The Nativity in the Emergency Department; my December EM News column

Merry Christmas!  This is my December column in EM News.  The Nativity in the Emergency Department.

http://journals.lww.com/em-news/Fulltext/2012/12000/Second_Opinion__The_Nativity_in_the_Emergency.9.aspx

I once wrote a story for Christmas in which the nativity happened in an old, beat-up hunting trailer behind a man’s store, somewhere in the South on a cold winter night. From everywhere and all around, rough people and businessmen and politicians found their way to it, situated as it was in a cluttered backyard of a poor but compassionate store owner. Mary and Joseph had a car that broke down, you see, and they were stuck. I doubt if it’s that original. I suspect Hallmark or someone has done this story over and over.

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Yet it still resonates; it still bounces around inside my mind. I envision that cold night, and the star, and the people in my neighborhood, camo-wearing hunters and bearded bikers, the guy with the meth lab that blew up (no kidding), the men in the garage across the highway. I suppose it’s because the story fits everywhere.

As you might expect, I have this image of the manger scene set in an ED. I think back over my patients, and it makes perfectly good sense to me. I can’t decide if it’s a busy night or a slow one. But there are Mary and Joseph, maybe homeless. We do see the homeless, don’t we? And certainly the poor. “Doctor, we don’t have any money or anywhere to go. Can we stay here tonight?” We might try social work, but face it, they probably went home already. The poor are always among us.

If it’s a slow night, the nurses are stricken with a kind of magic. They fluff Mary’s pillow, and one of them (who used to do OB) notices the way Mary is breathing and holding her belly. “She’s going to deliver!” (For the purpose of the story, Labor and Delivery is full to capacity.) All of the nurses are hovering, getting ice for Mary and coffee for Joseph, who has not so much as the change to buy one.

If it’s a busy night, everyone is frantic, and when Mary says, “I think the baby is coming!” the staff roll their eyes, as if they needed one more thing between the overdoses and the chest pains, the weaknesses and the demanding daughter in the hallway insisting on endless attention for her aging mother.

But they do the right thing, don’t they? They almost always do. We almost always do. Before you can sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” the baby is there. He’s crying because they do that. And Mary nurses him immediately after the nurses clean him off. But the nurses, and the doctor who caught him (fumbling, frightened … he hates delivering babies), all of them are somehow breathless. The hair on their necks and arms rises up, chills run along their spines. It’s not fear; it’s wonder. Inexplicable. Another poor baby. So what? Everyone is crying. Nobody knows why. Mary just takes it all in as Joseph wraps his arms around both of them, still in the same dirty sweater, still disheveled.

Of course, there are no animals. And yet. If it’s slow, the sleeping drunk in the next room wakes and stumbles in to see. Looking down, he cries, too. He understands something so deep he can’t express it. Something he forgot about hope and love and parents and forgiveness. He reaches into his pocket, pushes $100 into Joseph’s hand, and goes to lie down again. He sleeps in lovely dreams.

If it’s busy, things suddenly move slowly. Things happen. The mumbling, confused lady with dementia (whose daughter is so demanding) speaks for a few minutes with utter clarity, and finds her way to the door of the baby’s room. She holds her daughter’s hand and laughs, and recalls the details of her own maternity. The meth addict, tweaking and rocking back and forth, sits on the floor and just watches. He is calm. He does not scratch or scream. He is transfixed by the inexorable wonder he always hoped to find in drugs, and by the possibility that he might be whole again, that he might have his own wife, child, and delight. The man dying of lymphoma, passing the room as he is wheeled up for admission, asks the nurse to stop so he can look, and the child fixes its tiny eyes on him. He still dies, but he does it in peace.

The cardiac patient’s chest pain resolves, and the febrile infant in the hall-bed (the one who looked so sick) begins to laugh, cackling, breathless laughter. His fever is gone. Only the babies can see the angels swooping round, touching, healing, encouraging.

I can imagine all sorts of things. An angry mayor, searching for the child. Or professors and priests and ambassadors looking for him later, giving him gifts.

