Posted in Christmas, Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

The Rest of the Story

When it is in your power, don’t withhold good from the one to whom it belongs.” Proverbs 3:27

And now you know the rest of the story.  You might remember that line from Paul Harvey who used to tell some incredible stories from real life.  He would tell the part that was known and then tell the part of the story that was not.  He would always end with, “And now you know the rest of the story.”  Well, today I want to tell you the rest of the story.

In the days right before last Christmas, I wrote a Grits story about my storied Christmas childhood.  It was almost magical.  Each year it seemed that Mama and Daddy pulled it all together, and that always meant sacrifice, and gave us a Christmas beyond our dreams.  I cannot recall one Christmas that wasn’t incredible.  I’ve heard stories from the generation that endured the Great Depression and they would speak of no Christmas or maybe just an apple or orange.  My Daddy and Mama were part of that generation and I wonder if that is why they were so generous to us?

Well, in that story I talked about my Daddy’s old 410 shotgun.  Every Christmas morning, long before sunrise, he or one of my older brothers would go on the back porch or the breezeway and shoot the old 410.  It was like firing the pistol at a horse race.  We knew it was time to race into the room to see what Santa had brought.  I mentioned in the story that I wasn’t sure who had the gun—this priceless family heirloom.  I knew it was somewhere but where?

While I had four brothers, five including me, there are only two of us left.  We are the bookends—he the oldest (soon to be 84) and me the youngest (a long way from 84).  Christmas night I received a message from my brother.  He wrote that he had read my story about Daddy’s old 410 and that I had mentioned that I didn’t know what had happened to it.  He shared with me that he had the gun.  Shortly after our Daddy died in 1974 it came into his possession and he had it ever since.  What he wrote next made the Christmas of 2020 one for the books.

My brother said, “Dewayne, I want you to have Daddy’s old 410.” 

My brother said, “Dewayne, I want you to have Daddy’s old 410.” I couldn’t believe it, so I read it again and I had indeed read the message correctly.  Tears instantly began streaming down my cheek as I shared the text with my wife, Judy. He said he had already talked to his son who was helping with his affairs and let him know his desire to pass it to me.  Well, Judy and I had already made plans to go to Cookeville, Tennessee right after Christmas so I told her that we needed to head to Jacksonville when we were done there so I could go and pick up the gun…and we did.

We drove hundreds of miles and a whole lot of hours to go get “the old 410.”  I couldn’t see the brother who had blessed me due to COVID, as he and his wife life in an assisted living home. I did get to sit and visit with his son who is only six years younger than me.  The gun (not a gun but THE gun) and that visit made every mile and every hour worthwhile.  If I am still alive when my brother passes, I will probably have the opportunity to share at his service.  I already am extremely thankful for him—his fingerprints are all over my life.  But that day I will share this story and how his thoughtfulness made the Christmas of 2020 one I will never forget.

The old 410 sits right to my left as I write this.  I showed it to my oldest grandson and his dad.  We always spend Christmas Eve night with them.  I smiled from ear to ear when my son-in-law leaned over and said, “Papa, you will have to bring the old 410 to our house next year so we can shoot it off Christmas morning.”  That sounds like a grand idea and if the Lord is willing that is exactly what we will do.

The Bible says that we shouldn’t withhold good from a person when it is within our power to grant it.  I am so grateful my brother didn’t wait.  He could have.  He could have passed it to someone else, but instead he chose his baby brother who just happened to write a story.  Me, my Daddy, my uncle and each of my brothers have hunted with this gun—it is a beautiful piece of our family legacy. It is now one of my most cherished possessions.

So, let’s watch for opportunities to bless someone when it is within our power.  I know Jesus was really good at that and if we are Jesus followers, well, we should follow His lead.  I wonder if the Whisperer whispered in my brother’s ear and he just listened.  I wouldn’t be surprised—he and Jesus are pretty tight.  And when it is our turn to be kind, well, don’t worry. He will whisper to you too, and rest assured He will give you the wisdom and ability you need.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, prayer, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Happy Birthday

This is the day the Lord has made; let’s rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

Today is my birthday.  Now wait.  That isn’t a hint for a gift.  It isn’t an invitation for a bunch of comments.  It is a statement of fact—and fascination.  You see, 67 years ago I was born.  I don’t say that because I remember, I say it because I am here…now.  I am amazed that over six and one-half decades have come and gone since Leslie, my mama, said to Alston, my daddy, “It’s time.”  She had already done this birthing thing seven times so I suppose it was just another day at the office by then.

Since the day I was born, I have been alive 24,473 days.  That means that 24,473 days the sun came up in the morning and went to bed at night.  It means 24,473 times God faithfully gave me a wakeup call.  One of my favorite verses in the Bible is the one that says this is the day that the Lord has made, so we should find joy in it and be glad for the opportunity.  24,473 times.  24,473 love notes from God that He thinks life should go on.

