Dear friends of Janet and mine came into town this evening from Chicago. We have known Al and Ellen for ore than 30 years and so we were looking forward with eager anticipation to seeing them this evening. We were joined by another friend of ours who also works with Al, so it was a pretty special evening. We went to dinner together and after we discussed the current stuff, we started going down memory lane and recalling some of the stories from our early years. We talked about Chicago, places we have been, museums, travel, friends and a host of other topics too numerous to mention.
In the midst of one of our discussions about weather and hail damage, I was trying to recall the restaurant on the south side of Chicago that was destroyed by a tornado in the late sixties. It was near 87th and Ashland Avenue and I had been thinking about it last week when I wrote my post on the Ashland State Bank. Anyway, it was next to a Greek bakery type of place and often times we would pick up some delicious desserts after we finished dinner at the restaurant. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the name, and then on the way home, it popped into my mind – it was called Melody Lane.
Although it was a little bit of a trek from our home, Dad and Mom really liked the place. It was a hamburger kind of place and you could sit down and choose from a large number of items on the menu. Depending on where you sat, they had those old juke boxes in the booths so you could choose songs to play while you waited for your meal. It was just plain fun and we loved it. In fact, sometimes Mom would drive us there and we would wait for Dad while he drove south from downtown Chicago at the end of his work day.
The desserts were out of this world and as I recall, they made real milkshakes as well. One time, during our most famous family incident there, my brother Doug ordered a meal and then didn’t finish it. Now in our family, that was like a mortal sin. There was a strick code of conduct – if you ordered it, you ate it. Dad was a real stickler. Anyway, this one evening, Dad just couldn’t convince Doug to finish his meal. So Doug told Dad, “If you make me eat this, I am going to get sick all over the table.”
Now Dad thought Doug was bluffing, so he forced Doug to finish his meal. Anyway, a few seconds later, you guessed it, Doug got sick. My mother was furious at my father for forcing Doug to eat and my Dad was trying not to laugh at the whole situation. Needless to say, it was embarrassing and it was a while before we went back to Melody Lane. I remember this story like it was yesterday.
In 1968, during one of the freak storms that we occasionally had on the south side, Melody Lane was virtually destroyed by a tornado. Our family had been there the night before and when I heard the news reports, I really didn’t think the damage could be that bad. But then we drove over there and it was like looking at a pile of matchsticks. For all intents and purposes, Melody Lane ceased to exist that night. It was re-built but it wasn’t the same and we stopped going there after trying it once or twice after it re-opened. It just wasn’t the place that we had loved for so many years. But another thing happened that night as I looked at the mess – it was a real reminder of the power of nature and how life was so fragile – it could change in an instant.
Now I was still a young guy in those day, about 15 years old. But even then, I mourned the loss of a place that we had gone to since I was born. And the tornado damage, for some reason, seemed to be a turning point in my life. From then on, I seemed to assess things from a more serious perspective – I was just glad that we weren’t there when the tornado hit. And it was that night, seeing the damage, that I started to think more about the consequences of actions that I was involved in.
Now I know that I couldn’t have done anything about the tornado, but there were plenty of other things I did on my own that didn’t reflect the best judgement I could have used. And as I have aged, I realize that God protected me at times when I did really stupid stuff; and other times, he kept me out of harm’s way when the power of nature was unleashed.
I notice the pattern in my life, even as I observe others, that we all tend to go through stages of life when we remember defining events of our youth that started to change us. Sure, some of us were younger, or older, when these changes started to occur, but the pattern is unmistakable. I can’t help but think that God has dealt with generations of us who have grown through the same experiences. What patience He has.
The verse tonight is from the Psalms and reflects how we need God to teach us as we age. From Psalms 71:17, we are told, “Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.” We all have done things that we aren’t proud of, and chances are that you have matured, as I have, as you have aged.
My encouragement is that God understands the things we do as children and he has a plan for each of us as we grow older. Sometimes, the wake-up call may not be as dramatic as a tornado, but God brings us along to become more responsible as we age. My prayer is that you will revel in the past, but prepare for the future. After all, God has great eternal plans for us, and we have to continue to mature to fulfill the purpose that He has ordained for each of us. Grace and peace…