Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, USA, Veteran's Day, wisdom

A Penny and a Nickel

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

I had never noticed it before.  A couple of weeks ago my wife Judy and I visited the national battlefield at Dover, Tennessee.  I was so impressed.  Fort Donelson National Battlefield is a Civil War battle site sandwiched between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers.  The South had built two forts there for the purpose of controlling those two rivers.  It was a major supply line for the South.  Many of the original earthworks are still there.  You can imagine the Union and Southern soldiers huddling down rising only to fire at one another.

One spot on the tour showed where the big Southern guns were mounted.  In fact, many of them were still there.  There were three on one side and seven on the other.  The guns could hurl a 30 pound shell over a mile and were some of the deadliest weapons of the war.  At that spot, an American Bald Eagle was perched in a large oak tree right on the bluff.  It was as if he was watching over the sacredness of this hallowed ground.  Men—both Union and Southern, shed their blood on these grounds.  One side dying to preserve the Union and the other dying to tear it apart.  After more than a few minutes the eagle took his leave and so did we.

The car tour then took us out of the park and down the road a mile or so.  There we found more earthworks, more cannon and more ground stained with blood.  Leaving there we headed down the road to the National Cemetery established after the battle. The Union soldiers won the day but the cost was high on both sides.  Judy and I parked the car and walked around the cemetery.  There were hundreds of graves…all men who had fought for the Union.  Sadly, the Confederate dead where dumped into mass graves and covered over.  They remain that way today.

At the cemetery, there were many graves from the Civil War era but since it is still an active military cemetery, warriors from virtually all the wars are buried there.  Judy and I saw graves from the World War I, World War 2, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars.  We even saw one grave from what was called the Second Seminole War or the Florida War. Row upon row of graves, some older ones with only a last name and their assigned unit, lay silently giving testimony to their last full measure of devotion to their country.  There was one more thing.

We noticed that laying on top of many of the headstones there were coins.  They were mostly pennies with a sprinkling of silver coins also.  I didn’t really know what they meant but I had an idea and I was right.  There is a tradition that honors men and women who served their country.  You mainly see it in national cemeteries but also at others scattered throughout our Land.  When you see a penny on top of the headstone of a veteran, it means that someone stopped and reflected on the soldier’s life and service. It is a form of remembrance.  And, when a family member returns to the grave, they have the assurance that someone remembered and honored their loved one’s sacrifice and service.

If there was a silver coin, and back in the old days a nickel in particular, it meant the person who stopped by had a special relationship with the fallen soldier.  They may have gone through basic training together or were assigned to the same unit.  There has always been a special bond with men and women who fought together…who perhaps died together.  It is a bond that lives on beyond death and those silver coins honored that bond.

The Bible is full of renowned, well known, verses but one that stands out is where Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  That is what those silver coins were saying.  It was a silent testimony of loyalty one for another.  This band of brothers were willing to die for the other…and many did.  What an amazing story of love and commitment.

Today we honor the men and women of our great country who served or are actively serving in it’s armed forces.  For 244 years brave soldiers have put their lives on the line.  As the saying goes, “All who served gave some but some gave all.”  We should be incredibly grateful for both.  As you journey through life today and you recognize a man or woman who was or is member of the armed forces, take the time to thank them for their service.  The freedoms we enjoy came at great cost whether it was the ultimate sacrifice or the daily sacrifice of hardship or separation from family.  Be sure and let them know you appreciate it.  It is just the right thing to do.  Oh, and don’t forget to thank the One who provides the ultimate freedom…Jesus Christ.  Because of Him, we can rest…because of Him we can have the peace of knowing…He’s got this.

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

“Firsts”

God is not a man, so He does not lie. He is not human, so He does not change His mind. Has He ever spoken and failed to act?  Has He ever promised and not carried it through?”  Numbers 23:19

Saddle up your horses, boys, this is the great adventure.  I was 23 and Judy was 19 when we got on a plane and headed to Germany to live for three years.  Of all our adventures this one was one of the most special because it was the first.  And speaking of firsts, it was a series of many firsts for us.  It was our first trip out of the United States.  As great as our three years in Germany were—it was great to finally come home.  You know they say that there is no place like home—and they are correct.

I am a gadget guy and Germany held a couple of great gadget firsts.  First, if you were in the service (USAF) and went overseas anywhere—you bought a BIG stereo.  I had speakers the size of end tables and a rack of equipment that would make any audiophile jealous.  Receiver, equalizer, cassette recorder/player, reel to reel player/recorder was just the short list of my stereo gadgetry and I was proud of every piece.   I remember coming up with different sale pitches to Judy on why I just had to have whatever was next.  I was pretty good at it too.

It was in Germany that I got my first digital watch.  One of the pilots in my squadron called me over one day and said, “Hey Sergeant Taylor, check this out.”  It was a silver Casio LED digital watch with buttons and a screen.  I was instantly enamored. “Where did you get it, sir?” was the question and the J.C. Penney catalog was the answer.  Three things happened.  First, I checked it out—$69.00 (and trust me that was a chuck of money); two, convince Judy I had to have it.  Last, order it and wait a three weeks for the order to be mailed to America and the watch to make the return trip.  Finally it came. That same watch is $4.99 today.  Imagine that.

It was also in Germany that I learned the wonder of the microwave and got my first one.  There was only one brand in those days—an Amana Radar Range.  This is how it happened.  A senior NCO who attended our church told me one day, “I can boil water in a paper cup.”  I said, “No you can’t” and He said “Yes, I can.”  That resulted in a trip to his house where he promptly  put a paper cup in this magic machine and proceeded to boil water in a paper cup.  Done deal.  Had to have one. Amazingly, I was in the Base Exchange (the store on base) and there it was—an Amana Radar Range on clearance no less—for $370.00 dollars. Three things happened.  I convinced Judy we could not live without this modern marvel.  Two, I put it on layaway (remember that?). Lastly, I waited six weeks for three paydays to scrape up enough money to bring it home.  Finally we did, but you know you can only boil so many cups of water before it loses its pizzazz.

There was one more first thing that we got in Germany and it had to go into layaway too.  Midway through our last year in Germany, we learned that Judy was expecting our first daughter.  This time the layaway was for nine months.  We left Germany in August of 1980 and Rebecca Dawn was born in Missouri on January 24, 1981.  Unlike the microwave, she kept us pretty amazed day in and day out.  We were so amazed that we decided to get another one and just 19 months after we got Rebecca out of layaway, Jennifer Lynne came along.  I have to say we decided to wait awhile to do that again but it wasn’t for lack of pizzazz.

The firsts didn’t stop in Germany either.  I can still remember the day we discovered something called Walmart.  We were fresh home from three years in Germany and were setting up our home in Warrensburg, Missouri.  We needed a trash can or something and went with what we were familiar with—TG&Y. It was a five and dime kind of story that we had in South Georgia.  Judy called it “Tator, Gator, and Yator.” Don’t ask me why, but it stuck.  So anyway, TG&Y didn’t have what we were looking for so I asked a clerk to be sure we weren’t missing it.  She confirmed they didn’t have it and suggested we try the Walmart down the road.  To this day, I remember my reply, “What’s a Walmart?”  Apparently while we were gone to Germany this new store started sweeping the Midwest and then the country. In 1980, Walmart 296 stores and today there are 11,501.  How amazing is that?

What makes life so interesting is that there is always one more first. Things change—the old moves to the rearview mirror as the next new thing appears in the windshield.  And do you know what?  I’m good with that.  But I am also glad that there are things that remain.  Tonight I saw another beautiful sunset personally painted by the God of the galaxies.  It was amazing.  Tonight, Judy once again confirmed that she liked me and loved me.  I thought that was pretty cool.  I told her she had way too much invested to start over.  She told me she didn’t want to anyway. Nice. But it doesn’t stop there.  In fact, that’s just the beginning.

You see,  the Bible says “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” The answer is No and No.  He is faithful…He can be trusted. I’m glad we have a God that doesn’t change nor change His mind.  He loves me and you today and He will love us tomorrow.  A zillion, billion years from today—He will still be loving me.  That’s good to know.  It’s good to know that tonight I will lay my head down on my pillow and rest—rest in knowing that I’m in His care.  I am not subject to circumstance, accident or happenstance.  He holds me, and He holds you—tight.  And tomorrow I’m going to wake up—either here or in an awesome place called heaven—my final first.  Either way, no matter what, He’s got this—and that is enough.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

I Was Moved, I Was Grateful

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

I made a random turn…into the cemetery.  The other evening Judy and I were out on a mission.  One of our ladies had given us some homemade ice cream and we were returning the container.  Oh, in case you are wondering, it was way beyond delicious.  It was peach and it was peachy.  I’ve already put in a request for strawberry next.  So we returned the container and just kinda started driving randomly.  As we went down the street the entrance to the cemetery came up on the right—and I turned right in.

Slowly we started driving down the lanes and just as slowly I started reading some of the headstones there.  First, though, on the left was the newly rededicated “Little Arlington.”  It was dusk and the lights were on and I was so impressed with the great work the crew had done.  One of those was our own Jacob Palmer.  Great job, Jacob.  But I was also impressed with what it represented.  Sacrifice.  Ultimate sacrifice.  The kind of sacrifice that means you don’t get to come home from the war.  I love what is often said, “All gave some but some gave all.” For that, I was moved and I was grateful.

Just down the lane was a grave that caught my attention.  It was a young soldier who went to Korea to fight for his country in what has been called “the forgotten war.”  He was 27 years old when he died on some battlefield, some hill in a country for away.  He was fighting and ultimately died for the cause of freedom.  I was moved and I was grateful.

In several places, Judy and I would stop as we saw a headstone that was personal because we knew, we loved, the ones buried there.  Sometimes both of the names were etched there in the stone and it symbolized two lives joined into one with one story.  And for both the story was concluded.  Sometimes though only one name had the start and finish dates. The other story was still being written and there was a heart longing for heaven and a long awaited reunion.  One stone declared and celebrated 72 years of marriage.  So many of those story writers had touched our lives.  I was moved and I was grateful.

There were also stones of tragedy.  There stood the stone marking the grave of two brothers tragically killed one night by a drunk driver.  Several of stones showed lives cut short by a tragic accident.  Over there was the headstone of one of the victims from the 2012 tornado.  Everywhere were stories of people who touched the lives of others. One stone showed an American flag engraved in full color—the grave of a proud veteran.  One grave was that of a pastor and a veteran of World War II.  So many stories, so many lives, so many contributions.  I was moved and I was grateful.

As we continued around the lanes inside the hallowed grounds we noticed there were places where whole families were buried together.  Generations of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters lay in eternal rest together.  The stones often bore nicknames and tag lines of the one who lay there.  On one grave was a tattered flag that said, “#1 Dad.” Some graves though were barely marked.  The only indication that someone lay there was a rock or a stone.  In another part of the cemetery were the pauper graves.  I have stood at some of those graves as we laid to rest someone that almost no one knew.  Once it was the funeral director and me.  No one else came. I was moved and I was grateful.

“Wait,” you say.  “How can you be grateful?”  Well the reason is simple.  Whether it was a family plot of many generations or a solitary grave of a person when no one came—Jesus was still there.  He is the unseen attendee of every funeral.  For many He is there as Savior and Lord. For others He is there as the Sovereign Lord Who wishes all to believe but knows not all will.  But He is there.  He is always there.  When we need Him, when we want Him and yes, even when we ignore Him.  I am moved and I am grateful.

When you get some time, take a slow drive through the cemetery.  It is anything but morbid…it is in fact one of the most meaningful things we can do.  You will be touched, you will be moved, and yes, somewhere along the way you will be grateful.  Let each headstone with a start and finish date be a reminder that for you there is still time.  Still time to make a difference, still time to mend a relationship, still time to finish well.  But most importantly…there is still time to believe and trust in Him.  The Book says that if anyone will call on His name…they will be saved—forgiven—rescued. No story is so bad that He can’t change the end.  Once again I am moved and I am grateful.

Many see the cemetery and think death.  For those who truly understand grace and Jesus they know the cemetery isn’t about death it is about life.  You learned it in Sunday School but now hear it again…like the first time.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever (that is you and me) calls on His name will not perish but have everlasting life.  So trust in Him and rest in Him.  For He has all of this. 

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

It’s a “Dippity-Do-Dah” Day

If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth.”  1 John 1:6

Dippity-do dah, dippy day, my oh my, what a wonderful day!  I joined the Air Force back in 1972 and in so many ways it was a different world.  At that time longer hair was still very much in vogue.  It seemed the only guys with shorter haircuts were either born in the 1920’s or in the military.  I was the latter.

It was also a different day in the way people view the military.  The country was coming out of the Vietnam era and sadly many saw veterans and the active military in a dark light.  I can well remember walking around town and getting the “one of those” look.  While I was never ashamed of being in the military, in fact, I was proud to serve, I did want to be cool—part of the in-crowd and short hair just wasn’t in.  But you know the old saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”  Hello Dippity-do.

It’s funny, I don’t remember anyone else doing it nor do I remember how I started.  I found this hair stuff called, “Dippity-do.”  It was a gel like product and depending on how much you applied, it would make your hair stay where you put it.  So I bought a jar and slowly I let the hair on the top of my head and sides grow out.  I would wakeup in the morning and put this stuff, in fact a lot of this stuff, on my hair.  I would comb it kinda on top of my head and toward the back.  The effect was—well, effective. The funny part is when this stuff dried out it made my hair as solid as a rock.  Of course, my mom always said I had a hard head.

I found that I could have the required white-wall around my ears and have all this hair glued down to the top of my head.  When I got off work, I would go take a shower, wash this stuff out and believe it or not have enough hair to totally cover my ears.  I looked like any other guy in the early 1970’s.  Even as I write this I’m saying, “What?”  But believe me it worked.  I looked like a military guy during the day and a regular off-the-street guy at night.  Looking back, it was weird.

Even stranger I worked in the command section of my squadron and to show how effective my ruse was, no one said anything.  It looked, and I guess was, regulation.  I remember one day walking in the local mall and coming straight toward me was my squadron commander, Major Hobbs.  We passed within five feet of each other and he didn’t even recognize me. Yup—G.I. Joe by day and a 70’s hipster at night. Looking back there probably was a word for it.  It was probably pretty hypocritical.

The word hypocrite means to “play the part” or to “wear the mask.”  It was used to describe actors in ancient Greece who were one thing on stage and another off the stage.  The one thing I remember is that I always felt a certain amount of fear while doing this.  There was always the “what if I get called in and don’t have time to plaster my hair down” thing.  What if my commander and my first sergeant saw me and did recognize me?  I knew they respected me and what would happen to that respect?  It’s the feeling you get when you are one thing one time and another thing later.

Well, finally I figured it wasn’t worth it and I’ll tell you that story another time, but the bottom line is I went and got a regular haircut.  Two things happened almost immediately.  First, I felt free.  The fear of the wrong person seeing me at the wrong time was suddenly gone.  It was like a weight was taken off my shoulders.  The second thing that happened was I discovered that in spite of what the culture said, I was proud to be in the Air Force and that haircut identified me as part of a special family and team.  It wasn’t something to be ashamed of…it was something to be proud of.  And the best part, the girl I was dating, who I later married, thought I was even cuter.  Now for the funny part. I have been out of the military now for 36 years and I never, not even once, grew my hair out.  I decided I like shorter hair.  More than that…I decided I like being real.

So, what about you?  What is it in your life where you “wear the mask?”  What is it in your life where you have decided to pretend—to be something you aren’t?  While you find that in every aspect of life, sadly it’s also common in the Jesus follower world.  People say one thing and do another—people who act one way on Sunday and another the rest of week.  If I learned anything from my Dippity-do world is that authenticity beats a plastic mask every time. 

John, one of the guys who followed Jesus in the Bible, said it pretty well.  He said, “If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth.”  In other words, if we say we are one thing and really are another—we are just living a lie.  It is better to be real than fake.  It is better to be authentic than counterfeit.  I may have fooled my commander that day but I never fool God when I choose to be one thing in public and another in private.  But the one thing I love about God is that He never rejects me.  He is never ashamed to call me His child. I can always rest in Him and more than that, He can handle who I am—Dippity-do and all.  He’s got this.

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.