Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Invisible

When I was a little boy of nine years or so, I was fortunate enough to capture a couple of extra nickels occasionally – usually about the same time I was fortunate enough to encounter my Grandfather. And every time I did so, I bought the same thing. It was a toy airplane made of balsa wood. And then I would spend hours of pure joy watching those little airplanes sail on the wind.

On one such occasion, I had been playing with my airplane for hours when, on one long flight, the vertical tail piece slipped out of its slot and floated away on the wind without my notice. I looked for it for what seemed an eternity to a nine year old - to no avail.

Eventually, I decided to pray about the situation. I simply ask God, "Please help me find my airplane's tail." As I finished praying, my eye began, involuntarily, to follow a small trickle of water that was running across the yard from a rain the day before. 


As my eye followed that small trickle of water to its upper end, I spotted it. There lay my toy airplane's tail. And, I suppose, from that day to this, I have been aware of a simple reality: Sometimes help comes in an invisible form.

I know a lot of people have a problem with invisible, especially when it comes to God. But, I just don’t. Invisible is OK with me. Invisible is simply what God looks like.

Maybe I’m just used to it by now, but I never really think about it. Invisible makes Him no less real. It makes Him no less loving. It makes Him no less attractive. In fact, I think it may actually make Him even more attractive by virtue of the mysteriousness of invisibility. But, whatever the case, the fact remains, God is usually "clear."

It is also true that we cannot touch God. Nor can we smell Him, or taste Him, or hear Him with our physical ear - at least, not on most days. So, out of the five physical senses, exactly none of them normally enable us to encounter the reality of God.

This has not always been true, of course. The Savior, as He walked upon the earth, enabled us to know God through all of our physical senses. But, even then, with all of our perceptions in play, we found ourselves still unable to really grasp God - so much so, that we crucified Him, instead of embracing Him.

So, bottom line: we will never be able to know this invisible God with just our physical senses. He is simply too sophisticated for such puny equipment. On our best day, God will still be incomprehensible to humanity’s sensory, and even our empirical,  probes.

And granted, there are some among us who are very upset by that fact. Their attitude seems to be, "How dare God presume to be bigger than my sensory comprehension?" They seem almost to expect an apology for such a presumption.

However, I don’t really think an apology will be forthcoming. I believe God is pretty confident about who He is. And I am pretty sure He is not going to apologize for it.

I’m truly sorry for those who think God somehow obligated to present Himself to their physical senses for their inspection. He did, indeed, do it once, in Christ. But, I think He is of the opinion that, "Once is enough." 


And I don’t think He is very inclined to do it again, and certainly not on a demand basis. He is not really a big fan of human demands in any form.

So, for those who embrace such an arrogant approach, perhaps I could simply suggest another. You might consider humbly presenting yourself to Him for inspection, instead of expecting Him to do that for you. 


I think you will find this a much more effective way to discover the invisible God. He is a really big fan of faith in this form. And, He responds to it quickly. 

Nevertheless, I suppose there will always be an arrogant segment of humanity, who believe the Universe is supposed to revolve around their wishes. I feel for them. And, I pray for them, as victims of their own delusions. But, be that all as it may, I must admit, my bedrock aspiration is not their enlightenment.  It is “the chase.” 

I still get up every morning looking forward to the ongoing process of running after this invisible God. And that is true because I have discovered that, though I cannot see God with my eye, still I can see Him. He looks like love and innate goodness.

And though I cannot hear God with my ear, still I can hear Him. He sounds like wisdom and a song of righteousness. 


And though I cannot feel God with my hands, still I can feel Him. He feels like warmth. And, He feels close - very close.

And when I cannot smell God with my nose, still I can smell Him. He smells like the sweetness of a Renewing Spring. 


And when I cannot taste Him with my tongue, still I can taste Him. He smacks of the rich, bold flavor of holiness.

Oh, come to think of it, I gotta’ go! After all, the chase is still on. There is an "un-seeable" God out there even as we speak. And, I’ve made it my mission in life to discover as much of Him as I possibly can.

Tallyho! And, good hunting to all who can get past their on shortsightedness to discover this invisible God!

Give Me That

When I was a little boy, something happened to teach me of the ways of God. I have not forgotten the lesson to this day. 

I was sitting in Sunday School in my ninth year of life. I'm sure I had been cutting up and generally making the teacher's life miserable, even though I loved Ms. Crawford dearly. Why do boys express their love as terrorism? 

Anyway, Mrs. Crawford was trying to settle the class down and take up an offering. My mother had given me a quarter before class. So, I pulled it out to put it in the offering plate. And, I was just sitting there waiting for the plate to arrive so I could deposit it.

Then, I heard Him say something in that voice of unspoken word. Kids have an easy awareness of God. Innocence (if not good behavior) seems to afford children simpler access. But on this morning, I could hardly believe what I was sensing. 

"I want the dollar" was my very distinct heart impression.  I don't know how, but I knew God meant the silver dollar in my jeans pocket. 

My Grandfather had given me that dollar; and, I was never without it. It was very special to me. I carried it everywhere.

I was very surprised at the tender age of nine, as you might expect, that God would ask for my chief treasure in the whole world. But after a brief pause, I knew what I had to do. So, I put both the dollar and the quarter in the offering plate as it went by.

I did not hear the Sunday School lesson that morning (which was not really that unusual). I was completely preoccupied with what had happened. 

As I remember, there were a lot of swirling question marks: "Why did God do that? Why today? Was it really God or just me? Why did he ask for the dollar? Did I do something wrong?  Did I do the right thing?"

Then it was time for church. But I didn't hear the sermon either (you guessed it, again, not that unusual).
 But, this time, I was still just trying to figure out the events of the Sunday School hour. 

Finally, church was over, and we piled into the car to head for home. The sacred seating order was duly observed, as always. Dad was driving. Mom was in the front on the passenger side. I was in the back behind Dad (the most sacred part of all). And Judy, my sister, was behind Mom on the passenger side.

I heard Mom and Dad speaking softly between themselves about something in the front seat.  But, I didn't pay much attention (ok, ok). 

But, this time it was with good reason.  Some portion of my sister's dress had protruded over the sovereign international border that bisected the back seat between "her side" and "my side." 

So, a full blown diplomatic incident was in progress. No border trespass was ever allowed to go unaddressed. Thus, my sister and I were preoccupied with a serious territorial war of words.

The war was cut short, however, when my Dad raised his voice to ask me a completely unexpected question. He said, "Larry, can I see your silver dollar?" 

The border skirmish instantly ceased, as did all sound from the back seat. I had no idea what to say. I didn't know if I was in trouble - or what. But I was very aware that, all of a sudden, that silver dollar had surely become important to a lot of people.

After a short silence, Dad said, "Son, have you got your dollar with you?" Again, silence. 

He said, "Larry?"  And finally, I said, "No sir."

He said, "Where is it?"

After another short pause, I finally told my Dad the whole story. Just as I finished my story about what had happened to the dollar, my Dad's big leathery hand came slipping over the back of the front seat. He turned it over and opened it. And there, in the palm of his hand, was my silver dollar. He said, "Here son. I bought it back for you."

My Dad was the Sunday School Superintendent at our church. And, when he was counting the offering, he saw the dollar. Dad was always very intuitive; and, apparently he sensed something of what was going on. So he redeemed the dollar for me.

I spent the rest of the trip home listening to Dad reassure me through his own occasional tears that not only was I not in trouble, but that I had absolutely done the right thing. He confirmed, in no uncertain terms, that it is always right to give God your all, your most precious, your very best. And he made sure that I knew that if we can't do it in the real terms of "silver dollars," we are probably just kidding ourselves about doing it in the other areas of life.

I'll never forget that Sunday morning. And I have never forgotten the lesson that my Dad so carefully drove home to my heart that day. Now I know that it is really just the first lesson of all - You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength.

Since that Sunday morning, I have had other similar encounters with God. They have been basically the same. They are encounters of consecration and faith. 

As I think about it now though, it seems that as the years have passed, the decimal point involved in His requests may have moved steadily to the right. And the "cherish factor" has become even larger. And the faith requirement has become noticeably steeper. But ultimately, all of these encounters just come to this: His "How much?" question awaiting my "With all my heart" response.

