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

Lifeline

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.” Nahum 1:7

Nahum 1:7. It was in the Bible and it was his verse.  Church has always been a part of my culture.  From the time I was born it seems I always found my way to a building with a steeple on top. That also means I bumped into several pastors and preachers too.  Each one left a fingerprint on my life and because of that each one made a difference.  Speaking of different…each one was.  Different gifts, talents, and personalities, but each one made an impact.  I am grateful.

When my wife Judy and I moved to Germany in 1977 for a stint overseas with the Air Force, we were fortunate to have a church not too far from where we lived and the base where I worked.  It wasn’t long before we were part of that family.  In fact, it wasn’t long before we were good friends with the pastor and his wife.  He was a young pastor, had an infectious smile and a great personality and we hit it off right from the start.  We were about five or six years different in our ages, so he was kinda like a big brother only he wasn’t very big…but his heart was.

One of the things (literally) that I liked about hanging with Steve (not his real name) was he had a new shiny, red Volkswagen sports car.  It was great on curves and it was plenty fast and since Germany had lots of curves and often no speed limit on the autobahn…well, it was fun.  I guess in some ways we were like a couple of teenagers.

Steve also was a Godly guy.  He really tried to live his faith out. One of the things that he shared with me was his “life verse.”  In case you don’t know what that is, it is a verse from that Bible that jumps off the page at you and gets stuck in your mind and heart. So, Steve’s verse came from one of those books in the Old Testament that no one can find.  It is called the Book of Nahum and his verse came from chapter one, and verse seven.  It goes like this, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.”

It is the kind of verse that you gotta love.  It is the kind of verse that can be a lifeline when the sea of life gets rough.  It isn’t that the verse has any magic powers, it’s just that it contains a boatload of truth.  God is good, and it isn’t that He just does good, He is good.  He is like a place you can run to when things go south, and He remembers my name, your name, our names.  Those are great truths when the sun is shining in life and really, great truths when the storm clouds roll in…just like it did for Steve one day.

Without warning, he learned that his marriage was over, there was another guy.  It was just one of those crazy things that happen, and it broke his heart and our hearts.  The bottom line, he decided it was best to head back to the states and in a short while…he was gone.  I never saw him again but if by chance he reads this someday, I hope he knows there were some things that stuck with me…like his life verse.  No, his verse didn’t become mine, but it stuck.  God is good, God is a refuge, God knows my name.

How about you?  Do you have a verse that jumped off the page one day and into your heart and life?  Mine for a real long time has been Proverbs 3:5-6 but for the last several years it has had some real competition with Psalm 37:23-24.  Check them out…they are both awesome scriptures.  That is one thing about the Bible.  Even if you’ve never taken the leap of faith to believe, and I hope you will, you will find it an incredible Book of wisdom and knowledge and who knows, if you try it, it might just leap right into your life.  God is good, God is a refuge, God knows my name.  It was good back in 1977, it is good today, and when I launch from here to there, it will still be good. And no matter the circumstance, no matter the deal, it reminds me that, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

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

Unkept-the Look

Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” Proverbs 4:23

It was unkept…but it was cool. Ok, let’s just lay it out there.  I am just a tad on the old school side.  I was a teenager in the late sixties and early seventies with a daddy who wasn’t fond of anything countercultural—and that included longer hair.  That was phase one.  Phase two was twelve years in the United States Air Force.  They and my Daddy would have gotten along really well- since they weren’t fond of anything countercultural either.  Phase three was being a Baptist pastor.  Back in the days, Baptists were pretty much not fond of anything countercultural either.  Suits and ties were the norm and facial hair was basically a no-no.  So, you can probably understand that I wrestle with some of the new fashion norms. It’s not that I don’t like them—it’s just that I don’t understand some of them.

As an example, part of my morning routine is having a time with God.  Part of that is watching a short video of someone speaking.  This morning it was a pretty successful young pastor from somewhere.  As the video began I noticed a couple of things.  First, his hair had the now fashionable “unkept” look.  It was like he got out of bed, ran his fingers through his hair and went to work.  Again, that’s cool.  Hang with me.  Second, he sported the wildly popular beard stubble look.  I mean, if you don’t have a stubble… you’re not ready to rumble.  He had a good stubble.  Hey, that’s cool.  I wish the Air Force had discovered that when I was in. Again, the cool “unkept” look.

