What Was He Thinking ?

Dad 1945Dad 1949I was clueless. My dad wanted to take me to his barber on my sixteenth birthday. I was petrified of what the end result would look like!

I came of age in the early seventies, and grew up with my mom, two sisters, two dogs and an ever-changing number of cats. All but one life form in our house was male, plus me. However, our male dog bonded with my mom rather than the only other male in the house. Oh well.

My mom was rather progressive and liked my hair long while my dad was a bit more old-fashioned (WWII veteran, but not over-the-top). The oddity about his request was simple…I never went to the barber with my dad since we didn’t live together and he let me take care of my haircuts and clothing choices.

I protested to my mom that dad’s request was strange and that I was a candidate for a buzz. She assured me that he simply wanted to be more involved in my life which scared me at the time. Sure, I wanted to spend time with my father, but not at his barber’s shop!

Because I couldn’t get my mom to help me out of the situation, and I couldn’t give my dad a good reason not to go with him, I acquiesced. From that moment until I sat in the barber’s chair a week later, I fretted about the outcome. Worry never helps, though. I even discussed this with my best friend, but he was no help. Rather, he thought the whole thing was funny. That’s what good friends do…they laugh at stuff that’s funny to them, but menacing to you and me. Interesting how time changes our perspective about the humor in such experiences.

The moment arrived. Dad and I walked into his local barber’s shop-a throwback from the 1940s. I sat down with men three times my age as I watched the stealthy barber practice his trade. Before I was ready, he called me to his chair. I was surprised when he asked me what type of haircut I wanted. I assumed my father told him to whack the bushy pile of hair off my scalp, but he hadn’t. I was relieved, but still skeptical.

Then the most bizarre moment occurred. After being leaned back in the hydraulic chair, the barber began to lather my face with shaving cream! I barely had peach fuzz so I knew I didn’t need a shave. But, a shave with a straight razor is what I got, plus a pretty good haircut, too. I looked at my dad, and he just smiled. We didn’t really talk about the shave. He just paid the bill and we walked out of that shop side-by-side, father and son sharing a moment that probably meant more to dad than to me (at least at that moment).

Actually, I was aware of what my father had done for me, but it still took time for the impact to really sink in. To be honest, I didn’t think of my dad as being the type to create a sentimental experience. He was a wonderful man, and a good father, but not one to get too intimate with his children. A lot of men were like that in his generation; loving, but a bit formal.

It is rather amazing that his “gift” has had  such an impact on my impression of my father. You see, what he did was give me a ‘rite of passage’ so-to-speak, from a teenager into early adulthood. This was my father’s way of saying, “Your growing up, son, and I know it. In fact, I want to be a part of this transition from child to man”. What he said to me the most, without speaking a word, was this… I love you. Period.

I miss my dad. He died in 1984. My children barely knew him. Fortunately, my wife remembers him well. What really counts is that I knew him, and the love that he had for me. What a tremendous truth to know and experience. So many don’t have this pleasure. I never take it for granted.

Make a memory. Happy New Year.

Good Grief, Charlie Brown ?

Sunday, I attended a funeral service for one of my wife’s dear cousins. Joni died tragically in a house fire on December 13th. With the exception of her family and friends, the terrible shooting tragedy at Shady Hook over-shadowed this solemn event. Understandably, as a nation grieves for the loss of so many, especially the little Autumn morning 10-20-12 030ones.

As I contemplated the hallowed memorials to the slain in Connecticut and the memorial for Joni, I was impacted by the final words from her brother, Greg, while at the grave site. Greg’s insight may not be new, but bears repeating. His simple statement applies to all who are grieving. Greg said we feel so much pain because there is so much love. He said he was very saddened because of his sister’s death, but grateful that pain exists because he knows of the great love that flows from family and friends alike, as well as from his own heart. Greg’s perspective came from the analysis of his feelings and observations. I believe his conclusion to be right on.

Whether loss occurs suddenly or over an extended period of time, if we love we will feel pain. Not by accident, it is love which sustains us during these trials. Pity those who know not love. I am forever grateful for the love of family and friends. I know I shall never stand alone. Because I believe in a loving and compassionate God, I accept His pronouncement that I am the Apple of His Eye which simply means that I am greatly loved by my Creator. Many know such a love as this.

