Monday, June 27, 2011

Them Dents is Valuable

I guess I am spoiled, but for a Pixar film, "Cars 2" falls a little short, if only because the bar has been set insanely high by the quality of recent masterpieces such as "Toy Story 3" and "Up".  Any comparison of "Cars 2" with other recent Pixar output just isn't fair.

Quality aside, "Cars 2" hardly seemed like a sequel. The tone, the look, and the feel are very different from "Cars". Additionally, the plot was hard to follow and a little convoluted.

Despite the flaws, this film had one shining moment; one profound line in a decidedly non-profound movie, and it was delivered by Tow Mater.

Mater, you may recall, is a tow truck who's in dire need of mechanical attention. He has a missing hood, several dents, and rust issues. He's also a lovable doofus, lacking anything that resembles sophistication.

At one point in the movie, British secret agents decide to bring Mater into their plans to catch the bad guys and save the world. One problem: to use Mater in an undercover role, they must give him a new paint job. At first, Mater is in favor of the idea, but then he learns that the paint job requires him to lose several dents he has collected over the years.

"No!", he says in his unique southern drawl, when he's told the dents have to go. "Ever one of them dents is valuable to me".  Those dents, we learn, remind him of a time when something hard happened in his life. The dents, you see, have made Mater the man, so to speak, that he is today.


Despite my status as a non-truck, I see the parallel in my own life. My human heart has dents, bumps, and bruises in it which have accumulated over the decades. I didn't enjoy receiving them at the time, but I embrace them now. I do so because I recognize, as Mater does, that I am shaped, not so much by the dents themselves, but by the process I went through in receiving them, and in recovering from them.

This idea isn't new. The Apostle James said it this way: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." --James 1:2-3

Many Christians know those verses, but the idea isn't complete without the next one:

Verse 4 "And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

Results matter. Tests can produce hurts, which can lead to endurance, which leads to a life that is changed for the better. A bumpkin named Mater demonstrates an admirable level of wisdom by recognizing the value in his dents, and the place they have in his life. Perhaps we can all learn from him.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Repost: Father's Day: You Don't Know My Love

Last year, I shared this little story about how God chose to show me how He wants to father me. This year, the good folks at Burnside Writers Collective took that post and published it on their site for Father's Day. So I'm re-posting it here:

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I didn't realize, growing up, the cost of not having a relationship with my father. It's only in recent years that the weight of the impact on my life has become evident to me. This new realization comes to me for many reasons. Becoming a dad is the obvious one, but in addition, it's helped that I have read several books which emphasize the importance of a dad. Finally, I've noticed several films where the main character fathers his kids, and the children have an understanding of their father's role that I never did. I have learned of a father's importance by watching dads ranging from good ones, as in "The Pursuit of Happyness," to ones who fell way short, like in "Shine", "The Great Santini", or "Up".

The benefit of gaining this new understanding is that it forces me to pay special attention to my role as father. I'm pretty sure I would have been too self-absorbed to have had a good impact on Abby, Jacob, and Zachary if it hadn't been made known to me how important it is to try to do it right.

It sounds funny now, what with "Wild at Heart" and Promisekeepers and all, but there was a time when fathering wasn't strongly emphasized. When it was mentioned, it was all about passing along good morals. Being a good father meant being a disciplinarian and making your kids call you "sir".  "Spending time" with kids meant that we should take them along with us to the hardware store.

So now I'm nearly a decade into fatherhood, and about that many years into examining my own father and what I had and didn't have with him. He left when I was 4, and I have scant memories of living with him. To be honest, I have no memory of him attempting to father me. In fact, I cannot say to this day that I understand what it means to look to someone as a father figure. I hear others talk of the way they look at their dads, and it's like I'm a blind man and they're explaining the color blue to me.

Back then, the court-ordered duo of child support and custody weren't tightly regulated like they are now, so I didn't see him very often. Maybe 3 or 4 times growing up, and then maybe 6 or 7 times as an adult. I called him by his first name, Randy. It was always cordial; he was nice to me and, by all accounts, was a good guy.