Another fashion statement with the “unkept” look are jeans with holes in them.  They are crazy poplar.  When I was growing up jeans with holes were tossed out and people who wore them were poor.  Now, people pay big bucks to have jeans with holes.  Hey, just buy a regular pair and give them four years—bam—another cool “unkept” look.  And you save a few bucks.  Another “unkept” look that is popular with the “we don’t own an iron” crowd is the wrinkled look.  You just grab your shirt or whatever and throw it on and you are in. Again, totally cool—totally in.

I’ve even seen this in yards.  There are folks who have unkept yards because they just don’t like to mow grass or trim their yards but there is another group that simply loves that look.  To them unkept is “unkept—the cool kind.”  To some folks an “unkept” yard is all about nature.  I really liked that when I was young—my Daddy did not.  It just wasn’t his thing.

So, what’s up?  Well, through the years different things have come and gone.  It’s just the way culture works.  Things are fashionable for awhile and they move on.  I know there was a time I couldn’t imagine preaching without a tie.  I even said one time that I didn’t think I could preach without a tie.  Now days, I usually preach with an open collar.  Things change.  Right now “unkept” is cool and one day it probably won’t be and I’m good with it either way.  But wait.

While “unkept” is cool, fashion wise…it is not cool or healthy to like an “unkept” life.  You ask, “What is that?”  It is a life that is lived solely in the moment.  In the sixties it was the “if it feels good, do it” thing and each decade has had its version of that thought pattern.  But the bottom line is that when we live “unkept” lives there are usually consequences and regrets.  I said this morning to my wife Judy that “success is not accidental, it is intentional.”  That almost sounds deep.  I also think that God’s peace, and joy, and happiness, and a host of other things that make life worth living aren’t accidental either…they are intentional.

For me, as a Jesus follower, that intentionality involves checking in with God on a regular basis to see what He thinks about my day…my life.  For me it is a daily dose of His Book, the Bible. Trust me on this one…there is a reason why it remains one of the best-selling books of all time.  The truths and teachings of Jesus are found in the second part, the New Testament, and they were groundbreaking two thousand years ago and they still are today.

Ok, so I don’t know if I will ever do the “unkept” thing or not.  It took me a long time to figure out I could teach without a tie.  But I do know this. When it comes to life, a “kept” life is just better—fewer consequences—fewer regrets.  That is probably why the Book says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” God really wants what is best for us…He loves us that much.  If you find yourself in an “unkept” mess, just remember that He is there waiting and no matter what it is, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, love, Military memories, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, USA, wisdom

Home is Better

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:4-5

Who would have known?  In 1977, my wife and I packed up our stuff and moved to Germany.  It wasn’t a sudden urge we had—it was courtesy of the Air Force.  When we had been married about seven months, we received an assignment to move to Europe.  We were excited about moving there, but also realized Germany was 4,657 miles from everything that was familiar to us.  We were off on a great adventure, without cell phones or internet!

We loved it.  Our part of Germany was filled with history and beautiful landscapes.  Rich forests and small hills and mountains framed every view.  And honestly, it was a little like home.  While it was true that the local folks spoke a different language, there was enough English sprinkled around that we were able to get by.  We even learned a little (and I do mean a little) German to help.  We drove our cars on the right side of the road,  just like home (unlike the Brits), we could drink the water just like home, we had stores kinda like home, and we even had a church…just like home.  But it wasn’t…home.

Throughout the three years we were there, we would celebrate when it came time for friends to “ship” back to the United States.  Our church even had a special song titled, “Goodbye, World, Goodbye” that we sang every time someone left to go back to the states.  They were bitter-sweet moments.  We would miss them, but we knew where they were going. They were going home.

There was one thing that we would do, every once in a while, to remind us of home.  It might seem strange, but it wasn’t to us.  Germany was a place of great food but once again…it wasn’t home.  I found out that not many Germans eat grits.  Imagine that. But they did share one thing that was purely American—McDonald’s.  Located downtown in a large city, not too far from where we lived, was a McDonald’s very much like ours back home. And when we could afford it, which wasn’t often, we would go and have a taste of home.  Each bite of the burgers and fries said, “Remember home.”  Each bite said, “This place is good but remember, it’s not home.”