But all I see now is the dawn. Mary is strong. She has no time to be admitted. Joseph says they have to go. They are loaded with formula and money, with snacks and blankets (and diapers). They are hugged and kissed by strangers, and everyone waves goodbye.

The next shift asks, “What was that all about?”

“Don’t know,” is the answer, “but I’m glad I didn’t miss it.”

And the chaos descends again, tempered by inexpressible hope, washed in love.

Thanksgiving: mission accomplished. Check!

Thanksgiving week checklist:

Time spent with wife and four amazing children.  Check.

Fed 28 family members and friends.  Check.

Gave injured dog his medicine; sometimes, when he agreed and wasn’t a big baby.  Check.

Played X-Box…with wife and children. Check.

Ate more than reasonable, but maintained weight.  Check.

Standard Southern relaxation of shooting in backyard.  Grass littered with shell casings.  Now ammo poor.  Check.

Cousin sleepover with kids. Check.

Watched Elf.  Check.

Put up Christmas tree and decorations, according to wife’s excellent aesthetic sense.  Check.

Ate various incarnations of turkey and dressing, including chili.  Check.

Took out trash.  Check.

Long hike today, now exhausted. Check.

Best of all, thankful to God above for his grace and mercies.

Check, check, check.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Edwin

 

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Pause and remember our real bounty. My Greenville News Thanksgiving column.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/11/22/ed-leap-pause-remember-real-bounty/19344775/

 

The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest. The Puritan settlers of Plymouth Plantation, Massachusetts, declared a day of thanks in the fall of 1621 because they had a very good year. So much so that they took several days off to celebrate. There are scant written records of that day, but from what we have, it’s apparent that they were thrilled to have plenty of crops, as well as Indian corn, water-fowl, turkey, local sea-food and whatever else nature could provide.

It was not without precedent. It was an old European tradition (an old human tradition) to celebrate the harvest. From the descriptions, they celebrated it in a way we in the South could respect. They prayed and then ate…and ate. They also hunted and practiced with their assault rifles…that is, muskets. (Just like us Southern Baptists!)

And they had their friends over; in fact, some 90 Wampanoag Indians with their Chief Massasoit, who brought the venison. They stayed three days, eating with their fair-skinned neighbors. The bounty was so great, in fact, that the Pilgrims wrote letters to relatives in England, describing it.

The Puritan Pilgrims understood the power of Thanksgiving. They understood that it was an important thing, a thing of perspective. Given that they were ‘right wing religious nuts with guns,’ they took seriously the injunction to give thanks to God for their bounty.

It’s all too easy for us to associate their Thanksgiving with ours. First of all, theirs was a very specific, intentional act. Ours is a national holiday, and has been since 1941. One that we easily take it for granted. In the big picture, our national bounty is so great that Thanksgiving can become just another holiday we struggle to understand, just another time of family stress when we try to do too much and launch ourselves into the frenzy of more mindless bounty at Christmas.

Keep in mind, however, that the Pilgrims lived on the very edge of a vast, unknown continent, thousands of miles across the Atlantic from the things they had always known. Their close neighbors were starvation and disease. One bad harvest could end the colony. One case of pneumonia, one infected wound or childbirth gone bad, and a new grave would be necessary.

There were no hospitals, and there were no shopping centers. An i-Phone search for ‘nearest Supermarket’ would have yielded ‘no search results.’ Starbucks? 350 years away. Luxury was what they created. At any moment, their native friends could have swept them from the earth. They faced potential catastrophe in America and oppression back home. Rock and a hard place, devil and the deep blue sea. But they were thankful.

We can learn so much. In the midst of our political and cultural battles, we should step back. Yes, there is hunger in America. But we have, without doubt, the tools and the bounty to solve it if we choose. Yes, there is political dissent; and then some. But despite the dramatic changes of the recent election, guess what didn’t happen? No bombs at polling places. No one rounded up and executed, body tossed in a ditch because of their political views or ethnicity. Yes, we have various divisions along religious, philosophical, and racial lines…even along lines of sexuality. But guess what? We don’t put our opponents into camps or prisons. (We do say mean things on social media, though.)

