Last weekend, just after I posted my entry here, I began work on a new one for this week; one which I intended to be on a lighter note since the last few were more somber in tone. However, Abba had other plans. He called our Uncle Jelly, Uncle J. in Dear Mom and Dad, home at last. So, I think some words about the man who was our idol, mentor and the person George most aspired to be like, are in order here.
His name was Claude, but if you inquired after Claude McGowen in Deaf Smith County, in the Texas Panhandle you might get a blank stare. However if you asked if Jelly was known, the answer was usually, “You bet.” The origin of the nickname has a couple of versions, but the one most heard was that when he was a small fry he was a chubby little guy and always wore colorful bib overalls that tended to make him look like a jellybean, and that’s what he was called for a while before it was abbreviated to Jelly.
George’s efforts to be like Uncle Jelly were all consuming. Uncle Jelly had majored in animal husbandry and earned his 2nd Luetinants bars in college. The only thing George didn’t aspire to was to be a football player. So when George enrolled at Colorado State University his major was Animal Production and ROTC his elective.
Uncle Jelly could always be counted on to encourage and give good advice. Admittedly his advice was not always taken, but it was always listened to because it was never delivered in an “I told you so,” or “if you’re smart” tone. The only harsh words he ever spoke to his nephew were the result of Georgie not paying attention to what he was supposed to be doing. At the end of the scolding, which had his nephew totally petrified, Uncle Jelly added, “And wipe that smirk off your face!” Smirk? Whatever the expression was on the outside, it was definitely not a smirk on the inside.
Uncle Jelly was a man who loved his life’s chosen work passionately. I don’t believe he ever regretted for a moment the path he’d taken. Yes, there must have been moments of frustration, of course, but when you were with him you couldn’t help but sense his love for what he did. There was always at least one experimental plot of something which a seed company had asked him to take on, or a new chemical application to be tried. What a different world it would be if everyone could find such pleasure and purpose in their lives.
When I think of moments which are dear to my heart and soul, the most treasured are sounds and smells that came from that Texas Panhandle farm. Sounds of the night, like the banging of the metal lids on the self-feeders in the hog lots, the occasional squeal of a pig or two, the sound of the diesel engines of the semi-trucks on the distant highway or the mournful sound of train whistles 2 miles away, the rhythm sound of the streams of milk in the milk buckets coming from udders of the dairy cows which Uncle Jelly milked by hand; sounds that are as fresh in memory as if it was yesterday. The recalled smells of the milking barn, the barnyard itself, the pig lot, the separator shed where the milk was separated each morning and night, the hay in the barn, the odors from the kitchen and the fresh smell of each new day at sunrise; these too are treasured memories.
Several years ago when I was writing about my memories of that one special month, it occurred to me that I’d never specifically told Uncle Jelly how much he meant to me, so I wrote him a letter and mailed it. I didn’t hear from him for some time after that so I finally called him and asked if he’d received it. He had. I must confess I was a little hurt that he said no more than that, but I felt the important thing was that I’d said it in a meaningful way.
He’s gone from our world now, but these memories of what he contributed to my life, are alive and fixed. The thought that arises from these memories of what Uncle Jelly did for me is this: Have I contributed to anyone else’s life, anything to compare to what he contributed to mine? I certainly hope that I have, but to be honest, I don’t really know and worse, I fear that I may not have.
Two weeks ago I wrote about the concept of thinking of God as the perfect father and the difficulty of that concept as a result of, well, me being human and having a human father who, since he was human was not perfect. What I shared then was a portion of my next book, “An Unlikely Faith” in which I deal with the process I’ve gone through in order to stop the automatic assumption that God will react to me the way Dad reacted to me and my foibles. What follows that in the book is the natural assumption that I had been making about my relationship with Christ and the way it was affected by another earthly relationship.
In Matthew 12:50 Christ said” Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” Mark in chapter 3:35 agrees as does Luke in 8:21. If I accept that premise, then I assume that in addition to being my savior Christ is my brother as well; a brother who suffered greatly for my inequities.
For as long as I could remember, I operated under a purely non-theological premise that one should always go straight to the decision maker with complaints and requests. I had never been satisfied with talking to an underling in any venue; I only dealt with the man. It was a habit which had served me well for many years in my work life. Maybe that was because Dad, in addition to being our Dad was the man to a lot of people even though he treated everyone who was hard working and honest as an equal and never looked down on any person. But, I began to feel a bit guilty for seeming to bypass the one who’d suffered so much on my behalf.
For some reason it seemed easier to relate to an unseen, untouched, figment of my imagination which had never really jelled in my mind, than to someone who had actually existed in flesh and blood. I know it doesn’t make sense but that’s just how my mind was working. On November 2, 2009 I wrote the following on Day 22, the first day in the third purpose for my life, in my Purpose Driven Life Journal:
“I live in constant fear of “assumption.” Do I assume too much? Do I make the wrong assumptions about Christ “likeness.” I have an easier time of assuming what God’s perfection is like … after all, He “is” God. What I have trouble with is, comprehending the person of Jesus … because he is both God and man. Man succumbs to temptation. It seems that knowing the right action, the right thought, the right passion is simple. It’s built in. But, resisting the temptations to follow the wrong course sometimes … no, many times clouds and hides the right course. Therein lies the heart of my problem.”
“How do I become so connected to God’s will that I become like Christ, because He was so connected to God’s will that it was impossible to sin. So I must approach and view Christ not like a brother, but like a big brother, who is already perfectly like God, ask him to teach, to show me, “How do you do that?” Ask God, “How do I become what you want me to be and do?”
And God answers: “Ask your brother. He will show you.” So I asked and Jesus said, “Do you really want to know little sister? Do you really want to know?” And I said “Yes! I really want to know.”
“Are you willing to do everything I tell you without question?”
“Yes, I am!”
“Are you sure?” (Karate Kid)”
That was the end of what I had written and below it in italics at the bottom of the page I had underlined this: “Jesus, I want to learn to think like you, speak like you, feel what you feel, and act the way you would act. Please use your words and your Spirit to make me like you.”
Then last Good Friday, I did what I’ve been doing ever since the release of The Passion of the Christ, I stopped what I was doing in the middle of the afternoon I turned off the computer, the radio and my phone, closed the blinds and put my DVD of the movie in my player. Every year some new insight has come to me and that time was no different. That time, near the very end of the movie when Jesus’ body is being taken down from the cross I suddenly felt a real love for Him and what He’d endured for me. And then it hit me … I’d never felt that kind of love for my earthly brother.
He and I had been at odds most of our lives. In the process of writing Dear Mom and Dad, I’d realized that I had few memories of him at all and most of those were unpleasant. That is the reason I have so little to say about him in the book. Just as I had to quit thinking that God, my Heavenly father, would think of me and treat me the way I’d always felt that Dad thought of me, I had to begin thinking of Jesus, my Heavenly Brother, as a loving big brother who gave his all for me.
As for the way I relate to my earthly brother … That is a work in progress.
Okay, I admit it. I’m all too frequently a bit “slow on the uptake” as they say. However, on occasion I’m worse than “a bit slow.” There are times when I just don’t get it; whatever “it” is. In this case there are three “its”; two big “its” and one huge “it”, that I have just now begun to understand. I stumbled upon the three “its” in preparing to create the current masterpiece you are now reading.
I had been mentally ruminating on how to follow up on last week’s entry for several days and had decided to dig into my stack of sermon notes and then look through my “Nothing Notebook” for thoughts on “Jesus as my brother”, when I came across my sermon notes dated 8/12/12. My plan went up in smoke. There was this one simple line that made me feel as if I suddenly got “it.”… Another, “I could have had a V8” moment. What I’d written was this: “Pray for a change of mind.” Below that was, ”You’re where you are because that’s what you expect and accept.” I finally got “it” … all three “its”.
The first “big it” involves the word hope. I have spent a lifetime, my lifetime, living with the wrong definition of the word hope. My mind has been making assumptions and calculations about the future with the wrong processor chip for hope installed. I have no idea how it happened; none whatsoever. The processor chip had been in place until today when I finally decided to actually look up the word; in my bible first and then in the dictionary.
When I checked my bible’s “Biblical Cyclopedic Index I found “hope” defined as “the expectation of future good.” That definition did not mesh with the definition in my head, so I decided that Mr. Webster would be the one to set things straight and confirm my long held and ingrained understanding of the word “hope.” Out came my Webster’s two-volume dictionary, and along with it the realization that I had lived my entire life with the wrong understanding; the wrong “hope” processor chip in my head. Mr. Webster agreed with the Biblical Cyclopedic Index. Do you have any idea what it’s like to wake up to the realization that you’ve spent a lifetime misunderstanding and misusing a word like hope?
The use, to which I’d been putting that word, was basically this: “wishful thinking.” As a result, much like the old saying, “if wishes were horses beggars would ride,” I got nowhere. To be honest, I’d actually wondered for years why Paul had included the word “hope” in 1 Corinthians 13:13 when he said “There are three things that will endure – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.” With my definition of “hope” it seemed as if he was saying, “faith, wishful thinking and love,” and not “faith, the expectation of future good and love.” Well, now of course, “hope” did belong with faith and love, especially faith. That awareness then led to the second “it.”
The second “big it” was this. The expectations I’d lived with most of my life were so deeply ingrained that in spite of all the mental exercises intended to instill positive thinking, I was unconsciously expecting and then accepting much less than stellar results. I had become so used to outcomes which were less than what I’d “hoped” for that those results became a reason for me to assume that I didn’t deserve what I’d “hoped” for or … that I’d misunderstood what I was supposed to do to receive my blessing. All this was in spite of all the self-improvement, positive thinking, Psycho-Cybernetics input I’d absorbed over the years. So, I would pray for better understanding and increased faith, so I could eventually walk on water. That was “big it” number two.
“It” number three, the “huge it,” actually had led to the two “big its”. I have learned to pray about practically everything. I pray about, and for a lot, especially things like wisdom so I could understand what it was that Abba expected of me. I’d come to know the true meaning of being changed from the inside out, in the way I related to Him and His creation, but it had never, not once occurred to me to pray for “a change of mind.” My heart had changed dramatically and the way I thought about all the rest of His creation had changed in the process, but all those changes were rooted in my heart. When I read that simple sentence today I suddenly realized that the deep recesses of my mind were the problem and not my heart.
And that brought me to a sermon note from 11/11/12 which read: “Be transformed by a renovation of the mind. My experience in the kitchen and bath remodel business taught me that the first step in a “renovation” was frequently preceded by a degree of demolition. I’m pleased to announce that the mental wrecking crew is already at work.
I have frequently recommended that everyone should, to utilize an old phrase, put pen to paper or in today’s parlance, put fingers to keyboard and write their own biography. Whether or not a person ever intends to publish a work of that nature, it should be done. And, it should be done with the thought that it will actually be published; that the people who have been, or are presently a part of one’s life will be reading it and scrutinizing it for every detail that involves them. If you happened to write something that is less than the truth you will be held to account for the inaccuracy; possibly in a court of law.
What I found when I was writing “Dear Mom and Dad” was that by keeping that thought in mind as I wrote, and especially as I began the final editing stage, was that many of my memories had been extremely skewed. As the years had passed I had totally forgotten that many of the “facts” I remembered were fiction, created to protect and shield a fragile ego. The most important of those discoveries of distorted facts was the long term effects on behavior and thought. It brought about a dramatic change in the way I viewed many people as well as myself, but it also opened a whole new train of thought about the way I related to God.
In my next book, “An Uncommon Faith”, I’m dealing with the way that train of thought progressed but I want to share some of it here. Having been raised in a Christian home I’d been immersed in the Heavenly “Father” concept from my earliest Sunday school experiences. As I/we grew up, that way of thinking of God became completely ingrained. What also became a primary concern was pleasing and impressing my earthly father, “Dad.”
From the age of 20, the importance of impressing Dad with George’s accomplishments became a basis for every decision relating to money. In issues concerning relationships with people, thoughts of whether or not Dad would approve were always the basis for decision. Even when Dad eventually reached a point where he didn’t automatically, actually critique every action, worries of what he thought or would think if he knew, had a negative effect on George’s self-image. That image naturally extended to me.
When our Christian expression entered a rebirth with our return to church a year before Marilyn died, the image of God that has been affected by our relationship with Dad was still intact. The difference now was a determination to actually read the bible and understand it. Most of what I read supported my old impressions of man’s relationship to God, but those impressions began to change; sometimes dramatically and sometimes imperceptibly.
Then one morning, as I sat in church listening to the sermon, a revelation totally unrelated to the sermon flashed across my mind. I had been relating to God as if he was Dad. I’d been expecting God to approve, or disapprove of my actions and behavior the way I’d always expected Dad to approve or disapprove. What is written on my Sermon Notes page from that morning of March 1, 2009 is the following: “Imagine a truly perfect father – now you understand God’s character.” And below that: “What are the characteristics of a perfect father?”
What indeed are those characteristics? I’ve never met a “perfect” father. I’ve met some wonderful fathers, but I’ve never met a truly perfect father. After a great deal of thought on the subject I still didn’t know what those characteristics were. I thought about what I believed a perfect father would do to discipline a child caught in misbehavior. I thought about what the same perfect father would do for a child who’d done something worthy of acclaim. I thought about how a perfect father would guide his child in life’s decisions and pursuits. I eventually reached a point where I had to admit that I didn’t know the answers to those questions. Then I got this message: “Why don’t you ask Me?” It was of course a “Wow I could have had a V8 instead” moment. I did ask in prayer for God to help me understand how He wants me to relate to Him; what He wants to know and understand about Him. I still don’t know for certain what that complete answer is, but whatever that perfection entails, it’s rooted in a love that’s beyond my ability to comprehend and … I do have a much more complete image of Abba than I used to. It comes in bits and pieces like the impression that came to me last Sunday in the middle of our early service enthusiastic and joy filled musical praise. For the first time ever I sensed a truly happy Abba; an Abba who was thoroughly enjoying seeing his children engaged in enthusiastic praise of Him. That image brought immeasurable joy to this child. So … get busy on your own memoir and find in your history what I found in mine. Understanding, direction and most of all … Purpose!