Contacting Craig

To contact Craig for speaking or interview opportunities, email at craigd2599@gmail.com
Visit his website (Big Fat Grace) at www.craigdaliessio.com


Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Homeless Savior...Some thoughts on the life Christ chose


It’s been a hard few days. The past few days…maybe two weeks…have been some of the most difficult of my life. This will be a very revealing post and I am doing it because the spiritual lesson is worth the cost of the openness it takes to express it. Deep down, I’m okay. So please, no concerned phone calls or emails. I’m really okay.
     Four and a half years ago, in the height of the mortgage industry collapse, I lost my home. It wasn’t fancy but it was exactly the home I wanted. Large enough for me and Morgan, acreage, a large garage / workshop for my hobbies. A big garden like my uncle Franny has, a country setting 20 minutes from town. It was what I’d always wanted. We had two Springer Spaniels, and a cat, and Morgan had a pony. It was the only thing since my divorce that brought me some real happiness and a sense of achievement.
     In my second book, “Nowhere to Lay My Head”…I answered the question “What is a Home?” in this way.
               “Have you ever been on a vacation or an extended business trip and been away from your home for a long time? Do you remember that feeling when you walked through the front door after a long absence? The feeling that your home actually greets you somehow. 
       Later, when you turn down the sheets on your own bed and climb in and bury yourself beneath your covers, and smell the signature smell of your pillow, you know you are truly home. I lost that emotional connection when I lost my home to the mortgage meltdown. 
       It wasn’t an investment gone awry. It was my home. It was a safe haven for my daughter and me.  It was where I could find my way around in the dark because I knew it so well.  
       It was where my heart could pull into a safe harbor and anchor until the hurricane passed. That is what I lost. …and that is what I hope to convey.”

I opened that book with that statement, and I am referring to it today because I am thinking about those days again. I lost that house on January 27, 2007. I had lived there almost four years. It was my safe place. It was where I could go to escape from the pressures of the world…and the memories of a broken marriage and the failed dreams that come with that. It was were I was rebuilding my life again. It was where I could hear the click of the latch when I walked in at night and the sound somehow meant the wolves had to stay on the other side of the door…at least for the night. I could sink down into my favorite chair, turn on the TV or read a book…or write one. I could tend my garden or tend the horse or photograph deer and turkey or go for a walk in my woods. It had nooks and crannies I could find in the dark. My kitchen smelled like my grandmothers “red gravy” and my clothes smelled like fresh air…because I am probably the only 6’ 4” 250lbs former college hockey player who likes to hang out his laundry.
It was my one special place in Tennessee. I have special places back home…Battery Park, The Vet, CBP, Beaver Valley, Ocean City MD, The Chesapeake…but in Tennessee, after (at that point) 10 years of residence…this home was my only “special place”. That was enough for me. I loved my workshop, where I made furniture or tuned up my car.  I loved those two Springers dearly.  I loved Giacomo…the cat that convinced me that cats were cool. I loved having Morgan there on alternate weekends and making popcorn on Friday nights and watching Cartoon Network, strawberry pancakes on Saturday mornings, and Nonna’s gravy on Sundays. The only time I didn’t love that house was Sunday night when I came back after dropping her off at her mom’s.
I loved spending two hours cutting the grass on my riding mower. I loved doing repairs and remodeling. I loved that garden. I think I’m a little like Uncle Franny in that way. Mostly…I just loved having a real home. A place where I was safe and could be myself.
That was gone on January 27, 2007.
In the four years that have come and gone, I rented for one year and then when my former company reduced their branches and I got closed down, I couldn’t renew the lease and I was homeless. That was May 2008. In the 3 and a half years since then…40 months…I have slept in my car about 20 of them. It’s more humiliating than I can express to you. It’s a wounding thing and it takes your pride and your self esteem. You pretty much have to lie about it to avoid the embarrassment.
