Sunday, June 24, 2007

10 Things I Want to Do Before I Go to Heaven

Sometimes we can get so caught up in the hectic day-to-day flurry of activity that we can lose sight of some important things of this life. Few are guiltier of this than me.
I came across an article from that caught my interest; it is entitled “10 Things You Should Do Before Going to Heaven.” In deference to the blog format, I am going to talk about several of them in this posting, then consider the others in future postings. These are not in any particular order.
Reconnect with a Long Lost Friend
This really hit home with me. My wife and I have moved 10 times during our marriage. With every move we left dear friends behind with all the good intentions of keeping in touch. Of course it almost never happened. We’d get busy at the new place, meeting new friends, and before long we had lost touch with the ones left behind.
One friend in particular comes to mind. You may know him: Gene Esham of Millsboro, Delaware, known to everyone as “Gerb.” For two critical years in my late teens, Gerb was my best friend. I trusted him with my life. He was my best man at my wedding. We kept in touch for awhile after I got married and moved away but gradually we lost touch. I haven’t talked with him for 35 years.
I am going to find his address and reach out to him. I want to see what he’s doing, meet his kids and grandkids; I want him to meet mine. I want to sit around with him, tell each other lies about how we haven’t changed a bit, relive some old memories, and make some new ones.
Refuse to Act Your Age
I am thinking more and more about a quote from one of my childhood sports heroes, Mickey Mantle. The Mick, who suffered from terrible injuries from playing baseball and the terrible ravages of a lifetime of alcohol abuse said toward the end of his life “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
Age has a way of giving you a new perspective. However, the passing of the years is no excuse for acting like a grumpy old man. Though teenage cashiers at restaurants automatically give me the “Senior Citizen Discount” without even asking, I am going to refuse to act old. That means I will not:

  • Drive down the highway in the right lane at 40 mph for ten miles with my blinker on.
  • Tell young people how much better music, movies, clothes, or kids were in “my day.”
  • Retire, sit around, and do nothing but complain about the government.
  • Buy a rocking chair.
  • Live in the past.
  • Be a general complainer about everything from the music at church to the service in Wal-Mart.
    To me this does mean I will:
  • Laugh more and help others to laugh as well.
  • Enjoy the present I have with my family, my friends, and my ministry.
  • Refuse to live in fear of anything, even getting older.
  • Learn to play the guitar and play it publicly.
  • Every once and awhile just act silly.
    Spend a Day Alone with God
    I have been in ministry a long time; I left my career in retailing to answer God’s call to ministry. I am busy with many tasks every day that are part of my ministry. My calendar is filled with commitments and appointments.
    I need to clear my calendar and just spend an entire day with God. This is not some elaborate ritual to be performed in hopes of gaining brownie points with God. It is to simply spend time with Him with no agenda, no prayer list, no sermon preparation, and no problem needing an immediate solution.
    This will be a day of getting reconnected, the same kind of regular reconnecting we need with our spouses, our children, and our friends. I have never been very good at this—see item #1 about finding my once best friend. So, I will spend a day just hanging out with the One with whom I will spend eternity.
    There you have it—the beginning of my “To Do Before Heaven List.” I’ll continue this in later postings but meantime, I’d be interested in hearing what’s on your list.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Wisdom from Dad

On this Father’s Day, like many I have been thinking about the wisdom which I got from my Dad. My father is Clifford Revel, know to everyone as Cliff. He died in 1998 after an 18 month bout with a particularly nasty form of cancer. I speak of him in the present tense because though he is no longer around physically, his wisdom and role modeling are a living reality for me. So let me share three things I learned from my Dad.
If you’re going to do something do your best or don’t do it at all.

Dad didn’t invent this idea but he lived by it and he insisted his sons do so as well. This principle is very simple. If you agree to do something, do your very best regardless of anything else. It doesn’t matter how much you are being paid to do it or if you’re getting paid at all. If you have started something, finish it the very best that you can.
I have found this to be a very high standard. I have worked at some low paying jobs but I strove to do my very best even for minimum wage. I have done things as a volunteer. That was no excuse for Cliff’s boys to do them half-way. The same is true for menial tasks I do around home—I’ve got to do my best or not do it.
As I look back at 40 years of schooling and employment by someone other than my Dad, I am thankful that’s been my standard. My teachers and employers have always gotten—and will always get—my very best effort. I am proud of that standard.
Don’t be afraid to change.
Like most who grew up during the Great Depression, my Dad’s formal education was cut short by the necessity to work to help support the family. He only completed the 8th grade before he left school to work on the tenant farm his family tilled. However, no one ever mistook his lack of education for a lack of intelligence.
Following the path of his father, when Dad had a family of his own, he became a tenant farmer as well. If you know anything about the tenant farm system, you know that a person will never get ahead financially. My Dad worked second jobs, he started a couple of businesses on the side, and my Mom worked full time in a shirt factory just to make ends meet. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. We always struggled financially when I was growing up.
Dad was a great believer in the value of education. He was determined that I was going to college. In my senior year of high school Dad knew something had to change. If I went to college he would no longer have the unpaid farm hand that was needed to keep the farm running. My younger brother was 5, much too young to fill that role. What’s more Dad faced the reality of having to go deeply in debt to get newer farming equipment—everything we had was worn out.
He decided he was never going to get ahead the way things were going. Therefore, he decided to quit farming and take the only decent paying job he could get—a prison guard at the state prison. It was a job that offered a steady income, health benefits, and retirement plan—none of which farming offered.
So at age 41 Cliff Revel made a drastic life change, leaving farming which he loved to take a job he hated. He did it for the sake of his family. It was a huge change which many people at that age would have been afraid to make. But not my Dad.
He showed me what real courage is. In an earlier posting I talked about my hero worship of John Wayne. However, as I got older I realized that real courage is more than what cowboys on the silver screen do.
Real courage is how people face the tough times of life.
I already knew my Dad had quiet courage’ I’d seen it many times. But never was his courage more evident than in his final battle with cancer. For 18 months he fought the good fight with the pain, fear, and uncertainty that comes with pancreatic cancer. As the days passed, cancer withered him physically but not spiritually. His faith in Jesus Christ, which he had renewed some years earlier, gave him the courage and the strength to withstand the worst cancer could throw at him.
In those months, Dad and I became closer than we’d ever been. In some ways, I became his pastor. We talked about everything. He trusted me with his most personal thoughts, a new quality our relationship had not had before.
My Dad’s courage was evident not in loud bravado but in quiet resolution to not surrender to the disease. He kept his good spirits; he encouraged others who visited with him. He treasured the times with family, especially my Mom. He never surrendered, never backed up from the challenges of cancer. He fought it to his last breath. I can remember standing at his bedside moments after his spirit had departed his body thinking “Cancer lost. All it could take was his body.”
I hope that I can face the challenges of my life with that kind of courage.
We have two adult children and four grandchildren. As I have thought about the things I learned from my Dad, the inevitable next question comes: what wisdom, if any, are my children learning from me?
Only they can answer that question.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Having a Bad Day?

So, you think you are having a bad day? What is your definition of a bad day?
• Did you turn off the alarm clock, overslept, and were late for work?
• Has everything you have done today seemed wrong?
• Did you forget your wedding anniversary?
• Did your favorite team lose the game?
• Were you unhappy with The Sopranos final episode?
• Did you find you couldn’t get online to check your email?
• You had to wait in line at the store?
Let me tell you what having a really bad day is like. Ben Carpenter of Kalamazoo, Michigan, had a bad day on Wednesday, June 6. Ben has muscular dystrophy which confines him to a wheelchair. He was visiting in nearby Paw Paw to see a friend.
As Ben was crossing a street, strapped in his wheelchair, the traffic light changed. A semi-trailer truck driver didn’t see Ben and started moving his truck forward. The truck turned Ben’s wheelchair forward and the handles became lodged in the massive truck’s grille. The truck continued moving forward pushing Ben in his wheelchair ahead of it.
The truck picked up speed as the driver sought to make up lost time. Soon he was traveling at 50 m.p.h. All the while, Ben and his wheel chair had become the unintentional hood ornament for this semi moving down the highway. Imagine that, going 50 m.p.h. in a wheelchair!
Ben’s friend was horrified when she realized what had happened. Frantically, she flagged down a motorist to tell him what had happened. The motorist took off after the truck, relentlessly blowing his horn. Meanwhile the friend called 911 pleading for help from the police.
Quickly police cars responded. They managed to get the bewildered trucker stopped after about four miles. The trip had worn all the rubber off the wheelchair’s wheels. By the grace of God, Ben was uninjured and none the worse for the experience. In fact he told the officers “It was quite a ride!”
So, the next time you think you are having a bad day, remember Ben Carpenter. Your day is probably not as bad as being a grill adornment for a semi. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sgt Pepper's 40th Anniversary

Saturday, June 2, marked the 40th anniversary of the release of one of the greatest albums of all time Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. Can it really have been 40 years ago?
Sgt. Pepper was released at the beginning of the summer of 1967, what has become known to us Baby Boomers as the “Summer of Love.” It has a special place in my heart because I had just bought a 1966 Pontiac Tempest, which was my second choice because my Dad wouldn’t sign the paper work for me to get what I really wanted—a 1966 red GTO convertible. Then I made the major purchase of the latest audio technology: an 8 track tape player. After buying the player, I could only afford one album so I bought Sgt. Peppers. I listened to that tape over and over and over again until I could afford to buy another tape.
I knew the words, the chord changes, and the inflections to every song by heart—I still do. When I listen to the album now on cd I still expect to hear the “click” which the 8 track player would make when it moved to the next track.
This Beatles’ album provided the sound track for the summer of 1967. You cannot appreciate how inventive and creative those songs were! They opened the door for me to another world far removed from the stifling confines of rural southern Delaware. Riding around on hot summer nights listening to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Get By with a Little Help from my Friends,” “A Day in the Life,” and even the maudlin “She’s Leaving Home” carried me far away from the life I was living.
For me, and many other Baby Boomers, the “Summer of Love” was not what the merchants of nostalgia tell you it was. There was no chance I was going to drive cross country to San Francisco, California. That was only for rich kids. My Dad needed me to help him on our tenant farm for one more year as he was trying to find a new career to better provide for him, my Mom, and baby brother.
I had just graduated from Millsboro High School and was going to begin college classes at the new Delaware Technical and Community College because my family could not afford for me to go anywhere else. The two choices facing an 18 year-old male in the summer of 1967 were either college or the Army.
I had a part time job in a supermarket and a car payment for my “new” one year-old car. [I have had car payments for more than 40 years!] Even as an 18 year-old I had responsibilities that limited my options.
What’s more the “Summer of Love” was also a time of bad news and heartache for many Baby Boomers. During that year 11,100 American soldiers died in Viet Nam; that’s an average of nearly 1000 per month. During the “Summer of Love” the families, friends, girlfriends, and classmates of 2800 men received news of their death in that crazy Asian war. Some of those men had just graduated in June. The summer of 1967 was not all hippies, flowers, and free love. It was also heartbreak and grief for many.
All the while, playing in the background was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In some ways it’s hard to believe that was 40 years ago, yet it also seems like it happened in another lifetime. Such is the reality of aging.
In less than three years the Beatles would break up and never reunite. We who loved and listened to Sgt. Pepper would move on and grow up. We would have families, responsibilities, and greater things to worry about than “Fixing a Hole” in the roof. But the Beatles gave me a warmth from their music that I carry with me to this very day.