A Lavish Lesson in Grace

 

 

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(Blogger’s Note: In the hiking community, a side trail, or spur, is a footpath that wanders off the main trail and simply leads to another scenic vista or practical destination. It’s the metaphorical equivalent of journalism’s sidebar. Closing in on the manuscript draft of myScreen Shot 2016-03-30 at 10.07.06 AM book, #PilgrimStrong, I’m incorporating a “side trail” (a different, but related) short story at the end of each primary chapter. I think it kind of breaks the story up and adds some variety. Hopefully, it works. Here’s a “side trail” preview excerpt I wrote today.)

 

At 33, I left a potentially promising career in the frenzied political world for one more structured, predictable and family friendly. It was that structure that soon got me in trouble and ultimately bestowed a great lesson.

As state communications director for a member of congress I enjoyed the freedom to do just about whatever needed doing to make things work. Most rules, wherever they existed, were completely gray, and I knew how to work them. They were much more black and white in my new state-regulated job as a higher education fundraiser. Rules abounded.

When we needed some giveaway promotional t-shirts for an internal fund drive I called up a buddy I trusted and knew would give me a quality product on time. He said, “What do you need?” I told him. He said no problem. I said, “Done.” We committed to the deal and I sent him a check for $15,000. There wasn’t as much as a handshake.

Just a few days later a trusted secretary brought attention to my grievous error. The structured, predictable and friendly government rules required all requisitions above $1,000 go out for at least three competitive bids. It meant the money I’d committed would have to come from our private foundation, rather than our state-supported budget. In short, it was a $15,000 screw up. Yes, my bad.

There was no hiding. I’d completely exposed my inexperience and had to tell the boss. He was newer to his job than I was to mine. We didn’t know one another well yet, and he scared me a bit. I walked in his office to take a beating that would’ve been well deserved and told him exactly what happened. I said it was my fault. I said I was sorry, and didn’t really know what to do.

He leaned back in his chair, clasped his hands and was silent for one of the most intensely painful moments of my life. And then he said this:

“Well, you won’t make that mistake again, will you?”

“No sir,” I said, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it never did.

“I’ll take care of it. Get back to work,” he said. And so he forgave my debt.

It was the most unexpected, underserved grace I’ve received in a lifetime of mistakes. And it’s a lesson that’s served me well.

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Clean Slate: A Vision

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Prologue

One of the favorite things about my life in recent years is a growing diversity of friendships. I have friends of every color and creed across six continents, representing many religions, as well as atheists and agnostics. I’m not just talking about acquaintances. These are actual friends. People I care about.

In a world where I can share a message in daily writings at the push of a button, it creates an interesting balancing act to share a mainstream message in a group that’s so different.

Upsetting someone with a dogmatic point of view wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world, but it’s not what my voice is about. I’m not a big believer in walls. I like people who are different from me. There’s comfort in a big tent.

The challenge is that I do, in fact, have a pretty dogmatic “religious” perspective that’s the very foundation of who I am, and also how I see the world. Still yet, I’d never beat anyone over the head with it. Plenty others have gone that route. It doesn’t work. We all know it.

There’s a juxtaposition for an objective journalist who also likes to write from the heart. How I “say” what I write is a constant source of inner conflict. It keeps me up at night.

Finally, know this: If you’re gracious enough to visit this site and read, I care enough about you that I’d never lead you astray. I’d never share anything with you that isn’t true. This really happened.

Now, on with the story …

***

In Spring 2009, my depression reached critical mass. I hadn’t worked at a real job for six months, carried some heavy relational baggage, and the truth is, I thought I was going to hell for eternity. I believed God erased my name from the book. I’d been taught better. In fact, I knew better. But that’s how depression, and the enemy work. They strike at the very heart of your greatest vulnerability. Completely without purpose now, I can’t convey for you in words how much my heart hurt. I was broken.

I’d taken mostly to the safety of our home where I could keep the doors and windows closed. Walking to the mailbox was a big deal when I could force it. The yard went unmowed. I rarely took out the trash. Sleep was the best escape when I could manage it.

Dana walked me through the greatest part of it all and did the things that needed to be done. She joined me in a nap one weekday afternoon as the rest of the world did normal stuff. Unusually peaceful, no tossing or turning, I faded off.

What happened next wasn’t a dream. I’ve had dreams. This wasn’t one. It took me years to actually put words to it. This was an all-encompassing, seamless experience with no boundaries or definition. It was an otherly realm.

I found myself in a man’s arms, holding me as if a child. He was seated on a big rock, just holding me. There was no verbal exchange. It wasn’t necessary. We were completely at peace together. He rocked me gently and stroked my arm. I was so content. Finally. Some rest.

It was Jesus.

Moments later my focus shifted as he reached to the ground and picked up a large, flat object. I recognized it as a piece of natural slate. You could have written on it with a piece of chalk.

With his palm and forearm, Jesus reached to one side of the rock, and made a slow, smooth, purposeful motion across it, as if to wipe the slate clean. We still didn’t speak, but I understood. And that was it.

There was no time, space or dimension to any of it. I’m giving you the best words I have, though they seem completely inadequate.

I woke up, still very much at peace wondering if I’d really just experienced what I thought. Was that a vision?  Now, seven years later, I’m convinced that’s exactly what it was.

***

God works in mysterious ways. I’m not sure why He shared that experience with me, in that way, and at that time. I think it maybe it was because He knew in my own free will I might’ve done something really stupid. And He wasn’t finished with me yet. Not here. Not yet.

It took me five years to share that story with anyone, and until now it’s only been shared with two people. It was an experience so genuine and pure I felt it might somehow be diminished if I talked out loud about it. Or maybe people would just think I’m crazy. Of course, Dana was the first. She didn’t think I was crazy. She understood. The second was my Camino de Santiago pilgrim friend, Naomi.

A typical slate roof in Galicia, Spain. I saw lots of this on the Camino de Santiago.

A typical slate roof in Galicia, Spain. I saw lots of this on the Camino de Santiago.

Galicia is the last of the three distinct geographic regions on the Camino. It’s spectacular country. As we transitioned gradually from the Meseta into Galicia, I noticed little bits along the roadway in the beginning. Then they became much larger. Then there were fences and rooftops and buildings constructed from it.

There was slate everywhere.

It looked just like the slate in my vision. I couldn’t help but think how significant it was to see clean slate everywhere as I walked the final steps to Santiago. Yes, God works in mysterious ways, indeed.

A clean slate.

For me, that story represents the power of this day.

Happy Easter.

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Cruz Ferro: Leaving Hurt Behind. Ultreia.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.” ~ Psalm 103:12

 

Cruz Ferro, perhaps my most meaningful moment on The Way.

Cruz Ferro, perhaps my most meaningful moment on The Way.

There are certain things you don’t think much about, but really need for creating a deeper, more meaningful life. Two such things for me are symbols and ceremony.

Our symbols are those “notes to self” that remind us of our most important commitments, our heritage, even our deepest convictions. Today, they play an ever-increasing role in our lives, not always for the good.

Ceremony is to the meaningful life as the period is to the sentence. It punctuates, gives definition, and separates our most significant moments from those less consequential. Ceremony forever marks a milestone. It places a picture-memory in your mind.

My long-awaited arrival at Cruz Ferro afforded the opportunity for embracing both.

***

A pilgrim’s departure from Leon means the Meseta’s end is near and radical changes in the landscape are upcoming soon. Aside from Astorga’s magnificent architecture, the next two days are uneventfully necessary en route to Galicia. I pressed on purposefully through the last of the flat land eager to conquer the remaining elevations, see the new land’s heralded splendor, and leave my burdens behind at Cruz Ferro.

Keeping with standard practice in the bigger cities, I walked slowly through and past Astorga that Sunday seeing the sites, soaking up the culture and restocking with a few supplies. I intended to move on for an overnight in the smaller Murias de Rechivaldo five kilometers outside town.

In mid-November the Camino hospitality industry rapidly shuts down for winter’s onslaught. It often means the smaller villages have no pilgrim accommodations whatsoever, and you eat when you can find food. I enjoyed a great night’s rest in Murias where the only facility open was an actual bed and breakfast. There was a private bath, clean sheets and a toasty fireplace-warmed common area with a comfy couch. High Roller lives large again. If Vegan Tom could see me now…

The proprietor prepared a home cooked breakfast the next morning before I left out for the final steps along the Meseta en route to Foncebadón. She gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and directed my attention to a framed photo near the exit. It was a portrait-type photo of a beautiful woman I assumed was her daughter.

“Es su hija?” I asked.

Denise Thiem, a pilgrim gone home.

Denise Thiem, a pilgrim gone home.

“Se trata de una peregrina de los Estados Unidos,” she said.

It was a photo of Denise Thiem, an Arizona pilgrim who went missing on the camino seven months earlier on Easter Sunday. She was murdered by a local who lured her off the path just a few kilometers ahead. The proprietor met Denise before she was killed. Everyone knew the story. It was a Camino tragedy that made news around the world. I thought much of Denise and said a prayer for her along the straightaway where she disappeared. One pilgrim gone home.

***

Cruz Ferro (iron cross) marks the highest elevation along the Camino Frances. It’s really nothing more than a tall pile of rocks and a wooden pole topped with an iron cross reaching skyward. Known as a sacred place where pilgrims leave symbolic objects (traditionally stones) brought from home, a pilgrim walks away from Cruz with a lighter load both physically and spiritually. Reaching Cruz Ferro was a moment I’d anticipated more than three years.

I overnighted in Foncebadón just a mile short of Cruz so I’d arrive there the next morning at sunrise. There’s just something about the sun coming up over the mountains that goes well with the blessings of forgiveness, second chances, and new beginnings.

Foncebadón is an unusual place that has a dilapidated, ghost-town like feel to it high

Leaving Foncebadón at daybreak.

Leaving Foncebadón at daybreak.

atop the Cantabrian mountain range. Its rickety rock-wooden structures, winding dirt pathways and an indescribable sense of quiet emanate a secluded sense of abandonment. But the vistas from that elevation are silently spectacular. The sunlight, especially at sunrise and sunset, interacts with the clouds and landscape in a way that produces colors I’ve never seen or imagined. It induces a sense of holiness.

On Day 30 I packed up and set out in pitch dark for the 5,000-foot elevation at Cruz Ferro. For me it was a high point in more ways than one.

***

The village’s main dirt path was dimly lit by a couple of ancient street lights. A hundred yards ahead at the edge of town, the path disappeared into black darkness. A young Scottish woman was seated on a rock considering the same dilemma I now faced – wait for a bit of natural light, or press on carefully with a flashlight.

Two strangers, now momentary partners by way of Camino fate, we discussed our options when Megan interjected as she gazed eastward.

“Oh my goodness, would you look at that,” she said staring past me.

I turned to see the first glimpse of daybreak, and a horizon that danced with streaming clouds and thin air painting a picture of holy fire. It was a moment when your soul tells your mind to take a picture and file it in a special place. We both went speechless.

We obliged a few photos for one another and decided to walk toward Cruz together for safety and reassurance. If the views were this lovely from town, we could only imagine what we’d see and how we’d feel a mile ahead and further upward.

No more than 10 minutes into the walk we encountered two more pilgrims, one from England, the other from Ireland, as they, too, stopped every few seconds looking back at morning’s fiery dawn. You wanted to move forward, but couldn’t help looking back at the majesty in motion.

Megan, Lauren, Philippa and I walked on through a foggy, damp darkness as the sky slowly illuminated. Our group conversation about the morning’s evolving beauty and my focus not to misstep on the rocky footpath distracted me from what we were doing and where we were about to arrive. Before I knew it I could see a tall cross taking form through the haze. I stopped and took in a deep breath of reality as the threesome walked on. I was about to step foot on what I personally considered one of the holiest places in the world. I was really here.

***

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The three young women walked up as a group and I stayed behind, both so I could take photos for them, and walk to the cross alone for my personal moment. I’d brought four marbles from my father’s prized collection to leave behind, along with a prayer I’d seen Martin Sheen pray at this site in The Way nearly four years ago. Trivial as it sounds, it completely expressed my sentiments about the moment:

“Dear Lord, may this stone, as a symbol of my efforts on pilgrimage, that I lay at the foot at the cross of the Savior, one day weigh the balance in favor of my good deeds, when the deeds of my life are judged. Let it be so. Amen.”

Reading the prayer, I let the marbles slip randomly between my fingers falling where they might for eternity, set alongside the spiritual baggage of millions of others who’d Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 8.06.34 AMdone the same for a millennia. As they fell and trickled along the stones, I thought of my parents, my children, my wife, the people I loved the very most, and the ways in which I’d fallen short so many times. I thought of God and the times I’d offered him deals in exchange for my wrongdoing. He’d forgiven me for such things long ago. I knew it as well as I knew the sun just came up. So I promised never to waste His time again with another request of forgiveness for all things past. It was Finished here.

As my three companions stood silently watching below, respectful and reverent, I taped my written prayer to the pole, and wept. I could hear them crying, too. There’s power in such moments.

I walked down and we all gave one another a hug wiping tears and laughing and the unexpectedness of it all.

“Let’s go to Santiago,” I said.

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Why I’ll Never Say “Never” Again. Never!

***

“Never, say never!”

The ultimate cliché’ I must have heard 10,000 times … and I hate cliché’s. Really hate them.

***

Transparent Background Begins Here:

Four years ago, 19 years into my first marriage, I was a divorced man. My entire life, I said I’d never be divorced.

Subsequently, I cashed out well over $100,000 in a 401k to launch a new publishing and business coaching shop. Six months later we experienced the worst recession in 70 years, businesses stopped advertising, and 10 months after the dream began, I fired seven talented employees, many of whom were dear friends, closed the business, and had zero dollars to my name.

Oh, and by the way, I was newly married. Way to impress the bride, huh?

It was the first time in my life when all vision disappeared. Nothing but darkness with no idea what would transpire tomorrow, much less five years from then.

The depression set in, and I really thought I’d die. Most moments, it was the preferred alternative.

Quick summary: Broke. Depressed. Suicidal.

Yes, being around me – well, it was all kicks and grins as you might imagine.

By far, financial ruin wasn’t the worst of it. It was the darkness, for truer words were never spoken when King Solomon said, “without a vision the people perish.”

Never before had I been without a plan, a hope and a vision, and for two years, those things were completely absent. As remote as the most distant galaxy.

***

Truth is, I thought God was punishing me. That I – the wayward son – had become His favorite whipping post. Reality is – that it was more likely a season of strong discipline – the kind a loving parent gives a misbehaving child.

But whatever it was, it didn’t lessen the agony of so many things that hurt like hell.

***

Yet it was only for a season, and seasons pass, and time marches on. I’d love to share with you how I pulled myself out of the mirey funk, but I’m sure I had nothing to do with it.

And so the independent thinking, self-employed entrepreneur was thrown back into the working world, at one point working a 20-hour week for a non-profit that paid $10 an hour. Did I mention I was broke, and really needed money?

And for another two years, the jobs came and went, me thinking I was above almost all of it, and that this would be my life’s lot all the rest of my days.

It was no longer dark.  Just very, very cloudy and grey.

Wrongly motivated, I went on a seasonal spree contacting a number of Christian missionary-sending organizations thinking I’d dedicate the remainder of my days serving penance for God in some remote part of the world. Inevitably, it came down to one thing. I was a divorced man, and so my testimony could never measure up to that of what a missionary should have. At least that’s what they said. And I accepted that, because they were the ones changing the world for the good, right?

I was unworthy.

And the worst part is, because I was so down –  so unforgiving toward myself , so wrong about who God really is – I bought into that idea.

I’d owned everything I did, but I was still carrying it all around. And the baggage was very heavy.

Enough of the Bad News

Here’s the Good News, and it’s found in the Gospels.

We’re all sinners who’ve broken God’s laws, and God is intolerant of sin. But Christ showed his love for us by taking the punishment, that should’ve been ours, and He died on a cross making a way out so that we can freely receive the gift forgiveness and right standing.

“Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.” ~ Acts 10: 43

I spent two years in residency at never-never land, and can assure you Peter Pan was nowhere to be found.

***

My two years in Never-Never Land (and honestly up to just a few months ago) had me saying (and believing) the following:

  1. I’d never be self-employed again, yet Dana and I are only days away from launching not one, but three new companies, and it couldn’t be more exciting.
  2. I’d never play golf again, yet I played three times last week and shot an 83 on a beautiful Fall day in Arkansas.
  3. I’d never be smart enough, technologically speaking, to move forward in the field of mass communications which I love so dearly, yet I’ve built a half-dozen web and blog sites in the last year, and three more are in the works.
  4. I’d never see my best friend again, yet he was on the golf course with me last week, witnessed my post at 83, and two days ago shot a 79 himself. What memories!
  5. That because I’d lost my “testimony,” I’d never be worthy of inspiring others again, yet many readers seem to resonate with what I write.
  6. That I’d never have the discipline to write a book and “become an author,” yet I know it will come to pass within months.
  7. That I’d never be a publisher again, yet it was only a few hours ago that we launched this new website for a new global publication that may have more potential than anything I’ve ever dreamed possible.
  8. That because of the branded “D” (divorce) on my forehead, I’d never be worthy of meaningful Christian service, yet one of the organizations that rejected me two years ago, called just two days ago, and now wants to consider partnership with many of the things we decided to do without their help. All of a sudden, I’m worthy again? I’m happy, but confused.

***

With forgiveness, comes hope.

And NEVER (there I go again) discount the power of hope.

***

On a personal note, I mentioned there was a new bride in the midst of all the husband and wifeaforementioned darkness. Anyone else would have justifiably wondered what they’d gotten themselves into, and walked away. She never did. She held my hand, wiped my tears and she gave me hope.

I love you, Dana. I really do.

Own It. Just Don’t Carry it Around.

***

Two men are friends, and moreover, partners in business. Let’s call them Joe and Mike.

At their place of business, they have a petty cash drawer, and they also maintain several hefty bank accounts.

Over time, and here and there, Joe snares a $20 from petty cash for a quick lunch. Mike knows it all the time, but never says a word. This goes on for years, and because Mike hates conflict, he just goes with the flow, never says a word, but the petty cash thing is always on his mind.

And time marches on.

Years later, Mike has a business lunch meeting with a client. It turns into a $5,000 cash deal on the spot. In a moment of weakness, Mike puts the $5,000 in his pocket and buys himself a shiny new red golf cart for which he’s longed. Never, ever, has Mike done anything like this before.

moral conscienceSomehow, Joe gets wind of Mike’s trespass, and there’s a confrontation. A bad one.

Immediately, Mike acknowledges his mistake, apologizes to his partners, employees and their many clients. He comes clean, and the partnership remains intact, but it’s never quite the same.

Joe and Mike’s business flourishes for years beyond the conflict, and as in any business, there are moments of differences of opinion. On each occasion of disagreement, Joe reminds Mike of his $5,000 transgression, and yet shows no remorse for his ongoing fetish with the petty cash drawer.

owning your sinsBecause Mike came clean on the spot years ago, he feels a certain freedom from his failure, and really wishes Joe would own his past shortcomings as well. But for some reason, Joe will always see Mike as the greater transgressor, and he’ll never let him forget it.

And time marches on.

The Relativism of Wrongness

We see it every day. In business, in marriages, in the church and all about. Because their shortcomings were more public, more consequential, more “sinful” than another, we rates our sins on a scale of 1-10, and one person judges another to justify him/herself.

The saddest thing about days like today (Sunday) is that millions of people will go to their chosen place of worship, walk in with the baggage of the past believing in their own “unworthiness,” and it’ll be reinforced by others who manage their own shortcomings through the relativism of wrongness. The bad things they’ve done aren’t nearly as bad as the guy next to them.

And time marches on.

***

My dad didn’t go to church often, but he came along with mom and me occasionally.

On the first Sunday of each month, we’d celebrate communion, go to the front of the church, kneel at the altar and take the bread and wine. We’d stand, pew by pew, line up and march single-file to the altar. But dad always stayed behind. He felt unworthy of communion simply because he believed his sins carried a great weight than the rest of us, and nothing could’ve been further from the truth.

***

The Low Cost of Ownership

As for Joe and Mike, I know Mike pretty well. Boy, do I know Mike.

Conflict avoidance is a killer for guys like Mike and me. Avoiding the issue at hand creates some messy junk, and with the junk comes consequences. And it never helps the matter that guys like Joe remind us about the past, especially when they haven’t “owned” their own “lesser” sins, and the Mike’s of the world already know how much they screwed up.

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of good, is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. ~ Romans 7:18-19

The irony??? Yes, Mike’s momentary lapse in judgment caused a lot of collateral damage, but none, more so, than to himself. But there’s good news about Mike’s ownership of the past. His forgiveness, was not only instantaneous, but free, because the price was already paid.

The Principle of Baggage Weight Restrictions. The Airlines can Teach us a Thing or Two About a Thing or Two.

Today, Dana and I are preparing for an extended, four-month trip outside the states. That’s a long time, and we’re confounded by how to pack. Honestly, we need to take everything and the kitchen sink, but we can’t because there are baggage weight restrictions. Too much baggage, and we’ll pay the price. We simply can’t take everything we own. The cost is just too high. We can’t afford it.

the baggage of past sin

Oh, the freedom of two carry-ons. Walk off the plane, sail through the airport and catch a cab. Now, the carry-ons may have a lot in them, and they may become uncomfortable at times, but I’ll just switch shoulders and transfer the weight’s burden. No big deal. At least I don’t have to stand at the carousel and watch the bags endlessly go round and round and experience the cumbersomeness of it all.

***

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning (suffering) all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and you forgave the guilt of my sins.” ~ King David in Psalm 32:1-5

sin and baggage consequences of sinFor the period during which David covered his sins, the scripture tells us his bones literally groaned with agony. The one way – the only way he could be set free, was to own his transgressions.

The Great Debate: Grace-Based Forgiveness vs. Earth-Based Consequences

We must get this. Forgiveness and consequences are two entirely different things.

Murder, theft, abortion, adultery – name whatever bad sin you choose. The forgiveness is a 100 percent free, immediate, never-look-back kind of thing. We don’t get it, deserve it or comprehend it, but it’s true. The consequences – they may last for a lifetime and we simply must own them, accept them and learn from them.

So it plays out like this:

For Mike:

  • He’s a good guy who screwed up.
  • But he came clean. He owned his mistake and was freely forgiven.
  • There were some consequences. Colleagues never quite fully trusted him again. Friends gossiped about him. Though free, he still sometimes regretted he’d violated his own moral conscience. But he move on, grateful for grace.
  • He became an example to others, and was admired by many.
  • He doesn’t like to fail, but when he does, he’s okay with it, because he’s free.
  • He still had a purpose in life.

For Joe:

  • His life continued as well. And he never did anything really, really bad.
  • He always held himself in a position of higher esteem than Mike, because he knew the things he’d done wrong were never as bad as what Mike had done.
  • When he did do something wrong, he always had Mike’s greater transgression in his back pocket.
  • But somehow, for some unknown reason, Joe forever more carried a chip on his shoulder because he had a secret – at least so he thought.
  • He carry’s his failures around, and they are heavy.
  • He never really felt real peace or freedom.

Mike and Joe are both good guys. They really are. But whose example will you follow?

And time marches on…

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40 Things You Feel 40 Days After Your Dad Dies

 

 

My dad, David Watkins, in October 1991, overlooking a bumper cotton crop. Accept for the day he accepted Christ as his Savior, this may have been his finest day.

Every single word in the Bible has meaning. Significant meaning. The words are there at the whisper, the love, and sometimes even the anger of God.

I’ve always been fascinated at the significance of the numbers, and how God uses them in the bible to represent certain things. The number 40 is of particular interest to me. It signifies a period of “testing,” or challenge … and, the fulfillment of a promise.

This is the way you feel 40 days after your dad is gone:

  1. In the quietest of moments, when there are no distractions, you shake your head in wonderment. And that’s all you can do … shake your head and wonder.
  2. You savor the moments you went fishing and hunting together.
  3. If you’re an only child, particularly the only son of an only son, you realize that to some extent now, you’re the head of the family, and you’re scared.
  4. You take on a welcome new responsibility for your mom.
  5. By the grace of God, you forget the arguments, and you remember the tender moments of transparency.
  6. You wonder what he’s doing in Heaven at this very moment.
  7. You wonder if he knows you miss him.
  8. You picture him praising the Lord with his hands raised, happy beyond measure.
  9. You imagine him covered in Light.
  10. …and you can only shake your head in wonderment…
  11. You regret not having been a better son.
  12. You have a new understanding for the burdens he carried as the head of the family.
  13. You have a new comprehension for his failures.
  14. You hear a song on the radio that carries the theme of Jesus’ love, and you cry.
  15. You put up bird houses that await the migration of the purple martins, just as he did for years and you wish he could sit on the back patio with you …waiting.
  16. You wear his clothes, just because you can.
  17. You walk into a room where he spent his days, and you can still smell him.
  18. You wear his dog tag from his days in the National Guard, and you never take it off.
  19. You try to have forgiveness for those who in his final days denied him the request of Baptism because of the doctrinal beliefs in immersion, and you struggle with that almost every day.
  20. …and you shake your head in wonderment, because that’s all you can do.
  21. You start a vegetable garden in your back yard as a tribute to him.
  22. …and in that garden you plant cotton seeds from his last harvest and you plan to replant those seeds every year on May 1.
  23. You wear his collection of caps.
  24. You remember your roots with newfound pride.
  25. You wish he could sit with you and watch the Final Four in a few weeks.
  26. You wish you could just sit with him on the back porch and drink a cold beer.
  27. You pursue lost dreams with vigor and determination because you realize life is short and but a vapor.
  28. You regret the mistakes you, yourself have made as a father.
  29. You determine to be a better man and live a life just like he did in the last month of his life, with grace, humility, forgiveness and love, and you re-realize that it’s not important how you start out in life, what matters is how you finish.
  30. …and you shake your head in wonderment, because that’s all you can do.
  31. You write, because that’s the gift God gave you, and you do it as a tribute to him and Him.
  32. You determine as best you can to avoid distractions and focus on what’s important.
  33. In your heart, you search the world over for another father figure.
  34. You set new priorities.
  35. You realize that despite the kind words and genuine goodness of those around you, nobody knows how you feel, and sometimes you are just lonely.
  36. You hope he knows how much you loved him, even if you were a rebellious jerk so many times.
  37. You still hear his voice from the basketball court sidelines 35 years ago yelling “shoot the ball!”
  38. You just sit and stay quiet.
  39. You weep still.
  40. … and you shake your head in wonderment … because that’s all you can do.