Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A tribute: I am half-the-man Randy Roberts was

Randy Roberts died yesterday . . . more than 30 years after a work accident made him a quadra-plegic . . . more than 30 years since the doctors told his Dad, Mom and sister that Randy might live, at best,  5 years after the accident.

After perhaps 50+ operations, Randy's body just didn't have anymore life left in it.  He knew it was time.  He told Dennis it was time, and then told doctors and family that no heroic measures were to be taken to prolong his life.   After several days on a ventilator, and as his internal organs began to shut down one-by-one, his doctors, with permission of his family,  pulled the breathing tube out, and soon after, Randy quietly slipped away to a place the Bible calls Heaven, a place I believe is better than this world, a place where Randy is enjoying a new body made by the hands of God.

No more pain . . . no more trauma . . . no more facing the hundreds of challenges that most people only get to experience a couple of in their lives.

Randy was a quadra-plegic man in a motorized wheel chair. I towered over him when I stood next to him.  He would ask me to bend over when I talked to him,  because it hurt his neck to look up so high.  

Before I arrived here at FUMC-Grapevine, I obtained a copy of the church directory.  I was struck by the smile Randy had in his directory picture.  I remember emailing either Trudy Hughes or Katie Long, a former pastor, asking for the names of people I needed to meet upon arrival at the church to work alongside Ken Diehm in ministry.   Near the top of the list, was Randy's name.   

My first Sunday, I saw Randy sitting in the back of the sanctuary . . . we introduced ourselves to each other . . .  he asked me "What kind of a name is Mang?"  I explained that it was a good German name.   He said, "I've only heard the name Mang one other time, it was the name of a character in the movie, Tarzan Goes to India.  That character got killed.

Well, I thought it was funny.

When I first met him, I asked him why he didn't have a beard like he did in his church directory picture.  He replied, "Oh, I was holding my razor the other day, and I kinda had an "opps", so I cut off the rest of my beard to hide it."

We had a race one time, down the hall from my office to Cheri's office.  I don't know how it all started  . . . I think I had asked him how fast he could go in his wheelchair.  He said, "You want to find out." We agreed to go on the count of three . . . he took off on the count of two  . . . when I caught up to him  . . . because he had stopped so I could catch up . . . he just smiled.  I said, "You sure are smiling big."  He said, "Yeah, and if I had bet you $20 bucks, I would be smiling even bigger."

I came to realize right then and there, that I would never play poker with Randy.

Randy was my friend . . . I was one of his pastors . . . these past two years, we became brothers.  I probably visited and called him well over 50 times in the past two years.  Funny thing, during those two years,  at times it felt that something changed, that at times he was pastoring me . . . asking more about how I was doing . . . offering to pray . . . making suggestions.   I wast there for him . . . he was the one with the illness, with challenge . . . yet I was the one who often left feeling the most blessed.   

The truth . . . Randy gave really great advice.

My friend Randy . . . in a wheel chair . . . and me . . . 6'6", 300 pounds . . . 

Can I share honestly for a moment . . .   I was half-the-man that Randy was.  

Despite my height and weight advantage . . . despite the fact that I have full use of my arms and legs and being close to the same age, despite that I was stronger . . . despite the fact that I was better looking (something Randy was very willing to argue with me about) . . . Randy accomplished so much more in his life than I have.

I know, I know . . . it's not a competition . . .  but as I prepare to preach Randy's memorial service this Saturday, I am coming to realize, as well as admitting to being a bit overwhelmed by the rich legacy Randy is leaving behind.

Despite being in a wheel-chair, and needing family, friends and helpers to get him in and out of bed, in and out of his wheel chair, in and out of a car until he got his van . . . seldom if ever a word of complaint came out of his mouth.

The other day, I got a bit testy because the guys at the Chicken Express were taking "too long" to take my order . . .  

Today, I broke my nail, and almost made the decision to go home because my finger hurt.

At times, even though I have the full use and pleasure of my body . . . I have been known to whine about stuff that in reality is quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Randy was in a wheel chair  . . . and still served for years as one of the most involved civic volunteers in Grapevine . . . he taught Disciple Bible Study . . . was taking training to become a Stephen Minister (even though he had been doing the work of a Stephen Minister for years) . . . he single handedly coordinated the God's Can ministry at our church, picking up the can goods every Monday and carrying them on his lap to his van, and then taking them to our neighborhood food bank.

And I was going to go home because I broke a finger nail . . .  

I am half-the-man Randy Roberts was.   I think that goes for most of us.

I can only remember two times he ever spoke negatively . . . and I can't share the details because what he shared took place during pastoral care situations . . . however, a day or so later on both occassions, he called me to say he was OK, and that he and God had talked about things, and that everything was going to be all right.

And, it was!   Randy was man of his word.   That in and of itself is a legacy he leaves behind for us.

I have a couple of bad habits . . . that have been bad habits for a long time.   Habits can be changed . . . bad habits can be broken . . . if I put some hard work into it.   Randy had to put a great effort into everything he did . . . and in the end, it finally wore him out.   Yet I am struck by the fact that I have full use of a functioning body, and almost quit on an entire day because I broke a fingernail . . . so in Randy's memory . . . perhaps I can do what I have to do, that needs to be done.

I don't have to try very hard to paint Randy in a positive light.   He was a role model and and inspiration for many.   But I also don't want to go to over board.   Randy was not Jesus.  He was a sinner, saved by grace . . . a man with a wonderful servant spirit who lived his personal values to the fullest . . .

-Loving and appreciating his family
-Loving and appreciating his friends 
-Serving his church
-Serving his community.

Randy was not Jesus . . . but Randy did reflect Jesus.

He loved his family . . . especially his neices . . . who at times were more like daughters.  He provided after-school care for them, and made sure they were in Sunday School, worship and VBS.   The love he had for his Dad, Dennis, and his sister, Robin . . . was just something so good to witness.

I count it an honor and a privilege to have been Randy Robert's friend and brother.   Man, Randy had a lot of friends . . . and he loved them all . . . helped many with their problems . . . was there when he was needed . . .  kept a few friends from doing something stupid they would live to regret . . . could still be counted on as friends to those who did . . . and he brought some of those same friends to the feet of Jesus Christ.

He served his church in so many ways over so many years . . . and I don't know if as a full-time pastor,  I could have kept up with him.

He served his community.   He loved Grapevine with all his heart.   While some act as if they are too busy to even take the time to vote in an election . . .  Randy spent hours every week he could . . . volunteering at Grapefest and Main Street Dayz, serving on boards and groups . . . doing what he could to promote his community.   His efforts helped many other people come to love Grapevine as much as he did.  

Now, I know that some might say . . . Randy was in a wheel-chair, he didn't work full-time, he had the time to volunteer and serve.

Just stop and consider for a moment . . . that many days of the week since his accident, Randy needed to stay in bed.   In the past 2 and 1/2 years alone, he spent about a years total time in the hospital or rehab center.   He probably had a hundred hospital stays which included well over 50 surgeries in the past 30+ years, and the associated time of recovery at home.  

If anybody ever had the right to curse God . . . cry . . . moan . . . whine . . . quit . . .  it was Randy. 

I am here today . . . to share that Randy's response to life . . . while living in a wheelchair . . . is how full able-bodied peoples responses to life should be . . . but for the most part aren't.  Oh, and we have several excellent excuses why that is . . . we are soooooo busy, our priorities in life are so off track . . . the expectation of others is too demanding . . . we have it soooooo tough . . . or we have a broken finger nail.

Randy's response to life, to success, to misfortune and set-backs . . . was to be positive, and to react to all that life threw at him . . . by being a servant to others even when facing personal set backs and adversity, and to volunteer in his church and community.  

As a result, he leaves a legacy so far reaching, that I cannot begin to imagine it's limits . . . I can only admire the list of people whose lives he touched, as it continues, even after his death . . . to grow on, and on, and on, and on.

I would suggest something to the leaders of our city . . . there better be a Randy Roberts Drive or Blvd. street sign up somewhere in Grapevine pretty darned quick . . . because people who did not know Randy, if there are any . . . need to learn and know who he was.  They will be the better for it.

I love you Randy.  And I already miss you as much as I have ever missed anyone whom I have ever known who has preceeded me in death.   I am comforted by the fact that I know we shall meet again.   Until that time, may my attitude toward life, the way I treat others,  and the way I react to the difficulties and adversities that life throws my way, be a reflection of Jesus, and a reflection of how you touched my life.

God's grace, and my late friend Randy, still amazes me . . . ><>

Monday, January 25, 2010

A needed guitar 'intervention" . . .

In light of all the need in Haiti . . . and in Africa . . . and in light of the fact that over 50% of the people in the world live on less than $2 a day . . . the following account of what the other guys in the band did for me . . . well . . . it has forced me into some much needed soul searching.

And, as a result of Ken's sermon yesterday . . . I have to ask myself a question, "How much is enough?" I have to ask it . . . because I don't know my answer yet.

I had no idea how evident the situation was to so many people . . . but for the past 4 years, I have been on a search for "THE" guitar. A while back, I gave up on fancy electric guitars . . . and went back to just playing acoustic guitars without effects. Then I got an electric nylon string . . . but took it back, because it always needed to be plugged into an amp. Then I spent a couple months rethinking who my favorite guitar players are, and what kind of music they did. Following that, I traced the history of my guitar playing, and realized / remembered that for about 8 years, the only guitar I had was a cheap nylon string classical, that I used back in my youth ministry days.

Several weeks ago, while picking up picks at a nearby Guitar Center, I wandered over to the acoustic section, and found a used Taylor NS42ce nylon string guitar with electric pickup . . . I bought it the next day, and have been pretty happy with it. It is funny, what I can do on a nylon string guitar . . . fingerpicking wise, that I cannot do on a regular steel string guitar.

A week ago, I began recording the guitar tracks to a children's worship CD I have planning to do for several years . . . I used the Taylor for about 6 of the songs . . . and was pretty pleased. I've used it in church twice, at a nursing home, and a couple other events.

Last Thursday, at our weekly jam session/rehearal of the 1st Church String Band, as if on cue, all the guys stopped playing . . . and one of the guys said . . . "Rick, you've been looking for the guitar of your dreams for the past 4 years . . . that Taylor is it . . . and if you get rid of it . . . we are all going to kick your (another word for rear end)." One our older guys said "Amen" and then we went back to playing . . . nailing our version of CCR's "Who'll Stop the Rain."

Good grief!

Thing is . . . I have no argument against what they said. I do have too many guitars.

How much is enough?

I don't know the answer, but I am working on it. And I appreciate a bunch of guys who have my best interest at heart . . .

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Haiti Relief continues . . .

For more information about how you can help the relief effort for Haiti . . . please click HERE to see what we are doing through the First United Methodist Church of Grapevine, and through UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

This is going to be a very long on-going effort . . . please do what you can, and help keep this need in the public eye . . . it is unbelieveable to understand just how many are suffering.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Monday, January 18, 2010

UMC related deaths in Haiti a shock to us all . . .

Word was received as late as this past Saturday, that 3 United Methodist's, one a church member at Highland Park UMC in Dallas, and the other two had been serving on the executive level of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) had died as a result of injuries they sustained during the recent earthquake in Haiti.

The joy of a bright Monday morning is dimmed somewhat by this news.

I wanted to put down some words . . . only to find that it is a struggle to do so. Instead, I want to direct you to the words posted by my friend and ministerial collegue, Rev. Eric Folkert.

Click here to go to his blog.

Eric was a long-time associate pastor at HPUMC in Dallas, and set up their mission trips to Haiti, having gone many times himself. His words are worth your read. The families of those whose lives have been lost . . . could use your prayers.

Despite it all . . . God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Children's Time at FUMC" CD recording sessions have now begun . . .

With the encouragement of a lot of people, and with the personal and profession help of my good friend and fellow pastoral colleague, Wren Robinson, I have begun work on the children's worship music CD I promised to start over three years ago.

Today, I recorded the guitar track . . . and hopefully next week, if schedules all work out . . . I will record the vocals, and then Wren begins to work on how it all will sound.

Bless Wren's heart . . . I'm going to get him a Sonic gift card good for life . . . well, at least until the end of next week.

It is amazing . . . recording was indeed work, and effort to say the least . . . but it was not the fearful event I had imagined it to be. I am becoming very excited about how this little CD is going to come out.

By the way . . . Wren and I are not making a penny on this CD. All proceeds from sales will help to support a mission project of our church . . . and I am enlisting the children of our church to help decide which one.

Every Sunday morning, I have the best job of anyone in the church, as I welcome the children to the altar, and together we sing for the Children's Time. All the songs on this recording have been sung by our children, and a few of the adults as well during these almost 5 years of worshipping together.

More info to come . . .

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Dang" and "Hotdog"!!!!!!!!! I'm going to be there for this . . .

Found out yesterday at our District Pastors meeting, that the 100th year anniversary celebration of our Central Texas Annual Conference will be at the Will Rogers Center in Ft. Worth on Saturday, October 23rd.

Also found out . . . that Willie Nelson and his sister will be leading a hymn sing during the celebration.

Maybe, just maybe . . . I can ask if I can touch his guitar???

I am looking forward to this event already.

Pass the word to your friends in other Central Texas Conference churches.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Why do I smile when I watch this . . .

Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed doing a duet of "Jerry's Breakdown." I forget how good of a guitar player Jerry Reed was . . .

Funny thing . . . Jerry was interviewed several times saying that if not for Chet Atkins, he would have never had a hit record.

In Chet's biography, Chet writes that he owed so much to Jerry for showing him some new stuff that revitalized Chet's career as a result.

Amazing . . .

I guess I should thank my friends Joe, Floyd, Alan and Sean for showing me guitar stuff, in the process inspiring me to become a better player.

I am blessed.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

And speaking of Chet Atkins . . .

Here is a video of Chet playing with long-time associate, Paul Yandell . . . playing some Beatles favorites.

I love this video.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Getting some music reading in . . .

We are starting a church-wide study on January 10th of "The Hole in Our Gospel" by Richard Stearns.

So, before plunging into that great book again . . . I wanted to get some music reading done.

Just finished the auto-biography "Chet Atkins: Me and My Guitars" (2003 - Hal Leonard Publishing),
Anyone knows who is well aware . . that I "play" guitar.

Or rather, I play "at" the guitar. I am not a guitarist . . . I am a guitar player. I want to become a guitarist . . . and I am working harder at playing the guitar than I ever have before.

Titles, it seems, are given to you by others. "Guitarist" is title I have to earn.

Chet was a great "guitarist," whose style and type of playing inspired several generations of "fingerstyle" guitar players . . . myself being a late entry into that group of players.

My strength is blue grass and folk style rythym guitar playing with a flat pick . . . and I ain't half-bad if I do say so myself.

Finger-style guitar playing . . . heck, I am a rank amateur at best . . . a mere beginner . . . a baby in diapers . . . (I am sure you have the appropriate, or inappropriate mental picture now).

This book has lots of great pictures, and Chet's own words about his life, career, and about the many guitars he played. It is an inspiring book.
If you like guitars, then you can only love this book. I sent a copy as a Christmas gift to my friends Joe and Riva Laughlin. Joe, a guitarist, has taught me much of what I know about playing guitar. Chet is one of his guitar heroes.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>