It’s fair to ask “Where were your friends?” Well, it’s like this. (A) You’d have to tell me how you define friendship for me to answer that. As I define it, I don’t have that many here. I won’t even attempt to explore that. But it’s not strictly because people are unfriendly. (B) I had offers from people to “crash on the couch” but the problem is, everyone will tell you “You stay as long as you need to” but the economy being what it is, and jobs being impossible to find for so long…that can be a very long time.  I knew I wouldn’t want someone crashing on my couch for months on end…so I politely refused the few offers I did get. If it was dangerously cold I would do it for a day or two. But mostly I just did what I had to do to get through it alone. I’m not going to be delving into this any further because this post isn’t about any of that. But I wanted to set the stage…
     I returned to the carpentry business recently. It was out of necessity but I am very happy that I did. I love the craft. I am happy in a job where I can create and then see the finished product. I have been staying with a friend so I haven’t been truly “homeless”…not in the conventional sense. I am going apartment shopping this week. It’s not my house and five acres in the country…but it’s going to be home for the first time in four years. And that’s the real topic today…
Jesus said “Birds have nests, foxes have dens…but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head”. (Luke 8:9) That’s where I took the title for my second book from. I remember when I was first homeless and sleeping in the car…it hit me that Jesus was homeless too. Only He had chosen this lifestyle. His Father’s plan was for Him to be a wanderer and a vagabond. He was really homeless.
Go back and re-read my description of homelessness and then picture, (if you can) the Son of God living like that. Sleeping in a fishing boat shivering in the night, wrapped in stinky fishing nets to try to stay warm. Sleeping where he could, eating what He could, bathing when he could. That was God.
I don’t like to be where I am staying, except when I go to bed. I’m just weird that way…I feel like a guest and I don’t like that feeling. So I am up at 5AM, I go to the rec center to workout and shower, I go to Fedex office to do my homework and then I am on the jobsite by 8. I work until dark, go to the rec center to shower again (sawdust is irritating…but manly) and do homework until about 10PM. On rainy days…when I used to be sitting in my living room reading or writing or watching TV or even taking a nap…I drive around, looking for a place to go to kill time. I get homework done, but what I really want is to put my feet up, make a cup of coffee in MY kitchen, watch MY TV or do whatever. I want a safe haven. And I don’t have one.
Neither did Jesus. In his 3 and a half years of ministry, he had no place to call home. The verse I quoted translates “The Son of Man has no place to take His rest”. That’s what a home is. A place to rest. To recharge. To repair your broken dreams or celebrate your victories. A place to hear the snap of the latch and know in your heart you are safe for the night…the problems of the day can’t come inside. Home is the smell of your pillow on your bed. I haven’t slept in my own bed in four years. I don’t even own one anymore. I moved into my dorm at age 20, into my own apartment at 23 and never lived at home again, except for one 6 week period. In 25 years of owning my own beds, I never thought about it once. Now I think about it all the time. I was in Sam’s club about 3 months ago and they had mattresses on display right up front. Normally they are off to the side, but they were running a sale and they were moved to the front of the store. I was walking around just absorbing the air conditioning on a hot afternoon and I came across those mattresses and in a split second I had hot tears burning in my eyes. I was in tears before I even understood why. Then it hit me…mattresses. I want to sleep in my own bed again.
Maybe it’s knowing that I am almost in a place of my own again…I don’t know. Maybe it’s the feeling that some of this horrible nightmare of the last four years is finally ending, that makes it safe to touch the things I’ve buried in my heart since it began. But the past few weeks…maybe the past few months…have been overwhelming. I’ve felt all the losses I had been denying or ignoring. I drove past my old house a few weeks ago. I had to pull over and cry. That was my home. I don’t have one anymore. I haven’t had a kitchen in 4 years. (It’s one thing to rent a room and have “kitchen privileges” but it’s another to be a gourmet cook and have them. It’s like owning a boat and having “bathtub privileges” you can take a bath but you cant put your boat in there) I haven’t had a refrigerator or that Bunn coffeemaker I keep in storage. I haven’t seen those dogs since August of 2008 when I gave them up along with the cat. And I haven’t tucked Morgan into a bed in my house since then either. I feel so lost without a home base. It has made me miserable and grouchy and sometimes even vicious. If you got caught in that grinder I apologize. If you are one of those who would try to spiritualize the way I handled my suffering, and told me I was doing it wrong…I have words for you that I can’t print here.
