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Steven S. Billings

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Mom at Age 39
 
Mom's new family, the Billings.  My dad, Stewart, is on the top left.  Mama (around age 40) is in the top middle.  My older brother, Dave, is on the top right.  My brother, Jim, is on the bottom left.  I am on the bottom right.  Mom doesn't like this picture because we aren't smiling all that well, but I will cherish it as a memory of good days, when we were all together, healthy, happy and vibrant.
9:49 am edt

GOOD DAYS
Pic of Steve
 
Mom has had a few good days this week.  Monday was spent going through a lot of items in the house.  She had delegated the division of her material goods to her three sons, and was pleased to hear what items were going to which children, grandchildren, neighbors, friends, etc.  There were numerous times throughout the day where we just stopped to spend time with her.  Her pastor came over and visited with her for a long time, which we especially appreciated.  I played my song for her, and she really liked it.  My aunts (her sisters) both thought it was beautiful.
 
Later in the day, I asked my brothers and the grandchildren to gather around as I read "Love You Forever" to my mom.  It's a beautiful little story about a mother who cares for her son all through his life, and then, when she is old and sick, he cares for her.  We all cried.  Dave and I sat up til the wee hours of the morning, looking at pictures, and then just talking in the dark, as we lay in our beds, just like in the days when we shared a room as kids.
 
Dave had to go back to California yesterday, which was very difficult for him.  He tried to rearrange his work schedule, but was unable to do so.  We celebrated Mom's birthday before he left, so we all had cake and sang "Happy Birthday" and shared our cards with her.  Jim and his wife Stephanie bought Mom a lovely pair of slippers, which she has been wearing, and which she thinks will be just perfect for her to wear in her casket.
 
As difficult as these days are, it is such a wondrous blessing still to be able to sit with Mom and pray with her and talk about our life together -- the one we have enjoyed here, and the one awaiting us in heaven.  Each night brings the possibility of her passing, as her health seems to take a sharp dip downward.  But, so far, each morning she is awake and alert.  I know this pattern will soon end, and the night will bring the portal to everlasting life.  But for now, I thank God for the unspeakable gift of these days to say goodbye.
9:34 am edt

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Mom at Age 12
 
Mom's family, the Deals.  Her older sister, Gloria, is at the top left.  Her brother, Tom, is in the top middle.  Mama (age 12) is on the top right.  Her father, George, is on the bottom left.  Her younger sister Donna is in the bottom middle.  And her mother, Dorothy, is on the bottom right.  We have all remarked how my mama resembles her mama.  Pictures of my grandmother toward the end of her life bear a striking resemblance to the way my mother looks today.  Mom's brother suffers from alzheimer's, leaving Gloria and Donna in reasonably good health.
6:01 pm edt

Monday, June 27, 2005

LONG DAY
Pic of Steve
 
It's about 4:30 in the morning as I write this.  Had a wonderful day in the Lord's house yesterday, followed by a delightful time of fellowship, and then an enjoyable shut-in call in the afternoon.  Then I hit the road and drove down to Fort Wayne to visit my mom.
 
I'm sitting in her kitchen now.  She was fairly alert when I got here late in the afternoon.  We visited and talked about all sorts of things -- heaven among them.  It's strangely exciting to think that soon she will be with my dad and all the saints.  But the thought that she will soon be standing in the presence of Jesus Himself is awe-inspiring.  She is completely at peace knowing that the day of her departure is near, thanks be to God.
 
She was up most of the day, with family members in and out of the house.  But it really exhausted her, and by evening, she was in a great deal of pain, slipping into coughing fits every time she tried to lay her head down to sleep.  I prayed with and for her, sang to her, and sat on the edge of her bed as the morphine began to kick in.  She is on the liquid stuff, and it is pretty powerful.  But it seems that her dosage needs to be increased.  It's difficult to see her this way.
 
I'm so glad my older brother Dave is here.  He is a surgical technician and has a lot of experience dealing with hospital patients, and is so amazingly good at helping Mom with her physical needs.  He also has been a great help in organizing my thoughts as to what to expect over the next few days.
 
It appears less and less likely that Mom will be with us on her birthday (July 1).  God grant her His peace and mercifully bring her suffering to an end in His good, gracious, and perfect will.
4:50 am edt

Friday, June 24, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Jim and Steve at the Kennedy Memorial, Arlington
                                    National Cemetary
 
The Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetary.  We were able to witness the changing of the guard.  Very moving.
6:50 pm edt

SINGING
Pic of Steve
 
I've spent much of the last two days singing.  As I mentioned the other day, I re-produced the song I wrote when my dad was dying.  Much of the instrumental track is the same, only with updated sounds.  And the vocals are quite similar in terms of the lead vocal, but the backgrounds have been significantly enhanced.  Originally I had maybe three harmony tracks.  Now there are five parts which I've multi-tracked four times each, making a 20-voice choir -- all me!
 
I had a lot of fun working on it, and, obviously, I have been highly motivated not only to get in done in time, but to do it to the best of my ability.  The range of the vocals is also interesting, in that it goes from about as low as I can sing ("Ab" at the bottom of the base clef) to the highest I can sing ("F" at the top of the treble clef).
 
