Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Follow Jesus- I Dare Ya!

Today I invite you take a look at why following Jesus is ALWAYS a little bit dangerous...

A scene from the 1989 movie, Parenthood:
GrandmaYou know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.
GrandmaUp, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!
Gil: What a great story.
GrandmaI always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing.  I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it...

Among the life-altering things I remember reading in Leonard Sweet's 1999 classic SoulTsunami, was a section about what it is like to really follow Jesus. There is nothing risk-free about following the Christ. Yet so many pastors (especially those appearing on TV) seem to teach that the quickest path to the "good life" is becoming a Christian. They make it all sound so predetermined and orderly. Follow Jesus and you will quit sinning. Quit sinning and God will bless you. When God blesses you, life will be full of rainbows and unicorns. It's as simple as that! Well, no...it's not. There is nothing orderly about following Jesus, because in fact, the Good News is chaotic!

I have checked the gospels pretty thoroughly, and I can say with some confidence that Jesus never said any of the following:

"Come follow me, and I will give you perfect health."
"Come follow me and that girl will FINALLY love you!"
"Come follow me and I will give you power and wealth."
"Come follow me and I will put a steak on your grill and a Jacuzzi in your backyard.  OH- and a beach volleyball court!  Everyone loves beach volleyball!"

What he did say was to leave everything behind, take up your cross, and follow Him. The notion that your life will be all peaches and cream once you follow Jesus is just total BS. If you follow the living God, you will be tested. There will be risk. Just think about some of our biblical heroes and what they went through. Jonah was tested with a vacation in a fish. Noah had to build an ark ("What's a cubit?") while his neighbors laughed at him. Joshua marched around Jericho (Thank you, VeggieTales, for always making me think of French Peas pouring slurpees on them as they march...) for no apparent reason. Joseph was ambushed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of hitting on Potiphar's wife and thrown in prison (not to mention losing a technicolor dreamcoat in the process) just to prepare him for what God actually had in mind for him. John the Baptist lost his head for Jesus- literally! Saul was blinded and went through a name change before he was ready to serve. Easy street? Low risk? I don't think so...

Jesus often taught that in order to make things right, we must first turn them upside down. He wants us to transform the first into the last, the weak into the powerful, the lost into the found. But all of that starts with the things we do with our own lives. If we really want to follow Jesus, we are going to have to get a little WILD! Psalm 115:3 reminds us that "our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases." We sing "our God is an awesome God" and then proceed to try to confine God with our own limitations. His creativity and unpredictability are beyond our comprehension. Remember Isaiah walking through town naked (Isaiah 20:2-3)? That was God's idea. Remember the Angels appearing to shepherds in the fields and singing them a good Christmas song? God again. Sacrificing his only Son so that we might live in community with Him? Only God. 

All of this leads me to wonder about my own life. I have always prayed for safety, comfort and low-risk opportunities to serve my Savior. In fact, to be a Jesus Freak is to pray for the opposite. It is to pray that God would turn my life upside down and lead me to risk everything in the name of the One who saved me. It is to welcome the trials that God will send my way. I believe more and more that the invitation to follow Jesus comes with an "I dare ya!" They are dares because when we truly follow His example, the people around us will look at us like the boy at lunch who used to eat bugs on a dare. Jesus dares us to love the way he loved. He dares to us share meals with the most offensive people around us. He dares us to believe that all things are possible with Him by our side. He dares us to love our enemies. He dares us to let love flow from our hearts even when we don't understand it. And Jesus dares us to follow -really follow- by taking up our crosses and following Him where He leads instead of constantly begging Him to join us where we are.

Many of us do not hesitate to get on a roller coaster that travels 90 mph down an 85 degree slope and flips us upside down and corkscrews all around. We love it. It excites us. And once we've experienced it, the merry-go-round does seem pretty lame. Thus it is with becoming a radical follower of Jesus Christ. Get risky and try it- I promise you'll never want to be just a "church member" ever again. Get DANGEROUS with Jesus...I dare ya!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, May 27, 2016

Flashback Friday: Don't Pee On the Electric Fence

With Memorial Day coming up and summer just around the bend, my thoughts often turn to my glory days in youth ministry. Today I remember wisdom learned while serving as a summer camp counselor at Quaker Lake Camp between 1977-1983. This post first appeared in 2011. May the wisdom imparted on this Flashback Friday change your life the way it did mine...

Quaker Lake Staff, around 1981...I think...
Since the dawn of time (or so it seems) campers and staff at Quaker Lake Camp in Climax (Yes, that's really the name of the little town. Imagine working there as a college student then going back to school in the Fall and telling all of your friends that you spent the entire summer in Climax. Crass, I know- but that joke never got old...) NC have gathered on Sunday nights during the summer for the dreaded Orientation. This 6 hour meeting (OK, not really- but it often seemed like it) was a a time for meeting the staff, going over schedules and activities, and for learning safety procedures. All of it was necessary to ensure a smooth week of camp. But only the safety procedures made the staff laugh...

Campers were told to beware of lightning and to get away from water and take refuge in buildings. Good advice- except in my early years the cabins were mostly metal screens, which when wet were not exactly safe havens from the storms. But that was better than the "What to do in case of a tornado" instructions. Because the buildings would have offered no resistance to high winds in those days, had there ever been (and thank God there wasn't) a tornado we were to go the nearest ditch and lie down in it. Get low. Also get wet (the ditches were all by the lake and always full of skunky water) and quite possibly snake bitten. Personally, I would have headed for the concrete block outhouse and taken my chances. And finally, there was a discussion of what to do in case of a fire. Neal Thomas, camp director during my years as a camper and staff member, was also a volunteer fireman. He knew his stuff. And every week he would tell us all that in case of a fire anywhere at camp, we should all report to the softball field- a large grassy area located between the pool and crafts hut. Neal would barely get those words out of his mouth when someone- usually a camper, occasionally a smart-mouthed staff member- would pose the obvious question. "Neal- what if the softball field is on fire?" And we would all laugh hysterically. It's not a stupid question- it's just that we heard it every week. But even with going over all of those safety procedures each and every week, not once did anyone ever tell the boy campers not to pee on the electric fence...

A quick explanation- as I think has been mentioned before, behind the boy's cabins was a cow pasture. Separating the cows from the camp was a barbed wire fence with a small electric charge running through it. Campers were never told about the fence, because there was no need for them to go anywhere near it. Well...only one reason.

It was a dark, spooky 25 yard walk from the boy's cabins to the boy's bath house- even farther from my home in Cabin #4. If a camper woke up in the middle of the night and needed to use the restroom, it was a daunting task to go by yourself. Some went anyway. Many a camper just held it the rest of the night. A few would try to go right outside the cabin- but you could hear them, so it wasn't very sneaky. I even caught one kid trying to pee through a hole in the wooden floor of our cabin. But an unlucky few went out behind the cabin- far enough away to urinate in peace, but not nearly as far as the outhouse. There was just one problem with that location. As Mr. Wizard or Bill Nye the Science Guy would tell you, water conducts electricity- and so does pee. When these young fellows would let it flow behind the cabin, they often hit the electric fence. The charge would run up the stream to their body- to one specific appendage- and give them quite a shock! :) It wasn't enough to really hurt them, but it was plenty of juice to wake them up and elicit a good scream. And of course, break the cabin counselors into hysterical laughter. It was a long summer. You found entertainment anywhere you could!

Quaker Lake has undergone a great deal of renovation  and remodeling over the past decade, and I doubt seriously that the electric fence has been "live" in a very long time. But in a world full of advice on how to stay safe and how to avoid injury, I wish to put into writing a policy that should have been handed down many years ago. Don't pee on the electric fence. Words to live by...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Walls That Won't Come Down

Last year I wrote a series of posts that focused on the concept of the #NarrowRoad that Jesus call us to travel. Along the way there were a number of posts that focused on twists and turns, bad directions, roadblocks and other challenges that separate us from God and from the people around us. But all of those things are overcomeable obstacles that may throw us off course and delay us, but should not stop us. With perseverance and commitment we can continue the journey. Relationships that are damaged can be repaired. We just have to keep our eyes on the destination. Unless...we run into a wall. Walls are game changers.

Imagine being an invading army back in the day and running into the Great Wall of China. BAM! End of the road. Imagine being Joshua and company and starring down the walls of Jericho (before the trumpets and the crashing) and thinking, "Well this is a waste of time." Walls are much more than obstacles. They are...WALLS! If The Donald is elected he wants to build a wall to keep all of the Mexicans out of this country. If he is elected Canada may have to build a wall to keep all of us out of theirs. Walls separate us. Walls divide us. And not just the physical ones...

