesdale even before I had read the book. All because I focused primarily on the external instead of my heart.

I carried this into my marriage to Charlotte, and because we both hid our struggles to preserve the illusion of peace, were so concerned about what the other thought, it contributed to the end of our marriage. Because if you start that way, when things get to a certain point, you will begin to blame that other person for the things that are wrong, try to change them, manipulate them so that you will feel a certain way or be happy.

And that can lead to disaster.

Okay. We can go back to what we were talking about before. I'm through with that.

Aah. Or, how I opened my heart. So, now I'm a genius and I've realized what's going on in this whole process. {insert pat on back here}

Now, how do I reverse the process, let my heart open up to God, his influence, his truth, his perspective? How do I go from looking at the external, with all its limitations and negativity, to looking at things the way I know God has for me – by faith? How do I un-goof-up my heart?

There are many avenues that God can use to gain access to our hearts, some of them the very things that you do if you are living life trying to measure up, get (or keep) God's approval or avoid his wrathful anger. Reading the Bible, praying, fellowshipping with others.

You see, beloved reader, it's not about what you do so much as why you do it . And I'm not talking about motivation here – or only motivation – when I was living my life regulated by all the things I had to do in order to be a “real” Christian, when I was striving for God's approval, and cringing from his disapproval, my motivation was just what it is now: I wanted to love God and serve him.

The difference, though – or one difference – is that when I do those things not to gain God's approval for what I do or don't do but because I am approved, loved and accepted through the finished work of Jesus Christ and my trust in that alone – only , then instead of trying to force change from the outside-in, God has access to my heart and change can come from the inside-out.

Okay, back on topic now. As I'm driving down the road thinking about all this stuff, it occurs to me that one avenue God has to influence my heart, and effect real change in my heart (which, don't forget, is the source of all else in my life, for good or ill – and yours, too), is thanksgiving.

So, pretty timidly at first, I start shifting my focus from all the things about my life that really, absolutely just suck right now, all the things I'm frustrated about or disappointed by, to the things I have to be thankful for, the blessings in my life. And I listed some of those things in the Facebook post.

It only took a little while, and it was like waking up to a different world. Instead of thinking about all the things that weren't working out the way I wanted, I'm thinking about how God isn't limited to what I can see, that his purposes go beyond the circumstances of this moment I live in. Suddenly, instead of a world of limitations, I can only see possibilities. And I realize, for various reasons, you know what, in spite of all these other things out there , I'm exactly where God wants me doing exactly what he wants me to do this moment.

None of those things I was so focused on before changed; but I had . And that always makes the difference.

So that's the Ugh Duh Aah saga. And not only do I go through the struggle, but then I write about it on Facebook, and then, even more publicly, here. Run out and grab the Scarlet Letter from Hester, and tatoo it to my chest for everyone to see.

God has a sense of humor. Learning a lesson and then serving as my own object lesson, and then screaming to the world, “Hey y'all! Look over here!” Great. Thanks, Lord.

Okay, you've all laughed just about enough. I think we can safely move on from this little lesson, don't you?

Please tell me you can relate to at least some of this.

Laughing in Nanny's Kitchen. A few years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to start collecting some of the stories my Nanny (what I call my grandmother) had told all my life about our family. So, as opportunity afforded, I began to record Nanny telling some of my favorite stories.

At the time, I put up a simple web site with those stories for any of our family that was interested. Then, when I changed web hosts, and got sick, and then started driving a truck living on the road, my old web pages just sort of grew weeds around them, links grew rusty, and technology left me in its dust. I always intended to start working on them again, updating them, but never got around to it.

However, one result of my visit to Georgia was that as some of us were talking about some of those stories, I thought about updating that site a little at least to get it working again now that I had the time and opportunity.

So, it's there again. And it's here if you're interested. Nothin' fancy, but you can hear the stories again. The audio quality isn't great, but, hey, at least it's something. LOL

Little bits of musical goodness, served up fresh. This is the part of my blog entry when I could write about books, movies, computers, my Little Bro Jon, or lots of other things. But, today, I feel like writing about music for some reason. It's been a while. (Well, it's been a while since I've written anything here.)

I love serendipity, and how many times otherwise disconnected things lead to something wonderfully unexpected. That's what's happened with all the things I'll write about here relating to music.

Who is that singing that song? While I was in Georgia, my brother-in-law, Shane, had this worship CD with music from various artists. I was familiar with some of it, but then I heard someone I'd never heard before.

Who's that ?” Answer: “ Kari Jobe.”

My favorite song from the music I heard is simply called “ Healer.” Follow the link to the Youtube video (one of several if you search, but I like this one). Lyrics here.

I didn't know when I asked about her that she was from Dallas, Texas. But, I'm not surprised.

