Posted in Scripture, life, Family, travel, thankful, gratitude, loving others, priorities, love, friends

Watch Your Step

Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.”  Ephesians 5:16

There are certain times you just need to watch your step.  For example, there are at least two things to watch out for when you are walking through a cow pasture.  First, you need to make sure that it is fact a cow pasture and not a bull pasture.  If it is a bull pasture, you need to head to the nearest fence…immediately. Bulls are not cows, and most of the time the reason they call them bulls is because they are bullies.  The second thing you need to watch out for when walking through a cow pasture are cow patties.  You will just have to trust me on this one.

There are lots of other times and places you need to watch your step and one that I experienced was while hiking down by Bell Smith Springs.  My wife Judy and I have grown quite fond of hiking.  It is great exercise, and it is a great opportunity to get out and enjoy nature.  So, a while back we headed down to Bell Smith Springs to take on the Sentry Ridge Trail.  It is a three-mile loop trail that follows a ridge (no surprise there) and looks down on a small canyon with a creek.  It is just beautiful.  There is so much to see, you want to look and look. But that is also the problem.

You see, the trail, in more than several places, is quite rocky.  There are places when the trail is “paved” with large slabs of native stone.  In other places, though, it is as if someone had come along and strewn stones everywhere.  While they are mostly firmly embedded in the ground, they are still uneven.  The bottom line is watch where you are stepping, or one of three things is bound to happen.  One, you will twist your ankle.  Two, you will fall and bust something you don’t want busted.  Three, you will find yourself on the way down a long-wooded cliff or bluff.

Now for the pleasurable problem.  So, as we were hiking one of us believes in the destination.  In other words, the goal is to make it, to do it, to get it done.  The other one is in it for the journey.  They actually believe the journey is secondary to the destination.  Can you guess who is who in this scenario?  Yup.  I, as the man, the conqueror, believe that the primary purpose of this trip is to finish and put another notch in my “hiking” belt.  Judy, as the lady of the trail, wants to stop and take pictures of the trees—every tree; the rocks—every rock.  Her conversation is dotted with “Look, Dewayne…” and other phrases that conquerors don’t use, or necessarily want to hear.

Now, because I love her so much, I will try and look but there is a problem.  I have discovered that while you are looking around, you can’t be looking down and if you aren’t looking down you aren’t seeing rocks and if you aren’t seeing rocks, you are in trouble.  Whew.  Now that was one long sentence.  But do you get my point?  I suppose you could stop, and look around, but that is just not what conquerors do.  We conquerors conqueror and you can’t conqueror much standing still.

So, what is a conqueror to do?  Well, the truth is, we should stop (all you conquerors forgive me) and smell the roses.  Judy is in fact right.  The joy is in the journey.  The joy is pausing and seeing what there is to see…to enjoy what is there to enjoy.  Now that doesn’t mean I need a picture of every rock and tree, but I do need to see what my Dearest Daddy has made.  We need to learn to hit pause, every once in a while and then soon enough, hit play again.

What happens if you don’t?  Well, actually, two things.  You are going to miss the best part of the trip or maybe the day.  A while back there was a big, and I do mean big, full moon.  They said it was a “Wolf Moon.”  I’m not sure why it is called that besides the fact that the conqueror in me kinda wanted to stop and let out a howl.  Earlier that evening I was driving when Judy said those two words, “Dewayne, look…”. This time I got it right.  I stole a quick glance to my right and there it was…and it was magnificent.  I could have made some comment about I was driving but I discovered you can carefully sneak a look at the moon and drive too.  That is true on trails, and in many other sights and sounds.

Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament in the Christian Bible said that we should take the time and redeem the time.  What he was saying is that we should make the most of the time we have.  But we need to realize that while that includes working and doing life…it should also include time to enjoy the journey.  I’m glad I’m married to someone who knows how to do that.  Does it drive me nuts sometimes?  Absolutely, but even that is part of the joy of the journey.  So, be careful and watch where you step but be sure and take a few minutes to enjoy life around you.  Think you can’t?  Sure, you can, with the Creator’s help! After all, He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, food, friends, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, Military memories, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, Thanksgiving, travel, Trials

A Thanksgiving to Remember

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead…” Philippians 3:13

It was a Thanksgiving to remember.  Throughout the years, Thanksgiving has been a big deal in our family.  Growing up it was a time when Momma would buy a huge turkey and cook it all night in the roaster oven that set by the stove for such an occasion.  It was a time when pies were baked, ambrosia was made, and giblet gravy simmered on the stove.  It was a time for two kinds of dressing—cornbread and cornbread with oysters. I’m not sure where that came from, but it was pretty popular.  Then, of course, it was a time when most everyone would come home, and we would feast on good food and fellowship with family.

When I graduated from high school and enlisted in the Air Force things had to change.  My first duty station was about 15 miles from the Canadian border in a town called Minot—Minot, North Dakota.  I arrived there in October, and it was already too cold for a Florida boy.  The holidays were looming ahead, and it looked like Thanksgiving was going to be a solo flight.  But then something happened.  Somehow, remember this is long before cellphones, my brother Jimmy, who lived in Amarillo, Texas, called and invited me to his house for Thanksgiving.

Again, somehow, someway, it happened.  My base pay of $320 per month didn’t allow for plane tickets so it meant a trip to the credit union to see if I could get a loan. They granted it and I bought the ticket, got my leave approved and had someone haul me to the airport. So, like the song says, over the river and through the woods, I was on my way, not to grandmother’s house but my brother’s.  I can remember flying down to Amarillo on that two engine, piston driven, plane feeling excited and afraid all at the same time.  What in the world was I doing?

Soon enough, I was on the ground and there was my big brother and a couple of his kids waiting for me.  The best I can remember he worked, maybe managed, a ranch of sorts.  It seemed we drove a long way out into the Texas countryside before finally arriving at his house.  The next day was Thanksgiving and it was so much like the one at home.  We ate well and enjoyed good family fellowship.  The thing that was so different was that in the past I was treated as the baby of the family—which I was.  But that day—I was his peer.  I was a man.

As much as I enjoyed Thanksgiving Day, the next couple of days were also awesome.  We went jackrabbit hunting.  It was cold with snow covering the ground, and we would jolt and bounce through the fields in his old Willis Jeep.  Back at the house we drank hot coffee as he would spin tales about his time in the Air Force.  Jimmy was always bigger than life and he was that day too.  We also put up the Christmas tree while I was there.  One of his favorite Christmas albums was Charlie Pride’s “Christmas in My Hometown.” We played it over and over again while I was there.  To this day it is still one of my favorites.

Soon it was time for me to head back to the far north.  We headed back to the airport and soon those piston engines were shaking and vibrating the old plane again as I flew back to Minot.  I’ve had many good Thanksgivings over the years but that one stands out for me.  It was a time when my brother made sure I wasn’t alone at a time when too many were.  That was back in 1972 so a lot of water has flowed beneath the bridge.  I’m decades older and he is now in heaven.  But I am left with the memories…memories that still refresh my soul and make me smile.

To be honest, there are other Thanksgivings that were not so easy…times when another brother and his family were not on speaking terms with the family, times when Daddy was sick and times when the family went separate ways. But I have grown to realize that each of us have a choice.  We can choose to remember and relish the good times, or we can remember and dwell on the hard times.  The choice is ours.  Paul, the guy who wrote about two-thirds of the New Testament in the Bible had plenty of hard memories.  He was a pretty bad guy before he met Jesus.  After Jesus, he began to write some new stories in his life, and he made the decision to leave the past in the past.  We should too.

I know holidays can be hard because of the past, or maybe the present. Let me encourage you to choose to remember the good and let go of the rest.  It’s not easy but it is possible—with a little help from God.  I know these days He’s getting a lot of bad press, but trust me, if you don’t know Him you should get acquainted.  He loves you more than you know, and He wants to help you do life here.  He can even help with those difficult memories.

One of the things that is a staple of mine in life is to eat and nap. Today, Lord willing, I will eat a very good meal, and I will take a very nice nap.  Try it—you’ll like it.  Also today, I’m going to take a nap of sorts with my best friend Jesus. I’m going to pull aside, rest and just chat about all the ways He has blessed me.  It might take a while because I’m pretty blessed—and so are you.  We also will probably talk about some of the hard things going on now. He won’t judge me—He will just love me. You know that Thanksgiving so many years ago my brother treated me as his peer. Today Jesus treats me as a friend—a friend closer than a brother.  A friend that can handle my past and my future.  A friend I can trust. That’s why, He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, food, friends, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, prayer, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, Thanksgiving, travel, Trials

Worth Every Mile

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20

It was crazy but worth every mile.  For years my side of our Taylor tribe held a family reunion. It all started after the death of both of our parents and just seemed like the right thing to do.  Fortunately for all of us, we had some very committed and caring siblings that made sure it happened.  While the date bounced around, for a while we held it on Thanksgiving weekend.  I know for us that was a good time.  Being a pastor, each year was a more of a maybe than a definite yes or no, so we didn’t make every one…but every one we did make was, well, special.

I remember one year someone in the church family had died and I needed to stay and officiate at their service.  To me honoring life after a death is not an obligation but an honor so if I can I try to be there, both for the one who has slipped into eternity but especially for those left behind. That meant on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving that year, we had a service and rather than leave town on Tuesday, we stayed and held the service and left as soon as it was over…about noon as I remember.

Now everyone knows that Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the biggest, the busiest, the craziest travel day of the year and that year—the Taylor tribe from Illinois discovered that truth firsthand.  We had no more gotten on the interstate highway—less than an hour from our home— and we ran into heavy traffic.  That song about “over the river and through the woods” was more than just a song.  It seemed that everyone in the world, or at least the Midwest, was going to grandmother’s house and apparently, she lived down by Atlanta.

There was not a time that there wasn’t traffic and a couple of times there was just one of those standstills.  That is when, for no apparent reason, in the middle of nowhere traffic just stops. There was not an intersection, there was not an accident or a broken-down vehicle—it was like people just decided to press pause.  Now if you know anything about me, you know I don’t do traffic well but this time, well, I did better than average.  As the day pressed on, as the traffic got heavier, as day turned to night, as the clock ticked off the minutes and hours, as we got more and more tired…well, average disappeared.

By the time we were on outside of Atlanta on Interstate 20 heading west, it was about 1:30 am.  1:30 am…think about that. I can still remember the fact that the interstate, every lane, was packed with traffic…bumper to bumper…at 70 miles per hour.  I didn’t believe it then and as my fingers press the keys…I can’t believe it now.  Where in the world were all these people going at that time of the night…uh, make that morning?  Of course…they were going to grandmother’s house.

Well, we finally arrived at John Tanner State Park at about 2:30 am.  We were tired.  We were exhausted but all that didn’t matter.  We were there.  We opened the car doors and stumbled out of the car and into the lodge. Waiting for us was a was a beautiful moment of clarity.  There in the “living room” of the lodge was a big chunk of the Taylor tribe.  Instead of going to bed, they had waited up to greet us and it was at that moment it was worth it all.  Just then I had an epiphany…this, this was family. While they couldn’t drive the miles for us they could be there and greet us and simply say “we are glad you made the drive.”

Well, we all quickly went to bed and woke up a little later the next day.  The morning was spent preparing the feast and what a feast it was.  We told stories, we laughed, we shared and we ate…a lot.  And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt it was worth every minute in the car and every mile in traffic.  Well, that was many years ago and the family reunions don’t occur that way anymore.  And, too many—and even one is too many—of our family have changed their address from this world to the next. And while I wish I had more of those memories, I am so grateful for each and every one that I have.

While this Thanksgiving will be different than those and for many, different even from last year, let’s strive to make this one worth remembering too.  Let’s remember the key word in the holiday—thanks.  Paul, the guy in the Bible, said, “Give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  As always, he was spot on.  Like Bing Crosby sings in the movie, “Holiday Inn,” let’s remember we have plenty to be thankful for…because we do.  And, if you are struggling in the gratitude department, just take a look around and count your blessings and then remember that no matter what, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, friends, gratitude, Holidays, life, love, loving others, prayer, thankful, Thanksgiving, travel

How Thoughtful

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” Philippians 1:3

It was a memorable Thanksgiving.  My wife Judy and I have a treasure chest full of good memories and stories.  That is one reason I like Grits so much.  It gives me the opportunity to remember and share just some of those treasures.  A lot of the memories and stories were written during our fourteen years at Cobden First Baptist.  During those years, we were slowly wedded into what can only be described as family.  Our children grew up there…and one, baby Sarah was born there.  We laughed together, we cried together and well, we did life together.

As our tenth anniversary approached, the church planned a big surprise.  They decided to raise the money for Judy and me to visit the Holy Land.  It was about a year later that the funds were in place, the plans were made, and the tickets bought.  We were to see Greece, Israel and Egypt.  We would visit many of the sites of ancient Greece, walk where Jesus walked and see where the Pharaohs lived and died. It was an incredible journey that we can never forget and there was something that happened after the trip that remains one of our most special memories.

You see, the way the trip was planned meant that we would be gone from our girls over Thanksgiving.  It was a hard call for us but once again the church made it easier.  One of the families agreed to move into our house while we were gone and ride herd over the three Taylor girls. So while we would miss Thanksgiving with them, they had Thanksgiving there with our good friends.  I can well remember Thanksgiving in Egypt.  Of course, there it was just another day. The only way you would have known it was Thanksgiving was that the American Embassy announced on the English-speaking channel that they would be closed that day.  We found it hard to believe that the rest of the world just went about their way as America celebrated the goodness of God.

Well, in a few days after that day, we were back home.  I remember we got back home at about 3:30 am and it was a Sunday.  We set the alarm and later I fumbled through some sort of message.  I am sure it was not one of my better ones but once the church was kind enough to act like it was.  Now for the surprise—now for a very special Thanksgiving memory.  Are you ready?  Well, we drove home after church, ready for a nap and wondering what we were going to eat for lunch.  We walked in the back door and into the kitchen and there, waiting for us, was a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings.  As we walked into the dining room we found the table set with our finest china…just like it would have been had we been there for Thanksgiving Day.

