Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials

Numbers Talk

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

Numbers talk. Take 2.29.  Add a dollar mark and it becomes the price for a value meal at your local fast food place, or perhaps the price for gallon of gas…at least a while back.  At a colon and it becomes the time on a clock twice a day, early morning and mid- afternoon.  Numbers talk.  Take 4.5.6.  At first glance they are three random sequential numbers—three numbers connected only by their sequence. I guess you could say it is a picture of our neighborhood—a couple of evens and one odd ball.  Of course, you could place these numbers on a clock and they too would become a time that occurs twice a day, everyday…once early in the morning and once later in the afternoon.  Numbers talk.

For the folks who live in the small Southern Illinois town of Harrisburg those numbers speak loudly and mournfully. The year was 2012 and it was a leap year with February having twenty-nine days…or letting the numbers talk it was 2.29.  The National Weather Service had forecasted potentially dangerous weather, and some had taken the warning seriously.  Others, softened by previous warnings, assumed it would be another false alarm.  At 4:56 in the morning, or 4.5.6 a line of damaging storms tore through the Southwest side of Harrisburg and in that tangle of lightening, thunder, wind, and rain raged an F-4 tornado.  For miles and miles, it tore through the countryside and several small towns…one of which was Harrisburg.

The tornado sirens were screaming their harrowing sound warning people of the impending disaster.  I heard the sirens and yet stayed comfortably in my bed till Judy made me get up.  My daughter and her husband were staying with us for the night and he and I went out the backdoor to see what we could see in the darkness.  Looking Southeast, in a flash of lightening we saw, what could only be the tornado, as it ripped through that part of our small community.  Before long, sirens were racing all through the town as police, fire and ambulances all raced to help those impacted by the storm. Streets were almost crowded with neighbors helping neighbors.

Daylight revealed the damage and destruction.  Where homes and businesses stood, now were piles of debris. Much of that part of town was severely damaged and sadly, eight people were torn from our lives that day and many more were injured.  Suddenly what we had seen so many times on the Weather Channel and the national news was in our backyard.  It was amazing to see how help poured in from all over the nation.  Various relief agencies, as well as hundreds of everyday people came to our town to help in any way they could.  Churches, often separated by doctrine or denomination, came together to help the hurting.  For the coming months, our church and other organizations would house and feed hundreds of volunteers who came to clean up and help rebuild the community.  We mourned together, we worked together, and we came together, and through it all, we emerged a stronger community.

So, if this year was a leap year then yesterday would have been the 29th and not the first day of March and it would have been the ninth observance of the Harrisburg Leap Day tornado.  I know that day is firmly etched in the minds and memories of everyone who lived in Harrisburg at the time.  But also etched there is the beautiful and powerful unity that we experienced during the days that followed the 29th.  Slowly, the physical scars have be repaired and rebuilt but the scars of those lost, of course, will remain forever.

There’s a verse in the Bible (written by a guy locked up in prison for nothing more than being a Jesus follower) that talks about how God can bring good from even the worse-case scenario. Now it doesn’t say that everything is good, because that just simply wouldn’t be true.  But it does say for those who are willing to trust, those who are willing to look and see, that He can bring good.  I know for me that is the memory of people coming together to help people.  Religion and politics, social status, and separation were laid aside as people just helped.  And, perhaps, that was when the seed was firmly planted in my heart that no matter what—how tall the mountain or wide the raging river, no matter how hot the fire or difficult the journey, that my Dearest Daddy, is in control. Perhaps that is when I knew, “He’s got this” and He still does. Bro. Dewayne

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

Backyard Cars

But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” Acts 3:6

Sometimes it seemed like a parking lot.  We have all seen it, but I experienced it.  As I have often said, there were certain benefits to growing up urban county.  We weren’t country like horses and cows, but we were country like room to run, places to play and cars in the backyard.  What?  Yup. I know we have all seen yards where there are old cars hanging around the yard.  I know each time I drive to Paducah down Route 145 in Southern Illinois I pass a house with an old Capri parked in the yard…permanently.  Over the years that I have seen it, weeds and green algae have slowly grown over it.  I’m not sure about the story behind the old Capri, but it is there year after year.

