Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Gift of Faith and Courage

A couple of days ago, I received in the mail a book sent to me by the author, Brady Boyd. He autographed it for me with the inscription, “Darrell, stay strong! Psalm 23:4 –Brady”
I sat down almost immediately and dived into the pages of Fear No Evil: A Test of Faith, a Courageous Church and an Unfailing God.

If not for a series of daily-life obligations, I might have devoured every word in one sitting.
The thing is, I’m not exactly sure why Brady, the senior pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, sent me the book; but I’m honored and thrilled that he did.
As I get older, there seems to be an ongoing emphasis on this life lesson: You never know when someone with whom you were once in relationship will reemerge into your life. “Pastor Brady,” as he is known to his massive flock, is a glowing example of that.
It must have been almost 20 years ago when a journalism student from Louisiana Tech named Brady Boyd slaved as an intern at the television station where I was the sports director. I remember him as likable, reliable and eager. He got his grade of “A” for his internship and moved on. He showed up on my radar screen occasionally as a young up-and-coming broadcaster and a coach; but then, from my perspective, he slipped silently into the ephemera.

I ran across his name on Facebook and/or Twitter, and we passively reconnected. I sent him a message asking what he’s up to these days. He replied, matter-of-factly, “I’m senior pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.” Embarrassingly in retrospect, that struck me as slightly interesting. I didn’t realize the deeper meaning of that until months later.
I didn’t even know he had gone into ministry. I figured he was working in media sales somewhere and calling ball games on the side for kicks.
I had no idea that my former intern had replaced disgraced pastor Ted Haggard at a megachurch. I was also blissfully ignorant that on Brady’s 100th day in his position, a gunman armed with an automatic weapon, diversionary grenades and a thousand rounds of ammunition strolled onto his church property on a Sunday morning and opened fire.
Two people died that day. A security guard, who said she was guided by The Holy Spirit, emerged as a life-saving hero. Brady became the centerpiece of a major national news event. I somehow missed it all. Three years later, Brady Boyd has published his story. He dutifully dispenses the details of that incomprehensibly harrowing day in the first chapter; but that simply sets up a riveting tale of courage, redemption, faith, perseverance and forgiveness.
Pastor Brady lays out so many life lessons, using his obviously unwavering faith in God, Jesus and The Holy Spirit as a granite base, that it often felt as if he had been speaking directly to me.
He admits there were dark times when he felt despair and depression, staring into the abyss of what seemed to be certain defeat. But he remembered the words of the 23rd psalm and realized he was in a valley of darkness. He knew that if he just stayed strong and kept moving, he would eventually climb the mountain and turn around. He has done it, and the faces of tens of thousands of faithful followers of Christ are looking to him with hope.

Brady’s congregation is evangelical, and as a lifelong devotee to liturgical denominations, the form of worship in his church is miles away from my comfort zone. From a safe distance, his story has moved and inspired me. It has offered practical life lessons as well as insight into the kind of Christian faith that I practice and strive for, but which seems to elude me. I want to make a pilgrimage to Colorado Springs and see if maybe somehow my former intern can carve out time for lunch.
I still don’t know why he sent his book to me, but I’m glad he did. He would no doubt advise me to intentionally and diligently pray about it. I think I just might do that.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Finding a Hole in the Sky to Jump Through

My children seemed to be determined to become citizens of the sky.

Just about a month after a gentle but thrilling hot air balloon ride across the city, the daughter emulated her older brother’s breathtaking adventure of a week ago. Inspired by his derring-do and no doubt feeling a little competitive, she strapped on a flight suit and jumped out of an airplane at 10,000 feet.

Her first skydiving experience was a little dicier than his. The whole family rolled up to the airstrip north of town, where both of the kids planned to jump. The sky was threatening and the wind was alarmingly gusty, so the plane was grounded for most of the day.

At mid-afternoon, there seemed to be a sliver of an opportunity, so into the aircraft they climbed, determined to find their way out of it two miles high.

The cloud deck seemed to close quickly. From the ground we could hear the plane but could not see it. For a half-hour or so, the distinctive hum of the engine circled us from high above. We knew they were biding their time, hoping for an opening. We figured if we couldn’t see the plane, the people in it couldn’t see the ground and it would not be safe to jump. We were lamenting her seemingly certain disappointment.
We were told later that indeed a decision had been made to scrap the jump and the pilot was making preparations to land with a full load of passengers.

Meanwhile, back on the ground, there was a telltale change in engine sounds. We knew this to be a strong indication that the jumpers were away.

A week earlier, my wife had become just the slightest bit nauseous at the sight of a speck in the sky she knew to be her son plummeting to earth. Only when she saw the chute successfuly open did she feel better. This time, there was no speck; but bursting silently from the clouds emerged the reassuring image of a colorful chute with four feet dangling beneath it. Our daughter, jumping tandem, was taking her sweet, blustery time returning to earth.

She was thrilled and overcome with a sense of satisfaction at having checked another box on her life’s to-do list.

She also revealed how close they had come to returning without having jumped. They were on their way back when her jump partner alertly noticed an opening in the clouds. He saw the airstrip below and yelled, “There’s a hole!” Seizing the moment, they leapt right into it and away they went.

Her brother’s planned jump was postponed and the plane was secured in a hangar. Hers was the last jump of the day.
All the while, Mother endured this with a hint of agony on her face. When her son did all this, I pledged afterward to hunt down a doctor with a prescription pad to help her through. After her daughter took a turn, I think she has a few more fine lines on her face and the silver in her hair is a little more prominent. I’m thinking this time, I’ll treat to her a spa day.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Nobody Bounced and That's a Wonderful Thing

“This is probably the greatest thing I’ve ever done” said my 21-year-old son moments after he dropped from the sky.