Now that I’ve painted this picture for you, let’s return to the unbelievable, incredible, unfathomable fact that Jesus chose to live as I have lived. And while I spent four years trying to find my way out…He purposefully remained there. He lived this lonely, isolating, tiring life. Make no mistake…there is no rest when you are homeless. There is truly nowhere to lay your head. You drift and wander and it is tiring, because you can’t stop moving. Jesus lived like that. Jesus…God in the flesh…roamed and wandered and survived. When he needed friends, they mostly failed him. When he needed solace and solitude, He was hemmed in by the crowd most of the time. When He needed sleep, He collapsed in the bow of a boat and was so tired he slept through a turbulent storm that had his disciples…all experienced fisherman…scared out of their wits. He was often hungry…often dirty…probably smelly from time to time…and He was restless. He had no “favorite place” No comfortable chair to sink into at the end of a tiring day. No favorite glass for his iced tea or mug for his coffee. He couldn’t get up in the night and get some food from the refrigerator. He couldn’t stay inside on a rainy day and think and rest and recharge. He had to roam and wander and keep moving…because He had no home.
Before the more spiritual amongst you reminds me “He had a home in heaven…” I will tell you that is true…but Jesus was a man as much as he was God. And the man Jesus needed a home like we all do. That’s why he referenced his homelessness to that rich young ruler. Brennan Manning calls this “The loneliest verse in the Bible”, and it is.  Jesus did this so we would understand that He understands. I have been overwhelmed lately…and I mean overwhelmed, swept away in a tsunami it seems…of hurt and grief for all that I lost four years ago. Maybe God permitted me to be tough and hard about it until now, just so I’d survive it. Maybe He let me “go into shock” and have huge sections of my heart go numb, so I could get all the way through it. This summer…when a job finally emerged after 3 years and then when it became a reality that I will graduate college in May, and now that I will be able to get my own place again…the scab came off and the wound reopened. I have lost four precious years of overnight stays with Morgan…years I can’t get back. I have shivered in the dark more nights than I can remember. I have lied about where I was living to avoid my embarrassment, in those days before I even had a room to sleep in. My heart has aged more than my 48 years. I have seen a lot and I am tired. Thankfully I will have somewhere to rest very soon. But Jesus…the very Son of God…never did in all his days on earth. He died a homeless man and was raised a homeless Savior. He ascended to His rightful home in Heaven, but here…he had none. He was a man of no reputation, and He chose this life for me…and you. If you fear Him, or you are threatened by some misconception of His posture or his personality…remember He was a homeless vagabond who found no rest at all while he lived in this world. So he understands that so many of us are just like that…even if we do have a place to live. He understands the pain we feel and the sorrows that go along with living on earth. And when those hurts of humanity ganged up on Him and he would have liked to have gone inside and shut the door and propped his feet up and relaxed for an afternoon, He never once had that option. He slept out in the open, or in the Temple courtyard or in the olive grove. He knew how people could disappoint each other and hurt each other and at the end of a long day, when you and I would be going home to leave it all behind until tomorrow…He had no place to do that. He had nowhere to lay His head. And He did this on purpose. The next time you are wary of His presence, remember he endured this humbling, crushing, lonely life of ours to a degree many of us never will…and he did it just so we would understand, that He understands. Come as you are…to the man of no reputation.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Braces, First Kisses, Pretty Daughters...and why it is God loves us so much

This morning I took Morgan to get her braces checked. She had hoped she was getting them off today, but that was not to be. About 3 more months and then she'll be finished. She was really sad that they weren't coming off today...until they showed her the pictures from when we first began this whole process 4 years ago. Dr. Joel Cooper is a genius!
It seems like with my life the way it has been, the only real time I get with her anymore is when I take her to the orthodontist or to school. I have missed time with her over these past 3 years living from place to place. Now that I am settling in again here in Nashville, things will be normal soon...but three years is a lot of time lost.
Last week, taking her to school, we talked about how she is doing right now. I asked her about school and her friends and her little brother...you know, small talk. Then I asked her about boys in her class. Was she interested in any of them...did she have a boyfriend? She let out a resigned "No" and then she said "The boys my age are stupid anyway". "Good" I thought..."That will change soon enough but one less day of boy-craziness is fine with me. " I said "Honey don't worry about it...you are so much more mature than them right now...you're 13...there's plenty of time for that stuff" Then she looked at me and said just a little plaintively "But I haven't even had my first kiss yet." I was ready to alternately shout for joy and break down in tears. I was happy to hear that, but sad because of the pressure she must be under and the importance in this culture of the first kiss. I instantly realized this was a critical daddy-moment and I uttered a silent prayer for a wise response. "It will come in time Honey...you don't kiss someone just to kiss them" was my attempt at wisdom. She said "But all my friends have already had their first kiss" I wanted to cry. Not because the thoughts of my little girl kissing a boy was sad...even though it is...but because my daughter is living the very struggles I read about each day on the Internet or in the newspaper. How this world pressures kids into becoming adults way too soon.
Something in the way she said "But I haven't even had my first kiss..." just broke my heart. My little girl is at that stage where a lot of things are painful and awkward. She is a beautiful girl who doesn't see herself that way. She doesn't see herself as ugly...daddy has made that impossible...but she wrestles with the doubts that young women this age do. She often tends to be so determined not to go along with the norms for beauty and femininity that she goes 180 degrees the other way. She dresses very different from the "girly girls" in her school. She is artsy and a tremendous singer and artist. She is beautiful but she is afraid to accept it in case she is wrong about her beauty. It's a hard time for her and a hard time for a kid to be coming of age. I hate the messages this world sends. Messages from vapid synthetic stars like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift and pick-a-Kardashian. I wish there were some approachable, visible, young women who truly lived from a biblical world view but were still "cool". Mostly I wish my daughter wasn't caught in this teenage time period when she is so unsure of herself. I wish I could just sweep her up into my arms and hug her tightly until she was about 20, and ready to face this nonsensical world. I wish I could absorb the blows this world hands out to 13 year old young women. I wish I could make her be 4 years old again.
I love my daughter...anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes with me knows this. But I love her a little more and I linger in our hugs and I kiss her forehead more when she is hurting. When she needs me the most is when I respond in love the most. Isn't that like God?
A friend of mine recently watched as God granted a wonderful dream come true. At a time when she yearned for hope and healing and life..God backed up the dump truck and did what God can do...He poured out His love in an unmistakable way. There was simply NO way my friend could look at what God did...at the timing, the perfection, the path it took to happen...and not say "This was God".  My friend wrestled with God's love and her (and all of our) worthiness of that love. How can God love us as He says He does when we do the things we do? God decided to answer with an exclamation point..." I don't love you because you deserve my love...I love you because you never COULD deserve my love" God loves us a dad loves his children. He especially loves us when we are broken and far from Him. When we awaken in the pig pen and look at our ragged clothing and smell the pig poop on our skin and decide we have fallen so far that even our daddy won't want us now. We are convinced He could never forgive, never heal, never restore...only to discover that this is when He loves us the most. When we need His love so desperately but are so convinced He could never love us again...we find out he never stopped!
When my daughter is confused and sad and full of doubts and fears...that's when I want to be the best dad I can be. It's not a time for ignoring her or being harsh. That's how God is too. When we are afraid...he answers our fear with His awesome love...because "perfect love throws out all fear". 
I don't know where we got this misshapen idea that God only loves us when we don't need Him to. Or that we have to clean ourselves up before he will love us. Or that His love is mercurial and capricious...on one minute, off the next. The truth is that God loves us like a real daddy...without regard to the dirt on our shoes or the sweat on our forehead or the snot running from our nose. He only longs to hold us in His arms, and let us grow quiet until he can hear our heartbeat next to His...
When we come crawling to Him because we are in pain, because our job is gone, or our home is gone, or our spouse just left us. When we are worried because life hasn't graced us with our first kiss yet and we are starting to wonder whether we are as good as all the others who seem to be making out in the hallways while we pass them on our way to choir...God pounces on us. He runs to us...the great hound of heaven...and smothers us with love. He loves us as we are, because we are as we are. My failures don't define me...they are the reason God loves me as much as he does.
I'll close with a wonderful story from "The Ragamuffin Gospel" that Brennan Manning quoted. It is a story written in first person by a neurosurgeon who had just operated on a beautiful young woman, removing a tumor from her face...
     "I am standing with the young husband who is impatient as I gently unwrap the heavy gauze bandages from the face and head of his beautiful young wife. He is almost jittery. It has been two weeks since he has seen the whole of her face and he is almost like a groom on his honeymoon. He holds her hand to reassure her. Just two weeks ago she had come to me to remove a tumor on the left side of her face, that threatened her eyesight. The operation was a success and the tumor was benign. I unwrap the final strands of bandage and hold a mirror to her face for the young woman to see. She reaches her hand gently to her face and sees the tiny, almost imperceptible scar. The I watch as her eyes fall sullen and grow moist. Fear spreads across her face as she sees her lips as they sag on one side of her mouth. Her smile is twisted into a clownish pose with one side perfect as before and the other drooping and fallen. She clears her throat and looks at me..."Will it always be like this?" she asks  "Yes..." I begin..."You see I had to clip the nerve when I was removing the tumor and it was a delica..." My voice trailed off because what happened next was beyond words. Her young husband leaned over and took his wife's pretty face in his hands, he smiled and said "I like it...I think it's kind of cute"  then he bent in close and shaped his mouth to fit her twisted clown-lips...and he kissed her deeply.  In that kiss he restored her beauty and told her "see...your kiss still works, and I still like kissing you"
That is what God does for us. He takes off the bandages we have wrapped ourselves in to hide our faults, looks at us, decides He likes us, and then He kisses us squarely on the lips. He does this with a song, or a perfect day on the beach or an unmistakable moment with our children...or in the form of a lost love that returns after half a lifetime and brings with it more happiness than either person dreamed still existed. That is how God responds when we feel like the unlovable, unkissable, awkward kid in the schoolroom. That is how much He loves us. Not because we are perfect and beautiful...but because we are so broken and we need the love of a dad.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Birthday Thoughts, Rich Mullins, Calling Stars by Name...

*Today is my birthday. In four and a half years of blogging I have never written about my birthday until now. I debated writing this because it's personal and it could easily be interpreted as whining or sour grapes, although neither is actually true.  I decided to go ahead and write this entry because I know from conversations, from speaking engagements I've had, (especially when I've spoken to kids) and from countless e-mails I've received, that this is something that touches the hearts of a lot of people. A lot of people. So when you read this, keep in mind that I have learned this lesson, but that many folks desperately need it.* --Craig

Hey Everyone...
Today is my birthday. I received over 100 birthday greetings today on various social media and I want to say thanks to everyone who let me know that they care. It was more appreciated than you know.
I haven't always enjoyed my birthday. In fact for a lot of years I have purposefully ignored it. But this year it's different. I think I need to tell the story behind the difference.
The story doesn't begin with my birth...although ultimately it does I suppose. It begins, in fact, with the birth of someone else. Two people to be exact. You'll need some background...
In January of 1992 I started attending Praise Assembly in Newark Delaware. I had attended only one other church for most of my life until that point. I instantly fell in love with Pastor Paul Walters, whom I consider my "spiritual Daddy" and with the people and attitude that his leadership fostered there.
I was also pleasantly surprised to run into not a small umber of old friends from years before. Amongst those friends was Pam Owensby and her husband Fulton.
I had met Pam and her sister in the 1980 when we had all attended Summit Lake Camp with our various youth groups. Pam was a genuinely sweet and absolutely breathtaking beautiful girl who had become a sweet and breathtaking beautiful woman by the we reconnected years later.
I had been attending this church for maybe only three weeks when the beginnings of life-change for both Pam and Fully...and ultimately for me as well...commenced.
One particular Sunday morning, We had an altar service, as pastor Walters frequently did, and Pam was kneeling and was surrounded by several women of the church, praying fervently. I stood in the back and for whatever reason, I was drawn to watch Pam and the other women in prayer. Pam was visibly emotional. I watched for a few moments and suddenly, just as sure as I can hear my own voice, I heard the distinctive voice of God internally. "Tell Pam to get ready to have a baby!" was the very clear command. To be honest, it scared me...terribly. I was raised in an ultra-conservative Baptist church who kept the Holy Spirit on a very short leash and things like this were never "of God". God's one and only means of revelation was the Bible. If it wasn't written between the leather covers of a King James Bible, God had nothing to do with it.
That line of reason was still firmly entrenched in my mind when I heard that voice. So I did nothing. I said nothing to Pam and Fully and kept this to myself, doubting the authenticity of this word from God.
Three weeks later, we were sitting in the auditorium for the annual Valentines Dinner the church always held. The folks my age all managed to congregate at one large table. I was sitting there during dinner, cracking jokes and enjoying my new friends and the friends I'd rediscovered. After dinner as we sat and chatted, I was holding Nathan, the then-one-year-old son of Heather and Dwight Walters, the pastors' son and daughter in law. Nathan was laughing and I was in my wheelhouse. I was a natural with kids long before I became a dad. At some point, Heather said "You need to have children Craig" to which I laughingly responded "I know...I decided that if I don't get married by age 30 I am going to adopt...so I have a year!"  Thinking I was serious, Pam looked at me and said "Fully and I have been thinking of adopting too. have you checked into it?"  I instantly remembered the voice I'd heard and the message I was supposed to have given Pam three weeks prior. Wanting to be sure, I asked "How come you're adopting, Pam?" She smiled a bit painfully and told me "We've been trying for almost 7 years now and we can't get pregnant. The doctors can't figure it out...everything comes back okay, but it's just not happening. We really want a family."
Now, I am a notoriously emotional man, but usually I don't cry in front of a table full of friends as I try to explain that I heard from God. But I could not fight the tears as I told Pam; "Pam I am so sorry...three weeks ago I absolutely heard from God and I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know you guys were trying to have children and it never occurred to me to ask." I swallowed hard and spilled out the message I was supposed to tell her before... "Three weeks ago God told me 'Go tell Pam to get ready to have a baby'. To be honest Pam, it scared me so much I thought I was hearing things and kept it to myself. But now I understand. So...Pam, God says get ready to have a baby!
One Friday night about two months later, we were sitting in the dugout at our church softball team's game. Pam was not in the stands and that was unusual because she never missed. Fully pitched or played third base and was a centerpiece of our very good team. She showed up around the 3rd inning, walked to the fence and whispered something in Fully's ear. He broke out in a huge smile and then told the rest of us...Pam was pregnant. We whooped and hollered and shouted and smiled. They were our friends and they wanted this so very badly. I was coaching first base at the time, waiting for my turn at bat. I watched the whole thing from 30 feet away and had to hide my tears. God had permitted me a tiny role as a messenger of hope to these two dear friends of mine and I was watching the last scene of the play He had begun a few months earlier.
The entire church had already heard the news by Sunday morning and we were all celebrating. Pam and Fully are so well loved by those folks, and we all knew what this meant to them. There had been so many people praying for this miracle and finally it was here. We were all collectively celebrating with them.
The months that ensued were very eventful and not without worry and fear. Pam had a difficult pregnancy and so prayers for conception quickly became earnest prayers for safety, blessing, and the completion of the promise. The worry was punctuated by even more great news...twins! Pam was going to have a boy and a girl. God had truly blessed them back for their faithfulness.
All that summer and into fall and winter we prayed, worried, hoped, and thanked God for each continuing good report. And then on January 18th 1993,  we all let out our collective breath when Kelsey and Ryan arrived...a little early but arrived they did.
Our happiness was immediately tempered with concern as the twins had to remain in the hospital long after their arrival. We prayed for their health just as we had prayed for their safe arrival and for their conception before that. Good news kept coming and finally the word passed...the twins were going home!
This is where it really becomes personal...
Some time that spring...I want to say it was in May...the day came for Kelsey and Ryan's baby dedication. It was a truly beautiful, sunny warm Sunday morning. Both grandparents and families were there. The twins were simply beautiful as was Pam. Fully was proud and beaming. It was a wonderful sight.
Dear, sweet pastor Paul Walters called them to the stage and the families stood there with those two beautiful babies and it was a scene of victory and celebration. We had all prayed these two children into this world, it seemed. This was the most special baby dedication I ever saw. It felt like the children had about 400 additional family members that day.
Pastor Walters said some wonderful words about parenthood and blessings from God. His voice broke frequently as he recounted all that these children encompassed. Then he invited the church...anyone who wanted...to join them at the altar and pray a dedication over Kelsey and Ryan. About half the church responded, probably 200 folks praying, extending their hands towards the family and pronouncing a blessing of their own. People wept, they sang, they celebrated. Kelsey and Ryan were here at last and safe in our arms.
