Posted in Christmas, Family, friends, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, love, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

On the Other Side of the Wall

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

The walls were thin…real thin.  The house I was raised in was a converted World War II barracks that had been moved from wherever to the corner of Wheat and Carlton Roads. It was a two-bedroom, one bath house with more people than bedrooms.  We were normally scattered about in the house to sleep but not on Christmas Eve.  That night, the three little ones, as we were known, were all put in one bedroom and in one bed.  That night was a night of wonders enhanced by the sounds coming through the thin walls.

We were put to bed early in those early days because Santa Claus was coming to town. We reluctantly surrendered and tried to go to sleep.  We made every excuse possible to peek and see what was happening on the other side of the thin wall.  We even resorted to telling white lies about having to use the restroom but all to no avail.  We were Christmas Eve prisoners while Santa came on the other side of the thin wall.

What we couldn’t see…we could hear.  There were voices, there was laughter and occasionally there was the sound of a toy…a present…being tested. I remember one time my sister had asked for a chord organ and imagine the thrill when through the thin wall came the sound of music.  Well, it took a while but eventually we would drift off to sleep with visions of Christmas morning dancing in our heads.  Each Christmas, we were startled awake by the sound of an old .410 shotgun being fired.  Like horses at the starting gate, we knew it was off to the races. With the final permission, we flung open the door and walked into a wonder land of wonderful things.

Each Christmas morning there around the room would be at least some of the things we had asked Santa for.  We were far, very far, from rich but somehow Santa would bring at least some of the things we had asked for along with others we had not even thought of.  It was an amazing and wonder filled morning.  Even as I write, as my mind races back to those times, I smile.  I smile because of the gifts, those we asked for and those more than we could have imagined, but I also because now I know the sacrifice that made all that possible.  Oh, how blessed I was…we were.

Each Christmas I knew we probably wouldn’t get everything we asked for, but I knew we would be amazed at what filled the room.  It seemed someone had mined our minds and dug up treasures galore.  I truly treasure those memories and today…I treasure the same thing but not just on Christmas morning.  Each day I am amazed how another Father, my heavenly Father, fills my life with gifts.  Each day He blesses and each day He shows His love in practical ways. Sometimes it is the answer to a prayer, sometimes it is just His attention to the small details of life and sometimes it is just His love, His presence. And sometimes, it is Him walking with me through some challenging circumstance…some difficulty…expected or not.

I have learned that He is a God who can be trusted.  And even though I don’t always get the exact answer to a prayed prayer, I know this. He never gets it wrong.  Sometimes that means things I thought of, but it always includes things He thought of.  Just like Christmas morning while I didn’t always know what was going to be on the other side of the thin wall, I knew it was going to be good.  Why? Because it was all planned by someone who loved me dearly.

James, the half-brother of Jesus said, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” That teaches us that God is the giver of good and perfect things and that His nature and character about giving never changes.  What we must do is trust that “Father knows best.” I’m sure I asked for some crazy things growing up and I’m also sure my parents were wise enough not to grant every wish or request.  We can know the same about God.  So be brave enough not to allow disappointment to be a part of your God vocabulary because He is for you and not against you.  He is so much wiser and more able than we are.  We can rest assured that no matter what it looks like, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Christmas, Easter, Family, friends, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, love, loving others, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful

Remembrance

Do this in Remembrance of Me.” Luke 22:19b

They hang on my wall…365…one above the other.  As I have grown older, I have found that certain memories are just…well…precious.  That seems to be especially true at this time of the year.  My memories growing up of Thanksgiving and Christmas always cause me to smile.  Two memories that I especially cherish involve two simple things that now are two of my most prized possessions.  The first was made possible by the generosity of my oldest brother.  A couple of years ago I wrote a story about a 410 shotgun that had belonged to our Daddy.  It was a family heirloom.  I didn’t who ended up with it, but it turned out it was my brother and he in an incredible act of generosity chose to pass it to me.

It now hangs on the wall in my home office, and it is fired only once a year. You see, Daddy or one of my brothers, used to fire the old 410 on Christmas morning as a sort of wakeup call for my two sisters and me.  So now, starting with last year, on Christmas morning, the old 410 once again comes to life and calls us to leave our beds and celebrate. Every day, I glance up at that old 410, and every day it reminds me of days gone by and I am overcome with gratitude.  I am thankful for a Daddy and Momma who loved me and a family that could gather with one another and celebrate.

The other thing that hangs on my wall…365…is a plastic Santa Claus face.  It has a LED bulb in it that allows it to burn 24 hours a day…and I remember…and I am grateful.  You see, when I was a boy, my family had a Santa face just like this one…just.like.this.one.  It hung up on our roof attached to our small chimney and it announced that Christmas time had come.  I’m sure it came from one of the local stores and probably cost just a few dollars. Well, that old Santa disappeared but I was able to find one on eBay and trust me it didn’t cost $4.50 but do you know what?  It was worth every dollar because every day it too reminds me of a Daddy and Momma who made sure, somehow, that we had a wonderful Christmas. It reminds me of a family that could and would gather with one another and celebrate.

So, those days are gone and all but one of my brothers are gone too, but guess what?  Those days and those loved ones live on in my memories and in my heart and those two things, an old 410 shotgun and a plastic Santa face from my boyhood days remind me to remember and be grateful.  I’ve said more than once if I could remember everything from my childhood, I would have enough Grits’ material to write forever. Smile.  I’ve discovered that things can sometimes help us remember and that is important because while some things probably need to slip away…many…perhaps most…need to live on.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus on the night before He died did something crazy like serve supper?  If you are familiar with that story, you know it was a pretty simple meal…bread and wine but the meaning was anything but simple.  The next day He was going to die on a Roman cross, and He wanted to make sure the guys who followed Him would never forget what it was about. He explained how the bread represented His body broken on that cross and how the wine represented His blood that was shed so that any of us…all of us…who chose to believe could have eternal life.  That’s why He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  It was His way of saying we should always remember and never forget.

