Happy Birthday, Eddie Ray!

As I get older and begin new experiences in my life, the more I find myself saying things and behaving in ways my Father did.

As I reflect on the life of Edward Ray Goff on what would have been his 67th birthday, nearly 10 years after his passing, I begin to realize just how many things I learned over the years. Every thing from history, to mechanics and mannerisms to relying on my Faith in God..

I have been spending a lot of time with my girlfriend Tonya and her three boys, and I find myself pointing things out to them. Teaching them things from the history of certain places to how things work.

On trip to Las Vegas we stopped off at the Hoover Dam. While the boys (who are 13, 11 and 8) didn’t seem impressed at all, I continued pointing out how the whole thing worked. Telling them how the water turns the turbines, creating electricity, which powers places like Las Vegas and in Arizona.

Sometimes they are impressed with what I know, other times not so much.

Dad had a mechanics mind. He was the builder of The Living Christmas Tree at Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church. He knew how all the pieces fit together so that it not only looked great, but was structurally sound and safe for the kids to climb on and perform.

He didn’t have a college degree, but he had a lifetime of experiences in figuring how things worked, and loved to share his knowledge.

Whether it was changing the oil in our cars, or trips to places like Hoover Dam or the state capital, Dad loved to explain how things worked, and I always took notice.

He wasn’t very athletic, but he taught me how to play baseball, how to golf and how to bowl. If there were mechanics involved, he could break it down and show you how to do it.

But there were plenty of other things that he didn’t have to teach, because he showed you be example, especially when it came to his Faith.

One of my clearest memories is of him sitting at the kitchen table, eating his Cheerios, reading his Bible. That was how he started every day. In good times and bad, and there were plenty of both, he was never far from the Word.

No matter what was going on in his life he always showed the Love that his God had showed him. Never judging, never assuming, he just Loved on people.

As I carry out my days on this Earth, I try to live up to the bar that he set. I try to live up to his legacy, always showing people kindness and respect,  whether they deserved it or not. Help people in need, and – above all else – Love one another.

In an ever threatening world, sometimes the simplest things seem the hardest to do, but they usually are the only things that will make a difference.

I miss you Dad, every day. Thank you for the example that you left behind. Happy Birthday!

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Favorite Christmas Story

This time of year has always been special. Family and friends gathering together, with lots of food, music and fun.

And let’s not forget the storytelling. The sharing of Christmas’ gone by. Over the years stories get told, embellished and re-told to new faces.

They are the stories that you may have heard a thousand tomes, but they bring a smile to your face each and every time you hear them, and you look forward to getting a chance to share them with someone new.

I was reminded of this recently, when a certain 8-year-old was upset that his older brothers had told an embarrassing story about him. I told him that was common among siblings, and proceeded to tell him a story from my childhood.

Probably my favorite Christmas Story … which is commonly known in the family as “The Waffle Maker Story.”

It was Christmas 1977 (I think, or maybe ’76), we were living in Ohio. I was just 2 or 3 years old. Some of my earliest memories are of our house on Bagley Road, which had a big bay window in front, and I remember looking out that window at all of the snow piling up outside (which was also a big reason we wound up back in sunny Southern California).

This particular Christmas, Mom had made it clear she wanted a waffle maker. And I don’t mean one of those little plastic things they sell now, I am talking about the heavy, cast-iron deals from Sears and Roebuck. Someone else had one she had borrowed and she really wanted one of her own.

One day while she was out of the house, Dad pulled out some stuff he had gotten for Christmas and began wrapping them and putting them under the tree, including a big box with a waffle maker in it.

As We were wrapping it up, I saw Mom coming up the walk. Dad grabbed all of the wrapping supplies and the waffle maker and headed for the bedroom. I jumped about like one of the three stooges, then followed him.

Mom came through the door in time to see us heading up the hallway. Dad put the stuff on the bed and told me to keep the door closed and not let Mom in until he had finished wrapping.

Mom was knocking on the door and wanted it, Dad was telling me not to. Mom asked what we were doing, and in the chaos, I blurted out, “You can’t come in Mom, we’re wrapping your waffle maker!”

Dad gave me his best, “You’re killing me, smalls” look and told me to open the door. When I did, I found my Mom sitting in the floor, head in her hands, laughing so hard she was crying.