Now there are a bunch of those days that I don’t remember.  In fact, these days I don’t remember what happened yesterday. I find some humor that as a pastor I have to think about what I spoke about last week.  Sometimes it just slips my mind.  Oh course, the good news is that most people can’t remember what I said either.  One day all I will need is one sermon.  Together we will just hit the replay button.  But that day is not today.

Today I am so filled with gratitude with the incredible journey that God has allowed to play out in my life.  Not every day has been that good.  I mean, the days I woke up with the stomach flu didn’t make the top 1,000.  But it has been a great journey.  My childhood, or at least the part I remember, often causes me to smile.  The more I think of my Mama and Daddy, the more I appreciate them.  They were pretty ordinary folks but at the same time they were just extraordinary.

I think about the night in 1974 when I walked into that church in Valdosta, Georgia and saw “the girl” and I am grateful.  I have shared 44 of my 67 years with her and boy am I glad I decided to go to that church that night.  Our journey has been and is one adventure after another.  I’m hoping God decides to let us grow really old together—its gonna be a hoot for sure.  Throw in the mix the kids (including the ones who stole our daughter’s hearts) and the grandkids and, well, it is awesome.  Perfect? No.  But who said life has to be perfect to be amazing?

And, then there are the everyday people I have met and bumped into, especially as a teacher/pastor. If life was a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream and people were the toppings, it would be one fantastic, multi-flavored, rainbow colored sundae.  You know those things kids love to sprinkle on ice cream—all the different colors and flavors mixed together?  Well, that’s life and that’s people and that’s what makes it wonderfully unique.  Yep, it’s been a good ride.

It seems that life is like a really long stint in school.  Someone said all they needed to learn they learned in kindergarten.  I think that really is life—one big, long day in kindergarten—learning, playing, living—with a few skinned knees along the way.  I know this and yet I am still learning this.  Life is not a destination—it is a journey.  There is not some magic place we are going to arrive at one day and feel all warm and fuzzy and complete—well, unless you count heaven.  No, the joy of life is the journey.

No, the joy of life is the journey.

Dewayne Taylor

There it is. That is why we need to wake up every day, thank God for another love note, another opportunity to make an impact and be impacted.  That is why every day, regardless of how it plays out, is a gift.  The hard days are opportunities to learn those hard, but very valuable, lessons.  The good days when things just go amazingly well are like recess—or lunch.  The trick is learning to be grateful for both, because both are valuable.

At any rate—I’m grateful that at t-minus nine months Alston and Leslie decided one more couldn’t hurt.  I’m grateful that they decided I was a keeper—even if the table was a little full.  And if it isn’t your birthday today, go ahead and celebrate anyway.  Today is God’s decision that life should go on.  Today is His way of saying I love you.  Today, regardless of the circumstances, is an opportunity to believe that He is good, that He is faithful and that He can be trusted.  It is just one more opportunity to believe, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, New Year, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful

Watch the Small Print

Throw all your anxiety onto Him, because He cares about you.” — 1 Peter 5:7

Just pay a separate fee.  I’m a fan of the infomercials on television that you see all the time.  No, I’m not interested in the products and I don’t like the way they interrupt my viewing times. I like them because they are funny.  As you watch them, it is as if they had just discovered the fountain of youth. It is always something that they think I just can’t live without.  And, it is like they are my new very best friend.  They like me so much they are offering a deal that I just can refuse.

Sometimes it is a garden hose that expands like crazy when connected or shrinks up like a snake when it is isn’t.  Or maybe it is some miracle herbal supplement that is guaranteed to make me lose weight, or gain weight, or grow hair, or remove hair from where you don’t want it.  Regardless—they all carry a money back guarantee.  If you don’t like it…just send it back—minus shipping and handling and your firstborn.

My favorites are the ones that offer you two for the supposed price of one. That’s right folks because we like you so much, we are going to send you two of these amazing products—just let us know—and, of course, pay a separate fee. Wait. What?  If I am paying a separate fee isn’t that like walking into a donut shop and asking for two donuts and paying for both?  Or maybe going into Best Buy and them saying we are not going to sell you one television today, but two. All you have to do is pay a separate fee. I think that is called two for the price of two.

Then of course there is the small print.  On most screens there are like fifteen lines of extremely small print.  We are going to send you a two-week supply of this amazing product that will cause you to grow six inches overnight—and it is free.  What you can’t read is the small print that says if you don’t cancel in five minutes and speak fluent Swahili then the deal is off.  I remember we were driving back from somewhere on a trip listening to a radio show that I trusted.  They were offering a two-week supply of this amazing herbal deal that would help me lose weight.  Well, I needed to lose weight and there was no risk, right?  Well, a month later I was fighting a $69.99 charge on my credit card.  Oh, the small print.

I saw a commercial today for those amazing HD Tactical Sunglasses on television.  They made them sound like they would cause the blind to see. Well, I bought some at a local store and they didn’t exactly live up to all the hype.  In fact, they were so dark I couldn’t see anything—in HD, SD or any other D. They are in the car waiting for a return trip to the store.  The bottom line is if it sounds too good to be true…it probably is.  And it seems the more the hype—the greater the chance that it is full of hot air and not so true promises…except one.

The exception to this rule is one you won’t find on television.  That one exception is God. Here’s the deal.  He never makes a promise He won’t keep and He’s not big on the small print.  He lays it all out and there is no separate fee.  In fact, His gift of love and forgiveness comes prepaid—no shipping and no handling. I need to be honest and tell you that sometimes folks speaking for God like to make promises on His dime and then God gets the bad rap.  But there’s an answer for that too.  Just get a copy of His Word and check it out for yourself.  Like I said…He lays it out and it is a deal you just shouldn’t pass up.

As we begin this New Year, here’s some great advice.  First, record your favorite shows on the DVR and watch them later when you can fast forward through the commercials.  You can save yourself a chunk of time and if you are tempted by those outrageous claims in the commercials, you might save a few bucks too. Second, tune in to God.  He’s good, He’s faithful and He can be trusted.  Notice, by the way, that I didn’t say religion—I said God.  He has a great “no extra fee” offer.  He says, “Throw all your anxiety onto me, because I care about you.” And do you know what?  He really does.  There is nothing that He and you are going to face that He can’t handle.  Rest assured, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, food, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, New Year, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

Ralph’s

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

It was donut heaven.  Judy and I took a trip to middle Tennessee to do some hiking and be amazed all over again at the wonder of God’s creation.  We stayed in the small city of Cookeville which is about an hour east of Nashville.  We had driven by there many times on our way to Pigeon Forge and points east but never stopped.  And for some reason…this time it was our destination. It was wonderful.

Within a few minutes driving time were some of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen.  One, Fall Creek Falls, is the tallest falls east of the Rockies—256 feet of free falling water.  Then there was Burgess Falls which had not one, but three separate falls…each one more spectacular than the one before.  Finally we drove over to Rock Island State Park and were amazed by a river that fell and fell and fell—each time creating a beautiful waterfall.  Then, coming out of caves in a huge, high bluff was a massive waterfall falling into the river.  Unbelievable. I would think God would get a 10 for all the beauty that we have seen.  And then…there was Ralph’s.

When we stay at an Airbnb, we always check out all the literature that the host leaves to make the visit more enjoyable.  We also check out comments in the guest book for tidbits of information.  That is where we heard about Ralph’s.  Three different previous guests mentioned this mom and pop donut shop in downtown Cookeville.  We had to visit.  To not do so would have been a travesty of donut-ism.  So we were on our way on Monday morning when Judy checked their website.  Oh no…closed on Mondays.  We had to wait another day.

Tuesday morning after planning our hikes for the day, we headed to Ralph’s Donut Shop to ensure we had plenty of calories on hand for our journey.  When we arrived it was indeed an ordinary mom and pop donut shop.  But trust me…it was anything but ordinary.  The first thing I noticed was the sign stating that they had been open since 1962.  Do the math and you will find out that they have been making donuts for 58 years—in the donut world that’s like forever.  And then—we opened the door.

It was donut heaven.  I know that to be true because so many things in the case were “holey.” Get it?  Anyway, to my left was a horseshoe shaped counter with almost every stool filled with locals enjoying coffee and pastries.  There was a long glass case and a whole wall filled with pastries and donuts.  And there to greet us was the best donut salesman in the world.  You could tell this guy loved his job and was “in the right seat on the bus.”  Judy and I use that phrase to describe someone who is doing what they were meant to do.  This guy was meant to work at Ralph’s.  The first thing my eye spotted was the royalty of pastries—the fried apple fritter.  It was massive, fried crispy, covered with glaze with the middle stuffed with apple filling.  One please.

Then the sales guy told us the fritter was their best seller until the butter twist came along.  It was a fried donut but the twist was they brushed it with butter before cooking.  He said it was voted the number one donut in the entire state of Tennessee.  I’m sure he was telling the truth.  Two please.  Judy wanted something chocolate.  No problem—a butter twist with chocolate frosting should do the trick.  One please.  Then I asked about this chocolate creation on the top shelf.  It was a devil’s food mix and saturated with chocolate.  He said it was diabetes on a plate and should come with a shot of insulin.  We passed on that one. His final gift was a spice bar that was broken in two, so it was free.  He said it was as if Little Debbie married gingerbread and had a baby.  I loved it.

