Thursday, December 29, 2011


I know that it is easy to complain and rant and rave on occasion. I know that God is slow to anger and is able to understand our human plight and tendencies. This isn’t to make excuses for my crazy reactions to life circumstances. I’m humbled by the Apostle Paul’s continued exhortation to be thankful in all circumstances. He did have it hard in life. He even asked God to change or fix his circumstances often and I know he got an answer that he didn’t like – you can live through your circumstances with my help and actually make it.

I talk often about the fact that there aren’t short cuts in life for anyone. Whether you are a normal person or perceive yourself to be a superstar. God only sees us as his children who have gone astray and he alone has the power to draw us back to himself. Yet, isn’t it amazing that when I’m in a tough situation I want the short cut or instant fix and don’t want to hear any discussion about perseverance.

I do know that having a thankful attitude goes a long way to help in any circumstance. It is way too easy to allow bitterness and anger to rule and wreck your life circumstances. I go back to Paul as an interesting test case of thankfulness or seeing the glass as being ½ full and not empty. He spends the last portion of his life in prison awaiting his trial and ultimate execution. Here is an individual that truly laid his life down for the father. It would be easy for most to say that he deserves a break and that God should free him and allow him to side step his own execution.

I know that the response that Jesus himself gave to his followers, especially his leaders was that if it happened to me it will most likely happen to you. So should I be thankful for being given the privilege of suffering for Jesus? Is it possible to have a thankful attitude in the face of bad news? I was rather miffed at God for throwing a curve on Christmas Day. I was just as hurt that someone I love is going to suffer because of a physical problem that he didn’t cause. Yeah, having plaque break off from your artery is caused by someone’s indulgence over the years.

I have to admit I do have a difficult time being angry with God for too long. I have been blessed with many around me who have taught me to look at the bigger picture and how to understand my role or part in the fallen sinful world around me and how my choices have impacted my life and others. So I still want to scream at times when horrible things happen to good people. I can remember that one of my first painting grandmas who has become special to me had a stroke about a month after we painted her house. It has taken Mrs. Jefferson almost 2 years to regain her speech and her strength. She has been an amazing example of perseverance and my spiritual mentor in many ways.

I will confess that I don’t want to be that example of someone who can face everything and still have a smile. I don’t want to go through any more heartache or suffering. Fancy me telling God that I know how to better run the universe or my life. I do have a blessed life and as I see those around me I know that I have it good even though I have faced some life struggles. God, thanks for loving me when I’m a rebellious kid.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Life Questions

I’ll be the first to admit that I can purposely choose to have an anger issue or temper tantrum. Yeah, I’m just like everyone else and want to believe that the world revolves around my life and choices I make. I have been programed over the years to think a certain way thanks to theological training, family upbringing and a wife of 38 years. I was raised, by a mom, who always saw the positive in life even as she faced her own mortality as she battled cancer for a decade.

So should I just cheer up and say today is a gift and a new day. Rejoice in the Lord usually is my inner cry, yet, how can I do this when I face the possibility that my dad has just had a series of strokes that will cripple him for the rest of his time on this earth before he goes home to heaven. Yeah, I’m being selfish when it comes to the amount of time and type of time that I will have to spend not just helping my dad but making sure those around him actually do their job.

I know there are lots of examples in the Scriptures about those who seemed to have the ability to rise above their circumstances and never complain. I think of Paul who was in and out of prison and typically mocked, beaten or whipped for his faith and outspokenness. I also remember Paul asking for help in the face of serious health issues and God’s response was my grace is good enough. Wow, how is it possible that spiritual blessings can help me with my physical and emotional crisis?

I am also presently aware of my sin and rebellious nature that stands against the heart of the God who created me to be his follower. I can remember again in Job’s story how quickly God silenced him when he asked where he was at the moment of creation. Yeah, it is easy to think that I am smart but really I can’t create something out of nothing – ex nihilo. I might think that I can argue and influence the faithful JW that comes to my Starbucks a couple of times a week. Yet, as I challenged her with a few Bible verses her response was still to come back with a plea to see the Watch Tower, New World Translation and the Witnesses as being sincere and legit. My response was I don’t think so.

So how is it possible to know but not yet really know? I can remember as a young Christ follower seeing a song that stated so clearly the more I know the more I know I know nothing. I know that God’s grace and mercy are so real as I have seen them acted out upon so many including myself. Yet, it is so easy to ask the simple question – Why God? Why my dad and why right now? I thought you understood the dynamics of what is going on in my life and know that I’m at my limit? I Corinthians 10:13 should be so obvious, yet it looks like you want to push me beyond the edge? Do I really want this? I guess God believes I need it.

I know that the shepherd boy David must have wondered why his brothers and father always left him out in the field and assumed he could do it. David seemed to be a prolific writer underneath the sky at night. His pen seemed to move with all of the human emotions as he faced danger, was nourished as he feed his flock and the joy of returning home on occasion helped him understand the reality of one day dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. I can also remember David the warrior who was slow to make any judgment against Saul his enemy and king. David was willing to wait a long time to eventually get the throne and live out his God given gift of leadership. Yet, even David lost it at times and made poor decisions that impacted not only his life but his family and ultimately his kingdom and the world.

I was overwhelmed last night when one of my best friends and his family came to visit with my dad. They stayed for hours and helped him eat his dinner. I think of the opportunities that do come out of tragedy and heart ache. I know that my dad won’t live forever. I don’t have any assurance that he won’t have any more strokes or won’t suffer severe paralysis. I do know that I’m committed to be my dad’s friend and helper forever. I know that it won’t always be easy or fun, yet life is suppose to remind us that we are finite, not God and don’t have super human strength. I am pushed in my present situation to depend upon God even when I’m mad at him or disappointed about circumstances. This forces me to do something I don’t like – ask others for help and show my weaknesses or humanness.

I think of Paul’s description of Jesus in Philippians 2 of leaving behind his glory and becoming human and willfully choosing to go on a path that saw his death become a reality. I know that Jesus saw the joy behind the cross and God’s path for his life. Yet, Jesus was quick to cry out in the garden, “God if it is possible please take away this cup.” I know that I can still pray as Jesus, God please don’t let my dad have any more strokes, yet not my will but your will be done.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Christmas Story

I know that this will go down in Bennett history for Christmases. We did our usual Christmas Eve Service with over 50 people helping make 400 burritos, special friends made pezole; menudo and Starbucks donated 3 gallons of coffee. We also had blankets and lots of clothing to share with our 500 homeless friends in the downtown area. I always love being able to bless both by helping those in real need and also to give those who have much be able to share. I know that there were probably half of the helpers who hadn’t worked with us before especially for connecting with our homeless friends. I know that one of my close friends was definitely overwhelmed with the great need.

This becomes like a whole day affair after we finish with cleaning and taking home lots of our teen helpers. (We did go out to McDonalds afterwards) So by the time I was finished it was already almost 4pm. Anne was out shopping and returned about 4:30. We quickly got ready for attending Christmas Eve Service with Grandpa. We arrive at Chris Ridge Village and Dad is already to go. We make our way to the yellow chariot and he is thrilled to be out.

My daughter, her husband, son and girlfriend attended church with us. It was a very special service. I always get teary eyed because of my mom not being with us. I know that she is in heaven rejoicing along with all of us. We do our usual go out for dinner or I should say breakfast after church. There aren’t many places open so we end up at Coco’s. Everyone enjoys their dinner and we go home for the night and take grandpa with us.

As we got into the little station wagon Grandpa got a chill and couldn’t stop shaking for a few minutes. I get his jacket out of the back and help him cover up. He seems to warm up as we start driving and the heater starts to blast us. As we settle down for the night Grandpa seems fine with staying with us and sleeping on the couch. He gets up at least once during the night, which is normal. He seems ok, as we get ready to go for a Christmas walk with our dogs before our family comes over at 9:30 for breakfast. I notice we are low on milk and ½ and ½ so I go to the store via Starbucks to get a refill.

As I am pulling up to Starbucks Anne calls and explains that Grandpa is having trouble talking and seems to have had a stroke. I’m in tears and upset. The last thing I want is to have my dad be in the hospital on Christmas. I drive home quickly and agree with my Anne and I call 911. The paramedics are there in 3 minutes. My dad is very willing to allow everyone to do their job and assess his situation. He is going to St. Joseph’s where he had his hip surgery. I decide to drive behind the ambulance to the hospital. This doesn’t seem to be a life-threatening situation so they don’t drive like maniacs.

Fortunately for my dad they take him straight into the ER room where he gets immediate attention. They begin to do a battery of tests including a CT and then later an MRI. My Anne and Jeff and Heather quickly show after we get there. It is clear as the nurses and doctors do their tests and observation that Grandpa has had a stroke and is having difficulty speaking and understanding.

He is eventually admitted into his own room. He hasn’t eaten all day and until they do more tests it appears he is NPO – no food or drink. They have him on an IV and he seems ok with the different monitors that are hooked to his body. I know that I have to go home at some point and couldn’t decide if I should spend the night.

As I am driving home all of the usual questions hit me. Why GOD??? My dad doesn’t deserve any of this. I don’t deserve any of this. My mom dies of cancer my dad gets dementia and now this. What kind of God would allow such things? What’s going to happen to our vacation to San Diego? I thought God was supposed to be the ultimate Good and the all-powerful being? Why the stroke? Why on Christmas Day?

I’m the one that has the philosophy degree and science degree and knows the tension between what is considered rationalism, man at his best without God and deism, which is man with God where man at his worst is better than man without God at his best. We believe that God is gracious and merciful until something like this happens to me and not someone else.

I have been reading a book by Philip Yancey, “Disappointment with God.” It deals with the heartache of life and all of the questions and emotions that come out of this type of situation. He relates a story of a grad student who writes a commentary on the story of Job. The book is very compelling and Yancey eventually meets the young man. The man confesses that he isn’t a believer but a seeker who has real doubts. His doubts push him to attend a healing service. Someone there who is supposedly healed is a professor. The young man seeks out this professor only to discover from his wife that he has died. The young man is even more devastated and overwhelmed with doubt and anger. How is it possible for something crazy as this to take place?

The story doesn’t end on a happy note. Yancey doesn’t hear from him for years. The book is published but the author is reluctant to say that he believes anything about the Job story. Yancey doesn’t try to sugar coat any of this but leaves it in the real life mode. Yeah, bad things happen to what appear to be good, normal people for no obvious reason. Sometimes life sucks.

As I try to process my own anger and upset with God and myself I’m frustrated and confused. Yes, God I was upset that you took my mom from me. I so much wanted her to see the weddings of my kids and the blessings of having great grandkids. I admit that would have rather had my dad go to heaven first because he isn’t an easy person to help or love on. Yet, God blessed me with a dad, with dementia, who is a good friend now.

So God why would you allow my dad to have a stroke and leave him worse off than he was before? I’m the one that will take care of him for years to come so why throw this curve ball? Yes I know that I need to learn more about patience, grace and mercy but not through my dad having a stroke. I am the type to suck it up and dive back into the action regardless of how I’m doing emotionally. This can be both good and bad. I’m blessed to have lots of friends who are very supportive and helpful.

So I still come back to the same question as Job? Why? Does grandpa really need to have a stroke and be left without normal speech patterns? Don’t I have enough stress in my life as it is? I do know that God is sovereign and in control. I do know and believe that He is gracious and merciful. Yet, in this situation I don’t feel like He is in control or is showing his hesed.

God help me with my anger and upset. I didn’t want a dad or grandpa who would live out his life with dementia and now the aftermath of a stroke. I know that Job does end up saying the Lord gives and the Lord takes away – Blessed be the Name of the Lord. I can echo his heart but I’m still devastated and wonder why?

Friday, December 23, 2011

A New Home for Nemo

One of my passions as a youth that has been sustained into adulthood has been my interest in aquatics. I think my dad was the one who got me hooked, pardon the pun, on fish. It was a little 5-gallon tank when I was in the first grade. I can remember going to the fish store in downtown Sacramento. We had a little school of Neon Tetras. Yeah, I also had a little mermaid, boat and shark that had bubbles going through it. My habit didn’t change much until I got married.

I can remember Anne and mine 2-bedroom apartment in College. We had been married about 6 months and transitioned from a studio apartment to a real apartment that had 2 bedrooms and a great living and dinning area. Anne was the one to restart my fish habit. It again started out with a 10-gallon tank that eventually ballooned into a 75-gallon tank and a 55-gallon tank. I was blessed, as a fish person, to be close to Santa Barbara that had some unusual fish stores. So it wasn’t too long before I was really hooked again

Our transition from San Luis to the Bay Area was over night with the sudden surprise birth of our oldest. It didn’t help that I got a real job being paid big bucks to add fuel or ‘bait’ to my fish obsession. So all of a sudden I had a 100-gallon tank with fish that were huge, literally 2-3 feet long and weighed in the pounds not ounces. The point of this story is to show how I have come full circle after recently selling my two 125 gallon tanks as we downsized to a different house. I left behind a large koi pond.

The only tank that was left was a Nano or very small tank for a lone Nemo fish. I am sure most of you have watched or seen Nemo movie(s). The little guy has always been in my office so I have a real affection for him. He recognizes me and eats out of my hand almost. So Nemo and his tank made it to our new house minus the large tanks. I did manage to do a small above ground pond in the back for a few of my koi from our old house.

I do have to attempt to justify my habit by saying that I bought all of my tanks off of craigslist from people who had gotten burned out with their fish and let go tanks that literally costs $1,000 for next to nothing So when Nemo’s lights went out this last week I struggled with what I should do? The lights alone for saltwater tanks are like $30-40 each. The little guy had 2 bulbs, one for day and one for night. It was bad enough the lights died but after buy new bulbs I discovered that his actual light hood had died. Ouch this would cost me more than what I paid for his tank and stand combined. So back on craigslist and I found another Nano tank for less than the expense of a new hood with lights. This tank is actually bigger and has a better set up. So some would say why spend all this money just on a little fish. Why not flush him or take him to the fish store.

The answer has lots to do with the real meaning of Christmas. My wife is the one actually who empowered me to get Nemo a new home. How can I flush a real friend and pretend it doesn’t matter. So why would God not just say let’s ‘flush’ the whole world after it has totally turned it’s back on me? At least I can rationalize that Nemo greets me all of the time and actually notices me. I can’t say the same thing about my relationship with God. I tend to forget about Him until life throws me a curve ball. Then I am quick to be on my knees crying out for help.

The great news is that God is also in the process of making us a new home – tank that will be even better than the present world we inhabit. I know that the initial move for Nemo was rather traumatic. I also know that it is impossible to really have any sense of what heaven will actually look like and how we will live. Yes, there have been books written that talk about experiences of a few who have been blessed to actually see the glorious new home and see family and friends and then be sent back to encourage to understand that Heaven is real and that most of all that Jesus’ love is true and powerful.

So if I am willing to go to as much effort to give my little Nemo a new home ought we be just as willing to help those around us that don’t have homes find homes. It shames me to think that most middle class types, like myself, spend so much on our pets and hobbies. Yet, we are usually so slow to care and discover those around us that need real love and care. I have blessed by so many in order to be a blessing to others. The last couple of weeks I have had different group share their resources to give a real Christmas to my kids and families. I have spent the last 2 mornings handing out hams to a large of friends that wouldn’t have much. Many have received food baskets that have helped stretch the little that they have.

I’m glad that I got my little Nemo a new home but much more thrilled to be able to help others discover that the great home we can ever have is with Jesus who can change our hearts to understand the message of grace and mercy which is the message of Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hard Work

I am an odd ball in that I have gone to college and done grad school but still love doing concrete work and being outside. I know that intelligence isn’t based solely on book learning but on a combination of variables. I have been blessed to have friends who are PhD’s and construction workers. I have learned so much from both of my different types of friends. God has given me a passion to be a life long learner. It requires both a willingness to read, study, be out with people observing and listening most of all to those who are older and wiser.

Yesterday I put on my concrete guy hat and did a driveway extension so my big van has a place to sleep at night. I had a close friend and partner in ministry help me. I know that Lupe hadn’t done very much concrete work but I was so impressed with his quickness to dive in and do an incredible job. I have been around many different types of people where some show a real openness to learning and making it happen and others act as if you are supposed to do their work for them and they should still get paid.

Any concrete type job usually requires some digging and earth moving. This isn’t the most cherished type of work but someone has to do it. So the challenge for us was the removal of a tree that was about 15 feet high and had some branches. It took us about an hour with removing most of the ground cover and exposing the root system. It was great to see everything fit in the truck. It is always amazing how something that took hours to do only takes minutes to throw away in the dump.

As we returned to the house I explained that I had to go to another church and get a collection of clothes and misc. things that would be used for our homeless Christmas Eve Service. I left and knew that I would be gone for about 3 hours. I went over the overall job with Lupe and said he could set it up or just dig it out. It took longer between getting the clothes, picking up a laptop and doing a couple of other errands. I was so jazzed to pull up and see the little job perfectly graded and the form boards actually all in place with stakes. I did a little bit of fine-tuning and made adjustments with the irrigation system.

I had found a short load concrete place that did yard pours. I needed 2 yards so it required me to haul a yard load and also the owner to bring a yard load. It was fun playing concrete guy with Lupe and his nephew. It took us about 30 minutes to pour out all of the concrete. The down side was that it was really cold and the sun was hiding from the concrete. It took over 5 hours for the concrete to get hard enough to be broomed. While I was playing in the ‘mud’ Lupe and Diego were laying out pavers to go from the back edge of the driveway to the gate and then to the garbage pad.

So the great news was that they did an incredible job of putting in the little pathway to the back. They finished about an hour before I was done. (Life isn’t always fair.) As I broomed the driveway extension I was really impressed with my friend’s help. They did an awesome professional job like they knew what they were doing. What struck me is that too many in today’s laid back culture would have stood around watching and would have expected me to do the work for them as they watched. So why is it the case that someone like Lupe dives in and tries and so many today would have been too lazy to lift a finger.

What a great Christmas gift to me! I love doing concrete work but especially with real helpers who made my job a piece of cake. As we had a pre-Christmas dinner last night the same thing jumped out. My daughter loves to cook, entertain and make everything just perfect. The reason she is this way shouldn’t be any surprise because her mom has trained her well. My Anne is the most amazing person because she is thoughtful, hard working and loves to help and bless others.

I reflect on my life growing up and had the same awesome role model in my mom. She was always quick to put others first and be the helper and always had a knack to pull others into helping.