Regardless of one’s faith walk (or lack, thereof) love is paramount if we are to exist in any sort of meaningful and rational way. Trying to make sense of devastating shooting sprees or a fifty-six year old mom and grandmother dying in a fire can be an exhausting and futile search. The bottom line is that we live in a flawed world where bad things happen to good people. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. I join a mighty chorus of hurting and loving citizens and family members in expressing my condolences, and I reiterate an oft spoken hope for peace on earth, and goodwill to all.

During this Christmas season, and beyond, may we make a point of being better lovers, not in the romantic sense, but in the intimacy of relationships where the negative effects of fear and hate, failures and disappointments, bitterness and anger, (insert nouns here) will dissipate. And, in their place, may unbridled (selfless) love abound. For as the Apostle Paul announces in one of his letters, “Love never fails”. Christ made sure of that when He gave His all for each one of us.

Coffee Shop Observations

Tuesday's CoffeeWhile visiting a well-known-chain coffee shop during the Christmas holiday, I decided to sit for awhile and enjoy my drink rather than scoot out the door to my next destination.
The cacophony of sounds which embellished this locale reminded me of an orchestra tuning their instruments prior to a performance. At first the sounds seemed like unorganized noise – and could even be considered annoying if in a grumpy mood. But since I slowed down that morning, I heard instead, a strange harmony.

As I listened, I heard eclectic Christmas music playing through the overhead speakers; steamers making hot milk and froth for lattes and cappuccinos; employees taking and repeating orders; a middle-aged man talking with a younger man about weekly events and faith (there was a Bible on the table); two men sharing stories at a perimeter table; the gentle clicking of a young woman typing away on her laptop; the shuffling of the morning newspaper; and the constant stream of people coming and going while exchanging pleasantries with the staff. Did I mention texting? A lot of that.

Most of the customers were in a hurry, but a few not so much. They seemed to be the frequent visitors known by manager and employees alike. There were somber-looking people and joy-filled souls. Some ordered regular coffee, but most selected specialty drinks, custom made to their particular tastes. Many of these specialty drinks are rather expensive, too, but this is an affluent community and the average customer wants for little materially. Nevertheless, there are needs.

To be sure, many a fine author has studied and written about the topic of human needs. There is little, if anything, I could add that would cause you to take notice. Suffice it to say that there are a variety of needs among these coffee lovers that long to be met. Some are on the verge of a collapse – emotionally, relationally, career-wise, health related or possibly financial. Most struggle with something. This much I know…everyone has a story. Some are tragic while some are remarkable and inspiring. Most fall somewhere in between. Perhaps this is why we are drawn to the exceptional, the heroic, and the inspirational.

If we are honest, the majority of us see ourselves as average – and we probably are. There is nothing wrong with that, for without average, we wouldn’t have exceptional! Those who are exceptional – who excel above most -are flaunted and often placed on precarious pedestals of admiration. To be considered the best at something is alluring. Haven’t we all thought what it would be like to be the best athlete, musician, surgeon, writer, race car driver, entertainer, etc.?

And yet, if we actually achieved this vaulted status, we would become susceptible to a host of potential problems, such as loss of privacy, inflated ego, self-absorption, detachment from average people and average lives, and the list goes on. We’ve all read stories of celebrities who still struggle to find love and acceptance, despite having achieved fame and worldly success.

I can’t speak for you, but I want my life to count for something more than a weekly paycheck, a vacation now and then, acquiring things, offering a helping hand on occasion, or enjoying the fellowship of family and friends. These are important, no doubt, but there must be more. Why is it that we feel so empty at times? Why do we dream of fame and success?

I think most of us try too hard in just about everything we do. Whether at work, at home or at play, we push-push-push until we have nothing left to give. Life becomes a balancing act, and peace and contentment seem like foreign concepts. We miss out on the single most important aspect of our earthly existence: God’s unconditional love for His children. Oh, sure, we sense it and pledge it, but do we absorb it? Or do we instead allow obsession with worldly success to take the place of our soul’s deepest longing?

When was the last time you invited the Lord to wrap His holy arms of love around your soul and let Him embrace you? Please be honest with yourself. I hope you can say, “Today I sat next to my Savior, and we enjoyed each other’s company”. But if you haven’t been embraced for awhile, let me refresh your memory as to how wonderful that reality can be.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23 (KJV).

As you rest in the loving arms of an Almighty God, I pray as did Paul, that you will “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:18 & 19 (NIV).