Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Funeral

Last week, as I prepared myself for the day, my phone signaled an incoming text message in the other room.  Upon my request, Kathleen looked at it for me.  She walked into our room, put her hands on my shoulders and gently spoke these words, "Nicholas, Daddy Jake has gone home to be with Jesus."
It has now been a few days since his funeral.  Looking back, my world is surely a different place.  I haven't produced any thoughts, just taken them as they hit me in waves, like discovery really.  The entire weekend was wonderful.  The drive through the hill country, including getting to be in my home town of New Braunfels if but for an hour.  Being around so many loved ones, all walls dropped under the banner of united sorrow and joy over our patriarch.  Seeing so many people show up to a ninety year old man's funeral, that the entire sanctuary was filled.  The entire weekend, I felt the warmth of God's closeness.  Only once or twice in my entire life have I felt so close.  I kept wondering what new and exciting things Daddy Jake was experiencing right now.  What is he feeling?  What is he seeing?  How wonderful it must be.  Alive so much more than I.
Alongside such wonderful joy was one of the deepest sorrows I have ever felt.  Everyone kept repeating how old he was, and how much he had lived so fully, all as means to comfort themselves and everyone else.  I just couldn't stop myself from weeping.  My sorrow was not for his condition, it was for mine.  I hate the idea of spending the rest of my life without him in it.  I hate the idea of having to wait until my death to see him again.
After returning from the viewing, I walked out to the property behind his house.  A hose sat, softly dripping water into a shallow, dirt trough where Daddy Jake had been watering some bamboo.  The sight of that hose broke my heart.  Just knowing that his hands had placed it there, and that they were no longer there to continue the work made me miss him so much.  As the Bible says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  "I have mourned, and have indeed been blessed with comfort.  The comfort isn't that the pain is gone, but that it has poetry and purpose.  One day there will be no more pain, and all will be made right.  So, I draw near to the Lord, and all that draws me to Him.  May his name be praised, and may that praise come my lips and yours.

Father, You are why we live.  Thank You for the deep unyielding love of my family, that they call You Father.  It only by Your mercy they do so.  Thank You Lord for the distinct honor of getting to be the grandson of Jake Ambrose Laning.  Thank You.  Thank You.  I cannot thank You enough.  Your kingdom come, Father.  Until then, steady our hands upon the plow, and our eyes upon the field.  Amen.

All the men wearing one of Daddy Jake's many hats.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Through the Lens of Death... My Heart's Cry.

Everyday, all day, my heart is driven by one thing.  It is something that is so important and so life-changing.  Yet, it is also offensive, difficult to receive, and a stumbling block to our hearts.  So, I spend my days thinking of subtle ways to fulfill this purpose slowly and well... subtly.  I do this probably because I am afraid to arouse conflict.  I think I can appeal to your mind a bit at a time.  I can ask questions that are small to lead to what I hope is answering the big question I am really wanting to ask.  Simply put, I am trying to be gentle and tactful.  Yet, today is different.  This morning my grandfather, Daddy Jake, died.  Through my tears of pain of personal loss, and my smiles of thankfulness for even getting to be his grandson, my heart wants to share its constant cry, and it is this... Come to Christ!  Let down your pride, your need to "rule" your own life.  Let nothing stand between you and such love!  Nothing!  One day you and I will both be dead, and I want to be sitting with you in heaven.  I want those whom you have let behind in this life to rejoice at getting to see you again, and not weeping broken hearted that you have been lost in hell for eternity.  Search your hearts! I dare you to open your heart enough to at least just ask God if He is there.  Ask Him!  See if He answers.  He speaks to my heart everyday.  Through the lens of death, I cannot think of anything more appropriate to write.  Jesus loves you.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Peace of Limitation

Why is that we believe in the lie of human's unlimited potential.  This is one of the biggest undercurrents of our culture in the U.S. is it not?  Have you not heard a thousand times something along the lines of, "You can do anything, if you just believe!  You can soar to the highest heights!  The sky is the limit!"?  In one of Matt Chandler's sermons, he said, "Man loves man."  It is true.  How often have we heard presidents speak to the "power of the human spirit"?  Oh, you mean the power to kill each other by the millions?  Horde our money while others starve?  Yes, I have seen that power often, every time I look in the mirror actually.  Yet, we all know that is not the context.  This belief we keep pushing about our own legacies, our own abilities, they are silly.  I can believe that I can fly like Peter Pan all day long, but it ain't  gonna happen.  I know, spent many of my formative years working my faith up so that it was strong enough to allow me such a power.  Don't laugh, I liked Disney cartoons as much as the next kid!  Darkwing Duck was the man... or Duck... he was cool, you know what I am saying! (wink)  So powerful is peer pressure, that while I would attest the limited power of man as being silly, the notion still managed to cling to me in small ways, and I see it do so in the speech of others as well.  Much of what I have heard from pulpits has been of this nature.  
The most frustrating part of any lie is that it seems to offer something great, something that will make you happy.  Then, once you see the lie, and stop believing it, there is a certain anger that comes from being duped.  God has been faithful in releasing me of this lie, at least to some extent.  More and more, I am seeing that I am very, very limited.  At first it was frustrating to give up the lie, as there seemed to be a loss of happiness that would surely follow.  Wrong.  Instead, I have found the most amazing sense of peace.  The burden that comes with unreal expectations is gone.  How much more does this burden feel on the back of someone who full out believes this stuff, not just has bits of seeping in?  So much greater has my passion for God been.  It is so much easier to submit to, and thus grow more intimate with, a God that demands submission.  How much sharper is my vision when I look to His face.  Yes, it is still blurred by much else, but it is better, and that warms my heart to no end, and that is what I want for you too!  In the end, our only lasting legacy will be the one we have in heaven.  I can't even recall the names of one of my great great grandparents.  Not one.  Their memory is gone from this earth.  So will mine be, and so will yours.  Let us then submit our lives to Christ then, who will never forget our names.  He saw our faces before the even were.  Praise Him!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lessons from the Tundra that is Texas

We learn a lot when things change, it mixes up our world, breaking our routine, and it begs us to respond in new ways.  Well, an honest to goodness winter storm in Texas is definitely change.  Here are some things I have learned/remembered...

1.) Texas weather really is crazy.  One day I am wearing shorts and flip flops, the next I am cramming paper towels into the crease around my door to help keep out the frigid air.  If Texas were a person, and the weather was its personality, it would be scary.  You'd see this really bright happy person, infectiously warm and friendly.  You feel safe, so you get close, then BAM, like that (snaps fingers), their eyes turn red, they pick up a butter knife and start chasing after you around the kitchen table.  My hometown of New Braunfels survived two five-hundred year floods, that means those floods were so big they should only occur once every five-hundred years, in the spans of four years.  Both floods came after droughts.  Gives a new meaning to don't mess with Texas doesn't it.

2.) It is not good for man to be alone.  Pathetic, that is what I was.  Kathleen was down at the ranch when the storm hit.  I spent the first day inside, mostly by myself.  My sister and I spent some time together, but the bulk of the day was spent alone.  Wow, now that I look back at the fact that I wasn't even really alone, it makes it worse.  I don't do well alone.  Ten times.  That is how many times I circled through my apartment trying to find something to do.  I kept walking in and out of rooms.  It's like when you keep opening the refrigerator, hoping subconsciously that somehow this time the contents will be different.

3.) Texans do not drive well in this weather.  Now, my beef isn't cliche.  For me, the most frustrating part about driving through the snow with other Texans was seeing how irrational the snow made them.  Miles of highway were totally free of any ice or snow, yet almost everyone was still driving twenty miles an hour.

4.) I love cold weather less than I thought.  I have always thought that I enjoyed cold weather, and I do, but not that cold.  It was miserable.  The thought keeps coming up, "People live through this kind of weather for more than half of the year, sometimes longer!"  I had to drive down to the ranch to help Kathleen.  We volunteered to feed the deer whilst my parents drove to Pennsylvania to take part in a massive hunting convention.  All of the deer's water froze solid, and so did the pipes that bring them their water.  All of the gates are iced shut.  We have no water in the house.  It has been... an adventure.  We have had to bring them water in buckets to keep them alive.  Praise God they have all made it so far.

5.) That I want to be a better man, in Jesus' name.  This weather has tested me, and in many ways I have come up lacking.  Everything has asked me to exercise patience, but I all too often responded with what my family calls "inanimate object rage".  It is one of the few things I wish I hadn't learned from my dad, who in all other ways, is one of the most gentle, noble men I have ever known.  It is when you treat something non-living as if it has feelings.  For example, you stand up, hit your head on the low-lying ceiling.  If you have IOR, then you slap the ceiling back, as if a.) it did something to you apart from exist, and b.) you could somehow get revenge by hitting it back.  It's a ceiling!  It is a petty trait, and I want it gone.  I long to be noble and gentle in response, bearing the fruit of self control.  I long to be the kind of man that is exudes grace.  Fortunately, God is so faithful.  He has not withheld his love from me (that includes His discipline), and I am seeing victory day by day.

The Heart of Worship

I have always sung for worship.  My parents taught me that worship was about God, and that He deserved my praise, whether I could sing well or not, or wanted to or not.  Yet, I have long struggled with praise outside of church, as it all too often that I don't feel up to it.  Worship is sacred and wonderful, and all too often I have felt too... evil, unworthy, off, something.  So, I only sang when I was supposed to, at church.  Over the last year or so I have been shown so many new things about worship.  The one thing I now see is that worship doesn't have to be done with a perfect heart.  Worship is a way to a better heart.  It is to be done with whatever heart you have.  If you are broken, sing broken.  God is worth every note.