Over the years I lived at 6008 Carlton Road, we had several cars parked in our backyard.  When my granddaddy Taylor died, we inherited his old Pontiac Sedan.  I’m not sure what year it was but it was old…probably the late forties if I were to guess.  I know at least for a while it was a runner, but later on it became a sitter.  Regardless, it was a great place to play and hide in a good game of hide and seek.  This past week I was converting some old family movies to digital so we could watch them again.  There is one simply titled, Alston and Leslie Taylor and their children – 1960’s.  In the middle of the video there was my daddy, and he was working on the old Pontiac.  It was good to see him again.  It reminded me what a good man he was.

I have a feeling that there was a reason that he was working on granddaddy’s Pontiac.  You see I remember that our main driver, a 1957 Plymouth, blew an engine so it was parked under the tree in the backyard.  So, I think Daddy may have been working on the Pontiac so we would have something that would get us from here to there.  The Plymouth sat there for quite a while.  Motors were expensive and it would be a while before Mama and Daddy could scrape the money together to buy a rebuilt one.  I know they eventually did, but until then it was the old Pontiac.

And then there was the Sunbeam.  My brother Lee bought a car from somebody and it was quite unusual.  It was a British made car and it almost had that James Bond allure about it.  I was trying to think how to describe it and simply put, it was cool.  Well, it was cool until it quit running.  You see, certain cars, and especially British ones, are hard to work on and expensive to repair.  Well, somewhere along the road (no pun intended) it died.  Rather than bury it, we just parked it the backyard where it became one of the original storage sheds.  We slowly stuffed it to the gills with—stuff.

Well, eventually the Plymouth got fixed, the Pontiac got hauled off and the Sunbeam went somewhere, and our backyard looked a little less like a small junkyard and more like a garden.  Daddy had a love for growing roses and I have to admit they looked a lot better than the old cars that adorned our yard for a season.  Thinking back, I wonder what people thought about the old World War II barracks turned house with a car or two parked in the backyard.  I wonder if they, like me, like you, were tempted to judge the people that lived there?

I wonder if they ever pondered why the house needed painting most of the time or why there were old junk cars sitting in the yard?  I wonder if they thought the people who lived there were lazy or unkept.  Well, in the case of 6008 Carlton Road they would have been wrong on both cases.  My Daddy was a hard worker making sure the folks under his care had food and clothes.  He worked until his heart said no, and even then he found a job as a security guard.  Mama worked hard taking care of us.  She poured her life into our lives and made sure there was supper on the table and clean clothes to wear.  I would suppose they both were too busy pulling it all together to worry what people thought.

I know this.  When I drive south to Paducah and pass that old house with the overgrown Capri in the front yard, it won’t be thoughts of judgement that pass through my mind. Instead, I will remember two people who worked hard to make life possible for my me, and my brothers and sisters.  And then I will remember that until I have walked in someone’s shoes, I have no business looking down on anyone.  Most folks don’t wake up some morning and just decide to have their world go south.  Sometimes it just happens.  But what I do know is that Jesus, the Man a lot of us have committed to follow, wouldn’t cast a rock, rather He would lend a hand. 

One day a couple of Jesus followers were going to church and they passed by a man who couldn’t walk.  The guy was begging and that was the honorable thing to do given there was no security net for help in those days.  He looked up and the two Jesus guys looked down.  They said, “You know, we don’t have any money, but we do have an answer.  And right there, right then, they reached down and in the name of Jesus they healed the guy.  He got up, did a little dance and they all went to church together. How about that?  So, who can you help today?  What house have you driven by so many times before but perhaps today you need to stop? I know in a world of risks, that can be hard but hey, I know Someone who will help make it happen.  His name is Jesus and He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne 

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful

Mr. Toad

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.” Psalm 37:4

It seems impossible but it is true. It has been several years ago, but I remember it quite well.  I was talking with one of our church members and she began to tell me a tale.  It was either a tall tale or a tale of faith and I believe it was the latter.  It was summertime and it was hot—the perfect time to take a swim in the swimming pool—if you are blessed or cursed to own one. They did.  One of her grandsons, we’ll call him Billy, was over and they were swimming together.  If my memory serves me correctly, he was messing around the edge of the pool and decided to look in the skimmer.  When he looked inside, he saw it.

It was a toad.  To be more specific it was a very dead, swollen toad.  It had apparently found its way into the skimmer and was unable to escape.  After a while, you might say it gave up the ghost.  Billy reached into the skimmer and picked up the now deceased toad.  Since he had a pretty sensitive heart, it kinda upset him that the toad had met such an untimely death.  Now his grandmother, Ellen, is a woman of great faith and she had been working diligently to instill that same faith in her grandchildren.  Well, in just a moment, Billy decided to put their faith to the test.

