Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Am I Blessed or Am I Lucky?

This one I wrote in April of last year. This story came up again this weekend when I went to visit my mom and step-dad in NC. I was in the car with my mom and asked her to listen to this David Wilcox song, "Big Mistake". I got to hang out with DW a few weeks ago at a musical retreat and understood once again why I think he is such a master singer/song writer (more about that in future posts). Anyway, we were riding along, listening to this song and I told her a bit of this story. It wasn't very clear at the time, but when you write... I don't know, things just seem to fit. And you can edit out the pauses and goofs. So here is a rerun from last April.




Am I Blessed Or Am I Lucky?

I am a lot of things. I am a dad, a husband, a teacher, a brother, a son. I am not a preaching man. I could never be. I’m not preaching here. Just telling a story.

Our lives are made of critical incidents, right? When you think back on the people and episodes in your life, there are some really big ones and some lesser ones, which make you who you are. These stories and events changed our worlds.

Among mine are…

*Deciding to go to college, although it never felt like a choice, more like an assumption. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

*Living in Wright Quad when I got to college, only because my high school girlfriend and one of my best friends were going to live there. My girlfriend immediately broke up with me, leaving me thinking that I should be living ANYWHERE else but that dorm.

*Taking this Crafts and Design class where I met Heidi Mills (who lived in the afore mentioned dormitory), and we started walking home together from class, and we started sharing our stories, and we started dating, and we fell in love, and we made our lives together.

*Moving to South Carolina because it was the first place Heidi got offered a job teaching at the university after receiving her doctorate. Within days she got other offers, but it was SC first so this is where we ended up.

*Trying to have kids. Not being able to have kids. “The great science experiment” trying to get pregnant. Getting pregnant – identical twins. Heidi miscarrying.

*Finally deciding to adopt. On that very day – that critical day we made the decision to adopt – our friend Amy connected us to a doctor, a birth mother. Six weeks later Devin came into our lives.

*Nine months later getting pregnant with Colin.

Any and all of these critical incidents in my life could have gone another direction. Any small change could have altered everything that followed. My entire future may have evolved into something completely different over something really small. What if I worked in the steel mill the way my dad did and didn’t go to college? What if Heidi and I ended up in different sections of that art class and we didn't walk home together? What if Heidi got a job offer closer to home before getting the offer from USC? There are countless ways my life could have been different. But this path, this life led me here; to my people, to this area. Was I just lucky?

Several years ago, I went to a show with a couple of buddies. It was a Jack Johnson and Ben Harper concert. The concert was in Charleston at a baseball field. It was incredible. The weather was perfect; sunshine, skin temperature, low humidity. The music sublime. I mean Jack Johnson and Ben Harper, how could it not be? They even did a couple songs together. It was one of the best musical experiences ever for me.

My friends and I almost didn’t go. One of the guys wasn’t feeling well. We didn’t even know if there would be tickets still available. We took a chance and it worked out.

As we were leaving and sort of letting the event sink in, we were driving across a bridge and watched as the sunset filled the sky with brilliant light. Every sunset is special but this one, on the heels of such wonderful music seemed extra somehow. I said, without thinking it through very much, “You guys, are we blessed or what?”

Well, my buddy Dean said, “I’m guessing you mean lucky, as in, ‘Are we lucky, or what?’”

“Yeah. Sure. We are lucky. But I mean, to be in this place, that music, this sunset, all of it is just so… God. You know what I mean?”

“Not really,” Dean said. “It’s all chance.”

“What do you mean, chance?”

“I don’t really believe in a god, per se.”

“Per se,” I repeated.

“No, god is an invention of man.”

“Really,” I replied flatly.

“Sure, we are the products of evolution, natural selection, mutations. It’s all chance, man.”

“Chance. You think all of this is chance.” We looked out at the beautiful horizon. Beams of brightly colored light were spokes across the wheel of sky, the setting sun the hub. Where the sky was clear it was deep blue, almost indigo. “Tonight’s music? What we felt about the music? That’s just the result of evolution?”

Dean went back over what he knew about evolution. Mutations. Some mutations are favorable. Those organisms with the favorable mutations have a better chance of reproducing effectively and passing on their traits. Over millions of generations…

It was a pretty long recitation and I knew the information. I totally believe in evolution too. The question isn’t if evolution occurs. We know it does. That’s the fact part. The theory part of evolution is… how.

But that music. That couldn’t be merely passing on favorable mutations. That music was too much. Too beautiful to be just the result of chance.

The conversation was a long one. We were a couple of hours away from home and it lasted the whole way. Dean with his chance and mutation way of looking at how we turned out as humans.
“What do you think happens to us when we die?” I asked.

His body was just meat, he said. “What happens to meat?”

I said, “Don’t forget the potatoes!” I’m sure it was sarcastic of me to coin his view of the universe and human change as meat and potatoes. But of course, I did.

I had no empirical evidence to the contrary but it just seemed logical to me that there had to be some guidance in the process. Some overarching hand.

My proof? Well, that was unclear. Because I do believe in evolution. But I don’t believe that I am where I am today just because of chance. Proof? I guess it comes down to love.

Could the accidental mutation of chromosomes which resulted in more positive outcomes for some members of the species and a quick end to others be responsible for the love I feel for Heidi Mills? For my boys? For my family and my students? I don’t think so. Could that feeling I get when I am kissed be the result of chance? Of meat and potatoes?

Love is the only proof that I need that this life isn’t just an accident. I see God in lots of things now. More proof that the universe wasn’t just a big mistake. God is in kindness, forgiveness, compassion. Yesterday was the fifteenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Way over a million people were killed in three months. Over ten thousand a day. Fifteen years later they have picked up the pieces after that terrible time. They are forgiving and being forgiven. That is God. That is my proof.

That ride home with those two friends was one of those pivotal, life changing episodes for me, one of those critical incidents. Honestly, I had been going to church for several years. I mostly did it for our boys so they could grow up in a church. I went to church because Heidi wanted to go. I went to church for the music and the fellowship. I went to church for the occasional sermon that moved me and made me think. I was on cruise control. I hadn’t given the existence of God a whole lot of thought. Like going to college, I was just operating under the assumption of God. Not the white-bearded God who sits on a throne in judgment, surrounded by cumulus clouds with an angry look on HIS face. Not the lightening-bolt-throwing-God. Just… God.

Talking to my atheist friend helped me fit together pieces that had been floating around in my mind for my whole life I guess. That simple experience helped me to clarify and distill a lot of basics. Proof? I had all the proof I needed that God exists. I just hadn’t put the pieces together for a while. I needed that conversation.

I am not a preaching man. I could never be. My friend didn’t change his mind about the existence of a god. Maybe I wasn’t convincing enough. I would never claim to know the specifics; I would never claim to know what God thinks. I don’t know, for example, why bad things happen to good people.

I can tell you what DID happen to me that day. My friend, who is as devout an atheist as anyone I know, helped me to understand that God does exist and that all of this isn’t just a big mistake. Ironic, huh?

I’ll end this post with the lyrics to a favorite song by a favorite singer/songwriter David Wilcox. In this tune, David fits together more “proof” that this life isn’t just a big mistake. “To have lips that smile as I swim your kiss…” "The fact that anyone could find their only one along this darkened path..." No, it is so much more than a Big Mistake. Am I lucky, or am I blessed?

I embedded a cool little ramble by DW about the miracles happening in our bodies. I've been thinking a lot about that lately. I think it fits here.




Big Mistake – by David Wilcox

They taught us kids in school between the recess breaks
That the universe just sorta fell together like a Big Mistake
It started with a bang that sent the pieces flying
Then it cooled and twirled into dinosaurs and dandelions

It was a Big Mistake to have eyes that see
To have love like this inside of me
To have lips that smile as I swim your kiss
To have minds that will forever be every part of this
All the moonlight shrouded in the clouds above and
The autumn leaves and the falling love
The still reflection in the moonlit lake
All, they said, it was a big mistake, it was a big mistake

Now back to science class through the looking glass
We were magnifying little ancestors of our ancient past
Watch 'em break a couple chromosomes, wait a zillion years or so
And get an ostrich, a jellyfish, a kangaroo, and a Romeo


It was a Big Mistake to have eyes that see
To have love like this inside of me
To have lips that smile as I swim your kiss
To have minds that will forever be every part of this
All the moonlight shrouded in the clouds above and
The autumn leaves and the falling love
The still reflection in the moonlit lake
All, they said, it was a big mistake, it was a big mistake

The choreography of a coincidence
At the turning point there was eternity behind a moment's glance
It was for you and me the timing made us laugh
The fact that anyone could find their only one along this darkened path


It was a Big Mistake to have eyes that see
To have love like this inside of me
To have lips that smile as I swim your kiss
To have minds that will forever be every part of this
All the moonlight shrouded in the clouds above and
The autumn leaves and the falling love
The still reflection in the moonlit lake
All, they said, it was a big mistake, it was a big mistake

I am blessed.

4 comments:

Chris Hass said...

I really like this Dean guy!

Chris Hass said...

He makes a lot of sense!!

Brent and Kristen said...

Isn't communication wonderful and amazing. The more we talk, the more we think, and the more we think, the more we challenge our words and our thoughts. I believe this leads us to believe more deeply and to question ourselves. And, as we all know that questioning leads to discovery and knowledge. Dizzying I know, but conversation and communication is so wonderful.

Kelly said...

Great. Wonderful. LOVED this post. It made me think of one of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis "There is more evidence in the universe that God exists than that he does not." It also makes me think of one of my favorite songs in our children's songbook. I can't remember the title, but I still remember the words from all those years ago. "Whenever I hear the song of a bird, or look at the blue, blue sky. Whenever I fell the rain on my face, or the wind as it rushes by. Whenever I touch a velvet rose, or walk by a lilac tree, I'm glad that I live in this beautiful world Heavenly Father created for me." I've always wondered about those who think we are simply accidents, and what they think of the fact that we each have different talents, not all of which lend directly to the "food/fire/shelter" survival requirements, but make the world beautiful or a kinder place, you know? I mean, Shakespeare may not have been a great hunter or anything, but he sure could write. Like Einstein said, "There are two ways to look at the universe: one is that nothing is a miracle, the other is that everything is a miracle." Thanks again for the wonderful, wonderful post.