Posted in Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, Scripture, Southern born, travel, wisdom

Bruiser

The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.” Proverbs 13:20

I saw it coming.  I never saw it coming.  Both are true, and the truth is, it didn’t matter. So about a month ago now, two-thirds of the family (that would be two of my three daughters and their families) were able to jail break and go to Florida for a week.  The middle daughter had been going to the Palm Coast of Florida for the last several years and she suggested we give it a try. I was a reluctant participant.

You see, I was raised on the Northeast coast of Florida.  My growing up years consisted of regular trips to the beach.  Many years later I discovered the Gulf coast with its sugary white sands and clear blue-green waters and I was sold.  Because of this, I wasn’t overly excited when the plans for the East coast were drafted.  However, having done life being the only male in the house (there was my wife, three daughters, a girl dog, a girl cat or two and six female tropical fish.  Even the mice in the barn were girls.) I realized that resistance was futile.  So off to the East coast we went.

I was pleasantly surprised.  We were about an hour or so South of Jacksonville (where I was raised) in a nice condominium complex. We shared the place with our middle daughter and family and it was just perfect.  It overlooked the golf course with a great view of the ocean.  The grounds were well maintained and it had two very nice pools—one family and one for the adults who liked things a little quieter.  The normal vacation crowd was much smaller and that was good news given the COVID thing. The only problem was “they” were there.

“They” were waves.  Pretty big waves.  You see on the Gulf side you usually have little friendly waves.  The waves gently bump into you and seem to say, “Hi, we are glad you are here.”  The waves in the Atlantic are from the Southside of Chicago.  They are gangster waves. When we went to the beach they were waiting.  This is the part I remember from my growing up and from one or two vacations from earlier years.  You can hear them before you see them.  They are inviting you into the water—so they can bully you.

Anyway, we get to the beach and you know they didn’t look too intimidating.  I mean they weren’t gentle “hey, glad you are here waves” but they weren’t “terminator” waves either.  We set our stuff down on the beach and off we went into the water.  First, I tested the waves with a knee deep stand.  Not bad.  Then I went a little deeper.  Still not too bad but I could begin to feel them.  They wanted me.  They had my number.

I was out in waist deep water and realized the power of perception.  Those waves that didn’t seem so big from shore were all of a sudden larger—much larger.  I turned to talk to Judy who was close by and looked back just in time to see a large wave coming.  Fortunately, I was able to keep my footing and survived the onslaught.  I smiled.  My sunglasses were still on my face and my hat was still on my head.  I was an overcomer.  Who’s the man now?! That’s when “Bruiser” came.

“Bruiser” was epic, “Bruiser” had one goal in mind—take me down.  I saw him coming but it was too late.  “Bruiser” was well over my head and broke right on top of me.  One minute I was standing and the next minute I was in a washing machine of ocean water…in the spin cycle.  When I came to surface, of which I was very grateful, “Bruiser” had moved on.  My swim shirt was over my head, my hat was gone and my pride and body were a little bruised.  He had won. I had taken on the big boy and come up short.  Probably worse of all my Seattle hat, the one I had worn for several years was lost to the jaws of “Bruiser.”   He never had a chance.  May he rest in peace.

Well, one time in the spin cycle was enough for me that day. And somewhat gratefully I was glad to learn that others in the family had suffered similar fates. Even the son-in-laws got bowled over a time or two. Hats and sunglasses were lost but what was found was the joy of being with family.  We had a good time.

I did learn, or perhaps more accurately, relearn a lesson about the waves of the Atlantic.  They can be pretty powerful.  Usually there is a flag system that warns of particularly rough waves.  Our beach didn’t have that, but I later heard on the news there had been some big waves.  Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.  Sometimes they manage to sneak in but even when you see them coming, they can take you down.

