Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, friends, gratitude, life, love, prayer, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials

Baby Sarah is Missing

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6

A few days ago, we celebrated the birthday of our youngest daughter who is now 33 years old. It caused us to remember one of the scariest times in our lives.  As a pastor and family, Sunday has always been a crazy time for the Taylors and one of the busiest days of the week. And, when things get busy, and crazy, well something strange, and perhaps scary, is bound to happen.  And one day it did.  I was pastoring at Cobden First Baptist and had been there for seven or eight years.  When we arrived, we had two daughters and when we left, we had three. Our third daughter, who was affectionally called by many, Baby Sarah, came along in 1989.  Fast forward about four years.  Before I go any further, please know that the statute of limitations has expired for child neglect.

Judy and I always drove separately to church.  We had two morning services and since I was the preacher, I got to go to both of them. We had two great services and while it wasn’t unusual to do something with one of the families after church, that day we just went home.  Judy got home before I did and I showed up a little later.  We started decompressing and getting ready for lunch when someone asked, “Where’s Sarah?”  I looked at Judy and Judy looked at me. I thought she had Baby Sarah and she thought I had Baby Sarah.  It quickly became apparent that no one had Baby Sarah.  Crisis on steroids.

We jumped in our car and literally raced over to the church.  No Baby Sarah.  One of our best friends lived almost across the street from the church. Their daughter was Sarah’s best friend.  Maybe she was there.  It was locked up.  No Baby Sarah. Needless to say we were in a panic. Someone told us they thought that our friends had gone out to eat at a restaurant that was several miles out of town.  We thought maybe they had taken Baby Sarah with them and forgot to tell us.  That wasn’t the case.  We lived halfway up a steep hill and as we were in the front yard, trying not to panic, we saw a small figure running towards our house. Her long blonde hair was flying in the wind and she looked exhausted. It was Baby Sarah coming home.

So, here’s what happened.  Our friends had some new kittens.  Maggie, Baby Sarah’s best friend, asked her to come see the kittens.  So they went to Maggie’s house, across the street from the church to see the new arrivals.  Maggie’s parents, not knowing Baby Sarah was with Maggie, hollered for Maggie to come down so they could go out and eat.  Baby Sarah stayed put.  After a few minutes she realized she was all alone in the house.  She somehow managed to get their door unlocked and opened and she started towards our house which was about a mile away.  Now Cobden was a small town, but getting to our house from the church involved going over a railroad crossing and a pretty busy road.  Baby Sarah managed to navigate all of that and find her way home.  Remember, she was only four or so.

Back to the story.  When we got to her she was beet red from the heat and barefoot because she left her shoes at Maggie’s.  Her toes were bleeding from the rough pavement.  Amazingly, other than that, she was fine.  It was quite the reunion and we were so grateful to have her back.  We learned a very valuable lesson that day—count the kids when you leave the house for church and more importantly, count the kids when you head back home.  The bottom line? It was just one of those things that can happen if a couple of details are missed.  In this case one of the details was Baby Sarah.

So, besides counting your kids, what is to be learned from this scary tale?  Well, it is obvious but it isn’t.  The big question is, “How did Baby Sarah know how to get home?”  How did she know how to safely navigate the railroad tracks and the busy street?  The answer is this.  In the course of everyday life, we had driven, but more  importantly walked that path many times.  Time after time, hand in hand, she had walked with her mother and sisters so that when she had to do it alone…she could…she did.  That wasn’t our intended lesson but it was a very valuable lesson indeed.

Moms and dads and others who have a role in molding and shaping others—remember this—we are teaching whether we know it or not.  Our everyday routines are being imprinted on young hearts and minds.  And someday, when you least expect it, those imprints will become very, very important.  The Bible talks about training up a child in the way they should be so that when they are older they will know the way.  That was true for Baby Sarah that day in a practical way.  But trust me, it is true every day in ways that we may not see coming.

Because Baby Sarah was prepared that day to walk a path by herself, this story has a good ending.  It is one of our favorite stories though it still causes us to shudder.  I believe there is another reason why Baby Sarah made it home that day.  I believe our Dearest Daddy was watching over her.  And the truth is that no matter what or how the story ends, I’m learning that I can trust Him and rest in Him.  I’m learning that even in life’s scariest moments—like the ones we are living in right now—we can know that He’s got this.  Always has…always will. Bro. Dewayne

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

Cruising with the Captain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, love, Scripture, thankful

Gallery of Grace

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” 

Ephesians 2:10

I’m not much of an art fan but with that said, sometimes I am just amazed.  That amazement usually happens when I am watching one of several travel shows on PBS.  Invariably, wherever they are traveling they visit an art gallery.  And one thing is certain.  The art is as varied as the people who paint them.

To me it is hard to believe that Picasso and Rembrandt are both considered masters.  Both are held in high acclaim and yet they and their work are totally different.  Picasso’s later works, at least from this art critic, appear to have been drawn in a kindergarten classroom.  Amazingly he didn’t always paint this way.  In his early years he was a masterful realist in his work.  What happened?  I think he got bored and went artistically berserk.  And people now love it.  Notice that word “now” because “then” they didn’t. His masterpieces became masterpieces mostly after the master had died.

I frequently find myself thinking about how incredible it is that according to God…and because of God…you and I are a masterpiece…a true work of art.  In case you missed it, the scripture reference is Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”  Isn’t that just an incredible thought that the God of the universe holds His children—you and me—in such high regard?

Now it is only because of God!  It certainly is not anything that we have done…not because of any of our own merit–it is just amazing grace. Sometimes people will say you are “a work of art” and you just know it isn’t exactly a compliment.  It is like much of Picasso’s work–not exactly a masterpiece—in my eyes anyway.  With apologies to his fans, I just can’t figure how he became famous for his work.  I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I’m just saying…

I know sometimes maybe our lives look more like a Picasso than a Rembrandt but just remember–often–beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in this case that is God.  When Jesus comes and gives us new life, we become this beautiful new creation.  The great part is that His opinion is the only one that matters.  It doesn’t matter what your spouse says, your kids say, or even what you say.  Nope, in Christ you are a masterpiece because God has declared you so.

One thing I know is that we must determine who we are going to listen to.  Will we listen to the worse critics of our life…those whose spiritual gift (they think) is demolition or the One who died for us?  Hmmmm….not too hard of a decision, is it? Why is all this so important? Because as we understand how God views us, we begin to live as the masterpiece we are.  We begin to live and understand that we are created in the image of Creator God, and He thinks very highly of us.

Not once has God ever taken a masterpiece off the wall of His gallery of grace and declared it unworthy or junk.  Never has, never will.  And the reason is simple.  We are who we are because of Whose we are.  We are what we are because He has made us so and He just doesn’t make mistakes.  So today, rest in the declaration of your Dearest Father that you, yes-you, warts and all, are a masterpiece.  Rest in the full assurance that even if your life looks like a Picasso, His grace can rearrange the squares and make you a Mona Lisa.  How? Because He’s got you and He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne

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

Be Still

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Penny and a Nickel

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

This story has become my annual story for Veteran’s Day.  It was a wonderful day that day and it spoke deeply into my heart. Be sure and thank each veteran you encounter especially on this day…the day we honor them.

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 were 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 was 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 its 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.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, priorities, Scripture, thankful

Details

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

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

It is just engrained in me.  If you are a Grits reader, you might remember when I talked about my first car.  It was a 1961 Rambler painted (with a paint brush) a royal blue with a yellow stripe right down the middle.  Due to its former home, Daytona Beach, it had more Bondo body filler than metal and its floorboards had also fallen victim to the salty air and water.  But I was so grateful to have it.  It was part trade and part gift from my oldest sister, and I loved it.  I would regularly wash it and clean the inside. Since it was the seventies, I bought flowery seat covers to hide the worn-out seats.  The bottom line—it was my baby.  A little scarred, more than a little worn out—but she was mine.

From that very first one, I have always tried to take care of my cars.  A few were new and some were old, some were in good condition and others not so much. But each car received that same loving car.  They ranged from a 1971 pinto with a rod knocking (something the Rambler shared) to a new 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser with wood grain sides.  My wife Judy and I bought that one on a whim because of a deal they were having on interest rates. It was also “on sale” because it had a 4.3-liter diesel engine which was popular at the time.  I had no clue about diesel engines and was surprised to learn that they didn’t even have spark plugs. What? One time I was looking at buying a used pickup truck that had a huge lift kit on it.  It was almost a monster truck.  The guy let me keep it overnight and what did I do? You bet, I washed it and cleaned it out.  I wanted to see what it would look like…and then I didn’t even buy it.  Strange.

