Tag Archives: love

On the Road Again…Seein’ Things That I May Never See Again

IMG_3476“Here I was at the end of America – no more land – and now there was nowhere to go but back.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

We left Malibu before sunrise on Saturday, and if everything is proceeding as planned, we are somewhere in the middle of this great country of ours headed east on an epic road trip—a sort of Route 66 reversal. We do have a definite destination, but we also have our hearts set on enjoying the journey itself. We resisted the urge to stop and see friends along the way and opted instead for one long, amazing date. Just the two of us.

Walt Whitman said, “I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.” That’s the way we feel about it, too. The last few weeks were filled with unforgettable sweetness—meals and moments, coffees and conversations—and we left California filled to the brim with love. Now, we are enjoying the unique solitude married folk can enjoy since they are one person after all. Today, our to-do list consists of a single item called the open road.

A week from now I will officially start a brand new job in a brand new place, and I am very excited about what is to come. But that is next week and beyond. Today is a day to simply sit and watch the world go by. Together.

Mudbound

mudbound picWe were simply looking for a movie to watch on Netflix and Mudbound had rave reviews. Watch it. But fair warning: It is difficult to watch. It is difficult to watch because the storytellers do a masterful job of portraying the sort of lives that were difficult to live. The movie is a disturbing, compelling, haunting, yet beautiful work of art.

Mudbound features the intertwined stories of two rural Mississippi families, one black and one white, when one member from each family returned home following World War II. I will spare you the full movie review (especially preserving the memorable ending) and just state that systemic poverty, racism, and PTSD are terrible things and that all sorts of people—the beautiful, the complicated, and the perverse—are all mixed up in it.

I learned that the movie came from a novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan, and since we all know that books are better than their movies, I can only imagine how good it must be. The novel reportedly contains the line, “Death may be inevitable, but love is not. Love, you have to choose.”

This seems particularly important to consider on this special holiday that remembers Dr. King. On this day and every day, like Dr. King, may we choose love. “Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

 

In Good Times and in Bad Times

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A mere fifteen hours after a ruthless gunman opened fire on an innocent crowd in Thousand Oaks, California, the Woolsey Fire ignited about fifteen miles away near Simi Valley. Both apparently man-made events have devastated our community, and the week that followed has somehow been both blurry and unforgettable.

After spending over a week at Pepperdine, however, I finally ventured off campus this past weekend to officiate a wedding ceremony about seventy miles away. Hilary and Tyler had planned to marry in Malibu, but like so many places in our area, their wedding venue burned to the ground. They kept their chins up and scrambled to relocate and successfully secured a gorgeous resort in Newport Beach to exchange their vows.

I was Tyler’s dean of students at Pepperdine Law and was honored to do this for him and his lovely bride, but I confess a bit of mixed emotions when I left campus to drive to the wedding. It was literally a breath of fresh air to drive to Newport Beach and be with this lovely couple on their special day, but it was strange and hard to leave what felt like fellow soldiers battling on in such difficult conditions with so much work to do. It was jarring, and refreshing, and just plain odd to leave.

But I am glad that I was able to go.

I have now officiated eighteen weddings involving someone from Pepperdine Law, and each time I am struck by the great honor of having the best seat in the house. I get to watch the groom lose his breath when he sees his bride enter, and I get to see the bride’s heart melt when she sees the way her groom looks at her. I get to see them stare in each other’s eyes while I rattle on about whatever—and then nearly lose my own breath when I notice them actually listening to what they promise one another at such a holy moment.

And this time I particularly noticed—in good times and in bad times. Wow. For better or worse, and in good times and in bad times. That has surely been on my heart this past week. The good times are easy and not worth the trouble of a vow. It is the bad times that call for a ceremony.

I did not stay for the reception and got an early start on the L.A. traffic to return home. I could hardly wait to get back to everyone. For we have been in the throes of the bad times. When love is challenged to prove itself.

24 > 23

Al & Jody

I married Jody when I was just twenty-three years old. Today is our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary. That’s my kind of math. More than half my life.

We had no clue what we were doing way back then. Well, I can only say for sure that I had no clue what I was doing. It all happened so fast: We met on New Year’s Day and married Memorial Day weekend, and there’s nothing smart about that at all. But when my buddy, Troy, who officiated our wedding asked if we would promise to love each other forever and ever, we must have meant it when we said yes. Because we have. And are. And will.

There is something absurd about choosing to marry someone. You really have no idea what experiences you signed up for—just the identity of your partner for the adventure. And I have had the best partner for the best adventure.

Twenty-four years ago today we were privileged to live in Arkansas where I coached high school basketball and where Jody worked in the office of a dairy. Today we live in California and have cycled through a variety of careers and houses and experiences while developing relationships with amazing people from all over the world. We now have two adult daughters who are our pride and joy. We never in a million years would have guessed how any of this has played out and what our life together would look like at this moment—but then again knowing would have taken away all the fun.

If we are blessed with twenty-four more years on this planet, I have absolutely no idea what they will hold, but the one thing I do know is that we will experience them together.

Together. What an incredible word.

I Believe She Can Fly

Trapeze PicJewelry. A spa package. Something for the house. A lovely dinner. One might have guessed such an answer to my innocent question: What do you want for your birthday? But my wife said: Trapeze School. That was her immediate response. Like it wasn’t crazy at all.

She must have already attended Comedy School because she also asked if I wanted to join her on the flying trapeze. I thought that was hilarious, especially the way she acted like it was a serious question.

We drove to the Santa Monica Pier over the weekend so that my wife could celebrate her life by flirting with death in front of large numbers of lazy people who stopped to watch while stuffing their faces with nachos and funnel cakes. Me, I went with churros.

It was awesome. But then again, I really like churros.

But my wife was awesome, too. Jody spent a large chunk of our twenty-four years together avoiding physical activity and especially avoiding drawing attention to herself, but the last few years have witnessed a remarkable turn of events. She has claimed her spot in this life, and I was mesmerized last Saturday on that iconic boardwalk watching the woman I love sail across the bright blue sky like a boss in front of a cheering world.

Jody has many people who admire her, and cheer for her, and love her. But out of all those people, I was reminded on Saturday that I am the one lucky enough to have been chosen to live life as her partner. What an honor to stand on such solid ground and look up to watch her soar.

I don’t dare to imagine what she will want for her birthday next year. Apparently, the sky is not the limit.

VaLENTine’s Day

a85ca8954783df5e6278101ff626bdde--valentines-dayFor those keeping score at home, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day arrive simultaneously in just a couple of days, thus providing the rare opportunity to dump a boyfriend or girlfriend for Lent. Bad idea, of course, but it’s on the table.

I, on the other hand, am forever in love. I have now spent half my life with Jody and am just getting warmed up. My Wednesday plan is to get up crazy early before the traffic gets ridiculous and drive to the Flower District in Downtown Los Angeles to pay jacked up prices for flowers that we will manage to destroy in a matter of days. It is our tradition, and we are hopeless romantics. (Or at least hopeless.)

Oh, I could order flowers, sure. That sounds convenient and makes sense on multiple levels. But love isn’t famous for making tons of sense. It does, however, have a reputation for doing things that seem a little silly. Count me in for the silly.

Now that I think about it, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day make a fantastic combination. True love requires sacrifice. What will you give up for your love? In the spirit of the holidays, and just for starters, I will kick the day off by giving up good sleep and money and logic for another chance to say I love you.

Happy VaLENTine’s Day.

Superhero

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My attachment to the Super Bowl began forty years ago in the same year that I declared my love for the Dallas Cowboys. I was seven, an ideal age for declaring eternal love, and my newfound infatuation was rewarded with a dominant Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos.

Super Bowl XII was played in New Orleans, only a few hundred miles from my house but in a magical alternate universe as far as I could tell. It was the first “primetime” Super Bowl, so since my dad did not go to church with us he kept a close eye on the game until I made it home from church for the second half.

Those awesome late 1970s names take me back. Golden Richards. Too Tall Jones. Hollywood Henderson. Jethro Pugh. Billie Joe DuPree. Tony Dorsett. Haven Moses. Otis Armstrong. Riley Odoms. Lyle Alzado. But my hero, hands down, was Roger Staubach. Roger the Dodger.

It is clear in retrospect how deeply I was influenced by my environment. As a white American church-going boy, of course my hero was Roger Staubach. Clean cut. Patriotic. Captain America. He was a Navy man, just like my dad.  And a quarterback, just like my dad.  #12 was my first sports hero.

Just before the following Christmas, eight-year-old me had the idea to write my hero a letter. With a new knowledge of cursive handwriting, which was easily my worst subject in school, I labored over the perfect letter to express to “Mr.  Staubach” the depths of my love for him—and to request an autographed picture. We somehow tracked down the address to the Dallas Cowboys, so my dad wrote a check for three dollars addressed to Roger Staubach and mailed it and my letter off to the great unknown.

Never in my life will a piece of mail replicate the joy in my heart on the day the manila envelope with the royal blue Dallas Cowboys sticker arrived. I floated by day and slept with the envelope at night and on show-and-tell day became the most popular kid in the third grade. We learned that an 8×10 photograph cost one dollar that year, so I received an autographed picture inscribed, “To Al Sturgeon, Merry Christmas, Roger Staubach,” AND an 8×10 team photo of the 1978 Dallas Cowboys. (We concluded that the other dollar must have been used for shipping and handling.)  This piece of mail was instantly my greatest material possession.  I would like to know how many hours I spent memorizing the names of the players in the team photo.  I would like to know because I still know almost every one forty years later.

Some will remember this, but in the old world of checking accounts all personal checks were returned by mail each month so that you could properly balance your checkbook.  My parents soon realized that Roger Staubach had endorsed my dad’s three-dollar check, so when it arrived at our house I had yet another autograph from my hero!  For free!

I have followed the forty Super Bowls that have occurred since Super Bowl XII.  A sportswriter ranked Super Bowl XII as the worst game of the first fifty.  You will never convince me.  In all honesty, I had zero interest in the Eagles-Patriots matchup yesterday.  I was not allowed to cheerfully support the Eagles as a Cowboys fan, and although I used to root for the Pats in honor of my dear friend, Scott, their recent dominance of the game removed any desire to support them either.  But I followed along because of the memories this annual American tradition brings.  Memories of a little boy and heroes, a dad and a check, and a letter that seemed to appear from heaven.

It’s funny, but I saved that canceled check and surprise autograph for many years, and it was long after my dad died that it dawned on me that it contained another surprise autograph: My dad’s.  Right there on the front.

My sweet wife framed that check for me in a special frame where you can see the signatures on both sides of the check.  I always display it where you can see my dad’s autograph.  It turns out that he was my first and greatest hero all along.

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

Christmas PictureThere is much on my mind this Christmas Day, including the great joy to have my little family together and the deep sorrow for friends experiencing great loss, and my best response is to share three short poems from Howard Thurman’s “The Mood of Christmas” — a unity in trinity:

Christmas Is Yesterday:
The memories of childhood,
The miracle of Santa Claus,
The singing of carols —
The glow of being remembered.

Christmas Is Today:
The presence of absent ones,
The reminder of the generous act,
The need to love —
The need to be loved.

Christmas Is Tomorrow:
The miracle of faith,
The fulfillment of ancient hopes,
The reign of God —
The dying of Death in the land.

Christmas is yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Homecoming

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“You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.”   – Maya Angelou

At week’s end I intend to be two thousand miles away from home to attend the homecoming basketball game of my high school alma mater. Pretty weird, huh, to leave home to come home? My life has turned out like that.

I am at home in California, and I have a driver’s license and mailing address and license plates to prove it. California is where everything I own in this world is located. It is where I live and work and go to sleep at night. California is filled with relationships and experiences and places that I treasure. I know it like the back of my hand and love it here. Home is where you hang your hat, and my hat hangs in California.

But Arkansas has always been my home. It is the land of my birth. Born, and raised. Arkansas is where I fell in love and became both a husband and a father, and it is where both of my sweet parents were laid to rest. Arkansas is filled with relationships and experiences and places that I treasure. I know it like the back of my other hand, and I love it there. You can never really leave home, so I never really left Arkansas.

Arkansas and California could not be more different if they tried. And I’m pretty sure that they do. But they are both dear to me.

It promises to be a strange week. I haven’t lived in Arkansas in twenty years and only visit on rare occasions, and I could not tell you the last time I watched the Falcons play a homecoming basketball game despite having participated in so many of them in years that are now long gone. But I will feel at home there, because that is where I will be. Home.

Pliny the Elder famously said that home is where the heart is. Well, my heart has two homes.

I will leave my love for Mississippi for another day.

Freedom is a Road to Love

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“[T]he ultimate goal of human beings is not the ‘kingdom of freedom.’ Rather, the kingdom of freedom is a process toward the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of love.” – Miroslav Volf (explaining Jurgen Moltmann), Exclusion & Embrace, 105

I chose “Freedom Road: The Exodus Story” as our church’s fall semester sermon series and brought it to a close yesterday morning. We will now turn our attention to the birth of Jesus and a brand new year and a consideration of how to live once liberated from oppression.

I have enjoyed the freedom road journey despite having to listen to myself speak along the way. It is a spectacular story. We started with the birth of Moses in Egyptian slavery and followed the stunning liberation narrative until Joshua stood in a land of promise and called the Israelites to fully commit to God.

It has been particularly interesting to consider freedom in a land that loves the idea so much because the American preoccupation with independence is at odds with my particular faith. Freedom is a good word, of course, if for no other reason than because oppression is a bad word, but there is danger in making freedom the ultimate goal—and our unfortunate tendency is to value our independence above all things. I agree with Volf/Moltmann in recognizing freedom instead as a pathway to a beautiful land where love rules.

But I still don’t trust myself. While drawn through compelling hints toward the land where love rules, I have been conditioned to be in control and to avoid answering to anyone other than Me. The cultural indoctrination runs deep.

So I find myself still on Freedom Road, ironically in the process of being set free from the oppression of Freedom. But my journey is filled with hope and faith in a beautiful future that to date remains unseen.