Judy and I had read that they closed at 11:30 so we assumed 11:30 am but we asked anyway.  Oh no…they have three shifts of bakers and are open from 5:00 am till 11:30 pm.  Now who has ever heard of a donut shop staying open that long—and they are doing quite well, thank you.  Oh, and did I mention that they are listed in the top 20 donut bakeries in the entire United States?  Oh, yes…it was donut heaven and it was “holey” ground.

Well, there is one thing that was obvious at Ralph’s—they were all in.  They knew their product, they believed in their product and they wanted to share their product.  Even if you didn’t like donuts, you wanted to buy one by the time you left.  You wanted what they had because it had to be worth having.  I have a feeling that we as Jesus followers should take a lesson from Ralph’s.  We know we have the best thing in all of creation to offer those in our world—the good news of Jesus Christ.  Donuts may be “holey” but Jesus can make us holy—holy enough to call God, Father—holy enough to go to heaven.  And Ralph’s may have been making donuts for 58 years but God has been loving us since before the foundation of the world.  He wants to walk with us through this New Year and every year.  He is a beyond amazing God.

Since He is so incredible—if we love Him, if we believe in Him—we should be all in too.  We should live like we believe and share the Word about Him like we believe it.  I left Ralph’s wanting to tell people about this amazing place.  I think we need to get up every morning wanting to tell everyone the great Good News.  On this first day of this great New Year let’s figuratively get behind the counter—not to sell donuts but to share the Good News. And what is that? It is that God, Creator God, so loved this world that gave His Son to a Roman cross that anyone who believes in Him and what He did—can have everlasting life.  And that is the best news ever.  Oh and then there is more.  No matter what today or this year sends our way, we have the assurance that He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, New Year, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

James

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD and He delights in his way.  And even if he falls, he will not be utterly cast down because He upholds him with His strong hand.” Psalm 37:23-24

The other day we were down at my daughter’s house who lives near Murray, Kentucky.  They have blessed us with two of our eight grandchildren and if you know anything about grandkids they are just a bunch of fun.  Matt and Jen live in the country near Kentucky Lake and my wife Judy decided we needed to take a walk.  Now if you know Judy you know she believes that people build houses for essentially one reason—to sleep in.  If you aren’t sleeping, you need to be doing something—outside.  Period.

So, naturally, we took a walk.  I was with my grandson James and we were having an adventure.  Soon we were walking hand in hand.  Now, James, who is six, is a very thoughtful young man.  So, eventually, he asks me, “Papa, what is your real name?”  Now I knew what he was asking but why not have some fun when you can?  So, I told him my name was Papa.  “No” he said firmly, “your real name.”  Well, I gave in and told him it was Dewayne.

He took a shot at pronouncing it and got real close.  I thought that might be the end, but no, the best was yet to come.  He then asked me, “Papa (he didn’t try Dewayne) how old are you?  Well, that was a good question, so I gave him the answer.  “James,” I said, “I am almost 67 years old.” Again, almost without hesitation he said, “Papa, you’re almost dead.” I died laughing—no pun intended.  The Bible mentions something about out of the mouth of babes, truth comes, and I guess truth be known…there’s a lot more days behind me than before me.

Another of my favorite James stories occurred several years ago. Judy and I drove down to Vienna to Jon and Becca’s house and the Johnson clan drove up from Murray. Everyone was there with the exception of Sarah and Blake who at that time were stationed in Savanah, Georgia.  The occasion for us getting together was my oldest granddaughter’s 15th birthday. So, anyway, it is always more fun when the grandkids are around. If you just wait you will learn something—or at least get a good subject for a sermon or a story. The latter was true in this case!

The family had migrated to the basement and only James and I were left upstairs.  So, I said to James (who was two at the time), “Come on, James, let’s go to the basement.”  We headed toward the stairs and I wisely offered my hand and he even more wisely took it. The wisdom of that decision became apparent quickly. Now James was and is, all boy.  As we headed down the stairs, he didn’t go slowly or carefully—he literally headed down.  I mean, full speed, Katie-bar-the-door down.  As we started down, he performed a combination of running, jumping, and skipping maneuvers.  Stairs were missed but hey, who cares, it was fun.  Let me just say I was glad that I had a good grip on him because if I hadn’t, well, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

We made it somewhat safely to the bottom of the stairs and I had to share the story and we all had a good laugh.  But later, as I pondered how that all played out, it made me appreciate God in a whole new way.  I freshly realized how glad I am that God has a good grip on my hand.  As I charge head first into life, especially in years like 2020, if He didn’t have ahold of me—well, it just wouldn’t be pretty.  But just like I held onto James, so God has ahold of me.  Only eternity will tell how many times He saved me from pain and suffering and the consequences of thousands of bad decisions.

