What Jimmy Buffett Taught Me About Grandparenting

What Jimmy Buffett Taught Me About GrandparentingConfession time. I am a conservative, west Texas born and raised, retired military, orthodox and evangelical Christian pastor who embraces a Calvinist soteriology and traditional dispensational, premillennial, pre-tribulational eschatology. And I am a Parrothead. The first sentence summarizes my background and beliefs. The second is added flavoring.

For those who do not recognize the term, a “Parrothead” is a coined term identifying a person as a fan of Jimmy Buffett, singer/leader of the Coral Reefer Band and marketing mogul. He trademarked the titles of some of his hits and parlayed musical success into restaurants and sales of a wide range of “lifestyle” products. Parrotheads cover the full spectrum of loyalty. At one end are the closeted souls who enjoy his music (in the privacy of their own homes), and at the other extreme are the outlandishly dressed and accessorized denizens (those who want to be “Jimmy Buffett”) camping out at Parrothead conventions called “concerts.”

I was introduced to his “Gulf and Western” music in the late 1970’s through the Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO or “E-dub”) on my B-52 crew. A fellow Texan, we were both drawn to the light-hearted mischief and allusions to an easy, sun-baked lifestyle presented in his music. During this phase of Mr. Buffett’s career, his albums were a mixture of tunes related to the consumption of rum or tequila-based concoctions, word twisting to humorous effect (“The weather is here, I wish you were beautiful,” for example), and an occasional quiet, reflective ballad that indicated a soul beneath the “party-on” exterior. It is one of these ballads, “The Captain and the Kid,” that touched me then and has hit me profoundly now that I have reached the status of “The Captain.”

The song was written in honor of Mr. Buffett’s paternal grandfather, Captain James Delaney Buffett, and was occasioned by the man’s passing (“He died about a month ago, while winter filled the air”¦”). The grandson attributed his sense that life is an adventure to be lived and enjoyed from climbing “upon his knee, listening to his many tales of life upon the sea.” When they “went sailing on Barkentines” (a sailing ship with 3-5 masts) “and talked of things he did, the world was just a day away for the Captain and the kid.”

I was reintroduced to this song shortly after a visit with my son, daughter-in-law, and 18 month old grandson, Grant. As Mr. Buffett noted, waddling grandfathers and toddling grandsons together occupy a world that is untouched by any other human being. In one afternoon, Grant moved quickly from copying Dad and Granddad working (using his toy replicas of real tools) to requesting to use the cordless drill (the real thing), holding it correctly, and then to showing his proud grandfather how to properly use the tool ““ even installing and removing drill bits. Reading stories became telling stories to a rapt audience of one. The little morality tales for a toddler will soon give way to great stories from the adventure and joy and excitement that is military flying. I can’t wait.

Such was the relationship of which Mr. Buffett sings through the first verse: “tales of life upon the sea.” The second verse begins with a harsh reality: when you become a grandparent, you are already feeling the ravages of time.

“His world had gone from sailing ships to raking Mom’s backyard.
He never could adjust to land, although he tried so hard”.

The dauntless sea captain who physically wrestled with the power of wind and sea now finds physical challenge limited to “raking Mom’s backyard.” The seasoned sailor and leader of men who barked orders to move sails and to steer a ship on a course and away from danger now accomplishes a menial task quietly and alone. The grandfather tried, but never adjusted to this phase of life ““ on land.

No man truly adjusts to a life without adventure and physical challenges, for loss of the adventure means a loss of personal significance. The best we can hope for is redefining challenge, in hopes of discovering new adventures. While the ravages of time affect the body, their results are felt in the soul.

“Ravages of time:” a bleak prospect for any person, but most profound for one whose adventure was linked to inherent dangers in his profession. For the sailor or the airman, life on land does not promise danger like the sea or the sky.

Mr. Buffett observes the change, and in his response as a grandson points us in the direction we grandparents need to consider.

“We both were growing older then; wiser with our years.
That’s when I came to understand the course his heart still steers.”

Growing older is unavoidable; growing wiser is a choice. “Older” can mean “bitter,” or it can wisely be seen as the new adventure of impacting a follow-on generation. For this task, God provides inherent ability: deterioration of the physical body makes the heart clearer to others. And clearest of all to a child who has no other connection to a life lived in a time gone by.

“The course his heart still steers.” In the context, the reference is to steering a course while sailing a three to five-masted Barkentine. This serves as a metaphor for the direction of his grandfather’s life ““ the heart steering the life. When the old man lost the sea to live out adventure, he took on the task of steering his grandson into the realization that life is an adventure: “the whole world is just a day away.” He was successful, as Mr. Buffett, reflecting on his grandfather’s death concludes, “Although I cried I was so proud to love a man so rare.”

Let’s stop and consider the concept of steering a course. In the literal sense of sailing it means:

The sailor and his craft are dependent on the wind for propulsion and subject to its whims.

Steering a course means going with the wind, across the wind, or against the wind ““ but always with the destination in focus.

Changes in wind speed have both a positive and a negative effect. The harder the wind blows, the greater speed the ship can attain, but the rougher the sea becomes. Calm wind means still sea, but you go nowhere.

Closer to land ““ to your destination and harbor ““ means greater likelihood of encountering hidden danger from reefs or sandbars. Vigilance is heightened as you approach the familiar.

In facing these challenges, the only constant in the equation is the destination.

Take the facts from the literal sense of sailing and compare them to the metaphor of the heart steering the life:

Wind and sea picture the circumstances of our lives. We control neither but must constantly be adjusting for their changes. Sometimes we go with circumstances, other times across or against them. Our destination determines which tack to take.

Changes in wind and sea are both positive and negative. The greater the challenge, the greater the reward and the greater the risk. Like the sailor, we view times of absolute stillness ““ the doldrums ““ with a jaundiced eye. No challenge means we personally are going nowhere.

And there is danger of shipwreck in our lives even in the area of the familiar. Vigilance in our attitudes, relationships, character, and morality is the constant watchword for the day.

And the only constant in the equation is the destination.

So the question to ask in this light is, “What do you see as your destination?” We are moving through choppy seas and adverse winds ““ to what end? Like the sailor on the open sea, the destination is not in sight. We must depend on an external source, a compass, to guide our ship of life toward our destination. What direction does your compass point?

I see “the course his heart still steers” as my challenge: “What destination will Grant understand that grandfather’s heart steers toward?” My destination is Heaven. To that end, should my compass point upward or earth-bound? Toward people or away? Toward Christ or toward self? Toward joy or toward bitterness? In each of these options, the former is rare, the latter is common.

I have little eyes that will see, and a young heart that will follow. My prayer is that he will be proud to have loved a man who was rare.

Thoughts from the “Top of Texas”

On November 8, 2009, my wife, oldest son, and I climbed to the “Top of Texas”- Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in the state. The hike is a 10 mile round trip with a 3,000 foot vertical change with hard climbing the first mile and the last 100 yards from the peak. Our objective was to touch the stainless steel pylon that marks the highest point: 8,749 feet above sea level.

This was the first time my wife Sally and oldest son Martin made the climb. We did so in honor of her sixt, uh, “significant” birthday. I made the climb in December 2007 with our three younger sons, my brothers, and their sons. Martin didn’t go then because he was preparing for deployment to Iraq. With this climb, the whole family has been there.

Beyond the personal challenge and family connection, climbing the mountain allowed me to revisit the first of the three “M’s” that have characterized my life: Mountain, Military, and Ministry. I was introduced to some principles about God and about life as a boy climbing Sugarloaf and Mount Franklin in El Paso and have lived them out in my life ever since.

Learning about God and life from a mountain? Don’t be surprised. The writers of the poetic passages of Scripture found comparisons between mountains and God. They saw that mountains speak of:

The greatness of God as Creator (Psalm 104:1, 2, 5, 8 )

The eternality of God (Psalm 90:2)

The power of God (Job 9:5 and Psalm 65:6)

The righteousness of God (Psalm 36:6)

The reign of God: (Isaiah 2:2)

These pictures refer to God Himself. Scripture also uses mountains to relate God to man:

The same God who made the mountains speaks to man (Amos 4:13)

The same God who controls nature helps His people (Psalm 46:1-3)

These passages were written by those who pondered the mountains. Mountains to them represented permanence, might, mystery, and magnificence. As such they present an apt metaphor for the person and acts of God.

But boys do not ponder mountains; they climb them. I grew up a block and a half from the base of the Franklin Mountains (highest point 7,192′ above sea level). Towering above my boyhood home was Sugarloaf Mountain with the abandoned military outpost on top, Ranger Peak with the KTSM towers and aerial tramway, Franklin’s Nose, McKelligon Canyon, the Cross, the “A”, and an infinite number of unnamed points in between. Each offered new discoveries (like caves with prehistoric writing on the walls: “Beto was here”, “Frank loves Julie”, and “Seniors “˜56″), adventure (complete with guttural “clop,clop” sound effects and the William Tell Overture as a soundtrack), and a wide spectrum of boy-sized personal challenges.

Climbing a mountain is the active response to observing it. Climbing fulfills the burning desire to interact with the magnificent entity you cannot ignore. It is through the interaction of climbing that you experience the mountain and in so doing learn some things about yourself and about life.

Where the mountain metaphorically represents God and His ways, principles gleaned from climbing a mountain may be applied in the great man-sized adventure and personal challenge that is life. Permanence, might, mystery, and magnificence speak of God, and it is interaction with God and His works that teaches me about myself and about life.

So, with the view from the top still fresh in my mind, I’d like to share some of the principles from mountain climbing that relate to life.

1. The mountain is bigger than me.

The mountain existed before I existed and will be there after I’m gone. Someone greater than me created the mountain. There is no way I can grasp the mountain’s entirety. I can only interact with the mountain for a short period following a path is unique to me.

The mountain puts my personal significance into perspective. I have no claim to pride because I am just part of something bigger and more permanent than me: the eternal plan of God. My place in that plan is unique. I cannot grasp or understand it all. My sojourn there is temporal, and I am called to fulfill only a small part.

For all of us, that small part is our fundamental calling ““ to represent Jesus Christ. Where that part takes us individually is found in other principles from climbing the mountain.

2. I don’t change the mountain; the mountain changes me.

“I don’t change the mountain” is paraphrased in the National Park admonition: “Leave nothing behind ““ what you carry in, carry out.” What I could leave behind on the mountain is called trash ““ and it can only change the mountain for the worse. Further, the footprints I make on the way up and down are there only until the next big wind or small rainstorm. 1Timothy 6:7 tells us: “For we brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.”

I don’t change the mountain; the mountain changes me. I left nothing behind on Guadalupe Peak and on the trail there. My footprints have already been erased. But the experience changed me and changed the relationships I have with my wife and sons. I didn’t think it possible to be as proud of another person as I was when my wife placed her hand on the pylon, or as proud of sons when they spontaneously reached out to help each other when the climbing got tough.

In God’s view, our significance is not found in accomplishments or changes we make. Our significance is found in the changes that He, by controlling events in our lives, makes in us.

3. No one climbs exactly the same way or follows exactly the same path.

The mountains I climbed as a boy did not have established paths. Each time we climbed we determined where we wanted to go and set a path to that objective. No two times did we ever follow exactly the same path.

The path to the summit at Guadalupe is defined, and hikers are obligated to follow it. Even so, no one has or will ever place his or her feet exactly where I placed mine. No one climbs at exactly the same pace, even when climbing as a group.

What does this tell us about life? Don’t compare yourself with others. You were uniquely made and uniquely placed in God’s plan. You will follow the course and timing He has set out for you. He is with you where you are, not “where I think I should be.” Paul wrote Romans 14 to tell us to avoid comparisons. Jesus sharply rebuked Peter for his attempt to compare himself with another disciple: “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

In the climb that is our life, Jesus takes the point for each of us. He leads and sets our individual paces. Don’t look around ““ follow the lead climber.

4. I carry precious cargo on every climb.

When hiking in the high desert of west Texas you must carry practical provisions of food and water. This cargo is necessary to enable you to complete the climb. Wherever you go in the hike that is life you carry a precious cargo: your heritage.

Side note: Every member of my family and extended family who made the climb in 2007 was tasked to carry with them an artifact: a tangible representation of a previous generation. On that climb I carried my mother’s Bible. Since sons are my heritage, on this climb I carried a small stuffed toy that belonged to our son who died in infancy. With Tom’s stuffed elephant there I can truthfully say that my wife and all my boys have joined me at the Top of Texas.

Heritage can be represented tangibly, but it is by definition intangible, and encapsulated in a single phrase: “your name.” You receive your name from your parents and ideally they went to great lengths to insure that the name was associated with honor. It behooves us to preserve the honor and to pass it to our progeny.

As Christians, we carry the name of Christ. That name above all names is eternally honorable. We are charged to live in such a way as to not besmirch the honorable name by which we were called.

To do so requires us to make daily choices, so

5. Climbing involves a series of choices.

Every climb starts with the personal choice to set aside time for the climb rather than expending it on another pursuit. To make it to the top requires us to take “˜one more step’ innumerable times. Successfully completing the climb means choosing to take another step regardless of the pain or cost.

At no point on the Guadalupe trail can you see the pylon that marks the peak. You only see it when you get there. Every step prior is a step of faith ““ faith that a path that someone else laid out will take you there.

Isn’t that the way it is in the plan of God for our lives? We have a heavenly destiny but do not see it until we get there. The trail has been set out by God and we can only trust that He in His goodness, love, wisdom, and care designed our trail.

I had a map and a GPS ““ objective sources outside of myself – to tell me I was on the right path and headed in the right direction. God gave us His Word and his Spirit to be the objective guides for our path through life. Knowing our direction is important, because every step in one direction means rejecting every other direction.

The choices we make determine what kind of life we will live. Each choice in one direction means repudiation of the corresponding opposite choice: Honor versus dishonor, diligence versus laziness, courage versus cowardice, integrity versus indulgence.

Each choice carries with it a consequence for we affirm that sovereign God assigned a specific consequence to every choice. In God’s ordered universe, each choice can be evaluated based on its consequences. The obvious consequence of climbing up the mountain is that we have to climb down it also. The climb down reminds us that “¦

6. Success or failure is not permanent.

Two things are obvious at the peak: “You cannot stand higher in the state of Texas than you are currently standing,” and “you cannot stay here.” You stand at the top because you have done something difficult and achieved something few achieve. The list of those who successfully make the climb is short. And, doing a little bragging, shorter still is the number of women who successfully make it. Shorter still is the number of women 60 or over who do it. Shorter still are those who have had both ankles rebuilt. I married someone on the shortest list.

The view on top is spectacular, and those who make it there feel exhilaration. This is as it should be: when you achieve a worthy goal, you should be rightfully proud. There’s a catch: you cannot stay there. Shortly after arriving, we must head down the mountain and return to our everyday lives and the mundane duties they entail.

On both treks, some from the original group of climbers did not make it to the top. They, too, had to climb back down to resume life. Failure is just as temporary a condition as success.

So, with both success and failure in life, we savor the accomplishment or learn from the failure and move on. In God’s scheme, neither is permanent. He is neither impressed with our performance nor distressed by our failure. He seeks character in each of us, measuring the growth in character by how we deal with both success and failure and keep on moving. Our final evaluation as Christians is based on one question: “How faithful were you with what I gave you to deal with in life?” In success or failure, we seek His highest commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

One more principle drawn from climbing a mountain:

7. You never climb alone.

While the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction is individual, only a fool attempts to climb alone. As a boy I learned that the mountain was a scary place for a single climber, and it was not fun to climb without a friend or brother to share the adventure. On Guadalupe, we never encountered a lone climber. Each group had some who were obviously stronger and more able than others. As part of their climb, stronger members prodded or aided the climb of the weaker members. In our family group, my son provided the energy of youth and the pulling hand that helped his mother up the mountain. Being together gave us people to talk to and people we loved to share the joy and exultation.

In life as in climbing: at every step along the trail you can look around and see the faces of brothers and sisters ““ fellow climbers ““ who are there to encourage, or offer a hand, or push, or challenge you. This is by divine design, and it runs counter to the prevailing thought in our world: “others exist to make me happy or to accommodate me.”

God’s design is reciprocal: everything that I wish others would do for me I am to do for others. The objective in life is not happiness, but holiness ““ to be molded into the image of Jesus Christ. Ultimately the challenge of today is pushing you toward that objective.

Christians are enjoined to never give up hope. The best way to comply with this is to be with those who will not let you give up hope. The last 100 yards to the “Top of Texas” is the hardest part of the climb. Not only does this come at the end of the equivalent of 4 hours on a treadmill set to maximum incline, but the trail becomes a “three point climb” (three of your four climbing appendages ““ hands and feet – must be anchored before you move the fourth.) At one point my wife dropped her head and said, “I don’t think I can take another step.” Positioning ourselves to give a pull and a push, my son and I simultaneously saw something she missed by dropping her head. He nodded to allow me the honor of pointing this out. I sidled up to her and whispered, “Look to your right.” We were within 10 feet of the pylon. All those decisions to take another step, every helping hand or gentle push, and every “you can do it” finally paid off. In one glance, dejection became exultation and “I can’t!” became “I did it!!!!”

Each of us is currently somewhere on a God ordained climb. Listen for and heed the encouragement from others, and please be a source of encouragement to others. We will reach the pylon.

Generation "NOT" Me

I just started reading a very interesting book called Generation Me by Jean M. Twenge. The subtitle tells it all… “Why todays young American’s are more confident, assertive, entitled – and more miserable than ever.” The generation that is written about ranges in age from 18-35 years old. I’m just on upper edge of that at 36 myself. The reason I picked up the book is because I get the opportunity to lead a new ministry for singles in their 20s. At Stonebriar, we call it mosaic. Thursday, Sept. 3 at 7p.m. was our first meeting.

So what is a pastor to do when leading a group that targets this confident, assertive, entitled generation? Is the answer to tell them that God has a wonderful plan for their life? Is it to tell them that God loves them uniquely as individuals? Is it to tell them that Jesus can make them really happy? Though there is some truth in all these messages, the one that speaks most profoundly to this generation is found in Luke 9:23.

“If any man come after Me, let him deny himself.”

Jesus words are the very antithesis of what the Me generation has been told their entire existence. The places they eat tell them they deserve a break today or have it their way. The places they gather to drink coffee are as customized to their tastes as they wish. Growing up, everyone was awarded a trophy in a sporting event, just for participating, not just the winners. Throughout the college years, students are told over and over to pursue what makes them happy and fulfilled, because at the end of day, that is what is most important. Generations ago had a term for this, “spoiled,” now we call it good marketing.

So those coming to mosaic on Thursdays are saturated with messages and have grown up with messages that stand in stark contrast to Jesus’ words. Some Christian 20 something singles are fighting the good fight, while others have almost completely bought into the “me-ism.” So from the very beginning of mosaic, we have said that we will get out of ourselves and get involved in serving others. Our very first announcement was for Clothe-a-child, an outreach to low-income children in Frisco and Little Elm.

40% of those that came on Thursday volunteered! That’s terrific. 20 something singles following Jesus’ words to deny self (by the way, another 5 out of 25 people said they would like to serve children on Sunday mornings and help with greeting newcomers). This is great. This is success. This is to be celebrated.

At mosiac, we’ll continue to encourage these young singles to be the Generation “NOT” Me and follow Jesus’ commands. Because in that, they won’t end up more miserable than ever, totally dependent on anxiety and anti-depressant medication, but rather, surprised by joy because they get involved in serving others