And on Christmas morning she acted surprised when she tore the paper off of her new waffle maker. And we had waffles for breakfast.

To this day my sister and I will use the “Don’t come in” line when it is needed.

It is my favorite Christmas Story because it shows the kind of loving, joyful, caring house that I grew up in. It reminds me of my parents, who are no longer around, and how much they loved the holidays.

As I told this story to 8-year-old Trevor, he busted up laughing, which got me laughing. And that is what sharing your old stories are all about.

At our Christmas party a few days ago, my old friend Andrea told her favorite Christmas story, one that also included my Dad.

One Christmas Eve she was just about to set out some cookies for Santa, when there was a big knock at the door, and a hefty, “Ho, Ho, Ho!”

She threw the cookies in the air and sprinted off to bed, only to find out it was my Dad and Uncle Marv, coming to pick up a Christmas gift they had hidden in their garage. My uncle had won a three-wheel motor bike. They wound up running it around the neighborhood before bringing it home.

My addition to the story was that once they brought it home, one of my cousins wound up running it over the embankment behind our house.

As you go throughout this holiday season be sure to share your favorite Christmas story.

At the Cross: Music and Lyrics

At any given time I have any number of songs playing in my head. Over the years I have listened to a large variety of music.

I was raised on Country (Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, Oak Ridge Boys, etc.), but I grew up in Southern California in the 80s, and that means rap/hip hop to go with some rock and roll. I am a white kid from the suburbs, actually I grew up in the countryside outside the suburbs. But I love me some good rap/ hip hop. And am so excited that the Christian music scene is now filled with artists like Lecrae and TobyMac who can deliver God’s word in a whole different light.

I always love it when I hear someone talking, and memories and music pop into my head that goes along with the conversation.

Last week Pastor Tom Lance was giving his message at The Grove on the meaning of the Cross, and it being much more than a symbol.

As I was listening and taking notes, some song lyrics popped into my head. He was talking about how Jesus dying on the Cross was the plan the entire time. And Lecrae popped into my head.

 

“Without the Cross there’s only condemnation; If Jesus wasn’t executed, there’s no celebration.” — from ‘Boasting’

I simple, true statement if there ever was one.

Tom went on to talk about how the Cross was God’s Plan A. Jesus suffering a slow, agonizing death was the whole point. He took the weight of the world on his shoulder and paid the price for all mankind.

Over the years I have heard people talk about how it went down, saying that if only Judas had remained loyal, if only Pilate had stood up to the crowds, things wold have been different.

But if those things play out differently then we miss the whole point. Those people played the role God needed them to, in order for his plan to come to fruition. Max Lucado wrote, “When Eve took a bite of the apple, the Cross was on the horizon.”

Tom went on to talk about how the real message of the Cross should rock us to our core. What Jesus did for us, the brutality of it all. The plan was executed, the points carried out … eliminate sin, overcome Hell, make Heaven possible.

And that we should respond to that with thanksgiving and gratitude. Strive to put others first, Love unconditionally, make a bold commitment.

After listening to the message, some other Lecrae lyrics came to mind.

“God has never been obligated to give us life; if we fought for our rights, we would be in Hell tonight” — Boasting

“When it gets hot, it boils down to sin, if Heaven ain’t a gift, then I ain’t getting in” — Gotta Know

After listening to these songs over and over again, you get to know the lyrics and can sing along, if you will. But when you take a closer look, you can see the depth of these words.

As a writer and general lover of the written word, I have a great appreciation for the ability to put the right words together to say exactly what you want to say. Which is why I feel a drawing to rap and hip hop music.

Even if I don’t agree with the message of someone like Eminem, I can certainly appreciate the craft and his ability to arrange words together.

Which is why my love for Christian artists like Lecrae and TobyMac is so deep. They can take God’s word and lay it out for you in new way.

“Every day that I lie, every moment I covet
I’m deserving to die, I’m just earning your judgment.
I, without the cross there’s only condemnation.
If Jesus wasn’t executed there’s no celebration.
So in times that are good, in times that are bad
For any times that I’ve had it all I will be glad.
And I will boast in the cross. I’ll boast in my pains.
I will boast in the sunshine, boast in his reign.”

Take a listen and read the words on the screen, let God’s Word wash over you.