And, as quite commonly happens I when work through these things, different parts and arranging ideas present themselves during the course of the production, and it is often a surprise to hear how well the ideas fit together.  It's as though the song itself is telling me what it wants to be when it grows up.
 
Another first for me ... Usually, when I get done with the first mix and listen to the "finished" product on the "big speakers" in my living room, I end up hearing a bunch of things I want to change.  The vocals need adjusted, this or that instrument needs to be louder or quieter, etc.  So I usually have to go and do a second mix.  Not this time.  This time I think I got it right the first time through.  Pretty cool.
 
Anyway ... as I said, I'll save this one to post on the occasion of Mom's passing.  A lucky few of you will hear it before then, because I will soon be sending it your way.  I hope you enjoy it.
6:32 pm edt

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Jim and Steve at the Kennedy Memorial, Arlington
                                    National Cemetary
 
Jim (left) and Steve (right) at the Kennedy Memorial, Arlington National Cemetary.
11:19 pm edt

GRATITUDE
Pic of Steve
 
I was thinking earlier about how many things I am grateful for these days, as my mom's death draws near.  I'm grateful that we were able to move beyond being mom and son to being adults together on an equal plane.  I'm grateful that I didn't put off recording her favorite Christmas song this past Christmas, thinking that maybe I'd do it some other year.  I'm grateful that I've had a chance to be prepared for her departure by getting a bit of a "heads-up" ahead of time.  I'm grateful that my mom hasn't been the victim of alzheimer's or some other form of dementia.  I'm glad she hasn't wasted away in a nursing home somewhere.
 
I'm grateful that my mom is a faithful Christian woman, who raised me with an understanding of the gracious love of God for His children ... her children ... us ... me.  I'm so glad that my mom wasn't a drug addict or a morally depraved person.  I can't think of a thing about my mother that could ever make me ashamed of her.  I'm so proud of her.
 
I'm proud of the way she has fought off her illness for so many years.  I'm proud of the way even now she faces life with her hand firmly held in her Savior's grasp.  Though leaving this world is not easy for her -- the pain is intense as she suffers from pneumonia -- still, she has an aire of peace about her, interrupted only by fits of coughing.
 
Has she had her faults?  Who of us hasn't?  She's a person, not just a parent.  And people make mistakes.  All-in-all, however, when I weigh her in the balance of the scales of life, I am pleased to see that I have been truly blessed.  No one has loved me more, cared for me more, supported me more, been a friend to me more, given of herself more, than my mother.  She would say: "I did the best I could."  To that I have always said: "And it was more than enough.  More than I could ever ask or expect."
 
I hope she can hold on til I get there on Sunday.  It's only a matter of days.  But at this stage, days can be a lifetime.
10:11 pm edt

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
View from the Kennedy Memorial, Arlington
                                    National Cemetary
 
View from the Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetary.

8:36 am edt

PREPARATION
Pic of Steve
 
Fifteen years ago I wrote a song.  It was part of my way of preparing for the death of my father.  Little did I know it would be the last song I would write for a decade and a half.  I don't know whether it was the busy-ness and cares of life, or that I just didn't have anything to sing about.  But there was just nothing there.
 
This Spring God opened the barren womb of my heart and began to give me songs again.  It's been a delight, not only to hear the music floating around in my head again, but to have the technology to bring it out into the real world and share it with others.
 
I recorded Dad's song fifteen years ago, using the equipment I had access to at work.  And when Mom announced that her doctors had indicated that her condition would not improve and that her end was near, I dug through my CDs and found the one containing the transcription of that old cassette with the song on it.  It was disappointing to hear what time had done to the recording of this song.  It sounds awful.
 
But with the new technology at my disposal, and the practice God has given me over the past several months, it is possible now to re-produce the song, which I have begun to do.  Finished the instrumentals last night, and will be singing the vocals over the next several days.  I will post the song here when Mom goes to heaven.
 
God, in His mercy, has prepared me again for the death of one I love most in this world.  The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.
 
The lyrics for the song are included below:
 
ALREADY GONE
 
Standing here before you,
I'm looking for the smile I've always known.
But all I see is the pain that takes its toll in a way
That make-up can't hide.
 
And as I see you lying there,
I'm waiting for you to open your eyes.
But tears come to mine as I realize
This is our last goodbye.
 
Because you've already gone to the Father;
He took away your pain and took you home.
You've already gone to be with Jesus;
No more dying there.
And the joy you feel is a joy we've never known.
 
As I walk through your door,
I hold back the urge to call out your name.
And the room seems so small and yet so empty
With you not here.
 
And as I'm standing all alone,
The silence makes familiar sights seem strange.
And now I know that it was you who made it "home" for me,
And now you've gone away.
 
Yes, you've already gone to the Father;
He took away your pain and took you home.
You've already gone to be with Jesus;
No more dying there.
And the joy you feel is a joy we've never known.
 