Some people understand. Those who survive terrible diseases, or those who know they won’t, but have to view life as a gift they have already opened and enjoyed as much as possible. Those whose families had trouble, but who came through intact. Those who endured war and came home to their loved ones. Those who served in places of hunger and sickness around the world, and saw what it was like to fly home to a city with food, shelter and clean water literally everywhere.

As we think about Thanksgiving this year, and begin to give thanks, we should pause to remember our bounty. Not the theoretical bounty of the ‘horn of plenty’ on our tables, but the bounty of life, every single day in our modern, richly endowed nation. For all it’s problems, it’s pretty amazing. And for the great gift of perspective. Because as the Pilgrims knew so well, true Thanksgiving is understood best at the junction of profound struggle with breathless gratitude.

Easter morning brings unbelievably good news!

This is my Easter column in the Greenville News.  May you have a deeper understanding of the message of the resurrection of Jesus.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20130331/OPINION/303310014/Ed-Leap-morning-brings-unbelievably-good-news?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|s

Easter Sunday is the day we too easily make Jesus the God of good people, the God of nice boys and girls and proper men and women, with freshly pressed clothes and baskets of candy, who go home for nice dinners.  The people who know all of the right Sunday-School answers to life’s questions.

However, having spent my medical career seeing a lot of wounded, broken people, I have a message this Easter, whether you’ll be in church or not; whether you’ll have chocolate bunnies or just be happy for food. Whether you have a new dress or an old pair of jeans.  Because the miracle of Easter is for all; and especially for those who are longing for hope and love.

Here’s what you need to know.  The resurrection was for ancient alcoholics and 21st century Methamphetamine addicts.  It was for the prostitutes of antiquity and the sex-workers of the Internet.  That magnificent event was meant to heal the bitter slave holders and oppressors of times past and the manipulative money-launderers of modern banking scams.  The Man from Galilee died for physical sicknesses of the past that left men and women beggars, and for the schizophrenia that leaves people babbling beneath underpasses today.  He died for the grief, depression and anxiety that we now treat only with pills and more pills.

Jesus’ act was for all.  For the Roman soldiers who crucified Him and for the terrorist bombers of our time.  It was for the poor and rich, for the starving and the obese. He died and rose for environmentalists and litterers, for progressives and fundamentalists.  It was for those whose sin is pride and for those whose pride was long ago lost in professional failure.  It was for those who rob from the poor, and for the vicious poor who use poverty as an excuse to steal and murder.  It was for the married and divorced, the widowed and the engaged, the orphan and the beloved son or daughter.  It is for the believer, but it remains available for the ones who can’t believe; at least not yet.

Jesus came for scientists and simpletons; for academics and tradesmen.  He made no difference between them, for all were ultimately in need of the same saving work.  He came for the religious leaders who condemned him, for wayward pastors, embezzling televangelists, abusive priests, patient missionaries, non-committed universalists and the martyred founders of the Church.  Indeed, He came to give the same clarity to all.  The clarity that He was the way and that by believing and seeking Him they could find their longings answered and be re-born in Him and in His love.  His intent was for His followers to continue in kind, and embrace everyone else with the love they received, offering them not sterile, disinterested ‘tolerance,’ but much more.  They were to spread His offer of healing, forgiveness, redemption, transformation and eternal life.

Consider this.  In an age of endless demographic groups used for politics and marketing, there is no demographic for whom Jesus did not die and live again.  There is no sin or affliction, no shame or personal abuse, no history, no wound, no lie, no faithlessness, no cruelty endured or inflicted that did He did not take to the cross.  Nothing, and no person, that He neglected in His universe changing, soul-saving, death-ending, time-shattering, sin-atoning act.

This is harder for us to accept that we might like to admit.  It’s one thing for Jesus to die and return for me; but quite another that he did it for someone I dislike, disdain or with whom I share no commonality.  And yet, that is the salient point.  The bruised, bloodied and resurrected point.  He is our commonality, who unites us in redeeming our common sin.

