Monday, December 8, 2014

A story of forgiveness that continues

I looked at him he looked vaguely familiar.  His glasses were taped up and he had some sort of black stocking cap on, he smiled at me and waved. I couldn't place him. As we continued to listen to the prison creed cover band I was wracking my brain trying to figure out who he was. As the chapel service came to a close he approached me. "Are you Ben?" not even trying to pretend I knew who he was I said yes, how do I know you? I am Brandon I was in one of your Plus classes. I wouldn't and didn't recognize him. But I remembered him. I have told his story so many times. It had been over 8 years since I had seen him last. I asked how he was doing? And the answer was a lot has changed in my life. He then went to get some coffee and I was left wondering what had happened in his life over the last many years of his life.
His story I have told many times, and even written about it, but as a refresher he was in the very first class I ever taught. I was teaching the Purpose Driven Life. My expectations were that I would have a guard with a big gun standing next to me as I taught. Reality was that the chaplain who escorted me in left to sit in his office and I was along with over 60 men in the same chapel I was in yesterday afternoon. As I went through the first few chapters of the book, I asked the question "When have you seen God in other people or situations?" Brandon raised his hand, and asked if he could share something?  he stood up next to me and took the mic and shared his story. These were the words I remember like they were yesterday. "I am in here for my part of a murder. I did what I was accused of doing. While I was in county jail waiting for trial, one day I was waiting for some friends to visit and a guard came to my cell. He told me I had a visitor so I went to the visiting room and it was the kind where there are tables separated by glass. I looked down the line and there was no one I recognized. The only open table was this little old lady and I looked at the guard and he shrugged and said she is here to see you. It was better than going back to my cell so I sat down and grabbed the phone and she asked me are you Brandon? I responded yes. She said I'm Timmy's grandmother (the boy you murdered) and I want to tell you I forgive you." Brandon ended his story with saying and that's when I saw God at work.

This story drew me into wanting to be a part of these men's lives. This story gave me hope for personal freedom from guilt, bitterness, and many other emotions that people do to deal with pain. I knew after hearing this story that there was so much I could learn from these men and their situations.

At the time Brandon an Asatru. It is a form of Germanic neopaganism faith. He was friendly but connected and steadfast in his faith.

After he got his coffee yesterday afternoon he came back over and wanted to talk. He gave me a hug, and said "man its been a long time." I agreed and proceeded to tell him that I had told his story so many times. He smiled and through his facial tattoos and his taped up glasses he said my life has changed and that story isn't over. I can't remember all he said as I was caught up in emotion and memories. But two parts stick out. The first being he has become a Christian. He shared between the program I taught and other brothers in the prison, he explored Christianity and God drew him in.
The second thing caught me offguard. Timmy's cousin has since been incarcerated at ISP. I asked him how that went? He at first was very worried and scared because those kind of situations do not usually end well. The vengeance factor of killing a family member usually ends in some kind of payback.
One day this cousin approached Brandon and said hey we are cool. I forgive you. Since then the two have become friends.
As Brandon was leaving he shared one last thing, even though his family forgave me, I still struggled with forgiving myself. But I have started to do that. I feel like I can forgive myself. It may be another 8 years until I see Brandon again, but it was an honor and blessing to hear and see God at work in his life.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Loneliness

As I walked into the high school the cafeteria on my left was a buzz. Typical high school and jr high interactions, kids running, chasing, and teasing each other. There were about 7 sub groups of various sizes laughing, giggling, singing, and carrying on. Within all of this commotion and life was a table with one little girl, sitting staring at the ground, playing with her hands uncomfortably. She wasn't obvious as she was sitting in the back of the room away from all the life. She would look up occasionally but quickly look down as she realized that she didn't fit into any of these sub groups.

Loneliness it effects us all to some degree. But some much more than others. The picture of loneliness has begun to take a much broader picture than the just the out of place high schooler. One time I asked a man who was very successful in his early 50s, if he had any friends? He gave a quip about why I would ask such a thing, and then in a moment of honesty said no I wish I did and it has been something I have been praying and asking God for.

I was talking recently with a man who had been released from jail. As we were talking about this topic of loneliness he told me an interesting story. There are phones in the jail pods (pod is a set of 12-20 individual cells) and he said there will be guys standing at the phones without anyone at the other end. They will either be extremely quite or even carry on a one sided conversation. Men that either don't have any connections or family that has deserted them. That phone even though it didn't hold meaningful conversation held a physical symbol of connection.