Most of us encounter walls in our personal lives as well. We yield to walls of fear, of heartache, of social convention and of anger and mistrust. We let old relationships put up walls between us and the new people in our lives. We build entire fortresses based on what others say should be true in our lives. These walls often keep us from living fulfilled lives, and they often hurt other people as well. But what can we do about them- after all, they are freakin' walls! The best option of course is to tear them down. But whether physical or emotional, that is never easy and occasionally impossible. Tearing down walls is often a God thing, not an "us" thing. I always thought our other choices were to go over the wall, go around the all or go under the wall (like the old Bear Hunt song from my camp days)- all of which are long trips that may still let the wall win. Walls are never easy to overcome.

And then one day a few weeks back I was listening to music while traveling up to do work at my Mom's villa and heard lyrics from the great philosopher/theologian James Buffett. I had heard the song a dozen times before, but this time something new hit me. And it hit me hard. Check out these words from the song Coast of Carolina:

Most every day goes by
According to design
I live this dream but still it seems
I have you on my mind

From the bottom of my heart
Off the coast of Carolina
After one or two false starts
I believe we found our stride

And the walls that won't come down
We can decorate or climb
Or find some way to get around
'Cause I'm still on your side
From the bottom of my heart

If we can't tear down the walls, and we can't go over or around- we can decorate! Walls are not always bad. Boundaries are often helpful. They can make us feel safe and protected. But in order for those things to be true, we have to use the walls to our benefit- not let them control us. If we put up walls of fear, then let the fear keep us from doing foolish things, not the things that need to be done. If there is a wall of anger in our lives, use the anger to motivate ourselves to be a bigger and better person that the one who created the wall within us. And should society seek to tell us that we are too "soft" or that we love too much or love the wrong person, decorate that wall! Use hearts and flowers and love songs and the words of Jesus himself to cover such walls in ways that make them reminders of what love can be, not obstacles that frustrate us. Sometimes loving people- REALLY loving them- means breaking some rules and doing unconventional things. That's how we control the walls. Imagine how differently invading armies would have felt if the Great Wall had been covered in peace symbols and flowers with a sign directing new arrivals to Visitors Center. Walls can be difficult. But they can also be what we make of 

Something amazing happens in our hearts when we feel a wall come down. But short of that, we have to keep moving. We have to find our stride. We have to be the people God calls us to be. And if that calls for a little decorating that no one else understands, then count me in!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Grace Free Zones

Back in 2011 I wrote this post for another blog. Recent news stories have prompted me to wonder aloud if our society- including our churches- really have a grasp of the love of Jesus, of his GRACE. We seem much more interested in condemnation and revenge. So I share this here today in the hopes of reminding us all that GRACE is not just a concept. It involves actions.

I attended my therapy group this morning and had a chance to talk to my friend Jose. I have known Jose for almost 4 years now, and we have become pretty close. Part of his life would seem fairly normal to you. He lives with his 5 dogs. He loves to garden and grows most of his own vegetables, which is nice since he is a vegetarian. He loves his mother and sisters, and speaks with them often even though they live far away. And he is a good friend.

Relating to other parts of his life may be more difficult for you. Jose has cancer of the liver. He has been undergoing both chemo and radiation treatments for a couple of months now. He has no appetite, has lost far too much weight, and is very weak. He has no idea how long he has left to live.  But the cancer is not the only challenge Jose faces daily. You see, Jose is a registered sex offender. He is one year away from finishing his 7 years of probation. And as we chatted this morning, our talk turned to the subject of GRACE.

As Jose lives what doctors tell him will be his last days, what he wants more than anything is to see his family again. They live in New York and Puerto Rico, and his probation prohibits him from travel. I have shared my faith with him on a number of occasions, paying particular emphasis to what GRACE really means. He hears me, and he gets it. What he finds difficult is believing in a God who offers unconditional love and second chances when he is surrounded by a society that offers only condemnation. Even after 7 years of earning a second chance he knows it is not likely to be forthcoming. The label "sex offender" is to this society what "leper" was to Jesus' day. Untouchable. Unforgivable. And as I tell this broken man that God has already forgiven him, and that Jesus came to save the untouchable and the unforgivable with GRACE, he simply can't believe it- because he hasn't experienced it. He is not a particularly spiritual man, and the concept of GRACE does not exist in the criminal justice system. Jose lives in a GRACE free zone.

It makes me wonder how many others there are in my life who can't understand God's GRACE because it has never been demonstrated by the people around them- including me. We live in a society that is quick to accuse and quick to condemn, but exceedingly slow to forgive (unless you happen to be an athlete or a celebrity). Jose has repented and turned from the lifestyle of sin that ruined his life. I have also been among the least and the lost, and I praise God that I had family and friends who showed me GRACE. What am I doing to pass God's love along to others who desperately need it? 

I spent a lot of time praying for my friend Jose, but he died in 2011 not long after this post was written. He never saw his family and he was never able to witness firsthand what GRACE can and should be. Don't let his story become the story of someone you care about, someone to whom you could be the carrier of that wonderful disease call GRACE. Who do you know who lives in a GRACE free zone?  Join with me in tearing down those walls...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Saturday Shout Outs!

Greetings and Salutations from Tampa! It's been a while since I shouted at you- October 3rd, 2015 was the last time- and so the time is right for shout outs, random ramblings and other things designed to make you go "hmmm..."  If this goes well I might keep blogging next week. So no pressure to comment or anything!

  • It's a quiet weekend here at Chez Jones. Marilyn, Will, Michelle and Lisa are all at Disney with Michelle's family for what promises to be a crazy couple of days! They are all dining together tonight at Tony's Town Square, so if you happen to be at the MK keep your eyes and ears peeled for the wild party. For those of you who know why I am not with them, I should tell you that my appeals to the powers that be at WDW have so far fallen on deaf ears. But hope springs eternal!!!
  • Lisa Kraus Spires informs me that her mom, Carol Kraus, will be undergoing some medical work this week. Please keep Carol in your prayers.
  • Our Tampa Bay Lightning keep hanging in there in this series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only are the Bolts the underdogs, but they are playing without 2 of their best players. It's a fun time in this area- hard to believe a Florida city can get so excited about a hockey team! #GoBolts
  • It seems to me that electing Donald Trump as president is very similar to asking a cat to drive your car. We know it's a terrible idea, and we have a really good idea what the outcome will be. Yet people keep getting in the car. Toonces- look out!!!    

  • Seeing my former youth group students from all over the country share pictures of their own families on Facebook is an amazing way to share in their journeys as parents. I am so proud of so many of them. But it is also a very effective way to remind me I am old. So it's a mixed bag!
  • My trip to NC at the end of April was a blast, and there is just something special about reconnecting with my oldest friends. It was especially great to get time with Beth McGalliard and Denise Langley and to toast my mom with them. Mom loved that old New Garden youth group so much. It was also great to see Mark & Martha Farlow, Carl & Diane Semmler, Alan Brown, Chuck & Tammy Foster and Susan Tuggle at a cookout at Martha's house. Great friends, a bowl of margaritas, a fruit salad made with olives, and doing shots of Fireball in honor of Beth and in memory of Lisa Moran- it just doesn't get any better! So who is planning the September 2017 reunion trip?  Anyone? Anyone?
  • And speaking of reunions, hey Kissimmee peeps!!!  When, where and how- not if- are the questions. It's time to start planning!!!
  • Did you see the new Jungle Book movie?  Will and I both give it 3 thumbs up. That's right, three. It was so good we grew new thumbs!!!
  • Speaking of movies, it's been an interesting Spring at the theater. Captain America: Civil War may be the best superhero movie ever made, while Batman v. Superman may be the worst. Zootopia was awesome, while Angry Birds commercials just make me angry. The one thing for sure is that from Star Wars through Civil War, Disney Studios are on a roll!
  • Will turns 21 in less than 2 months. Take that all of you former students who make me feel old!  Ha!
  • The tweets and articles coming out of the General Conference meeting of the United Methodist Church over this past week reminded me once again that there may be no greater oxymoron than "organized Christianity."
  • If someone gave you $1000 and told you to "spend it on something special- on something that makes you happy" - what would you do with it?
  • Some of the TV show cancellations hit me hard this past week. Lisa got me hooked on Castle and CSI:Cyber and now they are gone. I loved The Muppets and NPH's Best Night Ever and they will not return. And ABC also snuffed out Agent Carter and Galavant, two of my January favorites. What shows did you lose that you will miss?
  • While I was in NC, Denise and I drove out to Quaker Lake and saw some of the new facilities and reminisced about the old ones and our days at summer camp. So many wonderful memories, so many wonderful people are part of my life because of that special place. My prayers are with Heather and the 2016 staff as they prepare for another summer of changing lives in positive ways.
And that seems like a good place to stop. I'd love to hear from you, dear readers, and catch up with what's going on in your lives. Have a wonderful weekend and treasure those you love- and be thankful for those who love you! Peace, my friends!

Because of Jesus,

    Friday, May 20, 2016

    What If?

    I have always been a fan of the question "What if?" In light of the turmoil, weeping and gnashing of teeth coming out of the General Conference meeting of the United Methodist Church over the past week or so and the general state of affairs in organized Christianity (an oxymoron if there ever was one!) this question has been on my mind. I'm not saying I'm right- that's what separates me from most of our leaders- I'm just asking. "What if?"

    During the time of Jesus' earthly ministry he was surrounded by a very unique crowd of people. The religious leaders, the political leaders and the people who thought of themselves as righteous didn't care much for the Nazarene. Those who "took up the cross and followed him" were a pretty motley crew. Fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, radicals and (gasp!) women were all included in the entourage of the Christ. His 12 disciples were often foolish failures. Jesus himself was the subject of almost constant ridicule. Even his mission- dying for us- was a little cra-cra. None of his earthy life happened the way WE would have planned it or involved the people WE would have chosen. It all sounds a bit ridiculous.

    In 2016 much of the Christian community is up in arms over the inclusion of people they have deemed unworthy. The LGBT movement is fighting for the right to be a fully functioning part of the both church and society. Women are asking for more inclusion and leadership roles. Young radicals are challenging the notion that the church should have more influence on Jesus than Jesus has on the the church. Politicians manipulate our congregations for support, and many Christians are buying the BS (not even realizing they are once again ridiculing the Messiah with their words) even as the Jesus Freaks remind us that God is far important than country. Many of these things are being loudly condemned as modern Christianity going to hell in a hand-basket. But "What if?"  What if all of these things are simply the Holy Spirit guiding us back to the days of Jesus. Back to the days when grace was the rule and judgement was the thing that was condemned; when all were included, no matter who they were or what they had done; when community meant taking care of those around you, no matter the need;  and when the son of a carpenter became the only man on earth who really mattered, pissing off the powerful in ways we can barely imagine. What if all of this current turmoil is simply the Kingdom of God being brought back into our churches by the One who died so that we may truly live?

    Like I said, I am not saying I'm right. But I do believe it's a "What if?" worth asking...

    Because of Jesus,

    Wednesday, May 18, 2016

    Pet Sounds: A Love Story

    Social media and the music industry has been buzzing this week with reminders that we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys amazing album, Pet Sounds. On September 13th of this year Marilyn, Will, my original Beach Boy buddy Steve Semmler and I (and perhaps a few players to be named later!) are going to see Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and their band perform the entire album (and many other BB classics) live in St. Petersburg, FL. My love for this album is very personal and very intense, and to join in the celebration today I re-post my thoughts from January of 2014 on the artistic masterpiece that is Pet Sounds. Enjoy.

    On May 16, 1966, the world of music changed forever. The Beach Boys, known for their breezy anthems about California girls, surfing and hot rods, released an album that no one was quite prepared for or would ever forget. Pet Sounds was a whole new type of popular music. Brian Wilson had written rich orchestrations using instruments no one had heard in a pop song before, and his new collaborator Tony Asher wrote lyrics that captured the hearts of young people everywhere. The album is in the top 5 of most every "greatest albums of all-time" list ever made, and produced several songs that teenagers in 2014 still know today. The Beatles were often quick to point out that there would have been a very different Sgt. Pepper without the influences of and the creative gauntlet thrown down by Pet Sounds. Paul McCartney said this in a 1990 interview:

    "It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. First of all, it was Brian's writing. I love the album so much. I've just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life---I figure no one is educated musically 'til they've heard that album. I was into the writing and the songs. I’ve often played Pet Sounds and cried. It's that kind of an album for me."

    I first heard the album years after its release when I started collecting Beach Boys vinyls in the mid 1970s. I too was simply stunned at the majesty of the music and the passion of the lyrics. It was immediately one of those rare albums that I could never listen to just a few songs at a time. The album was ONE masterpiece that told ONE story, and needed to be heard as such. Time passed and I replaced the vinyl with a CD. And then more time passed and the CD was borrowed and never returned. The Beach Boys box set contains a number of the songs, but not the entire project, and I had been missing Pet Sounds and longing to listen to it with my now 18 year old son Will. This Christmas, Santa delivered a new copy. And I have been listening over and over and over. It takes me back, not just musically, but to so many lost relationships and moments of heartbreak and discovery. No matter who you are or what era you have grown up in, Pet Sounds is the soundtrack of young love. Many of you know Wouldn't It Be Nice and God Only Knows (called by McCartney the greatest song ever written). but those are far from the only gems on the album. Here's the song list and a few of my thoughts with selected lyrics:

    * Wouldn't It Be Nice ~ This song totally captures that feeling that you have when you are young and in love that everything would be better if you could go ahead and be together forever. "You know it seems the more we talk about it, it only makes it worse to live without it...but let's talk about it...wouldn't it be nice?" Reality can sometimes bite, but hope springs eternal!
    * You Still Believe In Me ~ An unbelievably beautiful melody and lyrics that remind us that true love always seeks to be unconditional. "And after all I've done to you how can it it be that you still believe in me?"
    * That's Not Me ~ A song about striking out on your own seeking to make it big only to discover "I could try to be big in the eyes of the world but what matters to me is what I could be to just one girl..." Who hasn't felt that way? When you are young (or old!) and in love there is often nothing else that seems to matter.
    * Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) ~ Another ultimate expression of young, passionate love that knows nothing of struggle or issues... "I can hear so much in your sighs, and I can see so much in your eyes. There are words we both could say...but don't talk, put your head on my shoulder. Don't talk close your eyes and be still. Don't talk, take my hand and listen to my heart beat..." Wow. Just wow.
    * I'm Waiting For the Day ~ The girl he loves has been hurt, and is not ready to move into a new relationship. But the songwriter will wait. Just as we all did at some point in time. "He hurt you then but that's all gone, I guess I'm saying you're the only one. I'm waiting for the day when you can love again."
    * Let's Go Away For Awhile ~ A beautiful instrumental piece.
    * Sloop John B ~ Brian's arrangement of an old Caribbean folk song is pure genius. While lyrically a bit out of step with rest of the album (which is not a surprise as it was a single done months before the rest of the project) the orchestrations and harmonies set the bar very high for the rest of the songs that followed. I own an album called Stack ' O ' Tracks that contained Beach Boys songs without the vocals. This song was the highlight- unbelievably complex and strikingly beautiful.
    * God Only Knows ~ The first non-religious song ever played on the radio with "God" in the title, it is the essence of young love. "I may not always love you, but as long as there are stars above you, you'll never need to need to doubt it. I'll  make you so sure about it... If you should ever leave me, though life would still go on, believe me. The world could show nothing to me, so what good would living do me? God only knows what I'd be without you." I have felt those lyrics so many times in my life...
    * I Know There's An Answer ~ A song about discovering truth and dealing with know-it-alls. Originally titled Hang On To Your Ego.
    * Here Today ~ One of my very favorites among an album of favorites! It captures the excitement and drama of new young love - "It starts with just a little glance now, right way you're thinking 'bout romance now...you know you ought to take it slower, but you just can't wait to get to know her.  A brand new love affair is such a beautiful thing" - but with this very practical reminder- "but if you're not careful think of all the pain it can bring. It makes your heart feel sad, it makes you feel so bad, it makes your days go wrong, it makes your nights so long, you've got to keep in mind love is here today and it's gone tomorrow. It's here and gone so fast."
    * I Just Wasn't Made For These Times ~ One of the hardest parts of being a teenager- whether in the 1960s or today- is fitting in. Who among us hasn't felt like we just weren't made for the times we live in? "Sometimes I feel very sad..."
    * Pet Sounds ~ Brian at his instrumental best.
    * Caroline No ~ "Where did your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know? How could you lose that happy glow? Oh Caroline, no." The album ends with young love dying. Because so often that's what young love does, leaving one party -or both- hurt and longing with unanswerable questions- "Break my heart, I want to go and cry. It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die. Oh Caroline, why?" And wondering if you'll ever be able to feel that way again.

    Although at age 56 it is often hard to remember, I was once a teenager and a young adult. I also spent 28 years of my life working with teenagers as a youth pastor. There are few things that impact the lives of that age group more than the search for acceptance and love, and the heartbreak that often accompanies that search. If you've "forgotten" what it was like to feel the agony and the ecstasy of those days and those relationships, Pet Sounds can take you there. Over and over again. And that is a memory that will never go out of style.

    Love & Mercy,

    Monday, May 16, 2016

    Look Who's Blogging!

    Michelle, Marilyn & Will
    Greetings! My name is Carl Jones and I used to be a blogger. Every day for the better part of 6 years I would post random thoughts and musings about life, faith friendship and love at this very spot and millions (Okay-tens!) of you would stop by to read each day. Then on November 2, 2015, it all came to an end. As the months passed there were a few random posts, most recently exactly 3 months ago yesterday. Much has transpired in my life since August, and most of it is now behind me. And as I face a future with a bit more free time and hopefully less stress, the urge to write again seems to be coming back. So today, I dip one of my 7 toes in the deep end. Whether I will dive in or not remains to be seen...

    Let me try to get everyone caught up on life in Carl Land these past few months. Many of you know my Mom died on February 5th, and much of my time and energy since then has gone into finalizing her estate, cleaning out and selling her villa, and making her decisions and transactions related to her passing. It has been sometimes difficulty, sometimes painful, sometimes stressful and ever-present- and that is just the work. Dealing with Mom no longer being here continues to be a separate but equal difficulty. As I slogged through the process and dealt with call after call from real estate agents, lawyers, bankers, financial advisers and handymen it seemed certain that this was not survivable. To lessen the stress, I changed the ringtone for everyone related to the work to Don't Worry, Be Happy- and it helped! Even so there were numerous obstacles to overcome along the way in what seemed to be a never-ending process. Eventually we found our way through the system, completed the paper work, emptied her home and with the help of an amazing realtor named Carol Zior put the villa on the market. Last Friday we closed the sale, and Mom's home now belongs to lovely couple moving in from Raleigh, NC. The Circle of Life, huh?

    Having whined a bit about how hard it all was, I should also tell you that my Mom had crossed every "t" and dotted every "i" in preparation of her passing. Nothing was difficult to find or to process from our end, no matter how difficult the banks and courts tried to make it. And Mom, even as she prepared to leave us, was still taking care of our family. Almost as soon as we started dealing with her death, we began to find indications of saved monies that we didn't know about. And it didn't stop for about the first month. Now, with the villa sold as well, Marilyn, Will & myself have a little surprise nest egg. I took a weekend away to NC and had a great visit with old friends (thanks for the cookout, Martha Farlow!) and some time to unwind. We have some new furniture for the first time in 10 years (my recliner was the only new piece purchased in those years). Marilyn and I will taking a Hawaiian vacation in August for our 30th anniversary. In November, Will & Michelle will join us for a long weekend in New York City. There have been several dinners where friends raised a glass to toast my mother even as she "paid" for it. It is is even possible that I may come out of this with a car of my own. Not new, but still...  God is good, and life is exciting these days. My Mom always came to our aid, even when we didn't ask for it. And now she has done it one last time! We all love and miss her, and her passing just makes me miss my Dad that much more as well.

    Marilyn is doing well, working hard and finding ways to spend time at Disney. Her skills in the legal field and as a notary were crucial in expediting all of the paper work dealing with Mom's estate. We look forward to having the resources to do some of the things we have been unable to do for the last decade as we approach that 30th anniversary.

    It is also my pleasure to report that our dear friend Lisa Jewett is doing very well. After months of chemo treatments and surgeries her cancer is in remission (but please keep praying!) and her gallbladder has gone bye-bye! She feels the best she has in a very long time and is getting in great time with family and friends before resuming teaching in August. It has been an honor to walk with her through this rough patch, and now we look forward to lots of fun!

    Our son Will continues his outstanding work in the film school at the University of Central Florida and at the Olive Garden located near the campus. He is taking three online classes this summer, and they begin today. He and Marilyn spent Mother's Day weekend in NC with her mom (who could use your prayers too- her health is very up and down right now) and had a great time together. And he and Michelle are still going strong!

    So I guess that catches you up with my life. It's nice to be writing again, and I think there will be more to come- just not every day. There is so much craziness going on in the world that I have yet to comment on- bathroom laws, Donald Trump and a GREAT Chicago Cubs team- and maybe the interwebs could use one more slightly off-kilter voice. As my Dad liked to say, your future is unwritten until you write it. I'm plowing ahead, seeking to write a new chapter in my own life. You are invited along for the ride!

    Because of Jesus,