Life is the same way.  A day at life’s beach can quickly turn into a spin cycle of ocean water.  We can get bowled over by circumstances, uncertainties, tragedies and pandemics. Even when we see them coming, they can be overwhelming.  After my encounter with “Bruiser” that day, I decided it was time to visit the pool—eventually all of us did.  The Bible says, “The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.”  Translated another way that means there is a time to swim in the ocean and there is a time to head to the pool. Wisdom is knowing when to do what. Wisdom is also knowing that no matter what life throws at you, we can rest in the One who makes the waves because He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, July 4, life, Military memories, Scripture, thankful

John Ellis Believed

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.” Psalm 33:12

I couldn’t believe it.  Last night Judy and I decided to go out to eat.  We do that a lot on Thursday nights.  We went to one of our favorite restaurants (dining inside, thank-you) and then visited Sam’s Club to see if we needed to buy something that we didn’t need.  Then we headed for 217 back in Harrisburg.  As we were driving down the highway, Willie started singing in my head again, “On the road again, that’s where I long to be, on the road again.” So it was time for a spur of the moment adventure.

As we approached an intersection we had passed a hundred times before, I asked Judy, “Where does this road go?”  It said Creal Springs so we just turned and decided to take a little side trip.  We were driving along just enjoying the lush greenness of the warm summer evening and I thought I saw one of those “brown signs.”  These signs usually indicate a place of special interest.  As I went by I thought I saw the words cemetery and Revolutionary War. I went down the road just a ways and then told Judy I saw a sign for a cemetery…perhaps an old one.  I turned around.

Back down the road, there was indeed a sign. We pulled off the road and it said, “Ellis Family Cemetery and Revolutionary War gravesite.  What?  Can’t be!  The crazy part was there was no road just a driveway.  Well, after a bit of hesitation, we decided to give it a try.  Sure enough, the driveway went between two houses which led to a pasture.  Way at the back of the pasture we could see a small cemetery.  There wasn’t a road but I could see where a car had gone before.  Off we went.

When we got there, we found the gravesite of John Ellis.  He was born in 1754 and died in 1850.  He lived for 96 years and he fought in the American Revolutionary War.  He had two monuments.  One was much newer, one much older.  The older one simply said, “For Military Merit” and someone had painted his name on it.  I was overwhelmed.  Here in Southern Illinois was the grave of a man, a hero, who fought for the birth of our country. Amazing.

This man was there; this man was on the battlefield when a group of men and women declared our freedom from England.  This.man.was.there.  He put it all on the line for a cause greater than himself.  And for the last 244 years that is what freedom loving American heroes have done.  Through conflicts great and small they have served, they have bled and many have died.  I value the saying, “All gave some, some gave all.” I value the sacrifice of all these freedom fighters through the centuries and decades.  I also love what they fought for.

Right now is a difficult time for our nation but we have seen difficult times before. At his first inauguration on March 4, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt said this. “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Don’t rush past those words.  They are powerful and they are worth believing.

I believe in this country.  I believe even with all its warts and imperfections it is still the best country in the world.  Having visited well over twenty other countries I’ve seen the competition and America wins hands down.  I spent an Independence Day in basic training for the Air Force in 1972. Lights-out was about 8:00 pm and I was lying in my bunk when the fireworks starting going off.  I crept out of bed and went to the window and watched as the fireworks exploded in the Texas sky.  Two emotions came over me.  One, I missed family.  Somewhere in Florida they were celebrating freedom. The other though was more personal.  I was becoming an American airman serving my country.  I was one of her defenders and I was proud…proud to serve and proud to be an American.

So, please, don’t blow past Independence Day tomorrow and certainly don’t give up on America.  We have weathered many storms and we can weather this one…if we do what we have done in the past and that is trust God.  It is no accident that we have fought and won, it is no accident that we have survived and even thrived for the past 244 years.  It was more than American determination…it was and is the grace of God.

The Book says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.”  That is so true.  As a nation when we choose God, when we choose to make Him ours, we do better.  When we don’t, we don’t.  It is just that simple.  It isn’t politically correct these days but the bottom line is…its true.  The second part of that verse is equally important. God is still inviting, calling people to be His.  Skin color doesn’t matter, economic status doesn’t matter, creed doesn’t matter.  He simply invites every man, woman, and child to be His.  The decision is individual. So, God bless America.  If you are a God follower, a God believer, start the day tomorrow with a whispered prayer of thanks for this great country.  And then, pause, be still and listen for surely the Whisperer will whisper.  He may speak through His Word, He may speak through another person or a beautiful sunrise or sunset.  Regardless, He will whisper, “You can rest in Me.  I’ve got this.” 

Posted in Family, Father's Day, Grace, gratitude, life

Daddy

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12

He didn’t wear a cape or an iron suit but he was a hero to me.  A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I was born.  It all happened on January 6, 1954 in Orange Park, Florida.  I was number eight in a family of eight. This can’t be confirmed but I think it went something like this.  My daddy was somewhat of a perfectionist and he and my mom had tried seven times to have the perfect child.  He went to my mom and said, “Well, honey, I know we have tried seven times to pull off this perfect child thing and I say we give it one more shot.  I really think eight is going to be our lucky number.”  So, ta-da here I am…living proof that persistence pays off.

My daddy was 42 years old when I was born.  He had plenty of experience at the Father thing and you know, I think he did a great job.  I don’t recall a lot of special events in my early and later childhood but that isn’t because they didn’t happen.  I can remember family camping trips to the beach as well as all night fishing trips to the same.  I can remember family vacations to see relatives in all the hot vacation spots like New Jersey and Texas.  I can remember trips to Silver Springs, Six Gun Territory and Doctor’s Inlet which was a great place to go for a lake swim.  But there are also several memories with just dad and me.

When I was about six, daddy took me fishing on Cedar Creek.  It was just me and him.  At this age, I wasn’t very good at fishing or paying attention.  Truth be known I had a hard time staying focused on anything for very long.  Anyway, the fish were biting that day but I had a hard time watching the bobber.  Over and again, daddy would ask, “Dewayne, where’s your bobber?”  I would look and it was gone.  We lost a lot of good worms that day.

Later, when I was about ten, daddy took me hunting.  The big deal was that he allowed me to take my BB gun.  I wasn’t allowed to carry a real gun; you will see why in a moment.  So, we were walking through the woods and I was about four feet behind dad.  Silent as a F5 tornado, I crept through the woods.  I was too noisy but dad was way patient.   And then, well, I shot him in the back.  Now wait, don’t panic.  It was only a BB gun and he did have his heavy hunting jacket on.  I had my finger on the trigger (oops) and every so slowly and without even realizing it, increased the pressure.  Just like that it went off and got dad square in the back. Bummer.

Do you know what?  He didn’t holler and in fact he didn’t say a single word.  He just looked over his shoulder and gave me that “I’m glad that wasn’t a 12 gauge” look.  I appreciated that and have never forgotten the fact that he could have made me feel “less than” but didn’t.  I’m sure we had a talk about gun safety and it must have worked out  because I never shot him again.

My two favorite memories of him don’t involve a fishing pole or a gun.  They involve God.  Honestly, daddy didn’t go to church a bunch but I know he was a Christian because of the way he lived. Two events, two memories are burned into my mind and heart.  The first is a time when we were having prayer time together as a family.  Some people call it family altar…at the time I probably called it too long.  I remember it was time to pray so we all got down on our knees around the room.  I got a little bored so I peeked and there across the room was my daddy, on his knees, talking to God.  It made a big impression on my young heart.

Later, when I was about 17 I caught daddy praying again.  I came home from a date late one night and there sitting at the kitchen table was my daddy—praying.  With his hands clasped together he was talking to God.  I don’t know what prompted the late night prayer meeting but I know it again made a big impression on me as a young man. And that is the point.  My daddy made an impression on me that impacted so many areas of my life.  Integrity, work ethic, caring and providing for your family and being a man were all part of the core curriculum.

I didn’t get to keep my daddy too much longer.  When I was in high school he had a massive heart attack.  He lived a couple of more years but when he was just 62 and I was 20, God decided to take him home.  Suddenly, on a Sunday morning he went to heaven.  It was hard and is hard to this day.  He never got to meet my wife, children or any of his eight great grandchildren. He never got see much of my career in the Air Force or hear me preach a sermon.  I hope in heaven they keep tabs on us down here and I hope I’ve made my hero proud.

Well, now that we are all sad and weepy let me throw this in.  Whether you are young or older, take the time this Father’s Day, and every day, to tell your dad (and mom) how much you appreciate them.  One of God’s big commands is that we honor our parents and when we do—we honor Him.  There’s no better way to do that than to tell them and show them that you love them. I know things don’t always work out with dads and if that is the case with you I am so sorry.  My dad wasn’t perfect…none are but his love outweighed his warts. If you are a Jesus follower, I hope you can extend some grace…just like God did to you.  And always remember, you have a Heavenly Father who is perfect, who always gets it right. He’s always waiting for you to crawl up in His lap and take a rest.  And the icing on the cake is He is stronger than a super hero…and because of that, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, Scripture, thankful

Flag Day

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands. Psalms 9:1

It was for better or worse.  In a little more than a week my wife and I will celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary.  I know if you have ever seen us you would find that hard to believe because we look so young.  Smile.  The years have flown by so quickly.  I can remember the days we would go to a conference and something and they would introduce the guest speaker saying they had been married for 35 years or so.  The crowd would erupt in applause.  I would think how old they were.  I am now that person.  But they say that age is just a number and that’s true. 

When I married Judy that hot (and I do mean hot) June day in south Georgia we made a commitment to each other.  It went something like this, “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health till death do us part.”  It was a deal we made with each other that no matter what we were stuck on (and not stuck with) each other.  We decided that we were in this for the long haul.  There have been speed bumps, detours and even a few fender benders but love somehow learns to forgive, and sometimes ignore, those. 

I bet you think this story is about marriage, didn’t you?  Got you.  Nope, it is about my love for this country.  Yesterday, June 14th, was Flag Day.  It garnered a place on our church marquee and a mention in the sermon intro. Oh, and I also worn a flag pin.  But it had a much bigger place in my heart.  I love my country, the land where God put me, America…not because it is perfect but because I can stand every week in our church and say what I want…and no one is going to arrest me.  I love America because it is still the land of the free.  I am writing this in Tennessee.  I didn’t need anyone’s permission to leave; I just got in the car and off Judy and I went.  Yup, I love America. Having lived in and visited over twenty-five countries in this world…I have seen and experienced many others and America still tops the list. 

You are probably wondering, “Dewayne, with all its warts and imperfections, with all its injustices and wrongs, with all its junk, how can you love America?”  Well, the answer is two fold.  One, from where I sit, it is still the best place in the world to live.  Its landscape and people-scape are just amazing.  It is filled with people willing to die for what they believe…that is why we are free.  It is a place where you can speak your mind and even protest a wrong.  The second reason is I signed up for the long haul.  Its kinda like the deal that Judy and I made.  “For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health till death parts us.” I’m an American till the end. 

Judy loves me…a lot.  She somehow manages to love me in spite of my failures and faults.  It kinda reminds me of God.  He just refuses to give up on us.  He extends grace and mercy and works to make us more and more like Him. With that comes a better me.  As we work to make America a better place to live and work, as we extend grace and mercy to each other, we are mirroring Him.  Sounds like a good plan to me. 

Like I said earlier, yesterday was Flag Day.  When I look at Old Glory I see the rich history, imagine the price that countless men and women have paid for this experiment in democracy and fall in love all over again.  And in these stars and stripes I see the hope not only for you and me, not only for America but for the world.  I see the gospel according to Old Glory.  I know each color and each part of the flag has special meaning but allow me some liberty…pun intended. 

When I see the field of stars I am reminded that in Psalm 19:1 “the heavens declare the glory of God.” It reminds me that every star in the sky is a witness to the existence of God. The blue field reminds me that there is a King in heaven.  Blue is the color of royalty and it points to the King of the universe…the creator of all.  His name is Jesus and He loves everybody regardless of skin color, language spoken or place lived.  The red reminds me of the measure of this King’s love..He died on a Roman cross.  He was not murdered and He wasn’t even martyred…He willingly died.  The payment for sin…all sin…was death and He paid the price. Amazing. 

And the white…well that is my favorite color because it stands for forgiveness.  White shouts that my sins are forgiven, that I am free and that I can call the Creator of the universe, “Abba Father or Dearest Daddy.”  I know you might think I’m taking a little too much liberty with that title but that is what He is. 

Anyway, I’m grateful for a wife who loves me regardless of my shortcomings.  I am grateful for a place to call home that gives me the freedom to live, worship and believe as I see fit.  Perfect? Not even by a long shot but I’m gonna stick around and do what I can to make her better.  I’m gonna stick around and make sure the America my grandkids grow up is even better that the one I knew and know.  And I am very grateful for a God that loves me unconditionally, that He is big enough to handle all the fears and warts of life and big enough to give me a place to rest…in Him.  Oh, and I’m glad that He is big enough to conquer sin, death and grave because it just proves…He’s got this.

Posted in Grace, Memorial Day, Military memories, Scripture, travel

Heroes

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13

I’m not sure how I found my way there, but I was grateful.  During my assignment in Sembach, Germany we had the opportunity to see so much.  From Hitler’s hideaway called “The Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden to the windmills of Holland to the Alps of Switzerland we were constantly amazed at what was all around us.  But nothing prepared me for Luxembourg.

We had some friends that we had known in our days at Moody Air Force Base in South Georgia.  They received orders to Germany several months before we did.  They were only a couple of hours from us so we saw each other pretty frequently.  It must have been during one of our forays that we came to it—Luxembourg American Cemetery.  It was one of the most hollowed sights I have ever seen.

There, in the cemetery, are 5,075 white Lasa marble crosses and stars of David.  Row after row of headstones that mark the final resting place of American heroes.  Each one made the ultimate sacrifice for us, for you and me, that we can live in freedom.  General George Patton is buried there. Two Medal of Honor recipients are also buried there: David G. Turner and William D. McGee. Twenty-two sets of brothers lay buried side by side throughout the cemetery. Some, 371 in fact, were never found.  They are simply listed as missing in action.  102 are just unknown.

This place of honor was established on December 29, 1944.  Many of the soldiers died during the Battle of the Bulge…Hitler’s last push to turn the tide of the war in Germany’s favor.  It failed but it came at great cost to the Allied forces. It was a harsh winter and because of the urgency of the times many were sent to fight with little or no winter gear. The desperate Germans showed little mercy to those taken prisoner.  And, all this occurred just nine months, nine months, before the war ended.  So many had survived D-Day and countless days of combat only to make the ultimate sacrifice months before the grand reunion with family.

Heroes.  It is a word we throw around lightly these days.  In a world where everyone gets a trophy we are in danger of losing the value of this incredible word.  Hero. Dictionary.com defines it as “a person noted for courageous acts.” Oxford says it is a person who is admired or idealized for courage. Webster defines it as an illustrious warrior or one who shows great courage.  Another place said it is a person who at great danger to themselves puts others first.

I went to Toys-R-Us one time and there they had several aisles of super hero stuff.  As I turned the corner a sign caught my eye.  It simply said, “Real Heroes.”  Along that aisle were the soldiers and sailor figures as well as police, firemen, and other emergency responders.  If I went to that aisle today it would have to include doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.  Real heroes…real people putting others first at peril to themselves.

But there would be one missing.  Jesus Christ, the Hero of Heaven, who willingly, who bravely, gave Himself to a Roman cross that men, women and children could be free. The cross was so horrible it was called the death of deaths.  It was so horrible it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen.  And yet…He went.  Why?  He loved me. He loved you.

Amazingly it was not for some of us but all of us. Skin color, economic station, language, nationality, capacity to be bad or good doesn’t matter.  The Bible simply says, “He came to seek and save that which was lost.”  It simply says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It simply says He is not willing for any to perish but all to come home. Anyone—I like anyone. Anyone who acknowledges their need for a rescue will find one in Jesus. And this Hero not only does a meet and greet, He invites you to join His family.  How about that! So when you hear the national anthem, place your hand over your heart as a salute to those who paid the price for our freedom.  When you see a veteran, thank them for his or her service and sacrifice.  When you walk through a cemetery with your kids, point out the graves of the men and women who served and tell them why they are so special.  And when you talk to the Hero of Heaven next time, thank Him for forgiving your sin.  Thank Him for always being there.  Thank Him for giving you a place to rest.  And, thank Him for having this….because He does.