Where Roses Grow.” Anyone who knows me well knows that for many years, I have loved the music of Christian rock band Resurrection Band, and I lived and worked in the ministry they are part of for several years in Chicago (and is where I met my wife Charlotte), JPUSA.

Well, just for kicks a few months ago, I did a search for REZ on Youtube. Among many other treasures I found was a live performance of my favorite REZ song (and one of my favorite songs period), “ Where Roses Grow.” It's pure blues, well done by any standard (secular or Christian), and the lyrics are powerful.

Other REZ goodness. Just some other links I found in that same Youtube romp and some following to some of my favorite songs from that concert (which I was there for when it was recorded in 1992), including the awesome sermon at the end by Glenn.

Players.”  Lyrics here.

Can't leave out the signature “ Military Man.” Lyrics here.

I know, I know, why don't I just link to all the songs.

One last one, acoustic blues: “ I Will Do My Last Singing.” Lyrics here.

Well, that about does it for this trip, folks. Thanks for coming along. I appreciate you sharing this time with me.

Love and blessings to you all . . .


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Serendipity Potpourri

Prelude. You approach the entrance to the Peace Offerings Blog. It appears to have been uninhabited for quite some time. All is dark, except for one light exposing a small window near the rear. The door is open, as it usually is (is there even a door?), and you step inside. Illuminated in the small radius of light from a naked bulb suspended from the ceiling on a wire is a large man, back to you, sweeping and throwing up clouds of dust from the floor which take on a ghostly luminescence in the light of the bulb as they swirl. You hear him either muttering or humming or talking to himself as he sweeps. You're not sure, but it sort of sounds like “Laaa-leee-la-la” repeated and punctuated at intervals by something that sounds like “nyuk nyuk” and “woop woop”.

You clear your throat, and the man turns, pausing in his arc of sweeping.

As the man turns, suddenly there is a burst of light so brilliant, you have to shield your eyes. The light encircles the man's head like a halo, and you wonder if you are seeing a light like that which shone on the Damascus Road so many years ago. Could this be a divine visitation?

The man notices your averted gaze and silent amazement, and quickly takes his baseball cap out of his pocket and covers his head, extinguishing the glorious light.

“Sorry about that,” he says. “The light catches my bald spot just right sometimes. I didn't know you were here, or I would've made sure my cap was on. You caught me cleaning, but if you want to have a seat, the next blog entry's about to start.”

It's been a while. Over two months. That's an eternity in terms of blogging and anything on the short-attention-span sound-byte-driven internet. As is usual, however, my silence here (and elsewhere) does not denote a lack of thought about writing. I have never been accused of being an apologist for brevity, and this will be especially so perhaps this entry when so many strands of thought and commentary are circulating around my awareness vying for some kind of expression here.

Most of the time when I sit at the keyboard to type a blog entry, I have some idea of where things will go, what I will include. Not so this time. This entry promises to surprise even me as the flow of thought dictates what comes next, and I don't know what will come until it's there. It will be a hodge-podge, potluck, potpourri, melange, patchwork of serendipity.

I hope that in this stream of thought you will find something that interests you, provokes thought, challenges you, causes you to pause and reflect.

Meeting Jon. Last time I wrote, I was in the middle of the process of being approved to be a Big Brother through Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Topeka, part of the national mentoring organization of the same name.

I was familiar with Big Brothers/Big Sisters for years, but only vaguely. After going through the process involved in volunteering with them, I can say that I am thoroughly impressed with them and the efforts they take to make sure that the kids and families they serve are matched with the right volunteers. I am proud to be part of what they are doing in Topeka.

Not long after the last entry, I went down to the office to meet the little boy with whom I'd been matched. I knew his name was Jon and that he was eight years old. I had read a little about his family situation, and also the fact that he had been waiting on a Big Brother for almost two years.

The moment finally came when all of us (Darin, the case manager I'd been working with; Jon; Jon's grandmother; me) were all sitting in the office to be introduced to one another. Jon had taken a seat next to me on a couch in the office. I looked over at him and said, “You must be Jon. I've been so excited to meet you.”

“And I know who you are,” he said. “You're Allan.” His smile attached him to my heart that moment.

“And I know how old you are,” I assured him in my most confident voice. “Let's see now,” my brow furrowed in mock concentration, “you're 52 or 53. I forget which.”

He looked over at me grinning. “I'm eight!”

But in that moment, we were connected as though we had known each other always.

Moments later, as we were all talking, Jon referenced something he had gotten for his birthday. I asked him when his birthday was. I was totally unprepared for his response: “March 16th.”

“Wow, Jon! We have the same birthday! My birthday is March 16th, too!”