Last week I was talking to a single parent and asked how their past month had went, the answer was well I work and then I am home every night with my kids. I miss adult interaction was the term they used.

Loneliness is all around us, if not to a large part in us. As Kyle told me one day I wish I had a best friend when we drove by two boys sitting on the side of the road enjoying each others company. I think many wish for that human connection but don't have it.

The little girl sitting alone at the table in the high school was my daughter Ellyse.  That visual image will stay with me for some time if not forever as I watched and observed her before going and picking her up. 

There are many statistics of how and when kids join gangs, do drugs, get pregnant, or various other social ills. I can see my daughter going down a path of trouble not because she is a bad kid but rather because this peer group accepts her.

It saddens me on a daily basis to see basic human interactions withheld from people. I spent the last 3 days listening to topics of truth, being right and others being wrong, and all sorts of other issues with society. In the end we can pontificate about all of these issues and demonize all sorts of things, but in the end two things stick with me. 1. I have so much garbage in my own life that I really can't begin to judge others. 2. People are the ones who get hurt, and alienated through rants and raves.

Taking the story of the creation from the Bible, God created man to have a relationship with Him and then realized the man would be lonely here on earth created other people to be in community with. I believe we were created to have community with both God and other people. Community with God sometimes is a whole lot easier than with other people.

In thinking through daily practical life, how do we approach human interaction? Is it a necessary evil or is each conversation and interaction a gift? How does our life change when we view interaction as a gift? I don't think that depths of conversation happen without intentionality.  When we see each person created in the image of God each day it is really hard to look down upon them or with judgement.

When we can see each of them in the same boat and messed up as we are, just trying to survive, full of fear, insecurity, anger, self hatred, and shame. This knowledge can change our approach and interactions with people each and every day. When we act on this the world is full of much less loneliness.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Being pushed from unlikely people

With his soulful brown eyes, green jumpsuit soft spoken Alvin (name changed) says my life looks nothing like it did when I was 19. I was a thug, I did a lot of dumb stuff and deserved to be in prison. When I got out I became really boring. My daughter said what happened to you? You are wearing cargo pants, and chap sweaters. Alvin had changed from young hooligan to a productive member of society. He worked full time, bought a house, and was a family man. His Saturdays were spent making pancakes, taking the kids to Disney movies, and mowing the lawn. He had served his punishment and now was on a different path. Then Alvin and his wife tried to help out his brother in law. His brother in law had been a crack head. He had a cycle. He would do well, get a job then all the money would be spent on crack and he would cause problems in the house, he would get kicked out, get clean and then start the cycle again.
Alvin wanted to help him and tried to, helping find numerous jobs. After about 3 times of this happening while in one his drug binges the brother in law became violent and Alvin had to step in so no one got hurt and the police were called. When they arrived the situation had deescalated but as they ran everyone's name they found that Alvin had served time for a violent offense and was still on probation. He was immediately arrested for probation violation and has been sitting in jail for 7 months while he awaits his fate. He could have to serve the rest of his original sentence which would be another 5 years. As Alvin was telling me his story he said I don't even remember what I was I like back when I committed my crime. I can't remember what kind of clothes I wore, what food or music I liked it is a different world.
As I left my conversation with Alvin, I thought he is taking this much better than I would. He is positive and helping other men who he is incarcerated with. In the past he had a reputation for fighting, causing problems, and being an annoyance. Those days are behind him, he is a model prisoner. His life has changed and no matter if he is locked up or not he will be a positive influence to those around him.

I thoroughly enjoy listening and talking to people who do things that don't go along with the norm. Mr. Stoner and Mr. Eads are two men I grew so fond of so quickly. I tear up as I think of these men. Both are over the age of 75. My experience of serving with Kairos a couple of weekends ago was nothing short of amazing. Both of these men walk with the aid of a cane  and help. What first drew me to Mr. Stoner was his voice. His voice reminded so much of a baseball broadcaster's. It was deep but soothing. I wanted to find out more about him, he had indeed done radio. it wasn't sports but a small station in central Indiana. Mr. Stoner had been going through chemo before our retreat and was going to start the Monday after we were done. I asked him what made him want to do the retreat. He said he was a retired law enforcement officer. Immediately I had to ask why he wanted to come into a maximum security prison?  He gave some simple answer of being invited to serve with a friend. That wasn't a good enough answer so I pried. I said don't you have a dislike for prisoners, most people in law enforcement can't stand them and don't think they will ever change? Mr. Stoner looked me square in the eye and said they are wrong. I have been praying for these men ever since I started law enforcement when I was in my 20s. He then said I wish I had known about this opportunity earlier.
Mr Eads was amazing early 80s Parkinson disease, wife dementia.
Both of these men during the retreat were in charge of prayer. They prayed the whole weekend for the men for the speakers, every aspect, but most of all that God would create a break through in their lives.