I know that this is a lesson easily misapplied. Crazy people can use the "God told me to" thing to justify everything from jihad to doing harm to their children. But they are crazy. And crazy people do deranged stuff with or without a lesson. 

Nevertheless, the Bible is replete with these consecrating encounters between God and His people. And their purpose is not to encourage extremism, but to confirm and enlarge our devotion.

The simple truth here? When God puts His finger on something and says, "Give me that," the real purpose is not to take something from us. It is to give something to us. 

In these faith challenges, it's never really about the "silver dollars." God is merely setting the stage for us to experience the personal elevation which flows from such an act of faith when it is finished.

"...nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing."  - King David.

Manageable

So, it went down like this, late in 2008. Andy (our youngest son) was in the hospital in Florida, and I was in Texas. Time to travel. But, the plane that I needed was in Dallas, and I was in Texarkana. Time to rent a car.

But, the plane was leaving very early in the morning on the travel day. Time to make a reservation at a hotel near the airport for the night before. 

This was so I could drop off the car at DFW Airport the night before the flight, catch the hotel's airport shuttle back to the hotel for the night, order a delivery pizza for dinner, sleep a few hours, get up at 4:30, take the shuttle back to the airport, and catch the plane to Florida. We won't talk about airport security that day (it was only a hunting knife - just kidding).

A week later, when the visit was over, time to catch a plane in Tampa to come back home. Once in Dallas, time to rent another car for the trip back to Texarkana. 

My arrival in Dallas was at a weary, eyes-beginning-to-burn and droop, 10:30 PM. The Avis clerk took one look at me and said, "Time for a free upgrade." For that timely kindness, I have been a loyal Avis customer ever since.

Eventually, "three hours eventually," I arrived at my own door. Time to go to bed. I love my bed.

As complicated as all of this may sound, that was still the simplified version. For a country boy this was all a very harrowing process. 

I rented the first car on Saturday near noon when the rental car people (not Avis) were way more worried about getting off on time (straight up noon was quitting time) than actually renting me a car.

Dropping off the car in that city that Dallas calls an airport, you start to wonder if there really is a rental car area.  And, if there is, how in the world do you get to it. 

When I did find it, there were literally acres of cars belonging to multitudes of rental companies. And unintelligible signage was everywhere - all designed (I know) to confuse country boys.

But eventually, after working my way through this cast iron jungle - with very courteous attendants I might add - it was time to go sit at the hotel shuttle stop. 

As the sun started to set and darkness started to creep in, I suddenly became very keenly aware that I was no longer in the "Kansas" of my familiar hometown.  And so, I started to wonder. "Is that shuttle really going to show up? Am I too late to catch it? I wonder if this is the right bench for the right shuttle for the right hotel."  Then, "Ah, wait! There it comes. Shooo."

Manageable. It's a nice word, and a nice condition in life. We like life to be very manageable. In fact most of us work hard at keeping it that way. 

We don't like to be in an uncertain or uncontrolled or unfamiliar (all just other ways of saying "unmanageable") circumstance. But, in fact, there are times when unmanageable is preferred - not usually by us "country boys and girls" - but by the God who created us. This is true because "Manageable" is often the bane of a strong faith.

If we insist that our faith always be manageable, in the sense that its demands must be easy to meet and fit comfortably into our schedule, our priorities, our plans, and our budget, etc. - then we must also make ourselves comfortable with spiritual anemia - at best. Because that is exactly what an always manageable faith always produces.

On the other hand, a not so easily managed faith - a faith that places significant demands on our intellect, our will, our resources, and our personal plans - that faith stretches us, strengthens us, and matures us. That faith authenticates us, and takes us to the depths of relationship with God.

On that trip to Florida, I was way out of my easily manageable element. At every new juncture there was uncertainty, misgivings, emotional discomfort, and even, at times, PANIC. But, here is what I found the solution to be: "Surrender to the journey."

So, I did. I simply gave myself to the process of getting to Florida, whatever that journey entailed. And after that, it was easy. It simply became a matter of simply continuing to put one foot in front of the other, so to speak and allowing those steps to take me past each problem.

