Sunday, May 24, 2015

Old Friends, Rivers, and Trains

                                             

I went fishing again this morning. It’s Sunday and I should have gone to church, I know this. But honestly, my Spiritual life seems a little flat these days. Life is busy, and I hear so many voices in the course of a day that I need to get alone so I can –hopefully- hear God’s voice.
I would love to tell you that God met me there, and we had a deep conversation, and things got straightened out, but that’s not how it happened. God showed up, alright. He is everywhere at once and that includes fifteen miles upstream on the James River, with the sun just breaking over the tree tops. He was there just as much as He was with the worshippers in early meeting.
I didn’t talk to Him right away. I was busy fishing. I pulled out my Bible in the car just before getting my waders on and I read a Psalm. Then I caught myself feeling ridiculous, like I was fooling God at all with my tacit, dutiful reading of one Psalm. I figured He wasn’t buying it, and He already knew my heart anyway, so I headed off for the river.
I picked out a new spot this week, different from where I’d been fishing the last two times out.
                                                

I had to hike down about a quarter mile trail to get to the new spot. Just before I reached the river I had to cross some train tracks. I paused to look up the tracks and down, not because I was worried about a train approaching, I would have seen that. But there is something about train tracks. Something endless. Something that signifies wandering and restlessness. They seem to not have beginning or end, they just go on into the horizon or around a bend. You can’t see the end and maybe…there is none.
I paused and thought about all the trains that have run down these particular tracks. Where they were going and what they were hauling? I thought about the men who worked those rails and hauled those loads. I love trains. Since I was a little boy I have loved trains. Most boys do.
I walked to the river and began fishing. I am so happy that I’ve reconnected to this lifelong passion of mine. I’m so thankful to live a short drive from someplace as beautiful as the upper James River. I walked out onto some big boulders that jutted out about twenty feet into the stream and found my place. I didn’t cast my line immediately. I drank it in again. The sound of the current as it whisks past me. The croak of the giant Blue Herons that had stirred from their roost and were heading out for some fishing of their own. The call of the birds in the trees. I could have sat there without dropping my line even once. I could have listened and watched and meditated. The river holds promise every time I go there. Each cast might be the one. Each lure might be the right combination that draws in that one lunker waiting in his lair. With fishing, success is possible in every moment, and failure is not really failure…it’s just practice in between successes.
I watched the sun coming up, and listened to the world awakening, and didn’t catch anything at all. I didn’t have the right color combinations with me, or I was presenting wrong, or the fish just weren’t biting yet. Whatever. Catching fish is only half the reason I come here. The other is to get away. To return to something primal inside me. Something better. Something battered by years and hidden by age. I guess I come to be a little boy again.
I sat down on the big boulders after a while. I wanted to make a pious pronouncement somehow and reconcile my being here in the river when my sense of responsibility told me I should be in church. I tried to pray, but the only thing that came out was a plaintive discussion with Jesus. “You liked fishermen,” I thought, “I bet you’d like this place.” Then of course, the thought hit me, “Of course He’d like it…He created it.”  I do that to myself a lot. I think I should have stayed in that whimsical moment and just gone ahead and wondered at the surroundings with Jesus as my companion but I out-thought myself and ruined it. The fact that He created it and it is breathtaking is not lost on the human side of Jesus. I should know this.
But this was not a spiritual retreat, I was here to fish. I cast my lures absentmindedly and thought, far more than I fished. I thought about life. Fishing is a great place to do that. The cell phone gets no service, the highway is too far away to lend it’s thrumming. The only sound is the gurgle of the current as it sweeps around the rocks, and the life all around me.
I sat there fishing and thinking and suddenly I heard, in the distance, the sound of steel wheels on the tracks, thirty yards from where I was. A train was coming.
I’m 51. I am a dad. I have seen hundreds of trains in my lifetime. Yet whenever one approaches, I have to watch. It’s part of the wiring that makes us men. Trains are large. They are powerful. They are overwhelming. They can be frightening in scale and awesome in force. They are everything a boy and a man love.
But they also represent something else. In literature, a train is often used to signify the slow, constant, unstoppable passing of time.
On track.
Heading somewhere specific. Not moving overly quickly but not slowing down for any reason.
Plodding along.
Time.
 I sat there and watched the twin locomotives roll past me. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the engineers in the cabin but the windows were darkened. What if they had been open? What if the engineer was riding along, with his arm bent and resting on the window frame, enjoying the beauty of the scenery as he rolled past it? I guess I would have waved, and hoped he waved back.
Just like when I was a boy.


Trains make old men into boys again. I’m not old yet, But I’m closer than I was when I was fishing all the time with my friends, that’s for sure.
The train rolled past and disappeared. I returned to my line. And I returned to my childhood. To places like Nonesuch Creek, and the A-Bridge, and The Dikes in Delaware City, and Smalley’s Dam, and Lum’s Pond and Lake Como. Lake Como is where my best friend and I fished on Sunday afternoons. He lived nearby the lake, and I would sometimes go home with his family after church and we’d walk to Como and fish until time to leave for evening service.
My best friend’s name was Mark. He was closer than a brother to me when we were kids. All through High School. We were inseparable. We hunted, we fished, we cruised Newark, Delaware in my car. We played sports together in school. He was our ace pitcher and I was the catcher. Me and Mark. The best battery in the league.
We dreamed of living near each other someday. Near some place where we could hunt and fish and raise our families and remain friends. We would talk about stuff like this while we fished.
This morning, after the train went by and after I waited to see the engineer and maybe wave…I started to think about Mark. I haven’t seen him in ten years now. Since his dad died. We didn’t have a fight. We didn’t come to some crossroads. We just fell out of touch. And before I knew it, ten years had passed. This morning, sitting in the breathtaking beauty of the James River, I was thinking of my best friend and the trains, and the days that have rolled past…slowly, methodically, relentlessly. I started to cry.
That train became a metaphor for those years. Where did they come from…where were they heading? What lies ahead, around that curve in the track? Maybe I was the engineer, and hoped to get a wave as some recognition that I am still, somehow driving this train. Maybe he represented Mark, and the wave was some sort of sign that he still thinks of me and sees me down the bank from those tracks, fishing, like when we were boys.
Maybe the engineer is God, relentlessly, methodically guiding the train of our lives down a track toward a destination that only He knows.
Maybe all of these.
I cried. I said it out loud. “I miss Mark.” I missed being fifteen and fishing Lake Como with my best friend and talking about the future. The future got here and we aren’t talking about it together anymore.
I sat there and finally had the ability to pray. I poured my heart out. I talked to Jesus about the years that have passed and the ones that remain. I prayed for Mark. I prayed for my daughter, as she is really just beginning to get on board that mystical train.
I prayed for me.
I have fallen many times in life and always gotten up. The last seven years were painful but they did bear fruit. I’ve rattled off that list enough in the past. But the one best thing that came out of all that desert walking, was my writing. I love to write. I love to write. I see moments in the day and they become stories. Like this one did. I sat there with tears in my eyes and the face of my best friend etched in my mind and I thought about how I was going to come home and write this article. And even if nobody reads it, I was still going to write it and be happy that I did so. I found who I am out there, in the darkness when I was homeless and broken. I found the thing I love. I prayed this morning that doors would open and I can, somehow, find that niche. That group of people who like what I have to say. Because a writer, ultimately, needs to be read.
I prayed. I thought about all the fishing I have done through the years. I thought about my best friend and how awful it is that we blinked and ten years have gone by since we last talked.
Like that train.
My thoughts were interrupted by another train. A mile and a half of coal cars, loaded to the top, and beyond. Two massive locomotives, pulling in tandem. Heading who-knows-where. Riding on tracks laid out by someone with a Master Plan.
Just like our lives.
It was time to go. It was still early, but my reel broke, and honestly…I was ready to get home and get this soul full of emotions on paper.
The little boy in me came out again today. Once again it was a river, and a fishing rod that drew him from his hiding place. He was safe behind a wall of memories of friends, and fishing, and laughter and dreams. Back when the future was off in the distance. Like that train. Not here, where the future we dreamed of then, was what was supposed to have happened twenty years ago. Where we watch the train of life as it rolls along, wondering where it is heading, and how many cars it is made of, and what lies around that curve in the tracks.
 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Josh Duggar Might Make Me Give Up on Church Forever...

I wasn’t going to write about this. I was going to comment on what others have said but I wasn’t going to write about this on my own site. Why? Because I have tried to stay away from bitterness and anger on this new page. My life has improved one thousand percent and I have adopted a refreshed view of positive thinking along with it. But this Duggar thing is eating at me and I need to vent. So here goes.
I wrote the initial part of this in response to this blog article on a very popular Christian blog. Here is the link if you want to read the original post:

Here is what I wrote over there…I’ll add some thoughts at the end.
“I'm amazed. Christian people rally around their own, when they're famous, without regard for truth. This article is so much BULL it's amazing! Let's get some things straight, shall we? First of all, the way the Duggars "dealt" with this was horrifying. You simply have to wonder what else they glossed over or "took to their elders." The timeline goes something like this; they find out Josh is diddling his sisters so they take him to the Elders of the Church, then a "Christian Program" that turns out to be nothing more than sending him off for the summer to work construction with a family friend, then when this apparently doesn't dim his urges, they have a sit-down with another family friend who was a State Trooper at the time. This is not the same as turning your kid in to the police. Why? Well because A: the Trooper did not report it or open an investigation...he gave Josh a "talking-to." and B: The Trooper...err EX Trooper is a guy named Jim Hutchens. You know where old Jim is now? Doing 56 years in prison. Guess what for...possession of Child Pornography! Yep.
To say that Josh "made some big mistakes" makes me want to throw up. You know what a teenaged mistake is? It's shoplifting a pack of baseball cards. It's raiding your old man's beer stash and getting drunk with your buddies behind the schoolyard. Those are mistakes. Diddling your sisters when you are fourteen years old is no mistake...it's a sickness.
The Duggars covered this up so well that they got themselves a TV show, book deals, speaking gigs and ol' Josh got that cushy gig with the FRC.
I'm a conservative, born-again Christian. I have a bachelor’s degree in religion from the largest conservative, evangelical university in the US. I know a few things about the Bible. Let's examine this fallacy about "casting stones" shall we?
When Jesus said "Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone...He was saying "let any of you who haven't participated in this woman's sin go ahead and accuse her." Why would He say this? Here's why...the woman was caught in the act during the Feast of Tabernacles. It was pretty much out in the open. The man she was caught with should have been presented to Jesus for judgment as well, but he was not. Why? Well the best theologians, Dr. Elmer Towns among them, feel that it's because he was in on the scam. See, they didn't REALLY care about her adultery; they were trying to trap Jesus. If he condemned her, he could no longer call himself the "friend of Sinners." If he DIDN'T condemn her he was in violation of the Law, which he had already stated He upheld to the very last punctuation mark. No, they were ALL involved in this plot. In fact the only one who wasn’t was the woman herself. Yes she was committing adultery but she was merely a pawn. So, EVERY man there was guilty of this very sin, because every man that was accusing her had been a part of the plot. THAT is why Jesus said what He said. He was NOT making a blanket statement that nobody has the right to judge sin unless they are actually sinless. This is impossibility and He further demanded we judge each other by our fruits. He set up deacons and elders to JUDGE our behaviors. This OFTEN misquoted phrase was specific to those men because they were ALL participants in her adultery. So please dispense with using this as some sort of guideline for letting people walk scot-free with the most abhorrent behaviors. Jesus said "Judge not, or you will also be judged..." but what EVERYONE fails to quote is the REST of Jesus' statement: "For with whatever manner you judge another you yourself will be judged" Then He goes on to teach on the log in your eye. The principle is not "Don't judge" but "Don't judge people for what you are guilty of yourself" (Again, the most well known theologians agree with this.) We ARE to declare sinful behavior as sinful behavior. We ARE to demand accountability and we ARE to administer penalty at times. We are demanded to do so with clean hearts. So again I say, based on Jesus CLEAR teachings, this man is a disgrace. He is forgiven by God, but the fact that his parents covered for his horrendous CRIMINAL actions and this cover up allowed him to gain a TV show, a very influential position with the FRC, and his family to have book deals and speaking engagements for years is despicable. THEY wounded the Church, not people like me who are calling his actions, and theirs, what they really are.
Articles like this one make we Christians look terrible. And personally...I have worked hard every single day to maintain a life that bespeaks my faith. When I have failed I have been public in accepting it. I am a writer. I have wrestled with using even the tamest of words in my most recent book, because I was concerned with offending "the weaker brother" as Paul commanded. I struggle in anonymity, living my faith as I believe it should be lived. And when I see someone like Josh Duggar, covering something so heinous as this and the Christian world rushing to his side because they don't want to lose one of their superstars...I sometimes want to quit. Quit on my faith altogether. Not quit on Jesus, because He doesn't condone this. But quit on trying to live my life within the parameters of evangelicalism and the "flockstar" mentality that pervades it.
Lastly...I have a daughter. Had this happened to her I would have killed that little bastard on the spot.”

