Heaven…

For years I have contemplated heaven. Recent physical challenges have highlighted the idea of “no more pain.” As a Christian, I have been taught (and taught others) the amazing future for believers in Jesus Christ: no more pain, tears, or the inevitable aging breakdown. I had a professor during an oral exam ask me if I thought that dogs would be in heaven. I gave him latitude because he was close to dying with cancer. Some Christian cults or sects believe in a heaven of sorts (paradise on earth, etc…) but there are differences from Christian orthodoxy. Starla maintains that Heaven will have herds of Guinea Pigs running through the streets (of course, guarded by Marines). The same professor also asked me if we would read books in Heaven…I fumbled through that answer.

However, the overarching teaching from most pulpits, books, and even sectarian Christianity is the emphasis of the elimination of human frailty and pain.

The most piercing question I have had to face (and have asked many others) is: “Would you be OK with the Heaven as advertised sans Jesus Christ?” In other words, would a pain-free, peaceful, eternal life-after-death satisfy your earthly salvation experience but Jesus was absent? Please do not mistake this as a soteriological question as to HOW one gets to Heaven. This only addresses the post-physical life existence in Heaven after one makes the approved journey.

I am terrified personally that I often fall into the category of viewing Jesus as an auxiliary benefit of celestial citizenship and the physical remedies as the primary draw. I am ashamed to admit that I also have unconsciously taught this as well.

Reading books, I answered the terminally ill professor, compared to the presence of God that no desire would exist for anything else. It did not satisfy him and I am not sure I believed it at the time. He simply and reflectively replied “Eternity is a long time.” The answer has bothered me ever since.

There is a country song lyric stating that “when I die, I want to live on the outskirts of heaven.” The sentiment is reflecting his love for God’s creation as he experienced in the rural country. I understand that, but as I think on the teaching of the Bible and who the wondrous Triune God is, when I die I want to be as close to Jesus as possible all the time. If the description of God Almighty is true, even the “baby-talk” version we comprehend exposes an endless and limitless source of beauty, truth, wonder, excitement, and my mind fails to adequately continue.

I daily forget this reality as the pain or challenges of this fleshly existence seem overwhelming but I often try to “renew my mind” with the truth of the wholly other, limitless, Creator of the Universe knowing that I will be completely satisfied (at peace and healed) simply in His presence. Before anyone thinks that I am too sanctimonious and self-righteous to be around…it only happens when the Holy Spirit reminds me to STOP WHINING!

Dirk

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My Failed Carjacking Attempt!

That’s right…carjacking! This is another incident related to a medical appointment as my life seems to revolve around such. So, I had HAD it! Someone needed to pay for all this crap! I was going to take someone else’s car and go joy riding!

Well, my optometrist, at a recent visit, was worried about an optic nerve abnormality and referred me to the top glaucoma specialist in our state. The visit truly was a pleasure. The staff and technicians were friendly, professional, and efficient. The doctor had the best “bed-side” manner of any doctor (and I have seen a score of them) I have encountered… probably ever. I told him so. The tests were extensive and one specific test almost ignited my fight or flight response. I have a fear of anyone or anything near my eyes. I even hate eye drops of any kind. This mentioned test required that the technician touch my eyes with an instrument! Arghhhhhhhhhh! Anyway, of course, my eyes were dilated for examination, so I looked like an old anime homeless man.

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The news regarding my eyes was very good and one of the best medical visits I have had in many, many years. I even had a good cup of coffee from them. The one thing they forgot were the ugly snap around sun shields for my light sensitive eyes. I thought, “Oh well, Starla has a pair of the over-the-glasses shades in the car.” So, I just covered my eyes with my hand until I got to the car.