The same approach works for a demanding faith. By its very nature faith often leads us into circumstances that don't fit into our "druthers." It is suppose to do that. 
God often calls to us, sometimes very insistently, to enter into a reality that we cannot control, that is uncertain, that is unfamiliar, and that doesn't fit our idea of manageable

But those are the calls which most define a vital faith. The key is not to run from the challenges placed on us by a vibrant and growing faith.  Rather, the far better thing is to simply surrender ourselves to them. 

If we would get to the place of God's intimate friendship, then the obvious course is to give yourself to the process which gets us there. And, once you truly embrace the reality of "unmanageable" in pursuit of that friendship, then, again,  it truly does becomes just a matter of one foot in front of the other.

God will draw on your faith. That is what He does. He will ask you to do some things that don't fit your parameters for manageability. Time to grow. 

When God calls you to a purpose or a providence, just say "yes." And let Him bring you to a whole new awareness of what braving the unmanageable can do for you.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The God In Your Ear

The letter was devastating. The short version: the monthly income from the sale of a company, which was enabling me to go to college full time in preparation for the ministry, would no longer be arriving in the mail. The new owner of the company had gone bankrupt after only about three years.

I was about to begin my final year of school and suddenly, without warning, the funding was gone. And beyond that, there was no immediate prospects for a job.

I ran to God, fell on my knees, and began to pray as, perhaps, never before. I prayed often, and long, and with a great deal of energy. 


And, eventually, it began to seem that everything needed that same kind of prayer. Until, finally, it was as though I was never really out of the spirit of prayer. Always, at least on the “back burner” of my mind, I remained mentally and emotionally heightened toward God's presence and His "doings."

At first, admittedly, it was desperate, even panicked, prayers for the material help which we needed. But, gradually, it became something much more, something much better. Eventually, my desperation became anticipation, and then it morphed into what could only be described as an “addiction.” 

It was an addiction to the higher level of divine interdiction upon the normal flow of life. As a result of these more desperate and thus more energized prayers, I discovered a God who was much more obviously engaged in the events of my days.

I now found myself also praying with a great many more people on all kinds of occasions. We prayed about everything from my good friend’s wayward brother to a fellow minister’s struggles at his church. I cried easily with people, as though their struggles were my own. I truly experienced a rich empathy for them. I felt God’s love literally filling me and changing my approach to others.

And again, beyond those heightened emotions and sensitivities, or perhaps through them, I began to see God moving and working in a much more visible way. For example, on one ordinary day, a friend and I were praying in an off hour between classes for an upcoming revival meeting where I was to be the evangelist. We had been doing so for some time in the empty sanctuary of the church 
near the school where we were both members. 

When we finished, we got into my car, which was parked in the rear parking lot, and headed back to the school for our next class. As we rounded the corner of the building, I noticed a van parked in the wide driveway of the church. The logo on the side indicated that it was a cable service truck. And, I could see that this was a two man crew. They were laying a trunk cable across the church property.

Just as we passed the van, I heard the faint echoes of the divine whisper. It remains amazing to me how a voice so soft spoken, can sometimes be so insistent. The impression: “Speak to those men!” 

It wasn’t, “Speak to those men about this, that, or the other.” It wasn’t, “Tell those men what Christ has done for you.” It was just, “Speak to those men.”

So, first I tried to dismiss such an abrupt demand as religious insanity on my part. That argument had worked very effectively in the past. But, come to think of it, that was before this new prayer lifestyle thing had become so prevalent. 

In any case, the insanity defense wasn’t working very well on this occasion. The divine impress remained insistent.

Once the insanity ploy failed, I started to argue a bit. The argument went something along the lines of, “A little help here, Lord? What do you want me to say to them?”

With that commanding tone, God began immediately to explain Himself – yeah, right. You guessed it. He merely continued to offer more of the same. So, by the end of the second minute of our drive back to school, I realized that I was going to be late for class this day.
I let my friend, Richard, out at the classroom building and asked him to let the instructor know that I was going to be a little late (they actually cared at my school). Then, I drove back to the church.  It was only two to three minutes away. 

I pulled up directly behind the van. The two men were now eating their sack lunches. Both front doors were open on the van for ventilation. I walked up on the passenger side.

As I stepped into view, both heads shot around in my direction. I said, “Hey guys, I know this is going to sound crazy, but as I past you a few minutes ago, God impressed on me that I should speak to you. But, the problem is He didn’t tell me what to say.  So, I’m just trying to do what He impressed me to do."

There was a short, and very awkward, silence until the man on my side said this. “You don’t have to say any more, preacher, (I guess he just assumed I was a minister). God has been dealing with me for weeks about getting back into church. The man began to weep. And though those tears he choked out these final words, “I will be there Sunday.”

Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. To be part of such a powerful and obviously divine intervention in a man’s life was instantly humbling. And then the other man spoke up.

While his partner wiped his own tears, the other man said, “Sir, I have not been very religious in a very long time. And I can’t tell you that I am going to be in church on Sunday. But, I will tell you this. I am going to think about this long and hard. I didn’t know it worked this way.”

It was an amazing moment. I could not concentrate for thinking about it when I finally got to class. And there have, since, been many other such moments.

It's those times when God is not quite so insistent on remaining behind that veil of invisibility and intrigue. It’s those times when He just boldly steps into our situation in a remarkable and unmistakable way.

As I have looked at the phenomenon of these “God enriched moments,” for lack of a better term, I have realized something over the years. It is that life is supposed to be lived this way. It really is, as the Bible indicates, God’s every day intention to be, “Emanuel,” the God among us.

So, when and how has it become such an unusual thing for God to obviously insert Himself into our daily circumstances? Why isn’t there an “always obviousness” of God's presence in our days?

The answer to those question is completely uncomplicated. It is simply because we have made our prayer life to be more a matter of convenient moments, and appropriate occasions than a constant and vibrant connection to the heart of God.

Obviously, such an approach to prayer is much different than that of the fifteen minute morning “obligation.” It is also quite different from our ceremonial prayers. And, this energized and vibrant prayer life is certainly different from our quiet, head-in-hand prayer which allows for and even facilitates an occasional “drift off.”

Ceremonial prayers and casual and isolated moments of prayer will simply never do what this “day saturating” type prayer will do. So, how do we come by this unbroken connection? Well, it is pretty much exclusively the product of desperation. 

It does not have to be financial desperation, as mine started out to be. It can be simply a desperation for His divine presence in you day and in your circumstance.  Or, it might be a desperation to defeat the darkness which hammers our world every day. 

Or it might be a desperation to see good and great things accomplished. But, yeah, desperation is the first ingredient in this life altering form of prayer.

This is true because only some form of desperation will drive us beyond the convenient limits of our mind to establish and maintain this constant mental alliance with God. Only desperation will push us to go into seclusion with Him more often, and to stay longer. 

Only desperation will cause us to make larger mental and emotional energy investments in our conversations with Him. And, only desperation will awaken the other emotions and sensitivities which enable us to weep, and laugh, and be angry and compassionate in perfect concert with the heart of God.

Life, and Satan, and the worldly norms are all dead set against this kind of prayer with its attendant impact to our reality. The Darkness always prefers that there be no more than isolated moments of anemic, rote prayers - at a maximum.

Nevertheless, we dare not acquiesce to those preferences. Prayer should never be relegated to be only about short and "appropriate" moments. 

We of true faith must never settle for a distant God or a sedate spiritual status quo. We should live expectantly, anticipating that God will "show up" every day.  

And it will happen if we retain the ancient key: broadly giving ourselves to His companionship. If you want to have God, you gotta' have "game." 

If you really want to experience an exciting God that graces your day with extraordinary things, it’s always a matter of serious personal seclusion with Him. And for that great amount of time well spent, you can know the sweetest place in all the earth - that place where God "shows up." 

“Pray without ceasing.” -Paul, the Apostle Christ

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Accounts

Sometimes, because life comes at us so fast and moves on the same way, we cannot manage to adequately take care of all of the issues of our present. So later, in our minds, we go back. We revisit and work through the issues of our past.  We do our best to reconcile those intellectual, emotional, and relational accounts.  Among all of God's creatures, only humanity has this ability.

As I look back over my own life from the high vantage point of 61 years, I, too, have some some regrets. And some of those run very deep. And, almost without exception, my significant regrets revolve around people I have hurt or somehow wronged.

Some of those issues, Christ, in one stroke of forgiveness, reconciled for me at my conversion. Some few, far too few really, I have had the opportunity to actually ammend.  And, still others of those lingering issues, I have, with the years, been able to "square" in my mind with careful thought, and prayer, and repentance, and time. 