If you could see the tears I'm crying,
I know what you'd say:
"There's no need for fear of dying;
Jesus led the way, and we'll meet again some day."
 
You've already gone to the Father;
He took away your pain and took you home.
You've already gone to be with Jesus;
No more dying there.
And the joy you feel is a joy we've never known.
8:20 am edt

Sunday, June 19, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
View from the Kennedy Memorial, Arlington
                                    National Cemetary

View from the Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetary.

6:15 pm edt

HOSPICE
Pic of Steve
 
I found out today that my mom has placed herself in hospice care.  The doctors are speaking in terms of weeks concerning her demise.  She has an infection in her lungs that nothing has worked to remove.  She's tired of fighting.  She's ready to leave herself in the hands of God.
 
I will miss her terribly.  She has been such a huge help to me over the years.  Seems we had just gotten to a place in our relationship where we could relate to one another as equals -- grown-up to grown-up instead of parent to child.  Now that is coming to an end.
 
I thought this was coming thirty years ago when she was diagnosed with scleroderma.  But God saw fit to provide many more years than originally expected.  I'm thankful that I've had her as long as I have.  I'm grateful that our relationship has been a good one.  But I know where she is going.  Better yet, she knows where she is going.
 
Mom, I love you.  Thanks for always being there for me.  Thanks for loving me when no one else would.  Thanks for always believing in me and trusting in me.  I will grieve your loss for a long time to come.  But I know I will see you again.  Please give my love to those who have gone before.  Tell Dad I love him and miss him every day.  And I'll look forward to seeing you both on the other side.
5:52 pm edt

Saturday, June 18, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
View from the Kennedy Memorial, Arlington
                                    National Cemetary

View from the Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetary.
11:55 am edt

GRADUATION DAY
Pic of Steve
 
I've had three of 'em.  Graduation days, that is.  High school.  College.  Seminary.  They've all meant a great deal to me.  For they signify hope for the future, new beginnings, new life.  They represent years of effort and achievement.  I worked hard for the diplomas and degrees I received on those days.
 
The same is true for those being confirmed in the Christian faith.  Hopefully, they've worked hard to learn the fundamentals of the Christian faith, memorized the chief parts of the catechism, and gained important tools to assist them in their day-to-day Christian living.
 
But in learning the Christian faith, it's important to understand that we do not "become" a Christian through hard work and effort.  Not ours, anyway.  The hard work was done for us by Jesus, through His suffering, death and resurrection.  The "diploma" of salvation was earned through His effort, not ours.  But it was handed to us when we came to faith in Christ.
 
For many, this was the day of their baptism, when, "according to His mercy, God saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  This is a faithful saying" (Titus 3).
 
For others it was the day that they suddenly became aware that Jesus had come to suffer and die for them and rose again for their own personal justification before God, and in one way or another, they cried out: "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner."
 
Either way, the day of our salvation is a great Graduation Day, which will culminate on that day when we "graduate" from this vale of sorrow and ascend with our Savior to eternal life with Him in heaven.  What a degree!  What wonderful hope for the future!  What a great new beginning!  What a marvelous new life!  Everlasting life!  Earned by Jesus.  And given freely to us by grace through faith in Him.
11:45 am edt

Friday, June 17, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
The Kennedy Grave, Arlington National Cemetary

The Kennedy grave at Arlington National Cemetary.

10:52 am edt

THE FLAG
Pic of Steve
 
The other night we retired a flag at our church.  It had been in service for some forty years or so.  It was in the chancel of our chapel, which used to be the main sanctuary.  It stood next to a candelabra, so it was full of smoke and soot.  It looked awful.  Dingy.  Dirty.  I think you get the picture.
 
So we decided to remove it from service.  And now was a good time, because the grandson of one of our members is collecting flags for decommissioning as a project to make Eagle Scout.  So, during our Family Night, we had a couple of our veterans lead us in a flag retirement ceremony.
 
I knew it would be interesting.  I suspected it would be moving.  But I didn't expect to become so emotional about it.  It actually brought chills.  I started thinking about all that the flag stands for.  And seeing these two men treating the flag with such honor and respect reminded me that they had laid their lives on the line for this flag.  It meant a lot to them.  And it means a lot to me.
 
To see how our flag is disregarded, disrespected, desecrated and mistreated around the world, I find quite insulting.  It seems our nation is always called upon to "apologize" for supposed insults we give toward other countries, but who has apologized to us for the many insults flung at us these days?  We feed the world.  We protect freedom around the world.  We bail the world out of so many troubles and threats.  Who thanks us?  Who gives us the respect we deserve?  Some.  But not nearly enough.
 
The United States of America is the greatest nation on the planet.  No, it's not perfect.  Far from it.  I've got a laundry list of complaints.  But you're not likely to see me changes nationalities any time soon.
 
It reminds me of the time that Jesus turned to His disciples and asked: "You're not going away, too, are you?"  You see, He had begun explaining to the crowds that He was the Bread of Life, and said: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53).  Hearing this, many turned away from following Him.  So He put the question to those closest to Him.  Their response?  "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life."
 
Where shall we go?  I'm not trying to say that America is some sort of messianic figure.  My point merely is this: Is there a better place to live?  Is there a country where we would enjoy as much liberty as we have here?  Is there any place we would be more free?  If so, I'd like to know where it is.  But, then, I know there isn't.
 
So, we may complain, and find many things about our country that we would like to change.  The ship of our nation has a lot of holes in it.  But it's still the best boat afloat.  Certainly worth fighting for.  And I am proud to be associated with the many brave warriors who have sacrificed so much to keep me free.  I salute them.  I salute the banner under which they fought.  And I look with pride at the new, crisp, vibrant flag standing now where the old once stood.
 
Thanks, Gene.  Thanks, Warren.  Thanks to all our veterans.  Thanks for all you have done and continue to do for me, for your church, and for your country.
10:11 am edt

Thursday, June 16, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Arlington National Cemetary
 
Arlington National Cemetary.  It is a sobering sight.  Thank God for those who having been willing to give their lives for me and my liberty.  God bless the families who mourn them.
11:07 am edt

OLD FRIENDS
Pic of Steve
 
Been in contact with a bunch of old friends lately.  Feels good.  There's no friends like old friends.  There's something about being with people who've known you for a long time.
 
It's not always a good thing, mind you.  Sometimes your old friends remember things you've tried to forget.  Dumb stunts you pulled as a kid.  Failures you suffered along life's path.  Arguments.  Hurts.  Perhaps even shameful things you did together in years past.
 
But then again, your old friends have seen you grow from the dumb kid you used to be into the upstanding individual you are now.  They've seen you survive the faults and failings of yesteryear.  They've seen the successes you've achieved since then.  And that can be very good.
 
Most of my old friends know that I have been a Christian most of my life.  They knew I was way-back-when, and they can see where that faith has taken me.  Though they know my struggles, they've seen how God has brought me through them.  And we can talk about them and rejoice together in the faithfulness of the Lord.
 
I like being reconnected to the close relationships I enjoyed "back in the day."  Oh, I enjoy the new ones, too!  I guess friends are great to have, whether they're of the vintage variety or fresh off the vine.  I suppose when you lose one important relationship, you begin to cling to others in your life.  Losing isn't fun.  But regaining and retaining the dear ones you have is a great joy.  At least it is to me.
10:58 am edt

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Arlington Cemetary
 
Arlington National Cemetary.  Spent the day there with my brother Jim and friends Carol Campbell (who took this lovely shot) and her daughter Monica.  After this we went to eat at a wonderful Mexican Restaurant in Pentagon City, and then to Cold Stone Creamery for dessert.  Yum!
9:34 am edt

THE "RIGHT" TO BICKER
Pic of Steve
 
I have this group of friends.  They seem to do nothing but argue and call each other names.  It's like they don't know any other way to relate to each other.  They strike me as those who garner their self-esteem by seeing who can win in a verbal fight, and you get extra points if you can humiliate your opponent in the process.  The saddest thing to me about all this is that these friends of mine are Christians, many of them pastors.
 
The crude language that some of them use I also find curious.  And don't try to suggest that this is unChristian!  You will be called a pietist.  Or a few other unsavory names, just to prove that they can curse with the best of 'em, and dare you to be offended.  After all, offense can never truly be given unless the Bible explicit said: "Thou shalt not use coarse and vulgar language."  Their greatest defense: "I didn't use the Lord's name in vain, so if you are disgusted by my use of the 'f' word, that's your problem, and you owe me an apology."
 
Whatever happened to "you are in the world but not of the world"?  Or "by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another"?  Seems our "love" for each other often takes a back seat to exercising our "right" to be as rude and foul as we want.
 
Which goes to a more basic problem, I think.  Is claiming our "rights" a fundamental aspect of Christianity?  Or is it service to our neighbor?  It seems to me that the priest and the Levite exercised their "rights" over against the man beaten and left for dead.  To have stopped and aided this man would have made them unclean, which would have been a great inconvenience to them.  But who is the one Jesus lifts up as an example in this parable?  Not those who exercised their rights, but the Samaritan who gave of himself and took the time to be inconvenienced for the sake of the injured man.
 
By all "rights," Jesus should have been cared for by His disciples, but He stooped on the night of His betrayal to wash their feet.  For that matter, by all "rights," God could have swept the earth of mankind and started over again, but instead He sent His Son to suffer and die in our place.
 
So, shame on us when we demand our "rights" in the face of those weaker than ourselves.  Shame on us when we claim "Christian" liberty to behave unseemly and more like children of the world than sons of the kingdom.
 
And, if we must debate, if there are indeed wrongs that need to be addressed and false teachings that need to be corrected, can we not "speak the truth in love," as Scripture calls us to do?  This I hope and pray.  And sometimes weep for the state of the church.
7:09 am edt

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
McClellan Gate Detail
 
Further detail of the McClellan Gate.  The inscription reads:
 
REST ON EMBALMED AND SAINTED DEAD DEAR AS THE BLOOD YE GAVE
NO IMPIOUS FOOTSTEPS HERE SHALL TREAD THE HERBAGE OF YOUR GRAVE
8:18 am edt

Monday, June 13, 2005

T.G.I.F.
Pic of Steve
 
No, that doesn't mean Thank God It's Friday -- it means Thank God I'm Free!  It's the working title of my latest song.  I just finished the instrumental for the demo, and plan on singing it later this week.  I'll include the lyrics in this blog, but generally, it speaks about how often those things that we want so badly, the things we expect to make us happy and free us from sadness and depression, instead of freeing us, merely bind us to something else.  It's so easy to think that we can find happiness in the things of this world, or even in relationships.  But the only thing that truly sets us free is when we bind ourselves to Christ.
 
Specifically, the songs speaks of those who seek freedom in a loving relationship.  The trouble is, love can be so fleeting.  One moment it's there, the next it's gone.  The only love that is lasting is the love of God for us in Christ.  For when we are in Him, we can smile despite the worst of times and in the midst of the worst of circumstances.  God's love takes the sting out of living in a world where all that is good and pleasing fades with the passing of time.  It truly sets us free.
 
T.G.I.F. (Thank God I'm Free)
 
I thought I died the day that she left me;
All hope and joy and life were bereft me.
The door of my heart slammed shut that very day.
Then You awakened something inside me;
Slowly, I noticed someone beside me,
Turned and saw her smile my pain away.
 
And I felt free.
Thank God I'm free!
 
Down in the dumps, I felt I was sinking;
I don't really know just what I was thinking.
I risked my heart and ended up in dismay.
Then light began to creep through the doorway,
And I decided I should go Your way.
Thank You, Lord, You showed me a better way!
 
And I was free.
Thank God I'm free!
 
Sometimes love ain't all that it's cracked up to be.
Sometimes we're enslaved by what we think is free.
 
I had the chains of bondage around me;
You came along and that's when You found me,
Looking up into a sky that was solid gray.
You touched my life and made me feel better;
Now I can smile whatever the weather.
Hey, what do you know, it's a sunny day!
 
'Cause You set me free.
Thank God I'm free!
10:32 pm edt

PIC OF THE DAY
McClellan Gateway Detail
 
A detail of the McClellan Gate.  It reads:
 
ON FAME'S ETERNAL CAMPING GROUND THEIR SILENT TENTS ARE SPREAD
AND GLORY GUARDS WITH SOLEMN ROUND THE BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD
8:30 am edt

Sunday, June 12, 2005

AND THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING
Pic of Steve
 
I looked out over the congregants gathered for worship this morning, and lo-and-behold, I saw a face that I didn't expect to see.  But, boy, was I glad to see it!
 
Joe wound up in emergency a couple of months ago, with a laundry list of problems: pneumonia, sarcoidosis, asthma, congestive heart failure, and on top of all this, he's diabetic.  He wasn't breathing on his own.  He was in really tough shape.  We almost lost him.
 
The family held vigil for the next several days.  I would stop in and find them with him, or waiting to see him.  He was heavily sedated for nearly two weeks in order to let his body heal.  Each time I would see him he was a baby-step better.  But no one was sure if his lungs would function on their own again.  The prognosis was uncertain.  We prayed.  And prayed.  And prayed some more.
 
Then one day, when I stopped at the visitor's desk to check his location, they read off the number a regular room.  A regular room?!  That's gotta be good news!  And it was!  Joe was awake.  He could hardly speak, apparently because the breathing tube was in so long it damaged his vocal chords.  But he was awake and alert.  We had a brief visit, which, as always, ended in prayer.  I went from there to our monthly dinner at the church, and was beaming from ear-to-ear.  "Guess who I just talked to," I announced.  "Joe," came the reply.  "How did you know," I asked.  "It's written all over your face," they said.
 
I saw Joe once again at the hospital.  They had just started him on solid food.  It had been weeks since he had eaten.  But he was definitely on the mend.  He was discharged within a few days.  Interestingly, he was on my calendar for a visit soon.  But he beat me to the punch!  Thanks be to God!
 
And thank you, Joe, for being the faithful Christian man I have known you to be.  Thank you for coming to me in my time of need and praying with and for your pastor.  The love and concern you and your wife have shown me is humbling.  I can see Jesus in you both.
 
I'll be stopping by to see Joe later this week.  It's anybody's guess as to which of us will be most blessed by the time spent.  God be praised!
10:36 pm edt

PIC OF THE DAY
McClellan Gate
 
The McClellan Gate at Arlington National Cemetary.  As you can see, it was a beautiful Spring day.
2:10 pm edt

Saturday, June 11, 2005

TEMPTATION
Pic of Steve
 
I was talking with a friend tonight about temptation.  We both recognized that temptation is with us, even though we are in Christ.  Why is it that no matter what you have you always want more?  Why is it that men who have absolutely drop-dead gorgeous wives feel the need to chase other women?  Obviously, God built men to be attracted to beautiful women, but He also desires that this attraction be acted upon only within the bonds of holy wedlock.
 
One method I have used to resist temptation -- of all sorts, not just sexual -- is to remind myself of what it is that I really want.  Do I want a one-night-stand?  Do I want a relationship built on the guilty memories of inappropriate behavior?  For certainly, if a couple begins to engage in sexual intimacy prior to marriage, and they believe this conduct to be improper -- which, as Christians, they should! -- then even after they are married, sexual relations will still feel tainted.  If it's ever wrong, it's forever wrong.  This is not to say that God can't purify a relationship begun badly, but why put Him in that position?  Why heap guilt on yourself and have to carry that baggage through life?  Clearly, God forgives the penitent, but often it is difficult for the penitent to forgive himself.  And this is just the kind of spiritual pressure that can cause great havoc in a marriage.
 
You see, the devil is so sneaky that he convinces us to believe that what he is selling us is the thing we want, when it is actually the very opposite of what we really want and need.  Not only is it not what we want, it takes us further away from what we want, so that instead of being a positive, it becomes a negative.  One of the devil's greatest deceptions is to get us to think that a negative is really a positive.
 
Thank God for the gift of His Son, who cleanses us with His blood, washing us clean and purifying us of our sins.  Praise Him for the many marriages He has preserved according to His grace and mercy, by working forgiveness, not only between the offending sinner and the Father in heaven, but also with the spouse whom he has offended.
 
Thank God also for the gift of His Spirit, the Comforter, who enables us to resist temptation, granting us victory over sin before it is committed.  Now, I know as well as you that we cannot always avoid the traps that Satan sets out for us, but with God's help and the guidance of His Holy Spirit, we are able to escape many.
 
Our merciful God rescues us so many times and in so many different ways.  Sometimes He pulls us out of the pit.  Sometimes He steers us around it before we fall in.  Either way, He saves us again and again from the clutches of the evil one.  And for this we will be eternally grateful!
11:28 pm edt

PIC OF THE DAY
Batmobile Interior
 
The cockpit was amazing to look at.  Apparently, no detail was ommitted in the construction of this replica.  Want a Batmobile of your very own?  Check out this link to find out how you can get one!  http://www.thebatcave8k.com/1966batmobile.htm  For more interesting facts and history of this amazing vehicle, check this site:
8:41 am edt

Friday, June 10, 2005

WELL WORTH THE RISK
Pic of Steve
 
Went to a birthday party tonight at the home of a pastor friend of mine.  It was a surprise party, and the guest of honor was indeed really surprised!  All of her children were there, some of whom live out of town and didn't announce that they were coming.  We had lots of goodies to eat, sodas, and, of course, being Lutherans, there were adult beverages available as well.  We talked and laughed and shared one anothers' company.  It was really an enjoyable evening.  Oh ... we also (some of us anyway) sang karaoke.  I sang a couple of Sinatra tunes, one by Stevie Wonder, and one of my own (The Spirit in You).  Everyone seemed to love the song.  I couldn't believe how nervous I was to sing it!
 
It's funny.  I get up in front of people all the time.  I speak my mind, share my thoughts, proclaim the Word, absolve sins, teach Bible classes, even sing (chant) the liturgy.  And in the regular functions of my office, I am almost never nervous.  Why was I nervous tonight?  It was a friendly group of people.  But they have never seen that side of me.  I was revealing a very personal part of me to people who had never seen it.  And the smallness of the group made it much more intimate than a large gathering.  I think this can be very scary.  To sing in front of people you don't know and to speak or sing of things very personal to people who may never get to know you on a personal level ... this is far less frightening than to sing and share your innermost thoughts and feelings to people who do know you.  I think if I were ever to sing my songs directly to those for whom they have been written, especially if it were one-on-one ... this would be the most terrifying thing of all.  Would I do it?  You betcha!  I'd be shaking in my boots, and my voice would warble, but I'd risk it.
 
Because in the end it's worth it.  It felt really good tonight to hear the positive feedback and to have touched the hearts of people who matter to me.  I don't think it will be as nerve-wracking the next time.  One more victory under my belt.  One more example of how taking risks and sharing of yourself most often yields positive results.  You can hold back, spare yourself the stress of risking rejection or criticism, but when you do that you miss out on a lot of opportunities for affirmation.  Trust me ... though the risk may be terrifying, it is well worth it.  Thanks to my good friends for giving me another chance to see this.
11:35 pm edt

PIC OF THE DAY
Nathaniel with the Batmobile
 
The word "serendipity" comes to mind when a young man wearing a Batman T-shirt encounters the Batmobile parked in the lot at Best Buy.  My nephew Nathaniel was not the only interested party, however.  I was just as thrilled, and so were many others who pulled over to get out and snap photos along with us.
9:49 am edt

ACTING
Pic of Steve
 
Went to my acting class tonight (Thursday) as usual, and was delighted to hear that it seems I have been cast in a local film project.  I read for the part a month or so ago, and apparently the director really liked me.  Go figger.
 
I started taking this class a little over a year ago as a diversion from all the junk going on in my life at the time.  It really was more of a means of entertainment than anything.  But the agency that hosts the classes keeps putting me up for stuff, because they seem to think I have talent.  I think that acting is fun.  I don't actually know if I'm any good at it.  But I just think of it as playing make-believe, like most of us did as kids.  The real trick is to reach beyond what is comfortable and let yourself "become" someone else, which is harder than it sounds.  In our classes, I have tried to strip off "me" and be someone else, but it always seems like the character I portray looks and acts a lot like me.  This experience has certainly raised my opinion of acting as a profession, and of good actors who ply the trade well.  It has also made clear to me the truth that great actors are those who pretend that they are somebody else, while mediocre actors are those who pretend that everybody else is them.  It's the difference between trying to figure out how I might behave if I were my character and trying to figure out what the character would do if he were me.  I dunno if I'm making any sense, but anyways . . .
 
It's a bit odd to be attempting this acting thing at this stage in my life.  For years I tried to play the part of a person I thought everyone wanted or needed me to be.  I was someone that people depended on, so I had to be strong.  I felt I needed to make people think that I had a handle on all my problems.  So I never permitted myself to appear weak or needing.  There were many times that I was acting, covering over the real me who was suffering with the pretend "me" that I thought everyone else wanted me to be.  Which is kinda hard to do all the time, because you end up trying to be so many different people in an effort to meet everyone else's needs.  What you don't realize is that most people just want you to be who you really are, and when you try to be someone else, you confuse them.  When you spend your time trying to be what you think everyone else wants you to be, you stop being the very thing that endeared you to them in the first place.
 
So, now, in my personal life, I just try to be as transparent as I can be, being me, the same "me" wherever I am, regardless of who I'm with.  I strive to allow myself to be vulnerable, to let my weaknesses show, to be needy if I am needy, and not be afraid to let others see my pain.
 
It's been a difficult road for me because it is re-writing a heap of internal playbooks, and casting aside a ton of scripts that I used to recite almost without thinking.  But I have made some amazing discoveries along the way.  People don't always reject you when they see the "you" you've been hiding behind a mask for years.  Sometimes they like what they see and respond favorably.  In my experience, this is the case more often than not.  And that has made this enterprise a whole lot easier.
 
Don't misunderstand . . . there have still been rejections.  Sometimes revealing who you really are scares people.  There are still a lot of people out there hiding away from their own reality.  And when you come at them with your heart wide open, they tend to pull back because they don't know how to handle it.  So with everything else, I've had to learn how and when to edit myself so that I don't overwhelm those with whom I interract.  Doing that better is something I may be learning for a long time to come.
 
In the meantime, I pray that God will continue to preserve and protect me, as He always has.  And I pray that He will use me to be an influence on those who need to stop playing their own self-prescribed roles, and be themselves, willing to risk being known and loved for who they really are.  After all, the God who made us they way we are loved us enough to send His Son to free us from a life of pretending to be something we are not.  We are not perfect.  But He is.  And His act of love was not just good staging; it was real.  And it was really Him who suffered, died and rose again to prove it.
1:16 am edt

Thursday, June 9, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Batmobile at Best Buy
 
Where does Batman get his gadgets?  Best Buy, of course!  This car was parked in the lot at Best Buy in the Washington, D.C. area.  Guess who had his Batman T-shirt on the day we ran across this vehicle??  Not me! ;)
10:51 am edt

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

SIN AND HELL
Pic of Steve
 
I know we don't like to talk about it.  And there are people who think that if they ignore it, it'll just go away.  But there is such a thing as sin and hell, whether we want to admit it or not.
 
Funny thing about being in my line of work ... people never treat you like they treat anyone else.  It's amazing how conversations come to a screaching halt the moment someone finds out what I do for a living.  Honestly, there have been times when I concealed my profession so that I could continue a conversation with someone I had just met.  Other people, however, will suddenly begin to tell you their entire life story (much of which you'd rather not hear!) or ask you that question that has been nagging them forever, or climb their soapbox about what's "wrong with the church."
 
I used to go to a chiropractic office to get my weekly adjustments, and prior to the adjustment I would take some massage therapy to prepare the muscles to respond better to the adjustment.  The massage therapist was a WELS Lutheran.  One day she went on and on about how "stupid" closed communion is.  Fear not, I held up the Biblical practice, but I couldn't help thinking: "Lady, I'm lying here on this table to try and relax before I get my neck and back crunched like a pretzel.  The last thing I wanna do is get into a theological argument with you!"  I don't go there anymore.
 
A similar situation used to occur at the place where I used to get my hair cut.  The girl who ran the shop used to fly her religious trial balloons past me every time I sat in her chair.  One month she got on the issue of hell.  "I don't believe in hell," she stated matter-of-factly.  "Oh, really?" I replied.  "Do you think that makes it go away?"  We went on to talk about how personal beliefs really have no bearing on objective realities.
 
But that's just the problem; so many people don't believe in objective reality anymore.  Subjective truth has come to rule the day.  Sin and hell can be real for you but don't have to be real for me, and we feel no need to reconcile the discrepancy.  The sad reality is that sin does exist, and those who do not repent of it will end up in a very real place called hell.  And pretending neither exist will not change that reality.
 
The church does no one any favors by ignoring these touchy subjects.  We can talk about God's love all we want, but unless we conceive of what His love has saved us from, we have no need for it.  No one needs rescued unless they're in trouble.  And apart from God's forgiveness in Christ, we are most definitely in trouble!  Thank God He sent His Son to suffer and die for our sin and to rescue us from death and hell.  Thank God for the message of reconciliation given to us through His church.  Thank God for faithful pastors who continue to proclaim the reality of sin and hell, so that they can lift up the Savior who has paid the penalty for our sin and prepared a place for us with with Him in heaven.
10:06 pm edt

PIC OF THE DAY
Pic of Steve in a quiet moment.
 
On vacation in April.  This sun porch was a favorite spot for my old friend Edgar Brill, who has since gone to be with the Lord.  We would sit a talk about the things of God as we watched His beautiful creation just outside the window.  Now that he's gone, I still enjoy my quiet time there.  Thanks to Louise Cator for opening her home to me and thanks to Carol Campbell for providing the photo.
9:53 am edt

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Steve playing a didgeridoo
 
Yes, folks, this is a picture of me playing a didgeridoo.  Thanks to Chuck Wilson for the gift of this fascinating instrument.  Thanks also to Carol Campbell for supplying this photo.
8:27 pm edt

STINKER OF A DAY AND OTHER THOUGHTS
Pic of Steve
 
It got up to about 92 degrees here today, with a relative humidity of 93%.  Ick!  And the cottonwood has been thick as snowflakes.  My allergies have been kickin' my tush since Sunday afternoon.  Yikes!
 
Anybody else out there suffer from insecurity?  I've been in it big-time, especially in connection with this whole divorce thing.  Now, I don't mean to wave dirty laundry, but I will say that when your spouse in unfaithful, it really shakes your confidence.  It made me feel terribly inadequate.  Sort-of -- if she needs more than me, I must not be any good; I must be a failure.  I've come to terms with a lot of these feelings, and I know that it's not as simple as that.  I also know that because of some rotten kids I grew up with -- who loved to make fun of me -- I had an issue with insecurity long before I even met my wife.  Seems I put a lot of pressure on her to be my source of self-worth.
 
And even lately I've thought: "How can you know if you are loved or desired unless you are loved or desired?"  How does a politician know if he's electable unless he has won an election?  To carry this thought further ... isn't there some point at which he must believe within himself that he is electable?  Confidence is very attractive.  Insecurity is not.  Voters know it.  So do potential spouses.
 
It occurred to me the other day that, when I'm feeling insecure, it wouldn't matter whether or not I had someone in my life reassuring me that I was loved and desired.  I simply wouldn't believe it, despite what she might say, because it wouldn't resonate with my own self-image.  It's similar to whether or not I believed I've preached well on a given Sunday.  If I feel that my sermon could have been better, it wouldn't matter how many compliments I received; I simply wouldn't take the word of others over my own opinion.  Perhaps I am just stubborn.  Maybe it is a bit of arrogance -- that says: "My own opinion surpasses that of others."  Insecurity and arrogance sometimes make for strange bedfellows.  We feel badly about ourselves and our performance, and we are unwilling to accept that someone else's higher view of us may be more accurate than our own.
 
I struggle with this to the point that at times I have to ask God's forgiveness, because I do this to Him as well.  I let the devil talk me into feeling badly about myself and how inadequate I am and how unworthy I am.  I have to be reminded that God deemed me well worth dying for.  So, regardless of the opinion of some rotten neighborhood kids who may not have realized the impression they were leaving on a young boy, and despite the depth of pain and disgrace which results from marital unfaithfulness, Christ Jesus suffered, died and rose again for me, and therefore I must conclude that my personal value in His estimation is high indeed.
 
Will His estimation be shared by men?  I may not be destined to receive the accolades of the world.  Will the esteem in which He views me ever be shared by a woman?  I may never know that kind of love.  And as much as I long to be loved and respected and cherished as I wish to have someone so to cherish, still I derive strength from knowing that should I never have these, still I have my Savior and I know my eternal destiny is secure.  That enables me to "suffer the heat," so-to-speak, for this places me into a brotherhood in which I am never completely alone.  And in this I thank and praise God for His merciful kindness.
8:13 pm edt

GENESIS
Pic of Steve
 
So this is the beginning.  I like beginnings.  Beginnings are fun.  Exciting.  New.  Fresh.  They beat the pants off endings.  But some endings are good too.  I don't mind the end of a long day.  The end of a bad relationship can be quite a relief.  The end of the world, for Christians, is something to look forward to.  But only because it will be the beginning of something much better.  Heaven.  Eternal life.  Unending joy, peace and contentment.  I can't wait for that to begin.
 
But for today, I'll be content to begin this new little venture.  I hope someone reads it.  And if you are reading it ... thank you!  I pray God grants you a wonderful day and lets you know how deeply He loves you.  Take care and don't forget to say hello.
9:42 am edt

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

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