But I never experienced that child-to-father thing, whatever it is supposed to be like. I knew him, but I never knew him. I don't say that in a self-pitying way, and I certainly don't say it with any sort of anger toward him. I think there's something to the command of honoring your father and mother. It's a command that doesn't seem to leave room for exceptions. So there is no anger coming from me to him; I simply didn't know him. Sadly, I will not get to know him: he ended his own life in 2000, so that ship has sailed.

Interestingly, in the last few years, I can point to multiple occasions where God showed me that the absence of an earthly father in my life isn't a total disaster. He did it using, of all things, music and movies. Here are two examples.

1. In "A Knight's Tale", with Heath Ledger, there's a scene where the dad, seeing no opportunities for his son in the poverty-stricken situation they were living in, sent his boy to a farm where he could learn by being someone's apprentice. Father and son didn't see each other again during his childhood. When the dad met his grown son many years later, it was clear that he did the right thing for his son, by letting him be raised in another environment.

In my case, my dad was very unlike me: rural, very outdoorsy, and also (I want to say this without dishonoring, but it's a truth that is integral to this story) he was an alcoholic and, as I recall, had a bit of a temper. If I had been raised with him, who knows how I would have turned out? I'd have to say that alcoholism or some other addiction, or the tendency to be abusive, would be very possible, maybe even probable. It appears to be for the best that I did not grow up with him.

2. A few years ago, I was home on the Friday before Father's Day. I was alone for an hour or two, so I pulled up something on the internet. A singer I really like was about to release his new CD, and it was being offered for listening at a website. One of the songs is called "You Don't know My Love". It's ostensibly by a man wooing a woman, but I could hear God speaking to me, about His love for me. He was saying that although I hadn't always been open to letting Him love me in a father/son sort of way, He still wanted to Father me.

The relevant lyrics:


If you've cried a river
If you doubt your dreams
If you've waited in vain for a phone that won't ring
If you think a promise is something you can't trust
Then you don't know my love

I've been falling, falling
Ever since I met you
Trying to get you to finally see
That no one is ever gonna love you like Me

---
I was mesmerized when I heard that, and played it over and over again for the next several days. I couldn't get enough of that song. It was clear that God was speaking about pursuing me, telling me to open up and let Him father me. I wish I could say I have done that and my whole life was miraculously changed that day, but the reality is that it's been gradual rather than instantaneous. And that's OK.  I'll get there.


Father's Day songs: The List

In my previous posts leading up to Father's Day, I shared some of the best songs about fatherhood that I have heard. Here is the entire list:

I Loved Her First
Dance With My Father
The Dollar
Leader Of The Band
Watching You

Father's Day Songs, part 5: Watching You

Fatherhood is captured in song and in movies as well as any topic that's ever been written about. In the days leading up to Father's Day, I'm highlighting five meaningful songs about the impact of fatherhood. Some will come from the viewpoints of the dad, some from the child,and some from both.

As everyone from Donald Miller to John Eldredge has pointed out in recent years, telling a great story is the best thing a person can do, and many great stories are told in 4-minute snippets.

If you are not a fan of country music, you likely have not heard of Rodney Atkins or his song, "Watching You". Many who don't like country music simply don't like the twang. While I understand the sound is not for everyone, this song is for everyone. You simply must ignore the presence of the twang for 4 minutes, and listen to the story.
Like most of the Father's Day songs in this series, "Watching You" is autobiographical. His son really did get in trouble for saying a bad word, and in fact, his son plays himself in this video. I'm a big fan of authenticity, and this song and video are as authentic as it gets. You can see it in the way he embraces and interacts with the little guy. It's a linear story, so watch and listen all the way through, and I dare you not to get a little choked up during the 2nd verse.