I wrote that this morning. I was disgusted at the attitude of the Evangelical world in its defense of this guy. Now let me tell you why…
I have sinned too. I’ve cursed at traffic, I’ve cursed while playing in men’s league hockey. I’ve gotten tipsy a couple of times. I was not a virgin when I got married. (I DID wait until I was 25 though, so there’s that) I’ve done things wrong…we all have. This isn’t about forgiveness; Josh Duggar is forgiven by God and apparently by his victims. (Although I have to wonder what choice they felt they had, given the control exercised in that household) This is about the way Christians pick and choose who they will attack and who they will defend.
Josh Duggar is famous. He’s famous because his mom and dad made a clown-car out of the womb and cranked out 19 kids. Okay…you want to have 19 kids, I say God bless. My dad is one of fourteen. But my grandparents were Catholic immigrants from Italy and nobody made them famous for their fertility.
But the Duggars have made a cottage industry out of it and millions of earnest Christians fell for it because the Duggars are Born Again Christians. Again…God bless.
If someone buys your product, be it a car, a cell phone, or your books and speeches and TV shows, that’s on them. I knew this plumber one time who used to say “There’s a butt for every seat,” and he was right.
Here’s where I have a problem with all of this.
The defense.
They claim Josh’s diddling his sisters was just one big mistake. An error in judgment. Teen-aged hi-jinks.
The Duggars covered it up in the exact same way the Hyles-Anderson Colleges of the world covered it up. I wasn’t there and I’m not privy, but I wonder if the old “Blame the victim” crept in anywhere. The Duggars covered this up, and nobody knew, and they profited from their image for years. They’ve made millions. He got a sweet job at Family Research Council. They have a TV show (since cancelled).
How does this affect me? Why does this trouble my waters?
First because I am a dad. I have a 17 year old daughter. Had this happened to my daughter I would have killed Josh Duggar, and called my cousins to dispose of the body. Right now, at this moment, I can’t really tell if I’m kidding or not. I hope I’d let the cops handle it…but they were never called.
Second, because I am a Christian. I am a conservative, born again believer. I love the heritage of my Faith. Therefore I HATE when I see the wondrous grace and forgiveness of Jesus so abused by someone, simply because the person they are defending is famous.
If Josh Duggar was a nobody…like me…these voices would be screaming for life in prison and waiting to hear how he’d be getting raped every night. But he’s Josh Duggar and the Evangelical world has invested a lot in him, and his family, and now they have to rally and regroup. They are giving him the chance to go away quietly. ‘Cause Gosh-darn it they like Josh. They love those Duggars, all 227 of them. They backed the wrong horse…again, and they need to salvage their investment.
So why does this eat at me? Here’s why…
I’ve struggled. I’ve wrestled with my faith and found it sturdy enough to handle the questions I asked. I’ve done my best to live this faith as well as I could, mistakes and all. Thank God I’ve never wrestled with something as sick as this. On that front I feel for the guy. The voices and images that surely haunt him must be terrible. I haven’t done that. I am thankful for that because I am made of the same sinful material he is.