Can you feel it? Can you imagine it?  I know for us it was one of those memories that will burn in our hearts and minds till the last heartbeat.  And, as you can guess, it wasn’t just the meal, it wasn’t just the table—it was the thoughtfulness of it all.  And that is the big truth I want you to remember. While this particular memory was so generous and amazing…it was the thoughtfulness of it all that writes it on our hearts in permanent ink.  You see, we all can make that impact…rich or poor…because thoughtfulness doesn’t have to be expensive…at least not in the sense of dollar bills and coins.  Thoughtfulness is something that the poorest or richest can do.

Paul writes in Philippians 1:3, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” It’s special that he wrote that, but it is even more special when we realize this.  Not every memory of his time in Philippi was good…after all he got beat up and thrown in jail for doing nothing but helping a young girl. No…what caused him to write that was the thoughtfulness of his friends there.  More than once they were a friend when no one else would be.  I’ve pastored four churches in my forty-year pastoring journey and along the way we have met so many wonderful, thoughtful people. From Quarles…my first church, to Dorrisville, my present church, our hearts have been touched with thoughtful people.

This week, be sure and do what anyone can do but so many won’t remember to do…be thoughtful toward someone who needs a little lift, a little love, a little kindness. After all, our Dearest Father has been so thoughtful to us.  If you need a little guidance along the way, just remember that your thoughtful Father thought about that too. He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, Trials

Cruising with the Captain

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” Psalm 23:1

Her name was Radiance of the Sea. Several years ago, I did something that I didn’t think I would ever do…take a cruise.  The thought of being on a boat, a ship, a vessel with several thousand people that I didn’t even know was anything but enticing. I could only imagine me threading my way through crowds of people with four words continuously coming from my mouth! Excuse me. Pardon me. No, from the safety of the shore it just didn’t sound like something I wanted to do.  And then, somehow, someway, we did it.  And then we did it again and now we did it again.

A week or so ago, we drove down to New Orleans and boarded the Radiance of the Sea.  As cruise ships go, she wasn’t the biggest, she wasn’t the newest.  Now that I think about it, though, she might have been like the bed in the story of the three bears…just right. If you have never cruised, let me share with you about our experience.  So, you buy your ticket, and you board the boat.  From the moment you step on, they attempt to make each person feel important, valuable.  They try to make sure your every need is met. It is like a small city that you call home for a few days or so.

The purpose of the ship is to take you and bring you back home.  That involves sailing over some deep waters—like, 8,500 feet deep. But even knowing that, you feel safe…every precaution has been made to keep you safe.  As every cruiser knows, it really is about the food. I mean three meals a day with snacks in-between and while it might not always taste like your momma’s cooking…it is pretty close. And the variety is incredible…allowing you to try new things…different things.  It makes it all interesting.  But there is more.

If you get sick, there is a doctor and several nurses. If you get bored, there is a cruise director who acts like he has had way too much coffee.  There are all kinds of venues, or places, to listen to all kinds of music.  That is one of our favorites.  Oh, and there is someone who comes in to make our bed and clean our room…not once like a hotel but several times each day. There are noisy places if that is your thing and there are quiet places if that is your thing.  And then, there are a couple of stops along the way for you to get off and see a new part of the world.

Now that is just a sampling, but I think you get the picture.  And guess what?  There is a captain up on the bridge (that’s what you call the place where they steer the boat) and he always knows where we are going and when we will get there. I don’t have to worry about a thing. Not.A.Thing. And that is why this whole experience, on a smaller scale, reminds me of my Father in heaven.  Every need met. Ever watching and caring. Ever leading us to…home.

One of the most beautiful songs in the Hebrew hymnbook is what we call the 23rd Psalm and the first verse, the first few words, describe the Great Captain’s care for us as we cruise here…and into eternity.  Are you ready?  Here is it.  “The Lord is my Shepherd…I shall not want.”  Don’t run past that.  When we become part of the family of God by faith in Jesus, God is our Captain and He takes responsibility for us.  Responsibility.For.Us.  We don’t need to worry, we don’t need to fret because He is in control and His storeroom of supplies never, never, runs out.  How about that?

So, why not just think about today, tomorrow and the next and then think about the fact that you don’t have to worry because the Captain of your life has everything under control.  Now to be fair and truthful, we did have one day that was rough due to some high winds.  But never, ever did we feel in danger.  And you will have some rough weather in life too, but you don’t have to worry because the Captain knows the way, knows the storm.  You can have meal, have a rest and lay your head down on your pillow knowing that “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, Trials, wisdom

Be Still

“Be still, and know that I am God!” Psalm 46:10

It was a gentle reminder.  So last Sunday we were driving to church and heard a soft “ding.” A quick look at the dash told us why.  Our car has a built-in thermometer and when the temperature dips to 39 degrees, it sounds a soft chime to let us know that the temperature outside has reached a point where the roads might be slippery because of ice or snow. It is a great idea because sometimes we get too busy to be careful and then, well, it can lead to a mess.  I wish life sometimes had a little “ding” too…it might save me some oops.  Let me explain.