But, there is one regret that still haunts my days - not every day - but the quiet, reflective days, when I tend to assess life with a little more frankness and honesty. Days like this one.

The issue that still troubles me most is how long my "boyhood" lingered.  
To be born a boy is to have some things predetermined about who you are, and how you will behave, at least in general terms. 

It means you will be more aggressive. Thus, you will push some limits. You will be mission oriented. You will be more prone to take risks. You will exert more pressure on those around you. 

You will seek the "top." You will be enamored with accomplishment. You will tend to embrace confrontation and competition. You will tend to dream dreams that are much bigger than you can easily achieve. 

You will push harder and demand more, and demand faster, and demand, and demand, and demand. It may not be politically correct to say such things, but reality speaks louder than even political correctness. And these are generally the ways of boys and men.

I would never apologize for these basic realities of my gender and this God given male "wiring." And I would never apologize for expressing myself upon society in a thoroughly male way. God made men to fill a role.  


But my regrets regard my failure to properly transition from boyhood to manhood.  When I married my wife she was eighteen years old and I was twenty. But in real terms, though I was two years older than her, she was, by my estimate now, at least 4 years my senior. 

So, in the real terms of maturity, she was at least twenty and I was still 16. And I spent the first 20 years of our marriage lingering behind her in that maturity gap.

And especially when our children were born, I actually lost ground as she leaped ahead.  With each child she became more and more the consummate mother and a truly responsible parent. 


 She became increasingly wiser, more balanced, and more selfless and loving; while I remained far less changed.

Across the years that we raised our children, she became a model of true love, of protecting love, of mature love - often sacrificing herself to the process of caring for her family. Perhaps I did grow up a little in those years, but not nearly enough and not nearly fast enough.  Thus, I left upon her delicate shoulders the weight of more responsibility than she should have had to carry.

Too often, I allowed her to take the lead in the tedium of life and to care for far too many "menial" (by my prideful estimate) details. When I should have protected her from the abrasions of life, big and small, I left her gentle spirit much too exposed to the world’s threats.

And my children were touched by these same failures. Sometimes there was simply too much distraction, and not enough Dad. I should have been more their protector and more often their playmate.

So, for far too many years, I remained a immature in the practical prosecution of our life together. And even as I did begin to mature, I continued to pushed too hard toward my personal aspirations, and understood too little of my broader stewardship as a man. 

I often invested myself minimally, and yet, demanded too much in return. I involved my self in noble goals, but I took too little note of the larger cost of my schemes.

I had a sense of purpose, but it was not tempered nearly enough with a sense of "first responsibility," and "basic responsibilities," and "relational responsibilities." 


As men so often do, I knew where I wanted to go.  But, I paid too little attention to the ground under my feet.

I think that most people who have known me across my life would probably say that I was and am now a good husband and father. I think my wife and children would also make that same charitable statement. 

But, truly - it is not as true as it should be. It is not as true as I wish it were. I have only barely squeaked past the basic requirements of love, if you correctly understand that true love is much more what you do, than what you feel.

I am glad that God has given us the capacity to revisit our past and reconcile our intellectual, emotional, and relational issues. I am glad we can, at least in some measure, "square" our mistakes and failures by making amends, getting forgiveness, forgiving ourselves, learning our lessons, growing up, and doing better. 

But, in my role as a husband and a father, I will always wish that I had done it better - from the beginning. I know many who have. And, while I have made some peace with my own failures, my advice to young men is always this: "never have to."

It is a far better plan; and, it reflects much better upon your gender if you will simply let the "boy" go when it's time.  It is far more noble to not ask your wife or your children to pay the cost of your boyish aspirations.  And, it is a much more true love which never stops being a loving contributor to be an over achiever.

God did not design you to be a man who leaves a wide wake of regrets - for yourself or others. He designed you to be a good man - a man that leads the way forward with a highly developed and well balanced sense of responsibility - from the very beginning.

So Seldom Pure

Life is so seldom purely good. It seems that evil most always finds a way to taint our moments. But sometimes not. Sometimes there are those priceless moments when life is purely good. The following is part of my personal list ...