What a relief provided from those funky shades! But, I had to do a few errands before returning to the homestead. The first was to my second home (maybe my first home since I spend more there than on my mortgage), Home Depot. My ego did not allow me to wear the funky shades into the Depot, so I shaded my eyes as I walked in and I was able to tolerate the lights inside. Everything was overly bright and sparkling but I was successful in my product search and purchase. I did struggle some getting to the car and loading my stuff but prevailed. Back on went the funky shades and off to my next errand. I needed to order my new glasses at the Sears optical shop. I repeated the process of shading my eyes on the way to look at frames. The “customer service” representative basically ignored me after I told her that another sales rep helped me before, so I left rather miffed.

I stomped out (a fearsome sight with my cane) to my vehicle, unlocked the door with my key fob and jerked the door open! There was another man in the driver’s seat of my car! A white guy of about thirty-five, on his cell phone, mouth open and leaning away from me. Then I realized that a similar colored vehicle parked right next to mine and closer to the store. Shielding my eyes had blocked the vehicle distinctions and I opened another person’s door! I am not sure who was more puckered. I began to apologize claiming I had everything from an eye exam to a head injury. He nervously accepted my repeated regrets and I hobbled to MY car mumbling that could have been shot and that I couldn’t even carjack a parked car from a pudgy guy…lame.

See you later…maybe,

The Blind Dirk (I guess I will bring my own sunglasses for my next eye doctor visit…just saying!)

Commandant of the Marine Corps

For some reason I just noticed the identity of the current Commandant of the Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. Neller. General Neller was my boot camp series commander (then Lt. Neller) and was a certified wild man, at least at the time! I am not sure what kind of Commandant he is or the career he had after my interaction with him. His actions as a series commander deeply impressed me as a Marine (even with the limited and distant relationship we had). He certainly would not remember me as I would be lost in an ocean of recruits and Marines he has known over the last 40 years.

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Lt. Neller, to us lowly recruits, was a big chested, no-necked Marine officer. No nonsense, terminally serious, stickler for protocol, and personally involved with the training of his Marine recruits. One of the training objectives that intimidated many recruits was the rope climb. I cannot remember how high the actual rope climb was but I think it was 400 feet (maybe a little less)! Many recruits struggled with the demonstrated leg assist technique and opted to use their arms only…disaster for most. Many a recruit either quit before “slapping” the top crossbar or froze or fell. I accomplished it by using my legs and an intense fear of my drill instructors!

One of my fellow recruits froze at the top of the climb, the second in as many days. The previous recruit froze at the top and then passed out or something and fell all the way down. The D.I.s freaked thinking he was dead or seriously hurt. After determining he was physically fine they attacked him as a loser and made him climb it again! The next “frozen” recruit caught the attention of Lt. Neller. He grabbed two of the ropes next to that freaked recruit, one rope in each hand, and began to ascend the ropes by one hand on each. He went up that rope as fast as I have ever seen! At the top he held onto one rope and with the other hand on the shoulder of the recruit, talked him down (with some yelling as well) following along the way.

That scene impressed me because THAT was a Marine I wanted to be in combat with…not his strength…but his attitude and his Marine-ness, so to speak. Call it espirit de corps and loyalty or whatever. I respected it and I wanted it.

Another event forged his name in my mind. Boot camp is the process of rewiring the recruit’s mind for responding to orders, pain, discipline, and loyalty. We were instructed that no one, NO ONE, physically comes between your platoon and the appointed drill instructors and officers. That was most evident while in “formation” at attention or simply “formed” for orders. No recruit from another platoon or series was allowed to walk between our platoon and its leadership, even accidentally.

Well, a distracted or oblivious recruit wandered between our senior drill instructor and our series commander, Lt. Neller. Instantly, three or four of my platoon mates literally pounced on him and bodily and forcibly ejected this recruit behind and away from our leaders. This action received hearty praise from our commander and drill instructor!

Lastly, near the end of of training, we had a “forced march” and attack on a hill that was very difficult and we were trying to achieve a platoon record. Marines are famous for their “oorah” cry for motivation and encouragement, but the lieutenant decided we needed a new battle cry. He came up with the dumbest replacement: Ganzo! Dumb. I hope he abandoned it.

May God bless Lt. Gen. Neller and I pray that he will lead with the same energy and loyalty that so deeply impressed me…I now believe that he truly is a Marine’s Marine.

Semper Fi, General Neller

The Dirk

One day on the way to the doctor…

I was on I-95 recently about 10am just south of Richmond sailing along in the left lane going about 70. Traffic was somewhat heavy but moving well, when out of nowhere from my right swooped a bald eagle…yes…a bald eagle (by the way, they are huge!). It evidently saw something tempting on the left road shoulder just in front of me. The complication for the majestic national symbol was the concrete barrier which dissects the massive eight lane highway. That barrier caused the eagle to quickly slow the swooping and beginning an evasive vertical maneuver. The problem was that the subsequent deceleration put it directly in line and close proximity with my hood emblem. During the ensuing fraction of a second, and no time to break or safely swerve, I saw talons and feathers ascend successfully over my vehicle. I am not sure who was more “puckered.”

After the initial shock, I, of course, was thankful not to kill such a iconic and beautiful creature but another concern entered my mind. If I had killed it some legal consequences may have been levied. It is illegal to kill a bald eagle in any fashion (unless you are a wind farm), even by accident! At least it is possible as I have known of unavoidable accidents prosecuted when certain protected animals have been killed.

If you drive in that same area be on the lookout for an errant eagle…don’t say you haven’t been warned!

Dirk

P.S. I have been informed that accidental eagle killings by automobile will not be prosecuted…hmmm…they didn’t say that when I hit one every day (for four days) in 1976 accidentally with my shotgun! (I AM JUST KIDDING! I only accidentally shot two.)

P.S.S. Really, I have never killed or hurt a bald eagle. However, I was part of a rescue of a golden eagle that was seriously caught in a trap in 1976.

McChin Moment

I want to hail a friend that passed away several years ago. We called him Big Brother Jack. He was big…6’2″ and over 400 pounds. He was an ex-pro wrestler and a little “rough around the edges.” He was one of the finest men I have ever met and a solid believer in Jesus Christ. He helped our family (only three of us at that time) beyond anything one can imagine. We were poor and many times without much food. Jack would come by our home and ask if we had enough food, as he pushed past me to look at our refrigerator and pantry for himself. If, in his estimation, the food cache was not to his liking, he would leave. About an hour later the big blue Mercedes would pull up with Jack and his characteristic cigar and a trunk full of food. Also, he took my family out to lunch every weekday (M – F) for over a year! He would help anyone…ANYONE that need it. I remember Jack paying for a bus repair from Mexico that had more than on flat tire. He bought the tires, had them put on, and bought food for everyone on the bus. So much more could be said about this wonderful, gruff, loving, saint. I simply will end with another praise to God for those saints to which He puts in our lives even during rough times. Dirk

My Childhood Best Friend

My Childhood Best Friend – Adios

 

My best friend died when I was fifteen. Jimmy was a year older but in my grade. I hate friends movies where one of them dies and the other moves through the manufactured stages of grief and ends up happy. Jimmy was supposed to go to summer camp with me but went on a family vacation instead. He was different. Jimmy was six feet tall at twelve years old and six feet six inches tall the year he died with size 13EEE shoes. I look at pictures of us together and laugh. We look like a strange comic team from a teen movie. We learned everything that young boys learn together, the good and the bad. Our moms were best friends and we were around one another from the time I was born. When my parents divorced, my mom, brother, and I lived with Jimmy’s family for almost a year. It was an experience sleeping three boys (6, 7, and 10) in a queen size bed. That is where my fear of cats developed. The family had several Siamese cats and at various times I would find one sitting on my chest intimidating me. It scared me half to death! Along with one other experience I have never liked them since. We lived with them until my mom remarried. I cannot imagine the stress and fear my mom went through during those times, but I know Jimmy and his family made it bearable and, at times, fun. We also did something that was quite common for boys in our era. We became blood brothers. My wife cringes when she hears of something so unsanitary and, in her words, dumb. We had watched some Western where this ritual was lauded and decided our friendship was just the same. So, we each cut our palm (only just enough to get bleeding…more of a scratch than a cut!) and clasped our hands together! We took that bond very seriously!

 

Jimmy was not academically inclined and to my limited knowledge, he may have been learning disabled. He was held back a year in school which was not uncommon then. However, he was very inquisitive and imaginative. The parental difficulties he had were always connected to this propensity. At about five, he wanted to get paint from a clogged spray paint can. He clamped the paint can tightly in a bench vise and hammered a nail in the side. An emergency room visit was necessitated to remove the paint sealing shut his eyes and nose (but he did get the paint out of the can!). We made or developed many various weapons, from blowguns to slingshots and every kind of go-kart. We hunted and fished at every opportunity. Our fathers and my stepfather encouraged and assisted that passion. One of the last memories of hunting with him was a rabbit hunt (about twelve years old). We both had single shot .22 rifles. As we were walking through the woods with me in front, I heard an exasperated groan from Jimmy. Looking around I saw only the forearm of the rifle as the only thing left. His rifle had simultaneously and completely fallen apart…not one screw or piece was still together. Funnier as the years passed.

 

Jimmy was a tall, gangly, sweet-natured boy, with a nose (a la Chesterton) that totally impoverished his face. When he drowned at age sixteen on an extended family visit 2,000 miles away, he was supposed to be with me at a miserable camp. My mom refused to let me go to the funeral for reasons I still resent (the reasons, not my mom). I spent most of the remaining summer in my darkened room. His parents moved back to their roots in the Northeast and where Jimmy died. His mother never really recovered. I spent the next summer with them and loved their extended family. They graciously gave me his shotgun. I still have it today.

 

Grief, after a time, is a funny thing. It generates the most painful and precious emotions at the same moment. I was engulfed in grief when Jimmy died. As I think of that time, my throat and chest are gripped in something akin to a mild heart attack. But the precious memories begin to massage that grip into acceptance. Jimmy and his family are some of the most wonderful memories of my childhood and early teenage years. I treasure them…I loved Jimmy as Jonathan loved David, closer than a brother. I pray that in someway Jimmy was saved through faith in Jesus Christ before he died. I miss him to this day. I have never had a friend as close (with the exception of my wife) and I realize that has been by unconscious design. I say goodbye in the way of 60s westerns: Vaya con Dios, my blood brother and friend.

Ruby

Ruby

Three things come to mind when I hear the word ruby (discounting the stone). I am embarrassed to admit one is the bad country song by Kenny Rogers, Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town. The next was my dad’s dog and the last was a bartender. My dad only had border collies. The black and white versions to the untrained eye look exactly alike. He only had one dog that I ever remember and her name was Ruby. This dog must have been twenty-five years old. Or maybe not. There were probably five or six Rubys over the years.

Dad’s place was five acres on a slow moving tributary river of the Brazos in central Texas near the only highway in that county with only one neighbor close enough to see. The place had barbed-wire fencing around it but no chain-link to keep dogs in. The magic of dad’s method was to always have black and white female border collies and name them all Ruby. When Ruby died he would get another female border collie and call her Ruby. On the arrival of a new Ruby, I asked him if he tied or penned the “new” Ruby for a while so she would not run off or get run over. My dad would give a grunt and spit, replying that he did not want a dog that did not want to stay or dumb enough to get run over. Ruby was never “fixed” but I never saw any puppies. She was well fed but never fawned over. Through the limitations of memory I remember only one time Ruby needed serious tick removal. I do not know how many Rubys that stayed and were smart enough not to get run over but there was one always around for twenty five years or more. Maybe the Kenny Rogers was right after all.

Ruby the bartender. My parents were divorced when I was six or seven. On my visits with my dad my brother and I normally went to the home by the river. The rest of the time we stayed in the major city in which I lived with my mom and stepdad. On those occasions, my brother being four years older was busier socially than me so more often than not I was alone with dad when he visited. After eating at the Big Boy restaurant, we would head to a bar in a highly industrialized part of the city sitting right above the river. The river was a disaster and a metropolitan point of shame. My problem was that it stunk! Every time we drove over the stench enveloped the car. I still remember the smell very distinctly. My contemporary sensibilities will not allow me to use the phrase my dad used to describe it.

The bar was a small cinder block building with few windows supplying little natural light. The darkness was punctuated with the expected bright flashes from the pinball machines and the numerous beer-brand signs. Strangely, I do not recall any objectionable smell or pool tables. I always sat at the end of the bar and Miss Ruby took care of me with noshibles and soda. I have to admit that I felt quite mature sitting there. This bar, in contrast to the bar out in the country where the canine Ruby lived, was a construction worker bar. These men worked with my dad in glazing or carpentry in the metroplex. They seemed to sincerely like and respect my dad. Interestingly, rarely did the country and city worlds meet.

Everyone knew my dad and he was often called “Arab” (pronounced AY-RAB). The name was not meant as an ethnic slur but descriptive in nature (at least to those who placed the moniker). My dad was tanned darkly year round and was nomadic in his habits. Dad would take me there when our visit was too short to go to the country or he was working in the city. Dad would gamble on pinball or watch some sport with some kind of bet or another. I never recalled any loud disagreements or fights in that bar (unlike its country cousin). No one ever harassed me and anyone talking to me was under the severe gaze of Miss Ruby. She was wonderful to me. This little woman of 5’2” and barely 100 pounds was the center of the place. I do not know if she owned the bar or just ran it, but she was there every time I was. Her voice rasped from years of cigarettes and booze without any rancor or hatefulness. Ruby simply could look at a possible unsavory situation and say, “Go on, now,” and that was the end. While I was there, she would regularly come by, pat my hand, smile, and ask, “How ya doin, sweetie?” I had a fondness for Miss Ruby. After I learned to drive, I would drop-by to see her and was always greeted with a hug and kiss on the cheek.

Ten years and multiple lives later, I asked my dad how Miss Ruby was. He very soberly with a twinge of anger told me that she was dead. One night after closing, she was locking up when two men grabbed and killed her during a robbery. This sweet, hardworking blue-collar barkeep was savagely beaten to death and thrown into the refuse-ridden river without a second-thought. I do not know if the men were ever caught or if Miss Ruby had family or even her last name, but I mourned her deeply. She was one of the kindest people to a skinny homely kid lost in the throes of divorce. At that time, she was one of the few on my dad’s side I was safe with.

The three Rubys. I really cannot stand the song. I laugh to myself every time I see a border collie automatically assuming the name is Ruby. Miss Ruby is enshrined in that part of my memory dedicated to those people God put in my path to protect, encourage, and comfort me during difficult times. Call them saints, angels, or whatever but I am so thankful for every one of them.

Dirk

Suicide

[The following is not an attempt to counsel anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts or their families. I am not putting my thoughts on everyone who has chosen suicide. This is my ramblings as I work through my thoughts. If you know the Dirk, don’t setup an intervention.]

Suicide is a topic which needs to be discussed by the SLLCC. Suicide, like murder, stands under the rubric of means, motive, and opportunity. Most of us have means and opportunity. Motive gets messy and ultimately lame. I am conflicted discussing suicide. The typical counselor and suicide prevention course provides a paradigm to hopefully detect suicidal tendencies. How effective they are is beyond me. I have firearms at my immediate disposal but I also have medication, rope, vehicles, knives, motorcycle, etc.. Means is rarely an issue with most men. Most of my day and some of my evenings are spent alone. Opportunity is there.

Motive. I want to reiterate that I am not a healthcare professional and speaking only from my perspective. I find myself clenching my teeth as I write this. I irrationally identify with some of the obvious motives: disability, loss of job, marital dissolution, personal failure (to name a few). These are charged with intense anger or fear or hurt or hopelessness (depression).

At my age I have known numerous people that have committed suicide. A late teen was morose compounding that hopelessness with narcotics. Another could not take the stress of boot camp. One distressed over a fledgling romantic engagement. An older man was devastated at the systematic removal of employment prestige and another with the discovery of his wife’s infidelity. One man killed himself for revenge and hatred on family property. Robin Williams committed suicide recently…what motive overwhelmed him (we think we know, but we can’t). I do not know all of the precipitating events or even the relevant psychological earmarks that pointed toward the “motive” overwhelming the moment for him or anyone. That is not my point. But, that moment where the motive overtakes impulse control for many men…it is over.

As a young man, I had an anger problem coupled with poor impulse control (a typical Marine). Normally my failure to control was externally directed but I had bouts of MMA with inanimate objects. A friend and I would engage occasionally in cutting our arms or chests (honestly these were more testosterone challenges than attempted self-destruction). I had a saying from my destructive days, “Suicide never, homicide–maybe.” Fifty+ years of life and drafted into the SLLCC has altered my view. I understand when others chose suicide and that scares me a little. My wife and I have said privately to one another that choosing suicide is cowardice. I still agree in some situations. Some men plan to flee their pressures or responsibilities, leaving others to do their dirty work. Other times it is poor impulse control in the face of something seemingly demanding a permanent change.

Life, for most of the SLLCC gang, didn’t turn out like we thought and for me, I am struggling with the thought of becoming an animate memory. My stepfather was a great man and wonderful to me. He was much older than my mom, so he was older earlier in our lives. We loved him but it became different as he became more disabled. We always talked about who he had been and not who he was (except in a clinical sense). He became an animate memory.

The Sopranos elaborates, “When you are sick, people treat you different, like you are a non-entity.” Of course, many disabled or older people encourage that existence and find there only solace there (they are the “Uncle Rico” in the Senior Citizen Center). In much of SLLCC life I am involuntarily that animate memory. To former staff I am that animate memory, to many friends as well. The hardest for me is my family, I am the man that used to fix anything and handle any situation. My wife, in my perception, sees me as the love of her life that I used to be. To my sons, the man I used to be. I am an animate memory. Don’t get me wrong I know that they love me but differently. This is inevitable if we live long enough and part of the transition of generations, but dang it–it is hard! I do not want a sociological/psychological explanation of the process…don’t’ insult my intelligence, I know the drill.

Impulse control in the face of such changes assaults me every minute that I am conscious. Depression of the clinical sort notwithstanding, life in the SLLCC can (not ‘will’) present a twisted or bleak view of reality which can spark that moment. I am struggling…I thought of the old song by Peggy Lee, Is That All There Is. The lyrics describe someone disappointed by all of the normally significant milestones. Her answer to all of life’s letdowns (and all of life) was in the chorus:

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Paul responds to life without Christ similarly in 1 Corinthians 15:32, “If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE.”

But it does not have to be that way.

Recap: Self-destructive motives get messy, they are clouded and twisted, and are ultimately lame. Such motives are like a$$holes, as the saying goes, everybody’s got one and they all stink. My life–animate memory or not–is not mine to terminate.

Bottom Line: God brought me into this world and I will go ONLY when He determines. I may be an animate memory, but damn it, I am animate!

Suicide and leadership often knock heads in SLLCC. I conquer when I remember whose I am. I lead effectively as I remember that I still follow The Leader. I lead others properly when I remember that I am still an example (barely animate or not). Suicide can suck it.