Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

“Foot in Mouth” Disease

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

I just shouldn’t have said it.  We all have said things that we wish we hadn’t.  I learned a lesson about that the hard way.  I had two bumps in Air Force basic training. One involved singing…you can check that one out on my blog www.gritswithgrace.com (https://gritswithgrace.com/2020/06/01/i-said-sing/). The other one also involved my mouth…I wonder if there is trend there.

In basic guys were assigned to a flight (group) and each flight had a dorm chief.  He was someone, a peer of sorts, the flight chief selected from within or outside the flight.  Ours was selected from outside.  He had a weight issue so was put in a special group that helped men get down to a weight level that was acceptable.  That of course meant they had to stay longer in basic.  Well, our guy, whose name was Guy, was one of those guys.  Because of his longer tenure in basic he was named our dorm chief.

Now it could have been a little jealousy on my side or it could have been that I was a little judgmental or maybe I had a momentary case of the stupids but I said something to one of the guys about this guy.  The words are lost to time but it was probably something like, “Who does this guy think he is? He’s not a leader…he is a loser.”  Well, anyway, something like that. I said it and forgot it assuming it just died away.  It did not.

So, apparently either that guy told another guy who told another guy who told the guy named Guy.  The guy named Guy told the guy named Sergeant Catchings who was the same guy that caught me singing.  Well, things were about to go south.  There was a lesson that needed to be taught and I was the object of that lesson.

Sergeant Catchings gathered the flight outside his office and leaving the door open sat down at his desk.  We all were like, “What’s this about?”  I quickly found out it was about me.  Soon a booming, “you’re in deep weeds son” voice said, “Airman Taylor, get in here.” I got up and went in the office and he instructed me to close the door.  I stood smartly at attention in front of the desk. Sergeant Catchings harshly invited me to take a seat.  There was no chair.

He had me place my hands flat on his desk and then squat by bending my knees till my arms were parallel with the top of his desk. Three things immediately came to my mind.  One, what in the world have I done? Two, this is very uncomfortable.  Three, I’m going to die.  Well in about one minute I found out that Dorm Chief Guy had told him I was mouthing off.  I had broken a cardinal rule…don’t mouth off about those in leadership above you.

Sergeant Catchings, jumped to his feet and began to lecture me about respect for leadership and how I should never, ever disrespect those put in authority over me.  Now don’t forget.  One, I still “sitting” in the invisible chair with my hands on his desk.  Two, the entire flight is outside the door.  And by now he is screaming at the top of his voice.  For added effect, he would occasionally walk over to the door and kick it or slap it making it sound like I was dying.  I was.

Finally, after about ten or so minutes he opens the door and says two words, “Get out.” Imagine 27 guys looking in the office and seeing me squatting with my hands on the desk.  I can’t move.  I am locked in place.  My muscles leg and arm muscles were frozen.  He said it again, LOUDER, “I said get out.”  So, I fell over and managed to crawl, yes I said crawl, out of his office. I was in agony and the rest of guys were in shock and we all learned a lesson about gossip and respect for authority.

The lesson that day was very valuable. I wish I could tell you that I learned it so well I never had the “stupids” again but that wouldn’t be true.  But I can tell you this.  There is a reason the Bible talks so much about the tongue and the mouth. It isn’t a matter of finding a verse…it is a matter of choosing a verse.  We can start with a little nugget found in Proverbs 21:23, “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut,

and you will stay out of trouble.” I wish I had remembered that one before I uttered the words that prompted my visit to Sergeant Catchings office.

But the one that probably says it best is this, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Imagine how less complicated our lives, our families, our marriages would be if we mastered that one.  Imagine how our work lives and even our worship lives would change.  A pastor once said that if we knew we would have to personally apologize to every person we slandered or gossiped about, we probably would hit “pause” a lot more often. Oh well, I’m sure glad we have a graceful God.  I have learned over the years to deeply value his patience with me and His mercy for me.  There have been too times I’ve had to go to my dearest Daddy and have a chat about “foot in mouth” disease.  I’m glad He graciously invited me to come sit close beside Him. He has always heard my confession and honored my repentance.  I find rest right there…next to Him. 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, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, missions, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, travel

Forty-four Years

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” Ephesians 5:16-17

Forty-four years.  16,071 sunrises and sunsets.  That’s the length of the on-going saga of our story.  It seems like yesterday but it also seems like another lifetime.  We both were young… maybe too young. But we were in love, we wanted to walk together so that day, this day forty-four years later, we started walking and just never stopped.

We were chatting last night before we drifted off to sleep and I told her we were blessed.  There have been bumps but not the kind of bumps that come from wanting to quit or wanting something new.  They were the kind of bumps that come from life.  The death of our parents, starting over when the Air Force or God gave new orders, kids being kids and people being people, and yes, me being me and her being her.  But what a journey.

Forty-four years.  I remember the excitement of our wedding day.  I in my snazzy light-blue tux and patent leather high heeled shoes (hey, cut me some slack…it was the seventies) and her standing at the back of the church in her white wedding dress and long brown hair.  Her standing and then walking…walking to me to join me…to start life together.  I was marrying up…and well.

Forty-four years.  I remember embarking on the first of many great adventures as we flew to Europe not for a honeymoon but to live.  The Air Force sent us to live in Germany and while the separation from family was hard…life was enchanting.  I remember looking out our apartment window overlooking an alpine valley with the trees covered with a light dusting of snow. I remember our German landlord knocking on our door and presenting my new bride with a freshly skinned rabbit.  He was beaming and she was wondering, “What do I do with this?”

Forty-four years.  I remember coming back to the USA after three years and seeing our country through new eyes.  Leave for a while and you never see it quite the same.  Leave for a while and the warts and imperfection all fall into perspective.  I remember traveling to the Midwest for the first time and finding out that not everyone liked grits or even knew what they were.  I remember the birth of our first daughter and realizing that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Forty-four years.  I remember daughter number two surprising us…and what a good surprise it was.  Our family was complete (or not) and our future secure in the Air Force…until the Whisperer whispered. So long Air Force and hello pastoring and walking by faith. With a young wife and two kids ages three and two, no insurance and a pastorate that paid $12,000..well, faith was a little harder…a little less sure. About then I began to realize just how big, how sure, God is.  I’m still learning that one but He has a perfect track record.

Forty-four years.  I remember the day when we had to pack up and leave a bunch of people we loved a lot and that loved us a lot.  With a station-wagon and a U-Haul stuffed to the gills we moved to a little town called Cobden.  It was new all over again and we fell in love again with another wonderful group of people.  It was at Cobden that God surprised us with daughter number three.  It was at Cobden we raised our family because God let us stay 14 years.  It was at Cobden we learned deep lessons of love and grace.  After fourteen years the Whisperer whispered again and we knew we had to obey.  It was one of the hardest things we ever did.

Forty-four years.  I remember coming to Harrisburg and to Dorrisville Church and wondering how God would write this new part of our story.  I remember wondering how long this chapter would be.  Well, here we are 20 years into this part of our story—almost half of our married lives—and I am still amazed at God’s grace and His people’s patience.  Our kids are grown, we have eight grandkids and Judy and I are experiencing what it is like to grow old together.  I highly recommend it.

Forty-four years.  James, the half-brother of Jesus tells us that life is like a vapor.  In other words it goes by quickly.  Remember how you breathe on a cold morning and your breath appears as if smoke?  As quickly as it appears…it leaves.  That’s life. I am amazed at my age, the length of our marriage and just how awesome life has been been…and is.  Paul, another Bible guy, had it right.  He says, “So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” Good advice, Paul, good advice indeed. Forty-Four years.  Yup, life is good.  I’m still in love with Jesus, still in love with Judy, and still in love with my kids and grandkids.  I get up each day just waiting to see what God has in store…waiting for the next whisper…the next great adventure.  Till then I bet you can guess what I’m going to do.  Yup…I’m going to rest in Him.  He’s got this. 

