Friday, October 24, 2008

Yo hablo Inglés

I do remember 1977. Not every bit of it, of course. But I have my selective memory retention intact. The Late 70’s Memory File was reopened this morning when I heard my two teenage sons speaking Spanish. The younger boy was hurriedly running through various Spanish words and phrases in preparation for what I can only assume was a test of some sort in Spanish class. My older son, who completed two years of Spanish, was busy peppering his brother with more foreign terms, probably only serving to confuse the whole situation. Mixed in with the dialogue was the giggling of my first-grade daughter who just thought the boys sounded pretty silly.

With this odd mix of United Nations and slumber party running through my ears, I thought back to 1977. I was a freshman in high school taking Spanish I under the tutelage of Mrs. Kaye-Smith. We had the technologically-superior classroom, with trays of headphones that descended from the ceiling at the press of a button so we could learn our second language with the help of a state-of-the-art reel-to-reel tape recording.

I thought back to what I learned during those sessions. I learned basic words and phrases. I learned to conjugate verbs. And I learned how to create feedback in a pair of headphones.

I began to think to myself that I really should learn a second language. Spanish would be the most obvious choice since I already had a head start — a year of Spanish! Maybe I could pick up one of those “Muzzy” videos or a set of CDs for the car or even some computer software. My heart started to pick up the pace as I realized that I could certainly build on that year of headphone-enriched language skills. All it would take to be fluent in Spanish would be taking the time to study and memorize and learn and practice and…

Then I remembered 2008. “I don’t have time to do all that!” I reminded myself. “It’s all I can do to find time to mow the lawn and buy gas before the price changes.”

Sadly, that’s the way yet another brilliant inspiration ended. There in the driver’s seat of my car, my future as a bilingual quickly died. I could probably pull it off but it would mean dedication, sacrifice, and well, work. The ability to speak Spanish just isn’t a big enough reward for me to use up my spare time to achieve the goal.

It didn’t stop there. Oh, no. Once my mind starts filing through the memory banks, it apparently can’t stop. I was reminded of many other goals, promises, vows, and New Year’s resolutions that had suffered the same fate as my mastery of the Spanish language. Whatever happened to the closet I was going to build? What about starting that online business? And what happened to the whole exercise every day and get myself in shape promise?

I know most people have encountered the same experience. You set that goal of walking or running a mile every day, and the first five days go incredibly well. Then on Day Six it’s raining pretty hard and the decision has to be made. The real decision happens on Day Seven after missing a day and wondering if it’s all worth starting again.

I know people who set goals and try to stick to them. Read the Bible every day. Take self-defense classes. Stop smoking. Learn Spanish. Some people succeed. My dad gave up smoking cold turkey, an accomplishment I attribute mostly to his stubborn streak.

Many of the rest of us fall flat after some initial success. I think it comes down to, as one of my old coaches used to say, “How bad you want it.” If I see the goal as important enough, I’ll buckle down, make the sacrifice, put in the effort, and eventually succeed. If I am not convinced that achieving the goal is that big of a deal, I might as well wear a t-shirt that reads, “Quitter” across the front.

Others don't even try, not out of an inability to do something, but either a fear of failing or an overwhelming laziness. I have talked to many, many people about their need to read the Bible. I am convinced that it is the major way God communicates His truth to us. Yet far too many Christians refuse to make it a habit.

"I don't read very well."

"I don't like to read."

"I don't have time to read."

"I fall asleep when I read."

I've heard 'em all. But no matter the excuse, no matter the reasoning behind the failure to crack open the Good Book, it comes down to the question of how badly we want to do it. And, truth be told, far too many Christians don't see a real value in reading and studying Scripture. If we did believe it was important and we would get something out of it, WE WOULD ALL BE DOING IT!

As I drove this morning with the echoes of conjugated Spanish verbs still ringing in my ears, I understood that my mastery of Spanish will never go much beyond a Mexican restaurant menu. I don't value that skill enough to pull away from my fears or my limitations or my laziness. What we value, we will try to accomplish. And with God's strength, we can accomplish anything. Even reading, studying, and finding joy in a centuries-old Book.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Crying at Wal-Mart

My daughter loves to have slumber parties. Being a six-year-old girl, it kind of goes with the territory I realize, but this really seems to be exciting for her. These attempts at sleepovers haven't always gone well. We have had to call the parents of a none-too-happy girl to come pick up their crying and homesick daughter on a couple of occasions. But usually everything goes smoothly.

Earlier this spring my daughter wanted to have the mother of all slumber parties. We eventually talked her into scaling it back to just four other girls from the original invitation list of the entire county. The girls mostly all got along well and were typical talking, giggling six-year-old girls.

The whole scene was working very well. The potential problem we had to watch for was from little Rachel. Two days before the sleepover Rachel found out that her mommy and daddy were separating and that daddy was moving out of the house. Her mother told us that Rachel had naturally been upset, but she was so looking forward to the sleepover that she was fairly certain she would be alright with all the other girls.

Everything was moving along well. My brave wife, bless her heart, decided we needed to pick up a few things. So we loaded up the truck and took the whole gaggle of giggling six-year old girls to Wal-Mart. It was a high time for the soon-to-be kindergarten graduates, let me tell you. They were involved in picking out shoes that the boys would like them to wear, and choosing entire ensembles, and basically acting like they were ten years older than they were. Six going on sixteen times five. My wife was browsing through the aisles and I was mostly trying to keep the whole herd in the same general area until the shopping stopped.

Then I heard it. I didn't see how it started, but I saw what was happening. It was little Rachel, eyes awash in tears, wailing and sobbing. My wife, her motherly instinct taking over, immediately swept Rachel up in her arms, asking, "Honey, what's wrong? What's wrong?"

The sobbing continued for a minute or two, maybe. Then finally little Rachel was able to form words. Those words sent a chill down my spine.

"I want my daddy back!"

I looked at this tiny girl, her body shaking and convulsing with tears. I looked at my wife, her eyes had started to well up. I had to turn away. The tears were running down my cheeks, one after another. With the drama being played out in front of the other girls, including my own daughter, I didn't want to break down. I wanted to be strong for them somehow. I couldn't.

I turned and walked quickly up and down the shoe aisle, rubbing my hands across my face as if to try to push the tears back into the ducts. My heart was breaking for this little girl. In the teary eyes of little Rachel, I saw my own daughter. "What would it be like for her if my wife and I separated?" I thought to myself. "Would it be my own little girl sobbing and crying her heart out at Wal-Mart?"

My daughter greeted me when I got home last night with so much love. "Oh, Daddy, I haven't seen you all day!" she told me. We had some special cuddling time on the couch. She colored me a picture. She chose me to tuck her in. She said, "I love you very much, Daddy."

I love you too, darling.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Full Moon Fever

I'm inside tonight. It's raining. But for the past two nights it's been hard to escape the great outdoors. For me it was the call of the full moon.

Two nights ago I looked up and noticed that giant orb of reflected light. Before I went to bed around midnight, I had to go outside for a while. In the place I live there aren't a lot of artificial lights. There is a lot of farmground surrounding me, and at this time of the year the crops are all cut. The land is flat, the trees are few, and that night it was brighter than twilight from only the light of the full moon hovering overhead.

It's a odd look at midnight with the bright light of the full moon illuminating the lawn. Things are easy to detect when a normal night hides them well. Light in the darkness.

Last night was mostly cloudy. But I knew where that moon was. Clouds blew slowly across the sky, but the clouds were of different densities and didn't control every inch of the sky. From time to time I could make out the arc of the moon as it stood silently, waiting for the clouds to pass. Soon it would be covered in clouds again -- thick, purplish-black clouds that gave no hint of the light coming from behind them.

But even when the full moon was blocked, some of the thinner clouds were reflecting the light. With a bit of study, I could figure out exactly where the moon was by concentrating on where the light was brightest. Even when I couldn't see the moon, I saw light.

I am a servant of the Light. But there are plenty of times when I simply cannot see the Light. For one reason or another, He has hidden himself from me, wanting me to continue to seek and lean upon Him. But I cannot see the Light.

Yet even when the Light is hidden behind the darkest clouds, I still see light. The reflection of His light is apparent in so many places. The people around me. My family. An answered prayer. A word of encouragement. A dark night lit by a full moon.

Like last night, not even the darkest of clouds hides all of the Light. But sometimes I have to study the situation and concentrate on the Light to see the Light.

In these days when the clouds seem much more abundant than clear skies, I am so grateful that He cannot be completely hidden.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


I haven't visited here much lately. Sorry if there's anyone around still checking in on me. I plan to do better once again.

You see, the thing is, Attention Span has always been a great outlet for me to pull some thoughts together that have inspired and encouraged me. I like to use Attention Span to help fill others with what God has filled me with.

Funny thing happened to me... I hit the spiritual "empty" point. I had nothing much to give. I started a few blog posts, but didn't finish many. There just wasn't much inside.

As a pastor, that kept me from being what God wanted me to be. Preaching was difficult. My daily life was also. Life was pulling me down, and I wasn't leaning on Him as I should.

God is merciful. But I do get reminders not to start thinking I don't need to lean on Him. I'm not that strong, and I realize that.

At this point, God is beginning to fill me again. My life isn't perfect... far from it. I still have major issues to deal with at church, at work, and at home -- especially in my Christian walk. I guess maybe I had many of those issues before but didn't want to admit it.

I have been incredibly blessed. My wife is wonderful. Having her by my side means so much. There was a time I took her for granted. Not anymore.

My children are constant challenges, especially with two teenagers, but they bring me so much joy. I am really enjoying watching them mature (albeit slowly) each and every day.

My calling as a pastor is both a blessing and a curse sometimes. Often I feel like Solomon, realizing I need wisdom to care for God's people.

I have many other blessings too. We have so much. I've found friends both old and new. We have the support of family. And God is granting direction. It's still a little fuzzy, but it's coming. I'll be patient.

More than anything, God is filling me, slowly but surely.

"Lord, pull me to You. I am weak, but You are strong. Fill me and use me to Your glory. And thank You for the strength You have provided... strength that I could count on when I had no other way to stand. Thank You for being so patient with me. Amen."