Archive for July, 2008

Taking the Leap

July 28, 2008

            Many times in life I have switched jobs or even gotten laid off and had to go find something new with little financial security. But undoubtedly the biggest “leap” for me was going fulltime freelance as a writer. I had one big contract for a book series, but beyond that I had little to no assurance that the money would be there when I needed it. Yet, it seemed God kept saying, “Go for it.”

            I hated my job in a machinery company as a Customer Service Manager. All I heard every day were complaints, arguments, curses, and chew-outs galore. My job was to calm such people and get them what they needed, but it was often hard going.  I longed to write fulltime, because I loved it. Writing for me was like breathing: it simply flowed. My dream was writing novels and nonfiction that would grace the bestseller lists. But even if that never happened, all of it was simple, raw, mind-exploding fun.

            When the time came in 1993 to make the jump, I remember my dad, who was president of the company I worked for, calling me into his office. After some chitchat, he said, “You realize if you do this, you’ll never be able to come back here to work again.” 

            I nodded.

            “And your benefits will run out pretty quickly, if you stick to this for a long time. You’ll be paying for them all out of pocket.” 

            “Right.”

            “And you have two kids for whom you, as a single parent, must provide all the care.” 

            “Correct.” 

            He gazed at me steadily. “What will you do when the contracts dry up?” 
            I sucked down a gulp of air, thinking quickly. “I’ll type faster.” 

            “I’m serious, Mark.” My father was always pretty serious.

            “Dad, I have to try this. If it all caves in two years from now, then God’ll lead me to something else.” 

            “What else?” 

            “I don’t know. God knows.” 

            He stared deeply into my eyes. “You really believe that, don’t you?” 

            “Absolutely.” 

            He shook his head. “You certainly have greater faith than me.” 

            “I’m not competing with you, Dad.” 

            He twiddled on the edge of his desk a moment, then said, “Okay, then Godspeed. Good luck, type fast, and don’t give up. And don’t come bawling to me if things get tight.”

            “No bawling. Just a quick ten-thousand dollar loan is all I’ll need.” 

            “I may not have it, you know.”

            “Then I’ll hit up Mom.” 

            Finally, he laughed. I needed some lightness in the midst of all this tension. “Dad, I know what I’m doing. I know this business just like you know yours. If I thought I couldn’t handle it, I wouldn’t even attempt it. But I feel like I have to try. I’m forty-three years old. Not much time left to reach for the stars. How old were you when you started this company?” 

            He thought about it. “Fifty.” 

            “Okay, I have seven years on you. Worst comes to worst, I’ll sell the kids.” 

            He smiled. “I’m glad you have a sense of humor about this.” 

            “I’m dead serious.” 

            “Who will you sell the kids to?” 

            “You, of course. You think they’re precious gems, angels, worth millions.” 
            He really laughed. “We’ll have to negotiate that one. But okay. Go to it. Sock away as much as you can for the lean times. And remember to pray for me to have the same kind of faith as you when it comes to the crunch.” 

            “I will.”   

            I walked out of the company that had given me security, health benefits, a 401K, a life insurance policy and pretty much all I needed financially for nine years. But now I threw all that away to do writing the way I wanted. 

            It was truly scary. But like the verse promises, God was with me. I’ve been doing it ever since and God has always provided. It seems at times I had to go into the fire, too. I’ve had lean years, years lean as burned turkey. My publisher killed the multi-book contract I mentioned earlier with two books to go, books and money I counted on. For awhile, nothing appeared on the horizon, and at times as I stumbled around my apartment with my hands on my head, crying, “What am I going to do?”, the desperation went deep. But God was there at that time also. He opened up new doors. I would, in time, get the greatest contracts of my life, I would remarry, have two more kids, and felt the “adventure” God led me on like a great thrill ride. I never knew what was coming next. But always, always, always, God led the way, comforted me in tough times, spoke words of assurance and guidance when I felt lost, and in general kept me afloat.

            I have found God takes very seriously every promise he has made in scripture. If you cite it, he will back it up with action. Divine, supernatural action. 

            That for me is great comfort and hope.  What about you? 

&            &            &

            The verse I come to when such momentous decisions come into my life is Psalm 32:8, a song King David wrote after his sin with Bathsheba. After he confesses his sin, God tells him, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you”(Psalm 32:8).

            What tremendous words. God takes on the role of personal tutor and mentor for each of us. He promises not only to be with us in troubling times, but to offer us counsel and guidance from the One who knows all, sees all, and understands always what is best for all concerned. Do you know anyone in this world like that? To have someone inside you at that level, is it not a wonder? Yet, that’s the essence of the Christian life, isn’t it? To have a real relationship with a God who takes our lives so seriously he wants to be involved with us at the most intimate levels? 

            I love Jesus’ statement in John 14:23: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” I meet too many Christians who think this indwelling presence of God is just so hum-drum, not really spectacular at all, nothing really to run home and rave about. I suspect their real problem is that they’ve never related to him at that level and thus have never experienced the magnificence of having the God of creation, the Lord of lords and King of kings right down home inside their hearts. But those who have know the precious reality of that presence and would not exchange it for anything in this world. 

            The day my father died of a heart attack while playing tennis in Florida on a vacation, my mother called me with the terrible news. I had been praying that Dad, since he was sixty-seven and had heart problems, would be granted ten more years of life. It was not to be. I stood there, the phone in my hand, fighting the tears, fighting the disappointment, fighting the horror of what had happened. Afterwards, I walked around the house wailing and crying out, “Why? Why? WHY?”

            It seemed the voice in my heart spoke very gently. “Mark, I know how you loved your dad. But it was his time. His heart was worn out. But I can assure you, you are not alone in this.” 

            I knew I wasn’t. That didn’t make it easier. But family, friends, business associates, and the Comforter himself were all with me in those days following. When I had to tell my two daughters that afternoon, I could barely stammer out the words. They were equally distraught, but we all prayed together and peace came over us at the strangest times. I would remember great moments with Dad at the oddest times, and I would feel a joy that God had made him my father in this world over and over. 

            When the worst calamities in all of life strike, where do you get your comfort, your encouragement, your words of wisdom to keep you through? If I had not been a Christian for all the deaths I’ve witnessed over the years, I don’t think I would have lasted this long. Every one was an amputation, a cleaving of the heart. But with God in me somehow it’s different. I knew my father was with him, I knew they were undoubtedly chuckling over some of the crazy episodes of his life together.

            To me, that presence can hold me, and keep me strong through just about anything this life hurls at me. Isn’t it the same for you? 

 

Why I Like Barack

July 16, 2008

            The most fascinating of all elections is upon us, and I’m fascinated.

            For the first time, I see  a real choice in the nominees. Instead of the old hard-eyed decision between two bowls of cold oatmeal, it’s shaping up to be a bigger menu: possum and muskrat. Some delicious options here.

            But really, what is it I, a conservative, like about Sen. Obama? There are a number of things.

            For one, he’s a true liberal. He won the nomination by playing left, and now he intends to win the election by moving to the middle, as the Clintonian triangulation process mandates. Truly, Obama’s the real thing, the most liberal Senator in the Senate, never crossing lines to work with partisans, political as all get-out, and now proving he really is slicker than Slick Willie himself. Of course, he still says he can unite the country, and he probably can because most of us are fools anyway. Fool me once, I’m an idiot. Fool me twice, I’m still an idiot. Fool me three, four times, just shoot me, I’m definitely not worth leaving alive. 

            Look at it this way: for the first time in years we’ll really see liberalism at work. Liberals will be able to strut their stuff like never before. They’ll have carte blanche to do everything they’ve always wanted to. They’ll be able to remake America in their image. Then we can decide once and for all whether this stuff really works, or if it’s as crackpot as a lot of the crackpots on the other side say. Should be good medicine for the soul, know what I mean?

            A second reason I like Sen. Obama is because sooner or later he’ll disclose what kinds of changes he really wants and how he will implement them. This will happen either after he’s elected, which is the usual way, or perhaps before if the press realizes he intends to take away freedom of the press for good. At first he’ll just go after those nutty conservative talk shows, but sooner or later he’ll get around to snuffing anyone who disagrees with him. The guy just has no sense of humor about anything, especially people who contradict him. Gotta like that. It’ll definitely unite the country because we won’t be able to think anything but what Barack wants, likes, and decides. After all, his wife told us he won’t let us get away with any of that easy-going, grilling-in-the-backyard stuff anymore? We’ll all be in lines – for gas, for health-care, for a bowl of soup. That makes me dream of the good old days, know what I mean?

            A third reason I like the Senator is because he just makes people feel so good. He’s the Dr. Feelgood and his Travelin’ Show. And miracle of miracles, he’s here. Sen. McCain is such a curmudgeonly, stick-in-the-mud, overly-principled drill sergeant-old crapper that he just comes out an says what he thinks.

            But Barack? Hey, you want to feel good, cry a few tears, laugh uproariously at conservatives, and walk away with a contact high, grab a seat. He’s more than a motivational speaker. He’s a mountain-moving, marvel-tongued, Messianic-Gonna-Be-The-New-Savior kind of guy. We haven’t seen his likes since Moses. And the way his wife talks, he’s going to lay down the law, just like Moses did, too. Yessirree, Michelle’ll be proud of our country for the second time in her life if Barack gets in there and starts hurling laws around.

            So that’s what I like about the man. He flips switches. In fact, if he doesn’t flip yours, you probably ain’t got switches.

            Anyway, if nothing else about Obama gets us through the next decade, that smile of his will. Look it direct in the face, you won’t be able to see for another eight years.