Friday, April 29, 2011

#13 Seconds

Tom Glover
     Over Easter weekend we drove 1000 miles in a rental truck. We were helping to clean out my cousin's houses, shop, studio, and barns in New Mexico after his death and brought home some of the things we found there. Two weeks ago we had been there as well, driving 735 miles after attending his memorial gathering in Amarillo and beginning the clean-up in New Mexico.
     I had been going back and forth to New Mexico for over a year to be with Tom through various stages of his cancer treatment, usually staying for a week at a time. When I left Tom the last time, he was in Hospice Care, and I knew I was saying my last goodbye to him. He had been struggling with esophageal cancer for over a year and was losing the battle. Although Tom claimed to have no use for God, I tried to tell him about the Lord and the healing and peace that he could find with Him. Tom allowed me to pray for him, and I asked God to reveal Himself to my cousin. I am hoping that He did.
My last visit with cousin Tom

     Tom  was one of only two cousins on my dad's side, and I considered him the stable, reliable one. I later learned that I was mistaken in that judgment. Our fathers were both alcoholics, and both their marriages ended in divorce. My father became a believer later in life, and his relationship with the Lord changed him profoundly. I don't think my uncle ever came to believe.
     There was always animosity and jealousy between the two brothers. The older was rumored to have been the son of another man. Even though he was first-born, he was jealous of my father, and he passed those feelings of being "second" on to his sons who later became jealous of me. I learned during my cousin's illness that he thought I had been preferentially treated by my grandparents and mistakenly believed that I had received financial support from them. I thank God for the time I spent with Tom because it was a time of healing in our relationship with each other, even if Tom did not receive healing in his body.
     My grandfather, a county attorney, was stable and dependable, always a hard worker, and garnered respect from the community he served. He owned an abstract and title company, worked daily in the courthouse and in his offices, and kept a thriving farm as well. He and my grandmother had fine friends. His sons, however, brought him no pride as adults. Papa's great fault was that he was an enabler and wouldn't allow his sons to suffer the consequences of their choices. With misdirected loyalty, he would bail them out of jail and have charges against them dropped, thinking that he was saving them and the family from trouble and embarrassment. He also wanted to be reelected. Instead, Papa's enabling behavior allowed the sons to continue in their habits that damaged the lives of their wives, children, and themselves. .
     The two cousins grew up having relationship problems of their own. Ricky, the older of the two, also became an alcoholic, suffered a broken marriage, and had no children. He died a few years ago from complications of his alcoholism, and my cousin Tom was the one who took care of him and bailed him out of jail. Yet he frequently told one of his friends, "Have I told you today how much I hate my brother?" Ricky died an ignominious death, lying in the snow drunk--having fallen outside his RV home.
Brothers: Tom (left) and Ricky Glover
Tom, a holdover hippie and a loner, never married or had children. He moved to New Mexico after teaching college to get away from his family and pursue his love of pottery, but his family followed him. He had several girlfriends over the years and was fortunate to have had a girlfriend over the last ten years who truly cared about him. He also had a group of loyal friends whom he had known since his early school days.
Tom, the holdover hippie

     When I was a child, my parents shared joint custody; I spent half of every week with each parent. Because my father was so unstable, my grandparents were able to take over his parental rights and established a precedent in the Texas courts by doing so. One of my lawyer cousins told me he studied Glover vs Glover in his law school days.
     I'd like to go on record saying that I disapprove of equal and shared custody between divorced parents where the child spends equal time with each parent. From my own life and from my years as a practicing Psychiatrist, I know and have seen the instability that results in the life of the child that is so treated. She has no sense of which place is "home" and which place is the one she "visits". Rules from one household to the next are never the same. What is permitted at one "home" is forbidden in the other. One develops a  need for a sense of control in an environment where she has no say-so or ability to control the way her life is spent. The schism-ridden life causes deep wounds in the psyche of the child.
     From early years my chief memories are of riding away in a car, of standing on the porch saying goodbye to one parent or the other, and of longing for peace and predictability. When my parents spoke ill of each other, I just wanted them to stop. I was fiercely loyal to each parent, even when my alcoholic/addict father didn't deserve such loyalty. They went to court over child custody thirteen times as I was growing up. I didn't even know whether to call myself "Judy Glover" or "Judy Harmon!" I especially didn't want to be put in the position of "choosing" which parent to live with, even though I was reminded that I could make that choice when I got older. I hate going to court to this day because of those early memories. Judges' chambers were dark places where deals were made over a child that had no vote, in spite of that child having to answer questions about which parent she loves the most while feeling a sinking sickness in her stomach.
     I grew up having relationship problems of my own, and I am thankful to my God Who never gave up on me and brought healing and restoration to my life.
      But why did I title this blog entry "Seconds"?  I hope you will discover why as you read on.When we went to my cousin's memorial "gathering", I discovered that his friends had made a visit to his shop in New Mexico and had taken the rest of Tom's pottery. It was displayed in colorful array all over the house where the gathering was held. I was told that there were still some "seconds" left at Tom's house if I wanted any of his work.
Some of Tom's seconds

     As I looked at all the beautiful pots, vases, lamps, and platters, I realized I was having some of the same feelings I had experienced years ago when my grandmother, grandfather, father, and then uncle died. My grandmother had written out in meticulous detail how she wished her possessions to be distributed. She had beautiful antique furniture, china, and crystal, and I valued her treasures because they were hers. She entrusted her handwritten will to me, and I gave it to my grandfather when she died.
     However, my grandmother's wishes were never carried out. My grandfather died the same week my first son was born, and my uncle moved into his house. The two sons were made co-executors of Papa's estate, and they made unwise decisions regarding its settlement. When my dad died six months after my grandfather and my uncle six months after that, the estate was in a mess and had liens against it. I was then appointed executrix of both my father's and my grandfather's estates. However, there was little left except the farm, some cattle, and an old, shabby farmhouse stripped of its furnishings. The abstract and title company, my grandparents' house in town, and all the pretty furnishings were all gone. Even the farm house was ready to fall in on itself.
     When I walked forlornly around my grandparents' empty farmhouse, I picked up the leftovers-- pieces of the wallpaper from the kitchen, the board from the side of the doorway where Daddy had marked my height with the date as I grew up, an old tin canister with strawberries imprinted on the outside. These were "seconds"--the leavings after someone else had taken what he wanted. But, to me, the fragment of wallpaper still attached to the sheet-rock was precious; it reminded me of my grandmother. The piece of door frame with my dad's handwriting was priceless; it told me of a father who loved me and cared enough to measure my growth when I visited him. My grief was heavy and my sense of loss heart wrenching.
     When I got to my cousin's property this last month, I had some of the same feelings. People had already been there, and the choice pottery was already gone. "Seconds" were left. We had artfully and lovingly cleaned and arranged the store last summer to display Tom's works, hoping he would be able to return to the occupation he loved as he regained strength. As a master potter, he had learned to produce beautiful reds from a firing process that used reduction instead of oxidation.  Tom even gave us some pottery lessons while we were there and later brought me the pot I "threw" after he had glazed and fired it.
Pottery lessons
Now the store has several plastic bags of old clothing piled in it, stacks of newspapers, and a few pieces of random rejected pottery scattered about. The lovely colored pottery pieces are gone, and what remains are those with muddy colors, with slubs of glaze puddling at the bottom, and some with misshapen bowls, blobs of clay in the wrong places, or cracks in the finish.
     I picked these up and examined each one. They were still beautiful to me. My cousin's hands had fashioned this handle, turned that bowl. He had picked up this mug after the firing and found it wanting--not worthy to be displayed or sold. The potter rejected these pots after they had been through the fire. Yet, because they bore my cousin's fingerprint, they were valuable to me.
     I had learned three years ago that my cousin had acquired some of my grandmother's things. He had brought my daughter a box of my grandmother's crystal as a wedding gift and had given me a hand-painted china lamp that had graced my grandparents' living room in my childhood.
      As I became closer to Tom in my adult life, our relationship became much more important to me than any "thing" that Tom could offer to me. I desired most of all that he would know God and develop a relationship with Jesus Christ and be able to forgive his father and brother and live in God's peace. Tom was able to love me and my family, but he rejected my attempts to introduce him to the Father.
     In the months leading up to his death, Tom gave me family photos and revealed that he had my grandmother's furniture and my dad's safe. He told me to take what I wanted of the china and crystal and instructed me as to where to find my grandmother's old love seat.  What I learned after my cousin's death was that is was he that had taken everything --even my grandmother's curio cabinet that had been given to me, even the cuff link box from my dad's bedside table, even the cigarette lighters from his pockets. I also learned from neighbors that Tom proclaimed himself to be an atheist and let it be known in the community that he had no use for Christians. When Christian campers were playing Christian music at an event at the campground across the road from Tom's place, he had put his speakers in his windows and cranked up Heavy Metal music to drown out the Christian music. He also had studied satanism and had a collection of horribly depraved pornographic magazines and videos. He proudly adopted the peace sign as his symbol and had literature among his papers explaining how the peace symbol was an anti-Christian symbol. He instructed that his ashes be laid out in a peace sign after his death. I learned that Tom had used marijuana and other hallucinogenic substances his entire adult life and had even grown marijuana in his storage rooms. We found a dishpan of marijuana leaves under his bed. He was not the strong, reliable cousin that I had thought him to be in my childhood. I was disappointed in him and saddened by his life choices, but I still loved him.
Tom Glover at work