A week or so ago I had a schedule that was just jam packed.  I knew it was going to be busy. I knew it was going to be crazy but for some reason that didn’t stop me from eventually acting crazy.  It all started on Monday…well, make that Sunday.  Sunday for me is preach twice Sunday morning but this particular week we also had an evening service to prepare for a special event that was happening at our church…which was part of the crazy.  I spent the afternoon getting Grits ready for that week and the next…so, add in a little more crazy.  Now back to Monday.  Monday, I had the privilege of officiating at the funeral service for a church member who happened to be a good friend too.  Because of that it was especially emotionally draining for me.  I felt the loss…we all did.

I returned to the office that afternoon and finished out the day and woke up early on Tuesday to speak on “The Baptist Hour,” a radio program that we sponsor on the first of every month.  Then it was off to the office, preparing for the rest of the week.  In the late afternoon, we packed our bags to attend a state meeting two and a half hours away.  We arrived that night, slept and woke up to a twelve-hour day of conferences and meetings. It was just about then I should have been listening for the little warning chime because certainly it was going off.

Thursday morning began with more meetings before leaving for home. After driving for two and a half hours, we got back in time to serve at our outreach event.  I was one of the speakers and we got to the church at about 5:00 pm and got home about 10:30 pm.  Friday, the day I usually call my day off, was filled with more study and a return trip to the church for the event. Was that a “ding” I heard?   Then Sunday…well, it was Sunday, and our first service begins at 8 am.

Now all of that wasn’t written to whine about a crazy week…it was to warn you that, chime, or no chime, when things get crazy…be careful you don’t.  So, in the second service Sunday morning two things happened that were anything but usual.  First, two young men in our young group, two young men I like and respect, decided to have a conversation while I was speaking. When I say “conversation,” I don’t mean whispering…I mean speaking loudly—loud enough for me to hear from the stage.  Loud enough to distract me. Loud enough to mash my crazy button.  The second crazy thing was, I stopped sharing and publicly told them it was my turn to speak…not their’s. Was their behavior out of line? Yes.  Did they need to be corrected?  Maybe…but not publicly.  Trust me…that is something that I would certainly not normally do. In fact, I don’t think I have done so in forty years…at least not that I can remember, besides the Taylor girls.

Anyway, I fumbled through the rest of the message and as soon as I was done speaking, I went and apologized to them. And before I could get the words fully out, they apologized to me. They were wrong for talking and I was wrong in how I fixed it.  The good news is the devil didn’t win the day, but he could have.  Now the question is, “How did this happen?”  And the answer is, at least on my side, I had allowed my tank to reach empty and you can’t run on empty without consequences.  You can’t give and give without taking something in.  I was sure I could do it all and found out…I couldn’t.

So, like the chime in my car, I needed something to let me know it was time to restock, to replenish.  While God doesn’t give out chimes, He does give us His Spirit. I love a verse tucked away in Psalm 46:10. It says, “Be still and know I am God.” Be still…literally, “stop striving” and know that I am God. He wants to be our warning chime but to hear Him we must slow down and listen.

I shared a quote a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t personally apply it. It said, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is take a nap,” or maybe just get away. So, after church that Sunday, we did a little more crazy. We packed our bags and headed to New Orleans for a five day cruise. We were grateful for a time to physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually recover. This quiet time was a gift from God to us…a time to be still and know that He really is God.  I hope this story will help you stop before you reach the tipping point. But if you do, if we do, at least we know, no matter what, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, friends, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful, travel, Trials

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in Me will no longer remain in the dark.” John 12:46

Hi Grits Family! Hey, my wife Judy and I are going to be “out of pocket” aka “not available” to write this week—on another great adventure.  We decided to send out some of our past stories.  I hope you enjoy the ones we selected and look forward to some “fresh Grits” next week. God bless.  Bro. Dewayne

There’s light at the end of the tunnel.  I have heard that saying all my life (well, at least a chunk of it).  But the truth is the light at the end of the tunnel just might not be enough.  You see, about 20 miles from where we live, there is a bike trail with a tunnel that is 543 feet long.  It’s located in beautiful Southern Illinois.  Oh, I know, I say beautiful and Illinois in the same sentence and all people can think of is flat corn fields and Chicago.  But tucked away in what we call the “real” Southern Illinois are many trails with beautiful hills and rock bluffs in the Shawnee National Forest.

Tunnel Hill Trail is a gem in our area and perhaps the highpoint of the trail is its tunnel. Our church has an annual bike ride that begins at the tunnel.  At its peak we would have over a hundred riders—big and little, young, and old. What makes it even better, the small town of Vienna (where we have our picnic) is only ten miles or so from the tunnel and that part of the trail is either flat or slightly downhill.  I told the church riders that, but I’m sure after riding it they thought I might have stretched the truth.  Well, maybe a little.  But the truth is—ten miles on a bike seat is still ten miles on a bike seat.

I have learned over the years to respect every foot of the tunnel there.   As you enter the tunnel, two things are apparent.  One, there is plenty of light. So, it is easy to assume that there will be plenty of light all the way through.  That would be a mistake.  Second, you might assume that since you can see the “light at the end of tunnel” that would be enough to get you through.  Uh, that would be a mistake too.  Let me describe it…though words really can’t do the job.  You must experience it.

Whether you are riding your bike or walking, as you enter the tunnel you really do think, “Oh this isn’t too bad.”  There is plenty of light and of course, you can clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Slowly, very slowly, almost without noticing, the light fades away and suddenly, just shy of halfway, you find yourself in total, eerie, darkness.  What seemed so easy now seems increasingly difficult.  Even with the light at the end of tunnel, you can’t tell where you are going.  You think you are in the middle of the trail when in fact you can easily be heading straight for the walls.  Over the years, everyone who has ridden with our group has made it through the tunnel.  It’s just that some of them came out with a few bruises and scrapes…courtesy of “the walls.”

Well, after about a hundred feet, light slowly starts appearing around you and before long the light pouring in from the end of the tunnel envelopes you…and you are glad. I’ve even ridden in the tunnel with a flashlight, and it still seems difficult.  You see, light at the end of the tunnel or not, darkness is difficult.  You simply lose all sense of where you are.  That is true in tunnels…and it is true in life.  Too often we are faced with choices and decide that we can handle what our common sense tells us is a bad idea.  We enter the tunnel with plenty of light and assume we have escaped the blight of our choice.  Only later do we see what we couldn’t see—the consequences of our decision.  Only when we “hit the wall” do we understand the pain of our decision.  It is only after we emerge back into the light that we can see the wounds from the walls and realize the scars that we will bear.

Life will have its valleys and not all tunnels in life are caused by our misguided choices, but the good news is regardless—we can find help.  Imagine what it would be like to take sunlight with us into the valleys—into the tunnels of life. What if the deepest valley and the darkest tunnel could be lit as noon is on a sunny day.  Well, it can.  You see, there is a light that defies darkness and is brighter than the sun—in fact, it is the Son.  Two thousand years ago a Man was born that claimed…and proved…that He was the Son of God, and His name is Jesus.  Have you ever wondered why this simple carpenter from an obscure village in the Middle East commands center stage on the stage of history?  The reason why?  He is the real deal. The Bible describes Him as the Light of the world…and He is.  And when a person follows Him, he walks in His light.

Jesus said, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in Me will no longer remain in the dark.” That is a claim, a promise, worth checking out.  When we were kids a lot of us were afraid of the dark. As adults most of us have outgrown that fear, but we still have reason to fear the phantoms of the dark…things that are bigger than us.  Jesus drives the darkness and phantoms away when we chose to follow Him.  He’s waiting right now to bring light into your life…your tunnels.  When we find ourselves in our darkest moment, you will hear the Whisperer whisper, “Fear not…I’ve got this.  And He does.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, friends, Grace, life, missions, prayer, Scripture, thankful, travel, Trials

Praying Mantis

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:2-3a

  • Hi Grits Family! Hey, my wife Judy and I are going to be “out of pocket” aka “not available” to write this week. We decided to send out some of our past stories.  I hope you enjoy the ones we selected and look forward to some “fresh Grits” next week. God bless.  Bro. Dewayne

He was coming after me.  Over the years, my wife Judy and I have made many trips to Africa.  We have spent time in Niger, Mali, and Uganda.  All were unique in their own way, and all were very special.  Our time in Mali was especially so.  We were working with one of our favorite missionaries.  She is the real deal kind—the kind that if you were to stick her finger…she would bleed Jesus.  Those trips were also highlighted because we worked with a group of One-Story girls.  These college age young ladies gave up the comforts of home to spend a couple of years living in the African bush telling people about Jesus.  They were incredible.

So, on one of these trips the team had one of those especially good days.  We were able to minister and share with a lot of folks.  We would start early and go the entire day.  We would do mostly medical missions and storytelling and encouraging.  When we got back to wherever we were staying we would have supper together.  Then, when the African sun had finally called it a day, we would gather under a large open air bamboo….uh, thing.  We would sing, share stories, and have a brief devotion before joining the sun and calling it a day too.

These team times were very special moments.  As the days passed, we as a team became closer and closer together.  There were about twelve or fourteen of us…so not too large.  Of course, that didn’t include other guests.  Sometimes Africans from where we were staying would join us, and of course some or all the interpreters.  And then there were the other guests.  Their names would make you think they were members of the team…but they weren’t.  Praying may have been part of their name but, it wasn’t on their agenda.  They were…praying mantis.