I sat in the back watching and taking it all in. I wept too, but my tears turned from celebration to sadness. I walked to the very back of the church and stood next to the audio booth where my friend D.J. was manning the controls. I watched people finding happiness because of the arrival of two babies. I saw a mom and dad who had been married for 7 years and all they really wanted was right there in their arms. I saw grandparents beaming with pride and a church weeping for joy.
Right there I asked God the questions that had been screaming in my heart for years. "God.." I began, "Was anyone happy when I arrived?" "Was my birth a good thing to anybody at all?" On September 7, 1963 I arrived to a single mother who had only turned 20 that spring. My dad had recently arrived in Vietnam as a member of the 101st. He was fighting for his own life as I was beginning mine and my mother was doubtless wondering what would become of hers. Kelsey and Ryan went from the hospital to a beautiful home that had been awaiting their arrival for years. I went home to my grandparents house. To a grandmother who had been damaged by life but who held to her faith, despite her quirks and idiosyncrasies, and a grandfather who was more chained to his vices than any man I will ever know. His demons caused him immense pain and he had crawled inside a bottle many years before. he was a sad and tragic man.
I wondered to God who might have been anticipating my birth. I didn't have a dad who was eager to teach me a curve ball or buy me my first Eagles helmet. I didn't come home to a freshly painted nursery, and a roomful of stuffed animals. I arrived to whispers and hushed accusation. I wasn't a long awaited bundle of joy, I was an interruption.  Instead of having great plans for his newborn son, my father was trying to stay alive and get back to college and finish the plans he had dreamed of since he was a boy.
That morning as the twins were dedicated and celebrated, I felt as if I were a study in contrast. Whatever they were...I was not. Whatever longing and desire they represented, I represented shame and secrecy and the scarlet letter of a mistake that you pay for forever. That's what was raging in my heart as I watched my dear friends dedicate themselves to doing whatever it took to raise these two sweet gifts of God to adulthood...and they took this vow before God that morning.
I asked God again..."Who was excited about my arrival God? Who celebrated? Who anticipated?" By now I was weeping and I had to sit down in the back row because I was far too visible for me to be comfortable.  "God...is there a plan for me? Is there a reason for this life of mine?" I asked plaintively.
       As God often does...his answer was surprising in it's simplicity. It came in the form of a song. Instantly, as the tears were still burning hot in my eyes, I heard a line from a Rich Mullins song. The song is "Sometimes by Step" and the line says: "Sometimes I think of Abraham...how one star he saw had been lit for me." Without hesitation, I heard the words of Psalm 147:4 echoing in my soul; "I number the stars, and call them each by name" I had always wondered what that verse meant. Numbering them I understood...but naming them? Why would God name stars? In one split second He connected those two elements...that song and that verse. They merged at Genesis 15:5: "Look up at the heavens and count the stars--if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."  There it was. From zoom to pan in one moment God showed me the specific promise to give Abraham a child for each star in the sky...and those children...each one of them...was a personal fulfillment of the promise He made with Abraham. Each one was part of a detailed plan...a plan so detailed that God already knew my name as He placed my star in the sky while He was creating the world. A plan that promises to bless me and that I am the central figure of. A promise whose fulfillment is embodied in me.
I was weeping again but for joy. I was part of a great plan and I was important to it's continued fulfillment. Then I heard God in an unmistakable voice..."Son...I couldn't wait for you to arrive. I couldn't wait for you to be born, and I celebrated your birth. "I danced over you while you were unaware" and I still do. I know exactly which star is yours and I know it's name. It's not "Craig"...it's that secret name that only I know. The name I have written on a white stone that I will give you one day when I see you face to face." I couldn't wait for you to get here. I am your Daddy, and I have loved you from the moment I placed your star in the sky."
In the 18 years since this truth first burst into my soul I have learned to accept it slowly. It hasn't been easy letting go of the desire to know a dad who doesn't hold that same desire for me. As I held to that dream and goal of establishing a relationship with my earthly father, I continued to stiff-arm my heavenly Father. This summer I finally let go. I have a great dad...he is the God of heaven and he has never spent a moment where He didn't love me...and you...fantastically.
I know this is intensely personal...I also know there are a lot of folks who needed to hear this.
