Wednesday, August 28, 2013

If We Don't Dream...

Recently, I went to see the movie "The Butler". I am a history nerd and have been for many years. I have Fred Bailey to thank for that. Dr. Bailey is an expert on the history of the American South...even more specifically, revisionist history. I feel like in many ways, Dr. Bailey not only opened my eyes to a complex world of history, but also gave me a foundation to help me examine our own churches, systems and doctrine. It's something I never expected to receive out of an ACU summer course.

In the movie, "The Butler", I was astounded again at how close in time we are to the civil rights movement. In my own lifetime, the fight has continued. The thing that I can never understand or get over is how men and women who claimed the name of Jesus as Lord treated people of color so poorly. Some people want to make that about politics. I don't care where you stand politically...that is secondary to where you stand spiritually.

The church has been guilty of treating people in ways that are shameful. We all know that. But, any wise person also knows that if we forget our past (and aren't able to confess the sins of our present) we are destined to repeat history. It gives me pause. It makes me breathe deeply. It makes me contemplate how I am reflecting the love of Christ to those I consider different from me.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington for jobs and freedom and the historic "I Have A Dream" speech. I'm so grateful for Martin Luther King Jr. and all those who followed his lead into peaceful change. I'm not old enough to have been around during that time, but I'll never forget the stories and the fight for freedom that ushered in a healthier season in the life of our nation. I believe that kind of heart is close to the heart of Christ.

"Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody. Not a few men who cherish lofty and noble ideals hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different."
- Martin Luther King, Jr

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ronnie Lorenz

It is impossible to write anything that measures my deep love for, admiration of, connection to, and influence by this man. Last night, as I left the hospital around midnight I told Brooke, "I pray he just slips away. Gently. Quickly."

That is exactly what happened.

Brooke called about 3:25am this morning saying Ronnie had gone. He went so gently it was as if the thin space between earth and heaven just opened up and took him. If there was a way to go that fit Ronnie...that was it. (The only thing better would have been if he'd had a golf club in hand)

Mom and I immediately hurried to the hospital to be with everyone. He was so peaceful. Our prayers had been answered. "Pop"/ "Ahbaba" had slipped from this life into the next.

After a bit of sleep, I began culling through photos. When I came upon this picture of my dad and Ronnie, my eyes began to leak. It was like I was seeing into heaven...the joyful reunion Ronnie and my dad must be having. (Ella had sweetly whispered in Ronnie's ear last Friday some messages to take to her Poppie.) Oh the joy!

I found some jewels for sure. One of my favorite memories of my parents and the Lorenzes is when they would turn on music and two step on our back porch. They all claim they had no rhythm, but it didn't seem to matter. This is one of my favorite pictures of Ronnie and fun, so in love!

Then I remembered this one in our wedding album. I am so thankful we took this picture on our wedding day--even though I look like the biggest goob ever. I have no clue how my fashion sense could have gone on vacation the actual weekend I needed it most....

And here's one of my personal favorites...we made several trips through the years to New Braunfels together. They were always full of fun and great memories were made. Here are a couple of different group pics and Ronnie and his family going down the "chute"

And there are many, many more...too numerous to load. But some of my favorites are here...

This is blurry but it's Ronnie speaking and reading scripture at our wedding. The funny part was that he ended up reading the wrong scripture. :)

My dad and Ronnie acting like kids

My parents 25th Anniversary party

Ahbaba with Maddie

Ahbaba pushing Ella on the swing

Sweet, sweet family

Nanny and Ahbaba at our house in Nashville

Celebrating what WOULD have been my parent's 50th wedding anniversary

Nanny and Ahbaba

I feel so blessed to have had a second dad like Ronnie--for Sheryl to know and feel his influence, for my kids to feel loved and adored by him. This Saturday at 2pm we will have a celebration service remembering Ronnie and celebrating all he was to so many people. It's at Highland. I hope those of you who knew Ronnie can come celebrate with us.

I'll end with this quote by N. T. Wright which seems to fit Ronnie so well...

"The point of the that the present bodily life is not valueless because it will die...What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it. What you do in the present--by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself--will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom. "
~N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church

So Near, Yet So Far

Oh, the mystery of things to come. How do you unpack the emotion and admiration that has roots that go 43 years deep? Ronnie continues to decline in Hospice care, but he is slipping away very slowly. His physical body is still here...his heart beats, his lungs take in air, he snores. :) But, his spirit feels far.

What does it look like to be in transition between this world and what is to come? People have written books hypothesizing what that looks like...people who've never actually made the journey. I remember standing at the foot of my father's bed watching each labored breath get slower. Then years later sitting with my father-in-law as he gently slipped away from us. And, there were other relatives who've passed while we've read scripture or sung songs of praise over each case I've wondered what they were sensing or feeling. Were they feeling?

One thing I have felt in each of those moments is a very profound sense of being on holy ground. Holy, holy ground. As my cousin Linda says, "God is good in giving us the grace to live...and the grace to die in Him." How can we know what it's like until we know? But I believe she's right.

God's grace covers over the brokenness of this world and as N. T. Wright says, God speaks in "conspiratorial whispers, of clues and suggestions and flickers of light" all nudging us toward a bigger story. That term "conspiratorial whispers" has glued itself to me over the last few days. I resonate with it. Because, while deeply saddening, this time of remembrance and community has pointed to things much bigger than this current circumstance. It's as if God is whispering, reminding me to pray as Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "May your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."

This morning I turned to take the communion tray and for a moment forgot and looked up hoping to see Ronnie. Oh, the longing that was in my heart at that moment for all things to be made right.

As Ronnie continues his transition, stories are told, we've laughed and we've cried. But, more than anything, tonight Brooke, Darla and I sat around Ronnie's bed talking about how THANKFUL we were for his influence...over our kids, over our families, over us. Ronnie reflected Jesus in ways that were not manufactured. He just did what Jesus does...he looked at people and saw them for what they could be and treated them like the treasures they are in the Kingdom of God (whether they felt like treasures at the moment or not.) He seemed to have been given a very Godly perspective. Ask anyone who knew him.

Here's what I know...Ps 116 says "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants." I believe that's the holy ground we feel in these moments. In ways we could never understand or describe on this side of eternity, we enter a very thin space where God's presence and his heart are more tangible. I know tonight that this transition Ronnie is going through is precious to the Lord. I feel it in my bones.

While this is a golden oldie now, as Ronnie's physical body lingers for who knows how much longer, I keep thinking about the old worship song "Surely the Presence".

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place
I can feel His mighty power and His grace
I can hear the brush of angels' wings
I see glory on each face
TRULY the presence of the Lord is in this place.

I truly feel the power and reality of those lyrics in that hospice room.

I'm reposting this picture because it so accurately captures Ronnie's spirit and the sparkle in his eyes. I love you, Pop! Good night!

To keep up with Ronnie via CaringBridge please visit and leave a message for the family.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

"Inner Circle"

Over the past month or so at Highland, we've gone through a series entitled "Sacred". One Sunday, Jeff Childers preached on the tradition of "closed communion" and the next week Jerry Taylor preached on "open communion". Both were good but I have to say that Jerry Taylor's sermon was one of the best I've ever heard on the subject. He is amazing.

It got me to thinking about communion, community and how those two play together. Right now, at Highland, we are going through some discussions on instrumental music and other worship-related things. Whenever we begin discussing the ins and outs of worship style and format, people tend to get nervous. I don't think it always points to a lack of, or abundance of, maturity. I believe sometimes people, without knowing how to verbalize it, are afraid of losing holy moments in worship. What that looks like for one may vary in what it looks like to someone else.

The thing I keep coming back to is not guitars, pianos, pitch pipes or tuning forks. I keep coming back to the Lord's Supper. I've heard several people worry out loud about Churches of Christ losing their "distinctiveness". While I understand what they're trying to say, it always troubles me. I don't want my distinctiveness to lie in whether I sing a cappella or with an instrument. I want it to be solely in Jesus Christ and that I am washed in His blood. This is what brings me to the Table.

In our tribe, every Sunday we gather to take the supper. I've been a part of other churches who did this quarterly and always missed it when it wasn't a weekly tradition. I think taking the Lord's Supper is one of the most important things we do each Sunday morning. In my heart, it's where I find my identity. It informs...or should inform...everything about who I am and who I will be that week. Yes, there are many other parts of the Sunday morning gathering that impact me too. But, it's the Supper that really helps me the most.

Jerry Taylor brilliantly preached about Christ dying for all and what that means to us in the Supper. So, it's with that truth that I experience deep community in the taking of the bread and cup. It reminds me that we all stand on equal footing...none of us is righteous...not one. It reminds me that there are others out there, not taking this meal yet, who Christ died for and wants to bring to the table. It reminds me of my church family and that we are bound by blood, no matter our other differences.

There's one tradition that goes a little deeper that helps me experience all levels of community during this meal. Several years ago...maybe even 7-8 years ago...a group of friends and I made a pact to take the cup from the middle of the tray and when we did to remember that we are not alone on this journey. I'm sure we could have come up with a term that didn't feel quite so exclusive but it's common each Sunday to see my phone light up with several texts reading, "inner circle" from brothers like Josh Ross, Charlton Taylor, Stephen Bailey, our life group and others. It reminds me that when we take this cup we are joining with a multitude of believers in proclaiming, "JESUS IS LORD!" It also reminds me that this walk, while lonely at times, is not one of solitude. We walk together.

Tomorrow morning you can bet I'll be taking my cup from the middle of the tray and while remembering what Jesus did for me, I'll be asking Him to bring others to this table and celebrating those he's given me as fellow journey-ers. Tomorrow I'll be drinking that cup specifically thinking about Ronnie Lorenz and all he's done to show me Jesus in the flesh. While Ronnie's flesh is weak right now and barely holding on to life as we know it, the Spirit in him is strong and we will be communing together. So, "Pop"...this "inner circle" goes out to you tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Pray for Ronnie!

Before I was born, Ronnie and Darla Lorenz and Sam and Judy Thomas became friends. As time progressed, babies were born and a life-long friendship was deepened. Almost every memory I have of growing up in church involves the Lorenzes. We even vacationed together. Crazy antics ensued. We were in and out of each other's homes almost every weekend. Darla ended up being my father's administrative assistant for years in the Abilene School System. Ronnie calls me "son". I call him "Pop" or "Dad". Darla, still to this very day, calls me "Fred"...a story that dates back to when I was in middle school and auditioned to be Friedrich Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music".

When I was 14 years old my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I still remember the car ride around town with Ronnie as he carefully tried to explain everything that was happening with my dad. My dad would live another 7 years. The jokes, the antics, the weekends together, the laughter with the Lorenzes never stopped. Dad still played jokes almost daily on Darla at school. And all four of them would sit and would talk about their hopes for Robyn, Brooke and me. Ronnie and Darla were there in those last moments of my father's the very night he died.

Years later, on the weekend of our wedding, it was Ronnie who stood at our rehearsal dinner and spoke in place of my father. He also read scripture during our wedding (and it was the wrong one...which still cracks me up). As Maddie, Ella and Sam were born they were introduced to the world of Nanny and Ahbaba. Nanny (Darla) still had a box of things my dad liked to use for practical jokes. They helped keep his memory alive and have helped them know my dad.

In moving back to Abilene, one of the greatest parts of each Sunday is seeing Ronnie. Every single Sunday I can count on hearing, "Hey, Son!" And I would respond, "Hey, Pop!" I know right where to look while leading worship and see this couple who are more a part of my life and heart than I could ever describe.

Last Thursday, while I was still in Nashville, Ronnie suffered a massive heart attack. I got the call from Brooke that they were taking him to the ER and just froze...feeling every one of the 844 miles that separated me from that ER...from Ronnie, Darla, Robyn, Brooke and my mom and family. As I arrived back home Friday, Sheryl, the kids and I hurried to the hospital to see him.

It's been 6 days since his heart attack. He is still in CCU and showing signs of improvement. He opens his eyes and can squeeze your hand. He seems to recognize us. But there's really no way to know what's going on in there. None of us can know. So....we wait. We wait without real concrete answers. We wait hoping for miracles. But, as Brooke has reminded us several times, either way, God wins.

Life would be so much easier if things would just happen on a predictable schedule and with predictable results. But, as I think back over the things I've learned in life...some of the hardest lessons have come through times of uncertainty. So, what beauty is there in uncertainty? For me, I have to find the things that ARE known. Knowing that God is a good Father and He's with us. Understanding that one day God will restore ALL that is broken...this is worth waiting on.

That's about all I know...except that even through this heart wrenching week there have been many moments of laughter. Memories shared, tears shed, hugs given, hands held. This is what life looks like in community and I am so grateful to Ronnie, Darla, my mom and dad for living it out all these years. It's why friends mean so much to me as an adult...I'm convinced of it. They proved and continue to prove the value of lives shared in good times and in bad.

I'll leave you with some little gems I've found over the last few days and just ask that you pray for Ronnie. You can also follow his CaringBridge by clicking here