These large insects—about the size of a small eagle—would be drawn to the light as we sang and shared.  Slowly they would start circling, choosing their targets.  Now, I don’t know if they intended to bite someone—I don’t think so, or if they intended to carry someone off to their secret lair.  Regardless, it was just a little spooky.  Finally, and who knows why, I was picked by one of them.  Repeatedly, this fellow would dive and try to land on me—particularly my face. Ok…it was weird.  I was grateful when the prayer time was over. I confess I cheated and kept one eye open looking out for my newfound friend.

Judy and I headed back to our hut and prepared for bed.  We had a mosquito net over our bed to keep out those pesky insects and their friends. Soon it was lights out and off to sleep.  Sometime later, we were awakened by the sound of something larger than a mosquito.  Lion? No. Tiger? No? Elephant? No. It was the…praying mantis.  Apparently, he followed me home and waited for the lights to go out before once again taunting me.  It turns out there was a small hole in the top of our mosquito net, and he found his way in and then…it happened.

As Judy and I lay in the African night, from out of the darkness (no electricity) the praying mantis landed square on my face.  Now what happened next can’t be written because it goes beyond the 26 letters in the English alphabet. I jumped up and started clawing in the darkness trying to find my stalking insect.  I finally grabbed him (gross), wrestled him to the bed (remember they are the size of eagles…smile), raised the net and chucked him outside somewhere, anywhere but where I was.  And then I did some praying of my own.  “Lord, please don’t let him find the hole again.”  Thankfully, he didn’t, and thankfully that was the last I saw of him.

Well, the next night I had a testimony to share at story time.  We all had a good laugh (and by the way…they really aren’t as big as …eagles but it sure seemed that way.) I remember telling my teammates how grateful I was for answered prayer…and honestly, I was.  Until you’ve had something like that land on your face, in the dark, in Africa—well you just can’t appreciate a God who answers unusual prayers. But you know, that’s the kind of God that He is.  Nothing is too big…and nothing is too small for this Dearest Daddy who calls us His own.

One time God was talking to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, and He said no matter what we face…when we are over our head in trouble, or maybe between a rock and a hard place or even the occasional fiery furnace—He will be with us. Why?  Because He is our Savior, our Lord, our God. Wow…what a great scripture and I can add to that list “face eating praying mantis.”  God is always there with us and for us and no matter what, He’s got this.  Take that, Mr. Mantis.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, travel, Trials

Life’s Puzzles

Even before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24

It seems we have a new piece of furniture.  Awhile back we made a trip to northern Indiana to visit the Indiana Dunes National Park.  While we were there, we went to the park welcome center to get our “park passport” stamped, gather some info, and of course visit the gift shop.  While we were walking around the shop, my wife Judy picked up a puzzle.  Since we don’t do puzzles and since at least half of this team doesn’t even like puzzles I was somewhat surprised. Then I concluded that she was probably buying it for our Airbnb.

This puzzle wasn’t one of those for the faint of heart.  It was a 1,000-piece monster.  I smiled at the thought of guests going crazy trying to figure it out.  “Have fun,” I said to myself.  “Good luck,” I said to myself.  And then it happened.  As we got in the car the puzzle came up and Judy made the big reveal.  The puzzle wasn’t for the Airbnb…it was for…us.  I quickly explained that I didn’t do puzzles, didn’t like puzzles, and especially didn’t like puzzles with more than 10 pieces.  “No matter,” she said, “I’ll do it.”

After we got home, and not many days later, the puzzle made its appearance.  At first it found its way to the dining room table.  As she spread the 1,000-piece monster out on the table, it was quickly apparent that we needed a better solution.  So, we went down to our basement brought up our card table.  Soon, she had the table up, the pieces spread out and we were the proud owners of a new piece of furniture—a puzzle table.  Well, for the first few days she would occasionally wander over and mess with the puzzle.  There was delight when a piece was found that fit another and then something happened.  The delight slowly began to wane as the next connecting piece became harder to find.

Now, sitting in our living room, is a puzzle table that doesn’t hold much hope of completion.  I think Judy even said maybe she should have started with something less challenging.  I mentioned that Christmas is right around the corner and the table is sitting where the tree will go. I suspect that while the table will go back to the basement soon…the puzzle will find its way to the Airbnb awaiting its next victim.

That puzzle reminds me of life.  Sitting on the shelf in a store it seemed so benign.  Perhaps a challenge but certainly not something that is not conquerable but then the boxed is opened, the pieces spread out and it becomes something we can’t quite handle.  With puzzles you can just put it back in the box—no harm—no foul.  But with life…well, that is a different story.  You can’t just put away—our life journey, our life circumstances, our life challenges—seek a solution, an answer, a completion.  And we are often left scratching our heads.

And that is where God comes in.  Talk to people who love puzzles, and they all have their ideas, plans and strategies…but what works for one may not work for another.  But with God what works with Him always works for us.  His wisdom, His strategy is never wrong and better than that…He is willing to help us put it all together.  He gently makes suggestions and whispers solutions. Sometimes He even guides our hands to the right answer for a question that demands an answer.  That’s just what He does.  Always helping, always loving, always there.

If you have a puzzle that has you stumped, you might consider putting it in your Airbnb.  If you don’t have one of those, try having a yard sale or using it as a repurposed Christmas gift…to someone you don’t particularly like.  Smile.  But if we are talking life, turn to the One who knows the answers to all the puzzles but remember…it is a matter of trusting and sometimes…waiting.  I like a promise tucked away in Isaiah 65:24—in the Old Testament part of the Bible. It says, “Even before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear.” I like that.  I can just see Him saying, “You might try that piece right over there.”  I listen and sure enough…it fits.  And of course…sometimes He might just whisper, “Don’t worry…I’ve got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, friends, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, Trials

Mr. Fix It

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:16-17

Call me Mr. Fix It.  I love to fix things and I love to be the hero.  No matter what the problem, no matter near or far, no matter what.  Back when Blake and Sarah were living in Savanah, Georgia courtesy of the United States Army, she let us know her vacuum had a broken belt.  Well, instantly my hero genes kicked in.  It didn’t matter that she was eleven hours away…it only mattered that my baby girl had a problem, and she asked her Mr. Fix It dad to solve the problem. First a couple of side notes. Blake, her husband, is an able Mr. Fix It guy in his own right.

Second, Sarah asked me to go by our Walmart and get a replacement belt.  I assumed that she assumed that was the problem.  So, by now you may be asking, “Oh, they don’t have Walmart’s in Georgia?”  Well, actually they do, but somehow it made sense for us to go get one and take it to Georgia.  Maybe they are just better here. Well, shoot that thang!  I happened to remember that we had a vacuum like hers (or maybe we had given the vacuum to her) and I had a spare belt laying around.  Cha-Ching!  Thank you, sir, and keep the change.

We get to Georgia and the day after our arrival the time to fix the vacuum was at hand. First, I dislodged the screws from the top and bottom and removed the cover.  It was then I had the first ah-ha moment. There naked before the world was a 100% not broken belt. So, I said to Sarah, “Hey girl, the belt isn’t broken.”  It was then that Sarah said, “Well, it wouldn’t work.” All of a sudden, the great victory of finding a spare belt rapidly deflated.  You see, as an amateur Mrs. Fix It, she had misdiagnosed the problem.  I plugged in the vacuum and, of course, it fired right up.  Then Sarah said the real problem was that it wasn’t picking up the dirt. And that’s when it got interesting.

Assisted by my son-in-law Blake, I began a close examination of the vacuum.  It soon became apparent that it was clogged up. Now if you are not familiar with clogged vacuums there are at least three classes of clogs.  There is the “partial clog”, the “hmmm, this is serious” clog, and then there is the “clog of Biblical proportions”. Since there was absolutely no suction, we knew this was definitely not a “partial clog”.  We soon discovered we had the “mother of all clogs”.  Upon examination we found, and I’m not kidding, three golf balls, two match box cars, and six inches of impacted debris.  I was sure we had found the problem.

Well, my assistant and I carefully removed the trio of golf balls and the two match box cars. Finally, we began to dig, pull, tug and poke at the six inches of debris. Three days later (ok, not really but it seemed that long) the hose was finally clear.  At that point, we emptied the debris catcher thing, cleaned the filter, plugged it in, and it fired right up.  The results were incredible! In fact, before we could stop it, it sucked the carpet off the floor and a small section of the sub-flooring.  (Ok, that part just isn’t true, but I needed to beef up the story.)

Soon we were high-fiving and celebrating the ultimate vacuum cleaner rescue.  Mr. Fix It and his able assistant saved the day. Now believe it or not there is moral to this story—besides the obvious one that says don’t suck up three golf balls and two match box cars with your house vacuum cleaner. The moral is this–when something is wrong don’t automatically assume you know the answer.  Sarah just assumed the belt was broken and it wasn’t.  And, even with a house full of boys, never in her wildest imagination, could she believe that her vacuum had consumed three golf balls and a couple of cars. I could just see the boys having such a good time with their new game of “sucking up” golf balls and match box cars…like “how many can we get in there?” Boys.

And what is true in vacuum repairs can also be true in our lives.  When things just aren’t clicking in your life, look closely because it may not be what you think. Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” In other words, we need to watch where we vacuum—what we pick up, and where we step. Being wise is knowing what to do and then doing it. Remember the old saying, “A ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?”  Well, trust me it, is so true.

Remember, when life goes south, take your time as you figure out the problem.  Too often we want to treat the symptoms and don’t want to address the real problem.  All the belts in the world weren’t going to get our vacuum going because what seemed like the logical answer was not the problem at all.  If you are a Jesus follower, ask Him and He will point you in the right direction. Life can get pretty clogged up, but don’t let the frustrations get to you. I bet Blake and I took a rest after fixing the problem and maybe you need to take a rest too…in Him.  After all, He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne