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, prayer, Scripture, Southern born, wisdom

Dinner on the Grounds

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

There’s lunch and then there is dinner on the grounds.  Church and I were a good fit from the get go.  The schools I attended were always pretty large and it was easy to get lost in the crowd.  The bottom line seemed to be you had to be either really good, or really bad to get recognized.  If you were really good at sports, for example, then a lot of people knew your name.  If you were really bad at life, well people knew your name, but it was the wrong people.  You might remember the categories in your yearbook that named people to be the most likely to do something.  Some were just destined not to be remembered. That was probably me.

I was one of those guys who just wandered around in the gray social midst at school, but not so at church.  The churches I attended were like the three bears and their beds. One was too big, one was too small, and one was just right.  They were big enough to have fun, and learn a little about Jesus, and yet not too big.  I managed to be accepted by my peers and even the adults thought I was pretty cool. So church was a good fit but that isn’t the main reason why I liked it.  I was grateful for the social acceptability and I even appreciated the Bible stories and learning about Jesus, but I was in it for…the food.

You see, several times a year we would have meals at church. There were two things that you could count on.  First, they were always potlucks.  Now, in case you don’t know what a potluck dinner is, first, where have you been?  No seriously, a potluck is when everyone brings something for dinner.  It is one of the greatest inventions in the food world.  Imagine the world’s best buffet—meats, casseroles, vegetables, breads, starches, and the motherlode of all motherlodes—dessert. I can still remember there being tables—as in more than one—of nothing but desserts.  It was like food heaven. By the way, we still do this every once in a while at our church so if you ever hear of this happening, even if you don’t like God, you need to come to church that Sunday.  One word says it all—cowabunga! If you need more than one word—here’s three “shoot that thing.”

The second thing that was just cool was in the old days, churches would build permanent tables outside to hold all this food.  Often, they would have a tin roof over them.  You could line up on both sides and let her rip.  We always had those big plates, and you were obligated to fill them up.  Then, you would just go find yourself a place in the grass and sit down and eat…and eat…and eat.  It truly was one of my favorite times at church.  The food and the fellowship (being with all the people) was just amazing.  We have a ministry at our church where if a member of a family dies, we provide lunch for them on the day of the funeral. It is like a mini potluck and our ladies do such a wonderful job.  I’ve already asked them if I can have my dinner before I go, so I can enjoy the meal.  I’m still working on that one.

You see, there are lots of reasons to attend church and like I said in my early years food was a good reason.  I have another reason now too. I’m the pastor.  It’s kinda expected that I attend. But here’s the truth.  I don’t go now for the food…I go because I want to go. Yup…I don’t have to go to church, I get to go to church.  It is so good because some of the people I love the most are there.  And guess what? Some of the people that are a little harder to love are there too, but that doesn’t matter because we have one thing in common—we all are pretty fond of God.

But wait it gets better.  Guess what?  He is really fond us.  He loved and still loves everyone so much that He sent His Son to earth—we call that Christmas.  He also loved and loves everyone so much that He allowed Him to die on a Roman cross—we call that Good Friday.  It was bad for Him that day, but it was good for us because that day He paid the price for all the things all of us have done that offend His Father.  But wait…that isn’t the end.  After three days, He came back to life—we call that Easter, and it is a documented fact that it happened.  Pretty amazing.

Well, I am grateful for all the good food and other things that happen at church.  But I am really grateful for God, my Dearest Daddy, loving me that much and remember, He loves you that much too.  If you want to know more, I hope you will get a copy of His Book the Bible—it’s been a best seller for centuries—really.  If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that it is a great idea to have God on your side.  It’s just good to know that He is there and will be there no matter what.  No, He isn’t Santa Claus just waiting to give you everything on your list.  No, He isn’t a Genie just waiting for you to rub His lamp.  He is God, He is real, and He wants to make a difference in your world.  Why not give Him a try?  You’ll find that no matter what you face, He will face it with you. I’ve learned that every day, no matter what, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, Southern born, Trials

Cross Country

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24

They called it a physical fitness test.  I called it Hades.  It happened every nine weeks.  That was the length of the grading period at the high school I attended.  Every male who attended Nathan Bedford Forest High School and was breathing was required to take a physical fitness test at the end of the grading period.  It involved several things…pushups, pull-ups and my personal favorite, throwing up.  What was ironic about this, is for all the time before the test we didn’t train for it. We might play softball or volleyball or some other team sport, but we didn’t train for “the test.”  We also played something called battle ball where we gathered in the gym and played a sadistic form of dodge ball. There was a guy named Johnny who had abnormally long arms and could hurl the ball at incredible speeds.  The last thing on earth you wanted was to be the last victim on one side and Johnny on the other.  It wasn’t pretty.

Anyway, we were not prepared but that didn’t seem to matter.  We had to take “the test.”  The worst part of this Gladiator style arena of horror was the cross-country run.  Let me see if I can set the stage.  Imagine you are in North Florida and it is late May.  The temperatures regularly climb into the lower and upper nineties. The humidity is at ninety percent or higher.  Remember they call Florida the Sunshine State and that is for a reason…the sun is beating down unmercifully.  And, by luck of the draw, you have P.E. right after lunch. The day before, the coach announces that we would be running “cross country” tomorrow.  It was too late to train…it was too late for anything but a few prayers.

In an attempt not to throw-up, you eat a light lunch and then report to P.E.  You pray to stumble and break your leg on the way to class, but that prayer goes unanswered.  You change clothes and anxiously meet outside.  They call the roll and then give the command to report to the starting line.  What lies ahead is two and a half miles of running in the heat of a hot, late Spring day. Like “sheep led to the slaughter” you line up waiting for the whistle.  Soon, too soon, it blows and off you go.

Now you really need to understand that cross country for those who have trained for it is a challenging, but somewhat enjoyable sport.  I’ve even heard reports of a runner’s high.  I never experienced that, but I did experience a runner’s low.  It happened about a hundred yards into the course when I realized that I was going to die—or wish I could.  I can still remember the course to this day.  It was two and a half times around the perimeter of the school property.  If you ever wonder what eternity is like, talk to me…I ran it.  Actually, to say I ran might be a stretch. I sorta ran it.  Not soon enough and it was over. As you cross the finish line you hear people saying, “Don’t run toward the light…don’t run toward the light.” After about 15 minutes your heart rates goes below 600 and you can breathe again.  I hated that test.  A lot.

I never really understood the point of asking someone to do something but not preparing them for it.  We ran that distance and more in basic training in the Air Force but we slowly prepared for it.  Again, it was challenging but doable because of the training. I think this is not just a lesson about running, but about life.  I’ve heard that life is a race and unless you are incredibly unfortunate, it is not a sprint, but rather a marathon.  If you are going to succeed in life then you need to prepare, you need to train and pace yourself.  Fail in that and you might well fail in everything you attempt.

Paul, a man from the Bible, wrote a letter to a bunch of Jesus followers in Corinth.  They had their own set of games and there were prizes to be won.  It was an open deal so anyone could sign up, but if you were wise, you trained first and you ran with commitment.  In that letter to the church at Corinth he says, “Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.” In other words…train like you want to win and run like you want to win and guess what?  You just might do it.  Regardless, you can finish the race knowing you gave it your very, best shot.

I went through three years of high school and had four nine-week periods per year.  If my math is right that equates to sixteen times that I had to line up to get ready to throw-up.  Guess how many times I trained?  That would be zero.  Sixteen times I knew it was coming and sixteen times I thought the next time would be different.  Hey, plant corn and you’re gonna get corn.  Every.Single.Time.  So why not start today to run for the gold—to live like no one else?  Why not start today to make the best of everyday and when race day comes…you’ll be ready.  There’s a great Coach who will help you train and run.  His name is Jesus, and He is on your side.  He’ll even run beside you…all the way, shouting words of encouragement.  Listen as He shouts, “You’ve got this, Dewayne.” “How?” I ask?  “Because I’ve got it for you,” He responds.  I like that.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

The “Switchings”

No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Hebrews 12:11

I guess I just got bored.  When I was growing up in North Florida it was just easy to get bored.  It was a different time.  There was no internet, no satellite or cable television, and no electronic games.  Then, you have to add to that there just weren’t a lot of toys to play with.  While Daddy and Mama loaded us up at Christmas, by summer a lot of them had suffered from rough play. So, you had to get a little creative!  And that’s when I got into trouble.

One of my favorite things was to make rubber band guns.  It was really quite easy.  They were building houses across the street from where we lived (slowly our place in the country was becoming suburban). Like at any construction site there were lots of wedge shaped sticks sticking out of the ground.  I later learned they were surveyor sticks.  Oops. Anyway, they had lots and I needed one, every once in a while, so I would, uh, borrow one…or two.  Well, Mama took the local newspaper so we got a paper every day and it came wrapped with a rubber band.  You simply collect a few rubber bands (they were discarded in the yard), drive a nail in your stick and tada…you had a rubber band gun.  See…creative.

Well, that was bound to get old, so I came up with another idea.  In North Florida, the soil (at least where we lived) was very sandy.  I discovered that if you take a water hose and start forcing it against the sandy soil it will act like a drill.  As the water forced the sand away, the hose would slowly sink into the sand.  Well, it was fun. Before I knew it, the hose was a foot in the ground, then it was two, and then it was three and it was just about then I wondered how I would get it out.  So, I gave it a tug.  It didn’t budge.  I gave it a pull—nope, it didn’t give an inch.  I was in trouble.

What happened next is lost to time and history, but one of two things happened.  Number one.  I left the hose stuck in the ground.  Daddy came home and wanted to water his rose bushes.  He found the hose stuck in the ground, asked me and I told the truth, and I was sent to the bamboo bushes to get my own instrument of correction.  Think a thin bamboo switch.  It was effective…every time.  Number two.  I realized that the hose was stuck in the ground and I realized that Daddy would be coming home soon, and he would water his rose bushes.  So, I went in the house and got a knife and cut off the hose.  The end result was the same. He asked, I told, bamboo switch. By the way…another sign that times have changed.  I looked up switch and was told it turned electricity off and on and was an electronic game that kids play.  Mine was neither.

You know, I really didn’t intend to mess up the construction site across from my house and I really didn’t mean to get my Daddy’s hose stuck in the sand.  The truth was I was just naive.  But there is another truth.  My being naive didn’t change the fact that I shouldn’t have done what I did and in the case of my Daddy’s hose—it didn’t change the consequences.  You might be asking, “Did your Daddy really give you a “switching?”  And the answer is yes.  You might ask, “Do you think you deserved the “switching?”  The answer is yes.  Finally, you might ask, “Did you learn anything from the “switching?” And the answer is yes.

You see, I never, ever again, turned on the water and let the water hose get stuck in the ground.  I don’t believe I was ever even tempted to let the water hose get stuck in the ground. You see, the “switching” was not an act of anger or meanness, it was an act of love.  Daddy was teaching me about right and wrong and I am grateful for that.  Daddy had several ways to discipline and they were generally fair and not too harsh.  And I believe they worked because I’ve never been arrested or spent a night in jail—yet. I wrote recently about being a compliant person…and I am, but part of that might be because my Daddy (and Mama) cared enough to help me learn.

I never really bought into the thought that the “switching” hurt my Daddy more than me because I know it hurt pretty bad.  But I do know he didn’t enjoy it.  My Heavenly Father doesn’t enjoy it either and He loves me even more than my earthly Daddy. God’s Book, the Bible, says that no discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Well, that is the truth. But is also says that later on it yields a kind of fruit—the kind that teaches us right from wrong.  And that is profitable.

So, the lessons for today?  Don’t pull up surveyor sticks and don’t stick your Daddy’s hose in the dirt and above all…remember that your Father up in heaven loves you. In fact, He loves you enough to allow hard things in your life to help you learn right from wrong…to make better decisions with fewer consequences and regrets.  And don’t worry…He is loving and patient.  He never over reacts but rather responds in just the right way.  And as always, He’s got even this.

Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, Trials, wisdom

My Cussing Summer

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

It was the summer of my rebellion.  I know, some people are born compliant and some are born a little on the rebellious side.  I was born compliant.  I have always been a rule keeper—well, at least most of the time.  I suppose that is why I took to religion so well.  You see religion is all about keeping the rules.  The idea is if you keep enough of the rules then people will like you and most importantly, God will like you.  And sure enough, it worked—well, at least part one worked.  In my younger years, most of the adults thought I was a good boy.  Church? Got it.  Drinking? Not a drop.  Drugs?  Nope. I can hear them saying it now, “That Dewayne is such a nice boy.”  And, I suppose outwardly I looked pretty good, but pretty good won’t get you to heaven.

You see the second part of the religion mantra is that you can make God happy by performing—by keeping the rules.  That one is 100% false.  There is no one, except Jesus, that was good enough to go to heaven.  Yet it seems so many church people say they believe that rules won’t get you to heaven, but act as if they will. They carefully do this and that and boy, if you happened to be one of the ones who didn’t keep the rules, you were tried, convicted and sentenced.  That’s why I had to keep my cussing summer quiet.

I think maybe all the rule keeping must have finally got to me.  The bottom line is during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school—I started cussing.  I had a job at an apartment complex down the road from our house and I worked with the son of the head maintenance man.  He was not a Jesus person and he did like to cuss.  So, one day, I just started cussing too.  I had heard enough cuss words at school to know most of them, so I didn’t have to have any lessons…though I did have to work on my voice inflections.

It was a very tricky time in my life because I had to turn the cussing on at 8:00 am and I had to be sure and turn it off at 5:00pm.  That’s what you have to do when you are living a double life.  Under no circumstances did I want to spoil my good boy image at church or with my Mama and Daddy. I do remember one time I let a small one slip and Mama looked at me with eyes that said, “Where did that come from?” Of course, I didn’t, I couldn’t let her know that her baby son was a cusser.

And, as quickly as it came, it passed.  At the end of the summer, I had to go back to school and therefore had to quit my job.  All I know is that the cussing stopped and my rule keeping world got a little easier.  I managed to please a lot of people, but I knew I was far from pleasing God.  It would be several more years before I finally figured out that rule keeping didn’t work and religion didn’t either.  When I was 21, I finally found grace and boy was that a game changer.  Honestly, it is taking me a long time to shake the deep roots of rule keeping and religion.  I’m still working on it.

You might ask, “How do you know if you are under the influence of religion and rule keeping?”  Well, its two main indicators are self-condemnation and a tendency to judge others.  Rule keepers are acutely aware when they or others around them break a rule.  Rule keepers (and religious people) like to point out other people’s sins and faults because it makes them feel better about themselves.  If they can make you feel bad, then it makes them feel better.  It’s a pretty twisted world.

God’s way is so much better than religion and rules.  Did you know His Book, the Bible, actually says that when someone believes in Jesus and becomes one of His followers that there is no condemnation—none—nada?  I mean when the prosecuting attorney and the judge both acquit you—the trial is over.  I’m slowly learning just how valuable that is.  There is an audience of One that Jesus followers have to live for and that is God…their Heavenly Father…their Abba Father…their Dearest Daddy.  I love what Toby Mac (a contemporary Christian singer) said, “I gave God a million reasons not to love me.  Not one of them changed His mind.”  I like that!

Well, I’m glad my cussing summer is ancient history.  I still look back at those two or three months and wonder what in the world was I was thinking?  The truth is…I probably wasn’t.  But now, by grace, that, and all my other failures, warts and sins are forgiven…all because of Jesus.  I’m so grateful for that. If you have never discovered grace and forgiveness, especially God’s kind, I hope you will check it out.  Don’t get confused with religion and rule keeping like I did.  God’s got something far, far, better than that.  Think you’ve messed up too much to be forgiven?  Nope…don’t give it a second thought.  Trust me…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

Wrong Pew-Wrong Girl

Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2

It was an oops…a big oops.  I was in my early twenties and life was good.  I was enjoying my first enlistment in the Air Force, I was stationed not far from my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida but more importantly, smack-dab in the middle of the land of grits.  I was engaged to the prettiest girl in town and we were both Jesus followers and involved in a local church.  And that’s where it happened.

I have always loved music and most would say that I have a pretty good singing voice. It started when my Mama forced my oldest sister to let me sing “I Love You, Truly” in her wedding, I have had multiple opportunities to sing publicly—at least in my limited world.  Later I would be a part of a couple of singing groups and so it probably isn’t surprising that I would provide special music at our church.  So, here’s how it played out.  Things are always pretty predictable in the services of Baptist churches.  There would an opening song, someone would give a welcome and make some announcements, we would sing two more songs, take the offering (and sometimes the word “take” was very literal), there would be a special song and then the preacher would preach.  After he got done (which could take a while) there would be a closing song and prayer. These things were so set in stone, they were printed every Sunday in the bulletin.  You didn’t mess with the “order of worship.” If it wasn’t in there—we didn’t do it.

Sometimes, I would be the one who sang right before the message.  I was usually pretty comfortable in front of people and that turned out to be a good thing because later on I would become the guy who talked for a long while.  Now even though I was comfortable singing in front of people, each time it was still a little nerve racking. While I definitely can be the life of the party, I sure didn’t want to embarrass myself in from of a couple of hundred people.  Well, one day I did…but not like you think.

On that particular Sunday, at the appropriate time, I went up to the stage and sang my song. I don’t remember the name of the song but I do know it went well.  I know because it was one of those times I left the stage smiling.  The people had enjoyed the presentation and I had enjoyed presenting it.  All was well.  So off the stage I bounded. Truth be known, I was probably feeling just a little cocky.  I should have remembered that the Bible says, “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”  But I didn’t.

My fiancée Judy and I always sat over by the wall and about halfway back in the pews. We were as predicable as the sunrise. So that is where I headed.  It was a “zippy do dah” moment and when I got to the place, I sat right down and through my arm around the girl I loved.  Only it wasn’t. I sat there for about four-seconds and realized something didn’t feel just right.  I glanced over to my right expecting to see the face of my fiancée but instead I saw the face of the preacher’s daughter. Her face was a doing two things at once.  First, she was smiling and second it said, “Why are you here and why do you have your arm around me.”  Oops. I had missed my landing zone by one pew.  There’s an old saying, “Right church, wrong pew.”  It means you had the right general area but not the right exact spot. Well, in my case I had the wrong row and the wrong girl. I sheepishly stood and moved back one row.  Right row, right girl.

So I bet you’re wondering what happened? Well, gratefully Judy wasn’t mad.  I mean she could have given me the “what for” but she didn’t.  The crowd, well, as you can imagine they were laughing and if I remember correctly, it all warranted a comment from the pastor who happened to be the father of the girl. Well, it all turned out fine, but it was definitely one of those times you don’t forget.  As I think about it—I have had lots of those moments which means I have had lots of learning opportunities.

The lesson that day was, “be sure you know where you are supposed to land.”  In my “zippy-do-dah” moment I had landed at the wrong airport.  It was no deal because it was an honest mistake.  No harm—no foul.  But that’s not always the case.  Sometimes our oops, especially the intentional or semi-intentional ones, can leave a mark or two.  When you are a life of the party kind of guy it is too easy to have a laugh at someone’s expense.  I’ve learned that in life it is easy to do something on the spur of a moment that can have a long lasting “oops”.  Can someone say, “I bought a new car.”  Can someone say, “Seven years of payments.” Smile.

Well, Judy and I have been married coming up on forty-five years and when she reads this she will remember and odds are, she will smile.  I am grateful we have lots of days that cause us to smile and far fewer of the kind that cause us to wince in pain.  That is called grace—extended and received.  So, as you navigate through life and you’re preparing to land at your selected airport—make sure it is the right one.  You might want to contact “the tower” and confirm His opinion of your intended landing site.  It might save you some embarrassment and pain.  You can always count on Him…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Patrol Boy

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

It was a dream come true.  Growing up when I did was a blast.  I was born in 1954 (and yes that was a long time ago) and things were just different.  Life was slower, people mattered more, things mattered less, and respect was a big deal.  I was raised to call people older than me, sir and ma’am.  It’s kinda humorous, but now I am the senior adult and I still call everybody and their brother, “sir.”  It was just ingrained in me from my earliest memories.

Back in those days, when you were in the sixth grade you were the king of the mountain.  You see in Florida in the early sixties elementary school went from first  thru sixth grade.  There was no kindergarten.  Part of being the king of the mountain was the prospect of being selected to be a “patrol boy.”  Now, the first thing you need to know is the term “patrol boy” was a term of respect.  Today I think they still have crossing guards but back then…patrol boys were the state police of the day.  They had a belt that went around their waist and over their shoulder and of course, the flag.  It was a two-piece design that was about five foot long when put together.  Oh, I almost forgot.  They had a safety helmet too.  They definitely- looked the part.

At the end of each school day, these brave traffic warriors would be dismissed from class a little early, depending on how far their post was. They would put on their belt and helmet, grab their flag, and head out for duty.  Now this was the real deal.  A teacher or aide didn’t accompany them.  The lives of their peers were in their hands—and they were granted authority to stop traffic.  Again, it was an honor and a dream to get that belt, helmet, and flag.  The selection process was done at the end of the school year of our fifth grade.  I’m not sure what the criteria was, but I do know not everyone got selected.

Ok, let’s be honest.  I wanted…I really wanted to be a patrol boy.  It was like I was born for it.  It was like my destiny.  I could tell you that I wanted to help save lives.  I could tell you that the safety of every kid who crossed at my post was what drove me but that wouldn’t be true.  No, I’m afraid it wasn’t quite that noble.  I’m afraid it had nothing to do with safety…it had to do with…the belt, the helmet, and the flag.  Now don’t laugh, it was a big deal. The uniform has led a lot of guys to sign up for the Marines.  I was no different.  I wanted people to look at me and say, “There goes a patrol boy.  Leader of peers and a hero to boot.”

