I remember my childhood pretty well.
I remember western Oklahoma sunsets and oil derricks and cattle. I remember wind that blew and living right next door to the church my dad served as minister. I remember downtown department stores where, if you signed your name on a piece of paper, you could take your purchases home that day and pay the store later on, because if you said you’d do something you’d be too ashamed not to keep your word.
I remember the Town House Hotel and its restaurant that would be the envy of the set designers on Mad Men (and all the other series that try to capture that era – just not as well as Mad Men). I remember people who wanted to share the bounty of their farms and people who stubbornly tried to hold on to what they didn’t really own in the first place.
I remember that church we lived next door to. And, I remember Mrs. Steps and her pretty teenage daughter, Annette. Mrs. Steps and Annette cleaned our church and showed up every Sunday anyway. Although a hundred people made the sanctuary seem crowded it felt like a really big room to a four-year-old who thought he could preach like his daddy. Annette would lead the singing and I would preach and Mrs. Steps would dutifully get saved every time.
I remember finding out I would soon be joined by another child in the house and I remember when my little brother, Jeffrey, came home with my parents. I was certain that they would always need my help in making sure he was safe and sound as he grew up.
Our family took a trip about three years after Jeffrey was born to see my mom’s parents who almost always lived a long way from us in Washington. Most of Washington was everything that Oklahoma was not. There were mountains with snow on them year-round and tall trees that were always green, and there was Seattle. Now, I love my Oklahoma roots and Oklahoma City is becoming more and more cosmopolitan, but Seattle back then was like nothing I’d ever seen.
The thing I remember most about Seattle was the Space Needle and the thing I remember most about the Space Needle was that it went a long way up in the air. Further up than anyone should go without the aid of an airplane. And I remember standing on the observation deck over against the wall with my father, scared to death!
But I also remember my maternal grandfather, a tall Texan named John Thomas Crawford, holding my little, helpless, innocent brother over by the railing that overlooked beautiful Seattle. Jeffrey was hanging onto the rail and Granddad Crawford was hanging onto Jeffrey. (My palms are sweaty right now and my fingers keep slipping off the keys.)
Jeffrey says he doesn’t really remember that event. But I just can’t let it go.
And, maybe all these years later, that event is one of the reasons why it’s still hard for me to let some things go.
We don’t naturally let go of things that matter to us.
One of life’s greatest challenges is knowing when to hang on and when to let go. It challenges us in business. It challenges us in churches. It challenges us in relationships.
Have you ever heard this cliché? “If you love someone, or something, let it go… If it comes back to you, then it proves that it was right for you to have that person or thing in your life. If it doesn’t come back, then it was never really yours in the first place.”
That may sound good to some, but to me it just sounds like a thousand other clichés I can’t stand. Life is not a cliché or one easy answer after another.
Sometimes you’re so scared you just stand back against the wall and hold your breath. Sometimes you muster the courage to scream “Don’t do that.” And sometimes you just have to let people make their own choice. And whatever you decide might have little to do with what the other person decides to do.
I used to think, as I got older, that answers would come more easily – that relationship issues would naturally become simpler to define and repair. After all, “experience is such a great teacher,” right? (Did I mention I hate clichés?)
Life at its best is a true gift from God. So is life when it’s not so great. Because if you have life, you’ve been blessed. If you share life with people you love and who love you, well, you’re blessed more than most.
I admit that there are still times when I think about our three adult sons like I thought about my little brother when my parents brought him home – remember that little, helpless, innocent boy?
My little brother is now Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, superintendent of the Churches of the Nazarene in South Texas. He and Julie have two beautiful and gifted daughters who married talented, handsome men. They thrive on being PJ and Juju to granddaughters, Ava and Indie. Things have gone pretty well for them as a family.
I guess Jeffrey has some fears that maybe we never really talked about, but I wish I was more like he was as a three-year-old looking out at the great expanse of Seattle, so wide-eyed and unafraid. He was so free because he didn’t know what could happen to him if he fell. I was so bound because I knew what would happen if he did.
Life is full of opportunities to make us afraid. Yes, common sense is a much better friend than stupidity. But, today, I’m wishing and praying for the ability to at least walk over to the rail to see for myself how beautiful that “Seattle landscape” is. I know the fear probably won’t go away, but now I’m afraid more of missing out on what’s out there for me and for my sons and everyone else that’s dear to me if I just stay tethered to the wall.
So, whether it’s your family or your church or your colleague at work, maybe you need to ask if there’s something new in terms of possibilities you’ve not yet seen in them.
I love my wife and sons and their families more than ever. The will to protect them has never been stronger, but I’m also learning that the distance between a hug and a chokehold is very small. I don’t want to hold so tightly to what I want and think that I squeeze the life out of that which is most precious to me.
I’m trying to let go… yes, and let God… Cliché as it sounds, I have to trust God to know the difference between what will kill me and what will give me a more abundant life. And I have to trust that His ability to handle the unknown in-between is greater than mine.
One of my all-time favorite movies is “What About Bob?” Bill Murray played the afraid, insecure, I-can’t-do-this role to perfection. He had to take some baby steps before he could get in that elevator. Looks like that’s where I am these days.
So, I’m praying today that I’ll be strong enough to let go of that which has me bound and wise enough to hold on to that which will ensure my ultimate freedom.