Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Southern born, thankful

Me, Mama, and Mrs. Crabtree

When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36

I went just a little too far.  When you are an overactive six-year-old, church can be quite difficult.  My pastor was one of my favorite people but when you’re an overactive six-year-old, preaching can be, well, a little boring.  I’ve always loved church music but when you’re an overactive six-year-old, well, the best singers just aren’t enough.  Mama tried to keep me busy.  Her favorite tool was to give me the bulletin and a pen or pencil and I would color in all the little circles.  You would be amazed how many different little circles there were each week.  Well, that would work for a while, but you know, when you are an overactive six-year-old, nothing is going to work for long.

Well, one particular Sunday, the circle thing didn’t even make it past the song service.  By the time they were passing the plates I was out of things to do.  The service was always very predictable.  There would be an opening song, the announcements, a couple of more songs, then the offering, a special music thing, and then the preaching.  After the pastor finished, we would have one more song and call it a day.  Of course, there were always a couple of prayers thrown in for good measure.  So, I knew it was just about time for the preacher to start preaching when I heard Mrs. Rosalyn Crabtree start singing.

Now let me tell you right now, Mrs. Crabtree could flat sing.  I don’t know if she had voice lessons or not, but she sounded like one of those opera singers.  When there was a solo in the choir it was usually Mrs. Crabtree who sang, and more often than not, she sang right before the preacher.  She and her husband Jake were two of my favorite people too.  They taught me in the youth department when I got older and we even had Rosalyn sing at our wedding when my wife and I were married.  They were great folks.

But this Sunday, well, it was just destiny that I was going to get in trouble.  I was bored by the time the offering was done, so I started poking Mama in the side.  She had her girdle on and it always amazed me just how tight that thing was.  Well, she finally had enough of the poking and said so in a way that I knew if I continued, it wasn’t going to be pretty.  But then Mrs. Crabtree started to sing.  Well, while she was singing, I decided to cover my ears with my hands. Why?  Well, I guess that is what overactive-six-year-olds do.  Well, when I took my hands down there was obviously a big sound difference.  So, I put them back up and then took them down.  I had discovered a new game.

I found out if I did this fast it made a “wa-wa” sound in my ears.  The faster my hands covered and uncovered my ears, the faster the “wa-wa.” I thought this was pretty grand entertainment. Mama didn’t think so. I stopped for a minute but decided it was worth the risk. It wasn’t.  Before I knew it, she and I were heading out the door. I had crossed the line and me and Mama had a little “come to Jesus” meeting.  And do you know what?  That urge to put my hands over my ears strangely disappeared and has never returned.  I guess you could say that Mama discovered a vaccine for that like the one for the COVID virus and it was highly effective. Very.highly.effective.

I am glad that I had a Mama who knew how and when to administer a little discipline…even if it meant taking me out smack dab in the middle of church.  And I am glad that we had a church where no one smirked, and no one said I shouldn’t be there.  We had a church where families and kids were more than welcome and I have tried to make sure that at the churches I pastor, the same is true today.  Rich or poor, black, white, or brown, young, or old—everybody is welcome.  I know that is the way it ought to be because that is the way that Jesus did it. I figure if that was the way He did it—we should do it too.

One time when Jesus was teaching, He looked at the people and had compassion on them because He saw them like a flock of sheep needing a shepherd. Compassion—love in action.  Compassion—love that says come on in, you are welcome here.  I like that.  You see, God is an inclusive God.  He even invites overactive six-year-olds like me and you into His presence.  And He’s always ready to help, always ready to love and always ready to say, “Don’t worry…I’ve got this.” Bro. Dewayne

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, priorities, Southern born, thankful, travel, wisdom

Free Money

Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.” Proverbs 13:4

It was like free money.  Ah, those were the good old days.  When I was nine or ten years old, we used to go and visit our grandparents who lived in Gainesville, Florida.  It was always an adventure to go to their house.  While they weren’t necessarily rich, they were richer than we were. They had a fireplace which to me was an adventure all by itself.  I remember one time, without permission, (oops), I went in the living room where the fireplace was.  I had some newspaper and matches and decided that I was going to start a fire.  There were several problems with that plan, but the big one was the draft in the chimney was closed.  When I lit the papers, all the smoke began pouring into the living room and I didn’t have a clue on how to stop it. I’m not sure how that all turned out, but that is probably because I have mentally blocked the consequences.

Also, I remember they had an old garage behind the house and it was just filled with stuff.  It was dark and dank and my imagination would race as I thought about what could be lurking in the recesses and corners.  I can only wish I had some of those old treasures today.  Beyond the garage was a large backyard that was really one big flower garden.  There were several flower beds with daylilies, camellia bushes, and amaryllis.  And then, beyond the backyard…was free money.

Imagine small city side streets with shallow ditches lining each side of the road.  Imagine vines and low bushes almost overcoming the ditches and then imagine free money up and down the streets.  You see, back in those days, cokes came in glass coke bottles and if you found a coke bottle you could take it to the store where they would give you two cents per bottle. On top of that you did your part to stop littering.   Now keep in mind down south any soft drink was a coke. Someone might ask you, “Do you want a coke?” If you said yes, and who wouldn’t, they would respond with “what kind?” It might be a root beer, an orange or grape Nehi or something else.  Whatever kind—the bottles all brought two cents each.

I would walk the streets around my grandparent’s house collecting bottles.  On a good day I might find ten bottles which put twenty cents in my pocket. Now wait…don’t think that isn’t much because also in those days there was something called penny candy.  Yup, it was a penny for each piece and there were a whole bunch to choose from.  You could fill a small bag with twenty cents, which I did almost every time. You can probably understand why going to Gainesville was one of my favorite trips.  I loved my grandparents, but I loved finding those bottles too.  And the store…it was right across the street.

Times have certainly changed and getting a deposit for a coke bottle is all but gone.  I was reading my water bottle label the other day and discovered if you lived in Oregon it was worth a whole dime.  Shoot that thang!  I sometimes wonder if we need to do a better job of teaching our kids or grandkids the value of earning a little money? Whether it was finding bottles or mowing yards for $2.00 it taught me lessons about working to get what you want.  Too often kids grow up without learning the value of work or money for that matter.  I’m pretty sure one of the best gifts we can give our kids is teaching them the value of working for something.  Looking back, I’m thankful my Daddy and Mama gave me that opportunity.

The Book of Proverbs is a whole book in the Jewish and Christian Bibles dedicated to wisdom.  Well, one of the proverbs in that Book says that people who don’t work want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper. There’s a lot of truth in those few words. We often see work as a curse but in many ways, it is a gift…a great teacher. However, there is one area that I am glad work doesn’t play a part and that is as the way to heaven.  In that case all the work in the world will leave you far short. But the good news is that God offers forgiveness and heaven as a gift to anyone who is willing to believe.  What I could never earn, He freely provides. How about that!

I don’t necessarily long for the old days, but I am grateful for the days I’ve lived.  Each season of life has had its ups and downs…its values and lessons.  I still clearly remember the sheer joy of finding those two cent bottles.  Times change and the way lessons are learned may change but through the years, the faithfulness of my Dearest Daddy has never changed.  He has always been there and no matter what tomorrow brings.  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 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, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, Southern born, thankful

S & H Green Stamps

Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20

I guess it was the bonus thing.  Take a country boy from the far-out suburbs of North Florida and a trip anywhere was a treat.  When times were lean, Daddy and Mama would pay our electric bill downtown at the electric company.  It wasn’t unusual for us to wait to the last day or so and we would have to take it down to the drop box.  The office was located downtown on the St. John’s River and we would make an adventure out of the trip.  We would park and make the payment and then play along the Riverwalk. It is one of those great memories.

So, anytime Mama or Daddy said, “Let go” we were all in.  That was especially true when Mama would head to the grocery store.  Daddy was paid on every other Friday.  On payday when he got home from work, they would deposit his check and go buy groceries. While we started with eight kids, by the time I was eight or so several had gotten married but that still made for a lot of groceries to buy.  Mama would usually shop at Food Fair.  For one thing they had good prices but there was a bonus.  Food Fair gave out S&H Green Stamps.

It was kinda like the card that some stores today use to offer discounts on food and gas but different.  When you got to the checkout, the person would hand ring all the groceries (no scanners in those days!) and total everything up.  Then she had this special little machine and based on what Mama spent that week, she would mash the appropriate buttons and this little machine would spit out all these little “green stamps.” So, along with your receipt you left the store with a handful of stamps.

At the store, near the front, you would find these little stamp collecting books. Each page would hold, oh let’s say, twenty stamps.  So, we (Mama would often let us lick the stamps and stick them in the book) would put the stamps in the book and then put the books in a safe place like the china cabinet.  Week after week, and especially on payday we would stick and save, stick and save.  Finally, after a while, we would have several books of stamps and it was redemption time.

Along with the little books for the stamps, there were catalogs filled with stuff that you could redeem with the stamps.  There were all kinds of small appliances, toasters, and the like, as well as other things for the house.  And, if I remember right, there were even a few toys in there also.  When redemption time came we would look and shop and see what we could buy with our S&H Green Stamps.  Rarely, but sometimes, Mama would even let us have the stamps and we could go shopping for something we wanted. It was like a mini-Christmas in April, or August or whenever.

It was a pretty good marketing ploy if you think about it.  The fact that they gave away “green stamps” enticed us to shop there.  It really was a bonus and it really worked. It is always special when you get more than you expect—and that is something that I really like about God. Although I went to church all my life, I was twenty-one when I finally got it in my head that I didn’t have to please God to go to heaven.  I finally understood that you go to heaven not based on what you do but on what Jesus did when He died on a Roman cross and rose again.  Trust and believe in Him and, well, it is redemption day. You get your ticket punched for heaven but there is more.  There is a bonus.

You see, not only does God make you eligible for heaven by forgiving everything you’ve ever done wrong but there is something else.  There are S&H Green Stamps—an unexpected bonus. I mean, I’m glad for heaven but to know that my Father up in heaven cares for me and walks with me every day—now that’s a bonus. When times are hard, He is there.  When I need a friend, He is there. When I mess up, He is there…ready to love and forgive. He.Is.Always.There. Paul, the guy who penned a bunch of the New Testament said it this way, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Yup…well said Paul.

You know, sometimes the future can be pretty scary.  A lot of us…most of us…discovered that in 2020.  If there was anything that was certain it was that the future was uncertain.  It was so assuring to know that what I didn’t know…He did. That when I went where I hadn’t gone before…His footprints were already in the sand. And, what I couldn’t handle…He could and He did. Throughout this past year, each time I wrote,  I’ve tried to close my story with the words, “He’s got this.” And do you know what?  He really does and that my friend…is a bonus.  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, loving others, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

My Friend Charlie

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

His name was Charlie. He was my friend, and he was a lot of fun. Over the years I have met so many different people.  They have been like a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns all coming together to form a beautiful display.  Now sometimes the colors were muted and gray, but more often they were an explosion of color and life.  As I look back over the years my mind goes to my friend Charlie.

I met Charlie when I became the pastor of Cobden First Baptist Church. Cobden is a small town in Southern Illinois and God allowed us to stay there for 14 years.  It was amazing.  And trust me, God had to use His spiritual shoehorn to pry us from the friends we made there.  Our time at Cobden was the perfect storm in a good way.  So many of us were raising our kids and for whatever reason we just liked to have fun.  If church is supposed to be about community—we had a good one.  None of us were perfect but when the bumps came, we loved our way right through them.

Charlie and I were pretty good buds from the get go.  One of the first things he did for me was drive me around the community pointing out where different members lived and, more importantly, where people lived who didn’t know Jesus.  You see, Charlie loved Jesus and Charlie loved people.  Our families quickly became fast friends and that meant, among other things, food.  Right after we arrived in town, Charlie and Cheryl, his wife, invited us over for supper and we had Dixie BBQ. This “mom and pop” place located a few miles from town became an instant favorite that night.  Thank you guys for that.

Charlie loved practical jokes…a lot.  There was the time that we had a deacons’ Christmas party at an old mansion located on the Ohio River. We had the place to ourselves and being Baptists, we were definitely teetotalers, so we told the owners to leave the bar closed. Period.  Well, we were having a great time and then, without warning, our server comes up to our table, specifically to me, and sets a nice cold Budweiser right in front of me.  I could have died. I wanted to die.  I mean I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I tried to explain to the server that this was a mistake and she told me, “No sir, that man right over there ordered it for you.”  Oh, yes it was Charlie and we laughed till it hurt.

Another time, and I do not know the occasion, he decided to out-do himself.  I’m thinking it must have been pastor appreciation month or something.  So, I get up to preach and I read the scripture for that morning and asked everyone to bow their heads as I prayed.  I prayed a nice, pastorally prayer and when I said “Amen” at the end and opened my eyes, there were almost two hundred people, all holding a newspaper up over their faces like they were reading them.  Instead of smiling faces I saw last week’s headlines.  It was crazy and we laughed till it hurt.

One time, though, Charlie got into trouble.  I think again it must have been a pastor appreciation deal and we were having a fellowship after church.  Again, think food, think Baptist, and think fun.  Well, just about that time Charlie came up behind me and pied me in the face with a large vanilla cream pie.  Well, I thought it was hilarious and some people laughed—but not everyone—especially Charlie’s mama, Grandma Veda.  She got mad because she thought it was disrespectful.  I believe it took a while for Charlie to get out of the doghouse for that one, but we did manage to salvage some of the pie.

Well, that is just a short list of all the special memories I have because of Charlie.  Without trying I can still see his smiling face in my mind’s eye.  It was people like him that made those years at Cobden so memorable.  And here’s the deal.  I believe that church should be like a community. I think, dare I say it…that it should be fun. I know we have a hard time imagining Jesus smiling, much less laughing, but I believe He did.  How could you be that full of joy and not let it leak or slosh out?

I know there is a time to be serious but there is also a time to laugh and we need to be sure and do both.  A sour expression doesn’t mean you’re spiritual…it just means you might be a bit…sour.  Proverbs (that’s the book of wisdom in Christian and Jewish Bibles) 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” Now, that is worth remembering.  In these crazy days—in fact, especially in these crazy days—of COVID-19, vaccines, elections and the like, let’s remember to just laugh.  The mask might hide your smile, but it can’t stop your laugh. I’m glad we have a God with a good sense of humor—after all He made me and you. Smile.  And I’m glad we have a God that can give us a reason to laugh because no matter what—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