People like this inspire, encourage, keep life in perspective and push me to continue following Jesus.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Once this problem is solved then.......

I have spent a lot of my life waiting, not always a good wait though. It has been with the thought once this problem (whatever it may be) changes than I will do this (something positive, change etc.).
This mentality has been paralyzing at times, yet hopeful that once situations gets proverbially better than my life will be better.
There have been many worries especially when I was younger- once I get the perfect job, or once I get more money, or any other number of scenarios play out than it will be great.
Age catches up and the realization that this life now is reality, reality is no matter what situation I am in, I am the same person bringing the same issues, fears, weaknesses, and baggage into each situation with me.
Kyle has brought many of these thoughts to the forefront. Life won't physically get better, it may be a long time before Jill or I get a full night sleep. The almost impossibility of flying with Kyle makes traveling limited. Due to all his needs Jill and I going away alone for any amount of time is remote. None of those things are going to change. So how does this affect, impact, and even drive our thinking?
In spending many hours with men who look at life in prison I find hope and wisdom from them. I always ask the question how do you get through it, men who have served 20 plus years incarcerated tend to tell the same story. I fought it for the first five or so years. I did the same the things I did on the street, then eventually I realized that wasn't going to help. Usually they turned to faith, but in the end they had a peace even within their surroundings. Circumstances didn't change, their desire to be out with loved ones didn't change. Their character changed. From one of holding onto ideals of what life should be to making the most out of reality.

I remember the first questions I asked after Kyle was diagnosed with MD. I asked the doctor if his children would automatically have MD? I look back and think what a dumb question in the scheme of his life. The things I worried about, and the trivial things that worried me are so minor now compared to the struggles he deals with on a daily basis.

The ideals of life cloud our thinking many times about God, purpose, faith, and living. Last week Jill and I had the unfortunate experience of having our water heater go out for a couple of hours. The frustration of not taking a warm shower was great (in a warped sense). After kicking the heater a few times, and praying God please fix this thing. It ended up working a few hours later. As I was thinking through the process of why it worked. I was convinced it was the kick that worked. But I thought about faith, prayer, and interaction with God. Could God fix it? Sure. But the question is why would He fix it? Or better yet why are most of the prayers I pray about my own comfort and wants? Is anything going to happen (better or worse) if I don't have hot water? No. I will still be clean, and there are tons of people in the world (past and present) who didn't/don't have hot water, so why do I feel like it is my right to have hot water?

In my conversations with men serving life, I have heard it said many times. "People on the outside don't appreciate their simple freedom." I agree with that statement on many levels. In general we don't treat many aspects of life as gifts rather we treat them as rights. Things we deserve for whatever reason. Sure there are those that work hard and there are those who have reaped what they have sown. But this trickles down into attitudes, and daily actions.

What if life never changes? What if the problems never go away? Does this mean I am cursed,or God doesn't love me? I had my hopes that I would have won the billion dollars on the ncaa bracket and life would have been perfect, but I like everyone else didn't. As someone posted on facebook now onto to the next get rich quick scheme. That is our mentality, security comes from knowing I will be taken care of. Whether God likes me or not I can control my destiny by taking care of myself.

I have found that trusting God is difficult, because it doesn't lead to the same place I want to go. It leads to development in character more than comfort. It leads to having issues that don't go away fast, and growing in them. If the fruit of the spirit is one of the natural results of following Jesus: (having love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self control) winning a billion dollars will not accomplish that in my life. It may in others but I am  not going to exhibit those qualities in winning.