Well, one day it was our turn to go…home.  It was our turn to hear, “Goodbye, World, Goodbye” and know it was for us.  It was our turn to leave there and go home and as soon as we were home, we knew instantly that while “there” was very good—it wasn’t home. Home was better.  Home was home.

Jesus followers need to remember that very important truth—Home is better—Home is home.  This world is good.  We enjoy life with friends and family, and there is a McDonald’s on every corner.  But what used to remind us of home now reminds us that we are not there…yet. Even with all its warts and imperfections, God has done a great job providing us a temporary location to live out our days, but remember, Home is going to be—better.  The Bible tells me that Heaven is a place where there is no more pain, suffering, sickness or sorrow.  No hospitals, no nursing homes, and no funeral homes.  Simply put—the former things are gone, and everything will be new.  Home will be better.

I know I speak for Judy too when I say that our time in Germany was three of our favorite years together. I also know I speak for her when I say home was, and home is, better. Life here is good but one day, it will be my turn, your turn, to find out that Home is better.  When it came time to leave Germany and go home, the Air Force paid for our ticket and I am glad to let you know that our ticket to Home is paid for too—by God’s Son, Jesus Christ. All we have to do is accept it and when we do—life here gets better and Home is thrown in. When we accept it, we find out that God loves to give us a “McDonald’s” or two, here and there, just to remind us of Home…to remind us that till we get there, He is with us and that at every turn, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials

Too Much Spaghetti

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” Proverbs 17:22

I cooked way too much spaghetti.  Well, I guess it is all official.  Things are back to normal.  You see, I am a pastor/teacher/preacher. That means I have the privilege of serving with a bunch of people in a church and have the opportunity to share truth from the Bible…often several times a week.  It is something that I truly enjoy. When I am sharing something and see the expression on someone’s face change, as if to say, “I get it,” well, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Pastoring is my second career.  I spend twelve years in the Air Force and just loved it and then God came up with another idea.  I separated from the Air Force and became a pastor.  That was 39 years ago.  Wow…that sounds like a long time but seems like yesterday. When I first starting preaching, my sermons were like 23 minutes long and sometimes that seemed like an eternity…for me and probably for them.  Over the years, things have gotten, well, longer.  Someone once said, “The longer you preach, the longer you preach.”  I believe I can testify to that.

So, before the COVID thing happened, I was generally speaking about 40-45 minutes. People were kind and most were even grateful for the message but there’s another old saying that says, “Never speak longer than the audience’s seat can bear.”  Well, let’s just same I probably reached and exceeded that limit.  So, because of COVID, for several months, the sermons were on Facebook Live and for that and a couple of other reasons I made a concerted effort to preach a little shorter…usually about 35 minutes.  I was so proud of myself…and then…well, yesterday happened.

Yesterday, I cooked too much spaghetti.  Now that is “code” that I simply prepared too much material.  Even before Sunday, I had cut about 20 percent of the material and I thought that would do it.  It didn’t.  The bottom line is that I preached, gulp, 45 minutes.  Oh my. I don’t think I chased too many rabbits—it was just too much spaghetti.  At the end of the service I told the folks that I appreciated their patience. They are such a gracious group of people.  I also smiled and told them that it was a great sign that things were definitely back to normal.

I always greet the people as they leave after the service and something happened that still has me smiling.  The mother of one of our members was in the service.  I know her and well, she is a friend and a very special lady.  Her husband passed away about a year ago and I was privileged to have a part in his service.  As she shook my hand, she shared that because of having to care for her husband and for health reasons she hadn’t been in church for several years.  Then she explained how each week she was sure to listen to our service, and me, on the radio.  I smiled and said how grateful I was.  And then she said, “You know, I sure enjoyed today but you know, at home, I can just turn the radio off when I am ready.”  I laughed, she laughed, and everyone who was standing in earshot did too. It was a precious moment, and it made my day.

This story isn’t about sermons, long or short, but rather it is about the fact that life is getting back…not to normal, but I believe something better than what it was.  I’ve said it so many times, it won’t be the same and in some ways that is not bad.  In fact, in some ways, it is just better.  I believe the COVID year has taught us to love God better and love people better.  I believe the COVID year has taught us to appreciate the small things in life that make life better.