Well, it happened.  I was selected and honestly, it was just about everything I thought it was going to be—at least through my eyes.  No one ever called me a hero, nor  did I outright save anyone’s life, but there was something about the way it made me…feel. Looking back, I think there is a word for it…pride.  You know there is a good pride…the kind that lets you know you did your best.  There is also the kind that says, “I’’m a patrol boy and you’re not.”  It’s closely related to the kind that says, “I have power and you don’t. You have to listen to me…obey me.”  Bummer.

As far as I know, at least from the outside, I did a pretty good job.  I received and proudly wore my little pin, which I got to keep at the end of the year that marked my service.  No one got ran over on my watch and I think I only got in trouble once.  That was when one of my fellow patrol boys made me mad and I whacked him with my flag.  Not very hero like.  But the deal was while it looked good from the outside, it didn’t look that good on the inside.  Trust me it wasn’t as pretty.  I realize now that all of us have a tendency to play that game—pretty good on the outside and pretty dingy on the inside.  Someone once said you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

There should be another saying, “you can’t fool God any of the time.”  You see, God’s got this “vision thing” that allows Him to see right past the skin and right into our heart.  He sees our real thoughts, our real motives, our real selves.  It’s been kind of a “go to” verse for me recently but here’s what it says, “The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at Eliab’s appearance or stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” Wow…that is one scary thought.  God sees what matters.  I wonder if it would be a good idea to talk to ourselves sometimes and just ask the question, “Hey, how’s your heart?  Is everything ok?” If we would be willing to do that, it would be a game changer.

Well, I enjoyed my year as a patrol boy.  The next year I went to junior high and went from the top of the heap to the bottom.  In fact, now that I think about there were a couple of guys who did their best to make junior high hard for me.  Today we call it bullying.  I wonder if it was payback for some misused authority.  Hmmmm.  What goes around…comes around.  Anyway, I’m glad I don’t have just  a “patrol boy” watching over me.  Nope, I have the King of Kings and that’s pretty awesome!  I don’t have a thing to worry about because “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, prayer, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Happy Birthday

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

Today is my birthday.  Now wait.  That isn’t a hint for a gift.  It isn’t an invitation for a bunch of comments.  It is a statement of fact—and fascination.  You see, 67 years ago I was born.  I don’t say that because I remember, I say it because I am here…now.  I am amazed that over six and one-half decades have come and gone since Leslie, my mama, said to Alston, my daddy, “It’s time.”  She had already done this birthing thing seven times so I suppose it was just another day at the office by then.

Since the day I was born, I have been alive 24,473 days.  That means that 24,473 days the sun came up in the morning and went to bed at night.  It means 24,473 times God faithfully gave me a wakeup call.  One of my favorite verses in the Bible is the one that says this is the day that the Lord has made, so we should find joy in it and be glad for the opportunity.  24,473 times.  24,473 love notes from God that He thinks life should go on.

Now there are a bunch of those days that I don’t remember.  In fact, these days I don’t remember what happened yesterday. I find some humor that as a pastor I have to think about what I spoke about last week.  Sometimes it just slips my mind.  Oh course, the good news is that most people can’t remember what I said either.  One day all I will need is one sermon.  Together we will just hit the replay button.  But that day is not today.

Today I am so filled with gratitude with the incredible journey that God has allowed to play out in my life.  Not every day has been that good.  I mean, the days I woke up with the stomach flu didn’t make the top 1,000.  But it has been a great journey.  My childhood, or at least the part I remember, often causes me to smile.  The more I think of my Mama and Daddy, the more I appreciate them.  They were pretty ordinary folks but at the same time they were just extraordinary.

I think about the night in 1974 when I walked into that church in Valdosta, Georgia and saw “the girl” and I am grateful.  I have shared 44 of my 67 years with her and boy am I glad I decided to go to that church that night.  Our journey has been and is one adventure after another.  I’m hoping God decides to let us grow really old together—its gonna be a hoot for sure.  Throw in the mix the kids (including the ones who stole our daughter’s hearts) and the grandkids and, well, it is awesome.  Perfect? No.  But who said life has to be perfect to be amazing?

And, then there are the everyday people I have met and bumped into, especially as a teacher/pastor. If life was a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream and people were the toppings, it would be one fantastic, multi-flavored, rainbow colored sundae.  You know those things kids love to sprinkle on ice cream—all the different colors and flavors mixed together?  Well, that’s life and that’s people and that’s what makes it wonderfully unique.  Yep, it’s been a good ride.

