If I only leave one thing behind…

If I only leave one thing behind – for my children, my grandchildren, all of my people now, and all those who ever hear my name in distance times – may it be a story. A story of a messy life, clouded with sorrow and uncertainty. A life like a wild and over-grown garden, where seeds of hope were planted. Seeds of the Gospel, seeds of mystery,  seeds of faith and of love. Seeds that miraculously took root, watered by community, warmed and called forth by the brilliance of the Son, breaking the surface of the dirt…

And blossoming into joy.

Joy so overwhelming and beautiful it would make their heart ache to know of it, wishing one day to experience it for themselves, and wanting it so badly they would begin to plant seeds of their own. The ancient process would continue. And Joy would grow stronger, higher, and more resplendent throughout the ages.

Always stretching toward the Son.

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unknown kiss

He lay suspended between two worlds. In foggy space between consciousness and unconsciousness, between sleep and awake. Something is happening, barely perceptible, almost tangible, still undefinable.

Contact.

What is it? The soft impression of two tiny lips on his cheek. The familiar, soft click sound of a kiss. Little hands on his shoulders for support. Love emanating white hot from a simple, anonymous gesture. From the tender mouth of a child to the rough face of a father. Yes, something is happening. Is it real, or just a dream? Shaking off the clutches of a nap like a dog shaking off water, eyes remaining closed, still groggy, but the experience becomes more clear. Yes, finally a conscious understanding of what has taken place…

My daughter approached me and kissed me on the cheek while I was sleeping on the oversized chair in the TV room.

The act may be seem insignificant, small, unworthy of mention. Maybe. But maybe it’s something more. Perhaps something much more.

A kiss on the cheek of a sleeping person may be one of the truest expressions of affection for another human being.

I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom. The cheek kiss is often relegated as the “friend” kiss, the passionless gesture, completely devoid of feeling.

But I disagree.

There are nights when I don’t get home from work until after my daughter has fallen asleep. I don’t like these nights. Not at all. No reading. No silliness. No snuggling. But I always go into her room, make sure she’s comfortable, check to make sure her breathing passages are clear (she’s nine, and I’m still doing this?), and then I lean down, ever so quietly. Careful to keep my balance, slowly moving towards her perfect little face.

The rough impression of two lips on her cheek. The familiar, soft click sound of a kiss. Grown hands bracing on either side of her for support. Love emanating white hot from a simple, anonymous gesture. From the chapped lips of a father to the soft cheek of a child. The moment is…

Perfect.

What makes it so perfect is the anonymity of it all. I spend so much time, consciously or subconsciously, attempting to get people to notice my acts of love for them. It’s shameful, I know.  But we all do this, whether we admit it or not. So many of our loving acts appear selfless, when, in fact, they are not. Not really. But this act, this unknown kiss, is pure, raw, unbridled affection. It is love expressed, but undetected. She doesn’t notice, nobody notices. But I cannot help myself. I love her so much, so deeply, I must kiss her face.

There are times in all of our lives where it is natural, and necessary, to show people how much we care. And then there are times within the bonds of a mutual relationship where we must give love anonymously, undetected, with no awareness on the part of the one receiving  it. And it’s in these times when we know for sure our love is pure, right, true, and good. When we express love in such a way that we cannot receive any attention or reciprocation, we find out where our heart really is. And we know we are capable of caring for someone in the deepest way, in the way only mothers, fathers, and lovers know.

If there’s a sleeping child in your house tonight, thank God above you have the privilege of loving and leading and nurturing such a precious gift. Then sneak in and give them a kiss on the cheek, being careful not to wake them. Then you will experience the sweet manifestation of affection in its purest form.

Then, you will know.

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For the fallen

Memorial Day Flag

581,016.

This number represents the total of American soldiers who have died in combat in all U.S. Wars. It does not include hundreds of thousands of other soldiers who died as a result of disease or accident. (The American Civil War, alone, is responsible for over 224,000 more deaths when you factor this in.)

It does include James Wesley Pierce.

James Wesley Pierce, Wes to his family and friends, was the third of five children born to James and Myrtle Pierce. Intelligent and handsome, with red hair and freckles, Wes was a Christian, an Eagle Scout known for always telling the truth. He was particularly close to his older sister, Florence, who happens to be my paternal grandmother.

My great uncle Wes was a navigator on a B-29 Superfortress long range bomber in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. His plane was shot down over Japan in July of 1945, just two weeks before President Truman ordered the bombing of Hiroshima, which, coupled with the bombing of the city of Nagasaki three days later, effectively ended the Second World War. His remains, and the remains of his entire crew, are buried in a St. Joseph, Missouri military cemetery in a container the size of a cigar box.

I confess I have no idea what it’s like. With apologies to the fictitious Colonel Nathan R. Jessep, I never served in an infantry unit, never served in a forward area, never put my life in another man’s hand and asked him to put his life in mine. Early in college, the Persian Gulf crisis was intensifying. We all wondered what it would mean for us. Would we be called upon to serve through the draft? I remember thinking at the time if it came to it, I would be honored and willing and ready to serve my country. But it didn’t happen in 1991 like it did in the 1940′s. I can’t comprehend what it must have been like for a generation of parents who were facing the reality that a percentage of their children would be sacrificed on the altar of freedom and that was just the way it was and there was nothing they could do but hope and pray and cry. But my great Uncle Wes understood. And so did his parents. And my grandmother.

I’m incredibly grateful.

My great uncle had a life and dreams and plans. He had a girl. He was waiting until after the war was over to get serious. He never got the chance. His life and dreams and plans and future went down over the Pacific Ocean in 1945. The clearest expression of love is sacrifice. And because of my great uncle’s (and so many others) love for his country and family, and his willingness to lay down his life for what he believes, I am able to live in a country where I’m free. Free to have a life and dreams and plans. Free to have a girl. And to get serious with that girl.

So I got serious with a girl. And in time that girl and I had a son.

His name is Jonah Wesley. We named him after my father.

My father’s name is Jonathan Wesley. He’s named after his Uncle Wes.

I have many hopes and prayers for my son. Some I can articulate and some are just inexpressible groans in my soul. But one of my hopes is for him to learn and understand the truth that love and sacrifice are inexorably linked. That he would be generous and forgiving and unselfish in his relationships with family, friends, teammates. That he would put aside his own comfort to bring comfort to others. That his love would lead him to give up certain luxuries so others might flourish. I hope he learns from my father, who once gave up the company he built with his own blood, sweat, and brilliance to provide a better life for his children. And I hope he learns from his Great Great Uncle Wes, who knew sometimes there are things – truths, values, principles, ideals – worth giving your life for. I hope he honors the legacy of his name.

And I hope he never has to die for his country. But if someday evil men rise up again and threaten the very freedoms and values we hold most dear, I hope that he will be willing to honorably and courageously do so.

Just like my Great Uncle Wes.

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