     Tom actually considered himself to be "a good man." He told me of his love for animals and of his good deeds as fire chief over the years. He was proud to have written grants that resulted in the building of fire stations and training of firemen in the area. His works were displayed in galleries in both Santa Fe and Taos and had been accepted at the New Mexico State History Museum. Yet, this artist would not acknowledge  the Artist of his soul or realize that it is not our goodness that matters in this life. 

"All of us have become like one who is unclean,
   and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
   and like the wind our sins sweep us away." Isaiah 64:6 (NIV)

     After thirty-five years I was able to retrieve some of my grandmother's furniture from the various sheds and barns where they had sat; they were covered in dust and spider webs and littered with rat droppings, but they were precious to me. I found in Tom's house my dad's green roll-top cigarette box, and it shouted memories at me --it had held random fishing sinkers, change, tie-tacks, and paraphernalia from my dad's pockets. As a child I had enjoyed playing with these trinkets, and the box still held one of my dad's tie-clips. I was glad to find these long-lost items, but grieved to have lost my last family member on my dad's side.
     People had been there already but had not yet taken these things. They were seconds --not considered valuable to anyone but me. 
     As I stood in the midst of the clutter and looked at Tom's things, a realization dawned on me: We are all "seconds"! Every one of us is flawed-- a product of the Fall. We have a sin nature, and we read,
 "There is no one righteous, not even one." Romans 3:10 (NIV)  But, God, in His mercy, provided a way for us to be redeemed. He considered us valuable--precious enough to sacrifice His own Son to pay the price for our sin. 

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son , that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."John 3:16 (NIV)           
      My grandfather, if the rumors are true, had also redeemed a child. He had taken a boy not his own and reared him as his son, much like our Father adopts us as His own children. Papa had provided both of his sons an inheritance, just as we are given an inheritance by God. He had hoped that his sons would have a reputation worthy of their name, but they squandered their inheritance and abused his name. In fact, when my uncle was called by neighbors and told that my dad had not turned his lights off for several days and had not been seen, my uncle went with the sheriff to check on my dad and found him lying on his kitchen floor in his bathrobe moaning. My uncle had said, "Just leave him there. He's just drunk." My dad was found later in that same position dead. Oddly, six months later, my uncle was found dead in his kitchen, having choked on his own vomit while intoxicated.
"...walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light." Colossians 1:10-12 (NASB)

     As I reflect on the lives of these men who are now gone, I think about the two sons of Adam, Cain and Abel. Cain was the first born, a farmer, and Abel was second and a shepherd. Cain was not favored by his father and considered himself  "second."  Cain murdered his brother in his jealousy. The sheriff, after my dad's death, asked me if I wanted to file charges against my uncle for involuntary manslaughter. I declined. 
     I think also about how jealousy continued among brothers in the Bible. Joseph's brothers were so jealous of him that they sold him into slavery and told their father he was dead. Jacob was so jealous of Esau that he tricked Esau out of his birthright and deceived their father into giving him the blessing reserved for the first-born son. Yet, God provided for the salvation of Joseph's family through his slavery in Egypt. Joseph later said to his brothers,
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Genesis 50:20
     Jacob received a blessing from the Lord after his repentance and was reconciled to his brother. I grieve that my cousin did not accept such redemption from God or experience the freedom that forgiveness brings in this life. His was a life that ended without hope, without the promise of a life everlasting healed from all his diseases. His was a disease of the soul, not just of his body.

     As we drove away from my cousin's home in  the mountains, it was Easter morning. In churches all across the world people were celebrating our Lord's resurrection and His victory over death. Easter is our day of hope, and I was leaving pain and hopelessness behind me. I praise Him because my hope is not in possessions or in family or in worldly treasures, but in my Lord.
      Please watch this video for a song that speaks of our hope in Him:  

Our hope is in the Lord. (a view from the driveway of my cousin's property in New Mexico)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

#12 The Kingdom that Cannot Be Shaken

"My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall never be shaken.  Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall not be shaken. My salvation and my honour depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge."  Psalm 62

     Our world has been shaken. The people of Japan are still suffering from the consequences of the earthquake that triggered the tsunami that devastated their island just a few short weeks ago. Their land has physically moved geographically, and their coastline has changed. Some real estate no longer exists!

"Geophysicist Richard Gross of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, has estimated that the Japanese earthquake shortened the Earth's day by 1.8 microseconds. Gross also said that the axis of the Earth probably shifted about 6.5 inches, which affects  how it rotates, but not its position or movement in space ."(1)
      That earthquake did literally rock our world, and we learned of   
the terrible events that were transpiring as we were leaving the airport on our return from Italy. Strangely, we were already feeling a little off kilter ourselves after the events about which I wrote in my last blog and due to the jet lag. But, the end of our spring break trip did not not bring about an end to our season of tremors, any more than the tsunami signaled the end of troubles for the Japanese.
      Over the last month I have been feeling a little like I am living in a earthquake zone of my own-- not because I actually do, but because so many unusual things have been happening that are upsetting my world. My house is still standing, but the ground keeps shaking.
     I can't say when the tremors actually started because my life usually contains a fair amount of stress. But, somehow I am able to manage that stress and keep various aspects of my life in balance. Heck, I am supposed to be an expert in stress management! I helped research and write the original continuing education module, "Physician Stress and Burnout", that is taught to other physicians by the Texas Medical Association!
    But, knowing about stress and its consequences doesn't prevent it any more than studying about cancer guards one from getting it. The stressful events in our life have been enough to set off tremors that continue to rumble even today as I write.
     In my last post I wrote about the recent death of my cousin after his struggle with esophageal cancer, the difficult trip to Italy because of our daughter getting ill, and the sudden death of another cousin just a day before our trip. Since that post we have lost a dear uncle, whose funeral we attended yesterday, and another family member whose funeral was today. Those are a lot of losses in one month.
    The loss of Jason, whose funeral was today, is particularly poignant because he was the same age that my son Josh would have been had he lived--thirty-five. Additionally, Jason took his own life, just as my son did. I grieve for his father my cousin and for his son who struggled with depression. I know how his heart must ache.
     The anniversary of my own son's death is approaching, and it is usually a difficult day for me each year. I relive the events leading up to that day--what I said, what he said, what people did. I wonder if I could have said something different, could have prevented the outcome of that dreadful day, could have done something, anything to have kept Josh from taking his life. 
      But what could have been isn't what is. He is gone, and today another talented, brilliant young man has left this earth as well. A father and mother grieve, probably wondering the same things I did back then and do each year.
      Tomorrow I travel to the memorial service for the cousin who died last week. How I hope our life calms down after that for awhile, but there's no knowing that it will. There is no guarantee that my own house will keep standing or that my loved ones will behave in the way that I hope or expect.
      Scientists try to predict earthquakes, hurricanes, and the weather. They debate whether the earth is in a warming or a cooling cycle. But we don't live in a predictable world, no matter how much we try to deceive ourselves into believing that we do. We cannot control the seasons, the weather, the frequency of death hitting our families, or even our own schedules. Earthquakes happen; our world rocks. Change comes. God tells us that any created thing can be shaken, but that there is something that cannot be shaken:
" 22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
 25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”[e] 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”'Hebrews 12: 22-29

     These earthly events do shake us; they sift us like wheat, and the chaff is blown away. They also put us through the fire--the one that burns away the dross and purifies us. May we all give thanks to our ever-faithful Lord and worship the One Who is eternal and Who never changes--our God, our Rock, Whose kingdom is unshakable.

4" He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
   and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
   upright and just is he." Deuteronomy 32:4