So we began. Since then, we have spent some time hanging out and doing things most weekends (the only time I'm normally off the road and in Topeka). There is real opportunity for ministry in this situation, and it's part of God continuing to reconnect me with his purpose and plan for me. As I have written before in this forum: pray for me in this. And thank you for your ministry in doing that – it encourages me no end when I know you are doing so.

So far, Jon and I have gone to see a couple of movies (Toy Story 3: excellent! The Last Airbender: okay for it's fantasy settings; otherwise, mostly a crash course in Eastern – and perhaps new age? – mysticism), gone swimming, skating; thanks to Terry, Jon got to take a horse riding lesson; and we've also done various things around the house (starting a memory book, doing some art work, playing part of a game of chess, and a complete game of Snakes and Ladders, which he won drat him!)

I've posted some pictures from our adventures so far here.

“Mama, here's Denver; Denver, here's Mama.” Sometime in February, when Terry and I had first started our weekly rotation of driving back and forth from Topeka to Denver five times a week, we were talking about how cool it would be to be able to shut down some weekends in Denver. At some point in that early conversation, Terry mentioned how great it would be if we could have both our moms fly up to Denver one weekend when it got warmer, and we could treat them to a weekend seeing Pike's Peak and other things in and around Denver.

We started talking about the idea, and the last weekend of June, it actually happened. We all had a wonderful time. Terry's sweet mom, Pat, and my most awesome Mama (Ann), who had never met before, hit it off and we all had a memorable time. It was so enjoyable, we are already talking about doing something similar next year.

You can see some pix from that weekend here.

“We rollin' now, baby!” When I first signed up for the job in Denver, one of the things they told me was that I would have to trade in my serviceable 2006 truck with 400,000 miles on it for a “newer truck” in Atlanta. Got to Atlanta, got the “new” truck assignment, and my mouth dropped: they gave me a 2003 dilapidated old husk with 930,000 miles on it.

“There must be some mistake!”

“Nope. That's it all right.”

Then, from offstage somewhere comes the most evil BWA-HA-HA laughter I'd ever heard.

Yeah. Ha ha.

Okay, so we get in the truck and do our job, when we weren't stuck somewhere because the truck had broken down. One day we broke down in the back of the Home Depot store we were delivering to, blocking traffic. Another team had to come finish the delivery and we got a ride in a tow truck and a night in a motel in Denver.

Right after we get to Topeka, rumors start floating around that all the teams were just on the cusp of getting new trucks. They would be ready in two weeks, then next month. Okay, and the earth is flat; the aliens are coming to get us; here comes the Easter Bunny!

O ye of little faith. June comes, and out of the blue, we get a message: a new truck is waiting on you in Dallas! Sending you down tomorrow to pick it up. Woo-hoo! Not only a new truck – but it's in the one place on earth I most want to be!! Br'er Rabbit in the briar patch!

When we got to Dallas, there it was: a brand new 2010 with less than a thousand miles on it and never assigned a driver before. It didn't even have a license plate on it yet. [Ed. Note: although there is a story associated with that last bit, we have decided not to relate it here. If you want to know, ask Terry.]

Best of all: my Daddy was working in Dallas that week, and I got to see some of the people I love as much as any in the world while we were there. The visits were very short, but it was something. Water in my desert.

As I write this, we have been in this new truck almost two months. We have about 30,000 miles on it now, but it still rides like a luxury liner and we feel like The Big Cheese goin' down the road.

Well, there was that regrettable incident after two weeks in the truck when we went to start it one morning and it wouldn't. It was in the shop for a week, and we were back in Loserville with a couple of loaner trucks that really made for a long week.

“But we back, now, baby, and we rollin' smooth and ridin' high!”

Um . . . I mean we are very blessed.

“The envelope, please.” There are some people and web sites I'd like to mention at this point.

Cindy. My sister began a journey to fulfill a dream a few years ago. She started school to get her teaching degree. Going to school at night, most of the time working full-time, managing a household with two girls and a marriage, she was a regular fixture on the Dean's List for her excellent academic performance.

She has finished her formal classroom work and is currently doing a student teaching rotation. She graduates formally in December. I can't wait to see it. I'm so very proud of her and she inspires me to not give up on my own dreams of the heart. I love you, Cindy! You've already begun to teach all of us who know you. You are amazing!

Terry. My great friend and co-worker, Terry, among many other things, is an excellent writer. He recently posted some poetry on Facebook and I wanted to share them with you, so I put them up here. Enjoy!

Terry is also starting a project to collect stories from folks who have met Henry Friedman, a good friend of Terry's from his Austin days. I've met Henry, and have my own story of that meeting. A fascinating man, professional photographer, and an inspiration to all who know him. Terry's story of meeting Henry is here. Henry's web site is here.

Elliott. Terry's son, Elliott, recently finished his term in the Navy. After six years serving his country, he did what any intelligent young man in his situation would do: he moved to Dallas. Thanks for your service, Elliott, and here's best wishes to being the Roark of Texas!

Everyday Images Photography. Keeping things in the family once more, I am happy to report that Terry's daughter, Allicia (who was two months shy of saying “Hello World” when I met Terry), has channeled her passion for and expertise in photography into a business, Everyday Images Photography. Check it out!

All the Biscuits in Georgia. My good friend Sam's blog is a never-failing source of entertaining, thought-provoking, excellent writing about whatever Sam is thinking about at the moment. I have enjoyed watching his writing craft evolve and always look forward to what he will write about next. Stretch your brain muscles and give a read.

Shatiya-LaD on Youtube. Earlier this year, I decided to get accounts (well, I had a MySpace account I never used much) on some of the social networks to see if I could stay connected with people I love and, frankly, see what all the fuss was about. Shortly after signing up with Twitter, I ran across a group of people who loved the Lord and following them was like being in the midst of a fellowship of encouragement for my faith. One of the people whose words of encouragement blessed me most was ShatiyaLaD. A while back, Shatiya began a channel on Youtube as part of a fulfillment of a dream God has given her for ministry. She records new messages regularly – they are short, full of fire, and always uplifting. I commend it to you.

Politics As Usual. We had our first primary election in Kansas for 2010 last Tuesday. Because I'm on the road all week long, I had arranged to get an absentee ballot mailed to me beforehand, and I completed it (in Colorado!) and mailed it back in.

I've been getting political mailings for several weeks. One of the things I received a few weeks ago was from the candidate trying to unseat the current representative from my district in Topeka. It was very nicely done, very professionally designed, and attention-getting (all it takes for some of us is bright colors). I opened it up hoping to learn about the man who was asking for my vote and what he believed, how I could expect him to represent me.

Instead, about ¾ of the available space was given over to slamming his opponent, telling me all the reasons he thought she was a horrible representative. There was then, almost as a footnote in comparison, a small section telling about his family. His main selling point, however, was “Vote for me! I'm not her!”

I glanced at it long enough to see what it was about, and made a silent note to myself that I would not be casting a vote for this man whose only appeal to my reason and my conscience was to slam his opponent. Okay. I know who my representative is, and I can figure out whether she represents me or not. I don't need you to tell me about her. I need you to tell me about you.

Like we don't have plenty of that kind of politics-by-smear already in Washington. I'm not going to vote to send another one. That's one reason so little of any substance gets done up there: Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives are too busy yelling about how bad the others are. In that respect, there is literally no difference worth any consideration between the two major parties or between the two ends of the liberal-conservative spectrum.

I am happy to report that that candidate can go back to his farm and his family who need him much more than Washington does.

More Politics. Aren't you glad I label my sections so you can skip the ones you don't like? You're welcome.

  • All my life that I can remember, I have been interested in politics. As a matter of fact, one of the first entries of the oldest journal that I still have, was written while I was watching the inauguration ceremony of Jimmy Carter, who hailed from my home state of Georgia, way back in January, 1977. I wrote about it as it happened, so it was perhaps my own early pre-cursor to live-blogging. I was eleven years old.

  • Every election year, I try to do research on the various candidates and issues so that I can make a more intelligent decision based on my own beliefs and convictions. With the advent of the internet, such research became immeasurably easier, and more fascinating. Just this year, I found one my favorite ever web sites for doing such research: Excellent resource no matter your political party or ideological persuasion.

  • If you are a political junkie, you might already know about Real Clear Politics. If you don't, it is a treasure of links to as much politics as you care for. You can easily spend hours there – or you can get back to playing Solitaire.

  • Top Secret America. The Washington Post recently did an excellent and extensive series of articles and related resources about the existence and troubling trends of the explosion of intelligence gathering resources following the attacks of September 11. Fascinating reading. There is also a related Frontline program about this same topic airing on PBS in October.

  • New York Times Wikileaks article. Coincidentally related, prior to the release of classified (on some level) documents on its web site, Wikileaks made the documents available to three newspapers, including the New York Times. Makes for interesting reading no matter what you think of the ethics of the leaks.

[Ed. Note: Those of you who object to the posting of articles from two main media arms of the New World Order should move cautiously – the Illuminati are watching. Whisper. They are everywhere.]

Most Shocking Recent Headline: “Lady Gaga Kidnaps Commissioner Gordon”

Stay tuned for more. That's about as much as I should write for this time, I think. There is much more on my mind. It will not be two months; hopefully it will be more like next week when I write again. Next time will continue the random bits of rambling we've run off the reel this trip.

I am very excited about going to Georgia in September (the 11th-17th). And, as always, I miss everyone in Texas and California.

Until next time . . . blessings and peace to you.