296. Eric’s Fountain

Image result for forrest gump picturesAs I was getting ready to take a late Saturday afternoon shower, I decided to jog. Actually I’d just stepped on the scale and saw I was still fat. Maybe a jog on a hot day would melt some of my doughboy belly. “Chasing the fat man” is my line when someone asks where I’m going with my running shoes on or why. Away I went, feeling too heavy for my feet, like I’d been in a holding cell for months.The rhythm came back, plodding on. The breathing came too fast and sweat began at my thin hairline.

Through the familiar neighborhood streets and down toward Norland Park. Not too many folks out today, which was fine with me. I could hear  the far off cheers of a girls softball game. Meanwhile I was listening to my body. Would my knee loosen up? Would my back seize up as it has from my unfortunate heel striker stride? Would my minor arthritis flare? Everything felt fine as I ran by the old train cars thinking about water at 1 mile. Image result for train caboose pictures

When I was younger I’d cruise through this circuit with no water and keep on going for several miles. Not today. I just wanted to do two miles without injury.

I started up the mild rise to the high point of the park. I’d heard that Eric’s family intended to erect a water fountain in his name. As I came around the turn I saw the blue and silver cylinder. Awesome! I had to stop and read the sign and just  pause to reflect on one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever known. There are three spigots– one for humans, one for dogs, and one for bottle refills. I bent down for a drink. There was a pause and then the cool water came out.

Nearby was a bench facing east. Altogether a nice spot to pause and drink in nature as well as water. I thought of Eric and his gappy smile, his bird swoop, his funny voice that always seemed to have a laugh coming up. His belt buckle and boots, his hat, cowboy shirts, and a big sigh when he’d sit down like he’d just  plowed the back 40. “Yeah, Buddy.” He loved dogs and they returned the favor. Dogs know who loves them and who just says they do.

I pictured the Sexy Cowboy sitting on his bench approving of the site. I thanked him for the drink and plodded on, downhill now. Off to the right was that girls softball game in progress. Neon yellow shirts in the field while redshirts batted. After a single to right there were runners on first and third. The next batter laid down a great bunt, scoring the run and moving the girl on first to second. Everyone was safe. It looked like the neon yellows were defeated and just hoping to get it over with. At least that is what I imagined. Winners and losers, that’s life.Image result for girls softball pictures

I jogged down and out of the park. It struck me that in Eric’s world there were no losers. He was just a happy and giving guy. Even in death he gives strangers drinks of water.  Winner, winner. I thought of Jesus’ words…

New International Version
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

And Eric will do God’s will in perpetuity. Simple but profound. I jogged on through the old farm on the hill and around the sharp turn toward the small shaded woods. I inhaled the incomparable scent of honeysuckle blooms. Lovely. Still thinking about Eric and simple gifts of nature. Red raspberries are almost ready to eat, and mulberries are littering the edge of the road. Pure and simple and good. And Eric could easily fit right in among these gifts of God.Image result for honeysuckle pictures

Up, up over the big hill behind my house. I’ve found many odd things along the side of this road –deer carcasses, ATM machines, clothes, beer, porn magazines, a bowling ball– so nothing surprises me. Any litter bothers me, but some is so ridiculous. As I hit the final hill I noticed a hypodermic needle on the side of the road. Not the first I’ve seen, but I got the instant belief that this was a heroin needle. I’ve known a couple of IV users and thought this hypo could very well have been used by one of them. What a contrast to the good of Eric’s life. Here we have folks killing themselves a few milligrams at a time. Their lives are no fountains of goodness. Instead they impatiently jam a needle in their veins in the vain attempt to catch a dragon they once rode long ago and can never catch again. Loser, loser.Image result for hypodermic needle pictures

Further on I came across the splayed open carcass of an opossum, its guts spread out around it in a deathly halo. I couldn’t help associating this scar of death with the needle twenty yards away. Shooting up is like a possum running across the road at night. Most nights it makes it but when it doesn’t, well, it’s a spot on the road, a crow’s banquet or a happy meal for the coyotes. IV addicts live highly complicated and unhappy lives as they withdraw, crave, make the run to Baltimore, cut the deal with a some shady guy, tie off, shoot up, and wait for the high that does not come again. Such a waste. Heroin takes and takes until the user’s last breath fails. All meaning dissolves in the flame of false promises.

So far from the life of Eric. His life mattered and still does. He simply loved and gave from that place. His living water still flows on hot days. God bless you, Buddy.

 

 

 

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267. So Long, been good to know you, Eric

Lots of soft hearted, wet eyed folks gathered at King Street Church this past Saturday to say good bye to one of our favorite persons. It dawned on me at church the next day that Eric never preached a sermon or won a theological argument with anyone, but he won over many hearts for Jesus with his unbridled joy. Who plays “Joy to the World” at a funeral?  Eric.

I was asked to speak about Eric. I made the following comments during a celebration of his life.

Eric was a pure gift of love…

from a loving Father to a loving family. He blessed our community.

He was like a shared golden retriever who canoodled his head under your hand.

Before you knew it you were petting him and feeling better.

Eric had that giving spirit and knew where he was loved.

He tenderly blessed us all.

 

That blessed gift returned to the Giver last Saturday

Leaving us bereft:  stuck between breathing deep sighs of sadness

Or not breathing at all.

All good things come at a great cost.

The great pain and deep sadness we all feel today

Are measures of that big hearted guy, we knew as the Sexy Cowboy.

Yeah Buddy!!

 

You know, in Texas they have an expression for fake cowboys–

They say, “He’s all hat and no cattle.”

Well Eric was all HEART and no cattle.

I think he was afraid of cows.

 

Humor me for a moment and close your eyes:

Picture Eric sitting next to you with his crooked grin

With that bird swoop thing he did with his head,

 his bright eyes peering at you through his Harry Potter glasses.

 

Take a long look and smile back at him

And hold to God’s promise that we will meet again

In glorified bodies

Minus the pain,

minus the ills of this world.

 

Give thanks for what Eric’s life was… a loving gift.

 

Take your last hug and exhale.

Eric has a poker game to play with Evie

And everyone knows that she cheats at cards.

 

Well, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, pardner.

And this is the hard part:  it’s time to say farewell.

 

God bless you and So long, Sexy Cowboy.

Like the God who made you, You are unforgettable.

I did not realize how important Eric was until he was no more. In the eyes of the world he was in the margins, out on the periphery. However, I believe in God’s eyes he danced at the epicenter of what we call love.

Image result for blackbird in a loaf of bread picture

An odd image kept coming to me when I thought of Eric’s death. I saw a black bird pecking his way out of a loaf of bread.  It had been baked into the dough, I suppose. I knew the black bird was Eric and the bread was God’s word, the  Bread of life. I knew this was a resurrection and not an entombment. Surely, Eric brought God’s word to life for those who knew him. In Isaiah 55 verse 12 Isaiah gives this supernatural vision:

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I will remember the Sexy Cowboy riding off into the sunset. There’s a party in them thar hills. Eric will save you a table near the dance floor.

 

 

 

266. Eric

 

My buddy Dave and I met in Honduras on a mission trip 12 years ago. We clicked. He never had a brother and I had one too many. When we got back home, my family socialized regularly with him and Vickie and his son from his first marriage, Eric. Eric was very special. He was short and skinny but he had a big personality. He liked monster trucks and cowboy boots, cowboy hats, big belt buckles, and country music. His self given nickname was “Sexy Cowboy”. And he obviously had an innocent yearning thing for my youngest daughter Jessica.

Dave and Vickie were exceptionally gracious with us. They invited us to their family functions and on vacations as well. They came along on a Bahamas cruise with us a few years back.  We got to know Dave’s dad Don before he died, and his mother Evie, for many years before she died. Evie was a trip all by herself. Always in a hurry and easily bored. She took trips often and would bolt out of parties as soon as she grew bored. She died last year after failing to turn her car off when she parked it in her home’s garage. Awful, true, but that’s how Evie rolled. Over curbs and up off ramps on the interstate. She was uncontainable.

But Eric was the mascot, the buddy. He loved dogs and would write us innocent emails asking how we were and how our dog Johnnie was. On visits to the local winery he would dance by himself or with a gaggle of women. He’d duck his head in an avian circle when he talked. He often laughed out loud like a happy bird. Sometimes he just made happy noises and sang to himself. You could not help but like him and feel safe around Eric. He had no guile as he snuggled into your armpit or hugged with his little hands and arms.

His health was fragile over the last years of his life. He had trouble with losing his hair and problems with his skin. His step mother Vickie was a nurse who cared for him diligently. Dave and Vick took him to dinner every Friday night at the local Mexican restaurant, Montezuma’s. He was the focal point of attention there. On Saturday mornings they would go for breakfast at another local greasy spoon. The waitresses loved Eric and flirted back and forth with him.

He wore Harry Potter glasses on his spunky nose. He never stuck that nose into anyone else’s business. He was just innocent, sweet, and loving.

A couple of years ago he began losing weight. At first it seemed connected with mood or choice. However, after a while it became clear that something serious was wrong with his intestines. Lyme’s was looked at along with many other illnesses. He became lethargic and seemed depressed. Eventually Crohn’s Disease was diagnosed. Eric weighed about 80 pounds and looked like an Auschwitz survivor. Thankfully, though, he began to put on weight with  his new medications. He was soon up to 100 pounds and his old, singing happy self. His “guns” were back and he’d proudly show off his biceps while laughing at the attention.

Last week we heard that he was in the local hospital due to a loss of blood pressure. We assumed he’d be transferred to a larger hospital and things would  be taken care of. What no one knew is that he had suffered a heart attack and kidney failure at 27 years of age. His blood pressure was so low and he was dehydrated. Yet his body could not process the fluids that were pumped into him to save his life. He was attached to just about every medical device you can imagine– intubated, restrained, sedated,  catheterized, and weighted down. His body swelled with unpassed fluids.

On the way to see him Saturday morning, a large black and gray hearse pulled out in front of us like a bad omen. At the CCU we weren’t really ready for the matrix of tubes and pumps and electronics that he was the center of. Sweet, simple Eric crisscrossed with wires and tubes and hoses. My heart sank into my shoes and all I could do was try not to walk on it as it beat out tears into a puddle on the tile floor. I wept and continue to weep for Dave and Vickie and Eric’s other loved ones. He, no doubt, is smiling and singing in heaven with his grandparents. He and Evie were thick as thieves on this side. I’m not sure how it works in heaven. On  the way home that same stinking hearse pulled out again at the same intersection. We noted it as an eerie coincidence and nothing more.

I think my wife suggested that  Jess sing for Eric since he was her biggest fan when he was conscious. We did not know it would be his last song. Later that day I recalled that Jess had fought for life in this same hospital 24 years ago as my wife and I heard a song on the radio that fileted our aching hearts when she was just born. It was Garth Brooks’ Unanswered Prayers. I don’t know why I remember such things. I guess I store them in similar places in my brain.

Jess scanned her inventory of songs on her phone and  came up with Laura’s Song. I’d heard it a thousand times on the local Christian radio. Till that moment it was just another song out of context. Only Jess was composed as the lyrics spilled over Eric like a sacred benediction.

“Blessings”

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguiseWe pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguiseWhen friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Some moments freeze due to trauma and some due to ecstasy. That moment was a bit of each. Eric died later that day around 6 p.m. The Sexy Cowboy had left the building. He was loved.