Whomever we are, we bring our wounds and sins to this new day, this resurrection day; sometimes hidden beneath our pinks, greens and blues, suppressed (even in church) by the right words and smiles.  Happily, whatever we woke up bearing, whatever personal agony, whatever tomb we seem to dwell in or be destined for, this morning there is unbelievable news.

Jesus took our place, Jesus took our pain and guilt and sorrow and fear.  Jesus took our disease and wounds and very mortality and condemnation up to the cross, down to the grave, and left it behind.  And whatever we are, or did, or bear upon us, these words remain relevant.

He is risen.  So are we if only we desire and accept.

 

This morning brings unbelievably good news! Happy Easter!

This morning brings unbelievably good news!

My column in today’s Greenville News.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20130331/OPINION/303310014/Ed-Leap-morning-brings-unbelievably-good-news?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|p

Easter Sunday is the day we too easily make Jesus the God of good people, the God of nice boys and girls and proper men and women, with freshly pressed clothes and baskets of candy, who go home for nice dinners.  The people who know all of the right Sunday-School answers to life’s questions.

However, having spent my medical career seeing a lot of wounded, broken people, I have a message this Easter, whether you’ll be in church or not; whether you’ll have chocolate bunnies or just be happy for food. Whether you have a new dress or an old pair of jeans.  Because the miracle of Easter is for all; and especially for those who are longing for hope and love.

Here’s what you need to know.  The resurrection was for ancient alcoholics and 21st century Methamphetamine addicts.  It was for the prostitutes of antiquity and the sex-workers of the Internet.  That magnificent event was meant to heal the bitter slave holders and oppressors of times past and the manipulative money-launderers of modern banking scams.  The Man from Galilee died for physical sicknesses of the past that left men and women beggars, and for the schizophrenia that leaves people babbling beneath underpasses today.  He died for the grief, depression and anxiety that we now treat only with pills and more pills.

Jesus’ act was for all.  For the Roman soldiers who crucified Him and for the terrorist bombers of our time.  It was for the poor and rich, for the starving and the obese. He died and rose for environmentalists and litterers, for progressives and fundamentalists.  It was for those whose sin is pride and for those whose pride was long ago lost in professional failure.  It was for those who rob from the poor, and for the vicious poor who use poverty as an excuse to steal and murder.  It was for the married and divorced, the widowed and the engaged, the orphan and the beloved son or daughter.  It is for the believer, but it remains available for the ones who can’t believe; at least not yet.

Jesus came for scientists and simpletons; for academics and tradesmen.  He made no difference between them, for all were ultimately in need of the same saving work.  He came for the religious leaders who condemned him, for wayward pastors, embezzling televangelists, abusive priests, patient missionaries, non-committed universalists and the martyred founders of the Church.  Indeed, He came to give the same clarity to all.  The clarity that He was the way and that by believing and seeking Him they could find their longings answered and be re-born in Him and in His love.  His intent was for His followers to continue in kind, and embrace everyone else with the love they received, offering them not sterile, disinterested ‘tolerance,’ but much more.  They were to spread His offer of healing, forgiveness, redemption, transformation and eternal life.

Consider this.  In an age of endless demographic groups used for politics and marketing, there is no demographic for whom Jesus did not die and live again.  There is no sin or affliction, no shame or personal abuse, no history, no wound, no lie, no faithlessness, no cruelty endured or inflicted that did He did not take to the cross.  Nothing, and no person, that He neglected in His universe changing, soul-saving, death-ending, time-shattering, sin-atoning act.

This is harder for us to accept that we might like to admit.  It’s one thing for Jesus to die and return for me; but quite another that he did it for someone I dislike, disdain or with whom I share no commonality.  And yet, that is the salient point.  The bruised, bloodied and resurrected point.  He is our commonality, who unites us in redeeming our common sin.