Please listen to me...you have a star in the sky...it is there to mark the promise God made. A promise that you are the fulfillment of. You matter...you are at the center of the very God of the universe. Abraham went out to the mountain that night and "one star he saw had been lit for me..." and for you! He has a wonderful plan. You are at it's very heart! Never again feel unwanted or unplanned..because you were never that! God paced the halls of heaven until he heard your first cry. He danced and sang over you while you took your first breaths. He began the detailed moves that put His plan in place. he did this for you. You are a promise! He sent his son to die for the love of you! You are not alone.
Your birthday was happy indeed!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Last Innocent Age...The inevitable and the unbelievable.

I debated whether to write about this. Some things are beyond words and this might very well be. But it's part of the heart and soul behind writing the "Last Innocent Age", I guess. Looking back not only to the great times of childhood but to the people...especially to the people...who made them so great.
Tuesday I found out we lost one of those very special people.
I found out on Tuesday that one of our original "Monroe Avenue gang" had died. Sheila was in the younger group of us kids on the block. She was a couple of years younger than me. Her brother Kevin was amongst my very best friends from the day I moved to Monroe Avenue. Her older brother Billy and Frankie were an integral part of my life back then too, as was her sister. Her mom is one of the funniest, goofiest, nicest people in the world. Heck I even knew her grandmother. That's how close we were on that street.
Sheila was the nearly non-stop companion of Monica and Dawn when we were growing up. They were about the same age, and had most of the same interests. I remember in particular, when the three girls had discovered Peter Zezel when he came up as a rookie with the Flyers. (As did every other girl in the Delaware Valley...nobody made them swoon like Pete) When they discovered that Peter and I had become friends, through a hockey clinic, they called me unashamedly asking me to introduce them. They came to the rink at U of D and after the night's session we got together with Peter and I introduced them. Pete was his usual gregarious self and gave the girls 20 minutes or so of his undivided attention. It was great fun watching them interact with this guy they all adored.
Sheila was an irreplaceable part of my childhood. She is interwoven like a thread in a piece of fabric. I couldn't come up with a memory from Monroe Avenue that didn't somehow involve her directly or indirectly...just like everyone else on that street.
I guess I could go off on a path of  "Well it's time to start thinking about this...at a certain age your friends start to die..." That's true, but that does Sheila's memory no justice. I prefer to think of how you just never know...as you live your life every day and you become what you hope to become and you start a family and you build a life. You never know, fully, what people mean to you until they leave and you feel the vacuum. You never look at your friends and imagine them gone. Nobody does that unless they are forced to. Maybe we should. Maybe life would be sweeter if we occasionally imagined an obituary for a dear friend before we actually read it. I suppose it would, but we seldom do that and it's a bit morbid.
No, we just tend to live our lives and keep our words inside. Not because we don't want to say them, but because we always think we'll have an opportunity. "I really need to catch up with ..." sadly becomes "I wish I had called...".  I remember watching Earl Campbell's acceptance speech when he won the Heismann and being moved by it. I was maybe 12 or 13 but I thought his tribute to his mother was stunning. He quoted an old Wilburn brothers song "Give them the Roses While They Live"
"Wonderful things of folks are said
When they have passed away
Roses adorn the narrow bed
Over the sleeping clay
Give me the roses while I live
Trying to cheer me on
Useless are flowers that you give
After the soul is gone"
I probably could have stopped for a chat on one of my trips home. I could have gotten an address and sent a Christmas card. But I didn't.  Sheila and I were on great terms when I moved away so I have no regrets that way. But we never think something like this will happen and so we don't take the few extra minutes to tell someone how much they mattered...and still matter...to us. We just live each day and then each day adds up into years and we fall out of touch. It's how we are and it's a shame. Then when something tragic like this happens we are left trying to put the shattered pieces of our hearts back together again, and cutting ourselves with the jagged shards. Because losing a friend hurts.
So...Monk, Tommy, Donna, Johnny, Kevin, Rich, (and you too Debbie;) ) Billy, Frankie, Misty Amber and Jimmy...I love you guys. You were all the very best thing about growing up on Monroe Avenue and you were what made my childhood happy. You probably made it livable. I hope that we never forget each other, and we never forget the way we have touched each others souls.
We miss you already Sheila!  (But now you're hanging out with Elvis...so you have that going for you!)