This past Friday night, for the first time in a long time, I sat around a table with friends, as we shared a meal, but more than that—we laughed, a lot, and it was good.  So, this week my goal is to preach a little shorter and laugh a little more.  After all the Bible tells us that a cheerful heart is good medicine and I just tend to believe what it says. We can laugh, even in our hot mess world, because ultimately, we are certain of one thing—He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in fear, Grace, Military memories, Scripture, travel, Trials

Losing Lift

 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 7:24-25

It was something I thought I would never see.  From 1977 to 1980 my wife Judy and I were stationed with the Air Force in Germany.  I have said it so many times but it was a great time.  We were young, still newly married and had the opportunity to see and experience so much of Europe.  It was good duty too.  I was assigned to a small base and provided administrative support for one of the flying squadrons.  We flew the OV-10—a twin engine forward air control aircraft.  There weren’t many enlisted guys in the squadron and the pilots treated us like family.

Obviously safety, and in particular flight safety, was always a big deal.  I remember right before I left to come back to the States we were on a long streak of accident free flying.  The commander was also due to rotate back to the States in just a couple of weeks.  He said, “The best gift you guys can give me is to remain accident free.” A couple of days later, however, one of our planes crashed.

What I thought I would never see, and certainly didn’t want to see, was another crash.  One day, I was standing in my office talking to one of the pilots about who knows what.  I was looking out the window as we chatted and saw an aircraft, not one of ours but a F-4 fighter jet, literally falling out of the sky.  I blurted out to the pilot I was talking to, “That plane is going to crash.”  I remember his response to this day, “That’s not something to joke about.”  I wasn’t joking.  Less than half a mile from where we were this massive fighter aircraft did literally fall from the sky.  The pilot ejected but sadly did not survive.  It was devastating.  I can still see the explosion in my mind.

As it turns out the plane wasn’t trying to land and where he crashed had nothing to do with our base.  He was flying over the area, lost airworthiness, and went into what is called a flat spin.  When this happens, planes can lose their lift and they crash.  You see, to stay in the air, planes have to have the lift provided by forward movement and air moving in and around their wings.  When that doesn’t happen, planes fall from the sky.

It not only happens to planes…it happens to people…like me…like you.  At the beginning of this year, I did the healthy thing.  I began eating right, checking my sugar levels, and exercising five or six times a week. The results came quickly and were amazing.  After three months I had my blood checked and the results were what my physician called, “beautiful.”  Literally every critical number was in the normal range. It was amazing…it was awesome.  And then, I lost my lift.

The best I can tell my success began my downfall. After winning so big, I wasn’t sure what was next.  It was like the day after Christmas.  The win was in the bag and I lost my drive to keep on winning.  Over the last month or so I returned to my poor eating habits and slowly, or perhaps not so slowly, things began to change…for the worse.  The only win is that I am still exercising. Like I said, “When you lose your lift…you crash.”

I was thinking about this before I began writing this morning and decided I really should share my story.  Maybe I can help keep someone from crashing.  And, it really doesn’t have to be about health…it can be anything.  The bottom line is when we lose our momentum, our drive, our lift in any area of our lives—spiritually, emotionally or physically—we are in danger of crashing.  Marriages can go south, God can become a distant relative and we can become emotionally disconnected.  We need to be careful.

Paul, the guy who wrote a chunk of what we call the New Testament, knew about losing lift and I think he knew about crashing too.  He asked the question, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”  Can you identify with that question?  Honestly, I can.  But it is the answer that gives me hope.  It is the answer that can give you hope.  He writes, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Bam!  There you go.  The answer is our faith and trust in Jesus.

I’m glad he didn’t just say to try harder or maybe pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  I’m glad he confirmed what I know and what you might know.  The answer is Jesus.  He doesn’t just limit His help to obvious God stuff—He is there always and in every way. So, here’s the deal.  I’m not going to throw in the towel and I hope you won’t either.  I may fall a little further but I won’t stay down.  And, regardless, He loves me, when I get it right and when I don’t.  And no matter what, spiritually, emotionally, or physically He goes with He—never condemning and always encouraging.  I like that.  It’s good to know that, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, life, Military memories, priorities, Scripture, Trials, wisdom

Mr. Bowlen

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8

It was a long, hard day.  When my wife and I lived in Warrensburg, Missouri we were renting a home in a still developing subdivision called Valley View.  We were just back from a three-year USAF stay in Germany, still newlyweds with only four years under our belt, and with a newly hatched dream.  While we loved the house we were renting, we, like so many, dreamed of owning our own home.  It was a crazy time economically as interest rates were running about 18 percent and inflation was at a record rate. And then a window opened.

The developer of our subdivision was a rough around the edges man named Mr. Bowlen.  We bumped into him around the neighborhood as he was still building houses. He planted a thought in our minds and hearts.  He said the government had a program that might allow us to build a house.  They would pay half the interest.  Well compared to eighteen percent, nine sounded pretty enticing. And before we knew, we were approved and a piece of land on Hilltop Drive had our name on it.  He let us add a few things like a bay window and a fireplace in the basement.  It added a bit to the bottom line, but they were worth it.

I’m still not sure if this was a wise financial decision for us.  It ended ok, and that’s another story, but it did cause some financial tension.  To help, he suggested I do some work equity and let me tell you…it was hard work.  I ended up doing all the painting and staining inside and out.  And for a guy who had never done anything like that—it was a challenge.  That’s another story, too.  There was also another opportunity to help with the financial tension.

Mr. Bowlen told me that he would be willing to let me work for him on Saturdays doing some basic labor.  He then said he would pay me $15.00 per hour.  Now that was good money back in 1983 so I agreed although I was way out of my comfort zone.  To set the stage, I was in the Air Force, that was my day job, I was pastoring a small church for a whopping $50 a week, that was my Sunday job, and now I was going to work for Mr. Bowlen on Saturdays.  Like I said…it was way out of my comfort zone.  So, Saturday came.

The work site was just down from our rental house, so I just walked over.  It was early in the morning and we were going to be putting up metal (as in heavy metal) forms to pour a basement for another house.  We had to lift the forms in place and hammer pins in place to hold it all together.  Well, besides dropping my hammer one time inside the forms, things went pretty well.  We called it a day about 4:00 pm…just in time for me to get home and start trying to write a sermon for the next day.  I was exhausted.  I bet that was at least one short sermon!

So, the next week I bumped into Mr. Bowlen and he had a check for me.  Finally, the fruit of my labor that Saturday was in my hands.  Based on his comment about $15.00 per hour and eight hours of labor, I was expecting a check for around a hundred dollars. Instead, I found a check for forty dollars and some change.  I was, uh, shocked.  I said, “Mr. Bowlen is this right?” He assured me that it was, and I said, “I thought you were paying $15.00 an hour.”  He chuckled and said, “Oh, I was only kidding about that.  We pay laborers $5.00 an hour.”  I wasn’t laughing.  In fact, as much as I liked him, I felt betrayed—ripped off.  From my view, one thing was promised, and another given. And that was my first and only Saturday working for Mr. Bowlen.

Betrayed and ripped off.  Have you ever felt that way?  Have you ever felt that way about another person?  Have you ever felt that way…about God?  Because people are broken and imperfect, just like us, there is a measure of understanding. It doesn’t make it any less painful but at least it sometimes softens the blow.  But what about God?  What about when it seems God doesn’t keep His Word?  That’s a tough one.

What I have learned over my years as a Jesus follower, and as a pastor, that when it seems we feel betrayed or ripped off by God it is because we have misread or misapplied His Word.  You see, His Word is full of promises, but we need to make sure that the promises were made to us and for us.  We can’t claim promises that were made to another person or group of people.  God made promises to Abraham that just aren’t ours to claim.

Too often, unfortunately, preachers, teachers, and ordinary people make promises on God’s behalf that God never intended or said.  And, when they don’t come true, well, we blame God and that is not right or fair.  I’ve been a Jesus follower for 45 years now, and I can tell you one thing—He has never failed me or failed to keep His Word.  He is a promise keeping God—when the promise is mine.  No, I’ve not always liked how things turned out or His way of working something out, but I can say I’ve never felt betrayed or ripped off.  He is a good God who is good at being God.  You can trust Him.

