Friday, September 26, 2014

“Never Have Children, Only Grandchildren.”

Pope Francis held a special mass for grandparents this week at St. Peter’s Square. Something nice about honoring grandparents, especially now that I am one. 

I was fortunate to know my grandparents on my dad’s side of the genealogical chart. They lived in Detroit, Michigan and each summer we made the annual pilgrimage. I remember their small, red brick house, the smell of stuffed cabbage cooking in the kitchen, Daisy the dachshund, and my grandfather’s garage filled with tools and handmade projects.

It was at my grandfather’s funeral that I saw my father cry for the first time. I was in ninth grade, and it was the first time I experienced the feeling called grief. I think I grieved more for my dad than anything else.  My dad’s mom would pass away a few years later. 

I never knew my grandfather on my mother’s side. He died long before I was born, so I have no recollection of him, other than some old family photos.

Then there was Baba, my mom’s mom.  As long as I can remember, we always called her Baba, which means grandmother. She had a smile and laughter that would fill up a room. She enjoyed life and was the life of the party. Her whole life was one of devotion to family. Baba raised ten children of her own and when one of my aunts passed away leaving my uncle with three small children, Baba moved in and raised them.

I remember huge family reunions and picnics, and Baba made sure everyone attend. No excuses when it came to family.  Every Christmas Eve was at Baba’s. Most of all I remember back rubs. We all loved Baba’s back rubs. We would lie across her lap and she would rub our backs and tell us stories. Funny how of all things, I remember those back rubs. 

When I told her I was going to seminary to study to be a minister, she cried and told me, “It is the Holy Spirit.” When she died, I felt I had lost a best friend but I smiled knowing all my relatives in heaven heard her coming by the sound of her laughter.

I am a grandparent now and trying to learn what it means to be a good one. We don’t get to see them as much as we would like, Bloomington, Indiana is a long car drive. So we do the next best thing, we face time constantly. We also box and send little treats that they love, like Gummy Bears and Corrine’s homemade cookies which they call Gramma cookies. Corrine and I laugh because by the time we box and mail them, it would be cheaper just to give them the money to go buy them on their own.   

I once shared in a blog that it is a tradition in our house that I make pizza on Sunday nights; we now have added a new pizza tradition. Twice a month I call a pizza restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana, order a pizza and have it delivered to the grandchildren. They giggle with delight. They call it “Pap’s Pizza.”  

Did you have the chance to know your grandparents? And even if they are gone, can you still see their faces and hear the sound of their voice? Do you remember little things like back rubs gummy bears and cookies? And if you are fortunate to still have them with you, well, take your lead from Pope Francis and tell them today how much they mean to you. And if you are a grandparent, do your grandkids have a nick name for you?  

God bless all the Paps and Grammas in the world.



Friday, September 19, 2014

"Summer is Ended"

Summer officially ends on Tuesday, September 23, when we welcome the Fall Equinox, the day when night and daylight are equal in length. It is hard to believe summer is over, everything happened so fast. 

One of best things about living in Charlotte is that we get to experience a taste of each of the four seasons. Everyone probably has their favorites, but as we approach fall, I have to admit there is lot to like about that season. The scorching heat of summer is replaced by gentler days and cooler nights. The church year jumps into full activity. Classrooms on every level from pre-school to senior scholars are in full swing; everyone starts out with a clean slate. There’s Friday night football, and Sunday football, too. Watermelons are replaced with pumpkins, and yards get their annual facelift of plugging and over seeding. Fashions change as sweaters and shoes replace sunscreen and flip flops. Summer is over.

I think the Almighty might be partial to fall, because it seems as if God’s creative juices get flowing with entire landscapes painted in brilliant colors that take your breath away. The one thing, however, that I dread about fall is when all those beautiful leaves start falling to the ground. It seems like a lot of wasted energy to rake leaves and the faster I rake the faster they seem to fall. Even so, I do love this time of the year and know raking leaves is a small price to pay for the majesty of trees and leaves. 

It is this change of seasons that reminds me of the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah. He wrote, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not yet saved. (Jeremiah 8:20)  His words are a lament for the people of Judah. You can almost feel his anguish that an opportunity has passed and a hoped for outcome has not been realized. You can spin that verse in lots of ways but for me, one lesson is simply this: some things in life need to be done today, before it is too late. Some things should not be delayed. 