Life was always purely good at my grandmother's breakfast table when I was young. When I stayed overnight at her house, I would awaken in her front bedroom to the smell of coffee; and from there on, it was always the same. Down the hallway to that bright kitchen and her big ole' loving hug. Paw was already at the table; and he would pour a little of the coffee that I was not supposed to have (too young) in his saucer, blow on it to cool it, and then slide it over to me with a grin.

By now, you could cut the smell of bacon with a knife as it fried in the skillet with the eggs. And the biscuits, baked from scratch, were the highlight of the menu. Paw and I would cut 'em in two, butter 'em heavy, and sprinkle sugar on 'em 'till you couldn't see the butter anymore. I always did mine exactly like Paw did his. I always did most everything like Paw did his.

The brightness of that happy kitchen, filled with morning sunlight, is as vivid in my memory as if it were yesterday. Every time I ever sat at that breakfast table, I knew only pure goodness expressed as laughter and love.

As time moved along, and I grew older, I came to understand that such moments and places are rare. But I did manage to discover another. It was my neighborhood of a simpler time. It was called Rose Hill. And it was straight out of "To Kill A Mockingbird" even down to my "Boo Radley" neighbor.
It was about a 20's model neighborhood, so it was 30 or so years old by the time I came along, and some parts were a good bit older than that. It was laid out in neat city blocks with old growth shade trees and cracking sidewalks. It was filled with responsible working people who all knew each other, or at least knew of each other, and were very respectful as neighbors.

My school was one block from my house. And on the way, I would stop, going and coming, at Ms. Gray's small store, in the middle of the block, for one brand or another of pure sugar. That store was the happy event of every school day, and most days that weren't, for that matter.

This part of town was made out of old charm. Most all of the yards were neat, and there was constant tension between deep shade and bright sunshine. And everywhere there were bushes, and big lush shrubs, and overgrown alleys and all of it screamed, "I've been here a while."

I was a kid in that neighborhood, the way a kid is supposed to be a kid. Between Indian attacks and cavalry charges, my cousin, Frank, and I played a thousand games of baseball there. I had countless bike races and wrecks. Fun came easy, and in a wide variety of forms there.

The summers on Rose Hill were hot, humid, and magical with smells of honeysuckle, and roses, and gardenias, and the escape of frying and baking smells through open kitchen windows. And amid those aromas, I spent long summer days doing the most important nothings that ever were done - all with my two best friends, Jack Jackson and Johnny Camp. (Now an engineer and a judge, respectively, and also reeking, these days, of "I've been here a while.")

Rose Hill died with the people who lived there in my childhood. Oh, the streets are still there, and most of the houses. But they aren't so neat or respectable any more. But I remember my neighborhood, back in the day. And it was purely good to my childish eyes.

But, as I have gotten older, as with most people I think, the barnacles of cynicism have attached. And it seems they make it even harder to ferret out the pure moments and places. But still, I find that it is not impossible. I have discovered two more wonderfully distilled realities in my mature adulthood. The first is the joy of sitting across the table from my wife in a favored restaurant and talking - just talking - while the problems are made to wait in the parking lot.

We go to a restaurant to eat, of course, but what we truly relish the "seclusion in the crowd." I love the stolen afternoon over nachos, or the Friday evening "end of week catch up conversation" at the Mexican place. I love the bright mornings at "Big Mac" with a biscuit and coffee and her on my day off. I love talking with her over lunch on a rainy day. I guess I love her - and the food and the talk just let it come out. And those moments are purely good.

And the last purely good thing that I will mention on my list (like you couldn't see this coming) is my friendship with the unseen Jesus. He is the living ideal of pure goodness.

His daily presence brings an unassailable hope to me every single day of my life. I think His presence is so reassuring because I need to know that our ideals can not only survive, but prevail even in this tainted world. And Jesus is the living confirmation of that. He is the one purely good reality in life that is never touched by this world's smudges, and who never goes away. In my book, the only thing better than purely good, is purely good - all the time.

It's true, life is seldom purely good. But sometimes - it absolutely is. And when it is, maybe you might be tempted to start your own list of the purely good in your life. Go ahead. Those things are worth keeping up with. (I know, prepositions on the end are not purely good. They are not even "kinda' good.")