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

This Day

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

June 12th is a special day in my life.  I graduated from high school on June 8, 1972.  I am amazed that 48 years have passed beneath the bridge of my life.  Time seems to travel so quickly.  As a child it was a gentle stream and now as a mature (that is in years and not necessarily actions) adult it seems a raging torrent.  So 48 years ago I was member of the largest graduating in the state of Florida for that year…714 seniors from one high School.  Trust me…it was easy to be a small fish in that big pond.  By Monday all that was in the rearview mirror.

On Monday, June 12, 1972, I raised my right hand and swore to protect and defend the constitution of the United States and to obey the orders of those appointed in rank above me.  I was eighteen, naive, had never been away from home and wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into.  If I remember that day correctly we took the oath, had last minute medical exams, and filled out a mountain of paperwork. They took us to Morrison’s Cafeteria for a last meal of sorts and then on to the airport for the flight to Lackland Air Force Base.  Intentionally we arrived at about 2:00 am…something they still do today.  We were given a couple of hours of sleep before beginning the great journey of becoming airmen.

The privilege of serving my country for the next twelve years marks that day as one of the great days of my life. The training I received there impacted the rest of my life. The skills I received in my advance training and then in my career prepared me for something far greater then I could imagine. Little did I know on June 12, 1972, what God had planned for me.  Saddle up your horses boys…this is the great adventure.

After twelve years in the Air Force it became apparent that the winds of change were blowing in my life.  I so loved the Air Force—it was my niche, my calling.  Starting in 1980 there were these whispers from Abba Father, my dearest daddy, that He wanted to do something more.  It was a whisper from Him to jump into the unknown. It was a whisper to trust Him at a level that I had never before experienced.  He was calling and it was undeniable.

The details are still vivid in my mind but time doesn’t allow the whole story to be told.  On February 14, 1982, I went forward in a morning worship service and told God I would do whatever He wanted.  Four short months later I found myself still in the service but in His service pastoring a small church close to our home.  Those days were crazy days.  Over the course of a few months the deal was sealed.  He whispered that He wanted me to give myself completely to Him.  He no longer wanted share me with the Air Force.  With that, Judy and I, along with our two very young daughters, prepared to jump big.

That leads to our second June 12th.  On that date in 1983, on a hot Sunday afternoon, I sat before a large ordaining council and a larger crowd.  That day, June 12, 1983, I was ordained, set apart, to serve Him.  My fondest memory of that day came after the council had asked all their questions.  They had been graceful to me and I was grateful.  The chairman of the council told the moderator that he had no more questions.  The moderator then asked if anyone else had an questions. I only thought I was done.

An elderly pastor, slowly stood to his feet and said, “Young man, the Bible says that the husband is the head of the home.  It also says that a pastor is to rule his house well.  Are you going to rule your house well?” And he sat down. If there was ever a time that I needed for God gave me the right words to say it was probably then.  With all the intentional fortitude I could muster I said, “Yes sir…if Judy will let me.” The room erupted and I got ordained.

And here I sit thirty-eight years later so grateful for a God who believed in me and hundreds of people who were patient and loved me. I have seen wheelbarrows full of grace from the God of the universe and His people.  If you ever wonder why I am grace heavy in my teaching it is because I have needed it so much and I have experienced it so much. I am blessed. Game. Set. Match. The Bible says that this day, this very one, is a day that the Lord has made.  We get to choose how we are going to live it and how we will remember it. Well I am so grateful for two days in June, both the 12th.  They are markers for this incredible journey called life. How about you?  Do you have some special days that God moved, that God spoke, that God just showed off?  Let me encourage you to celebrate them…and Him.  He is such a good Abba Father to do less is unimaginable.  So go ahead, relive the times, relive the days when He showed up, when you rested in Him, when you just knew “He’s got this.” Then you can be the whisperer and softly say, “Thank you, Father.”

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, Military memories, prayer, Scripture, thankful, travel

Welcome to Knob Noster

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

We had to have the wrong address. Judy and I came home after living three years in Germany and headed to our new duty assignment. We stopped in Georgia to visit with family for a couple of weeks and then headed to Missouri.  We were assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Missouri.  Yes, friend, there is a Knob Noster.  We arrived there only to find out that the State Fair was being held about twenty miles away.  There were no hotel rooms. Nada. None. Period.

Knob Noster only had a couple of small hotels and both said they were full.  Judy was expecting and I was starting to feel like the Bible story of Mary and Joseph.  You know, the whole no room deal.  Well, the one place said try back that afternoon and maybe someone will check out.  They did and we had a room.

First, you need to understand this was back in 1980 so there was no internet to check ratings and all of that.  Second, the bottom line it was the only room in town.  Third, it was bad—as in not good.  Bad as in bugs.  Bad as in bad.  But still, we were grateful.  It was a place to sleep.  God is good. Probably though, I need to be more specific next time when I ask for a place to stay. I needed to learn from Judy.

The very next day we start looking for a place to live.  There was a town called Warrensburg about ten miles from the base.  It had a small university and was a nice midwestern small town.  Unfortunately, housing options were very limited.  The few places the real estate person showed us were small, dated and pricey.  Now Judy had this prayer thing down.  She had asked God for a house with a fireplace.  My expectations weren’t that high. I had asked God for a house without bugs.  She was much more creative than me.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure God was going to pull off either one of our requests.  And then he came along.

No, it wasn’t God but he was God’s delivery man.  His name was Mario—like the brothers. He kinda looked like Danny DeVito. He too was a real estate agent and he had heard us talking with the other agent.  He came over and introduced himself. He said, “You know, I have a house that I had built but haven’t been able to sell.  I might be willing to rent it to you.”  He gave us the address and told us go and check it out. It was just outside of town in a neighborhood called, “Valley View.”

We drove out and turned in and started checking addresses.  At the end of the first road we had to go left or right on Valley View Circle.  We went left and began looking for house number 209.  Soon, on the right, was number 209.  But wait…this couldn’t be the right place.  It was a new, beautiful three bedroom split level brick home.  We were shocked  and said, “No, this can’t be right.”  We went and peeked in the windows.  “No, no way. Must have the wrong address.” And then we saw it.  A massive chimney connected to a big fireplace.

Well, this was too much. Judy and I were beyond excited. This was more, so much more, than we ever expected in our wildest expectations.  We immediately went back to the real estate office and hunted down Mario.  “Well,” he said, “I’ve changed my mind.  Sorry, no deal.”  Naw…just kidding.  He said he liked us, trusted us and would be willing to work with us.  The bottom line is he rented it to us at below market value.  He said he would need a security deposit and we told him we didn’t have anything saved up.  He readily agreed to tack $25 a month onto the rent till we had that covered.  Oh, and of course, it was refundable. 

So, that is how Judy and I moved into our Cinderella castle at 209 Valley View Circle. Oh, and the yard needed landscaping, so he paid me to do that and took it off the rent. Amazing.  You have probably already guessed that this is one of our favorite God stories.  I still smile as I write this because it is just one example of how God has showered us with His love and grace.  A fireplace? Really? New brick home?  Yup. God is good.

Now God wasn’t good because He gave us a really nice house when there was no way we could afford one.  God wasn’t even good because He gave Judy a fireplace.  No, God is just good.  Sometimes it is very obvious and sometimes it takes a little faith to see it.  But He is good.  Someone once said, “God is good and He is good at being God.”  I was thankful for the Knob Noster Motel (bugs and all) because it was better than sleeping in our car.  But I was also thankful for the time He gave us our wildest dream. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” I know that is probably talking about heaven but I think it has to apply here too. Over the years there have been some real winner mountaintops when God just showed off. But do you know what?  There have been some valleys too. Hard times when we couldn’t see the next step.  The big take away has always been, “God is good. God is faithful. God can be trusted.”  So, I’m gonna lay my head down tonight and rest in Him believing that.  After all, He’s got this.”