Well, Mr. Bowlen’s little joke was a hard lesson for me to learn but it was a valuable one.  His heart was good, but his sense of humor was not.  I’m glad my Dearest Daddy, the God I can call Father, has a perfect heart and His will and plan for me is perfect.  I know no matter what I will face, His plan is for my good and His glory—and that is good enough.  I can face today knowing, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful

A Grits Love Story

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” Genesis 2:18

It happened just like that. I love grits…a lot.  I know some of you have no idea what grits are and have never tried them.  If you are from the North, I understand. If you are from the South, well, that’s just inexcusable. The problem with grits is that people want to mess with them by adding things like sugar and milk. Listen…you don’t mess with Texas and you don’t mess with grits. When you add those two things to grits it changes their DNA and whatever it becomes it is no longer grits.  It may be the same consistency, but sugar and milk robs grits of their heart and soul.

There are things you can add to grits.  The first three things on the list are salt, pepper and butter.  Grits were meant to be seasoned so don’t think a sprinkle of this, or a dash of that will get the job done.  You need to grab the that salt shaker and get serious and do the same thing with the pepper.  Someone will say that salt is bad for your blood pressure.  Well, some things are worth the sacrifice.  The other things that bring grits to life are bacon, cheese and amazingly, shrimp. I’m telling you…grits are not the breakfast of champions…grits are the champion of breakfast.  If you learn to eat them right…you will never go back and the only question you will ask is, “Why did it take me so long?

I should have asked that question sooner in another season of my life. It was late summer of 1974 and  I was coming out of a relationship that had gone on way too long. It was just time for it to end and it did.  I was in the Air Force and trust me an Air Force base nine miles from town in South Georgia can be a lonely place.  Imagine a bowl of grits without the salt, pepper, and butter and that was me. And then on a Wednesday night I decided to go to a local church.  Now I had done church all of my life, but walking into a strange church, by myself, on a Wednesday night, was not in my comfort zone.  But this bowl of grits needed some seasoning. So, I went hoping I would meet someone who might add some seasoning to my life.  And, just like that, it happened.

That night, I walked in the side door of the church and there was a small group of young ladies standing by the piano.  One, and only one, caught my eye.  Her name was Judy Allen and that night was the beginning of a love story that has now stretched into a 45 year adventure of life and love.  I guess she was a little too young and maybe I was a little too old, but it was a different time and the bottom line…we fell in love.  That Georgia peach stole my heart and has never given it back.  I never thought of it this way, but I guess grits and peaches go together after all.

Through the decades and years, we have journeyed together…sometimes across town and sometimes across the world.  We built a legacy together that includes our three daughters, their husbands, and our grandkids…all eight of them. We first served our country together as an Air Force family and then served our God as a team—side by side in four different churches over 39 years. At each stop, I was the grits, and she was the seasoning.  She was and is a gifted servant in her own right, but she was also the salt, pepper, and butter that made me a better bowl of grits, a better man…a better pastor. I fully understand what God meant when He said in Genesis, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” Well, thank you God for that one.

Grits (what I write not the ones you eat) is just one more example of her seasoning me—encouraging me.  She had been nudging me for years to write and I simply wouldn’t listen.  And then COVID came along and on a whim, I wrote a very short story and posted it and almost a year later my fingers are still mashing keys.  What you may not know is that Judy once again was there to season my frail attempts.  She developed the blog and the Facebook page, and she proofs my words then designs the graphics.  She adds flavor to Grits—and our life and our ministry.

So, on purpose and without apology, let me tell her and you, just how much I love her and how grateful I am for the seasonings she has brought to my life.  There are two things I know.  First, I can’t imagine what life would have been if I hadn’t gone to church that night.  See, you oughta go to church!  But second, I can’t imagine what life would have been if this particular someone, by God’s amazing grace, hadn’t walked with me all these years. It seemed she always knew just how much salt, how much pepper and how much butter to add to this ole bowl of grits…and I love her for it.

So, there you go.  It’s a grits love story.  If you’ve tried grits (the ones you eat…not the ones you’re reading) and didn’t like them…you probably just didn’t have them seasoned right.  You might want to give them another try. And if you have someone in your life that, honestly, just feels a little bland, like grits without the good stuff, don’t give up on them.  Go ahead and be the seasoning in their life. You might be amazed, just like I was, how a little salt, a little pepper, and some butter can make a bowl of ground corn taste amazingly good. Oh, and then, don’t forget to also thank God because He’s the One who made it all possible anyway.  I’ve learned, and I am still learning, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

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

Blindside

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

I was blindsided.  It was time for a haircut. Now that is a relative statement—you know like relatively speaking.  I had five brothers and only two of us are left.  All the brothers had hair—lots of hair. No receding hairlines, no clogged drains in the shower, no nothing but lots of hair.  And then there is me.  While my daddy had a receding hairline he never lost his hair.  Well, that was them and that was him but it sure isn’t me.  It started with a receding hairline, then it became a thinning receding hairline and then it became a full blown retreat.  I now have a really, long forehead.  I don’t know if it is still in full retreat or if we are holding our own.  The jury is still out. So, I’m trying to say that a haircut for me is a relative statement. I am grateful that getting a haircut still doesn’t mean getting a solitary hair cut, but I do remember the days when there were more than a few.

Now, I keep my hair short for two reasons.  First, I have grayish white hair and I found it doesn’t look quite as white if I keep it shorter.  Second, and I can only guess, it is a carryover from my days with my Daddy and in the military.  For the first 18 years of my life my Daddy made sure I kept my hair short (even though it was the late sixties and early seventies).  After him, it was twelve years in the Air Force, and they made sure it was short. Well, after 30 years of short hair I figured, why change now?  So, the bottom line is about once a month I go see my hair cutter person.  Even after a month, my hair is sparse and less than an inch long.

So, I was in the chair and she was clipping and buzzing along.  She has cut my hair for the last 15 or so years so she knows the landscape pretty well.  Well, she said, “Dewayne did you hit your head or something?”  I assured her I hadn’t, but she was sure something had happened.  Well, my wife Judy had gotten me a pair of virtual reality goggles for Christmas.  I had used them the night before and the straps fitted pretty tightly around my head, so I assured her that was what she was seeing.  Then she said, “Well, let me show you.”

Before I knew it, there was a mirror in my hand, and she turned me around so I was looking in the mirror.  I could see something I had never seen—the back of my head.  Oh.My.Goodness.  You see, I naturally assumed that my…oh, how I hate to use the word…baldness stopped on top of my head.  I also assumed that I had the mane of Samson in the back.  I was wrong.  There in the mirror I got to see what everyone else saw all the time.  While it wasn’t totally hairless let’s just saw it was pretty thin.  You might say it was wavy—you know, the hairs there had plenty of space to wave at one another.

Well, I gasped and bless her heart, she did her best to assure me it wasn’t that bad—the average person looking wouldn’t even notice.  She said you would have to look real close to see it.  She was so nice, but I had the strangest feeling she was not telling the whole truth.  And in that moment I realized that my days of teasing people with a halo at the back of their head were probably over.  I had reached a new level of membership in the hair club—or perhaps more appropriately, the “no hair club.” What struck me as funny was I had no idea.  I really was blindsided.  I couldn’t see what any other person walking behind me could see.  To make matters worse, let’s just say that I’m not the tallest guy in the neighborhood. That means everyone taller than me, which is probably 90% of the adult population, had a great view of my impending hair doom.

Well, that started the wheels turning in my mind.  I wondered just how many other things are there about me that I am totally blind to?  How many times did my impatience at the grocery store show?  How many times did my glaring eyes betray my true feeling when some nice “little, old lady” pulled out in traffic in front of me?  How many times was my sarcasm not as veiled as I thought?  Oh my!

So, I think I might have learned something valuable at the hair cutting place that day.  It wasn’t that I should get a hand mirror so I can see the back of my head.  No, it was the fact that I should, we should, be aware that people are always deserving of our courtesy, our kindness, our compassion.  If we are Jesus people, especially if we are Jesus people, we should make a conscious decision to be authentically nice. The golden rule, which is found in the Bible, says “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Truth is it is not always easy to be kind, but it is always right.  And when it seems especially hard, don’t panic.  God is good at being kind so you can rest assured that He will help you. After all, “He’s got this.”

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

Care Packages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Christmas, Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, Military memories, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

Hard Christmas

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.” Deuteronomy 7:9

Not every Christmas is merry and bright.  I suppose if we live long enough all of us will experience a Christmas that is not so merry.  Life can be difficult and when those difficulties occur around the holidays, it can be difficult indeed.  I remember 1972 which was my first Christmas in the Air Force. I managed to get leave and fly home from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.  When I arrived home, the house was dark and empty.  There were no decorations, no tree.  My father had suffered yet another big heart attack and he was in the hospital recovering.  It was hard.

Another time that Christmas had a dark shadow was December 1978.  Judy and I were stationed in Sembach, Germany.  It was a great place to live and it seemed that every day was an adventure.  We were living off base in an apartment, a short drive from the base.  Just living in a German village was an adventure in itself. The heat did not come on until October 1 of each year, no matter how cold it was and the heat didn’t go off until May 1, no matter how warm it was. There was no air conditioning, which we didn’t need anyway. In one of our apartments, I especially remember the small two gallon hot water heater.  It called for a very quick shower.  Judy had long hair in those days and it was a race to get her and her hair washed before her two gallons of warm water were up.

We also didn’t have a phone.  Of course, cell phones were a long way in the future and land lines were very expensive.  In December of 1978 we were sound asleep when we heard a sharp knock on the door.  It must have been about 1:00 am in the morning.  I went to the door to find the officer of the day for my squadron.  He was there to let me know I had a call from the Red Cross and I needed to call them immediately. He followed me to the base and from my office I made the call.  The Red Cross made arrangements for me to call my brother and sister-in-law in Florida.  The message was short and to the point.  My sister-in-law Sonia said, “Dewayne, honey, if you want to see your Mama while she is still alive, you need to come home right away.”  I was shocked.  I had no idea that she was sick—especially not that sick.

Well, when you are thousands of miles from home across the Atlantic nothing happens quickly.  But as fast as the wheels could turn and with a lot of help from the Red Cross and the Air Force, Judy and I were able to catch a transport aircraft back to the States.  It landed at Dover Air Force Base on Sunday, December 3rd. My brother, who lived in New Jersey, was able to pick us up and together we drove south to Jacksonville. It was a long day’s journey and we got there Monday afternoon.  We went straight to the hospital and were able to see Mama for a few minutes. We then went to my brother’s house to get some rest.

That evening we gathered together, visited, and prayed.  We told God that whatever He wanted was ok.  If He chose to heal Mama of that cancer, that was great but if He chose to heal her by taking her home…that was ok too.  The next day He answered our prayer.  Mama went to heaven—less than 24 hours after we got there.  It was Tuesday, December 5th and she was 62 and I was only 24.  Well, we planned the service and celebrated her life and worshiped her God and our God.  We had some family business to take care of and when that was finished, so were we.  Judy and I had enough leave approved to stay for Christmas, but the truth was there was no reason to stay.  There was not a home place any more, so we decided to go back to our home—in Germany.  In a few days, we were back and celebrated Christmas knowing that it would never really be the same again.

I can’t tell you it wasn’t hard because it was.  I was grateful we had a couple of weeks before Christmas, but it was still the season.  It felt strange to leave a home that wasn’t home anymore. As much as we loved Germany, we realized when we got back to the States 18 months later, there would be no going home for Christmas.  And then God, via the Air Force, planted us in Missouri for a few years and then a whole lot of years in Illinois.  He also called me to pastor so that meant Christmas was here every year.  And do you know what?  That was ok because God gave us a new family to love and care for us.  That family was His people wherever He placed us to serve.

No, every Christmas is not merry and bright and we (who have some sense of normal this Christmas) need to remember those whose life is anything but normal this year.  It may be the loss of a loved one, it may be loss of health or a job, or it just may be this COVID-19 mess.  But like the Bible says, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.”

So these days and especially in these days, we need to love one another.  And, just like that night in December when my brothers and sisters came together and told God whatever He wanted for Mama was ok…we need to come together and tell Him whatever the future looks like, we will trust Him with that, too.  I’m so grateful that He is faithful, that He is good, and that He can be trusted.  And because of that, He’s got this.