 

 

 

 

Friends are Friends Forever

 

In the late 1980s Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant had a hit song that stated:

“Friends are friends forever, if the Lord is Lord of them; And a Friend will not say never, and the welcome will not end.”

It sounds corny but I have found that it could not be more true.

As I get older I find that I don’t have as many close friends as I used to. I have golf buddies and fantasy sports buddies, colleagues that are close, but the ones I feel closest to are the old friends. Those ties from years past can be the strongest.

The most traumatic time in my life was when I was 13, and I lost my mother to cancer. I have spoken about this often on this blog and on other venues, but here I have a different take, on the aftermath.

The loss of my mother left me devastated and I always look back at that as a dark time in my life, it changed everything.

In the last year of her life you could track her health and my grades on the same line. I went from being a straight-A student to ditching class because I hadn’t finished my project. The following spring I quit playing baseball for the first time in eight years.

A few years back, on the anniversary of my Mom’s death, I was speaking to my group at The Grove Men’s Bible study. I was bemoaning her loss and how my life had changed, and one of the men spoke up.

He said, “Your grades went into the tank, you quit sports, so substance abuse was probably next, right?” He was surprised when I said, “No.”

He is a retired police officer and had spend a great deal of time working with kids in juvenile hall. He said that better than 90 percent of their stories started just like mine; loss of a parent or loved one, bad grades, quitting things they loved; which led to alcohol, smoking, drugs; which led to criminal activity, then violent crimes; which always led to imprisonment or death.

He asked, “So how did you manage to avoid the tail end of that story?”

I answered with, “God’s grace.” And he followed with, “How did that manifest itself?”

I thought about it and answered, “I had people who loved me and weren’t going to let that happen. Particularly a good group of friends.”

I said, “I don’t know if they ever had an intervention meeting where they asked each other ‘what are we going to do about Brian?’ But each of them did their thing and kept me going, propped me up until I got my legs under me again.”

He asked if I was still friends with those people. I was thankful that I could say yes. Brad, Rob, Kristi, Andrea, Tonya, I am still in touch with all of them. I went to all of their weddings, and know the names of their kids. We have been spread out over the years, but when we meet up it is just like old times.

After I lost my mother I was pretty much a functioning zombie. I went around doing stuff, but was numb inside. I quit caring about everything I used to love, and became very apathetic about life.

They made sure I stayed involved and didn’t drop out of life. They showed me love when I needed it, whether I deserved it or not, as well as patience when I would resist. There were others who helped along the way, parents, teachers, etc., but this core group were the best.

I am forever in their debt. And there isn’t anything I would not do for them in a time of need. I can only hope to repay them for their kindness and loyalty.

John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I take that to heart.

As we move around in life those true friendships can be some of the only certainty we find. I’m glad I still have mine.

 

Love is …

As I sat and listened to Cal Baptist University’s Dr. Chris Morgan speak on I Corinthians 13 at the Grove on Sunday, I was reminded on why this is quite possibly my favorite Bible passage.

It speaks about Love, what Love is, what Love isn’t. About how we may have other spiritual gifts at our disposal, but without Love they mean nothing.

As the world seems to be spiraling out of control, the hatemongers on both sides chipping away at our moral foundation and widening the divide between us, I can’t help but think we could all use a little more love.

From the start of the passage Paul talks about all of the spiritual gifts the people were praising themselves for, and reminds them how useless that is without Love.

 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

” If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

Jesus tells us that if we have Faith the size of a mustard seed, it can move mountains. Paul follows it up by telling us that even that kind of Faith means nothing without Love.

The next part you tend to hear at weddings, but former Grove Men’s leader Mike Barnes turned it on its head and set it in a new perspective for me.

He said to read the passage, then read it again and replace the word Love with your name. As followers of Christ we should be showing His Love in our everyday lives.

So take a look, and then insert your name into it.

4) Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

5) It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

6) Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

7) It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8) Love never fails.

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4) Brian is patient, Brian is kind. Brian does not envy, Brian does not boast, Brian is not proud.

5)  Brian does not dishonor others, Brian is not self-seeking, Brian is not easily angered, Brian keeps no record of wrongs.

6) Brian does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

7) Brian always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8)  Brian never fails.

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So how did you do? Definitely some hits, but some misses for sure.

If someone were to take a look at your life, just how close are you following the Word of God? How good of an example are you setting for others?

In a time when the world is rapidly filling with hate from all sides, we, as Christians, should be showing there is another way to live.

And remember the phrase, “They shall know us by our Love.”

 

1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)

13 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The Difference Between Life and Death: A Tale of Two Seas

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Happy & Sad (Photo credit: Swamibu)

Have you ever wondered why two people, when facing the same difficulties, can react so differently?

Some are the picture of hopelessness.  They have a perpetual black cloud following them everywhere, and doom seems imminent, no matter the size of the problem.

But others who face the same circumstances are not only hopeful, they are joyful.  To look at their countenance you would think they lead a perfectly blessed life.

I’ve often wondered, “What makes the difference?”  And who knew the answer could be found in geography?

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Storytellers: Father’s Day edition

This weekend will be filled with people telling stories about their fathers. That kind of thing always brings a smile to my face. And on Monday, I was smiling a lot.

This past week the Raise Foundation was hosting the Blue Ribbon Celebrity Golf tournament in Irvine. When I found out that Kermit Alexander was one of the celebrities helping raise money to prevent child abuse, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to hang out with a man that has become one of my favorite people.

A little background: Kermit Alexander is a former two-sport star at UCLA, playing football and track, where he won a national title in the long jump. He went on to play in the NFL with the 49ers and his hometown L.A. Rams. Kermit has been through a great deal in life from the glory of being a professional athlete to the great loss of having members of his family killed in a gang shooting, to finding peace again in the faces of the children of Haiti. (All of that is chronicled in a story I wrote (read here) about his book “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” )

The man has seen a lot in his 75 years, and one thing is for sure, he knows how to tell a story. So getting to spend a few hours with him out on a golf course was too good to pass up.

Once at the course I found out who was playing in our group. The scorecard said, “Darren Drysdale.” That last name strikes a chord for any baseball fan, especially one that grew up around the Dodgers.

Darren is the son of Dodgers Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale and UCLA basketball great Ann Meyers Drysdale (who was also at the tournament).

Much of the round was spent with Kermit telling stories. Some I had heard him tell before, like the day he took out Bears Hall of Fame running back Gayle Sayers, and almost got into a fight with George Halas.

He also talked about taking his teammates and friends out to this golf course (Strawberry Farms) because he knew the tight fairways would get the better of them as they played for money.

But what struck me the most was how he regaled Darren with stories of his parents. Darren was only 3-years old when his father passed away, so I would imagine most of what he knows about his dad has been relayed to him from other people.

But this was different, it wasn’t stories of how his father, a strong-jawed, 6-foot-6 pitcher, would intimidate hitters on the field, these stories were about what a gentle giant he was off the field, and how much he loved Ann. All of which brought out smiles from Darren.

Later I found myself sitting next to Ann at the post-round dinner. I told her about the stories Kermit was telling. She smiled and said, “It’s good for kids to hear stories about their parents from other people. It gives them a better perspective about who there parents are.”

And that kind of became a theme for the day. After another round of old NFL stories, Kermit started to talk about his father, Kermit Sr.

Once at an event, a four-star general greeted Kermit with the usual, “I know who you are.” Kermit got that a lot as a professional athlete, but he was surprised when the general went on to talk about Kermit Sr.’s exploits during World War II.

Kermit went on to tell anyone that would listen about how his dad was a Montford Point Marine, the first African-American military group “allowed” to see action in the field. Turns out Kermit Sr. was a “tunnel rat” during the war in the Pacific. The Japanese soldiers would create small tunnels when they would get dug in for battle. The tunnel rats were responsible for following the tunnels and killing off the enemy. The group would become infamous among the enemy lines. As Kermit loves to tell it, the Japanese soldiers referred to them as “demons” because the men with dark skin (which they had never seen before) struck with such ferocity that the soldiers would run the other way.

As Kermit told these stories about his father, the smile on his face began to grow. He was more excited talking about his late father than he was talking about his own exploits on the football field.

As we were playing golf I was able to slide in some stories about my late father as well. And what started out as a round of golf, turned into a storytelling session. On the verge of Father’s Day, three men of varied ages (26, 42, 75) and backgrounds joyfully exchanged tales of their fathers.

It wasn’t a perfect day (our team finished in the bottom half in the tournament), but it was close.

On this Father’s Day, give the old man a hug, and if he no longer with us, sit back a tell a fun story about him to anyone who will listen.

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