It seems that life is like a really long stint in school.  Someone said all they needed to learn they learned in kindergarten.  I think that really is life—one big, long day in kindergarten—learning, playing, living—with a few skinned knees along the way.  I know this and yet I am still learning this.  Life is not a destination—it is a journey.  There is not some magic place we are going to arrive at one day and feel all warm and fuzzy and complete—well, unless you count heaven.  No, the joy of life is the journey.

No, the joy of life is the journey.

Dewayne Taylor

There it is. That is why we need to wake up every day, thank God for another love note, another opportunity to make an impact and be impacted.  That is why every day, regardless of how it plays out, is a gift.  The hard days are opportunities to learn those hard, but very valuable, lessons.  The good days when things just go amazingly well are like recess—or lunch.  The trick is learning to be grateful for both, because both are valuable.

At any rate—I’m grateful that at t-minus nine months Alston and Leslie decided one more couldn’t hurt.  I’m grateful that they decided I was a keeper—even if the table was a little full.  And if it isn’t your birthday today, go ahead and celebrate anyway.  Today is God’s decision that life should go on.  Today is His way of saying I love you.  Today, regardless of the circumstances, is an opportunity to believe that He is good, that He is faithful and that He can be trusted.  It is just one more opportunity to believe, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, New Year, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

James

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD and He delights in his way.  And even if he falls, he will not be utterly cast down because He upholds him with His strong hand.” Psalm 37:23-24

The other day we were down at my daughter’s house who lives near Murray, Kentucky.  They have blessed us with two of our eight grandchildren and if you know anything about grandkids they are just a bunch of fun.  Matt and Jen live in the country near Kentucky Lake and my wife Judy decided we needed to take a walk.  Now if you know Judy you know she believes that people build houses for essentially one reason—to sleep in.  If you aren’t sleeping, you need to be doing something—outside.  Period.

So, naturally, we took a walk.  I was with my grandson James and we were having an adventure.  Soon we were walking hand in hand.  Now, James, who is six, is a very thoughtful young man.  So, eventually, he asks me, “Papa, what is your real name?”  Now I knew what he was asking but why not have some fun when you can?  So, I told him my name was Papa.  “No” he said firmly, “your real name.”  Well, I gave in and told him it was Dewayne.

He took a shot at pronouncing it and got real close.  I thought that might be the end, but no, the best was yet to come.  He then asked me, “Papa (he didn’t try Dewayne) how old are you?  Well, that was a good question, so I gave him the answer.  “James,” I said, “I am almost 67 years old.” Again, almost without hesitation he said, “Papa, you’re almost dead.” I died laughing—no pun intended.  The Bible mentions something about out of the mouth of babes, truth comes, and I guess truth be known…there’s a lot more days behind me than before me.

Another of my favorite James stories occurred several years ago. Judy and I drove down to Vienna to Jon and Becca’s house and the Johnson clan drove up from Murray. Everyone was there with the exception of Sarah and Blake who at that time were stationed in Savanah, Georgia.  The occasion for us getting together was my oldest granddaughter’s 15th birthday. So, anyway, it is always more fun when the grandkids are around. If you just wait you will learn something—or at least get a good subject for a sermon or a story. The latter was true in this case!

The family had migrated to the basement and only James and I were left upstairs.  So, I said to James (who was two at the time), “Come on, James, let’s go to the basement.”  We headed toward the stairs and I wisely offered my hand and he even more wisely took it. The wisdom of that decision became apparent quickly. Now James was and is, all boy.  As we headed down the stairs, he didn’t go slowly or carefully—he literally headed down.  I mean, full speed, Katie-bar-the-door down.  As we started down, he performed a combination of running, jumping, and skipping maneuvers.  Stairs were missed but hey, who cares, it was fun.  Let me just say I was glad that I had a good grip on him because if I hadn’t, well, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

We made it somewhat safely to the bottom of the stairs and I had to share the story and we all had a good laugh.  But later, as I pondered how that all played out, it made me appreciate God in a whole new way.  I freshly realized how glad I am that God has a good grip on my hand.  As I charge head first into life, especially in years like 2020, if He didn’t have ahold of me—well, it just wouldn’t be pretty.  But just like I held onto James, so God has ahold of me.  Only eternity will tell how many times He saved me from pain and suffering and the consequences of thousands of bad decisions.

Years ago, while reading the Bible, a passage jumped off the pages and into my life.  It said, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD and He delights in his way.  And even if he falls, he will not be utterly cast down because He upholds him with His strong hand.” That is such powerful truth.  The fact that God directs my steps, that the path He chooses for me is cause for Him to delight and that when I fall, He’s got me…well, that is good, good news.  And the best part is, it is true.

As we get ready to leap into 2021, it’s good to know that we can have someone like God holding our hand.  If you are a Jesus follower you know all about that and, if you aren’t yet, He is just waiting for you to take the leap of faith. Why not give Him a try?  God’s not big about denominations or even religion but He is real big about loving you and He wants to walk with you in this New Year.  James didn’t know too much about stairs when he took the plunge, but his Papa did.  James could rest assured that when it came to stairs…Papa had it all under control.  And when it comes to life, we can rest assured that our Dearest Daddy knows all about life and has it all under control.  You might say, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, New Year, Southern born, thankful

New Year’s Eve Eve

And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” Ezra 3:11

We weren’t famous but we had fun.  I was fortunate to have what a lot of kids never did. First, I know that not everybody did or does the church thing…and certainly not all teenagers but when I was growing up it seemed a lot more kids did.  I went to the same church from the time I was about 10 until I joined the Air Force at age 18.  We had the most incredible youth group you could imagine.  We were all good friends and it seemed we did everything together.  Almost every Friday or Saturday night we had a party at someone’s house.  It was some kind of cookout and always involved some kind of crazy game. Personally, I was partial to spin-the-bottle.  Smile.

Music was a huge part of our teen years.  Again, it was a different time but I believe our group was special.  We would rush through our Sunday night Bible study just so we could sit in a room and sing four-part harmony.  We weren’t the Tabernacle Choir but we sounded pretty good and better than that—we loved it.  After church it would be a trip to Frosty’s or one of the local pizza places.  I believe that a lot of who I am today came from that group and the awesome leaders who poured into our lives.  Musically that would be Lloyd and Jane.  She was the church pianist and he was the music director.  They loved Jesus, loved music and loved kids—in that order.  And that is how it all started.

It had to be Lloyd and Jane that came up with the idea of forming a four part quartet.  Now you have to understand in the late sixties and very early seventies, two things were huge: church softball and gospel music.  So, it probably seemed more natural than not.  Four of us young men, Doug, David, Steve and myself, formed a quartet with Melody on the piano.  After a contest to find a name we became…drumroll please, “The Youngmun”. Lloyd and Jane took us under their wing and taught us how to sing parts, add tone and balance and after a while we sounded decent.  Then, we started getting gigs—opportunities to sing.  Sometimes it was Friday nights, sometimes Saturday nights and sometimes Sunday afternoons with a sprinkling of times in-between.

We just had a great time. We loved to sing and were really good friends.  One of the Bible guys said that we should sing responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” And do you know what?  We tried to do exactly that. Well, eventually we went our separate ways, but the memories still live in my heart.  And that is the reason for this story.

You see, back then there were things called “all night singings”.  You can guess what it was by the title.  While they were held at different times the all-time favorite was New Year’s Eve.  Churches or groups of churches would book groups and they would literally sing all night long.  More than once we sang very late or very early—depending on your perspective.  And amazingly, people came and people stayed.

Well, times have changed.  I rarely hear of gospel concerts like the ones from days gone by.  I know there are some but not to the level of those days.  I don’t miss staying up all night—these days if I make it to 10:00pm I am doing really good.  The ball may fall in Times Square but it does it without me!  But I do miss the way we started out the New Year.  Being with a bunch of people who loved Jesus and loved music was pretty cool.  Song after song spoke in poetic ways of God’s incredible love for us and the hope of tomorrow and the day after that “Because He Lives.”

You know, it probably wouldn’t work today to try and have an all-night singing, but do you know what would work?  This New Year’s Eve maybe we could, maybe we should, take some time to thank God for all the blessings He sent in 2020.  Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking He went on strike.  Oh no, His blessings, His love notes were everywhere.  They always say the most powerful person in the room is the guy with the microphone.  Well, we all know too often that person didn’t shout the most encouraging news in 2020.  In fact, I’m not sure they could spell encouraging. 

But I do know this.  No matter what 2021 holds, if we choose to follow the God who made it all, if we will trust and believe, no matter what—I think we will find that it’s gonna be a great year.  We may not always get exactly what we want from God, but we always get what is exactly right for us.  Someone said He is too wise to make a mistake and too good to be unkind.  I know, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but He loves us—a lot.  How much—enough to plan Christmas and Easter—and that is a lot. So, I don’t know your plans for New Year’s Eve but I hope it includes Him…the God who wants to be your Father—your Dearest Daddy.  I hope it will include some quiet time so that you two can chat as the Whisper whispers His love in your ear. Listen as He speaks those three precious words, “I’ve got this.”