Posted in Family, friends, gratitude, July 4, life, loving others, Military memories, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, USA

July 4. 1972

No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

It was fifty years ago today.  The summer of 1972 was unlike any other summer I had experienced.  I had joined the Air Force and spent the summer at “camp” with about forty new friends.  We shared one thing in common—we had taken an oath to “protect the constitution of the United States against all enemies…foreign and domestic.”  We had also committed to obeying the orders of those appointed over us and at this point…that was everyone else but us.  We were brand new, raw recruits who knew a lot about being a civilian and virtually nothing about being in the military.  But we didn’t have to worry…our drill sergeant was taking care of that.

I arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in the early morning hours of June 13th…early as in about 2:00 am.  This was intentional because the Air Force actually wanted you to be disorientated the first few days.  I think it was supposed to make us more cooperative.  Anyway, we quickly got into a routine sporting our new haircuts and green fatigue uniforms. They kept us going from before sunrise and put us to bed even before it was dark.  That was ok too because we were wore out.

This was my first time away from home, but the schedule didn’t allow for home sickness. But all that changed one night in July.  There wasn’t a lot of free time…whether it was a Tuesday, a Friday, or a Sunday…though they did allow time for church for anyone who wanted to go.  Most of us wanted to go…not because we loved God but for a couple of hours, we could forget the grind of basic.

Back then the Air Force didn’t observe holidays either.  Of course, the only one that occurred in my time in basic was—Independence Day.  As I remember, we definitely did NOT get the day off, but I do think we got to do some extra marching…I think it was supposed to be patriotic.  Anyway, it was soon time for lights out and then it happened. I was lying in my bunk; the skies had finally darkened, and I heard a familiar sound.  It was the sound of exploding fireworks.

I eased out of bed and knelt down in front of the window. From there, I watched the fireworks display for the base explode and light up the sky. And as I watched, a wave of homesickness washed over me.  I remembered all the times that we would go to downtown Jacksonville to the riverfront and watch the fireworks together as a family.  I remembered the times we would go to a small neighborhood grocery store and sneak into the backroom where they sold illegal fireworks and load up.  I remembered and as I did I knew that this was the first of many times that being a member of the military would mean separation…and sacrifice.

Before long the fireworks were over and I went back to my bunk and after too many minutes of loneliness, drifted off to sleep.  The next morning it was back to business as usual.  The summer of ’72 passed pretty quickly and before I knew it, I was done with basic and moved on to what was next…more training…and more new adventures. And what I discovered that night, kneeling at my window in basic, came true.  There were many more days and holidays when family was far away.  But also knew it was a small sacrifice to make to serve my country.

So today, be sure and remember those who are serving, who are sacrificing, that we can enjoy our freedoms.  Remember freedom is never free and we should be thankful for those willing to make ours possible.  Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” That is so, so true. Look, we all know America is far from perfect, but she is still the best country on the planet—remember that today too. And if you are one of those separated from family to serve, thank you and know that the One who died for you, loves you and will never leave you.  No matter what you are facing today, He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, thankful, travel, USA, wisdom

Mountains or Monuments

Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

It was on my bucket list.  I confess…I am a pretty big fan of America. I mean, even with all of its warts, and there are plenty, with all its flaws, surely a bucket full, it is the best place to call home.  Over the years I have visited over twenty-five countries—some in Europe, some in Asia and some in Africa.  Some were affluent, some were poor, and some were somewhere in between. All had something to offer but none could match this land I call home.  While some of my visits were brief, my wife Judy and I lived three years in Germany and the final word was…wait for it…home is better…there is and was no place like home.

I think the secret to learning to appreciate where you live is to learn to look for the good and not bad, the whole and not the broken.  The way we look at things can vastly change how we experience things.  A few days ago, I mentioned a quote from a movie that I had watched which, by the way, was based on a true story.  The guy said, “There are two ways to live—either nothing is a miracle, or everything is a miracle.” He opted for the latter and I think I will too.

Last year, we were out west on a trip with part of our tribe.  The main, but not only, destination was to see Mount Rushmore.  I’ve seen a chunk of America, but I hadn’t seen that…and yes, it was on my bucket list.  So, the day came. As we drove toward the monument, suddenly, around a curve we were face to face, if you will, with Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson and Lincoln and it was amazing.  We parked the car and frankly, the closer we got, the more amazing it became.

This great tribute to America (no, it wasn’t just a tribute to four men) took over fourteen years to build.  As you keep in mind it was about ninety years ago, you begin to appreciate the vision, work, and skill that it took to turn a mountain into a monument.  I was amazed to learn that many of the workers, who often had 12 hours days, were paid about $14 dollars…a week.  Those were hard times, and they were grateful to have a job.  But for many…the job became a passion…a mission…a cause to believe in.

Somewhere along the journey, they stopped seeing a mountain and began to see presidents.  Somewhere along the journey they began to see what Gutzon Borglum saw. While the project wasn’t his idea (that belongs to a guy named Doane Robinson) he was the one that chose that mountain.  The quality of the stone led him there and, honestly, where others saw just a mountain, he saw presidents. He.Saw.Presidents.

So, perhaps, just perhaps, it does matter what we see around us.  Perhaps if we choose to see miracles…or like Borglum to see monuments where others see just a block of stone, perhaps we can help make this world a better place.  Perhaps our lives, regardless of our messy circumstances, will take on a deeper meaning and a deeper purpose.  Perhaps if we learn that it is not about us but about others…things will change…for the better.

One of the writers in the Old Testament part of the Bible said that when people don’t have a vision, when they choose to see desolation rather than miracles, well, they perish.  It is true individually and it is true corporately.  If we are going to see a better world, two things need to happen.  First, we need to learn not to just see a mountain but what that mountain can become.  Secondly, and this one is for God followers, we need to believe again that with God nothing is impossible.  As we stand on the edge of the new normalcy, with that stinking COVID in the rearview mirror, let’s choose to believe again.  And why stop there?  Why don’t we determine to see presidents where others see mountains and believe that “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, food, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, love, loving others, Military memories, prayer, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, travel, USA

Home is Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Family, friends, life, Scripture, thankful, travel, USA

Daytona 500 – My Night in the Infield

“Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer.” 1 Samuel 14:6

My eyes were opened.  Now that I think about it, for a country boy on a limited budget I got to do some pretty cool things.  We got to visit my brother in New Jersey…hey, don’t laugh…at least it was away.  Then another brother lived in the Smoky Mountains and while his then wife wasn’t too fond of our family, it was still away.  And yet another brother lived out in Texas and that was always an adventure.  But the best of all was my oldest sister.  You see, she and her husband J.W. lived in Daytona Beach and best of all…they were pretty cool.  It was because they lived in Daytona Beach that I had my eyes opened one day…or night rather.

As I said I was a country boy even though I lived on the outskirts of a large city, Jacksonville, Florida.  My world had limited exposure, and given this was the sixties, that probably wasn’t a bad thing.  The most exciting thing going on in my world was my neighbor Dick Snyder who smoked cigars and drank beer…a lot.  Other than that, it seems our world was pretty tame.  And then it happened.  Somehow or another, my brother-in-law arranged for me and Daddy to go to the Daytona 500.  In case you don’t know this was and is a really big deal.  This race kicks off the NASCAR season and it was Katie-Bar-The-Door excitement.  And…there was a lot of sin going on.

You see, to save money, I think, we only had tickets to park in the infield.  That is the area inside the track.  I’m can’t remember exactly why, but we decided to go the night before and spend the night…camping if you will.  The only thing was the fact that we didn’t have a camper…all we had was our car.  So, we loaded up the trunk and drove down to the track and before you could say, “checkered flag,” we were parked right smack dab in the middle of sin city.

Now most people know that NASCAR is a family sport and I love the fact that it is a sport that loves America.  But I’m pretty sure that family description doesn’t include spending the night in the infield the night before the Daytona 500. As it got dark, all those thousands of people started milling around and as they milled, they drank a lot of beer.  In fact, it seemed that a whole lot of them reminded me of my neighbor Dick. And it also seemed that a lot of the “ladies” there were dressed for the sixties.  Now I only say that because I remember my Daddy saying something like, “Don’t look there” or “You stay right here.”

Well, sometime later, Daddy told me it was time to go to sleep so I crawled into the backseat, covered up and soon was fast asleep.  When I woke up the next morning, it was like a different world.  Besides a crop of beer cans, you would have never known that a big party had taken place there the night before.  We hung around a while and the race started and every once in a while we could see the cars going round and round the track. I believe we even climbed on top of the car…something Daddy probably wouldn’t allow back home.

Well, soon it was all over, and we spent the next couple of hours fighting the traffic getting back to my brother-in-law and sister’s house.  Soon, we were back on the road again heading back to Jacksonville.  Well, honestly, sin and all, my night in the infield at the Daytona 500 is one of my favorite memories.  Not because of the sin (Daddy did a good job of protecting me from that part) but because of the time with my Daddy and his willingness to share a great adventure with me. Even now it makes me smile.

Life is and can be full of great adventures.  Whether it is a trip to New Jersey, the Smoky Mountains, or the forever plains of Texas, we need to be sure and take the time and make the time to have adventures with those we love. One time in the Old Testament, a guy named Jonathan decided to risk a great adventure.  He said, “Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer.” Now that’s an adventure.

My trip to the infield didn’t involve the most expensive ticket, and even now I’m not sure I would recommend it as a place to take the kids, but the excitement of sharing that race with my Daddy was incredible. So, as Stephen Curtis Chapman sings, “Go ahead and saddle up your horses….this is the great adventure.”  Oh, before you go, remember to ask the Dearest Daddy for a little advice. In fact, why not ask Him along.  You know, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in fear, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, thankful, Trials, USA

The Longest Day

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” John 14:26

It was more than the title for a movie.  One by one they are slipping away.  Who?  That generation newsman and author Tom Brokaw called the greatest generation.  This generation was born and lived through the Great Depression.  Their words and testimonies fill pages and pages of books and blogs.  Words like, “we were poor but didn’t know it” or like “we had nothing but each other…and that was more than enough” ring of their wisdom and courage.

But it would seem that living and surviving the great depression was just a warmup for their finest hour…that would begin with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. That day, the day that President Franklin Roosevelt said, “would live in infamy,” marked the start of our country’s direct involvement in World War II.  Before it was all over, almost four years later, America would see 1,076,245 causalities.  That number includes 291,557 combat dead, 113,842 who died from other causes and 670,840 wounded.

Last Memorial Day I heard a phrase I had heard before but this time it seemed to shout at me.  It simply said, “Freedom isn’t free.”  As I listened that day, I was freshly amazed at this generation of men and women, 16.7 million of them, who served during World War II. They marched off, self-forgotten, to strange lands and places and many of them would never come home.  Like I said, I was amazed.

Today, June 6th, 2022, is the 78th anniversary of what has been called, “The Longest Day.” It was the day that thousands of soldiers, airmen and sailors, with thousands of ships and planes invaded Normandy, France to begin the retaking of Europe from the grip of Nazi Germany and the Axis powers.  The courage of those men who stormed those beaches is legendary.  Imagine with me small boats, called Higgins boats, riding the waves towards Normandy with shells exploding all around.  Imagine with me seeing many, too many, of these boats literally disappearing after taking a direct hit from enemy shells. Imagine knowing that each of these boats carried several dozen men.  Sacrifice. Courage. Amazing.

There probably are not words that can describe that day.  Films like, “The Longest Day” and “Saving Private Ryan” have tried to tell the story but though their efforts are valiant they always fall short.  That day, 6,603 Americans were killed, missing, or wounded. Imagine again, as officers knocked on doors and telegrams arrived, “The Defense Department regrets to inform you…” Freedom truly isn’t free.  I know we know but I only hope we won’t forget.  Yet in most minds, this observance of “The Longest Day” won’t garner a passing thought.

When the children of Israel of Old Testament fame were crossing over into the Promised Land, they were told to take twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan River.  The sole purpose of these stones was to remind them of the miracle and the day.  That way when years later and their memories were foggy, they had the stones to remind them.  I’m not sure what stone of reminder we need but it might be as simple as a visit to the cemetery and taking the time to READ the markers and stones of those who served.  It might be as simple as taking your kids with you to show them and teach them about sacrifice and courage.  Unfortunately, it may not be taught any place else.

December 7, 1941. June 6, 1944. These are only two dates of many that are worthy of remembrance…but they are a start. Jesus knew we would need help remembering about the things of God.  That is why He said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” And who knows, perhaps that same Holy Spirit will help us remember to be grateful for the sacrifice others have made on our behalf.  In fact, I’m sure He will help because that is what He does best…help. Like everything else, I’m sure, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, friends, gratitude, Holidays, Integrity, life, love, loving others, Memorial Day, Military memories, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, USA

Memorial and More

Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.” Colossians 1:21-22

It was a moment I will probably never forget.  My wife and I love adventures.  We look for ways to do things on a limited budget and we’ve actually gotten pretty good at it.  A few years back we discovered we could take a train from Carbondale to Chicago, stay downtown at a nice hotel for a couple of nights and enjoy whatever was happening around us…all on a shoestring budget. We would usually go around Memorial Day or the Fourth of July.  It was pretty awesome.

Several years ago we went the week of the 4th.  We grabbed a very nice hotel room and managed to snag a room that literally faced the fireworks display.  It was awesome.  At Millennium Park they have these incredible free outdoor concerts.  Thousands of people from all walks of life gather on the large lawn to listen.  Because it is the 4th, they share a lot of patriotic music. They usually have a section where they honor the veterans by asking them to stand when the theme for their branch of the service is played.

I am a veteran.  I served in the United States Air Force for 12 years and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And that’s the problem.  You see, because it was so rewarding, I always felt awkward standing to be honored because I felt like I received so much more than I gave.  So that night, I knew that part of the concert was coming, and I was dreading it.  I knew that Judy would urge me to stand, I would say no, and she would give me the look.  Again.  But that night, for some reason, something changed.

It was time.  The stirring songs from each branch of the service began playing.  Soon, the Air Force theme was playing.  I looked at Judy and said, “I’m going to stand just for you.”  As I stood something happened.  First, I saw others standing that had served in the Air Force and I felt community…I stopped feeling apart and instead felt a part—a part of the family.  But what happened next was amazing.

There was a mother with a couple of young boys sitting about eight or ten feet from me.  The younger of her sons, probably seven or eight, looked at me and said this, “Mom, is he a hero?”  And I watched and listened as she said, “Yes.  He served our country so that we can be free.”  Then she turned to me and mouthed the words, “Thank you for serving.” Well, that was the highlight of the trip for me, and it was the day an unexplainable wall fell.

I am certain that I do not deserve the title hero.  The men and women with crosses over their graves in all the national cemeteries deserve that.  The warriors who came back from the various wars and conflicts bearing the physical and emotional scars of war deserve that.  But the one thing that I realized that night was that we should be thankful for our freedom.  We can and should honor each person who served for their willingness and sacrifice.

I’m still shy about standing at Veteran’s Day events.  I still feel awkward at concerts when veterans are asked to stand.  But it’s not because I’m ashamed to say I served. No, it is because I received more than I could ever give back.  I was privileged to wear the uniform of my country.  And that is pretty awesome.  But wait. There’s more.

As I write this story another one is stirring in my heart.  It flashed in my mind that this isn’t the only time, the only circumstance, that makes me feel this way.  It is also my faith in God.  That day when I followed Christ, I also received more than I could ever give back. That day I was welcomed into the family of a God who loved me enough to give His Son to a Roman cross.  Paul in the Bible tells us that we went from being alienated and hostile toward God to being able to call Him Father. Jesus caused my billion failures to disappear so He could present me faultless and blameless to His Father.

We all need heroes.  This Memorial Day would you take the time to remember those who bled and died that we could be free?  Would you take your kids to the cemetery for your community’s Memorial Day service?  I hope that you will.  But I also hope you will pause and thank the Hero of Heaven for sacrificing His life so that people like you and me can be truly free.  And finally, next time you have the opportunity to stand not as a hero but because of the One, stand proudly and thank Him.  Thank Him that you can rest in Him.  Thank you because He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, friends, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, love, loving others, Memorial Day, Military memories, prayer, Scripture, thankful, USA

Thank You, Mr. Charles

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

It’s the way it ought to be.  Memorial Day a couple of years ago found my wife and I on the road again.  That’s a good thing.  2020, as we all know, was a year with most travel shut down for a chunk of the year.  It was almost refreshing to spend time again waiting in line as hundreds of other travelers rediscovered the freedom to travel this great land.  It was busy because the COVID threat was thankfully in retreat, but it was also Memorial Day weekend…the traditional start of summer.  Smile.

As we were waiting to board, the announcer person at the desk announced that the boarding process would be starting in just a few minutes.  She let us know that there was going to be a “pecking” order for boarding.  Those with special needs and little children were allowed to board first, followed by the people who were what they called “Sky Priority” and what I would call, “the blessed.”  That group included the “First Class” folks as well as those in business class.  They would all be followed by the normal people in the main cabin.  But there was one more group of people who received special treatment…and boy, did they deserve it.

Right behind the people with special needs and small children came this announcement, “Those individuals on active duty in the United States Armed Forces are invited to board now.”  Yup…that’s right.  Delta did it right.  They gave special honor to those serving their country and the reason was simple…they deserved it.  And they don’t do it just on Memorial Day weekend—they do it all the time—because they deserve it all the time.  Every day, but especially on Memorial Day, we have the opportunity to do what Delta does on every flight—honor those who are serving our country.  And we can take it one step farther—we can honor those who have served.  I know that is normally reserved for Veteran’s Day, but can we thank them enough for all they have done for all of us?

My wife stumbled upon a story on Facebook that struck especially close to home…literally.  We contacted them and received permission to share their post. It goes like this, “When Mr. Charles & Ms. Debbie, with C.D. Ives logging company, were working on clearing trees at a job site north of Naylor in Lanier County, Georgia, between GA Highway 135 & U.S. Highway 221, Mr. Charles noticed the A-10s from Moody Air Force Base would regularly fly over where he was clearing trees; sometimes they would get so close he could easily make out the pilot in the cockpit!”

“He figured since he could see them, maybe they’d be able to see a message letting them know his appreciation for what they do, using only what he had on hand at his job site: trees! Mr. Charles positioned them to spell out “THANKS USAF,” painting them in red, white, & blue paint so they stand out a little better.” The author went on to say, “Hopefully, the pilots have been able to catch a glimpse of this “Thank You” from Mr. Charles & Ms. Debbie as they fly over!”  (credit: 05.30.21 The Georgia Photography Fanatic, https://www.facebook.com/thegeorgiaphotographyfanatic)  I can only add, how appropriate and how thoughtful.

Like I said, it strikes close to home.  You see, Judy was raised right there in that South Georgia area and me, well, I spent four years stationed at Moody Air Force Base myself and yes, it was there that I met Judy and we began our life together.  I am grateful that Mr. Charles took it upon himself to honor those pilots at Moody and I hope they got the message.  But the question is this, “What can we do right now, today, to honor those who paid the ultimate price and for those who served or are serving?”

Well, there will be multiple opportunities.  Maybe your community will have a Memorial Day service or parade.  Why not attend?  Why not take your children and let them experience the honor afforded those who gave their life that we could be free?  Why not visit a local cemetery and look for graves that mark the deceased as a member of the armed forces?  Why not stop and say thanks to someone you know who served their country in one of the armed forces?  Why not thank God for your freedom and their sacrifice?  Why not make a point today to find a way to say, “Thank-you?”

One of the most powerful love verses in the Bible says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” The Book makes it clear that those who die for another or even those willing to die for others are worthy of our honor and respect.  So, let’s all enjoy the time with family and friends this Memorial Day.  Have a burger and a dog but make it a priority to remember what it is all about—honoring those who laid their life on the line that we could be free.  Remembering their sacrifice and remembering the awesome love and power of our great God will also help us remember that no matter what, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, food, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, USA, wisdom

“Southern Style Jesus”

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33

It was a sight for sore eyes. A while back when my aunt died, I went down to be a part of her memorial service.  It was a special time for me since it was my Daddy’s baby sister.  Though he has been gone since 1974 it was an opportunity to honor him.  The funeral was in Gainesville, Florida and the return trip gave my wife and I an opportunity to travel some Southern back roads.  We chose to travel north through Alabama, and it turned out to be a real adventure.

Judy and I are both from the South.  She is from Valdosta, Georgia and I am from Jacksonville, Florida. There are just certain things about living in the South that are special.  You will find things run just a bit slower there.  It’s not uncommon to find an older gentleman in an old pickup truck going nowhere in a hurry.  It is a southern thing.  It’s not uncommon to see homesteads with old tin roofs often tinted with a rich red rust.  It is a southern thing. It’s not uncommon to see old groves of giant pecan trees ready for a rich harvest of nuts.  It is a southern thing.  It’s not uncommon to see old tobacco barns with smoke slowly drifting skyward as the brown leaves dry.  It is a southern thing.

There are many things like that in the South and each one a treasure to those who recognize them.  But if there is one thing that marks the South, if there is one treasure above the rest, it is good southern cooking.  You can find it in most kitchens in those older homes.  Mommas are teaching their daughters (and sometimes their sons) how to season green beans and fry chicken or mash potatoes.  If you’ve never eaten southern comfort food…well, you’ve never eaten well!

As we were traveling north through rural Alabama, we were seeing all these things and reliving our roots.  It was time (actually past time) for breakfast, so we began looking for a place to eat.  We found ourselves in Luverne, Alabama.  It is a small town which happens to be one of the treks to the beaches in Florida…so it gets a fair amount of traffic.  We had traveled through before for that very reason.  We were looking for a “mom and pop” place and we found Taters.  It was a small restaurant in Luverne, and it looked like just the spot.  “Taters” was in yellow on the front of the barn red building.  It had a “Jesus 2020” sign planted by the entrance.  Things were looking promising.

We went in and immediately noticed the decor.  It was, shall we say, “Southern Jesus.”  Hand lettered Scriptures filled the walls.  The napkin holders had the same.  Back by the restrooms was a big sign about God.  The server was as friendly as a Chick-fil-A employee on steroids. We ordered our food and waited.  Soon, sitting in front of us was one of the most delicious breakfast meals I have tasted in years.  There were three eggs sunny-side up (that means the yokes were sitting there like three small suns), a side of hash browns cooked nice and crispy, three strips of thick cut bacon cooked like it should be—limp. And then there it was.

“It” was a real big spoon full of southern cooked grits. These weren’t the instant variety—they were the slow cooked kind.  And right in the middle of that pile of grits was a puddle of melted butter.  It was southern manna—it was heaven.  And trust me—everything was as good as it looked.  Now, no lectures about heart attacks, I don’t eat like that all the time, but that time—I did so with no regrets—not even one.  But here’s the surprise—that wasn’t the most important thing.  The thing that mattered most was the Jesus part.  You see this was a restaurant that served up Jesus first and just happened to also serve good food.  Their mission was Jesus, and their food was a side dish.  I was really glad they could cook, but I was blessed by their Jesus boldness.  I walked out with a full tummy, a full heart, and a life lesson.

You see, if we follow Jesus, He must be the center of our universe.  Our digital sign at church sometimes says, “Jesus First. Before. Anything. Else. Period.”  That is what Taters in Luverne, Alabama is doing.  Food is second to Jesus.  So, what about you?  What about us?  Are you a teacher first and then a Jesus follower? Are you a CEO first and then a Jesus follower?  Are you a coal miner first and then a Jesus follower?  Are you a preacher first and then a Jesus follower? What about this?  What if we started reversing that?  How about a Jesus follower who happens to be a teacher; a Jesus follower who happens to be a CEO; a Jesus follower who happens to be a coal miner or, yes, a Jesus follower who happens to be a preacher.

Jesus First. Before. Anything. Else. Period. That would be a game changer.  Jesus said if we would “seek His Father first and live for Him, He would give us everything we need.” These days, any day, that is an essential. These chaos infested days we are living in are golden opportunities to be a light in a dark world.  But we can only do that effectively if Jesus stops being an add on to our lives and becomes our lives.

The next time I am driving through Luverne, you can bet I will stop for some good food and a good helping of “Southern Jesus.”  They might not be there because “Jesus first” can be risky.  In their case it might cost them business.  If you do “Jesus first” it may cost you a friend or two or maybe a promotion, or maybe your popularity. Regardless, it is worth it. One more piece of travel advice. As you travel life’s hectic highway, stop, and take a rest with Jesus.  And go ahead and be sure and put Him first.  Risky? Yup.  But, hey, remember, He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, prayer, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, USA, wisdom

A Day That Will Live in Infinity

If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Mark 3:25

“December 7th.  A day that will live in infinity.” Though it was before my time I know the story well. It was a beautiful morning in Pearl Harbor.  Those who weren’t painting the ships or swabbing the decks of the powerful U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet were home enjoying a round of golf or a tropical breakfast.  And then, at 7:55 in the morning local time, without warning or provocation, bombers, fighters and torpedo bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy swept in.  They began to systematically destroy the American fleet and its supporting aircraft.  That morning thousands of sailors and civilians lost their lives and thousands more were wounded.  Over eleven hundred sailors died instantly when a single bomb hit the ammunition magazine on the battleship Arizona.

In an hour and fifteen minutes the attack was over, and the United States was drawn into a global war.  The nation had long been divided over what role the United States should take in the war that raged in Europe.  However, it was all settled when, after the attack, Japan declared war on America and Hitler as an ally of Japan did the same.  Like it or not, the United States was embroiled in a war that would last for almost four years and cost the lives of 407,316 Americans with another 671,278 wounded.  But by the grace of Almighty God, in the end, America and her Allies were victorious in defeating the tyranny of the fascist governments.

Thirty-eight percent of those who served were volunteers and sixty-one percent were drafted.  The average enlisted person was paid $71.00 per month while the average officer was paid $203.00  Drafted or volunteer, officer or enlisted, they were all willing to put their lives on the line for the cause of freedom and the cause of defeating countries bent on oppressing those weaker than they.  Many valuable lessons were learned during that time—lessons that we must not forget.

First, is the power of unity.  Before the Pearl Harbor attack the nation was clearly divided over the war.  After the attack, the nation pulled together on a unified front to protect and defend—first the United States, and second, the millions of innocent people being oppressed by Germany, Japan, and Italy.  It is tragic that it took a Pearl Harbor to bring the nation together but if America had entered the war divided the outcome would have been much different.  Today, we need to understand that it is time to come together again.  We have allowed a virus named COVID-19, a contested national election, and blatant racism to divide our country. Jesus said that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  Neither can families.  Neither can churches.  We must come together, or we will fall apart.

Second, is the power of owning it.  As in any national tragedy, the event happens and almost immediately the finger pointing begins.  Pick the historical event and the pattern is sadly the name.  Political parties and even ordinary, everyday people will use a tragedy to promote their cause.  We have seen it on the national front.  We have seen it on the local front.  We have seen it in churches.  It is not a time to point fingers, but rather a time to rise to help solve what is broken.  Seventy-nine years ago today, December 7, America rose to the challenge.  I wonder if we will have the wisdom to do the same today.

Last, is the power of wisdom.  There is not much debate that storm clouds were gathering in the days leading up to December 7th.  Some would say that there was blatant evidence that an attack was coming.  Sadly, those warning signs were largely ignored, and the cost was horrendous.  Today, right now, there is something we need to remember.  There is one enemy, and it is not our neighbor, not our brother or sister in church, and not even the person who belongs to another political party.  The enemy is Satan, who wants nothing more than to destroy us. Jesus said, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.”  It was true when He said it…it is true today.  The second part of that verse is filled with hope. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”

You see, God is for us.  He is very aware of Satan’s tricks and schemes, and He wants us to be victorious over him.  That is what Christmas and Easter were all about.  God became flesh and lived among us and then ultimately and deliberately died on a Roman cross that all people, regardless of nationality, race, or economic station, could be forgiven and have eternal life.  With the wisdom of God, we don’t have to have a “spiritual” Pearl Harbor. With God’s help we can come together.  With God’s help we can be victorious.

You see, it’s not about religion.  It is about a relationship with the God who made it all. And with the relationship comes hope, comes peace, comes forgiveness, comes unity.  If we are wise enough to believe what God says, and act on what He teaches, our best days won’t be in the rearview mirror but rather ahead.  During this Christmas season and beyond, let the Prince of Peace bring His peace into your world.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, Integrity, life, love, loving others, Military memories, prayer, Scripture, thankful, travel, USA, Veteran's Day

A Call to Remember

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

I had never noticed it before.  Last fall, my wife Judy and I visited the national battlefield at Dover, Tennessee.  I was so impressed.  Fort Donelson National Battlefield is a Civil War battle site sandwiched between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers.  The South had built two forts there for the purpose of controlling those two rivers.  It was a major supply line for the South and many of the original earthworks are still there.  You can imagine the Union and Southern soldiers huddling down rising only to fire at one another.

One spot on the tour showed where the big Southern guns were mounted.  In fact, many of them were still there.  There were three on one side and seven on the other.  The guns could hurl a 30-pound shell over a mile and were some of the deadliest weapons of the war.  At that spot, an American Bald Eagle was perched in a large oak tree right on the bluff.  It was as if he was watching over the sacredness of this hallowed ground.  Men—both Union and Southern, shed their blood on these grounds.  One side dying to preserve the Union and the other dying to tear it apart.  After more than a few minutes the eagle took his leave and so did we.

The car tour then took us out of the park and down the road a mile or so.  There we found more earthworks, more cannon and more ground stained with blood.  Leaving there we headed down the road to the National Cemetery established after the battle. The Union soldiers won the day, but the cost was high on both sides.  Judy and I parked the car and walked around the cemetery.  There were hundreds of graves…all men who had fought for the Union.  Sadly, the Confederate dead were dumped into mass graves and covered over.  They remain that way today.

At the cemetery, there were many graves from the Civil War era but since it is still an active military cemetery, warriors from virtually all the wars are buried there.  Judy and I saw graves from the World War I, World War 2, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars.  We even saw one grave from what was called the Second Seminole War or the Florida War. Row upon row of graves, some older ones with only a last name and their assigned unit, lay silently giving testimony to their last full measure of devotion to their country.  There was one more thing.

We noticed that laying on top of many of the headstones there were coins.  They were mostly pennies with a sprinkling of silver coins also.  I didn’t really know what they meant but I had an idea, and I was right.  There is a tradition that honors men and women who served their country.  You mainly see it in national cemeteries but also at others scattered throughout our Land.  When you see a penny on top of the headstone of a veteran, it means that someone stopped and reflected on the soldier’s life and service. It is a form of remembrance.  And, when a family member returns to the grave, they have the assurance that someone remembered and honored their loved one’s sacrifice and service.

If there was a silver coin, and a nickel in particular, it meant the person who stopped by had a special relationship with the fallen soldier.  They may have gone through basic training together or were assigned to the same unit.  There has always been a special bond with men and women who fought together…who perhaps died together.  It is a bond that lives on beyond death and those silver coins honored that bond.

The Bible is full of renowned, well known, verses but one that stands out is where Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  That is what those silver coins were saying.  It was a silent testimony of loyalty one for another.  This band of brothers was willing to die for the other…and many did.  What an amazing story of love and commitment.

Today we honor the men and women of our great country who served or are actively serving in its armed forces.  For 245 years brave soldiers have put their lives on the line.  As the saying goes, “All who served gave some, but some gave all.”  We should be incredibly grateful for both.  As you journey through life today and you recognize a man or woman who was or is member of the armed forces, take the time to thank them for their service.  The freedoms we enjoy came at great cost whether it was the ultimate sacrifice or the daily sacrifice of hardship or separation from family.  Be sure and let them know you appreciate it.  It is just the right thing to do.  Oh, and don’t forget to thank the One who provides the ultimate freedom…Jesus Christ.  Because of Him, we can rest…because of Him we can have the peace of knowing…He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne