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Thursday, November 28, 2013

It Happened One Holiday Season (Caution: May contain trauma triggers)

I've been wrestling with whether to share this. I realize for some readers, it may hold triggers for painful memories. It does for me.

It's not how I want you or anyone to think of me, when you think of me. It's not how I want to think of me. I'd rather not remember what I can't remember. I'd rather it never happened. I'd rather have those hours back, and while I'm sure there is mercy in the blanks, I'd rather know where I was during the missing time.

So I thought about not sharing this. I almost didn't. And yet. . . what if I don't, and it happens to someone else? Or what if there is good in being, yes, even this transparent?

A friend and mentor once told me, during a difficult time, that nothing that ever happens to one of us happens to just that one of us. Somehow, it is meant for more than just the one.

Perhaps there is someone among you who needs to know that an event that happened TO you doesn't define you. That something that occurred to damage you really doesn't make YOU damaged goods. Perhaps someone carries guilt, and by my sharing, I can help that one see: It wasn't your fault. It happened, and it shouldn't have, but it wasn't, and isn't, your fault. You are not dirty. You are not worth less. The shame belongs on the perpetrator, not you. You can be free from it.

And perhaps there are many others who simply need awareness--so that it doesn't happen to them; so that they can assist or help prevent for another's safety.

It is the holiday season. For many of us that means unusual social situations. In some cases, that in itself can mean danger. So I'm sharing my story, from some years ago.

This is what brought this back to mind for me again this year, as the holidays approach and I begin to think again of what occurred:

A friend sent me this article [Drugged by a Stranger] to read. She sent it because she knows what happened to me. I told her and three other friends while we were away at the lake one long weekend earlier this year. I told another friend, years ago, when he was going off to college. "Be the big brother for the girls," I asked him. "We need our guy friends to look after us."

It was a long time ago. I had just turned 21 three weeks earlier. I was at college over the winter holiday because I had missed a large amount of school the previous semester--emergency surgery and recovery had left me with a couple of "incomplete" grades in key classes. I had gone home for Christmas day, but returned to my apartment in the college town to work independently through the break so that I could still graduate on time.

The town lived and moved and had its being because of the university, so it was practically a ghost town over extended breaks. Only the two adult graduate-school women in the apartment above mine were around. I worked daytimes in the studio on campus, checked in and out with my professor and advisor, and then rented movies at Death Valley Video pretty much every day. I watched them at home alone in the evenings. I was very busy but a little lonely too.

For New Year's Eve, the apartment complex clubhouse announced that there would be a party. As a just-turned-21-year-old, I was excited to go to my first New Year's celebration when I would be allowed to partake of the celebratory champagne at midnight. But I was alone. As a general rule, I didn't go out alone. Usually, there was often another girl and at least two of our guy friends when we went out into social situations like this one.

It's a good rule and I still stand by it: Always have a buddy.

On this particular evening, I would have stayed in, but the women upstairs invited me to go along with them to the party at the clubhouse. We got dressed up--hats, heels, makeup--the whole thing. I think we looked pretty cute too. And we must have--at least enough to draw some unwanted attention.

The clubhouse was walking distance from our apartment--not more than two and half city blocks' distance. It seemed safe. It seemed wise. We would walk--no driving to worry about if anyone did have a drink or two. We would go together. I assumed that also meant we would come back together. But I assumed too much.

When we got to the clubhouse, the place was hardly hopping. We three ladies could pick any seat in the house. The bartender was there. The television over the bar showed scenes from Times Square. Two individuals sat together at the bar, and at a round table at the back, another pair of guys was hanging out. One was probably in his mid-thirties, with a pencil-thin mustache and an annoyingly high-pitched voice. He wore a skinny tie and a jacket. The other did not match him at all. Long, smooth, light brown hair, parted in the middle, hanging almost to mid-back. A heavy, western-style mustache. He wore jeans, a white t-shirt, and a jean jacket. He stared.

My creep-meter pegged. Both guys set it off, but jean-jacket creepy guy buried the needle in the dash.

Pencil-thin mustache approached us, bursting with chattiness directed at one of the grad-school women. She told me he was OK. She had met him before. But Creepy Guy just sat and stared.

I decided I would not drink. I wasn't comfortable. I would just wait until the ball dropped in Times Square, and then the other women would surely be ready to leave. This was not a very happening party. The bartender turned on some music. He handed out those silly party favors you blow into and they produce an awful screechy horn sound and unroll to smack your nearest neighbor in the face, retracting when you stop blowing. It was corny and we laughed some. We danced. We three women sat at our own table, but Mustache kept hanging around. He wanted to dance with each of us. I refused. Creepy Guy just sat and stared.

I remember that as the ball began to drop, we were all on our feet. There might have been 15 people present by this time. Not a crowd at all. The bartender set out a tray. He poured champagne for the house. And then Creepy Guy moved. He came to the bar. He lifted the tray. Creepy Guy let each of us take our glass from him to toast the new year.

I remember raising the glass. I remember a chorus of "Happy New Year"s. I remember the ball touching down.

I woke up almost five hours later in the front seat of a car I'd never been in before. Creepy Guy was driving. He was agitated and angry. Mustache was in the back seat. He was saying, "We have GOT to get rid of her! Now!"

I had to roll a bit to lift my head, and then I felt panicked. I started to demand, "Where am I?! I don't know you! Take me home! Let me out! Where are we!"

We weren't far from the clubhouse and the apartment complex--maybe two miles. "Shut up!" Creepy Guy yelled to both of us. "I've got to figure it out!"

And then, oh merciful heavens, there were blue lights in the back windshield. We were pulled over. I tried to get out of the car. I was wobbly and woozy. I told the police officer, "I don't know them. I want to go home."

"Well, miss," the officer said, "Mr. [I can't remember his name--but he was referring to Creepy Guy] is going to jail. He's driving with a suspended license. I'll call another car to come for you."

He did. I don't know what happened to Mustache. But the other officer arrived and helped me into the front seat. I told him my address. I felt like hell. My head was so cloudy. I didn't feel strong. A block of my life had just completely vanished. I had no idea what had happened--no memory at all. My hat was gone. The other two women--where were they? Who were those people?

I talked most of the way to my apartment: "I don't know them. I wanted to stay close to home. I wasn't even drinking. I don't know what happened." The police officer drove in silence. He never said a word. He didn't ask me a question.

I'm sure he just thought that I had underestimated how much I had had to drink, but that was not the case. I had consciously decided not to drink at all until the champagne came around, and then I remember only one sip.

He shone the cruiser's lights on my front door while I let myself in. I'm sure he saw the full length of my back, head to heels, as I entered my apartment.

I went to the bathroom and took off my clothes. I pulled on an extra large t-shirt and got into bed. Hours later, I woke. I went back to the bathroom and saw my clothes on the floor. The entire back of them was covered in red clay mud.

I took the clothes to the kitchen trash can and threw them away. I got into the shower and washed. I took the trash to the dumpster. I never cried. I never told anyone. I went to the studio. I did my work. I came home. That evening, one of the graduate students stopped by. She had my hat. It had been found in the hedge near the clubhouse parking lot. "Why did you leave me?" I asked, amazed and bewildered.

"You seemed like you wanted to stay," was her only answer. I can't imagine what she saw that looked like "wanting to stay" with Creepy Guy. I can't remember. It's just black. And terrifying.

I never saw Creepy Guy or Mustache again. I pretended for a very long time that none of it happened. It shouldn't have happened. But it did.

I know it did. Because ten months later, I had to go to my doctor for a checkup--a standard year's followup from the surgery I had had the previous year, the one that caused me to have to stay at school to make up work over break. A routine test showed something I refused to think about. I had HPV. Caught early, HPV is 100% treatable, curable. Undiscovered, it can take a woman's life. My doctor asked questions. I answered as honestly as the life I had lived supported, except that I never mentioned the incident with Creepy Guy. I could tell my doctor was bewildered, but I couldn't go there. My brain would not cross the threshold to access that possibility. I think my doctor had other ideas about me, but even letting him think what he would was better, at that time, than facing the truth.

Perhaps there's a mercy in not remembering. But it doesn't mean it didn't happen. A few years ago, another person I know let knowledge of something similar in her own history be known. And suddenly, very suddenly, I couldn't suppress any longer that something had happened to me. My mind had to deal with it, even though it is still unknown. I sometimes have deja vu. It's happened in movie and TV scenes when a woman is being forced into a car. Once I had to leave a viewing.

I still don't know exactly what happened. I know some. Not enough. And too much at the same time. It's an onion I'm not sure I will ever be able to peel completely. I've run through so many emotions. I've struggled to be a whole, real, three-dimensional person, because for a time, I was only someone else's object. And I don't remember. Even God ordained that for a time, I was only an object and not a sentient being.

But this much I know: It can happen so easily. It can look like something else entirely. It can be hard to believe. And it wouldn't have happened to me if I had been with my real friends. Had Matt or Dave been with me that night, I wouldn't have this story to tell. There is no way either of them would have left me.

The holidays are coming. There will be times for outings, social situations. Alcohol does not even have to be involved in order for a stranger to spike a drink. There are many substances that will work to bring about such an effect, as the article linked describes. You don't need to know the chemical names. But you do need to have a plan. Here is what I recommend:

--Never go alone. Always have at least one other person with you, and make a commitment beforehand that you will not leave one another. Never leave a man or woman behind! Not even to go get the car!

--Don't take a drink from a stranger, not even off a passing tray.

--Don't leave your drink unattended and return to it. If you leave it, leave it for good. Even if you have it in your hand, keep it protected.

--Trust the creep-meter. Almost all women have it, built in. Sometimes it's just a flutter, sometimes it's a red alert. It's a gift. Believe it. NEVER, no matter how polite you've been taught to be, act against the creep-meter. If it tells you Creepy Guy is dangerous, find another place to celebrate. Don't hang around.

--Tell your guy friends about the creep-meter. Some of them likewise have such intuition and a protective nature too. Ask them (and be sure they agree) to honor your creep-meter readings without question and negotiation.

--Keep your eyes open for your friends' sakes too. If in doubt, throw the drink out. Watch each other's consumption. If your friend who can normally hold two or three or even four drinks seems unusually affected too quickly, assume that something unusual happened.

--Seek medical help. I was being watched over, I know. But sometimes, the dosing can be harmful or fatal. Seek medical help. Don't worry about what other people may think.

And again, above all else--never, never leave a friend behind. Never. If you go out together, you come back in together. Period. You ARE your brothers' and sisters' keepers. Don't ever forget it.

But if even all of that somehow leaves you exposed and injured, I beg you to know you're not alone. It feels so alone, so foreign, so wrong. It is wrong, but it's not your fault. And come find me. Because I know.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Not Ordinary Love Songs

When I woke up this morning, on a spare mattress in the college dorm room of a good friend who let me stay with her when other travel took me close to her campus, I planned to get up, shower, get dressed for worship, and go with her to her church.

But I got up way early. Way, way earlier than most college students do on the weekend. (You see, I'm regularly an insomniac, and the last few days, it's been prevalent and persistent. Last night was one of those.) I had tossed and turned sleeplessly for at least two hours, until the sun was pretty much fully filling the room even through the dense fog outside.

So I found myself ready to go about the time she headed to the shower. I took my Bible and prayer journal and went to the commons room for some early prayer time before corporate worship.

Generally, prayer journalling for me can last an hour or more, if my schedule allows it. Five to six handwritten pages, as I struggle and plead and confess, and then confess more explicitly, and search and seek and weep, is pretty normal. Call me Israel. I wrestle with God on the page daily. And I thought this morning might go the same way.

If you read my last entry, then you know that I've been struggling deeply with depression lately. Topping the list of causes have been my sense of worthlessness, expendibility, and pointlessness. Grief has been ever present. Loss has loomed. There have been unfair speculations. I have felt accused, accused, accused. From my (admittedly erroneous, but I know that only cognitively, not emotionally) limited perspective, it has felt as though God has been playing a game of cat & mouse with me. Just when I feel I've made it safely to a corner to catch my breath, POUNCE, down he comes again. I begged him to relent. I thought it would never come. And my frame, it is only dust. I wanted to run away. I just wanted to run and run and hide somewhere. But where?

So this morning, I sat down by the open window, the air damp from the mountain mist, and opened the journal. My mind was all over the place. I didn't know what I wanted any more than I knew what was good. I knew I was about to go to worship, and with that fracturing and discombobulation, I feared I would hear not one word of the service. Depression brings its own form of ADD, it seems. I always feel guilty when I attend worship and can't get my head to get in there with me. That only adds to the depression, in the end.

So I was writing and praying and asking him what he wanted me to do, because I just didn't know. And when I was just a paragraph--not pages--in, I think he said, "Go home." It was such a relief to hear! It was an immediate confirmation. I had planned to start the trip just a few hours later, but it seemed so direct. "Go home." I love an adventure. I love to travel. I love to be out in different places. But today, I needed that one destination. I needed to go home.

And it's good to be home. I'm thankful for a safe trip. Coming down the mountain was a bit hazardous. Thick fog, high altitude, tightly winding road with practically nothing between driver and empty space--and not an incident to report. I'm thankful to be home with my family, even though it's a chorus of deep coughing around here right now. But it was the ride home I needed most.

Don't get me wrong: I am completely committed to regular corporate worship. We are called not to stop meeting together. Worshiping away from home sometimes is more encouraging to me than being in my regular spot, because I get to see the evidence of the universal church, alive and well. So I am not advocating skipping out on services. But I also do believe that sometimes God just wants us alone with him, for a time, and that's what I had with him in the car today. God and me and my (mostly) secular music.

I plugged in the iPod and the first song to come on was Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes. Commonly thought of as a love song from that 80s-era teen classic movie Say Anything, I have never considered that song as something to be taken at face value. It has always rung of deep spiritual meaning to me. It was even more so today. And here's what I heard first:

Love, I get so lost, sometimes.
Days pass and this emptiness fills my heart.
When I want to run away
I drive off in my car
but whichever way I go
I come back to the place You are.

And all my instincts, they return
and the grand facade, so soon will burn
without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside.

Yes. That was me, and it was what I needed to hear. I felt total security right then, like the opening of the doorways of a thousand churches. He sees me. He really sees me. I was so tired. Everything is so much WORK! Relationships. Job. Home. Managing these crazy emotions. Work. Grief. Pain to push through. Senseless hurt. Misunderstandings. Accusations. Work.

Love, I don't like to see so much pain.
So much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away.
I get so tired of working so hard for our survival.
I look to the time with You to keep me awake and alive.

The music was enveloping, and I realized I needed this time with him alone in the car more than anything else right then. And the pain of the accuser's tactics began to melt away. For the first time in weeks, I didn't feel that clenched fear and anxiety in that space between my gut and my heart, under the ribs, where it lodges so regularly. I was exhaling and inhaling in time to the music. It was relief. But it didn't stop there. The next song was a love song, directly from him to me.

It's the purest track on my iPod. Lavender by Marillion. It became a dialogue between us this morning.

The sweet imagery is of innocent children, playing without even a hint of corruption in sprinklers in the park. They were running through the rainbows. They were singing a song for you. It seemed to be a song for you, the one I wanted to write for you...for you...you.

And this is what He wanted to write for me: Lavenders blue, dilly dilly, lavenders green. When I am King, dilly dilly, you will be queen. A penny for your thoughts, my dear. A penny for your thoughts, my dear.

My King has promised himself to me. The beauty of creation is his love in physical form, shared for daily enjoyment. He loves me. I am secure. The accuser is silenced. He sees me, pure, innocent, no condemnation. And my thoughts, he wants them. "I owe You for Your love. I owe You for Your love. For Your love." The world, though dimmed by fog and mist, became instantly beautiful again.

I have missed it.

But it didn't stop there. The early church dealt with Rome. This morning, Rome dealt with me. The Promise continued the conversation:
If you need a friend, (John 15:15)
don't look to a stranger. (Job 19:15)
You know in the end,
I'll always be there.
(Matthew 28: 20)
. . .
And if I had to walk the world
I'd make you fall for me.
I promise you, I promise you, I will.
(John 1:14)

He did walk the world. He did it to fulfill the promise. And he did it for me. And I needed to know that, really, really know that this morning.

The promises flowed. The accuser was silenced. I was renewed.

I could respond with Bono as he belted his own version of Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55) --though not nearly with the vocal power or range, but I did the best I could to magnify the Lord with my strained, wavering, untrained contralto.

Magnificent. Oh, Magnificent!
I was born, I was born to be with You.
. . . This foolishness can leave a heart black and blue. . .
Only love can heal such a scar. . .
I was born, I was born to sing to You.
I didn't have a choice to lift You up
and sing whatever song You wanted me to.
I give You back my voice, from the womb.
My first cry, it was a joyful noise!
. . .
Justified, till we die you and I will magnify!

And it was. Magnificent. Personal, intimate, absolutely necessary worship wrenched from me today to hold back the voices of despair and sweep away the effects recent events had left on me. My black and blue heart was touched and healed as surely as the wounds of the woman who had only the hem of his garment.

Magnificent. OH.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Dear friends who check my blog from time to time even when I don't advertise that there's something new here. Maybe you will come by and see this and think to stop and pray for me.

I am experiencing writer's block.

While my mind is whirling with thoughts all the time, nothing is formulated to come together as a shareable post. My writer's block is brought on by grief. There is too much of it in my life right now. Several weeks back, I wrote about The Land of Tears. I suppose I am myself in that place again, but not confident enough even in my own thoughts I had expressed then to share the sources of grief publicly. Plus, some circumstances involve others. I am not at liberty to share.

In the meantime, depression is near to me always. I am struggling. God promises that the waves will not overwhelm me nor the flames consume me. (Isaiah 43) I am borrowing on past belief to claim that.

There is so much loss in this life. What does it mean, "To live is Christ"? And is there an order implied there? I am not sure how to live right now. The cloud is over everything. I find myself having to remember to breathe. My lungs prefer to freeze after each exhale, until it becomes uncomfortable. Will other normally involuntary functions keep pace or likewise sputter and stall?

Words are often worship for me. And now I don't have words of my own. I am simply holding, albeit at arm's length it seems, the promise that the bruised reed he will not crush and the smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Five Years: Remembering Gene Franklin

It’s been four years to the day since Weathertop, Sam. It’s never really healed.

Frodo was reflecting on an excruciating journey, fraught with turmoil, confusion, pain, and the drive to finish the job well. To press on, even against all odds, against waning strength, against all personal desires. The wound he received at Weathertop, near the beginning of the ordeal, remains with him.

Perhaps some wounds never heal.

On Monday, November 11, it will be five years to the day since a tragic, avoidable, and completely unexpected accident took the life far too soon of someone I love. We travel on. But still. . .

It’s never really healed.

When I was a girl, my family settled at a very small Baptist church in the midlands of South Carolina. They did so for one primary reason: respect for the man who was the pastor of that church.

William Eugene Franklin, Jr., was a young, handsome, well-known family man with deep dimples, sparkling eyes, wavy blonde hair, and the greatest servant’s heart I have yet known personally. He and his wife Tina had two daughters close to my age and a son not too far behind, and a policy of an open door to their home and their hearts. It took no effort at all on my part to find a place there. I think I just showed up, and that was that. I was one of his, and I never doubted it.

In addition to being a pastor—who served two different congregations simultaneously—the man with the servant’s heart also served for decades as a fire fighter. I’ve often thought that perhaps his quiet way, always ready, always willing, always able, never boasting, underlies my to-this-day longing for comic superheroes to exist in reality. Mild-mannered heroes, dwelling among us, ready to come to the rescue when need arises. Good overcoming evil’s worst attempts. Yes, maybe there really are a few.

“Uncle Gene,” as my older brother suggested we call him, had a large part in good overcoming evil in my own life. Though I was never really a “bad kid,” I suppose I would have been classified as a “beautiful corpse.” The walking dead, perhaps. I had been taught morals and respectfulness, and I behaved fairly well most of the time. It was an acceptably convincing presentation of what a good, little Southern girl ought to look to anyone looking (and in the South, that's usually a significant number of people)—if all you could see was the outside appearance. But soul-wise, it would be several years beyond my childhood years before Gene’s teaching made any real sense to me—before it became more than cultural tradition but actual personal faith. Before it gave life.

I think he knew. When I graduated from high school, he gave me a graduation present: my first actual study Bible. I’d previously had only a non-annotated King James Bible. It came out pretty much only on Sundays and went back on the shelf afterward. But because someone I so loved and respected, and who so loved and respected me, gave me that Bible, I made sure to pack it in with my other essentials when I left for college. It was after being challenged by another pastor whom I respected, because he respected me, that I opened it to read it thoroughly. And it changed my life. It changed everything.

I know that Gene Franklin prayed for me. I know because it was who he was, and I know because he told me so once, and everything else I know about him tells me he kept his word. I think of that sometimes, when I am praying fervently for one of my young friends in a hard spot in life, far away—I remember that I perhaps benefited from his persistence on my behalf. So I persist. God answered Gene, who set the stage for that prayer in the first place. God may answer me as well, for that one.

Christianity is a relationship doctrine. God made people to be in his presence, to be in his company, to enjoy him. God put people into relationships. God uses people in relationship to show himself to each other, to encourage each other, to bring more into the relationship. I think Gene loved me into the Kingdom. And I wasn’t the only one, either, but maybe I had more, closer opportunity than most others.

I got to go camping with the Franklins, in the crowded, pop-up camper. We slept three girls across one mattress, which was fine except for the late night giggling. Shopping and errand running in the giant Econoline van. Hours on the side-deck gave opportunity for him to listen to the music of the day, and give some input. I wish I could remember the song I was playing there once that he gave his approval to, something trendy, pop-music, radio friendly. But he listened, gave me that side wink to match the dimple on that cheek, and snapped his fingers while swaying a bit. I was proud to say I’d made a Baptist preacher dance—even just a little. But it was his presence, his involvement, his acceptance and approval that was planting seeds.  

I remember once I was included on his family’s beach trip. We were walking on the broad, white sand, watching waves and just chatting when, to my astonishment he suddenly inverted next to me. He just tumbled over into a perfect handstand! The man was then walking the beach on his hands next to me! I had no idea he had such a talent, and a moment later, he walked directly into the surf, still on those hands. When he emerged, he gave me a gift from the sea—a live sand dollar he had immersed his inverted self to find.

As fun and personal as those memories are, though, there’s one that nearly haunts me to this day.

I had a high-school friend named Joey. Joey had (and, I’m sure still has) a huge heart of gold and a big bellowing laugh to match it. After high school, Joey determined that he would enter the fire department. So of course, I told Uncle Gene, My friend Joey is going to be a fire fighter too. We were sitting on Gene’s couch, under the big window in the family room of his home, where we usually sat to talk. Again, he gave me that dimpled smile with the near-wink and made me a promise: I intend to get to know that young man then.

And he did. He sought out Joey and they too became great friends.

Five years ago, Joey was working out his duties for the fire fighter team. One of his jobs was to gather prayer requests and forward them to Gene, who served as chaplain. On November 11, 2008, a fellow fire fighter was in the hospital. Joey called Gene. Would you be able to get in to visit him? he asked. Of course, that servant’s heart would do just that.

Gene got on his motorcycle to head to the hospital, about 10 miles away. Within about a mile of his own home, however, a car coming from the other direction, and turning left, failed to yield to him. The collision took Gene from all of us. And pierced us all as well.

Joey told me at the funeral that apart from his own father, no one in the world had ever had as much impact on him as Gene Franklin had. I believe it. Because I know, too.

It still hasn’t healed.

I have to pause in writing here to remember again, so many ways he was in my life.

When I brought home from college a young man I thought I was going to marry, of course I had to take him to the Franklins, and to Gene in particular. We had dinner there together, and again, to the couch to talk. But that evening, as we were getting ready to leave, Gene made the joke he always made, something about it being cold, and throwing his arm around my shoulders (the Armstrong heater, he called it) he pulled me close. He took my left hand, and lifted it to almost eye level. It was at that point still ring-less. And he looked me directly in the eye with genuine affection and said very firmly, Don’t do this too soon.

He was right. That young man was not the one for me. He knew. I was saddened at first by his comment. Not angry. Not defensive. I trusted him too much for that. Just puzzled and sad. But he was right. I saw that truth before long.

A few years later, Gene gave me that playful wink again as he stood with Bill and me on the platform at Gaither Chapel and declared us man and wife. He first held what was soon to be my wedding band in his own hand, held it up before the congregation, turned it in his fingers, and then gave it to Bill to place on my hand. In his own nervousness, he forgot the order of events, accidentally omitting the congregational Lord’s prayer I had wanted in the service. I whispered to him, and he leaned in so humbly to me, his head almost against my own, and replied, Oh my. I am about to mess up, aren’t I?

Gene, me, and Bill
December 1994

When our first daughter was born, Gene and Tina were just about as quick to arrive as my own blood uncle and aunt to greet the new one—even though they had grandchildren of their own by then. It just didn’t stop, that connection, that relation, that inclusion. That love.

At the funeral, one of the speakers made note of how Gene would willingly open his heart to expand his family inclusively. I grinned and nodded obviously, in agreement. I thought somehow the one speaking was talking about me, specifically. But as I looked around that filled-to-capacity auditorium, I saw other heads nodding, other faces smiling. I wasn’t the only one? Of course I wasn’t. But he always made me feel that way.

It was appropriately grey and wet that day. But that didn’t stop the public. As we rode for miles in the procession from the church in town to the burial site out in the county, at the little church he pastored and my own family had attended, people lined the streets, both sides. A nearly continuous wall of people, mourning with us all, for miles. Fire fighters came from other counties to stand by in case of emergency so that all the other servicemen could attend. Ladder trucks gave tribute over the roadway. It almost seemed as if the whole state had come to a standstill. It was awesome and appropriate and it still wasn’t enough.

It’s been five years to the day on Monday. It really hasn’t healed. But it will. Those who make it to old age say that life is short. It’s too short in some cases. This is one. But he’s on the other side, and because he didn’t keep his love and knowledge of truth to himself, I know I’ll be there one day too. He was a hero and a life-saver, and though he never saved me from an earthly blaze, I can’t say he didn’t have a very important role in saving me from that which such earthly tragedies can symbolize.

It’s hard to end this particular story, but that’s OK, I think. Because we don’t know the end yet. In fact, there isn’t one. Gene lived by the promises of an eternal, loving, forgiving God. He lives by them still. And in this intricate tapestry of overlapping lives that God ordains to weave, I can say that even though the wound of losing him still hasn’t healed, I would change not one thing to ease it if it meant not knowing him. He was a willing participant through whom God’s grace reached me. Thank you, Father, for the life and love of William Eugene Franklin, Jr.

Call to Action

How do we know when we're being called to action?

I'm a daydreamer. Maybe even a pipe dreamer if you'll excuse the expression. You know, I'm often looking for the radical response or action, not the conventional one.

This is radical:

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? (Luke 15: 4)

The way it is phrased, "What man of you...?" sounds like the idea is to be taken as common knowledge, common expectation, not as something radical. But that's not what I consider common.

Indeed--which one of us really would leave behind 99% of what we are responsible for, whether that's sheep or people or job responsibilities or whatever you can come up with--to pursue a missing 1%? And not just leave behind, but leave "in the open country"? It sounds so reckless, so unprotected.

Even I would be more comfortable had Jesus said something like this: Be reasonable now. If one of your hundred sheep is missing, text a few friends and put it on Facebook. Then carefully secure the other ninety-nine inside the barn with a watchman on either side, and take food and drink for several days and an extra cellphone battery and a GPS and a team of friends and, after leaving solid instructions for delegating all your other tasks, and leaving a healthcare power of attorney and some cash and a credit card, then you can go on a search for a little while, as long as it doesn't interfere too much with your commitment to the ones back home. OK? Sound good? Off you go, then.

But no. None of that is here. It's primary. It's necessary. It's immediate. One is missing now, and that one is in immediate need, now, as well. The one is precious. Irreplaceable. There is an expectation of urgent involvement, and there is an expectation too of something else that doesn't come as naturally as it should: Trust.

Jesus has been telling parables and mixing that in with doing miracles and encouraging his followers not to be anxious (Chapter 12). I admit--I don't win any awards for not being anxious. Anxiety is something I've cultivated pretty well. It's because I can't hold on tightly enough, long enough, to trust. I've seen some improvement in the last year or two, with lots of attention and brain-training and reminders to trust being consciously put into place--and even with several failures to trust, I've been carried through losses and injuries and fears of losses and injuries to find that somehow, I'm still alive on the other side. Guess what: God is faithful.

It's in the context of that trust in a steadfast and sovereign God that Jesus speaks with the assumption that of course, we would be ready to act when called. Whatever it takes.

I'm rolling this around in my own life right now. Whatever it takes. I'm grappling in prayer for someone and waiting to hear whether prayer alone is what I am called to, or action. What is the course that will result in more joy in heaven? Am I to be passive here, or active? Do I trust enough to do whatever it takes? I love enough, yes. But do I trust enough?

Pray for me, readers? Pray for the ability to discern a calling. Pray for God himself to set right, to seek and find, to be found. But pray also for my openness to be used by him, if that is how he chooses to work.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Forever Autumn

Some things are just self-explanatory. If you hear it, and it makes those pangers in your heart, then you know. You know.

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old,
and darker days are drawing near.
The winter winds will be much colder
now you're not here.

I watch the birds fly south across the autumn sky
and one by one they disappear.
I wish that I was flying with them
now you're not here.

Like the sun through the trees you came to love me.
Like a leaf on a breeze you blew away.

Through autumn's golden gown we used to kick our way.
You always loved this time of year.
Those fallen leaves lie undisturbed now
'cause you're not here.

'Cause you're not here.
'Cause you're not here.

A gentle rain falls softly on my weary eyes
as if to hide a lonely tear.
My life will be forever autumn
'Cause you're not here.

'Cause you're not here.
'Cause you're not here.
                   --Jeff Wayne, Gary Osborne, Paul Vigrass