Christy Street circa 1969

A typical summer morning, circa 1968/69, Christy Street, Pampa, TX ...

"What do you wanna do?"
"I don't know. What do you wanna do?"
"Wanna get up a baseball game?"
"Nah. We'd have to get the Dwight and Wells St. kids to have enough and the girls will say it's too hot."
"Wanna go down to Walter's and hang out in the tree house?"
"Walter had to go to work with his Dad this morning at the laundry."
"I went to the laundry with Walter last Saturday. His Dad let us clean out the drain traps and keep the change we found. I got about 60 cents."
"You still have it?"
"Yeah. Why?"
"Well, I've got some Black Cats and lady fingers. We could go get some more at the firecracker stand."
"Yeah, do you have any money?"
"No, but I've got some pop bottles we could sell."
"Where do you want to shoot 'em? Last time we shot 'em around here someone called the cops."
"How 'bout motorcycle hills? The pit's full of water."
"Okay, let's go."

We were sitting on the curb in front of my house, poking the melty blacktop with sticks and wrecking the fortifications that we'd built yesterday for the green army men. There should have been grass in the parkway, between where the sidewalk should be and the curb, but for some reason the sidewalk ended on the north edge of our lot and the parkway was more beat down dirt than grass. Lawn care was not high on the family priority list. Just beyond the battle ground was the cemetery, where we buried frogs and cicadas and the occasional water dog, marking the graves with popsicle sticks or colorful rocks we'd found. On the curb, in front of the cemetery area, we'd drawn some skull and crossbones using the ever-present chalk rocks - chunks of caliche if you want to be proper.

"How much did we get for the pop bottles?"
"Duh. Thirty cents. Five times six. It's math."
"Okay, smart ass."
"Rather be a smart ass than a dumb ass."
"Yeah, yeah. So, ninety cents between us ... see, I do math, too! What are we gonna get?"
"All Black Cats. No sparklers or black snakes or pop-its. They're cheap because they're no fun."
"What about bottle rockets?"
"Maybe. Hey, you got any pipe?"
"There's some in the garage. Whattaya need pipe for?"
"I wanna make a rifle that uses bottle rockets for ammo."
"That'd be cool."

Ninety cents later we returned to the garage from the firecracker stand with 75 cents worth of bottle rockets, some nickel packs of Black Cats and the punks that they threw in. A rusted piece of pipe, about two foot long, was converted into a bottle rocket rifle using electrical tape and a couple of pieces of 1x2 pine to make grips, and a hack saw to cut a slot along the top of the pipe for the fuse. We packed up, included a box of strike anywhere matches pilfered from the kitchen, and headed out to motorcycle hills. It was far enough away so that nobody would call the cops plus, we could shoot across the pit which was full of water and hopefully not start a fire. On the way we stopped behind Dean's house, nobody was home, and got a drink from their hose. We picked up a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Brontosaurus that someone had left in the sandbox, too. They'd make good targets.

It was hot and bright and dry. Sweat disappeared quickly in the dry summer air, leaving droplet shaped marks where the sweat washed away dust. The pig weed and johnson grass had that dusty no-rain-for-a-bit sheen about them. There was no shade to be found so we didn't bother even looking. It wasn't a long walk, just across Farley and then maybe a half mile, but there were a lot of distractions along the way. We helped each other through the barbed wire (bob-wahr) fences, by stepping on the third strand and lifting up the second. We felt compelled to stop at a major red ant mound to set off some Black Cat demolition charges. We caught a horny toad, but then turned it loose because we didn't want to go home and make a place to keep him. We checked the rabbit trap box we'd set out a few days ago, too. The carrot was gone, but the trap wasn't tripped. Someone had dumped a refrigerator which wasn't there the last time and we thought about doing some explosive testing, but it was too heavy to mess with so we moved on, discussing target set up and, more importantly, who got to shoot first. We picked a spot at the top of the pit with a clear shot across to a low ledge on the opposite site. I went around to set up the targets on the ledge, the T-Rex and the Bronto. Gary unpacked the fireworks and the pipe-rifle and got the first punk going.

We'd cut the slot on top just right. With the fuse pulled up the end of the bottle rocket was flush with the end of the pipe. From experience we knew it was always best to light your own firecrackers and since Gary was taking the first shot I let him line it up and then handed him the punk.

Despite the precise engineering, the first shot was high, way high, hitting a good ten feet above the dinosaurs. The second shot, after compensating for the first, was even worse, exploding under the water in the pit. It seemed that our "rifle" had some accuracy issues. Despite the avionics supplied by the bright pink stick glued to the engine, we could not predict the trajectory. The T-Rex and Bronto would remain unscathed and, eventually, be returned to the relatively peaceful environs of the sandbox in Dean's back yard, but that didn't prevent us from lighting off every single rocket in one experiment or another.

"You hungry?"
"Yeah. Ready to head back?"
"Sure. We can save the Black Cats for later."
"Okay. Hang on a second. I want to get these grassburrs out of my shoelaces."
"You'll just get more on the way back."
"Nuh uh. I'm gonna tuck in the bows."
"Yeah? Me, too."
"Dang, it's hot."
"Yeah. If we see any sprinklers, I'm running through."
"Huh. If we see any sprinklers, I'm gonna lay down in the grass!"
"Yeah, yeah, but don't get the Black Cats wet."

Lunch was bologna sandwiches with mustard on white bread and black cherry Kool-Aid to drink. The bologna wasn't pre-sliced Oscar Mayer. Mom tended to buy the cheaper roll of bologna with the red wrapper that you had to slice yourself. Yes, you had to peel the red wrap off, but you also got to custom slice it, thick enough to fry if you felt like it. We also took the last two freezer pops, though they rightfully belonged to my sisters. They were the orange ones, which no one really liked, so they probably wouldn't complain too much.

"Let's take our bikes and go see if Walter's home. My kickstand is loose and his Dad said it needed a lock washer. He said I could have one."
"Okay. I'm gonna ask Mom for some change. After we fix the bikes, let's go to the Quik Stop."
"Okay. See you at Walter's."

Walter was home, and we puttered around in his garage for a while, using inordinate amounts of WD-40 and never putting the tools up properly. Soon enough we headed to the Quik Stop and thanks to the generosity of Gary's Mom, we had enough money for soda pops and peanuts. We sat on the curb in the shade of the building, arguing about which was better with peanuts, Nehi Red or Pepsi. The trick was to get all the peanuts out of the bottle before you ran out of soda or the peanuts would stick on the bottom. Personally, I thought the Pepsi was better.

"Hey, what time is it?"
Looking at the 7-Up clock in the store window, "It's quarter to three."
"We need to head back. Dark Shadows starts at 3 and it looked like Quentin was dead yesterday."
"Okay, but I don't want to get stuck watching TV with the girls all afternoon, so let's see if they'll play kick-the-can or chase after the show."

Late in the afternoon a full blown kick-the-can game was on. Tommy came over from Dwight and the full Christy St. contingent was out, including my two sisters, Gary's sister, both of the Greens, Tony and his sisters, the twins, Walter, Dean, both Spencer's and even Tonya, who was in town for a few weeks visiting her Grandmother. I couldn't tell you who won or lost, but there was lots of running and shouting and sneaking and strategizing. Around 6 o'clock people started dropping out as the front porch shouting began ... "Tanyan! Time for supper!" ... "Mom says 'get home for supper!'" ... "Supper time! Don't make me come get you!"

Sometimes the game picked up again after supper. It seemed to stay light until the late news came on, but I suspect it was our eyes adjusting to the twilight and the desire to stay up a little bit longer.

"You better get home!"
"It's not even dark yet!"
"Are the street lights on? You better be home before the street lights come on or you'll get a whuppin'!"

Summer days on Christy Street fell into a familiar pattern. Games in the neighborhood. Trips to the Pampa public pool. Scrounging for change for sno-cones and fudgesicles. Card games and jacks and board games and bikes. Running through sprinklers and from each other. Not a moment was wasted. Summertime was precious.

One specific morning, before the typical curbside conference, the telephone rang. My sister answered. No one could get to a ringing phone faster than her.

"Dexter! It's for you!"

"Yeah. Okay. Sure."

"Who was that?"
"Dean's brother? What did he want?"
"I dunno. Wants me to come over."
"That's weird."
"Yeah. I'll be back in while. Don't drink the last Mountain Dew, it's mine!"

The day described above is a conglomeration of typical, random, remembered activities. But I remember the phone call morning specifically. It was the day that Frankie molested me.

Until today, I have never said anything to anyone. I don't regret the decision that my kid self made to keep the secret. Afterwards, I felt more like a participant than a victim, that I had somehow given permission. My adult self, however, regrets keeping the secret. I should have said something, at least when I was older and could handle the repercussions. I don't know if he molested anyone else. If he has, then I feel partially to blame.

I only recall one other time of even interacting with him. I was in choir - 5th, 6th, 7th grade - something. Every year there was a spring concert for all the choirs in every school, from elementary through high school, which was held at the high school field house. In line, in some hallway, before filing in to our designated bleacher positions, I saw Frankie standing with the high school choir, in black and white formal attire. He was standing by himself and I watched him, wondering if he remembered that day, wondering how he would react if he saw me staring. He spoke with no one; just stood there alone. His posture, his movements, his fidgeting - they all struck me as effeminate. Eventually, he seemed to have felt my stare and turned, looking directly at me. He smiled, but looked away quickly, still smiling. He knew the secret was safe. And so it was, but now it's not.


A Cancer Catharsis

The AC was the worst. Not AC as in air-conditioning or alternating-current, AC as in adriamycin (doxorubicin) / cyclophosphamide, a chemotherapy drug. It wasn't the side effects or the administration or even the unknown results that made it so bad; the physical existence of the drug, coming face-to-face with it, knowing it meant suffering and that you were advocating its use, that was what made it bad. You're there in the infusion room which, though quite medicinal, is comfortable and staffed by caring, competent nurses. For more than an hour you get a series of prep medicines ... steroids, anti-nausea, saline ... and suddenly, it seems, they bring out the AC. There are multiple large syringes full of this almost impossibly evil-red medicine which they set on the tray next to to your infusion pump. Instead of running this through the pump, it is injected in the tubing that is connected to the port in your chest, which was surgically installed just for this purpose. The injection doesn't hurt, much; the port and the cold spray helps with that. The nurse goes through a check list with you:

"your urine will be red today"
"let me know if you feel any burning as this may indicate leakage of the medicine outside the vein"
"be sure you flush twice when you get home, you don't want to breathe any of this"
"how are you doing?" 

As you are processing this, you glance at the tray and notice that there is another AC syringe, yet to be administered. Another one? "My God," you think, "this is freaking me out, what can possibly be going on in her head?"

The AC was the worst. You sit and watch your wife injected with a toxin. There is nothing you can do. You've been married for 30+ years and you can feel her fear. You can feel it. It's tangible. And there is nothing you can do. No hand holding. No hugging. No kiss on the forehead. No butt squeeze. You know that none of that will provide comfort and your mind buzzes, searching for words to reassure. Nothing comes, and you resort to joking, distractions ... "Is that color more like strawberry jello or cherry kool-aid?" In sickness and in health they say. Who knew you would, at some point, be advocating sickness, praying for the poison to work in the hope for long term health. Those devil-red syringes, laid out so carefully, looking so proper and yet so sinister, they symbolized everything up to this point. The danger. The unknown future. The dark arts and butchery of the prescribed treatment. The AC was a trigger point. That was when it got real for me.

It was easy to be brave at the diagnosis. I've had cancer and a little surgery took care of that, no muss, no fuss. It's easy enough to be reassuring when you don't know what's ahead. You both know you're lying, but lying with good intentions, and besides, there is really no need to over-react, or start the pity-party, or rally the troops ... we are a long way from needing support and why burden them? Everyone's life is hard. It's just another project to manage, another challenge to face, another test like the job losses and relocations, losing a parent, the pregnancy that wasn't to be. Given our history, there was every expectation that the challenge would be well met. And so, it has been. It's been 18 months, and the reconstruction surgery, a major milestone, has just been completed.

You might think that the bi-lateral mastectomy would be the worst thing, and it was pretty bad. No one wants to lose body parts, but it had to be done. It had to be. The lack of options made it easier, but the drains, the recovery, the expanders, the scars ... they all leave a mark. Do you have any big scars, from bicycle accidents or surgeries or unrequited love? If so, you know that place remains numb for a long time, and that you will never have the exact same sensations in that place, but it had to be done, so you live with the numbness and you hope that some day you won't miss the sensations any more. You understand that adjustments will have to be made and hope there will be, at some point, a new, workable normal.

You also might think that the chemo side-effects would be the worst, and they were pretty bad, too. They give you a prep list to mitigate the worst of it. They load you up early and often on anti-nausea meds. They are big advocates of laxatives and mouth hygiene and hydration. Before long you get used to the routine and the weeks become marked not by the calendar, but by how far to or from infusion you are.

  • Chemo day, feeling pretty good. Steroids in the infusion room give a nice boost.
  • Chemo night, no sleep. Hyped from steroids and anxiety.
  • For a day or so after that, surprisingly okay, until the toxins catch up to the feel-goods.
  • A few days out, in the bed, on the sofa, at the toilet.
  • Three to five days out, in the bed, on the sofa, at the toilet with some moments of small comfort.
  • Six to ten days out, more human, no energy, on the sofa, in the bed.
  • Nine to twelve days out, better, some appetite, sleeping is easier.
  • Twelve to thirteen days out, taking care of business, re-grouping, organizing, resting up.
  • Chemo day. So soon?

By the fourth infusion the hair is gone, the nails are thin and weak, the mouth is sensitive and, more concerning, the recovery is slower. How many weeks left?

Once the AC weeks were over it was time for the taxol regimen, which was longer and weekly, not quite as difficult and yet still very miserable, just different. Then radiation, 30+ days, every day. Then, mercifully, some peace from doctor's appointments and treatments. Just because they stop putting the drugs in you, however, doesn't mean you've recovered. It's months before you start feeling close to normal, and you're still tired and wondering what the 'new normal' might be. But it had to be done and the cancer is gone, though in your mind you always append that statement with 'for now' which makes you a bit irritated with yourself and then you realize that it's all part of the new normal. Which sucks, but is better than having cancer. Or dying. So not fun, but not the worst.

There are, of course, no good parts. It doesn't bring you closer to your loved ones. It doesn't make you stronger. It doesn't make you a super hero. It doesn't strengthen your faith or affirm your commitments or make you live "healthier" (whatever that means). It makes you aware that you can endure, that you can, at some point, if you are lucky, overcome the misery, but you already knew that and there's little benefit to trying to force something good out of something so bad. It is, more than anything else, a testament to the power of work ethic, of putting one foot in front of the other, to perseverance, to the strength of life. And you, as cancer victim or cancer care-taker, are left to make of that what you will, whether there is joy in the struggle or futility in the despair, whether there is a wellspring of strength or of overwhelming weakness, whether there is honor in the effort or shame in dragging others along. Cancer does not make you better; it only tests who you already are.

I'm sure there are many that would say that cancer strengthened their faith. That primarily works for those who have survived, or those who desperately want to find some good in it. "God is good, all the time" is a powerful motivator for trying to find some goodness in evil things, like cancer, but it does not displace their essential, evil nature. I believe that God is capable of creating a perfect world, and I equally believe that this is not that world. Many people believe that God can cure them of cancer. I have no doubt that He can, but I have serious doubt that he chooses to do so. A loving God, which I believe He is, would cure everyone of cancer, and yet, He does not. Some would say that is proof that God does not exist, but I believe that it is simply not the way God chooses to work in this world.

People suffer. It is our lot. Belief in God doesn't make you better or smarter or "more" blessed. It is not God's job to make you feel better about yourself. Buying products with pink ribbons saves not one life, and the lady driving the new Mercedes with the 'BL3SS3D' license plate should likely thank the finance company more than her Lord and Savior. God's comfort is not found in being holy enough to deserve to be healed or blessed, it is found in knowing that regardless of your situation, you are loved, and deserving of the perfect world that only God, not man, can create.

Cancer did not make me doubt God the Creator, picturing Him as arrogantly tolerating evil in this world, watching us suffer. It did, however, help me understand Jesus the Son, the bridegroom, watching his beloved suffer, praying for the poison to work, investing in the goodness and power of life, aching to let us know that regardless of the outcome, regardless of the present situation or our righteousness, we are loved. If I could, I would have taken her place. If you have loved, you know the truth of that sacrificial feeling. I am, however, just an imperfect man, in an imperfect world and I have nothing to offer but love, and that, I feel sure, I do not offer fully and completely enough for anyone's healing. I pray it is sufficient, but I fear that it won't be. As little as it might be, it is all I have to offer. Thankfully, I have faith in an all-sufficient love that does not depend on me.

So there you have it, my cancer catharsis, with apologies to Mr. Nooncaster who first introduced me to the word. There is much more to the story, details and difficulties that I won't give power to by mentioning since they have been overcome. It is not an easy path. I can't even imagine how it has been for her. It has altered our course, but it has not ended it, and that is the best that can be said.


Say Something. Anything.

I blame my Dad for this blog. Not only because he was and will always be my story-telling mentor, but also because it was in the sadness of his death that I first wrote something, anything, that I felt was worthy of being written down. It's been a little over 15 years since he died. In that time period we raised our son. As a father, I often looked back to Dad, both the good and the bad, for help, guidance and perspective on how to be a parent. Have some kids. You'll know what I mean.

B.A. & G.A. & Aunt Barb & Uncle Bill
Billy Andrew Turner was born April 25, 1918 in Alanreed, TX and died February 24, 2001 in Amarillo. Though his death was not entirely unexpected, the cancer had come back and he chose not to fight it the second time, it was difficult for me. I was a relatively new father, a recently gone-back-to-church Christian, and a positively guilt-ridden son. When the time came for his funeral, I knew I wanted to say something, anything, to stop the circulating questions - what's the point? where is the meaning? when will I understand? why am I numb? how am I to blame?

Sometime during the week before his funeral I woke up at 2AM, wide awake, with no chance of getting back to sleep. I was anxious, too anxious to sleep, and fired up the computer to write, hoping that I could come up with something that was worthy of being read at my father's funeral. When the sun came up I thought, "This is it. I'm done. This works, and says what I need to say." Recently, in getting ready for our upcoming move, my wife found the one page eulogy I wrote and read at my Dad's interment in the Alanreed cemetery. I'm adding it here below, not to brag or for posterity, but because it signals, for me, a connection to writing with a purpose, with inspiration, with divine assistance.

Over the years I have had the honor to write and speak at several funerals. My Dad's. My father-in-law's. My friend Beverly Ewing. And I have had occasion to write about a loss, specifically a letter to our youth group regarding the loss of Libby Fellows, the beautiful young daughter of a dear friend. I have often wanted to write about the loss of my niece, Colby Turner, but I could never be as eloquent and heartfelt as my brother's writing, which is as it should be. I mention these not to brag, but to make the point that in all these situations I have felt that the writing has been purposeful, inspired, and healing to me. I hope it has been healing to others as well.

I spent the first 17 years of my life living with Dad ... seeing first hand, and often criticizing, how he worked, how he lived, how he managed relationships. I spent the next 17 basically ignoring him. There was the occasional visit, the occasional 'thank-you for helping me get my car fixed,' and the very rare Sunday afternoon truck ride to Hedley or McLean or Booker, but for the most part, he left me alone and I enjoyed my freedom.

I can't quite put my finger on the key point in our relationship recently. Mutual respect, maybe? Well, it probably didn't matter to Dad. When I look back, it seems he always treated me the same way, regardless of what 'phase' our relationship was in, and I think the key point over time was always respect. Oh, we had differences of opinion on many, many things. But I always listened to his point of view. And then he'd listen to mine. And then, after about a half hour of silence in the dusty cab of some old truck, I'd get a story.

Sometimes the story fit the situation. Sometimes it didn't. Usually, I listened to the end. I wish I remembered them all. Well, I suppose, in a way, I have remembered them all. I always listened to Dad's stories with a pinch of disbelief, and sometimes more than a pinch. As I got older I realized that the stories were not just a historical retelling of some event, but were little morality plays and parables. The embellishments, the level of detail, and the consistency of the message made them all hang together and presented a rather complete version of the Gospel of Life according to Bill. I've forgotten most of the stories. I couldn't write a list. But the message got through somehow, and I think Dad would be proud of how I've turned out  ... at least so far.

Well, now I've done it. I promised myself not to bring up religion here, not because Dad wouldn't appreciate it, but because, frankly, it's awkward. We all have different beliefs, and I'm certainly in no position to comment from authority, but I do have two things, two religious things, that I want everyone here to hear.

First, when I was around 10 years old someone in our church told me that if my father didn't start going to church, he was going to hell. That comment was a significant factor in driving me away from church, and it was also important in getting me to go back. I needed to figure out on my own if that was a true statement. I've done a lot of searching and questioning, and I think I've found an answer that satisfies me, which leads me to my second religious point. I actually asked Dad, more than once, why he didn't go to church. Usually, I got a smart ass reply like 'Well, if they'd put some real wine in that Lord's Supper I might' or 'Maybe if they had a pi-an-er.' But I think his basic theology boiled down to, 'I don't have to attend church. I'm willing to let God judge me on my own merits.' That's fine with me, and I'm pretty sure it's worked out for him.

Obviously, I'm writing all this beforehand, but if I was gonna bet, I would bet that the weather for this specific day wouldn't be perfect. Seems like it is always too hot, too cold, too windy or too dry here in the Panhandle. Somehow, that seems just right for Dad. Like the Panhandle weather, Dad never seemed to be perfect. Then you come back for a visit and get the wind and dust in your face and your hair, or your skin gets chapped by the wind and burned by the sun, and it brings back a flood of memories. And you remember the weather specifically. And you appreciate it. And accept it for what it is. And you admire and understand its influence on your life.

This cemetery in Alanreed isn't exactly a 'peaceful valley' either. It's not a picture perfect place; it's not a Norman Rockwell painting. But I think it fits; I think as Dad would say, "it'll do." Dad loved the Panhandle. I love it, too. It has a unique beauty that stays with you. You can't look at this place and say, "Man, it's going to be great living here!" So when you see someone who lives here, loves it, understands it, and appreciates it, you have to admire that person. You have to say, here's a man who respects nature. You have to say, here's a man who deserves my respect. His life wasn't always easy, but he survived, he earned respect, and he was a good father. That ought to be good enough.

B.A., leaving Bill's, avoiding the camera
I hope it hasn't taken as long to read this as it did for me to write this. I said all along that Dad would only want a short, simple ceremony and here I've started preaching. But I have to share one more thing. First, not more than a month ago, out of the blue, Griffin tells Cindy as we're all riding in the car, "Mom, I'm taking Daddy lessons from Dad." Talk about pressure. It dawned on me that I'm not just trying to raise a good kid, I'm trying to raise a good man. And not just a good man, but the next generation of Dads. And when I understood the implication of that, I finally understood a comment Dad made to me last year in one of the final, meaningful conversations we had. We were discussing putting him in a nursing home and he said to me, "Deck, I'm a good guy." And all I could say was, "Yeah, Dad, you're a good guy." And now I know that for Dad that was the whole point, all along. It's a good point to make.

I love you, Dad. Thanks.


An Easter Story

My collar was too tight and the shirt in general was too scratchy. Mom pinched my side, hard, presumably for kicking the pew in front of me, though I wasn't really trying to make noise or disturb anyone; I was just trying to force my feet as far forward in my shoes as possible because they were rubbing a blister above my heels. They weren't too tight, just not broken in. Once I stopped kicking, my butt got numb. The pews had no cushion.

The church in general had no cushion either. There was not much wiggle room for a young sinner like me. Sunday School was okay. There were memory verses and fill in the blank questions in a work book, which primarily served to make sure you read the scriptures, specifically the King James version of those scriptures, and I was pretty good at that kind of thing. My Dad's contribution to my religious education was to make sure I had my Sunday School lesson completed before he would let me read the Sunday comics ... "Have you finished your Bible study? Wanna read the red funnies?" So Sunday School was okay, easy enough and the teachers always appreciated those who participated, but it was not enlightening or uplifting. The one clear lesson was how difficult, if not impossible, it was to live a good, Christian life. Early on, my young sinner self decided it was simply too much.

My tendency, even as a kid, was to collect data, allow it to percolate for a while, sometimes a long while, and then try to make the most logical, consistent decision possible. The problem was only partially with the data I collected from the church. It wasn't that the prescribed lifestyle was impossible, it was that it seemed inconsistent, and that I couldn't live with. Jesus came to save the world, but what about those who never heard of him? Women couldn't be leaders in the church, but all around me I saw women leading, even in those King James version Bible stories. We were supposed to let our light shine, but our church seemed so insular, so inwardly focused. We were supposed to praise God with singing, but for some reason, pianos poisoned the praise. We talked about Jesus' miracles, the supremacy of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, but there was no room for mystery. How could there be no gray areas when no one could claim to fully know God?

But many made that claim. They told me Dad was going to hell for not attending church. They told me the folks in the church down the street were going to hell because they weren't doing church the right way. They told me about judgement, but I don't recall hearing about grace. I got very good at memory verses and bible races and using particular scriptures as 'proof' of righteousness. In the end, however, it didn't make sense, at least to a young sinner like me, and so it became easier and easier to ignore and dismiss what was being taught. To me it seemed suspiciously like the church was creating their own check boxes, so it was not a surprise to me when they checked them off. I did not believe in what they were selling.

And then there was the other data being collected. My Mom took us to church. Dad stayed home. Church was stressful. Sunday afternoons with Dad were remarkably boring, often spent at Grandma Turner's house. Rides home from church were often filled with gossip or arguments or discussion of some sinner's inappropriate behavior. Rides home from Grandma Turner's were usually pretty quiet, except when interrupted by Dad's a capella renditions of Bob Wills or some obscure and hopelessly hokey cowboy song. I rarely saw Mom put money in the collection plate. I often saw Dad checking on some old guy he knew was down on his luck. It's not that Dad was nice and good and Mom was mean and bad, it was simply that Dad seemed happier. The same could be said of many of my other friends who did not go to church, or who went to a church that did fun things. The words I heard in church versus the life I witnessed away from it just didn't hang together.

Some of the words I heard in church included this, from Mark 16:16 ...

The one who believes and is baptized will be saved

This was a regularly featured scripture in worship. Near the end of every service there was what was commonly referred to as an 'altar call.' Inviting worshippers to come forward and be baptized. The expectation was that if you were so moved by the message, the Holy Spirit would call you to come forward and be baptized. The baptistry was behind a curtain, behind the pulpit. Once you came forward, the preacher would take you back to the baptistry. You would change into a white robe. The preacher would step into the water with you, say the appropriate words and dip or dunk you completely under the water. As you came out of the water, the curtain would be closed, I assume to save you the embarrassment of looking like you'd just been dunked. I never understood why they closed the curtain. If the action was holy, I wanted to see it all.

There was, of course, no infant baptism. You had to come forward, fully aware of your commitment. I saw many of my peers go forward to be baptized, some as early as 10 or 11 years old. By the time I was 13 I was feeling the pressure. It seemed that every time I heard "The one who believes AND is baptized" every head in the congregation would turn to look at me. There was no question that the "AND" was emphasized. But I did not believe. I simply did not. And, in my search for consistency, there was no way I was going forward. I could not do something I did not believe simply to conform to community convention. I even talked about this with my non-religious Dad who said, "Don't worry about it. I was baptized every time a traveling preacher came to town. I've been dunked enough for both of us." Consequently, I was never baptized, and as soon as I left home, I also left the church.

This was my thinking at the time. I do not condemn those who taught me, either my parents or the church leaders. I believe they were doing what they thought was best and all I'm trying to communicate is that it was not sufficient for me. I've already admitted my sinfulness. Though I was young, I have a hard time holding others responsible for my hard-headed-ness. None of us made it easy, so please do not interpret the above as criticism. It was what it was; it was my life and I truly have no regrets.

Today, however, at the age of 56, I was baptized at Bentwood Trail Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas by the Reverend Dr. Elizabeth Callender during Easter worship services. We have been worshipping at Bentwood Trail since 1999, and joined in 2000 when our son was 3 years old. I quit going to church as soon as I left home. I did not return until my wife convinced me that it was the right thing to do for our son, and somehow I recognized the truth of that, and agreed to "try" church again. Throughout my tenure at BTPC I have struggled with the knowledge that I was not baptized. Sometimes, it made me feel like a fraud. Other times it was reassuring, knowing that even if I was not baptized, God still loved me.

I'm sure there were many in my church family who were shocked to see my name in the bulletin to be baptized today. I've been active in teaching, leading worship, volunteering and church leadership for many years. To those who want to know "why now?" after all these years, I have three answers.

First, if anyone was going to baptize me, it was going to be Elizabeth. Despite the fact that she is a woman, and that I would be sprinkled instead of dunked, it felt right. I was part of Elizabeth's call to BTPC, and my work on the nominating committee truly was one of those times when I felt God's call. She has been my friend and my teacher, and there is a 'rightness' in our relationship that is undeniable. Since we will be moving to Houston soon, I couldn't let the decision to be baptized linger.

Second, as I mentioned before, sometimes it takes a while for me to process data and come to a decision. This one was a long time coming, but I finally determined that it was time to take this step. The epiphany came several months ago when I finally realized, after struggling with the whole concept and need and purpose of baptism for decades, that it was something that you get to do, an opportunity, not something you have to do, a requirement.

Finally, I eventually realized that NOT being baptized was my way of controlling my relationship with God. Not getting baptized was my way of letting God know that I was in charge of this relationship. I was holding out, hoping that some day, some way, God would prove himself to me ... burning bush, winning lottery ticket, life changing vision, something. Who am I to demand that the Creator of the Universe prove himself to me? Isn't the logical thing to seek a relationship with God, to simply accept His love that is unconditionally given?

I have grown from a young sinner, full of doubt and stubbornness, to an old sinner, unsure of many, many things, but absolutely convinced that it is better to live into and in the love that is offered, than to try to control it, or to try to force it into conditions and requirements of my own construction. It is not my tendency to leap into faith. Choosing to be baptized, for me, has not been a leap, but rather a decades long process that began with my Mother dipping my toes in the water (though at times it felt like being thrown in the deep end) and ending with being welcomed into the ocean of family and friends and believers spanning not just decades, but millennia.

Who am I? A child of the great I AM, baptized, a participant in Jesus' death and resurrection, dead to what separates us from God, and raised to newness of life in Christ. I will endeavor to choose life in all things, and will succeed with God's help.

Thank you, everyone, who brought me to this point. It has been a long journey, and you have all been part of it, and a blessing to me.


A Speech I'd Like to Hear from Ted Cruz

A well known woman once said of her upbringing, "We learned about honesty and integrity - that the truth matters ... that you don't take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules ... and success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square." I believe that whole-heartedly, and I would expect most of you believe it, too, so I'd like to talk about these important things - truth, rules and earned success.

First, some truth ... some people don't like me. The media tags me as 'extreme,' attempting to link me in the public mind to 'Muslim extremists,' to paint me as unreasonable. Political blogs say I'm unpopular with my congressional colleagues, which is supposed to be insulting - perhaps they believe that Congress is like middle school where popularity is some sort of goal or marker for success. Some, even in the Republican party, have called my efforts to make significant change self-serving. These things, these sticks and stones, are not the truth.

Here's the truth. My views on abortion, on the second amendment, on immigration, on government spending, on national security - they are all squarely aligned with the majority of Americans. They are not, however, aligned with the media or the pop-culture brokers, so it's understandable that many people have the perception that my positions are extreme. The Republicans are not the extremists in this race.

As for being unpopular within Congress, well, that happens when you take strong, principled positions. It's no different than in any other job, really. Congress is famous for having a lower like-ability rating than used car salesmen. I like to think I'm one of the good used car salesmen, the one who tells you about the oil leak and the transmission that slips, and who refuses to 'tote the note' when I know you can't afford it. The sales manager may not like it, but at least I can sleep at night.

In regard to being self-serving, I have to admit, that truly offends me, but politics doesn't have the designated safe spaces of a gender-studies conference, so let me address that head on. Yes, I've used attention getting tactics, but that is only because leadership didn't lead. Yes, I've been abrasive and vocal and demanding, but only on critical issues that needed it, where we should not go-along-to-get-along, where the easy path is the wrong path. Some battles are too important to avoid for political expediency.

And now, let's talk about rules, about how they are elemental to civil society, about how those that disregard them are declaring themselves to be greater, better, or more important than you. This is the great divide in our society, those who play by the rules versus those who think they are above them.

Do we really need to make the list? Unconstitutional executive orders. Violation of federal regulations on retaining information. Backdoor hiring of advisers. Hiding relationships with lobbyists. Selectively enforcing immigration laws. Cronyism in general. Political donations propping up Planned Parenthood. Refusing to prosecute IRS officials caught persecuting citizens for their political beliefs. Do you need a list? Do you not see this everyday?

If you have ever observed a situation where an average Joe would be punished, but the politically connected or the famous and influential are not, then you recognize the injustice of the governing class, the privileged class, and 'for thee but not for me' justice. You see the biased reporting, the 'if-Bush-had-done-it' or 'if-a-Republican had done it' inconsistency in the headlines, the infidelities dismissed and even praised for some, which would cause a decent man life-long shame. You see it. We all see it.

Here's what I want you to know about me and rules. I follow them. When my critics refer to a 'failed filibuster' or a 'failed attempt to shutdown the government' please note that in those attempts, I followed the rules. I did not circumvent them to get my way. I did not consider myself above them. Those efforts may not have accomplished what they were intended to, but neither did they violate the rules. They were not unprincipled. You don't take shortcuts. You don't make your own rules. I follow the rules. I challenge the Democrats to make the same pledge, and I hope that Democratic voters recognize the power of this pledge, that though we may disagree, as President, I will abide by the Constitution and we will work to earn the respect of all citizens by upholding the law equally, for everyone.

And finally, let's talk about earned success. On the campaign trail I've not been shy in bragging about my roots, the work and solid foundation of my parents, the opportunities that America provides and that I took advantage of. The Democrats would tell you that 'earned success' is not possible, that the game is rigged by millionaires and billionaires and corporations and big this or big that. They call me extreme and unpopular and arrogant because they cannot afford for me, a product of American opportunity, to succeed, just like they cannot afford for a food stamp family to break the cycle or for a young woman to realize that the most powerful pro-choice comes before conception or for young people to learn that education and success does not require indebtedness.

The Democrats have spent decades deconstructing the family, the incubator of earned success, and undermining the path smoothing power of personal responsibility. All of our current societal woes, from urban violence to economic insecurity to foreign policy chaos, can be laid at the feet of failed Democratic plans and policies, and the Republicans who enable them by putting politics ahead of principle. Government cannot make you successful, but it can get in your way. Billionaires and corporations are not scheming behind the scenes to prevent you from reaching your goals, but they can use an oversized government to skew the market to their advantage.

The government cannot make you perfectly safe or permanently comfortable. It can, however, create an environment that allows you to be your best, and then get out of your way and let you do it. My goal is to rebuild your trust in the American idea, and your belief in yourself. I'm asking for your vote, not because you can count on me as a compromiser, a consensus builder, slickly manipulating the levers of power to advance an agenda, but because we believe in the same principles - honesty, the rule of law and personal responsibility. I'm asking you to cast your vote for principle, not promises and personality. America does not need fundamental change, it needs to return to fundamental principles.