But beyond that I have tried…I say tried…to live with integrity. I have thought about my actions. I have gone the extra mile for customers when I was in the mortgage business or the carpentry business and now in an IT position. I give my all. I try to see myself from the outside looking in, and I try to do everything with a filter of “How would this make the Church look?” I don’t do a perfect job of that, but I think I do pretty well and when I fail…I own it! I don’t cover it up or call it a childhood mistake. I own it.
I am a writer. I have written some faith-based books and some not. My most recent book is a fictional novel and when I was writing it I wrestled with whether to use the word “shit.” Yeah. That’s the worst word in the book. It’s a story about a guy who grew up blue-collar in south Philly and winds up wealthy and retired at 45 in the South. He is a Christian and doesn’t use those words but his friends do. I literally wrestled for weeks about using something that innocuous. I worried about what my pastor friends would think. What my employer would think. Would people not buy my wonderful Christmas book now that I said the “S” word in this book? I was that concerned about how this would make Believers look.
You know what? It’s a great story and critics love it and everyone who reads it says it’s a classic and it should be a movie…and I can’t give the darned thing away. I have sold fourteen copies. I self-published the book (although you’d never know that) and I have zero budget for publicity.
Zero.
I’m not famous. I don’t have 19 kids and a TV show because of them and a book deal and name recognition. I have me. I have twitter and Facebook and this blog. I have word of mouth. But I work a full time job and I don’t really have the time to work the few outlets I do have access to. Because I have ONE child and I’m doing my best to finish the job and get her to college this fall. I am a single dad. I was homeless for almost 5 years and nobody made a reality show about that. I couldn’t use it to sell books or get speaking gigs. I simply endured it in relative anonymity until I finally got a job and started the long rebuilding process. I graduated from college while homeless…a few people noticed. My alma mater did a really nice story about me that year. I got an interview on a local radio station back in Nashville. But TLC never did come calling. Tony Perkins didn’t offer me a job at FRC. I was asked to speak at two churches and the Brentwood TN morning Rotary.
I’m fine with that, really. I don’t want to be famous from homelessness. I don’t really need fame at all, I just want to sell some books. I would like the opportunity to tell my story because I think people can always use some inspiration. And I do think my tale is inspiring.
But I’m perfectly fine with just working every day and doing my job and raising my daughter and living my life.
…until I see a Josh Duggar and his family getting rich and famous while hiding this horrible secret. This secret flies in the face of everything they sold you about themselves and their faith. I hate that part of it.
I’m nobody. I get that. But People like Josh Duggar and his family should not be somebodies simply for doing something like having 19 kids. Nobody checked them out. Of course, because it was so covered up, there was nothing to check. But still…the way people have rallied behind this family hurts me. It really does. Because the one and only reason they are doing it is the fame the Duggars have. If it had been me, or the average nobody, the Christian world would have torn us asunder.
That is the sad truth I have to reconcile today. That is the truth about “Flockstars” and Christian fame and the blinders Christians wear sometimes. I have to accept this, yet again, and move on.
Then I have to go work a side job and then I have to try to sell some books.
By the way…if you want one, click here: Buy my book here...PLEASE



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

" I miss the peace of fishing..."

This past Saturday I went fishing.
If you know me, especially if you knew me as a child, you would not be surprised by this statement. In fact, you might wonder why I made it at all, and why I am writing an entire blog article about it.
It’s funny…I grew up loving to fish. I would have fished in a mud puddle if I thought there was an outside chance that it had a fish in it. I would practice casting in the above-ground swimming pool in our back yard. There was a creek in the county park in our neighborhood, and even though the creek was mostly a dry bed, I would often find myself casting a new lure in the pools that did exist here and there, just to see how it swam.
My friends did the same thing. Johnny, Richard, Tommy. We’d all be outside practicing our casts. When Johnny and I were both twelve years old, we each bought a fly-fishing combo at the New Castle Farmer’s Market. It was a seven-foot rod, a cheap but effective Martin reel, some level fly line and a small box with about a dozen flies inside.
Johnny and I set a Hula Hoop in the street and with a small piece of yarn tied to our tippet; we’d practice the rhythmic, graceful, pendulum motion of a fly-cast. We got good enough to land that yarn right in the hoop every time.
We subscribed to Bassmaster Magazine. We saved our money and bought lures two or three at a time at Shooter’s Supply on DuPont Highway. We rode our Spider bikes to “Nonesuch Creek” to fish the dirty waters that fed the Christiana River. We seldom caught more than a catfish or a carp, but we were fishing. We were out in the sun, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from a brown bag, peeing in the bushes, getting tanned and being boys.
In our hearts we were Jerry McInnis on “The Fishin’ Hole” and we were catching twenty pound stripers on Rapala broken-backs in the morning mist of some mammoth Southern Lake.
Life rolled on and we fished less and less. For my entire childhood I dreamed of living someplace where the fishing was generous and the bass were big. I moved to Tennessee in 1997 and, with an unhappy wife and a newborn daughter not long after we arrived, I found myself living in exactly such a dream location, and never fishing there even once.
I did find time to take Morgan fishing when she was 4 or 5 years old. There was a little five acre pond near my house and we caught a few Sunfish. But it was a long, long time before I found myself in a river, seriously pursuing a bass or a trout, with solitude as my only companion.
In 1994 I had returned to Liberty University for one year. That spring of 1995 I spent a few good weekend days in the Tye River, and the James, but I had not been back there to fish since I left in 1995.
1997 brought the move to Tennessee. 1998 brought my daughter’s birth. 1999 brought divorce. It was during those lonely, excruciatingly painful days of my divorce and the years immediately after, that I should have been fishing.
When the pain that is inherent with the end of a marriage –and the death of a dream- was so crushing, that’s when I needed the peace of a river or a lake the most. I don’t know why I didn't think of it then. I don’t know why I didn't spend a few hundred dollars and buy some nice new equipment and lose myself for an entire Saturday now and then. But I didn't.
I guess I simply forgot.
I forgot how good the sun feels on your face. I forgot how the gentle, relentless flow of the river can mesmerize you, and then, eventually, that flow begins to carry the burdens of your soul downstream somewhere. It isn't always about whether you caught anything. It’s what you released. Worry. Doubt. Fear. Pain. Sometimes, on a good day, each cast carries them away from you.
Saturday I returned to something I had loved a lifetime ago. I was thirty feet out in the James River, about a quarter mile below an old, retired hydro-electric dam. 

The James is a beautiful river when you are this far upstream. She’s clean, and clear, and fast in spots. She has a solid rock bed with little if any algae and growth. You can find a path of boulders jutting up just above the surface and, in spots; you can make your way to the middle of the stream without getting your feet wet.
I wasn't quite that far out on Saturday but I was far enough. I had an old Shakespeare spin cast combo that I might have paid twenty bucks for about eight years ago. I’m surprised I still had it, but it was in my closet. It had a chartreuse buzz bait still tied on and I cast it a few times, thinking nothing would hit a buzz bait in a river like the James.
On my third cast, I was pleasantly surprised when a nice smallmouth flashed up from underneath a cut in large bedrock and attacked my lure.

He was hooked instantly and he put up a decent battle before I landed him. I picked him up carefully. He was small, definitely not a keeper. But he was beautiful. A lovely green-bronze that only the smallmouth wears. He was all of about ten inches or so, maybe a second-season fish. But he was game, and I carefully removed the hook, made sure he was unharmed, and turned him loose. With a little luck, he’ll mature and offer someone else a battle someday.
Maybe a little eight year old boy who lives to fish as I once did.
I was excited. It had been a long time. I snapped a picture with my cell phone and sent it to a buddy. I smiled.
I fished for two more hours, hoping to catch another. I drank in the breathtaking scenery around me. I wondered why it had been so long. I thought of Johnny and Richard and Tommy and the days when we fished all day long in the heat of summer, catching nothing worth keeping, except the memories we would carry with us forever.
Do boys fish anymore? I don’t know. Boys don’t do nearly as many “boy things” as they used to do.
But they should.
They should be out there with their buddies, and with their dads and grandpas. Because those memories will get them through hard days when the only thing they can do to assuage the fishing bug is remember when they used to go out on steamy Friday evenings after summer rains and snatch giant night crawlers from the wet grass. When grown-up life rushes at them like an army of Huns, they’ll recall getting up at dawn, meeting their three best friends in the street, and riding their bicycles a few miles to their secret spot.
When the disappointments that life throws at us like so many curveballs take a toll…they could fall back on the best moments of childhood with the best friends they've ever had, learning about nature, and friendship, and luck.
Saturday, as I was casting my line and hoping for another beautiful bronze back, I was thinking about those friends of mine. I wished I could have held up that little bass and seen Johnny Wilkins, or Mark Sterling, smiling at me from twenty feet away, as happy as if they had caught it themselves.
I was alone on the water, but I had the company of the memories of those childhood fishing trips and the friendships that have been swallowed by adulthood, and the miles between us.
At the end of the great thriller, “The Hunt For Red October,” Alec Baldwin’s Jack Ryan asks Sean Connery’s Marko Ramius why he went to the great lengths it took to steal the Red October and bring her to America. He answered: “I miss the peace of fishing, like when I was a boy in Vilnius with my grandfather.”
I miss the peace of fishing…
So do I.
I miss the excitement and the skill and the talks we had on the way to our fishing hole. I miss the camaraderie and the bragging rights and the knot-tying contests.
I miss my childhood friends.
I won’t be able to be on the river for a few weeks, but when I do, I’ll carry Johnny and Mark and Richard and Tommy with me. I’ll do something that connects me directly to my childhood. Each cast will take with it just a little piece of the worries and cares that fifty-one years have heaped on my shoulders. I’ll wonder. I’ll squint in the sun, and curse at a snagged line and then laugh at myself when I do.
Hopefully I’ll find another bronze back or two…or three.

And I’ll find peace…

My Thoughts on Tom Brady...

There was a time and place in this country when those athletes we revered were expected to be paragons of virtue. They failed sometimes but it was expected. It was the price they paid for fame, adulation, and the opportunity to live a better life than the people who cheered for them. 
Watching Tom Brady defenders acting indignant and claiming the penalty is too harsh is making me sick. 
We've already abandoned our political leaders to the realm of the untrustworthy -something we should all be collectively ashamed of- now we are making excuses for a man who knowingly altered the equipment in his favor. And we are excusing a team that has cheating in it's DNA and yet gets defensive when confronted about it. 
Tom Brady cheated. Period. I am expected to believe that a man so important to his team that he wears a red shirt at practice to remind his own team not to touch him, isn't consulted when the essential piece of equipment in the game is altered? The highest paid player on the team and in his game, and he wasn't a participant?
Shame on him, and shame on you if you defend this. Truth and morality is not relative, no matter if we are discussing Theology, politics, or even sports. In another time and place he would be pilloried in the press for this. Instead he is being defended. This should be akin to "Say it ain't so, Joe."
Instead we hear echoes of "It's a vast right-wing conspiracy"
It's another microcosm of America...
It's more evidence that the further we range from our Judeo-Christian heritage, and the effects it had on our society, the worse off we become.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Happy Birthday to my daughter...

My daughter is seventeen today.
If you want to know how fast a blink is…it’s seventeen years.
Seventeen years ago, at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, she made a nearly silent entrance into this world. She was perfect. She was everything I’d hoped she’d be. She changed my life forever.
She continues to change my life.
Seventeen years ago I was a 34 year old man, married for about a year and a half, living in a town very different from the one I grew up in, with a very unhappy wife and a world of doubts weighing on my shoulders.

Morgan was the only thing that made sense to me. Our marriage was already failing, even as we welcomed our first (and only) child. I was living at the convergence of a career crossroads, a personal crossroads, and a marital disaster. Morgan was born on May 7, 1998. By December 1, 1999, I’d be divorced and broken hearted. The only thing I had to show for my three years dream-turned-nightmare was this beautiful, amazing, wonderful, perfect princess we had named Morgan Wray. Morgan because we liked it. Wray was my grandmother’s middle name. It was my tribute to the first really Godly person I ever knew. My grandmother was the sole source of unconditional love in the world I grew up in. She was kind, gentle, incredibly intelligent, and had cultivated a prayer life that literally kept me alive through some of the darkest days I’d been through.
She also possessed one of the most beautiful singing voices I had ever heard. My daughter inherited that as well. Morgan can sing. Not just sing like a teen-aged kid who likes music. She can sing. She lives it. She breathes it. She has an old soul. You won’t catch her listening to very much of what other 17-year-olds listen to. She’s too wise for that. And too battle worn. She has an old soul. Here is one example of her amazing talent. She doesn’t know I found this on You tube, but I discovered it last night.


That’s my daughter. That’s the one and only arrow God placed in my quiver.
It’s been hard being a divorced dad. It was hard from the very beginning. It got much harder when I lost my career and then my home and I was living in the back of a Yukon.
But I stayed when leaving made more sense. I remained and did as much of the job of a dad as was possible. I did all I could. I was there. She never had a recital or a Birthday that her dad wasn’t there, in the crowd, cheering her on.
Until today.
She is in Nashville at her mom’s for a couple of weeks. I have never missed her birthday before. Not in 17 years. Until today.
It’s not my doing. I’m not faulting myself for this. But it hurts nonetheless. I know how it feels for your birthday to be an afterthought. When I was a kid, for reasons I only understood later in adulthood, mine was exactly that. I swore from the very first, that her birthday would always be cause for a huge celebration. Because of all days on the calendar, I am most happy and thankful for this one.
My Daisy is 17 now. My arrow is almost finished. She’s straight and true and the targets we’ve been practicing on have all been bulls-eyes, for the most part. This fall she begins her college life here at Liberty. She has decided to double major. English and Music. So she can be a better song writer, and she can teach, until her music takes off. That’s my kid. Always setting the bar high.
I’ve almost completed my task. I can’t believe it. Seventeen years. I can still remember every single detail as if it were last night. Her tiny, silent, perfection. Now she is a grown woman. For all intents and purposes, and adult. It’s not that I’m not ready…it’s that I wanted it to take longer.
Divorce cuts a dad’s time down to about 1/3 what it would be in an intact family. Then came homelessness. Where other dads have movies, I have snapshots. But she made it this far and she’s a good kid. I keep working hard, hoping for success, hoping she sees that the enormous battle was worth it.
I still want to be her hero.
I still need to be her hero.
My daughter is seventeen. From her birth, until this very day, each year I think of the lyrics that a dear friend of mine wrote for his son on his first birthday.

“Oh the happiest day I have ever known was the day you took your first breath.
And to watch you grow in the warmth of the sun,
Is the only other wish, I could ever have.
But if cold night winds should begin to howl and if trouble should come your way.
Remember these words I’m telling you now.
And all your days I pray you’ll call His name.

Rain will fall, as it surely must
On the heads of the wicked
And the just.
God forbid that rain turn your dreams to rust
And all your days I pray you’ll call His name.

On that bittersweet day many years from now when you take your first steps on your own
Remember these words I’m telling you now
As much as I’ve loved you
There is One who loves you more
But if cold night winds should begin to howl and if trouble should come your way
May the warmth of the sun. comfort and guide you
May those cold dark winds stay forever behind you
If you lose your way…know that God will find you
And all your days I pray you’ll call His name.”

My friend Rick Elias wrote that for his son Taylor along time ago.
I copied it here through tears.
I’ve lost my way a thousand times without the benefit of a dad to come and find me.
I have not been able to give my daughter as much as I wanted to,
But I gave her that.
Underneath the turmoil and the heartbreak, she knew her daddy loved her, and loves her to this very hour.
I hope it served her well.
Happy Birthday, Morgan Wray. My sweet, beautiful, Daisy.
For all the doubts I have about my own ability as a man and as a believer…God must have seen something of value in this heart of mine, because He saw fit to entrust you to my care. I hope I have served you well. You are all that a dad could ask for in a daughter and a million times more.
Get ready to fly, my precious arrow. The world will hear your song. I pray the world can feel your heart.
If you lose your way, know that God will find you.
…and your dad will always be here.

Always.