These 5 songs are posted in no particular order. This is the last of five posts.
See the previous installments in the series here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Friday, June 17, 2011

Father's Day Songs, part 4: Leader Of The Band

Fatherhood is captured in song and in movies as well as any topic that's ever been written about. In the days leading up to Father's Day, I'm highlighting five meaningful songs about the impact of fatherhood. Some will come from the viewpoints of the dad, some from the child,and some from both.

As everyone from Donald Miller to John Eldredge has pointed out in recent years, telling a great story is the best thing a person can do, and many great stories are told in 4-minute snippets.

Today's song, "Leader of the Band", by Dan Fogleberg, is an autobiographical masterpiece. In it, the genuineness is indisputable. In less capable hands, this could have been a real stinker, but it turned out to be a gem.


These 5 songs are posted in no particular order. This is the fourth of five posts.
See the previous installments in the series here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5

Father's Day Songs, part 3: The Dollar

Fatherhood is captured in song and in movies as well as any topic that's ever been written about. In the days leading up to Father's Day, I'm highlighting five meaningful songs about the impact of fatherhood. Some will come from the viewpoints of the dad, some from the child,and some from both.

As everyone from Donald Miller to John Eldredge has pointed out in recent years, telling a great story is the best thing a person can do, and many great stories are told in 4-minute snippets. Today's song, "The Dollar", tells a good story.

This is the least-known tune on my list. Jamey Johnson, a country writer known for composing several tunes for others, sang this one himself. If you hate country music, and especially don't like the strong twang that's present in "The Dollar", I ask you to set aside your preferences for just 3 minutes, because this is a story worth listening to.


These 5 songs are posted in no particular order. This is the third of 5 posts.
See the first one here.
See the second one here.
See the next one (part 4) here. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Father's Day Songs, part 2: Dance With My Father

Fatherhood is captured in song and in movies as well as any topic that's ever been written about. Over the next few days, I want to highlight 5 meaningful songs about fatherhood. Some will come from the viewpoints of the dad, some from the child,and some from both.   As everyone from Donald Miller to John Eldredge has pointed out in recent years, telling a great story is the best thing you can do. And many great stories are told in 4-minute snippets.

I am not Casey Kasem, so these are in no particular order. This is the second of 5 posts.
See the first one here.
See part 3 of this series here.

The first few times I heard "Dance With My Father", I wasn't paying attention. It sounded a bit generic and not appealing to me. One day, I decided to really listen, and I am glad I did. It's moving without being manipulative. It's emotional without being melodramatic.  Drop your multi-tasking and let the story play out:
 

Father's Day songs Part 1: I Loved Her First

Fatherhood is captured in song and in movies as well as any topic that's ever been written about. Over the next few days, I want to highlight 5 meaningful songs about fatherhood. Some will come from the viewpoints of the dad, some from the child,and some from both. This is not a Casey-Kasem-like countdown, so I don't want arguments about which is best. There is no ranking. Just enjoy. ;)

 As everyone from Donald Miller to John Eldredge has pointed out in recent years, telling a great story is the best thing you can do. And many great stories are told in 4-minute snippets.

"I Loved Her First" is a stellar song, written by a friend of mine, Elliott Park.  The band who sings it, Heartland, barely has local-band talent, and never achieved any other success before or after this single. But the fact that a band like that, on a small label with no promotional budget, could achieve a huge hit just goes to show what a powerful song this is. It tells a great story.

The next song in the list is here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

CD Review--Rejoice

Women of Faith conferences have released another CD, simply titled Rejoice. As a member of Thomas Nelson's Booksneeze program, I was provided a free copy for review purposes.I'm free to be as honest as I want in these reviews.
The recordings are live, taken from a two-day Women of Faith event. The event has speakers and teachers, but also has a Women of Faith Worship Team to lead attendees in worship.
The song list:
  1. Beautiful Redeemer
  2. So Good
  3. Forever Reign
  4. Come As You Are
  5. Hosanna
  6. Our God
  7. Glory To God
  8. You Brought the Sunshine
  9. Greatness of Our God
  10. Great Is Thy Faithfulness
It pretty much sounded like what you'd expect. Not bad, if you're into that sort of thing. 

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Our Florida Trip: The really good stuff

In part one, I described the Disney and beach aspects of our trip, which were planned. But the most interesting reading could be a recount of the other two parts of our vacation.

3. In 1986, I lost an uncle, and my young cousins had lost a dad. Michel, the young widow who had 3 little kids to raise, plus one on the way, moved from Texas to Florida, where she was from. She eventually remarried, but we had lost touch. I had recently found my cousin Heather on Facebook, and we had agreed that we should all meet while we were there.

This was, by far, the best part of the trip. Heather has gone from a little 4-yr-old that I barely remembered into a great young woman with kids of her own.  Michel, my aunt, brought her husband, who is battling a newly-discovered physical ailment which threatens to make Michel a widow for a second time. She and I had a great, in-depth discussion about the past, the effects the loss of their father had on the kids as they grew up, and a summary of what God is doing in the lives of these family members of mine who I do not know. It was powerful. It finally got interrupted by--this should come as no surprise--a jellyfish sting, this time on the leg of my little 6-yr-old cousin.

This day, where I reconnected with family I barely knew existed, made the entire trip to Florida worth it. 

 4. When we returned, we found that the weather back in Texas had not been kind to us. We took the shuttle from the airport terminal to the remote (cheap) parking, where we discovered our minivan, full of dimples from the rather large hail that had fallen on it.; the hail also cracked the windshield and broke the taillight.

But it gets better. When we got home, we looked in the back yard, where the wind had, during the same storm, flipped our 14-foot trampoline and set it, upside-down, on the wood fence, hanging as much over our neighbor's yard as our own. It ended up taking 5 men the next day to get it down and put it back into place.

I should emphasize that we have a lot to be thankful for regarding this storm. While we had a cracked windshield, several cars had lost their entire windshields. While we had a bent trampoline, some neighbors had lost large, old trees or entire fences. We got off somewhat easy.

Our Florida Trip: Part 1

Our family went to Florida for vacation, returning just last week, and very little went as planned, but that's OK. It just meant that there were many interesting stories to tell.

The plan was to visit Disney World for three days, then go to Cocoa Beach for 3 days. What we ended up with was 4 distinct portions of the trip, and what follows is a brief description of each:

1. Disney:  The first day was Epcot. I was less than impressed. But I had been to Six Flags just a month earlier, and was ready for some thrilling rides, and Epcot's not about that, although Space Mountain was pretty fun. I had been told that Magic Kingdom was better, and it was, as we found out the next day. Our last day, we went to the Hollywood studios park, and although I am sure I'm in the minority, I have to say I liked it best. It had two rides more like thrill rides: The Rock n Roller Coaster, and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  Most Disney rides were inside and failed to meet the criteria that is most essential to a good ride: At some point during the ride, you must believe you might just die. I only experienced this with 2-3 rides at Disney.

That said, Disney had a lot to teach Six Flags about how to treat people who are waiting for rides. They offered the Fast Pass, which enabled you to get a guaranteed place in line for a ride later in the day while you explore other things. And when we did have to wait, most lines were inside air-conditioned buildings. That directly addresses the one thing that keeps me from going to Six Flags more than I do.

2. Cocoa and Daytona Beach. We didn't know much about Florida, so we picked Cocoa Beach because it was close to Orlando and because I had heard it was close to NASA. Problem was, it was overrrun by jellyfish.  In fact, we tried to go out into the water and work around them, but one of them stung my 9-yr-old son. So we called a hotel at Daytona Beach and found that they were not experiencing jellyfish issues. We booked a room at the Daytona Hilton, and left Cocoa Beach a day early.  And I have to say, Daytona was a beautiful beach. It was pretty much the opposite of Cocoa Beach in every way.

The kids loved it, never having been in the ocean before. With their inflatable surf board, trying to fight the waves, I just saw hours and hours of smiles from them, and that was a joy to see.

There are two more parts to the trip, much more interesting than the first two. Read here.