I Know Where Dennis Is

Just got back from Dennis Risner’s funeral. I believe Dennis is in heaven because of who he believed in, Jesus Christ. Not because of his opinions, right or wrong. Not because of what he did or didn’t do, but simply because he put his faith Jesus as the only one who could get him There.

The little Pentecostal church in Orangeville was full. I knew no one but could tell his family by their resemblance to Dennis. Funerals always help me realize that everyone’s life is much richer than the snippets of memory I have of them. People told stories about the things that made them and Dennis love and hate and laugh and weep together.

I choked up, not at Dennis’s demise or even at his family’s or my loss. I wasn’t that close. Hadn’t seen Dennis for 15 years, and only briefly then. I shed a tear more at not knowing Dennis better, or taking the time to, and now realizing I never will. And the busyness of life will keep me from knowing you and so many others that I wonder about, too.

But, hey, it’s time to go on living my life so that, when my time comes, friends and family will have good and honorable things to say about me and can relax and be happy about where I’ve gone.

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An Avalanche of Riches

Ephesians 1:7-8—

“In Him, we have redemption…”–

–If we believe in Jesus, make Him our identity, speak out our allegiance to Him and associate and align ourselves with Him

–then we are bought by Him. He goes to the slave trader (Satan) and buys us back.

“…by His blood…”–

–Jesus’ blood is the currency, the money, He uses to buy us back. The blood spilt from His own body is required to buy us back–just because that is the system He set up.

“…the forgiveness of sins,…”–

–Sin is what put us in the hands of the slave trader to begin with. When Jesus buys us back, our sins become a non-issue, forgotten, wiped off the record, never brought up again, as if they never existed, a blank spot, no indication of them whatsoever.

“…according to the riches of His mercy…”–

–A vast storehouse of mercy that never ends.

–Jesus has great joy in giving and giving and giving–and being fully capable of giving. He never wears out. The more He gives, the more joy and life He shows.

“…which He made to abound to us…”

–like an avalanche of mercy heading straight for us from the mountaintop. It is way beyond our power to stop. As much as we may try to deny it and argue with Him, once we have put ourselves in Him, we are surrounded, engulfed by His mercy. We just have to accept it as a fact of life.

“…with all wisdom and prudence.”

–Jesus wants us bad, and He knew exactly what He had to do to get us, and He did it.

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Got Mah Deer

Got mah deer. End of Unconventional Season. Exploded out of the blind. Leaves, sticks and lumber flyin’. Sprinted 150 yards straight at Mr. Bucky. He’s stunned, standin’ still, twitching his wide-open eyes around like, “Whu?…What’d I do?” Tackled him. Straddled his neck. Twisted his head around three, four times. Gutted him bare-handed. Punched my straight-out fingers into his belly and ripped his guts out. Hauled him over my shoulder. Hiked back to the truck and threw him in. DNR don’t need to know nothin’.

Back home, I flung him out on the yard. Wife and kids gnawed on him like a pack of girly-wolves. I sat in the rockin’ chair chewing on a hind leg in one hand. Picked my teeth with the antlers in the other. When the girls had their fill, I ripped his hide off and hung it out to dry.

Gonna make me some shammy jammies.

Life don’t get much better’n this

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Art #3

Art’s last phone call to me was two or three months ago. This time, his wife had left him and he needed a few thousand dollars, or he would lose his house. I told him I couldn’t do that. He said, “Oh, well, I just thought I’d ask. How’s the family?” He didn’t sound panicked or angry or desperate.

We talked a while longer about some of the other things gone wrong in his life, and I asked him, “Art, how’s your relationship with God?”

“Well, I’m not too big on organized religion you know. I’m hoping the good’s gonna outweigh the bad, ” he answered. I should have said more but didn’t.

At one point, he said, “I think I’ll just start drinking as much as I’ve always wanted to.” Art said stuff like that, so it didn’t hit me as profoundly as it should have.

I said something like, “Well, that doesn’t sound too good.”

He drawled, “Yeah,” as I heard him draw on a cigarette. We talked a little more, said our good-byes and hung up.

A couple weeks later, I looked for his number to call him, but, again, couldn’t find it. I figured he’d call again in a while, and I’d save it then.

That was it. A few days ago, Sharon called me at work to say Art’s stepdaughter had found my number in some of Art’s stuff and thought she should let me know he died. He didn’t want a funeral, but she and her mom are planning a memorial service.

I was, and still am sad and angry about Art and disappointed in myself. I mean, what is the deal with Art? Why did he never use his gifting, and why would he go to school for something and never use it? And did he know Jesus well enough to get into Heaven, and, if he did, why didn’t his life show more of it? I mean, how much faith does salvation take? The one robber crucified next to Jesus just said, essentially “Give the guy a break. He doesn’t deserve this,” and Jesus announced to him that he’d be in Heaven that day. That’s all it took.

I don’t know, but what is the fascination with ending up sick, poor and homeless? How quaint and interesting is that? Am I supposed to feel sorry for Art or think him foolish? I tend to think he was foolish, but there was something in his life before I met Art that started him on that track. Was he rejected by somebody significant? His dad had died when he was quite young, I think. Was it laziness or fear of failure or some rebellion against the establishment? Well, who won that war, Art? The whole thing just ticks me off. Come on, Art. You could have done better than that.

And then there’s my part in this. I wonder if Art enjoyed the positive I represented more than I ever realized. He may have been glad I was a Christian, and I thought he rejected it. How many Christians had he ever respected? Maybe he hoped to gain points with Jesus by being associated with me.

I didn’t desire to chill out to the degree Art did, but I could have used the time he made himself available to me to speak more life into him, or conviction or vision maybe. But, hey, I’m busy. I’m working and raising a family. Art and I had talked about Jesus and church. I knew how he felt about it. It seemed fruitless to hash over old information. He never seemed interested in my faith and how it affected me. I didn’t want to turn him off. You know, keep him coming. But keep him coming for what? In the end, I never did rise up to make him face his spiritual situation. I was just polite enough to let him talk.

But, you know, he graduated from Moody Bible Institute. He’d heard the gospel there and had to have told people he accepted it, or he never would have gotten through school and worked at a Baptist church. But he rejected it because he was offended. Still, I think I’ll be disappointed in myself over Art when I stand face-to-face with Jesus. Jesus will get me through it, I know, but I really hope Art is there to greet me…I just don’t know.

It is sad. Intentionally or not, deceived or not, Art left behind nothing but a legacy of poverty as far as I know. No money, no children, no wife, few good friends, no significant work, few touched lives that I am aware of. But even all that would be OK, if I was convinced he had faith in Jesus.

There have been a few times, especially early on, when my life has been rather daily and predictable, and I have wondered how life was for Art. Few responsibilities, few expectations. I don’t think that so much now. I am thankful for the life God has given me, I mean the LIFE He has given me.

Art has shown me where choosing death as many times as he did gets a person.

This is all my pre-memorial perspective. I may come back from that event having learned that Art’s life had improved and sustained many others. If that is the case, I will alter the message I’ve written here.

At any rate, I choose life, and I choose to do a better job of helping others choose it, too.

Art, ya big dummy, why’d you do this to yourself…and everyone else who needed you?

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Art #2

Art never did work as a social worker. Why, I don’t know. He was gifted. He would have done a lot of people a lot of good. But He moved back to his home town and eventually inherited his mother’s farmhouse on Old Swamp Road.

I may have seen Art ten times since we graduated in 1984. He called me occasionally, usually about once every year or two and usually around Christmastime, just to keep in touch and talk about the fun we’d had in college. I would sometimes think of calling Art but never seemed to be able to keep ahold of his phone number, so couldn’t. One time he told me he had been sober for about nine months and was making some improvements in his life. When he called a few months later, we talked about my kids and what he was doing. Then I asked how the not-drinking was going. “Aw, I sorta slid back into that,” he said, “It’s hard, you know.”

“Yeah, I know it’s hard,” I answered and gave him another soft sell on Jesus.

I’m not sure what Art lived on. He told me about odd jobs he did around town. For awhile, he was excited about the furniture refinishing business he had going, but I don’t think it ever flourished into much of a money-maker. He may have gotten some Social Security from his mom who died a few years ago.

Art was not a stud, but he looked OK and was a friendly, fairly smart guy. He had three or four women over the years, all of whom moved in, but they all left him, even the last one who I think had married him. The girl who called me about Art’s death called herself his stepdaughter.

Art invited us out to his place once 10 or 15 years ago, so I took Sharon and my little girls to visit. We walked up the driveway to find him relaxing on the back deck with his wife, a beer and a cigarette. I was a little surprised at how old he looked, his face drawn and his eyes lacking the light I remembered, but he greeted me the way he always did, “Heeeey, buddy, how you doin’?

As he showed us around the place, we reminisced about the usual stuff. We spent most of the time in his vegetable garden, which needed weeding, while he described the plants growing in each row and how he was making a little money selling them. We stood around in his kitchen for quite awhile talking about canning vegetables and refurnishing furniture while my girls played with his cats.

One time, I sent letters to most of the people I knew asking for prayer and financial support for a mission trip I was taking. Art was my biggest supporter in the form of a few hundred dollars. I didn’t expect that. I told him to take it easy, he didn’t need to drain his account for me. He said he had come into some money, and I was the best thing that had come along in a long time. He had had some conflict with a family member that was just making him sick, and he wanted to support something that was good in the world.

A few years later, one of his calls was a request for money to pay some bills he owed. I didn’t have it, and the money he had given me had long gone to the mission.

A couple years after that, Art called to say he had been diagnosed with diabetes and was on insulin. I asked him how he was doing with his drinking since it doesn’t mix well with diabetes. His answer was, “Oh, I’ve cut back some. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop completely. I’ve tried that.”

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Art #1

Art died the other day.

Here I sit on a gray, windy, leafless morning, leaning closely into a dimly sunlit window. It’s cold and quiet, and I’m up alone, family in bed. Our power was knocked out by last night’s storm.

Art was my roommate during our freshman year of college and my best man four years later. He got a degree in social work, I in nursing. In our mid-twenties, we were older than our fresh-out-of-high-school classmates. Art had been to Moody Bible Institute and done a stint as a youth minister at a Baptist church. He proudly showed a picture of himself laughing with a tableful of school kids in Mexico while on a short-term mission. I had spent five years in the Navy as a medic.

When I met Art, he was disgruntled with church. He had been asked to step down from teaching kids because, in his words, he was encouraging them to think for themselves. Parents didn’t like that. For as long as I knew Art, I don’t think he ever stepped into a church except at my wedding. After sharing my faith story with him, apparently in a way he could stomach, and probably telling him again that he drank and smoked too much, he said, “You know, Ben, I need to keep you around.”

We became Deuce Caboose briefly and played in the snack shop in the basement of the college. Art sang and Steve Barnum and I played guitar and sang. Crosby, Stills and Nash, Cat Stevens, that kind of stuff. We were quite amateur but thought as highly of ourselves as we dared.

Once Art showed me a black-and-white magazine picture of a grizzly-bearded, long-haired homeless man who looked older than his years and said, “That’s what I want to be some day.” It may have been an off-hand, ironic remark, but after watching Art live, I wonder.

Everybody loved Art. He was laid back, liked to poke fun and be poked back at and had a way of organizing people into a good time. On the serious side, he had an honest desire to see the underdog promoted and the less-fortunate cared for.

After freshman year, I moved into an apartment with a different guy and Sharon became my girlfriend. Art and I didn’t see each other as much but were still friends. My wedding was coming up, and I needed a best man. For four years, I’d been studying, working and spending the rest of my time with Sharon. I didn’t have a lot of friends. We had grown distant, but Art was the one. Even he was a little surprised when I asked, but he accepted. One stipulation was that I not drop off the face of his earth. I said I wouldn’t, but I knew I would.

We all graduated and Sharon and I were married. I got a job and some ministries at church. We bought a house and started raising kids.

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This Writing Thing

I come here to write. Why? Is the process of writing really what I enjoy? I want something to write about. I’m hoping something comes up. I want adventures in life to talk about. I want to compel people to feel and respond. Maybe I need to put more into my life to get more out of it. I’m busy, and I’m tired, but am I really experiencing adventure?

I suppose if I analyzed the emotional, mental process of writing, it could be an intellectual thriller, of sorts. Maybe instead of depending on external adventures, I have to discover the adventure within.

I just want to have good stories to tell, or I just want to make a good story out of whatever I have at hand.

Ultimately, I would like my life to be something others would be compelled to write about.

 

This was a lunchtime musing at work the other day. Do you ever have similar thoughts?

Answering myself: 1. Just write, Ben, or don’t, and quit talking about it.

                               2. Appreciate whatever God puts in front of you.

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