Posted in life, Military memories, Scripture, Southern born

I Said, “Sing”

“My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27

Bummer.  I knew I should have listened.  I have always liked music and I have always loved to sing.  From the time my mother forced my oldest sister to allow me to sing at her wedding…I’ve been hooked.  Not only do I like music I generally like almost all kinds of music.  To me music is the melody of life.  It often expresses emotions and feelings that otherwise might go unexpressed. So I sing…loud and all the time.

You know, some people says, “I saw you at the store the other day.”  Not me.  People will say, “I heard you at the store the other day.”  Regardless of where I am there is usually a song somewhere close by.  And the funny part is you never know what you will get.  It might be “Amazing Grace” or Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”  That’s really not an issue except for the fact I work at a church.  It can be kinda strange.

I also have a hard time getting the words right.  I know some of the words to hundreds of songs but unfortunately know all the words to very few.  People used to correct me when I would get the words wrong.  Most finally gave up.  Now they just smile. I should have listened a long time ago when someone would try and correct me.  Especially since that time in basic training.

Basic training in the Air Force is that time when they teach you the ways of being an airman.  That includes knowledge and action.  Clearly it involves learning to follow orders.  I was raised in the South so saying, “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am” came real easy for me.  I was even a pretty compliant person.  But one day, well, I just missed it.

For some reason I was in the barracks by myself and I was letting it go.  It was an old hymn, maybe “Amazing Grace.”  From somewhere a voice boomed, “Shut-up.” Well, I thought it was one of the guys jerking my chain so I kept right on singing at the top of my lungs.  From somewhere the booming voice boomed again, “I said shut-up.”  It was just about then that I vaguely remembered hearing that voice before.  “Oh, that’s right,” I said, “that’s the voice of my drill instructor, Sergeant Catchings.”  Oops.  Game, set, match.

So he comes from somewhere and is madder than a hornet.  “Taylor” he said, “didn’t I tell you to shut-up?” he boomed in his drill sergeant voice.  I knew there was no use trying to explain that I didn’t know it was him so I just muttered a weak, “Yes, sir.”  So he walks over to the mop closet, opens the door and invites me to step inside.  Gulp.  I step inside and as he shuts the door he said just one word, “Sing!”

So, with all its odors and in the dark, I start belting out “Amazing Grace.”  After a few verses, he opens the door and says, “Do you know, “Rock of Ages?”  “Yes, sir” I said.  Once again came the one word command, “Sing.” The door closes and I sing.  After a few verses, the door opens and he said, “Do you know…” and he named another hymn long forgotten now. “Yes sir” I said. You know what he said, “Sing.”  Well, after a few verses the door opens and he says, “Get out.”  I wasn’t sure if he meant out of the closet or out of the Air Force and I didn’t stick around to find out.  I got out.

Well, I learned something that day.  It is important that I learn to recognize and obey the voices around me…especially those that might be in charge.  I never missed the voice of Sergeant Catchings again.  When I heard that booming voice…I listened. No more mop closets. Listen to your sergeant.  Oh, and even more importantly, listen to God.

You see, one day Jesus was describing His followers to a bunch of religious bad guys.  He said, “My sheep (code for followers) know My voice. I know them and they follow Me.” That verse, in English, has 12 very important words.  First, he said, “My sheep know my voice.” Check.  We need to recognize Jesus’ voice.  Amid all the noise of the world we have got to hear Him.  Second, He said, “I know them.” Wait, what? He knows us. I like that.  It means that He has a relationship with me.  He is looking out for me.  It also means He knows my quirky habits like singing too loud in the middle of WalMart…and loves me anyway.  Last, “They follow me.” What He is saying is that followers follow. Plain and simple.  Follow Him and you might avoid the “mop closets” of life. Trust me…I’ve been there and done that.  It’s not the kind of place you want to visit or sing in. I’m sure Sergeant Catchings had my best interest in mind.  He was there to teach me discipline and he did. Looking back, I’m sure he thought it was all pretty humorous.  So do I…now.  But that day, well, I just wish I had listened a little closer.  Its’ important that you…. Wait, do you hear something?  What’s that?  Is it Jesus saying something?  Oh, He’s whispering.  “Rest in Me. I’ve got this.” “Yes, sir” I whisper.  I believe you do.

Posted in Family, Grace, life, Military memories, travel

Three Days and a Wake Up

“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” Psalm 126:1-2a


We were coming home.  From August 1977 to August 1980 we lived in Germany while serving in the United States Air Force.  Our time there was incredible.  We saw windmills in Holland, the alps of Switzerland, the famous horse-fountain in Salzburg, and ate real pizza in Italy.  Where we lived was much like living in the middle of the Shawnee Forest—large rolling hills and lush green forest.  We loved it.
 
Some hard times happened while we were there too.  Those were the days of no internet, no cell phone and no overnight delivery from Amazon prime.  Landline phone calls were rare and expensive and snail mail was all there was.  I remember Judy receiving a letter that opened, “I guess you heard about your dad’s heart attack.” Turns out right after we left for Germany he had a massive heart attack and almost died.  One night about midnight or so, a knock came at our apartment door.  It was an officer from my squadron.  He said I needed to call the Red Cross immediately.  My mother was dying.  They connected me to my sister-in-law in Florida.  Her words were simple and direct, “If you want to see Mom alive you have to come now.”  We made it home the day before she died.
 
So, our time in Germany was divine but difficult.  The bottom line at the end of three years we were more than ready to come home.  As the time neared and preparations were underway for our leaving and returning we started counting down.  Everyone did. We would say, “25 days and a wake up. 13 days and a wake up. Three days and a wake up.” Finally, we woke up, got on a plane and came home.  There was no place like home. There is no place like home.
 
I can remember picking our VW van at the airport (we had shipped it home) and driving.  It was marvelous.  We could read the signs and we could understand the people.  Instead of four dollars for a gallon of gas it was 69 cents.  I stopped at a market and got a fried apple pie.  I can almost still taste it.  For lunch we stopped at McDonald’s.  No big deal right?  Not at all unless you had spent the last three years explaining a cheeseburger and fries to someone who didn’t speak English.  And, instead of a few dollars you paid almost twenty.  As I ordered at the counter, speaking English and being understood…I wept. I apologized to the young lady and explained we had been away for three years.  And I explained…there is no place like home.
 
Well, after too many weeks away, church families in Illinois will have the opportunity to come home.  Sunday we will be gathering as a corporate body to sing, pray and preach.  Now whether you are reading this in real time or months later it doesn’t matter.  There is no place like home.  My time in Germany taught me several things and one of them is you appreciate the simple things.  A fried apple pie and a McDonald’s cheeseburger never tasted so good.  My family never looked so good.  Driving the roads of America never felt so good.  Reading the billboards never seemed so interesting.  By the way, did they ever find out who shot J.R.?  Smile. Somethings were different but it was still…home.
 
So coming back to church is like coming home and I am almost giddy. When the Israelites realized they were coming home after 70 years in Babylon they were just a little more than giddy.  Here’s what one of their songwriters wrote, “When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” In those words you can almost feel their excitement. Things were going to be different when they got there but that didn’t matter.  They were going home.
 
So this weekend, and every weekend after, when you walk into your place of worship and things are just a little different, remember how it felt to come home and the different things won’t matter as much.  When “Bob” irritates you at church after you’ve been back a while, just pause and remember how good it was him the first week.  When the sermon seems too  long, and the music too loud and the room too warm…yup…just remember how good it was…how good it is to be home.  And, in a few weeks, when something fearful pops up or something rubs you wrong…just remember the time He brought you home, when you rested in Him, when you realized He’s got this.  And dream. And sing. Be like the ones who knew the Lord turned our captivity. Because He has.
Posted in Family, life, Military memories, Scripture, travel

If You’ve Seen One “Brucken”

A person’s steps are established by the Lord, and He takes pleasure in his way.” Psalm 37:23

We were so close and yet so far away. It was 1977 and we had recently arrived at our new USAF assignment in Germany. We had purchased a 1967 Volkswagen station wagon which turned out to have virtually no floorboards just floor mats.  We found that out the first time it rains.  It rains a lot in Germany.  Anyway we named him Herman.  He wasn’t fast, he wasn’t pretty.  But he would go…most of the time.

Our friends that lived a couple of hours away invited to come over and spend the weekend with them.  We lived in Sambach which wasn’t too far from Sembach where I worked.  You can probably already tell that things can get confusing in Germany.  So, we had been in country for about 10 days, we had our international drivers license which meant I paid someone $15 dollars, and we had Herman.  Not to sound like Gilligan’s Island but we started out on “a three hour trip…a three hour trip”.

We were heading to a small city called  Zweibrucken where our friends lived.  The Air Force had a small airbase there where he worked and since Zweibrucken means “two bridges” I assume they had those also.  It was simple.  Get on this highway with your car named Herman and with no floorboards, drive about an hour or so, take a left and head toward Zweibrucken.  Not a deal. Right? Well, not so fast.

Soon Judy and I were traveling along, excited for a new adventure.  We had no traveling experience in Germany, it was raining, remember it does that a lot in Germany, so we had miniature swimming pools for floorboards and the antique wipers were just keeping up with the rain. After about an hour we came to a large directional sign.  It said Saarbrucken straight ahead.  Well, Mr. “I’m a man who doesn’t get lost” looked at his sweet, dear “Don’t look at me, I’ve never been out the country before either” wife and said, “Uh was that Saarbrucken we were looking for?”  You know, if you’ve seen one “brucken” you’ve seen them all.

Well, I couldn’t remember, she couldn’t remember so we kept driving and it kept raining.  We drove for quite a while and suddenly found ourselves in Saarbrucken which happens to be on the French border. We also found ourselves on the verge of having to learn French. Since we hadn’t mastered any German either we decided we had best turn around before we started an international incident.

I did a quick turn around and headed back the way we came.  We were disoriented, discouraged, and disappointed.  We drove back about 30 miles or so and there we saw a sign:  Zweibrucken.  I remembered, she remembered—sweet Zweibrucken. Hallelujah. We exited off the autobahn (which is German for “you can drive fast if you don’t drive a Herman”) and as we exit we see our friend just pulling away.  He had come to look for us and was just about to give up.  We saw him, he saw us.  We laughed, we embraced. We had made it.  “Guten Tag.”  Guten Tag, indeed!

We still laugh about that crazy story.  Two young people who didn’t know better driving in a foreign country, taking off in a too old Volkswagen station wagon with swimming pools for floor boards, getting lost and unable to ask directions. Yup, life was good. Now knowing me,  I was probably frustrated, discouraged, and discombobulated. I’m not exactly sure what that means but I am sure I felt it that day.  But the bottom line is, we had fun. Even then we laughed at the hot mess we were in.  It was a story we would tell our kids one day.  Well, we have and it still brings a smile to our lips.

I know there is so much craziness today.  So many missteps, so many “I don’t knows,” so many “Saars” when it should have been a “Zwei.” But remember this.  There is a God who is writing this story called your life and He is a God who loves a good adventure.  And the things that we count as disruptions just might be one of His great adventures purposely put in our path for our ultimate good and pleasure.  David, in Psalm 37:23 writes, “The steps of a good person are ordered [directed, planned] by the Lord.  And He delights in that path.”  In other words, God has a plan and it is a plan that He has written just for you. I know I sometimes question my GPS when it takes me down some crazy roads to save a minute or two but I am learning to just enjoy the journey.  I wrote a few days back that Judy and I love to drive around and try to get lost.  One of my friends said, “Come on down to Pope County.  I can get you lost.”  I think I’m gonna take him up on it.  I’ll have my trusty GPS on standby and my friend won’t be too far away so it should be a great adventure.  I’ll just go along for the ride and rest in Him.  After all, He’s got this.  Guten Tag.

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.

Posted in Family, life, Military memories, Scripture, travel

Memorial Day Rememberings

Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.” (Colossians 1:21-22)

It was a moment I will probably never forget.  My wife and I love adventures.  We look for ways to do things on a limited budget and we’ve actually gotten pretty good at it.  A few years back we discovered we could take a train from Carbondale to Chicago, stay downtown at a nice hotel for a couple of nights and enjoy whatever was happening around us.. all on a shoestring budget. We would usually go around Memorial Day or the Fourth of July.  It was pretty awesome.

Last year we went the week of the 4th.  We grabbed a very nice hotel room and managed to snag a room that literally faced the fireworks display.  It was awesome.  At Millennium Park they have these incredible free outdoor concerts.  Thousands of people from all walks of life gather on the large lawn to listen.  Because it is the 4th, the music centers on America.  They usually have a section where they honor the veterans by asking them to stand when the theme for their branch of the service is played.

I am a veteran.  I served in the United States Air Force for 12 years and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And that’s the problem.  You see, because it was so rewarding I always felt awkward standing to be honored because I felt like I received so much more than I gave.  So that night, I knew that part of the concert was coming and I was dreading it.  I knew that Judy would urge me to stand, I would say no and she would give me the look.  Again.  But that night, for some reason, something changed.

It was time.  The stirring songs from each branch of the service began playing.  Soon, the Air Force theme was playing.  I looked at Judy and said, “I’m going to stand just for you.”  As I stood something happened.  First, I saw others standing that had served in the Air Force and I felt community…I stopped feeling apart and instead felt a part—a part of the family.  But what happened next was amazing.

There was a mother with a couple of young boys sitting about eight or ten feet from me.  The younger of her sons, probably seven or eight, looked at me and said this, “Mom, is he a hero?”  And I watched and listened as she said, “Yes.  He served our country so that we can be free.”  Then she turned to me and mouthed the words, “Thank you for serving.” Well that was the highlight of the trip for me and it was the day an unexplainable wall fell.

I am certain that I do not deserve the title hero.  The men and women with crosses over their graves in all the national cemeteries deserve that.  The warriors who came back from the various wars and conflicts bearing the physical and emotional scars of war deserve that.  But the one thing that I realized that night was we should be thankful for our freedom.  We can and should honor each person who served for their willingness and sacrifice.

So I’m still shy about standing at Veteran’s Day events.  I still feel awkward at concerts when veterans are asked to stand.  But it’s not because I’m ashamed to say I served. No, it is because I received more than I could ever give back.  I was privileged to wear the uniform of my country.  And that is pretty awesome.  But wait. There’s more.

As I write this story another one is stirring in my heart.  It flashed in my mind that this isn’t the only time, the only circumstance, that makes me feel this way.  It is also my faith in God.  That day when I followed Christ I also received more than I could ever give back. That day I was welcomed into the family of a God who loved me enough to give His Son to a Roman cross.  Paul in the Bible tells us that we went from being alienated and hostile toward God to being able to call Him Father. Jesus caused my billion failures to disappear so He could present me faultless and blameless to His Father. We all need heroes.  This Memorial Day would you take the time to remember those who bled and died that we could be free?  Would you take your kids to the cemetery for your community’s Memorial Day service?  I hope that you will.  But I also hope you will pause and thank the Hero of Heaven for sacrificing His life so that people like you and me can be truly free.  And finally, next time you have the opportunity to stand not as a hero but because of the One, stand proudly and thank Him.  Thank Him that you can rest in Him.  Thank you because He’s got this.