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Last Thursday, I took Coleman to get an overdue haircut before he and Kim hit the road to go to Mississippi for a few days.  There was no time to try to schedule an appointment, so I just took a chance and went to the mall.  We walked the entire length of the lower level without seeing a salon.  I checked the directory and map at the far end and noticed that a Regis salon was located directly overhead on the second level.   The name of the place immediately gave me comfort and confidence.  Let me explain.

Kim cut Coleman’s hair at home for years.  We had tried to take him to barbershops and salons a few times when he was younger, but the experience always frightened and unsettled him.  We don’t know if the smocks, scissors, and sterile looking environment reminded him of doctors’ offices and hospitals (which he had to visit with extreme regularity) or if the experience was just too far outside the box for his autism to handle.  Regardless of the reason for the discomfort, it wasn’t worth the anxiety for him or us, so Kim started cutting his hair.  Despite having no cosmotology training whatsoever, she did an admirable job with Coleman’s hair, although she regularly sliced her fingers to pieces with the sharp scissors.

About four years ago, I thought that it might be worth a shot to try a salon again, given that Coleman was now several years older than he was on our last attempt.  I had recently had my hair cut at Regis in Lewisville, Texas, near our home in Carrollton, and there was just something about the guy who had cut my hair that made me think he might do okay with Coleman.  I called Doug and explained Coleman’s autism, developmental delays, the fact that he was completely non-verbal, and his “history” of haircuts.  Doug didn’t hesitate in telling me to bring him on in.  It turned out to be wonderful.  Coleman was calm and comfortable, as was Doug.  Since Coleman tended to drop his head, I had to stand beside him with my hand under his chin for the entire cut, but that wasn’t a problem.  Doug and I just had to change positions about a dozen times during the cut.  It was like a well-choreographed “haircut dance”; but, it worked for three years, and Doug became our good friend.

So, that’s the back-story; now back to last Thursday.  Coleman and I walked into Regis here in Tulsa and I told the young lady at the counter that I needed someone to cut his hair.  She smiled, grabbed a pencil, looked down at the appointment book, and asked for his name.  “Coleman,” I said.  She repeated his name, began writing it down, then stopped and looked up.  She looked at Coleman, then looked at me and asked, “Are you Tim?”  It turns out that the young lady was Katie Spera, a member of the Broken Arrow church where I preach.  She hadn’t recognized me at first, probably because I was “out of context” and “out of uniform” (I had on jeans and flip-flops), but she knew who Coleman was!  And she knew who Coleman’s father was!  Katie got us hooked up with Sarah.  I quickly taught her the “Coleman Dance” and we had another great haircut experience.

In 1998, when Coleman was just 5 years old, a friend of ours at the Walnut Hill church in Dallas was riding in a car with her young grandson.  Much of the radio news was about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and our friend became concerned about what “little ears” might be picking up from the discussion of the sex scandal.  She asked her grandson, “Do you know who the President is?”  “Uh, yeah,” he said in a rather exasperated voice.  “Coleman’s daddy,” he continued, as if everyone knew that.  He didn’t know my name, but he definitely knew Coleman’s. 

Coleman has touched and influenced a multitude of lives in his 17 years on this earth.  I’m just proud to be known as his Dad. 

If you live in the South, you may remember the heat wave of 1980.  The Dallas/Fort Worth area endured 69 days that summer when the temperature exceeded 100 degrees, including one stretch of 42 straight days.  I was living in Montgomery, Alabama, at the time (roughly the same latitude as Dallas) and was preparing to enter my senior year of high school.  I had begun the summer working as a groundskeeper at Greenwood Cemetery, running a weed eater for 40 hours a week.  After a few weeks, I was approached by Billy Hilyer, now President of Faulkner University in Montgomery, who asked if I would be interested in working for him for the remainder of the summer constructing a new home for his family out in the country.  I gladly accepted the offer, eager to be freed from the monotony and solitary confinement of my weed eating work.

I wasn’t hired as a skilled laborer since I had no prior residential construction experience.  I was appointed Chief Go-fer and Grunt with significant Toting and Fetching responsibilities.  Pick up this, carry that, move this, now move it back, pick up a load of lumber at the building supply store, and haul off the scraps and trash to the county dump.  I really did enjoy the work.  I learned a lot and enjoyed the conversations with Billy and the pair of carpenters that he had hired to frame the house. 

The only real impediment to our work that summer was the heat.  Since it was regularly hitting and exceeding 100 degrees, we started driving out to the work site in the dark, began working at first light, then knocked off around 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. when the heat had drained the last ounce of our energy.  After a few days of this routine, the two framers started bringing a large cooler every day that contained a couple of watermelons that were encased in crushed ice.  Each afternoon, after we stacked the materials, cleaned up the work area, and put away all the tools, we would sit down in the shade, break open the cooler, and feast on the ice-cold melons.  

It is hard to describe just how sweet and refreshing those watermelons were.  I am not sure if it was a physical reality or just my imagination, but on the first few swallows, I could feel the coolness sliding down my esophagus and into my stomach.  When you are that hot (and sweaty and grimy) and the melons are that cold, I guess it is possible.  It was a perfect way to end a hard day’s work in the sun.

“Like cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a distant land.” (Proverbs 25:25)

Just as cold watermelon can be to an overheated and fatigued body, so good news and an encouraging message can be to the spirit.  How many times has someone “made your day” by taking the time to give you a phone call, send you an email or Facebook message, or snail mail you an encouragement card?  The impact is further heightened when the contact comes from someone you haven’t seen or talked to in a long time and/or who lives very far away.  Just to know that this person still thinks about you, loves you, cares about you, and took the time to reach out to you is so meaningful and refreshing to our heart.  It can erase (or at least significantly minimize) the pain and frustration of a day in which multiple things may have gone wrong for you. 

So, take a moment and think about it.  Whose spirit can you refresh today? 

Perhaps you have seen the television commercials which feature Sally Field as a spokesperson for Boniva, a drug that is used to treat and prevent osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.  Field is a widely recognized actress known for roles ranging from Gidget and a flying nun to Academy Award-winning performances in major motion pictures.  Apparently, she has been greatly benefited by taking Boniva and comes across as very genuine and sincere instead of just another celebrity-for-hire pitching for a pharmaceutical company.   Though the FDA approved the drug in 2003, I only became aware of Boniva’s existence recently through the tv ads.  I guess advertising really does work! 

Near the end of the television spot, Sally Field states, “I’ve got this one body and this one life.”  I fully understand the intent of her statement.  In the context of touting a medication that can increase bone density and curb premature bone loss, it is a call for people to avail themselves of a means of improving their health and quality of life.  I am extremely grateful to God for advances in medical science that have made possible the treatment and even cure of a multitude of diseases and conditions.  

There is no doubt that Coleman’s regimen of every-other-day injections of Neupogen (filgrastim) for the first seven years of his life kept him alive.  Even now, he is receiving periodic injections because of dramatic fluctuations in his neutrophil count that are leaving him with a suppressed immune system.  So, I definitely get the whole idea of “let’s take care of our bodies and live as healthily as possible.”

But, as a Christian, I am grateful that I’ve got more than “this one body and this one life.”  Boniva may prolong bone health for a significant number of years, but those bones will still eventually return to the dust from which they were made (Gen. 3:19; Eccl. 3:20).  This earthly life, even at its longest, is still just a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14).  Is that all there is?  Just one body and one life?  Not even close!

When my earthly body is spent and dies, my soul (my true “life”) continues its existence uninterrupted.  My spirit will return to the God who gave it (Eccl. 12:7).  My soul will depart to be with Christ (Acts 7:59; Phil. 1:23).  There I will be in His presence in Paradise, in the bosom of Abraham, until I and all of God’s departed saints return with Christ on the last great Day to be joined with a new body that is perfect, imperishable, and fitted for God’s eternal kingdom (I Cor. 15:42-58; I Thess. 4:13-18).

Coleman’s next body will be free from congenital blood disorders and genetic abnormalities.  His mind and his body will be unimpaired, fully functional, and perfect.  He will speak.  His voice will join in the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb in praise to the Almighty and His Son.

That’s a whole lot better than Boniva!  Eternally better!

“Father, I ask that You be with us today as we …” 

“Lord, please be with …” 

I don’t know why I used to pray like this.  Perhaps it is because I heard others use similar language in their prayers.  But, regardless how I got started, I routinely asked God to “be with” me, my family, my shepherds, my fellow ministers, our missionaries, the sick, and the sorrowing without really considering the implications of my request.  Did I think God was absent and needed to show up?  Was I afraid that He might check out and abandon those about whom I had care and concern?

In recent months, I have ceased asking for God’s presence and just started thanking Him for it. 

We serve a God who has promised, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).  Among our Savior’s parting words to His disciples was an affirmation that “I am with you always”  (Matthew 28:20).  Jesus said that another Helper, the Spirit of Truth, would be sent by the Father and “He will be with you forever” (John 14:15-16).  Our bodies have become sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit who lives within us (I Corinthians 6:19).  Where we go, He goes!

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, You are there.  If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.” (Psalm 139:7-10)

I think I sometimes used “be with” as a kind of generic prayer language shorthand.  I would say “be with” when I really meant strengthen, comfort, heal, grant wisdom, or some other needed Divine blessing.  So, I have tried to become more specific about what I am asking of the Lord, without needlessly questioning His presence.

I love the final verse of the hymn Father and Friend! Thy Light, Thy Love written by John Bowring in 1825:

Thy children shall not faint nor fear,
Sustained by this delightful thought;
Since Thou, their God, art everywhere,
They cannot be where Thou art not.

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July 2010