Whomever we are, we bring our wounds and sins to this new day, this resurrection day; sometimes hidden beneath our pinks, greens and blues, suppressed (even in church) by the right words and smiles.  Happily, whatever we woke up bearing, whatever personal agony, whatever tomb we seem to dwell in or be destined for, this morning there is unbelievable news.

Jesus took our place, Jesus took our pain and guilt and sorrow and fear.  Jesus took our disease and wounds and very mortality and condemnation up to the cross, down to the grave, and left it behind.  And whatever we are, or did, or bear upon us, these words remain relevant.

He is risen.  So are we if only we desire and accept.

 

The gift of Christmas needs no warranty

Almost every significant gift I purchased was accompanied by an offer for an ‘extended protection plan,’ intended to repair the item, or replace it, if damaged.  My thought, after being offered this when purchasing a Big Wheel for a child, was ‘if it needs an extra warranty, is it really that sturdy?’

Fortunately, Christmas requires no warranty.  Christ is the same now as ever.  His life, work and redemptive sacrifice still as powerful as ever.  The gift will never break, however broken we are.  The gift will never be lost, however lost we were when we received it.

The gift is guaranteed for all eternity.  It needs no battery, and will never run out of power.  The gift is beautiful but will never need polishing or maintenance. The gift will always be useful.  The gift will never be irrelevant.  And we will never be disappointed with what the gift offers us, in this life or the next.

Merry Christmas!

Edwin

 

 

Sending a son out into the world…

This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  Merry Christmas!

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20121223/OPINION/312230016/Ed-Leap-Sending-son-into-world-can-painful?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|p

Today is the 18th birthday of our my first-born son, Samuel.  It’s a shocking thing, to see the transformation.  18 years ago he was new to the world, tiny, needy, vulnerable and awash in the love of his parents.  Now he is a man. He is bright, articulate, kind, Godly, physically and intellectually strong and capable.  (And still loved.)

He will soon go out into the world with as much as we could give him of ourselves.  He bears our genetics and our tendencies, his mother and I.  Which means he’s a music loving, book reading, deep-thinking, compassionate and gracious card shark who loves ancient history, languages and has a competitive streak and big dreams.  (Among other things, of course.)

He takes with him all that we taught him over the years.  And as much as I’d love to shelter him until I leave this world, as much as I’d love to have him in my home and at my side forever, to do so would hold his destiny hostage.  He is meant for greater things, even if they involve trouble and risk.

We celebrate another birth this week. We celebrate the birth of the Christ child, the God-man.  He bore to earth His Father’s traits as well.  He was, in fact, the very embodiment, the very incarnation, of His Father.  (A fate my son, fortunately, does not have to endure.)

God sent Him down as the prophets foretold, to save the people from their sins (that means us, by the way).  And in order to do it, God equipped Him fully. He lacked nothing necessary to the ministry and the mission in all its wonder, from showing mercy to the poor, miracles to the sick, dominion over nature, kindness to the displaced, hope to the lost and redemption to all.

But as I consider this, today, this day, I realize a little better what God did.  He sent His Son.  He sent The Son.  His beloved.  He sent Him into a world, and a life, of beauty mixed with pain, of wonder mixed with terror.  He sent Him to a glorious birth, which we celebrate with light and music and gifts. And He sent Him to pain and death in order to defeat sin and death. He sent his dear one to people who would disbelieve Him, disregard Him and finally murder Him.

As my wife and I send our son into His future, it is with trepidation and hope.  Will he be loved?  Will he be safe?  Will he succeed?  Will he live long and well?  Will he be happy?  Will He remember us? I pray that all of those are answered with a yes.

But as we celebrate the nativity, we must remember that God, all knowing, knew the answers for His Son, and sent him anyway.  Will He be loved?  By some, and hated by many. Will He be safe?  No, unequivocally.  Danger will stalk and overtake Him.   Will He live long and well?  No, and yes.  His earthly years some 33; his days, ultimately, endless.  Will He be happy?  At times; and sometimes weep over friends.  Will His mission succeed? Absolutely, and for all eternity.  Will He remember me?  Oh yes.  A thousand times yes.

Nevertheless, there was separation, if only for a while. And for this father, and for that Father, even the hint of separation, even a slight lack of communion can be difficult. Love is like that.  I hope that Samuel and his mother, his siblings and I are always dear to one another for he is certainly cherished by us.

And from the intimacy with which Jesus speaks of His Father, and with which the Father speaks of Him, it seems certain that their love for one another never ebbed, but only grew stronger.

At Christmas, we talk about the gift of the Christ child.  But every good gift costs the giver something. This year, I’ll try to remember what it must have been like for the Almighty to send His Son out, even for a while, for the likes of me.

Because even as we know that they are ready, and that they have great roles to play and great destinies to fulfill, it’s hard.  Even if we know that they have work to do, lives to save, souls to rescue and a universe to set right, it’s painful to let go for even a short time.  For a Son (or a son) is a treasure of untold worth.

The fire that transforms started at Christmas

This is my Greenville News column for this week.  Merry Christmas dear readers!

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20121216/OPINION/312160011/Ed-Leap-fire-transforms-started-Christmas?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|s

We have these little stars that cover some of the bulbs on the Christmas tree.  Shining in the dark they cover the tree in tiny representations of the Christmas star. However, as the kids know well, the pretty, spiky stars fall off the bulbs and sometimes lie on the ground, where bare feet contact the stars, loud screams are heard, and children (and parents) are seen hopping about and nursing puncture wounds.

Christmas trees are also more than beautiful. Real trees ultimately shed needles and weep resin and before you can sing For Auld Lang Syne, they’re off to the landfill, or the lake to serve as cover for Bass.  But worst of all, trees can be a bit flammable.  I always chuckle at old movies, in which the tree is decorated with burning candles and left alone.  Probably a bad idea, especially in the days before fire alarms, fire extinguishers and 911.

But in some ways, both of these things are illustrations of some foundational truths of Christmas.  We have forgotten, to our spiritual poverty, that Christmas is sharp and piercing.  And Christmas is a conflagration.

It’s beautiful, and make no mistake. The story, on the surface, is a simple child’s tale of a baby, poor parents and exotic lands, with stars and angels and kings.  And it is all that!  But it’s more.  Old Herod knew it, as he searched for the infant king and murdered the innocents in an attempt to stop a coming King greater than himself.  Shepherds knew it, abandoning their sheep to danger after the angels told them to see their deliverer.  Wise men knew it.  They brought no toys, no soft blankets, no Baby Einstein tapes or learning blocks. They brought a small child the tributes given to kings, including spices for His burial.  They saw forward to a darker day.

Like our ornaments, the man Jesus was sharp and piercing.  Our culture remembers His words about kindness and love, about the poor and humility.  Our culture forgets that if He had been walking and teaching incarnate today, He would have called out everyone for our hypocrisy, irreverence,  disregard for the holy; for our greed, lies, idolatry and immorality.  He would have been our friend, if we would have him. But not without hard words, for his goal was never to soothe men’s egos, but to save men’s souls.  His words penetrated, as He called all men and women sinners and claimed He was the only way to God.  Words like that don’t earn many followers in the halls of power and fame.  Those words, like our ornaments, cut deeply even though they’re part of the beautiful whole.

Ultimately, the sweet baby born at Christmas would anger others so much that His sharp words, His rapier ideas, His piercing and undeniable identity would make others pierce him.  With thorns and nails and spear.  That’s where the beauty of Christmas finds its culmination, as the lovely infant becomes the lovely sacrifice and lover of all mankind.

But the trees? He became a conflagration as well.  Christmas didn’t end with the manger, or the Magi, or the trip to Egypt.  It went on as Jesus grew and became a man, as He taught His disciples and followers and as His mission and ministry became evident.  And after the piercing one was pierced, after his fire burned away the power of sin and death and lifted him up, after he went back to the Father, the fire went on.

Ignited in the manger and fueled by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, by the hope of forgiveness and redemption for even the worst, and eternal worth for even the least, the fire roared across the world, melting the icy, dying hearts of ancient empires.  The fire burns on today.

We can try to blunt the sharp points and edges of Christmas with mind numbing lights and colors, gifts and parties.  We can try to smother the fire with Holiday Trees and Winter Festivals, with Santa, Elves, parties and snow.

But be careful where you step.  And be careful of the flames.  For Christmas is the beginning of the wounds and the fire that transformed, and transforms, as nothing ever did.

Staying on the ground is a blessing (My Greenville News column for today)

 

Here’s my column in today’s Greenville News, on the blessings of not flying this Thanksgiving.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20121124/OPINION/311240004/Staying-ground-blessing?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|p

As I contemplate the Thanksgiving just past, I am thankful that friends and family traveled to my home. In part because I’m blessed with family, blessed with house and job, food and health.  But I’m thankful for another reason.  The location of my various family members does not require me to set foot on an airplane.

I recently took a whirlwind trip to San Diego, California for a speaking engagement.  How amazing flight is!  We can cross mountains and oceans, continents and hemispheres. We can make meetings hundreds of miles away and be home for dinner with the family.  And all of it while watching the news as if we were in our living room (except eating what we want), in a climate controlled,  ever-so-slightly reclining chair.

And yet.  Among the many activities of modern life, I doubt if any are as demeaning to the human spirit as commercial air travel.  For instance, on my recent flight from GSP, I checked in a few minutes past my 60 minute window.  I know, there has to be a cut-off.  But it required me to go home (to Oconee County) and wait 12 hours for my next opportunity to fly.  (It was a blessing, as I had church and lunch with family.  And mind you, it’s rather serene passing through Seneca, Clemson, Easley and Powdersville at 4:30 and 5:30 am.)

I returned and wound my way through security.  Ah, security.  When I travel with my wife, she says to me (as I begin to take my shoes off and grumble), ‘be polite…you don’t want to go to jail.’  I find our current system of airline security…’less than optimal,’ as it were.  ‘Take off your belt. Put your laptop on the conveyor belt.  Take off your shoes.  Move it along people.  Come on. Step through.’  Since Jan wasn’t there, I was reminded by the sign that said, in essence, inappropriate joking might result in arrest.  So I kept my raging thoughts to myself and smiled.

I ultimately made my flight, checking my bag to the tune of a soul-sucking $25, then wedging myself into a small seat on a small aircraft on the way to Houston as non-checked bags, possibly containing bodies, were forced into various compartments by people still in possession of their $25.  In Houston, I snacked quickly, boarded, then wedged myself between two individuals whose dimensions made it more comfortable to merely hold my hands above my head all the way from Texas to San Diego, as if being robbed.  Not to mention that my ‘row-mate’ to the left made odd grunting noises over and over, while awake, and while both playing on his iPad and watching the pay television mounted in front of him.  ( I wondered if he were contemplating eating me…grunts can sound rather like ‘yum’ in a dark cabin.)  I remained vigilant and survived, arriving in San Diego late at night but safe and sound.

When I  returned from San Diego back to Houston and Greenville,  I did something I had never done before. I road the  golf-cart/shuttle in the airport.  When I told the driver where I was headed, a little proud of my ability to walk quickly, he said, ‘you better get on.’  It turns out I had arrived at Concourse C but had to find my way to Concourse Z, subsection 15, sub-subsection alpha, orange, gate square root of 6.

You see, when one goes to Greenville, SC from larger cities, one often has to leave from remotely located, obscure parts of large airports.  After riding on the transport, riding on the train, running some more and finding my way to what I thought was the tiniest concourse in Houston, I was directed down another hallway, and another, and yet another until I came to a small door with a sliding panel and had to knock three times then whistle. A man slid it back and asked if we were there for the flight or the poker game.  Outside our biplane was ready and waiting.

I’m not blaming anyone.  Lots of people, lots of planes, lots of destinations.  It’s difficult to keep flight affordable, safe and (relatively) on time.  I understand.  And I felt for the dejected, overworked clerks, flight attendants and pilots I saw, for whom the glory of flight had long since passed, as evidenced by their mussed hair and desperate sprints for the exit doors.  God bless them all.

I’m just saying, ‘thank you Lord for keeping me on the ground for Thanksgiving.’

Get rid of useless stuff this Thanksgiving…my Greenville News column for this week

This is my column in today’s Greenville news, on the topic of time wasted and time well used.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20121118/OPINION/311180007/Get-rid-useless-stuff-Thanksgiving?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|p

I sometimes sit and think about the things that have wasted my time.  It’s a long list, and  probably would exceed my word limit for this column.  Regret can be very destructive if it isn’t accompanied by change.  But as I am trying to change, I feel like it’s alright to list some of the activities that have consumed my precious heartbeats.

For example, there’s worry.  I come from a family of worriers, so I’ll claim some environmental and genetic factors. But I also embraced it.  From worry about my future and education when younger, all the way through worry about the health and safety of my loved ones and on into worry about the future prospects and safety of my kids, worry has been a dark hobby of mine. More to the point, it has been an idol, before whom I have spent too many long nights in worship.  It’s worthless.

Next, said the writer, is communication.  Not that communication isn’t important.  It’s critically important!  I mean pointless communication. For instance, I have used too much time having e-mail arguments with people whose minds I will never change.  I have done the same engaging in political debate with opponents on Facebook or some other electronic black hole of time usage.

I’ve wasted time with television, flipping channels as if my body were riveted to my chair and no other option were available.  I’m not too much of a television guy, but I’d venture to say that I have, in total, used up weeks to months of otherwise productive life sitting before the glowing box.

A few other things come to mind.  For instance, I don’t know how much of my life has been devoted to trying to start small engines.  Lawn mowers, weed-trimmers, chain-saws and all the rest have consumed my limited span over and over.  Each summer I wonder how many hours will go down the tubes pulling the starter cord, adjusting the choke, checking oil and filters and replacing the string on trimmers.  I don’t know how to avoid it, but it still tends to trouble my summer days.  Living in the midst of what amounts to a jungle, weeds must be battled.  I just haven’t figured out how to make it a fair fight.

I could go on.  But it might be better to think about the things that haven’t wasted my time.  For instance, dates with my wife, shopping with my wife, talking with my wife or even napping with my wife.  Not a one, in all my years with her, has been a waste of time.  And playing with my children!  Whether board games or word games, whether tag in the pool or Halo 4 on the X-Box, dancing or wrestling, dolls or toy soldiers, not a second has been wasted.  Conversations with my wife and kids, in which we discuss everything from daily activities to philosophy and theology, are times that are always valuable.  Visiting with parents and grandparents, remembering past times, sharing wisdom and laughter, never a waste of time.

Reading my Bible, prayer, worship, alone or with my church family, or my own family, has always been a worthwhile expenditure of my limited heart-beats on this earth.  They make me wiser, kinder, humbler, more loving and more at peace. Reading in general!  (I can pretty quickly identify those books or articles that are pointless and I now move on right away.)  Reading has never seemed a waste to me.

This list, like the list of wasted time, is pretty exhaustive and could go on.  But let me also say that Thanksgiving represents much of what is good in my use of time. Thanksgiving is never a waste.  It incorporates time with the people I love, worship and praise for all my blessings.  It leads to laughter, games and rest.  And it involves food!  Preparing, cooking and eating good food is never an abuse of our fleeting time.  Turkey, dressing, gravy, assorted casseroles, bread, cranberry (fresh or jellied), pumpkin pie and all the rest are never, ever to be calculated as poor investments of our few decades on earth.

So this Thanksgiving, clean house. (No really, especially kids and husbands, clean house.  It will make the ladies happy.)  But also, clean house of the things that use your time, and your life, poorly.  And focus on the good.  You won’t miss the useless stuff.  And you’ll have that much more time to give thanks, eat, laugh and nap.