Don’t ask me how this happened, but he decided he wanted to go skydiving and he did it. With two of his buddies in tow, he made his way to a nondescript airfield north of the city, where he slipped into a tiny single-prop plane and jumped out of it 10,000 feet up in the air.

He was the third man in his group to get the opportunity, and he had seen his friends land breathlessly but safely, both of them with gleeful declarations about the amazing experience.

The day was almost picture-perfect with a temperature in the 70’s and a cloudless sky. The breeze was a little stiffer than everyone would have liked, but it certainly was not an impediment to a successful skydive. They all did tandem jumps, which means an experienced skydiver actually did all the work while he was strapped to the guys’ backs; but you have to start somewhere.

My wife was a surprisingly cool customer about all this. Initially, she said she wished she hadn’t known, that she would have preferred to hear about it after the fact. She planned to go to a movie during the jump, but I talked her into driving up there with me to witness it.

She later said she was fine almost the whole time. There was a moment when she saw a tiny speck in the sky which she knew to be her son falling from an airplane, before the parachute opened, when she felt a little sick.

It was fleeting, though, and she admitted she was glad she went. This was such a significant event; having shared it with our son was meaningful.
It was so great to see him so thrilled (and safe!) that I just had to hug him when he came trudging off the airstrip in his flight suit.

He was all smiles, high-fives and thumbs-up.

There are two little secrets to share, however:
1) One long-neck Budweiser was consumed about 45 minutes before his take-off.
2) The harness he had to wear (How can this be put delicately?) gave him trouble.

He’s going again next week, weather permitting, and taking his sister along. He said “She’s going to love it.” I’m not so sure about their mother. Longnecks may not be enough. I’ll try to find someone with a prescription pad.

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

(Barksdale AFB) – I grew up just a couple of miles from a major Air Force base, so seeing giant warplanes in the sky is a daily fact of life for me.

Each spring, the base hosts an air show that attracts tens of thousands of awestruck attendees. I’ve made my way to the show a few times, but more often in my younger days, I would actually get on the roof of my house to see enough of the aerial acrobatics to hold my interest. From that vantage point, you didn’t have to fight the crowds or traffic and you had your own bathroom.

This year, though, my wife and I were offered “distinguished visitors” status. That meant a parking pass, free food and a front row seat. Feeling distinguished and somewhat special, we slathered on the sunscreen, donned protective headwear and hit the tarmac.

It was fun, kind of an ego boost, to rub elbows with other distinguished visitors and to have an unobstructed view of things you can’t see from a roof miles away; for instance, a jet-powered truck that we are told topped 300 miles per hour on its ear-splitting jaunt down the runway.

I was most looking forward to seeing the B-2 stealth bomber, and I was not disappointed.

As always, the base opened several aircraft for public tours.

We didn’t have any kind of VIP status for that, so we stood in a couple of long lines and walked through a cargo plane, orbited a B-52 and got an up-close look at some scary looking bombs.

We soon grew weary of mingling with the common folk and went to rejoin our distinguished company in the “President’s Club.” (I asked, “President of what?” and nobody seemed to know). As we enjoyed our lunch while watching various aircraft perform loops, twirls, tumbles and stalls; we chatted amiably with some other privileged people who joined us at the table. Our eyes appropriately locked on the sky, we heard a familiar voice from behind us say, “Mom? Dad?”

By the craziest coincidence, our 21-year-old son had mysteriously appeared among the distinguished visitors. There he was, in the flesh, with appropriate President’s Club credentials and a beer in his hand.
He didn’t expect to see us and we certainly didn’t expect to see him, so we all just kind of laughed as Mother’s day came early.

It turns out that the father of one of his closest friends owns a company that is a major air show sponsor. That can elevate one to “distinguished” status rather quickly. He admitted he wasn’t there so much for the airplanes as he was the bountiful free food and drink available to him.
So, we all ate together, feigned interest in yet another loopty-loo airplane and then left the base together once the show (and the buffet) had run its course.

Making the transition from parent-child to adult-adult can be a little jarring sometimes, particularly when your kid unexpectedly walks up to you out of nowhere and offers you a beer.
I think I need to go up on the roof and think about this for a while.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Living The Big Life in Texas

We’re fresh from a trip to Ft. Worth, where we began in earnest the process of packing up the contents of our daughter’s dorm room. This is finals week, which means in mere hours her first year of college will be behind her.
For the moment, it’s all business. She has a grade point average to maintain so she can hang onto to her scholarship money, as well as her place in the Honors College. We certainly have no indication there’s trouble afoot, and so there’s plenty to be proud of.
This includes how she has thrown herself into university life outside the classroom. After casting aside a bid to a sorority, she has immersed herself in church-related activities. Several nights a week, it seems from our distant vantage point, she is engaged in some group activity that helps celebrate her faith.
She’s also running the roads seeking her share of secular fun. This included a midweek jaunt south to Austin, where the popular musical group Mumford and Sons was making a whistle-stop on their “Railroad Revival” tour as they made their way to New Orleans’ Jazzfest.

The band and the other two acts involved in the show actually arrived on a train and basically off-loaded in a field next to the tracks for the concert. There were less than 1000 tickets issued for the event, so it had kind of exclusive feel. This also meant pretty much everybody had a great festival-type view.

As we sat together at dinner before dorm-packing day, she was ebullient in her description of the experience. Even though she and her running buddies drove to Austin and back overnight so they wouldn’t miss class, they think it was worth the effort.

They had a great time, got back to Ft. Worth safely and presumably participated in some kind of academic pursuit the following day. I’m not so na├»ve as to presume they actually went to class.

But, hey, if the GPA is where it’s supposed to be, I can’t complain. She seems to be getting the most out of college, and that’s all a parent can really ask for.

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