He asked his grandmother, “Can we pray for the frog?”  Well, Ellen explained that the toad was beyond help.  Billy then suggested they could pray for the toad to be, uh, resurrected, you know, like Lazarus.  Now I have to admit if it had been me, I probably would have come up with some kind of excuse of why that wouldn’t work.  But not Ellen.  She told Billy that they could indeed pray for the toad and I’m sure she explained that it was up to God to do the rest.

So, Billy prayed and asked God to bring the frog back to life.  As a step of faith, they didn’t bury the frog but left it there beside the pool…in the hot sun.  So, Ellen and Billy went inside the house, perhaps for lunch or perhaps just for a break.  After a good while they decided to go back outside for another swim.  As they neared the pool, what do you think they saw?  Well, there was Mr. Toad… very much alive.  They were so excited.  They saw only one possibility—God had answered their prayer.  I supposed you could come up with some scientific answer like the toad was in a comma, but I believe God just heard a little boy’s prayer and decided to teach him a lesson about faith and prayer.

It is common, I know, for us to try and explain away the impossible.  I know when Jesus came back to life people tried to explain that away too. Some said he was in a comma or simply had passed out.  But when the guys doing the crucifying are professionals…well, that just isn’t an option.  You might say they were very good at their job.  No, the simplest explanation is the one that says He said He could do it, and He did.  So, I think the simplest explanation for Mr. Toad is that God decided to bring glory to His name by answering this simple prayer of faith.

I wonder how different the world might be if we had the faith to pray prayers like that.  I’ve never believed that prayer is a cosmic wish list. I also know that just because I pray and ask for something God is not obligated to fulfill my wish.  The Bible clearly teaches that prayer is more about our faith in God than getting something out of God. Powerful prayers come when God’s people align their hearts with God’s will.  The Old Testament psalmist said, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.

Does that undermine prayer? Not at all. In fact, I believe it validates prayer.  God is working every day and in every way.  We simply need to discover what He is doing and join Him—perhaps in person or perhaps on our knees.  There is a world out there that needs to know God and the best way for that to happen is for us, His kids, to demonstrate our faith and trust in Him.  We need to pray, and live, in such a way that shouts, “I believe—and I believe He’s got this.”  And…He does. Just ask Mr. Toad!

  Bro. Dewayne 

Posted in life, Family, gratitude, sovereignty of God, Trials

Watch Out Below

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Matthew 25:13

The clock was ticking…and I didn’t even know it.  Getting older is, well, interesting.  It certainly has its perks…like you mess up and people just give you that knowing nod, you know, the one that says, “We’re gonna give you a pass on that because you are old(er).  Of course, sometimes they are not understanding, and they give you the “what for”.  One of the things that is just a bit difficult are the things that you lose.  You know sometimes you lose your mind, sometimes you lose your hair, sometimes you lose your teeth, sometimes you lose your vision and sometimes you lose your hearing.  Wait, what did you say?

Well, I can speak from personal experience on a couple of those things.  My hair is in full retreat and my hearing, in a least one ear, is well, less than.  One of favorite hearing tests is the fact that I can cover my “bad” ear and still hear our clock ticking at 25 feet.  If I cover my good ear…not matter how close I get…I can’t hear a thing.  One time I put my face up to the face of the clock and still couldn’t hear a thing.  But here’s what is kinda strange—it’s not every sound, but only certain frequencies.  I can hear most voices (except for some reason my wife’s), most music, and most other sounds.  Of course, some things you just can’t hear—or see coming. That happened a couple of years ago.  A clock was ticking, and I had no idea.

My wife called me one Wednesday afternoon.  She sounded a bit frustrated—you know like that tone wives have when they ask their husbands to take the trash out for three days…well, it was kinda like that.  Just a little edgy.  But this had nothing to do with the trash.  Instead, she said, “Dewayne the ceiling in the middle bedroom has fallen.”  I said, “What?” She repeated what she said, yes—I had heard her right.  It turns out that over half of the plaster ceiling in the spare room was now laying on the bed and floor.  I said I was on my way! When I got home, I found out that she was not kidding or even exaggerating.  Water-soaked plaster and blown insulation covered the bed and the entire floor.  What a mess! How do you even begin to clean it up?

As it turns out…it was not a fluke. We have an air conditioning unit in our attic for the upstairs. When the company installed it, they build a small platform where the overflow pan would sit.  The pan was there in case the primary drain clogged. So, unknown to me the main drain clogged, and the pan began to fill. The pan also had a drain but in this case, it just wasn’t enough to handle the excess water. As it filled with water the platform slowly, ever so slowly, began to tilt.  As it tilted, the water in the pan spilled over the edge and onto the attic floor, seeping into the ceiling.  Slowly, surely, over a few days, and believe it or not, without a drip, the ceiling continued to absorb the water until it had enough… and the insulation and plaster fell…big time.

It was a sloppy, no fun, you’ve got to be kidding me, mess.  And then, of course, we had to repair the ceiling.  It took us a couple of hours to clean up the mess and a good friend helped me repair the ceiling. We also had someone come in and properly rebuild the platform so it would not give way again.  In two or three weeks the whole thing was a memory.  It was a learning experience for sure.  One lesson I learned, is to make a trip to the attic on a regular basis and make sure everything is working.  Pour some bleach in the drain to kill any algae and make sure the drain isn’t clogged. Two, understand that there are clocks ticking that we don’t hear…can’t hear and when the straw breaks the camel’s back—you’ve got yourself a dead camel.

Life is filled with surprises and with some of them, all the preparation and all the good intentions in the world, can’t help you avoid them.  But we can do what we can.  It never occurred to me to ask God why He allowed that ceiling to fall.  I mean, I know He loves me and I’m sure on that day He wasn’t mad at me.  The bottom line is… I didn’t do my part.  My part was to make a trip to the attic every once in a while and check things out.  His part was to help me not lose my cool in the midst of the mess.  And, amazingly, even though I didn’t do my thing…He did His.  He sent friends to help and now in the summer when the air is running I make an occasional trip to the attic.  You know, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—or several pounds of wet insulation and plaster. So, thank you Father for helping me grow in patience and shrink a little in frustration.  Thank you for being faithful and for always being there.  I know You’ve got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

Miracle (or not) of the Bag

For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

There was no way.  We were once again on our way to West Africa.  This particular trip was a medical trip, and they were always the most fulfilling.  The needs in the Sub-Saharan region of West Africa are always mammoth.  Since water is always a problem that means food is too.  But second to that is the need for medical care.  Though health care is very reasonable compared to here in America…the bottom line is the people are just extremely poor and often the care they need is simply not available.  That is particularly true in the fringe desert regions of Niger.

This wasn’t a large team but is was a great one. We were all friends and several of us were Africa mission trip veterans.  For one in particular, this was her first trip and she handled it like a real trooper. On the morning we were to fly out, Judy and I went by to pick up one of our team team members named Rhoda (her name has been changed to protect the innocent). She attended our church and is a good friend of ours.  Rhoda has one of the most merciful and loving hearts of anyone I know.  If she has any capacity to help…she will.  Now we had had a couple of team meetings to go over the general expectations including customs, the number of bags you could carry, and very specifically, the weight allowance for each bag…which is fifty pounds.  Not fifty-two or fifty-one—fifty pounds.

When we arrived at Rhoda’s house, the air was electric with excitement.  Since I was the only guy from Harrisburg, I was quickly assigned the role of “pack horse.”  In other words—I got to carry the luggage to the car and load it.  Well, I went into Rhoda’s house and picked up the first bag.  I’ve done this enough that I can tell just about how much a bag weighs.  This one was just about on the money.  I went to the car and chucked it in the trunk.  I went back to get bag number two and as I went to get it—it seemed to be nailed to the floor.  With some effort, however, I was able to lift it off the floor—barely.

It was about that time that Rhoda walked into the room.  I asked her, “Rhoda, did you weigh this bag?  It feels a “little” heavy” (I was being extremely generous.)  She assured me that the bag was ok and so with some grunting and groaning, I kinda lifted and kinda slid the bag out the door, down the sidewalk and to the car.  Again, with considerable effort I managed to hoist the bag into the trunk.  All this while I’m going, “Man, this bag feels heavy…but hey…she said…” So, with the luggage on board and people seat-belted in, off we went to the airport where we met our final team member. When we arrived, we got one of those carts to help with the luggage.  We needed it.

Again, with considerable effort, I soon had the bags on the cart, and we headed inside to get checked in.  Judy and I went first.  We checked our luggage—fifty pounds each thank you—got our boarding passes and we were set.  Rhoda was next.  Her first bag was right at fifty pounds.  Go, Rhoda, Go.  I lifted the suspicious bag on the scale and watch with amazement (I think that is the right word) as the scale zinged up toward the sky and stopped at…sixty-five pounds…fifteen pounds over the limit.  Well, you can probably imagine my expression and explanation.  “Rhoda” I said, “what in the world?  I thought you said the bag was ok.”  “Well, pastor,” merciful Rhoda explained, “I was praying for a miracle.” 

I don’t remember if we laughed, cried, or both but two things were sure.  First this was one miracle that God chose not to give us. Second, the clerk wasn’t a fan of grace—at least not fifteen pounds worth, anyway.  We took the bag off the scale and placed it on the floor to lighten it up.  Fortunately, some friends had hung around and they were going to be able to help us with the excess stuff.  And here is the picture of Rhoda’s beautiful heart. People had donated and she had gone to Bath and Body and bought those West African ladies… bottles and bottles and tubes and tubes …of all kinds of lotions and creams.  She knew they needed it for their dried-out desert skin and wanted to bless them.

Well, we had to remove fifteen pounds of Bath and Body and leave it with our friends.  But don’t worry—there were still fifty pounds of blessings left.  Almost the entire bag wasn’t for Rhoda—it was for her new friends in West Africa.  And do you know what?  The whole trip was just one big blessing.  We were able to provide free medical care to so many people and shared stories from the Bible with many others.  When it was all said and done—we were blessed and humbled and God was made big.  We didn’t get the miracle of the bag with the Bath and Body items, but we did get the miracle of changed hearts—ours.

The Bible tells us that nothing is impossible with God and I believe that to my core.  That doesn’t mean that we always get exactly what we want or the way we want it.  It does mean that in the end—it will all work out.  I think by and large that is one of the lessons we have learned through this COVID hot mess.  We have learned, or are learning, that if we will just leave it to Him…He will handle it, in His way and His time. Always, always—He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

A Morning Nightmare

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4

It was the thing that nightmares are made of.  I wasn’t there for this, but trust me I have lived it over and over again with my wife, Judy. Let me tell you the story.  When she was four or five years old, her father and mother went to work and so she had a babysitter that lived close by. It was a regular routine. Simple.  Simple and routine till one day it wasn’t.

On the first day of school, the babysitter and her friend were taking the kids to school. The kids were entering first grade, there was no kindergarten. After they had dropped the kids off, it was back to her house again.  If you’ve ever been to Valdosta, Georgia you need to know multiple times at multiple locations train tracks would cross the roads and highways.  Just a few miles from the grade school was a pulpwood plant and often trains would drop off logs to be made into paper.  On that particular morning, after leaving the school, the car approached this train crossing.  In the early 60’s, many of the crossings didn’t have lights or gates and this was one of those.  As the car approached the crossing, that’s when it happened.

It was not unusual for trains to just stop short of the crossing and sit there.  As the car approached the crossing there was a train and the young lady who was driving assumed it was just waiting as they often did.  Unfortunately, she was wrong.  As the car neared the crossing and proceeded onto the tracks, she realized that the train was in fact moving—slowly—but moving.  In a panic she thought she was pressing the gas pedal, when in fact she pressed the brake—stopping the car dead on the track. As if in slow motion, the train hit the car and slowly, methodically pushed it down the tracks.  Even at such a slow speed, it took a while for the train to stop. The damage was extensive.

The collision was not without consequences and injuries.  The lady in the front passenger seat where the train hit received two broken arms.  The girl behind the passenger seat had a broken leg.  The driver literally had a nervous breakdown.  Thankfully, four-year-old Judy was only knocked to the floorboard where she tried her best to hold on to the “hump.”  While everyone was taken to the hospital, gratefully the injuries, though serious, were not life threatening. As often is the case in situations like this, not all the injuries were physical.

When I met Judy in 1974, she was sixteen and full of fun and life.  Because she lived on the other side of most of the tracks, we would often have to cross them.  While never in a dangerous way, if I heard a training coming, I would speed up to make it across the crossing.  I still remember the fear that came across her face.  Each time it happened, she was reliving what happened.  The accident still deeply affected her emotionally. Even if there was a crossing guard with lights, she would tense up, even though I was slowing down to a stop.  What happened that morning 12 years earlier left lifelong scars.

At first I didn’t really understand and thought perhaps, just perhaps, she was overreacting.  But it didn’t take years, or months or even more than a couple of weeks, for me to realize that for her…this was a big deal.  I also quickly realized that I owed it to her, this young woman I loved, to be very careful around train tracks.  It didn’t scare me one bit, but it did scare the one I loved, the one I cared for.

So, can I ask you a question?  Is there someone in your life, in your world that you care about that might need a bit of special consideration? Is there someone who has a life experience that has left them scarred or wounded?  Divorce? Tragedy? Abuse? Death? Illness? Prejudice? You see, in our very imperfect world, you don’t have to travel far to find the wounded and the broken.  And what isn’t a big deal to you, might be a tsunami of emotions and difficult memories for someone else.  And honestly, we need to be sensitive.  We need to care. Jesus did that so well.  The Bible tells how God cares and comforts us in our trouble so we can care and comfort those we meet in our daily walkabout life.

So, if you bump into someone’s world and they seem to act differently in a certain situation, why not precede with caution?  Why not be the one that brings comfort and understanding to their fractured moment? You could be the one that finally brings healing and peace in their world.  Judy is much better now.  But if there is an unguarded crossing and a train whistle in the distance, you can bet I still slow down and check the situation out.  Judy, well, she knows this guy loves her enough to do exactly that. And, by the way, there is a Dearest Daddy who loves His kids even more than that.  And no matter how your world is scarred or rocked…rest assured, He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

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

A Grits Love Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, Trials, wisdom

A Memorable Funeral

Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not.” 2 Timothy 4:2

It was years ago and something that I will never forget.  I am a pastor and that often gives me the opportunity to help people at some of their hardest moments.  Over the last 38 years I have officiated at hundreds of funerals.  Some of them were tragic and some of them were celebrations of life.  Regardless…they were all difficult.  I believe that every service should be as personal as I can make it. I heard a story once of a pastor who was asked to do a service for a man he didn’t know well.  Unfortunately, he kept calling the gentleman by the wrong name.  Finally, in sheer desperation, his wife shouted out, “John, his name is John.” Gratefully, I have managed to avoid something like that thus far.  But there was one funeral I will never forget.

I said earlier that I am a preacher…a pastor.  Well, I happen to be a singing pastor.  You see, long before I started preaching, I was singing.  I’m certainly no Frank Sinatra, but I can carry a tune.  That led to opportunities to serve families in another way.  When the funeral home needed a vocalist, I would sometimes get a call.  One day…the call came.  I was to sing a couple of songs…one at the beginning and one midway through the service.  So, my time came…no pun intended…and I sang my first song and then the second.  An older pastor was speaking and he was really into the sermon.  As the vocalist, I was sitting in a side room where I couldn’t see him, but I could see the audience. And then…it happened.

As I said he was preaching hard, and all of a sudden two things happened in a split second.  First, a moment of silence.  It went from “Katie bar the door” to dead silence.  Then, in a moment of time, there was something that sounded like a clap of thunder—literally. And finally, there was the sound of chaos—-people screaming and crying.  It was a very frightening moment.  Immediately I stood up and looked into the room where the preacher was lying on the floor.  It seems as he was preaching, he suffered a massive heart attack, fell on top of the folding pulpit which then caused it to collapse. That was the clap of thunder.

The funeral home folks called 911 and they quickly arrived and carried him out.  I’m not sure if he passed right there on the floor or in the ambulance, but he didn’t make it.  When they had left with him, I wondered what in the world do you do now?  The funeral director came over and said, “Dewayne, can you finish the service?” I told him I could if he would get me a Bible.  The preacher’s Bible was still laying there so he picked it up and gave it to me and we finished the service.  It was one of the strangest things I have ever witnessed—especially at a funeral.  As a side note, in a day or so, the funeral home called and asked me to do the service for the pastor who had died, and it was my privilege to do so.

I would suppose that there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from this but the big one is—we need to be ready.  We need to be ready to step into any situation that might arise. There is a verse in the Bible that says we should be prepared whether the time is favorable or not.  That is good advice.  We never know when we will have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.  I don’t know exactly how well I did finishing the funeral that day, but I hope I was able to bring some peace into a crazy chaotic moment.

There’s also another lesson—another truth—from this story.  We should be prepared to step into eternity.  When we think of death, we often think we will all live well and long, die easy, and go to heaven.  The truth is we just don’t know how long we will live, but we can all be prepared.  I like what a friend of mine said one time.  He said, “I’m prepared to go to heaven, I’m just not ready to go.”  He was just saying that he was prepared to go to heaven he just wasn’t ready to get on the next bus. I’m sure the pastor who was speaking that day was prepared, but he probably didn’t have any idea that he would board the bus right then.

The good news is that because of the Good News, we can all be prepared.  Because of what Jesus did on a Roman cross two thousand years ago, we can know that we are going to heaven.  It’s not about religion or church—it is about faith in Him dying and coming back to life three days later.  It is about believing that He was who He said He was, that He would do what He said He would do, and about repenting and trusting in Jesus as the Way to eternal life with God. If you haven’t made that commitment, I’m hoping you will. Google it and check it out—check Him out.  The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared” and I hope you are.  When it comes time for us to board the bus, we can have the confident assurance that He will be there.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

Our Longest Day

Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” Galatians 6:9

It was a long day.  I can’t tell you how many times I have said it.  My wife, Judy, often greets me at the end of the workday as I come home.  She will say, “How was your day today?”  And sometimes I will respond, “It was one long day.”  Then there are other times, often on a Friday or Saturday, when the day seems to stretch on forever.  I get so much done around the house and yard and at the end, I tell Judy, “What a great long day today.”  Often the circumstances of the day seem to dictate how the day will be remembered and perceived.

Perhaps you are familiar with the date, June 6th.  No?  What if I were to add the year 1944 to the equation?  Well, if you have studied your history you probably made the connection with World War II and you might have even remembered that was the day of the Allied invasion of Normandy, France—the beginning of the end of that great conflict.  It was a massive under-taking and the outcome was never a sure thing.  But at the end of the day, and with great cost, the Allies gained a foothold on the European continent.  Someone there that day called it, “the longest day.” And it was.

All of us have “longest days” and yes, I know that 2020 may have seemed like 366 of them.  Sometimes those “longest days” cause us to mourn, but sometimes they are a reason to celebrate. For my wife and me, January 24th was one of those.  You see, on that day, forty years ago this year, our first daughter was born, and it was a long and exciting day.

Late Thursday evening Judy started having some consistent labor pains and when they didn’t stop, we knew it was time to head to the hospital.  When we arrived, they decided to keep her and the journey began in earnest.  Judy had decided to have Rebecca without much intervention from medicine, so it was a challenging process.  By the way, if it had been me, I would have had every drug available to modern man.  We all know if populating the world was left in the hands of men—it would be a very, small world.

At any rate, the hours began to pass.  As the clock ticked the seconds, minutes and hours by, it soon became apparent that this was not going to be a sprint but rather a marathon. All day Friday, I (her faithful husband) stayed by her side, encouraging her each step of the way.  Well, okay, maybe there were a couple of exceptions.  A friend of mine brought me a huge burger and fries which I dutifully ate while Judy watched—no, make that glared.  What was I thinking?  Oh, that’s right…I wasn’t.

The hours continued to tick by and soon it was evening and while things were progressing, Rebecca was determined to delay her grand arrival. Finally, at about midnight, Dr. Dickerson, came in to check on Judy and announced it was about time. I had the television on and one of those ultra-low budget Japanese monster movies was on.  Before long, the doctor and I were enthralled with the movie. So, while Judy was groaning in labor, the doctor and I watched as Godzilla ate up the known world.

Finally, the movie was over, and Dr. Dickerson announced it was time to head to the delivery room.  Coincidence?  I was allowed to go in and not much later, Rebecca made her grand appearance.  The baby was crying, Judy was more than relieved and crying, and I was more than excited and crying.  As it turned out, Judy had endured 23 hours of labor before Rebecca was born.  Oh, and when she arrived, she weighed 8 lbs. 15.5 ounces. What a prize!

For years and every once -in-a-while, even today we still talk of our longest day.  Well, actually, it was Judy’s longest day.  For me it was burgers, fries and a cheesy monster movie. But for both of us it was a day we will never forget—the day God blessed us with our first daughter.  And before it was all said and done—He would bless us two more times with two more daughters and later with eight grandchildren.  That is incredible. And what’s more incredible?  The next day, the pastor asked me to speak on the radio and give my testimony for Baptist Men’s Day.  I’m sure that longest day was part of what I said that day and God used that to launch me—us— into the ministry of pastoring.

So, when you have your longest day, keep in mind a couple of thoughts.  First, every day is created by the Creator God.  His Word says tells us that this day, every day, is a gift that He created just for us.  How about that? And if we will allow God to direct our steps in that day, we will not only endure—we can thrive.  I know it seems sometimes that the finish line—the prize, is always just out of reach—but it will come if we keep on.

Paul was one of the writers in the New Testament and he knew a whole lot about long days.  He may not have known about the labor pains that produce babies, but he did know a lot about the kind of “labor pains” life can sometimes send our way. He said, “Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” The bottom-line is don’t give up—don’t quit.  And by the way, even if you are not a Jesus follower, that is still good advice.  The farmer gets the harvest if he keeps working the field.  The good news is that God is just waiting to help you through every day, including your longest day.  He is right there and mark it down, “He’s got this.” 

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, wisdom

Their Best

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

It was our second trip to West Africa.  We were back on the dry sandy desert fringes of Niger doing a food distribution.  It was such a barren land made worse by an ongoing drought.  The people would do just about anything for food.  While we had prepared to feed many of the people, truthfully, we couldn’t feed them all.  So, families with the greatest need were chosen.  We would go to their villages the day before the food distribution and meet with them and do some registration work before the distribution.

It is hard to describe the poverty there.  Simply put, most of the people had nothing.  They had little food and little water but something amazing happened everywhere we went.  We would gather with the leaders and the people in their village.  We would give them a word of greeting and then they would greet us.  All of this, of course, was done with the help of interpreters.  After a while, we would complete the necessary paperwork and finalize details for them to come to main village the next day.  And then, it would be time to say goodbye for the day.

This was a repeat of the greeting we had done when we arrived.  They would graciously thank us for coming and we would graciously thank them for allowing us to come.  Then it happened…every time.  These incredibly poor people would present us with gifts.  Often it was some sort of leather craft decorated according to their customs and their people group.  It was such a gracious act of kindness and we always left feeling incredibly blessed.  They who had so little gave to us who had so much.

It was the last appointment of the day.  We drove and drove—it was more than several kilometers.  When we arrived at the site, we realized it wasn’t a village it was just a meeting place.  The people we were to meet were truly nomads.  Someone had set up a large tent made from skins and rugs to offer some shade from the searing Saharan Desert sun.  When we arrived, there was one or two people there but soon many more arrived and the area under the tent was filled with five white guys and a bunch of men whose skin was tough like leather and tanned a deep brown.  Then we really saw it.

In the middle of the tent and now surrounded by people sat a medium sized metal bowl.  In the bowl was what can only be described as dirty, brown water.  As I looked at the bowl you could see something swimming.  It was the larva from some sort of insect native to Niger. I assumed that perhaps this was for us to wash our hands though I was quite certain my hands were cleaner than the water in the bowl.  I would soon find out that the water wasn’t for washing.

Soon the greeting started.  We thanked them for letting us come and they thanked us for coming.  Then someone in their group made the presentation.  It wasn’t a brightly colored trinket…it was the gift of water.  And the brown water in the bowl wasn’t for washing hands soiled by the West African dust.  No, it was a portion of their precious drinking water. That brown water with larva swimming it in was what they drank every day, and they were offering something very precious to them—something they could ill afford to give.

Ordinarily, we would try and eat or drink what they offered, but our missionary knew, and we knew, that one drink of this water would make us very seriously ill.  So, through the interpreter our missionary explained that while we deeply appreciated their kindness and generosity, we could not partake in the water for that reason.  They certainly understood so the water remained throughout our visit. At the end we reversed the greeting process and climbed aboard our four-wheel drive for the long drive back to where we were staying.

The ride was quieter than normal.  Each one of us was clearly aware of what had just happened.  We all were pierced to our hearts over this act of immense generosity and the immense blessings that God had graciously poured on our lives.  Mission trips tend to do this to anyone who travels to a third world country.  There is always some kind of guilt over having so much while those you serve have so little.  But understanding God’s grace and humbly serving others at least helps.  But it always changes you.  It always marks your life.

In my mind’s eye I can clearly see the bowl of water all these years later.  I can still see the people coming through the gate after walking kilometers to get their food.  I can still see them trying to manage the heavy bags of rice and millet.  But something was missing.  Not one person complained about the lack of a vehicle to carry their load.  Each was just grateful to be able to eat that night.  And, yes, we were changed again.  I would like to think that a little of their gratitude rubbed off on us and that it still remains.  I know we will never forget those eleven or twelve days in Niger.

You don’t have to go to Africa, or Haiti, or Nicaragua, or London, or China, or Bulgaria, or the Philippines or wherever to serve.  Each of us are missionaries on a mission field and each of us can serve others…just like Jesus did.  One day He was sitting on a hillside teaching the people and He said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” It really is that simple. It won’t get you to heaven…God’s grace and faith in what Jesus did on the cross does that. But it is an opportunity to be like Him…to love like Him.  It’s a tall order but don’t worry, you know that He’s got this too.