Years ago, while reading the Bible, a passage jumped off the pages and into my life.  It said, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD and He delights in his way.  And even if he falls, he will not be utterly cast down because He upholds him with His strong hand.” That is such powerful truth.  The fact that God directs my steps, that the path He chooses for me is cause for Him to delight and that when I fall, He’s got me…well, that is good, good news.  And the best part is, it is true.

As we get ready to leap into 2021, it’s good to know that we can have someone like God holding our hand.  If you are a Jesus follower you know all about that and, if you aren’t yet, He is just waiting for you to take the leap of faith. Why not give Him a try?  God’s not big about denominations or even religion but He is real big about loving you and He wants to walk with you in this New Year.  James didn’t know too much about stairs when he took the plunge, but his Papa did.  James could rest assured that when it came to stairs…Papa had it all under control.  And when it comes to life, we can rest assured that our Dearest Daddy knows all about life and has it all under control.  You might say, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, New Year, Southern born, thankful

New Year’s Eve Eve

And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” Ezra 3:11

We weren’t famous but we had fun.  I was fortunate to have what a lot of kids never did. First, I know that not everybody did or does the church thing…and certainly not all teenagers but when I was growing up it seemed a lot more kids did.  I went to the same church from the time I was about 10 until I joined the Air Force at age 18.  We had the most incredible youth group you could imagine.  We were all good friends and it seemed we did everything together.  Almost every Friday or Saturday night we had a party at someone’s house.  It was some kind of cookout and always involved some kind of crazy game. Personally, I was partial to spin-the-bottle.  Smile.

Music was a huge part of our teen years.  Again, it was a different time but I believe our group was special.  We would rush through our Sunday night Bible study just so we could sit in a room and sing four-part harmony.  We weren’t the Tabernacle Choir but we sounded pretty good and better than that—we loved it.  After church it would be a trip to Frosty’s or one of the local pizza places.  I believe that a lot of who I am today came from that group and the awesome leaders who poured into our lives.  Musically that would be Lloyd and Jane.  She was the church pianist and he was the music director.  They loved Jesus, loved music and loved kids—in that order.  And that is how it all started.

It had to be Lloyd and Jane that came up with the idea of forming a four part quartet.  Now you have to understand in the late sixties and very early seventies, two things were huge: church softball and gospel music.  So, it probably seemed more natural than not.  Four of us young men, Doug, David, Steve and myself, formed a quartet with Melody on the piano.  After a contest to find a name we became…drumroll please, “The Youngmun”. Lloyd and Jane took us under their wing and taught us how to sing parts, add tone and balance and after a while we sounded decent.  Then, we started getting gigs—opportunities to sing.  Sometimes it was Friday nights, sometimes Saturday nights and sometimes Sunday afternoons with a sprinkling of times in-between.

We just had a great time. We loved to sing and were really good friends.  One of the Bible guys said that we should sing responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” And do you know what?  We tried to do exactly that. Well, eventually we went our separate ways, but the memories still live in my heart.  And that is the reason for this story.

You see, back then there were things called “all night singings”.  You can guess what it was by the title.  While they were held at different times the all-time favorite was New Year’s Eve.  Churches or groups of churches would book groups and they would literally sing all night long.  More than once we sang very late or very early—depending on your perspective.  And amazingly, people came and people stayed.

Well, times have changed.  I rarely hear of gospel concerts like the ones from days gone by.  I know there are some but not to the level of those days.  I don’t miss staying up all night—these days if I make it to 10:00pm I am doing really good.  The ball may fall in Times Square but it does it without me!  But I do miss the way we started out the New Year.  Being with a bunch of people who loved Jesus and loved music was pretty cool.  Song after song spoke in poetic ways of God’s incredible love for us and the hope of tomorrow and the day after that “Because He Lives.”

You know, it probably wouldn’t work today to try and have an all-night singing, but do you know what would work?  This New Year’s Eve maybe we could, maybe we should, take some time to thank God for all the blessings He sent in 2020.  Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking He went on strike.  Oh no, His blessings, His love notes were everywhere.  They always say the most powerful person in the room is the guy with the microphone.  Well, we all know too often that person didn’t shout the most encouraging news in 2020.  In fact, I’m not sure they could spell encouraging. 

But I do know this.  No matter what 2021 holds, if we choose to follow the God who made it all, if we will trust and believe, no matter what—I think we will find that it’s gonna be a great year.  We may not always get exactly what we want from God, but we always get what is exactly right for us.  Someone said He is too wise to make a mistake and too good to be unkind.  I know, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but He loves us—a lot.  How much—enough to plan Christmas and Easter—and that is a lot. So, I don’t know your plans for New Year’s Eve but I hope it includes Him…the God who wants to be your Father—your Dearest Daddy.  I hope it will include some quiet time so that you two can chat as the Whisper whispers His love in your ear. Listen as He speaks those three precious words, “I’ve got this.” 

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, priorities, thankful

Happy

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy.” Psalm 30:11

Just a heads up. Christmas trees. They all have their own time to be setup. They all have their own design and style.  They all have their time when they are trashed or stowed.  There is a common denominator.  Those three things are determined by the creators, the admirers of the trees.  That is what makes every tree special. At our house, we do something just a bit different.  We have four trees that make a small, enchanted forest of sorts.  The tallest is about six foot and the smallest is about 30 inches.  It was an idea that I came up with several years ago and we love it.  They are decorated with a wide variety of ornaments and keepsakes from over the decades…and we love that too.

On one tree, we have a styrofoam snowman’s head that was made by my sister when she was in the third grade…and trust me…that was a really, long time ago.  There is a glitter covered cross from when my wife Judy was in the fourth grade.  Of course, there are three “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments—one for each of our daughters.  There is a 3×5 index card with two buttons on it.  Written, by my oldest granddaughter when she was about 5 years old, is her name over one button and Papa written over the other.  It is priceless.  We were buddies…we are buddies. And on and on it goes…families, friends, and special memories all gathered in one place.

So, by now you are wondering, “Why are you writing about Christmas trees after Christmas has past?”  It’s a bit of a story. When we were in Germany in 1979 we lived in base housing.  They were large, four story apartment buildings, with three stairwells—all full of military families.  We were on the top floor and we had one neighbor across the hall and they actually had a phone in their home.  One year, near Easter, I needed to use the phone so I knocked on the door and his wife came to the door.  I asked if I could use their phone and she was kind enough to say yes.

As I entered their apartment, I noticed one thing right away.  Sitting in their living room was their Christmas tree in all of its splendor.  Now, keep in mind it was right before Easter.  I made my call and just had to ask the obvious question.  I politely said, “So why do you still have your Christmas tree up?”  And, without missing a beat, she said, “It makes me happy.”  I never forgot that simple answer and the great truth it taught me.  It.Makes.Me.Happy.

I love the fact that this sweet lady made a decision not based on popular opinion, not on what the masses did, not the usual.  She made a decision based on what was good for her—for her mental health.  I didn’t think her odd at all—rather, I thought her strong and wise.  I wonder how many decisions we make every day that are not based on what may be good for us but based on what the Smiths or Jones might think of us? I wonder how many things we wear, or eat, or watch, or do, that are based on the opinion of others?  I wonder how many of our faith decisions are based on the same?  Church—no church. Kindness—no kindness. Love—no love. Jesus—no Jesus. Hmmmm. I just wonder.

Well anyway, if you live around Harrisburg, Illinois you need to know something.  For the next few weeks or so, you are going to see a small, enchanted forest in our front bay window.  It will be four trees starting at about six feet tall and going down to 30 inches.  If you could get close enough you would see the trees covered with special ornaments—and almost everyone would represent a special memory or event.  And why will it be there?  Well, Miss Judy said, “Dewayne, it makes me happy” and I have to agree.  So this year, we are doing something counter-cultural and leaving them up past Christmas, when most folks will have theirs stowed or tossed.

In these coming days, we will drink coffee and do our Jesus things like reading the Bible or praying and occasionally we will look up and be happy—happy for all the blessings that God has sent our way.  Someone writing about God in His Book said that God had turned their mourning into joyful dancing. He had taken away their clothes of mourning and clothed them with joy. I couldn’t agree more.  Even in this COVID-19 hot mess, even in a year that did not live up to its name—2020—and even when a future is still not very certain, we will have happy moments.  We will pause and thank God that in the past He always showed up and today and all the today’s yet to come…He’s got this. 

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, priorities, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials

Post-Christmas Blues

But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

There is a blue Christmas and then there are the post-Christmas blues.  Elvis made the first one famous with his smooth, crooning voice.  It spoke of someone who had lost their sweetie and all the lights, music, and decorations in the world couldn’t overcome their blue world.  In reality, there are lots of things that can make Christmas a little blue. But just a glance at the calendar can bring on the post-Christmas blues.  This is a real deal.  It is that feeling that you have when you wake up the day after Christmas and realize the thing you had looked forward to for weeks is fading fast in the rearview mirror.

I was sitting on the couch with one of my grandsons and he made a comment about the fact that he was going to be a sad tomorrow (the day after Christmas).  So, of course, I had to ask him why.  He told me it was because it was going to be such a long time till Christmas came back again.  Well, with all my Papa wisdom, I tried to explain how time seemed to go by faster when you get older, so it seemed that Christmas came all the time.  I’m pretty sure he gave me one of those, “you’ve got to be kidding me” looks. At any rate, I know one thing.  The post-Christmas blues aren’t as severe the older you get.

I can well remember when I was younger and our kids were younger and the hype for Christmas was somewhere off the scale and the day after Christmas was almost tragic.  Well, actually it probably didn’t kick in for a day or two later because you had the excitement of returning all the things that “didn’t work.”  That usually included clothes from loved ones who obviously didn’t know how much you weigh.  But sooner or later, the blues would come.

One of the newest rages in outdoor Christmas decorating says it best.  You have probably seen the giant blowup characters that people put in their yards these days.  There is every kind of blowup you can imagine.  Giant Santas, reindeer, elves, candy canes, snow globes, and everything in between will fill the yards in the neighborhood. But have you ever noticed those same decorations in the daylight?  To save energy and extend the life of the decorations, most of them are on a timer.  During the day what is brightly lit and full of life (ok, air) at night are deflated and lying on the ground. Deflated and flat.

Well, that is sometimes how the post-Christmas blues feel.  But there is an answer. So what if we concentrate on what Christmas is all about anyway?  What if instead of focusing on what is going to the attic, we focus on what doesn’t?  Things like family.  The same family you loved on December 24th or 25th will still need your love in the days that follow.  The same things that made you smile before Christmas may give you a reason to smile later.  The beautiful lights may be gone but what about that beautiful sunset last night? Sounds like a fair trade to me!  In fact, God says in His Book, “But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Sounds good to me.

And, if you just happen to be a Jesus follower, well, the same Jesus that you celebrated Christmas Day is still going to be there.  The same church service that made you feel so warm on Christmas Eve will happen in one form or another in the weeks to come.  You see, if you think about it, the parts we love best about Christmas don’t need to go to the attic.  They can live on in our lives today and every day.  It all has to do with perspective. As we journey in the days to come, make it a point to look and to see, for so many of the things all around us seem to say, “Joy to the world, the Lord has some.” Oh, to be sure, there are plenty of things around that can deflate you faster than pulling the plug on one of those yard decorations.  But we get to choose what we focus on.

At our Christmas Eve service I said that we get to choose which bells we are going to listen to—the tolling bells of despair or the pealing bells of joy.  While we don’t get to choose our circumstances, we do get to choose how we respond to them. Someone said that 2020 might be just a dress rehearsal for 2021.  Well, maybe, but I don’t believe it.  But if it is…well, we are going to be better prepared and we are going to do better at hearing the right bells and seeing the sights and sounds of a God that is bigger than our circumstances. As we leave this Christmas in the rearview mirror, let’s get ready for the hope of what’s ahead.  After all, He’s got this.

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, Military memories, priorities, Southern born, thankful, USA

Care Packages

Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!”
2 Corinthians 9:15

You never knew when they were coming.  When God and the Air Force decided to send us to Germany—well, it was an exciting adventure that we just thoroughly enjoyed.  But there was a downside…we were a long way from home…a real long way.  We were there from 1977 to 1980, we were young, and we were newlyweds.  Back then there were no cell phones and a landline call to the States was hugely expensive, so that just didn’t happen.  There was no internet.  The world moved at the speed of ship or a plane if you were lucky. The only option was snail mail and well, that could take a while.

Sometimes during the year, our parents would send us a box through the mail.  We called them “care packages.”  The reason was that when one came it was clear that someone back in the United States loved us and they cared—about us.  That was important because as much as we loved being there—there wasn’t home—or anywhere close to home.

There were two times a year that you could almost always count on a care package—that was somewhere around your birthday and then Christmas.  I can still feel the excitement as the days clicked by.  We didn’t know when, but we just knew that my Mama or Judy’s Mama would spend the money and equally as important take the time to say, “I love you.”  We would go to the Post Office every day, looking for the yellow slip in our mailbox that said, “You have a package.”  Instantly it was like Christmas Day.

We would open the box that day—that hour if possible.  There would be wrapped presents and those we would save till the special day.  But there would always be just stuff—candy, trinkets, small things that could only be gotten in America.  Sometimes there were home baked goodies and even if they were stale by then—they were still from home and we gladly ate them.

The care packages were an important link to home for us.  Like I said, it told us that someone was thinking of us—that we had not been forgotten.  What we need to realize, especially this morning, is that God is the greatest sender of care packages.  His ultimate gift, His Son, made the way so broken people like us could not only come into the presence of Holy God but that we could call Him Father.  The Jewish people could never understand that.  To them God was a far off, unapproachable deity that they worshiped.  But for Jesus followers—well we know Him as Dearest Daddy and that is not a term of disrespect or looseness—it is a term of His love for us and our love for Him.

Even in the midst of this incredibly difficult year, God has continued to send His care packages along the way.  The Bible tells us this day, and every day, is a day that He made.  He makes the air that we breathe. Everything…everything…that we eat, enjoy or own is a care package from Him.  Every sunrise and sunset, every perfectly different snowflake is a care package from Him.  And every single night that I lay my head down on my pillow in the peace He provides—well, that’s a care package too.

Now to be honest, sometimes we would get things in our care packages from home and wonder “what in the world they were thinking”.  I’m sure Judy and I laughed at more than few.  But do you know what?  Those things were notes of love too.  And the things that God allows and sends our way that we don’t understand—well, each one in its own way is a care package.

Well, the days of care packages are gone for us though we occasionally get one via UPS or Amazon Prime.  But they are rarely the same as days gone by.  But the care packages from God never change—He still sends them—every day—sometimes every minute.  He just loves us so much.  I hope regardless of your circumstances that you will make the choice to trust Him and to wait expectantly for His care packages.  Keep looking, keep waiting because each one tells us, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, priorities, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Christmas Morning Wake-Up Call

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Romans 13:11

We were the three little ones.  Mama and Daddy either by plan or accident ended up with a big family.  They had five reasonably close together and then took a break before finishing up the family with three more.  The three little ones consisted of two girls and one boy.  I was the boy and as the baby in the family, I was the best.  They called me “Precious”, because I was.  Smile.

The story isn’t about that, but I love stirring the pot.  The way it worked out at Christmas, the five older kids entered the world of nonbelievers long before we three.  I’m sure because one of my sister-in-laws said she changed my diapers.  But for the three little ones, Christmas was a magical world of believing and receiving.

On Christmas Eve night, we three were put into one bedroom.  The main part of the house only had two, so it seemed logical.  About 8:00 pm, Mama and Daddy would put us in the bedroom to “go to sleep” but of course that never happened.  We would lie in bed, whispering and giggling.  At some point, we would begin hearing strange noises coming from the living room.  I remember one year my sister asked for a “chord organ.” Imagine our excitement when, as we were “asleep,” we begin to hear musical sounds coming through the thin walls.  We couldn’t wait.  We would holler out and tell lies.  We would say, “We have to go to the bathroom.”  Of course, we didn’t, but we would do anything to “sneak a peek.”

Eventually, and it varied from year to year, we would doze off to sleep.  And yes, there were visions of sugar plums dancing in our head. I am sure we woke up several times throughout the night to check the clock and it was always too early.  But we would know when it was time to get up.  The “410” would tell us.  You see my Daddy owned an old single shot 410 shotgun and every year that became our alarm clock.  Daddy, or one of the old brothers, would open the backdoor of the breezeway, stick the gun out and let her go.  The window where we were sleeping was right beside that door, so we had no problem hearing old Bessie when the time came. And, trust me, when the gun went off, we were up and running.

The door would fly open and we would turn right into the living room and there would be a wonderland of toys and presents.  Our stockings would be stuffed to overflowing and we, well, we were amazed.  As we sifted through the piles of gifts and as the piles of used wrapping paper grew taller, it was heaven—at least to the three little ones.  I remember my sister-in-law, the same one that changed my diapers, took on the responsibility of going through all that paper to make sure some tiny, but important, part didn’t get accidentally thrown out.

The “410” became an heirloom in the family and I’m not sure who ended up with her. She had killed her fair share of squirrels but the most important thing, in my opinion, was that she let us know it was time for Christmas.  It was time to get up. I think that is one thing I have learned through this COVID-19 hot mess.  You might say it was a 410 of sorts.  When it started in-mass to impact us, it sent a message loud and clear that it was time for some changes.  It was time for new priorities.  It was time to make time for the things that matter, like family, and time to let go of a lot of stuff. It was time to make every day matter because for too many—there wouldn’t be another day.

Hopefully, and I think the jury is still out, it will be remembered as a time when a lot of people discovered or rediscovered God. A time that, for the first time, many could call Him Father.  Hopefully, and I also think the jury is still out, it will be remembered as a time that the church rediscovered what it was supposed to be and do.  Maybe it will be known as a time when the church stopped being a building at a certain address and became a people who still met in a building but then left to touch the lives of hurting people.  A “410” of sorts that heralded the Good News of God’s love.

The old “410” let us three little ones know it was time to wake up and the Bible says it is time for the church to do the same thing.  It says that we Jesus followers should know the time, that the hour has come for us to wake from sleep. The reason? Our salvation is nearer to us now then when we first believed. In other words—wake up sleepy head—it is Christmas morning—time to rise and shine.  Rise and shine—that sometimes is easier said than done but I have a suspicion that with His help—we can shine for Him—letting others know loud and clear that, “He’s got this.”