I have a knack for cleaning cars.  I can make most cars look pretty good.  It is amazing what a good wash job, some Windex, a strong vacuum, and some Armor All can do. Give me a couple of hours and shazam—you have yourself a showroom classic.  Well, not really but it sounds good.  But they did always look better. Now somewhere beyond better is the next level and that is—a detailing.  In case you don’t know, when a car is detailed, the cleaner person should really pay attention to—get ready—the details.  Let me explain.

Recently, a friend gave me a gift certificate for my car to be detailed.  I was genuinely excited.  We have two cars and I had to choose which car got the beauty treatment.  Judy’s car won because, honestly, it needed it the worse.  After I dropped it off at the detailing place, about four hours later I received a call that our car was done.  I couldn’t wait to pick it up—and I was not disappointed.  When I pulled up the detailer’s shop there she was and like Cinderella ready for the ball, Judy’s car was dazzling.

It had not only been washed but it was sporting a new wax job.  It glimmered in the noon day sun.  The tires and splash guard were all shiny black and the wheels sparkled like a person’s teeth after a whitening treatment.  I opened the door, and the entire interior was not only clean but shining clean.  The floor mats were spotless. Yup—I was impressed.  I opened the trunk to find it spotless and the space where the lid meets the body—a perfect place for dirt and grim to hide—clean.  When I bought gas a couple of days later, I noticed that even the place where you put fuel in had been cleaned.  Like I said, a good detailer will pay attention to the details…and she did.

Her name was Jo, and she has been detailing cars for over 35 years, so she has a lot of experience.  She knows how to make a car look new.  Speaking of new, that is why I am keen on God.  He can take the most bruised and broken life and not make it look new—but make it new.  I was reading in the Bible just today something that Paul, one of the New Testament writers, said.  He writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” You see God doesn’t do detailing…though He is a God of the details…He just makes every person who puts their faith in His Son a brand-new creation.  I mean, imagine taking your car to get it detailed and picking it up four hours later only to find a brand-new car.  Wow and trust me, God’s work in the lives of people is an even bigger wow factor! One time, a year or so ago, I hired a guy I didn’t know, to detail my car.  I paid him too much money and let’s just say I was very disappointed. He just didn’t do a good job. But after a 46-year journey with Jesus, I can tell you that He never disappoints, and He never misses a single detail.  So, hats off to Jo and thanks to that special friend who gave me the gift certificate. And remember, if you need your life made new, give Jesus a shout. His line is never busy, and you won’t get an answering machine.  He is online all the time and whatever the challenge, He’s up to it.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

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

Light at the End of the Tunnel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Family, fear, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, thankful, Trials

Zone of Fire

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.” James 1:6a

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

It was over in a flash.  Well, almost everyone has heard of Johnny Cash and almost everyone has heard his number one hit, “Ring of Fire.”  Well, Johnny had his ring, and I had my “zone of fire.” Twenty-five or so years ago my brother decided he would come up and visit with my wife and me.  It was a big deal because he is from the deep South and well, for him to cross the Mason-Dixon Line was pretty much a miracle.  When we were making plans, he mentioned that he wanted to go pheasant hunting.  Well, I checked into it and found that there was a “bird farm” about an hour from where we lived.

A “bird farm” is a business that owes a ton of land and then raises birds to be released into the wild for the purpose of hunting.  When the day came, we drove up to the bird farm.  When we got there, it was me, him and a couple of other guys. We checked in and the guy said that we would have a dog hunt with us.  That was strange since we didn’t pay for one but hey, ok.  We headed out with the dog and the guide. The way this works is you form a line, straight across, and about fifteen to twenty feet apart.  Then the dog works the area in front of you as you move forward.  If the dog goes on point (which means he found a bird) then the guide scares up the bird and someone, or a lot of someone’s, shoot.  So, we hunted, and hunted and hunted. The bottom line? I was pretty sure there wasn’t a bird within a hundred miles of that place.  The dog never went on point.

From there things went downhill.  The owner came and said that he had accidentally given us the dog and we had to give him up…so we did.  That meant we were totally on our own.  We would walk through the fields saying, “Here birdie, birdie.”  Ok, not really but we did walk through the field just trying to scare up a bird.  It was beginning to look like a continuation of the time with the dog when it happened.  As we walked through the field, and with no warning, we scared up a bird.  It was a beautiful male pheasant and he just exploded off the ground about thirty feet in front of me and slightly to my right.