In the end I am beginning to learn (not fully) that life isn't so much of quickly getting through struggles so normal life can go on. Rather that struggles are a part to grow through and in the end the appreciation for life, God's grace and gifts become so much more evident on a daily basis.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dan Rosenberger's testimony

My friend Dan died yesterday of complications regarding his fight with leukemia. As I was thinking about him last night and this am, I was reminded of his testimony he had written out a few years ago for a post I did, I thought it would be fitting to repost it.

I met Dan Rosenberger a few years ago under a very interesting situation. He was angry and irate at me for some issues dealing with his sons. It was a partially physical altercation and left me fearing for my life for a few hours. I hadn't heard from him much over the past few years and then we met and talked a few months ago, apologies were said and now we plan on going into prison to minister together. This was a God thing because I wouldn't or couldn't have orchestrated this.
Ben
Dan Rosenberger's story:
Where to begin? I lived a selfish, sinful life throughout my teens and twenties. A life of drugs,
alcohol and wickedness; after hitting bottom, losing my business and nearly my marriage, at
age 29 I accepted God’s gift of salvation and began a new life of faith. However, my pride
and impatience crept back to the forefront, and after five years of inconsistencies I grew
weary and walked away from the Christian life.
Over the next seven years my heart grew cold and bitter; I had tasted a life of freedom and
hope but without Christ my life was barren, void and without purpose. I again abused drugs
and alcohol, but more significantly, I became angry and mean-spirited. Those closest to me
bore the brunt of my anger; my wife and my sons.
Numerous times I attempted to return to the life I was called to, but I could not break free of
the bondage I found myself in; my “performance” was never consistent, and I could not
break free from the roller coaster between the flesh and a righteous life, so I always returned
to the world and the pain it brought me (Proverbs 26:11, Luke 11:24, 2 Peter 2:22).
It was not as if I didn’t have values and morals, I was a rather upright man, I taught
(enforced is more like it) my children to do right, to be honest, decent and hard working, I
did maintain a “conservative” value system, but I did not honor God and my heart grew
darker as the years passed.
I knew at the time what was wrong, for you cannot allow a starving man to feast on the
goodness of God and replace it with the false pleasures of the world and expect him to be
satisfied and content. As they would say down south: “That dog won’t hunt!”
I was living in misery and on a collision course with destruction.
All of this came to a head in January 2004, I found myself confronting an individual who was
harassing a family member and I chose a path of violence.
Arrested and charged with felony battery, I was facing eight years in prison even though I
had nothing more than a couple of DUI’s and a marijuana possession in my past. And the
truth is, his injuries were relatively minor (a split lip and a chipped tooth), but that is the
reality I was facing.
As the months passed leading up to the trial, the stress and pressure built until I had a
breakdown, the fear of losing my family, my freedom and the requisite fears of prison
battered me until I reached the end of my hope. In my despair I made a couple of futile
attempts at suicide.
It was then, at the end of everything, broken and defeated, I surrendered, and I pleaded
with God to rescue me. I held no illusions about bargaining with Him to save me from prison;
my plea was for Him to save me from the destruction of my life, regardless of the outcome in
court.
This was September of 2004 and on October 28th I was sentenced to three years in prison.
The shock was much greater for my family and friends, as I was resigned to the path that
God had prepared for me. I knew, beyond any doubt that the Master in His mercy had
allowed me to experience this trial, and I knew He would bring me through it in a way that
brought Him glory and me personal victory I had never before experienced.
So I dove into the Word with fervor, devouring His truth and devoting myself to prayer and
ministry. Three days before Christmas I was transferred to Putnamville Correctional Facility in
Greencastle, Indiana. I spent the first six days there in a hundred year old building, in a cold
and dank basement cell. I understood more completely Paul’s words to the church in Philippi,
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”, Amen. The next eight
months were a season of spiritual challenges and growth like I had never known before; my
faith grew and I experienced victory over the anger, the lust and the temptations of the
flesh, Praise be to God!
I served twelve months total, with time off for good behavior. As my dear friend Tom
Richardson once said, I would have rather been anywhere else in the world, but it was the
best time of my life!
OK, that may be a slight overstatement, but in many ways it was incredible, seeing the
power of God working in my life and the lives around me. So now I am home again and
ready to begin the next stage of this exciting walk with the Master, I know not what paths He
will lead me down, but I am willing and enthusiastic about the opportunities and challenges
that are ahead.
I know that He guided me down these roads to bring me to this place in my life, a life I now
devote to serving Him, however He wills, Amen and Amen. (John 12:24)
I include this addendum for 2009. Leukemia, hard words to hear, but in August 2008 that is
what I heard, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. And so begins a new sojourn, one I did not
and would not have chosen, but the path I am on regardless.
Here is my journal entry from that August day: "So we have a name and it is Chronic
Lymphocytic Leukemia. That is a scary name, in fact this will probably take my life; but
neither this disease, the doctors nor even the treatment plan determine the date that
happens, or what happens in between.
My Father, the very One who designed and created bone marrow and white blood cells, the
One who gave His children the intellect to develop medicines and treatments and the One
who instills within us the desire to live and to thrive, He and He alone orders my days."
Live so Heaven will be different!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Upbringing

Sometimes we see common themes emerge in conversations over the course of time. One that has intrigued me of late is upbringing. There were a few conversations in the past week that have revolved around this topic.
Upbringing is not an excuse for long term, but in the short term it can really mess someone up.
What is deemed normal in many households is anything but. This am I was talking to a 25 year old who has been in and out of prison since he was 14. I asked what were the factors and reasons why you went down this path. "My uncle had me go with him to kill two people. We didn't kill them but I got an attempted murder case." This young man isn't from an inner city he is from the country in southern Indiana.
Another conversation with a young homeless man in our community. When I asked him about his home life, when I was in my teenage years my step mom told me I was a burden to them and that I should commit suicide so they wouldn't have to put up with me.
Another young man in his early twenties had gotten kicked out of his house when he was 12 and had hitchhiked through the us and had done various jobs. When I asked if he would go back to live with his mother? The answer was definitely no because of her drug issues.
The saddest yet most hopeful conversation was with a man this am in prison who has spent 37 years consecutively behind bars, but has been in and out of locked up facilities since he was 8. He is 53 and going to be released in two years. He came from an alcoholic family where both parents were drunk most of the time.
Even at 8 he knew something was different with his family. They were poor he stole and his dad would beat him but then take the stuff that he had stolen.
This man has every reason to be bitter, angry, and hopeless but that isn't the case. He has changed, in his own words. Prison hasn't defeated him. It took a long time though, he hasn't been a model prisoner, he struggled up until the last 10 years. He had gotten write ups, conduct reports, but for some reason there were some officers and inmates who invested in this man. They continued to challenge and encourage him. One night he shared he was watching a st jude telethon and it hit him that there were people in much worse condition than he was. From that point on he had a spiritual awakening and has devoted his life to raising money for others less fortunate than himself.
He did get himself in trouble for gathering donations for a cancer fundraiser and giving each donor a cigarette (nicotine is prohibited) the disciplinary committee said you have a great heart and your motives are correct but the means aren't good.
He is excited about getting out of prison, he has never driven a car, he has never went to an amusement park, never eaten a steak. He in an extremely innocent tone said one of the first things I want to do is play with some toy trucks in a pile of dirt.
One of the things that struck me in each of these conversations is that each of them don't want pity, they didn't want anything from me. The young man whose step mom had told him to commit suicide was extremely proud of being in college despite being homeless. The 25 year old is looking forward to getting out of prison and being a truck driver so he can support his 9 year old son.
Parenting affects a lot of our lives especially when we are younger, but it isn't a death sentence. It doesn't mean this is the way it always has to be.
The man who spent 37 years in prison asked me as we were leaving today why do you come here? My only response is so I can see hope.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

md and prison

What are the worse parts of being physically in prison? Not being able to see family, not being able to do what you want when you want? Not having freedom.
Physical prison obviously is a punishment for an act that wasn't correct by social standards.
This past Thursday Jill and I were asked to share about Kyle and muscular dystrophy in ISP Prison.
I am not sure what Jill was expecting but it didn't end up like she had thought. It wasn't scary, the most intimidating parts were the doors closing behind her. The men were gentleman and she even had some great conversations.
In sharing about kyle, there is a lot of similarities between muscular dystrophy and prison. Although he can see and interact with his family. There is a small amount of freedom he has. He is dependent on others most of the time. This past week his electric wheelchair broke and he had to take his manual chair to school. He was dependent on one of his classmates to push him around all day. Kyle is dependent on one of us to go to the bathroom, to roll him over every two hours at night, and he is almost to the point of needing someone to feed him due to his lack of muscle in his hands.
But just like men in prison Kyle is not helpless or needed to feel sorry for. The reason we were speaking at the prison was because the group of men I teach has been doing some fund raisers. They did one specifically for mda (the muscular dystrophy association). The fund raiser was shooting ten baskets and getting sponsored. They each shot ten baskets and the amount that they made was how much money they raised. There were 47 inmates only one made all ten about 3 made 0. All together the check presented to mda was over $650.That is a lot of money if we were to put into perspective how much money that is legally circulated in the prison system.
After my presentation I was asked by one of the men what else can we do? How can we help children with muscular dystrophy? We want to do more.
I didn't have a great answer, but afterwards they asked me what if we raised money to buy equipment. What if we were able to buy wheelchairs for children.
Can this group do it? Could they raise 10,000 or so for a powered chair? I think they could. Actually I am pretty sure they can. This is the same group who have donated hygiene items to Haiti, have made quilts for veterans families who have died in the war.
Prison and limitations isn't a reason why we don't serve others. It is very easy to think that charity can be given and nothing is expected in return. That is very wrong thinking, we serve others, and in turn we teach them to not act selfishly but to give freely with what God has given.
Recently I was visiting with my neighbor who has cancer. In the summer we spend most nights in their yard with Kyle racing around chasing their dog. My neighbor has shared many times that Kyle is an inspiration to him. When he is having a bad day he ll drive home and see kyle and immediately his perspective changes. Kyle brings a smile to his face. The day specifically I was in the hospital visiting he was talking about Kyle. He was going on and on about him.
It is very easy to feel sorry for him, or wish that he had a normal life. What is a normal life where we can indulge in whatever we want, live the way we want, spend money the way we want, and basically live selfishly?
It is easy to think that those with imprisionments (whatever that may be) have it tough, and in some ways they do. But it doesn't stop them from showing God's radiant love to others.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Engineering a moment

I saw the question on facebook last night which is the biggest the fraud the Grammies, the pro bowl or wwe wrestling? All that were on tv last night.
As much as each of these expressions of entertainment try to create moments, some successed and some fail. I personally watched the Grammies and I thought there were some great moments but I am not sure those are the kind of moments that have a lasting personal impact on most of us.

Can we tell when a moment (a permanent snapshot of time) happens in life? Can we anticipate, create, or even manipulate one of these to take place? We love stories of moments, especially when they have happy endings. But in our own lives do we notice when these moments are taking place?

I think we miss out on moments quite a bit because of our agendas, plans, frustrations, goals, and own ideals. I have missed many special times in life because I was frustrated about really dumb stuff. I have sacrificed for things that have absolutely no long term value.
In Corinthians it talks about Love and one of the things it says is If I do not have love I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. It is very easy for me to be so me focused that I miss out on love and become that proverbial clanging cymbals.

In my own experience when I am not so focused on me and more on a sacrificial love I see moments in life occur.

In a strange turns of events yesterday I told two men I loved them. I am not a touchy feely person by any stretch of the imagination. I don't enjoy that (like most men) and feel weird when that kind of emotion swells up.

The first experience was of a friend who was leaving to pursue different interests. It was sad but joy for him as he moves on. He was a friend who we didn't always see eye to eye but someone I have great respect for. We had been through the proverbial fire together and had grown together through that. At the end of our time together my son who was with me asked if I was crying. I had a tear or two come but nothing major, but I wasn't going to admit it to Ayden. This had been a planned moment. And not really a life defining or even in the big scheme of life important moment.

As the day went on yesterday, I did a number of other tasks and in the middle of the afternoon I received a text from one of my neighbors to come and visit him. My wife wasn't thrilled because I had been gone all day and to be honest I was tired and ready for a nap. But he doesn't usually ask me to come over unless it is important and I sensed that it was so I went.

When I went to his door his wife greeted me and my neighbor was no where in sight. I thought this was strange because he knew I was coming and he always greets me. His wife explained he was in the bedroom and wanted to see me in there. Again strange.

Usually in life we don't allow others to see us in vulnerable positions, we don't want people to us in these situations.

As I went into the bedroom there was my neighbor laying in bed not feeling well at all. He told me he went to the doctors on Friday for a possible herniated disc in his back. The tests and mri led to a different conclusion he had cancer.

The doctors had an idea of what it was and they had told him it was treatable but not cure able. I was in shock, in total surprise. My neighbor is in his mid 40s, we spend a ton of time together. We both have a love for baseball, God, and had many other common interests.

We spent about 15 minutes together after my initial shock I realized that this was a moment. It wasn't engineered, planned, rather this was a raw emotional response. There is a few things that will stick with me as we sat crying on his bed with his dog sitting there with us. He said "Ben we have talked about heaven many times, I may experience it quicker than I would have thought."

We held hand and prayed together. I was shaken. I am not sure what the future holds, but that moment was a time where a man fears for his life, and was scared of the journey.

We embraced and told each other we loved each other, and I left crying and I wasn't going to control it.

The moments of life we remember mostly are not engineered, planned, or even desired. They are the moments were raw emotion supersedes everything. We can't control the response.

These moments come at the most inopportune times,  they come at times where we have a choice to do our tasks, live our lives, or put it on hold and be with those who need us.

This friendship doesn't just stop at this moment, rather it continues a journey of us walking together.

I didn't think these would be the moments I would experience in my late 30s, but I don't think we pick and choose what happens to us.

It is easy to assign clich├ęs and simple answers to life issues, but sometimes the thing that is needed from us is just show up and live the moments with others.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

walls and barriers

Death- The road and circumstances surrounding death is much different in movies than in real life. Usually when death occurs in movies it is neatly tied up, final forgiveness apologies mended relationships happen. There is a peace or overcoming struggle before death occurs. A death that doesn't have those things occur would leave us helpless and sad.
Calvin was 47 when he died last week. I can't say that Calvin and I were friends, but Calvin wanted to be. We met over a year ago at a storage auction through a mutual friend. From that first day we talked quite a bit. We had some adventures together, one night I went to look at some guitars in Lake Station and Calvin came with told me he would protect me if anything happen and patted his side. Im not sure if he was allowed to carry but I was pretty sure I would be somewhat safe with a big guy like Calvin having some sort of weapon.
Calvin told stories about life in the good ole days of storage buying. Back when the companies gave people the units for free just to get rid of the stuff. One day we went to breakfast and he brought his wife with. He was one of the few people who referred to me as preacher. He introduced me to his wife with that title. That day they both shared their journey of faith, they loved being a part of a small church. They had inquired about Liberty but quickly didn't like the idea of going to a big church.
They hadn't been part of a church for a while due to some funny business by the former pastor.
But that had not squashed their faith, or their love for Jesus. They desired community.
Even after explaining what I did numerous times Calvin continued to think I worked with teenagers. he had all sorts of ideas for things the teens of our church should do with him. He wanted to take them to an archery range, he wanted them to come over and fish at his pond, he wanted to do a picnic. I didn't have a heart to tell them there is no way I can even ask the youth pastor is he will bring his kids to spend time with a big burley southern guy who smokes and uses all sorts of foul language. But Calvins heart for people shown through. Calvin was very intrigued by spiritual topics, he would ask me many questions and he loved watching the Bible on the history channel. He would call me on Monday mornings after the last episode had aired and ask me various questions. He had also expressed desire to start a Bible study at his house.
Calvin also had a great idea of taking a group of us on a storage auction tour through Kentucky and Tennessee. His mother lived in Tennessee and he wanted to bring us down there and visit with her along with going to auctions. I'm pretty sure it would have been an experience of a lifetime, but there wasn't anyway I was going to take the time to go with him and leave all of my responsibilities.
As I stated at the beginning Calvin wanted a friendship, I wasn't sure I had time, the energy, or even what would happen. So I began building walls and barriers. I built them because I wasn't sure what the outcome of this friendship would become.
He got on my nerves because he was unemployed, out of money, and always wanted to me to sell things for him online. He had unrealistic expectations of the value of things, and I got sick of it. He was trying to make money to buy his medicine but didn't have the money. I really didn't want to get involved with him, I had tried to sell a few things for him on craigslist and had been a little annoyed. It was because of this annoyance that I stopped taking his phone calls. I wouldn't call him back for days and only begrudgingly.
As I have a lot about it this week I ask myself why? Why was I so annoyed? Why was I so selfish? What was I scared was going to be the end result of this friendship? Was I worried I was going to be taken advantage of?
What ever the reason the barrier and the walls were built.
His death has hit me harder than most deaths I have experienced. His death left issues of unsettledness is my own life and thoughts. He had his quirkiness and his own issues, but no more than anyone else. He wasn't going to take advantage of me, he wasn't going to do anything to me, yet I was worried. I was overly concerned to the point of ending a friendship that wasn't needed.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

You can't pay for this

For 48 hours total freedom, as the powers to be told everyone in the general northern Indiana region you can't leave your house. (at least not by car).
For parts of 3 days almost all of us had total freedom. We could do whatever or nothing as long as it was confined to our house. For many this was a total different way of life, no schedule, no meetings, plans canceled. A time for relaxation, and family time.
If life is a script that is to be followed freedom can seem extremely intimidating and almost paralyzing. But if life is about community and relationships nothing changes. Nothing changes when freedom from tasks and responsibilities but it does give opportunities for community.
Three years ago in February we encountered a similar situation, snowed in no plows complete boredom. The second night of this hibernation period I received a text lets play cards tonight. Even though we can't drive we can still walk. That night started a weekly pine creek experience. That experience has led to conversations, experiences, and friendship through circumstances.
This time around it took a matter of 2 hours before I received the text lets play cards today. None of us were doing anything else. except my poor neighbor who works for a heating and cooling company his boss came and plowed him out so he could work.
The walk Monday afternoon through my neighborhood was freezing at best. I don't think I have ever been so cold, but the afternoon was well worth the walk. Stale Christmas popcorn, beers flowing (im not a drinker and also had to walk the furthest) and laughter over all sorts of stupid stuff made for a great afternoon.
Community can not and does not ever stop. In my down time over the past few week I read Orange is the new black. A great true story of a women incarcerated and the story of community in prison, I also watched the last season of the office over a few nights while Kyle couldn't get comfortable and was getting up every 30 minutes. We all long to have relationships at work like they do in the office, being with people that are as quirky as can be but loving them and being accepted by them anyway.
Community happens whether we realize it or not. As I think through our new part of the neighborhood community has happened through catching feral cats, shooting rabid raccoons, and tasting the culinary delights of one who just became the head pastry chief of Northwestern. All of those moments could have been lost because of time and keeping schedules.
Moments like this week happen because of built in relationships, they happen because time was carved out previously. This happens because someone wasn't satisfied with a status quo neighborhood.
As Sunday and Monday continued to be long Scott who had begun feeding the feral cat, texted and asked Jill if he should bring it into his garage. He had built an outdoor structure to keep the cat warm was worried for this little cat. He asked us for some kitty litter and went out to catch it in the huge snow drift.
Scott hasn't had a good experience with the neighbors previous to us. He had gotten so mad at them he had built a fence that was backwards as if to give them the middle finger. But because of our joint experience with the cats we have built a great relationship, one that goes with not asking for milk on a snowy day but rather kitty litter.
As Tuesday came it seemed so much warmer. (I guess it was in reality). As many of us began digging ourselves out it became clear the snowblower people and the shovel people. As a shovel person it wasn't bad at all until the plows came through and pilled ice snow dirt mix at the end of our driveways. As we all dug out the next doors drive had a half hearted attempt to get to the mailbox. This is a mom and daughter who live there as the husband/dad has taken a job away from them. The daughter is college age and the mother is not in good health, I was thinking my back is pretty sore but it would be pretty bad for them if the mother has a health issue and can not get out.
Randy is a great example, he is a manly man in the neighborhood. No shirt and kerchief on in the summer. Always washing his cars, snowblowing, and generally making his house clean are his hobbies. He had helped this neighbor that is between us a few times this winter. This time Randy started attacking the end of the driveway and I had the privilidge of joining him when my drive was done. We had been at work for about ten minutes when the daughter hurried out was a little sheepish and apologetic. She explained how she had tried to get a plow service to come do her yard and had been told it would be awhile. As the three of us continued to work she was over the top appreciative and insisted she pay us.
As we continued the shoveling I felt sorry for this girl. You can't pay for this, there isn't enough money at the same time we do it for free. That is what community is about, you can't pay for it. It can not be paid for, it can't be forced, it happens. It happens when people get 48 hours of free time and decide I can't stay in my house by myself. It happens when people give up their time and use energy reserved for other things to invest in relationships.
You know it is happening when a neighbor trusts you enough to ask for your opinion. It happens when an atheist consistently asks spiritual questions.
Community doesn't look forward to taking off snow days. Rather it comes alive.