Is there something you need to do, but have kept on hold? Is there someone you have been planning to call or visit, but just have not yet done so? Why not do it today?

Friday, September 12, 2014

"You’ve Got a Friend"

Most preachers are scavengers when it comes to finding fodder for their homiletical grist mill. I guess that is why I have a large collection of tattered and wrinkled newspaper clippings that I have hoarded over the years. I read something and say, “Now that will preach.”  Some clippings make it into a sermon and some just turn yellow and fade.

As I was going through my “sermon idea” box this summer, I came across a little scrap of paper that was from 1980. Wow, that’s a long time to keep anything! I wondered why I bothered to keep it after all those years. What could be so special or unique that I saved it?

It was an obituary.  It was not of anyone I knew, not a family member, relative, or anyone of any note. It was a simple two line obituary. The first line had the person’s name, dates of birth and death, and where the funeral would be held.  It was the second line that explained why I saved it all these years. It simply said, “Survived by a friend.” That was it, just “Survived by a friend." It didn’t even give the friend’s name. 

I wonder, did the friend write the obituary, mourning the friend he so loved? Or was the friendship so obvious and important that another writer felt compelled to mention it? To some it might seem as though this person died without much, only a friend. But maybe that was what he truly needed in life, a good friend to the very end.

I also wondered then, as I do now, if that nameless friend ever realized how important they were to that person. I wonder if we ever fully realize how important we might be to someone. Years ago I heard a preacher say, “Always remember, to someone, you are the most important person in the world.” Sometimes that means being a good friend. I have been blessed over the years to have those kinds of amazing friends, friends who know all about me and still want to be my friend.  

 The Bible says some tall things about friendship, and nothing more amazing than when Jesus says, “You are my friends”.  Imagine, the Son of God calls you his friend! Like every good friend, he sees the best in us and the worse in us, and still he smiles at us and loves us! Even as I write this, I find myself humming, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.

Think on these ideas a minute. What kind of friend am I? Am I the friend who supports the other without regard to myself? Am I the friend who dares to let those most important to me know how meaningful they are?

Friday, September 5, 2014

"The Marshmallow Test"

Are you familiar with the Marshmallow Test?  I am not referring to the Rice Krispies Treats or S’mores that we all loved as kids.  Instead I am referring to an experiment in psychology. In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, Walter Mischel, a psychologist at Stanford University, developed what was known as the Marshmallow Test. 

Basically it worked like this: a young child was brought into a room and offered a marshmallow. The examiner explained to the child they can eat the one marshmallow now or wait until the examiner returns and then get two marshmallows. The examiner leaves the room for about ten minutes as the child stares down the tempting marshmallow. It is basically a test in “delayed gratification”. You can view a cute example of children and their marshmallows on YouTube.

What they discovered in follow up studies with the children is quite amazing. The children who demonstrated delayed gratification for the longer term reward, two marshmallows instead of one, turned out to have better life outcomes as measured by such things as SAT scores, educational attainment, and other life measures.

I am not sure when the age of “Instant Gratification” started, but it must have been when “instant” rice took priority over boiling rice. We’ve grown up with fast food and drive through ATM machines. We have light speed communication at our finger tips and the ability to speed something we want to buy to our doorsteps in just a few clicks. We can even pay more to get it faster. Less and less we have to delay gratification to get what we want. In and of itself, none of this is bad.

Yet, some things, like relationships, take more time and cannot be rushed. Every relationship we treasure takes time. Making and being a good friend takes time. Being a good parent isn’t something that happens overnight. Every husband and wife will tell you marriage isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. Our relationships are often best when we delay gratification and wait for the second marshmallow.

The same is true for our faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ. Theologians call this process sanctification. It means growing little by little, day by day, and year after year in your faith. How does it happen? Paul says the Holy Spirit and our belief in our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, are the ways we work through sanctification. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 (New Revised Standard):
But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”
We might have instant rice, but there are no instant saints. Life and faith are a journey. Spiritual maturity in worship, service, study and prayer take a lifetime.  We hold out for the second marshmallow, believing in the promises of God for us and our world.

How about in your life, what forces tempt you to take the treat now? What strengths let you wait for the treat later?