I can’t tell you how fast this all happened.  He leapt into the air, I raised my bird gun and fired.  It really was over in a flash, and it was a perfect shot.  Just like that the bird was down and everyone was excited.  I had shot pheasant once or twice before but honestly it was a great shot…all except one thing.  Not once, not for a millisecond did I think about my “zone of fire.” Basically, the zone of fire is the predetermined area where it is safe for you to fire your weapon.  It obviously includes where there aren’t any people.  Now, it all worked out just fine.  I was within my zone of fire, but it was not because I intentionally did it—it was just luck.

While I don’t personally believe in luck, I do believe in a God who takes care of us…even when we are just a little—careless.  Truth be known, if that bird was a little closer to the line of guys, I could have wounded one of my friends and that would have been unbelievably tragic.  When you have a weapon, you need to be sharp, you need to be focused, and you need to be careful.  You must always be aware of your zone of fire.

That truth doesn’t just apply to weapons, you know.  We need to apply it anytime we are with people.  You see, we carry a lethal weapon with us all the time.  That would be our mouth.  And if we are not careful, a situation may come up, and before even thinking, boom…someone is wounded or hurt.  And the crazy part? It can happen in a flash just like that pheasant exploding off the ground in front of me.  In a moment of time, we can fire words from our mouth that will leave a lasting, and sometimes permanent scar, on the heart of someone around us.  We just need to be careful.

James, the half-brother of Jesus said that the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. We all know the stories of the wildfires in the West—the grave property damage and the tragic loss of life.  And James says in the same way the tongue can cause that kind of damage in the lives of people.  What can we do to prevent that?  The same thing when we are using our weapons around others.  We need to be sharp; we need to be focused, and we need to be careful.  Now, I have a friend who is a weapons expert and a great hunter. If he had been there that day, he would have given us a safety briefing which would have included our “zone of fire.”

We have an expert with our tongues too.  He is our Dearest Daddy and because He made us, He knows the destructive power of the tongue and can help us control it. As we walk through each day, He will be by our side, and He will guide us and help us.  He will whisper the guidance we need to be safe and not hurt others.  He is a guide that can be trusted and depended on.  And because of that…He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

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

Praying Mantis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, love, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

Dancing with THE Star

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” Psalm 24:1

It wasn’t my strong suite.  I never could dance worth a hoot.  I was born in the fifties and raised in the sixties and seventies and while everyone else was doing the boogie woogie, I was kinda left on the sideline.  My best efforts somewhat resembled someone using one of those old-time vibrating, belt exercise machines—every part of your body going somewhere besides where it was supposed to.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that I could pull off a slow dance.  It wasn’t perfect but at least I didn’t look like I was totally clueless.

Another piece of good news is that I married someone who is very understanding about this dance thing.  My wife Judy can put some moves on but since she knows I would embarrass myself if I tried, she rarely asks.  But occasionally, ok, maybe rarely, we do slow dance and honestly…I like it.  I mean what is there not to like about holding the person you love most in this whole world close and swaying together in time to the music?  Not bad…no sir…not bad.

Now there are rules with slow dancing and one of the most important is that someone must lead.  If you get a couple on the floor and they both want to lead you end up with stomped on toes and a hefty dose of frustration.  But when there is surrender and cooperation even the most inexperienced couples are worth admiring.  Surrender and cooperation—that’s a good combination for sure. And do you know what? It not only works on the dance floor with your sweetie…it works as we dance through life with the One who made us.

Imagine, if you can, if you will, that God invites you to dance with Him on the dance floor of life.  Imagine, if you can, if you will, that you move onto the floor but there seems to be a problem…both of you want to lead. You soon find yourself tugging and pulling with the One you said you would follow and it ain’t pretty.  You see, for the dance to work, One leads and one follows.  That’s just the way it is.  And when we allow the Leader to lead…it is a beautiful thing.  It reminds me of two words that we need to remember in our relationship with our Father.  Those two words are owner and steward.

You see, as God, He not only wants to lead…He owns.  You might say it is His dance floor. The Bible makes it clear that He doesn’t own part of it…He owns all of it. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” So, you can see that He not only wants to lead—He has the right to lead.  But being the gracious dance partner that He is, He allows us the honor of dancing with Him.  He is owner of the dance…we are the steward of the dance.  And trust me with this one—this is better than “Dancing with the Stars” because here you are “Dancing with THE Star” and it doesn’t get any better than that.

So, as you waltz thought this life be sure you have the right partner…some call Him Father but I like to call Him Dearest Daddy. And as you dance, allow Him to lead you across the floor because when it comes to dancing through life…well, He is the master.  Afraid you might step on His toes?  Don’t you worry, He loves you so much.  Just let Him lead.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne