Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pearl 16: Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Good afternoon, my sweethearts!  It is a glorious day here in Texas, 82 degrees and sunny.  I am thinking about you as you drive up to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving with Grandma Kathy and Grandpa Ron.  I heard you are having snow and nasty weather so my prayer is with you for safe travels.  It is supposed to get really cold here late tomorrow with lows in the 30’s.  Brrrr!

I was reading over my last letter I sent you and wanted to comment on something.  It seemed to me as I read it the tone was fairly somber and a little negative.  Of course, the subject of abuse is a serious topic, so perhaps it was justified.  However, it reminded me of a lesson I learned long ago.

Several letters ago I told you about my experience as the starting left tackle on the 9th grade varsity John Marshall Junior High School Mustang football team.  As you recall, we won our first game with Fremont and destroyed Boy’s Republic.  We actually went on to win two other games fairly handily against Norco and Corona.  Then our next to last game was our final league game against Emerson Jr. High. 

Now Emerson had a high flying passing attack which was the envy of the league.  They scored early and often.  We had a solid running game and ground down our opponents.  Like us they were undefeated coming into the game and this was for the league title.  I was nervous at the start of the game but because of Coach Moore’s philosophy of making a good first impression on your opponent, by the time the first quarter was over, I had controlled their defensive tackle pretty well. 

There were three plays to my side of the line which depended on a key block from me.  The “13F” play was a hand off to the fullback, who then pounded up in the slot between me and the guard to my right.  The “15” play was a hand off to the halfback, who was supposed to go right over my position.  It required me to move my man to the outside so there would be a hole.  Then there was the “15F” play which was a pitch to the halfback in the slot between me and the tight end to my left.  It required me to move my man to the inside.  It was our best play and when I could seal my guy to the inside, even for an instant, Emil Rios would make big yards.

We ran the 15F throughout the first half and were leading at halftime 21-10.  In the locker room, Coach Moore told us to just keep doing what we were doing but he huddled with the lineman and our quarterback and told us to help John out.  He said if we saw an opportunity to speak up in the huddle and tell John what play would work best.  I thought this was a good idea.

After the half, Emerson came out in a different set.  The man that was directly over me or just to my inside during the first half started to shift outside, lining up each play further and further to my left.  John stuck with what worked in the first half and was calling a lot of 15 and 15F plays.  It was getting increasingly more difficult for me to get a decent block on my man.  Then on one play, their tackle lined up a full yard outside of me.  The play we had called went to the other side, but when I went back in the huddle I said, “John, don’t call a 15F”.  John said, “O.K., 15F on 2…Break!”  YIKES, I thought, he misunderstood me.  I told him NOT to call 15F.  As I got down in my stance, my heart was pounding wildly.  My guy was a yard and a half outside me and right in the middle of the 15F slot. 

At the snap of the ball I lunged out at him and tried to reach him.  Too much distance, too little speed.  Rios ran right into the back of me as I went down on my face.  I felt his cleats go up my back and the sickening crunch of pads and helmets meeting as the defender smashed into poor Emil.  The ball popped loose and one of their players recovered the fumble.  I was devastated, which brings me to my sixteenth pearl.

Sixteenth Pearl:   Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

In addition to a good song lyric, these words superbly describe the lesson I learned that day on the football field.  Trotting over to the sideline, John was right by my side.  “Why did you tell me to call 15F? he yelled at me.  “I didn’t” I insisted, “I told you NOT to call a 15F”.   He just looked at me and shook his head and, I must admit, my excuse seemed kind of lame.  Why would I have told someone NOT to do something when it would have been much clearer to have told him what to do.  If I would have said, “Call a 13F”, we would have scored another touchdown.

Right then and there I vowed to myself to always try to use positive frame of reference rather than the negative.  It isn’t always easy to do and clearly it seems our world is not always geared to the positive.  A look at our current political situation is enough of a reminder about that.  But to the extent possible, try to be positive.

Jesus is an example of someone who always stressed the positive in his communication.  Now I understand that many people look at the Bible as a book of “Don’ts”.  But, except for a few “Thou Shalt Not’s” in the Old Testament, the Bible is actually a book of “Do’s”.  After all, Jesus didn’t say don’t hate your neighbor, He said to love him.  His was a ministry of positive affirmation.  “Abide in me”.  “He who receives me receives Him who sent Me”.  “Lazarus, come forth”.  “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die”.  “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”.  Great positive stuff.

So that day on Emerson’s football field, I learned an important lesson and I pass that on to you, my dear ones…..accentuate the positive and leave the play calling to the quarterback.  By the way, we won going away, 31-10 and got the league championship.  HooHAA!

Love you, bunches and bunches and Happy Thanksgiving 2007,

Grandpa Jud

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pearl 15: Never, EVER, Abuse Another Person, EVER!

Dear Gehrig and Eliana,

Good afternoon, my darlings.  Just three more weeks and Granny and I will be back to visit you for TEN WHOLE DAYS.  That may be just enough time to spoil you really good before we have to return to Texas

Your great Aunt Sandy, my sister, and I lived too far from our grandparents and people didn’t travel as often as they do these days so we didn’t get a proper spoiling by our grandparents when we were your age or even older.  Granny and I have to right that deficit.  So I hope your parents will forgive us if we unleash our pent up grandparental love on you guys.

I was thinking about my father, your great grandfather Smith the other day.  I am sad that he did not survive to see you both as I know he would have loved you as much as we do.  He was a kind and gentle man with strong ethics and firm principles. 

I remember one time when I was about 7 years old.  My sister, who was only 13 months older than me) and I were arguing about something (I was probably teasing her, as I was wont to do), and she hit me on the arm.  My dad was in the room but he didn’t see the first blow.  All he saw was my retaliatory punch to my sister’s stomach.  Dad was out of his chair in the wink of an eye, which wasn’t all that easy for this 5’ 6”, 250 pound overweight man in his late 40’s.  He grabbed my arm as I was about to throw another punch and spun me around.  He got his bright red face down close to mine and said, in a measured voice which left no doubt as to how serious he was, “I never, NEVER, want to see you EVER hit a woman again, EVER!”   I nearly lost control of my bladder but then my father got down on one knee and looked me in the eyes and explained why a man should never hit a woman, in the stomach or any other place.  He told me that God made men stronger than women not so we could dominate them but so we could protect them.  His tone was firm but gentle and I listened.

Several years later, when I was about 12 years old, our family went out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants, Anderson’s, home of the famous Split Pea Soup.  There was a young couple, probably in their late twenties or early thirties, at a table not to far from ours.  They were arguing about something and you could tell he had been drinking.  Even though I couldn’t hear what they were saying I could see it upset my parents.  When we were leaving, the couple left just ahead of us.  There were two parking areas outside the restaurant, one high and one down a little hill on a lower level.  The couple headed for the lower lot and our car was in the upper lot.  They were screaming at each other and the man kept trying to grab the woman’s arm.  She kept trying to get away.  Dad told us kids to ignore it as it was none of our business.  But then, all of a sudden, the man, who was over six feet tall, spun the much shorter woman around, pushed her up against their car and the sound of him slapping her face rang out in the night.

I was stunned to see that but even more stunned to see my father dash across the parking lot and down the hill toward the couples car.  He made it there in time to grab the arm of the man as he reared back to hit the woman again.  Despite the fact my dad was 8” shorter than the man and easily 25 years his senior, my dad got up into the man’s face and I heard these same words again, “I never, NEVER, want to see you EVER hit a woman again, EVER!”  The man was so shocked he just stammered out agreement and my dad looked to the woman and asked if she was alright.  She said she was and he ushered her to the passenger side and opened the door for her.  “Take her home and mind what I told you”, my dad said to the man as he started back up the hill to our car.   Which brings me to my fifteenth pearl.

Fifteenth Pearl:  “Never, EVER, abuse another person, EVER!”

Now you might think this only applies to you, Gehrig, but Eliana, it goes for you too.  Physical abuse in our country today is more prevalent than ever.  It is a sad situation.  Men physically abuse women but, sometimes, women are even guilty of abusing men.  And physical abuse is only part of it.  Mental and emotional abuse is part of the mix.

We all have both the capability to abuse and the capacity for great compassion.  God gave us the gift of the latter but the former we learn ourselves.  One breeds hate and despair, the other promotes and encourages love.  The Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It is a paraphrase of the commandment Jesus left with us to “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. 

Watch your parents and learn from them.  They are full of great compassion. I hope you will both grow up to be compassionate, empathetic humans, like your parents, who always treat others as you would like to be treated.  It is my hope that neither of you ever know the desire to strike or harm another person.  Besides, kissing and hugging is a lot more fun anyway.

I love you bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pearl 14: Baptism is not an Event, it is a Lifestyle

Dear Gehrig and Eliana,

Good afternoon, my darlings.  Well it has only been two weeks since I have seen you but I miss you terribly and so does Granny.  Well, I just have to say, your baptism ceremony and the entire weekend was just perfect.  You were so well behaved in church.  Eliana, as I expected, you were just enthralled with the experience of being sprinkled and, Gehrig, you just complained because the water woke you up a little.  But you went right back to sleep.  You both looked like little angels in your Grandma Kathy’s custom knit outfits and the whole congregation was impressed with you as were we.

Granny shed a few tears and I must admit, watching you being baptized brought a mist to my eyes as well.  Only time will tell if you both understand someday how important that particular day was for you.  It is my prayer that you do.

In the Lutheran Church (and, of course, many other denominations) we believe in infant baptism.  I guess we feel it adds an extra layer of salvation protection and it challenges your parents, your grandparents and others, who will have a profound effect on your lives, to instill in you a love of the Lord and teach you the principles and ethics we value and are important in life.  Of course, I was raised in the Baptist Church.  It was different.

The Baptists don’t do infant baptisms.  They believe the individual needs to make the decision to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and cannot do that as an infant.  Consequently, I didn’t get baptized until I was 10 years old.  I had been going to Sunday School on and off for about two years at the First Baptist Church of Pomona, CA.  I wasn’t too excited about it but some of the Bible stories were nice.  Then, when I started the fourth grade at Arroyo Elementary, I had a teacher named Miss Schaffer.  She was probably in her mid-twenties with long blonde hair and a pretty face and I was quite smitten with her.  She took a special interest in me and I used to stay after school and talk with her.  She told me she was a Christian and told me a lot about her faith. 

At first, I listened and spent time with her because she was pretty and fun to be around.  Then I started listening to what she was saying and became intrigued.  Miss Schaffer asked me if I had been baptized and I told her I had not.  She told me I ought to consider it.  Now every Sunday, Dr. Edward Cole, the pastor of our church, would have an “alter call” after the sermon.  This is where Dr. Cole would ask anyone who wanted to come forward and proclaim their faith in Jesus, accept Him as their personal Savior, and become baptized.  Most of the time, I was nodding off about then and wasn’t paying too much attention.  But after my discussion with Miss Schaffer, I started watching and listening. 

My conversations with Miss Shaffer went on for a couple more weeks and then one Sunday, when Dr. Cole made his alter call, I felt something inside of me saying, “GO”.  About five other adult people were making their way toward the alter and Dr. Cole.  All of a sudden, I stood up.  My parents looked at me like, “What are you doing?”, but I couldn’t stop myself.  I stepped out into the aisle and began slowly walking forward.  Dr. Cole saw me coming and a broad, tender smile came across his face.  Now Dr. Cole was a big, powerful looking man, about 6’ 4”tall, with a tanned face and coal black hair with graying temples. He was in his early sixties.  He was an accomplished speaker and had a booming voice which he could project to the balcony whether his volume was high or at a whisper.  As I approached this imposing man, my knees became weak.  I started to shake and tears came to my eyes.  When I got close to him, he put his large hand out and rested it gently on my shoulder.  I was about to faint.  “Why have you come down?” he asked me quietly and yet I knew everyone in the congregation heard him and I felt their eyes on me.  Through tears and with a shaky voice, I said, “I want Jesus for my Savior”. 

Dr. Cole wrapped his arms around me and hugged me tight and his “PRAISE GOD!” resonated throughout the entire church and, I was sure, in heaven as well.  When he finally released me and led me to the others gathered at the alter, I stood there with them, feeling like I was going to fall down at any moment, as Dr. Cole introduced us to the congregation.  I caught my parent’s eyes and my mother was crying and my dad was smiling.  It gave me strength.

After some discussion with the pastor after service, he decided I was old enough to go through the adult instruction class with the others.  We did not have a youth catechism program at that time in the Baptist Church like you two will go through.  So for four Sundays, after service, we all gathered in his huge office for an hour.  He sat in his high back chair behind his large, heavy wooden desk and we sat in high, straight-back, padded leather chairs and listened to Dr. Cole tell us about baptism.  It was winter and the heat was on in his office.  The sun would stream through the windows behind him and after about 30 minutes it was all I could do to keep my eyes open.  I honestly don’t remember much of what he said.  That knowledge would come later in life.  All I knew was that God loved me and the waters of baptism were going to wash all my sin away.  I knew this is what God wanted, what my parents wanted, what Miss Schaffer wanted and what I wanted.  I somehow “passed” the course.

Finally, my baptismal day was at hand.  In the Baptist Church we don’t sprinkle, we dunk.  Full immersion to wash those sins away just like John in the river Jordan.  There was actually a good-sized pool behind a thick burgundy curtain up above and behind the alter.  The opening to the sanctuary above the pool was about eight feet long and five feet high.  There were stairs leading down into it on one end of the pool and stairs leading up out the other end but you could not see them through the opening.  Dr. Cole stood in the middle of the pool in a long white robe.  We wore white robes as well with bathing suits underneath.  We came down into the pool, one at a time, and Dr. Cole would recite the same scripture for each of us.  We had all been instructed how to do this.  Dr. Cole would take our right hand in both of his and we would use our left to hold our nose.  We put one foot behind us for leverage and at the appropriate signal, bend over backwards into the water.  We were down and up in about three seconds.  I felt changed.  I felt exhilarated. It was a highlight of my life. 

My conversion lasted until I reached the fifth grade and then I became a member of a huge group of Christians known as “backsliders”.  Backsliders are Christians who do not always practice their faith as they should.  You become a backslider when, despite your best effort or lack thereof, you sin.  This brings me to my next pearl.

Fourteenth Pearl:  “Baptism is not an event, it is a lifestyle.”

I spent the next six years of my life in backslide mode.  Oh, I wasn’t bad all the time but if there was trouble to be found, I could usually find it.  I spent most of my time taking care of my needs and very little looking out for the needs of others.  I did a pretty good job of covering this from my parents but mostly that was because I rarely got caught with my hand in the cookie jar even though it was in there quite often, metaphorically speaking. 

Then when I was seventeen, I had an epiphany.  It happened one day at the end of a high school church retreat and it changed my life.  It is a story for another time but once again I was on the straight and narrow path.  It was like being baptized all over again.  I felt changed.  I felt exhilarated.  It was a highlight of my life.  Only this time I didn’t smell like chlorine.  This time it lasted about six months.

Then I fell into backslide mode again and it wasn’t until I had my third epiphany (third time’s the charm) when I was 34 years old, married with two children, that I finally understood what my baptism was all about.  I felt changed.  I felt exhilarated.  It was a highlight of my life, but this time it took.  Again, it is a story for another time, but in 1979 I realized my baptism way back in 1956 was only the beginning.  It wasn’t something that once done is finished.  The process of baptism is a lifelong challenge that occurs on a daily basis.  We must die to sin and be re-born, through the grace of God, new creatures in Christ everyday.  If we skip a day or two, it is alright.  It is kind of like skipping our bath for a couple of days, we are still alive but we start to smell after a while.  Then we know it is time to get back to the waters of our baptism and remember why we asked Jesus to be our personal Savior, because only He can wash our sins away. 

Hopefully, you two will spend more time on the straight and narrow than your Grandpa Jud has.  However, whenever you get off track, remember what happened to you on October 28, 2007 was only the beginning. But because of your baptism on that day, you are forever in His loving care and workers with the rest of us in the Kingdom of God.

I love you both, bunches and bunches.

Grandpa Jud