So, what is it in your life that helps you remember?  A simple, or elaborate, wedding ring? A watch? Family pictures? Whatever it is, it is there to remind us and cause us to be thankful.  Christmas this year falls on a Sunday and we are going to celebrate the Lord’s supper that day at our church. I know it is almost a month away, but I am already looking forward to it.  It is going to remind us once again what Christmas and Easter are all about—a God, a Father, a Dearest Daddy, who loves us so much He gave His Son to a stable, a broken world and a Roman cross. Be sure in the hustle and bustle of the holidays to take time to remember and reflect.  For me it is an old 410 shotgun, a plastic Santa and an old rugged cross and a heavenly Father who always reminds me, “I’ve got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Christmas, Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

The Rest of the Story

When it is in your power, don’t withhold good from the one to whom it belongs.” Proverbs 3:27

And now you know the rest of the story.  You might remember that line from Paul Harvey who used to tell some incredible stories from real life.  He would tell the part that was known and then tell the part of the story that was not.  He would always end with, “And now you know the rest of the story.”  Well, today I want to tell you the rest of the story.

In the days right before last Christmas, I wrote a Grits story about my storied Christmas childhood.  It was almost magical.  Each year it seemed that Mama and Daddy pulled it all together, and that always meant sacrifice, and gave us a Christmas beyond our dreams.  I cannot recall one Christmas that wasn’t incredible.  I’ve heard stories from the generation that endured the Great Depression and they would speak of no Christmas or maybe just an apple or orange.  My Daddy and Mama were part of that generation and I wonder if that is why they were so generous to us?

Well, in that story I talked about my Daddy’s old 410 shotgun.  Every Christmas morning, long before sunrise, he or one of my older brothers would go on the back porch or the breezeway and shoot the old 410.  It was like firing the pistol at a horse race.  We knew it was time to race into the room to see what Santa had brought.  I mentioned in the story that I wasn’t sure who had the gun—this priceless family heirloom.  I knew it was somewhere but where?

While I had four brothers, five including me, there are only two of us left.  We are the bookends—he the oldest (soon to be 84) and me the youngest (a long way from 84).  Christmas night I received a message from my brother.  He wrote that he had read my story about Daddy’s old 410 and that I had mentioned that I didn’t know what had happened to it.  He shared with me that he had the gun.  Shortly after our Daddy died in 1974 it came into his possession and he had it ever since.  What he wrote next made the Christmas of 2020 one for the books.

My brother said, “Dewayne, I want you to have Daddy’s old 410.” 

My brother said, “Dewayne, I want you to have Daddy’s old 410.” I couldn’t believe it, so I read it again and I had indeed read the message correctly.  Tears instantly began streaming down my cheek as I shared the text with my wife, Judy. He said he had already talked to his son who was helping with his affairs and let him know his desire to pass it to me.  Well, Judy and I had already made plans to go to Cookeville, Tennessee right after Christmas so I told her that we needed to head to Jacksonville when we were done there so I could go and pick up the gun…and we did.

We drove hundreds of miles and a whole lot of hours to go get “the old 410.”  I couldn’t see the brother who had blessed me due to COVID, as he and his wife life in an assisted living home. I did get to sit and visit with his son who is only six years younger than me.  The gun (not a gun but THE gun) and that visit made every mile and every hour worthwhile.  If I am still alive when my brother passes, I will probably have the opportunity to share at his service.  I already am extremely thankful for him—his fingerprints are all over my life.  But that day I will share this story and how his thoughtfulness made the Christmas of 2020 one I will never forget.

The old 410 sits right to my left as I write this.  I showed it to my oldest grandson and his dad.  We always spend Christmas Eve night with them.  I smiled from ear to ear when my son-in-law leaned over and said, “Papa, you will have to bring the old 410 to our house next year so we can shoot it off Christmas morning.”  That sounds like a grand idea and if the Lord is willing that is exactly what we will do.

The Bible says that we shouldn’t withhold good from a person when it is within our power to grant it.  I am so grateful my brother didn’t wait.  He could have.  He could have passed it to someone else, but instead he chose his baby brother who just happened to write a story.  Me, my Daddy, my uncle and each of my brothers have hunted with this gun—it is a beautiful piece of our family legacy. It is now one of my most cherished possessions.

So, let’s watch for opportunities to bless someone when it is within our power.  I know Jesus was really good at that and if we are Jesus followers, well, we should follow His lead.  I wonder if the Whisperer whispered in my brother’s ear and he just listened.  I wouldn’t be surprised—he and Jesus are pretty tight.  And when it is our turn to be kind, well, don’t worry. He will whisper to you too, and rest assured He will give you the wisdom and ability you need.  He’s got this.

Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, priorities, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

Christmas Morning Wake-Up Call

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Romans 13:11

We were the three little ones.  Mama and Daddy either by plan or accident ended up with a big family.  They had five reasonably close together and then took a break before finishing up the family with three more.  The three little ones consisted of two girls and one boy.  I was the boy and as the baby in the family, I was the best.  They called me “Precious”, because I was.  Smile.

The story isn’t about that, but I love stirring the pot.  The way it worked out at Christmas, the five older kids entered the world of nonbelievers long before we three.  I’m sure because one of my sister-in-laws said she changed my diapers.  But for the three little ones, Christmas was a magical world of believing and receiving.

On Christmas Eve night, we three were put into one bedroom.  The main part of the house only had two, so it seemed logical.  About 8:00 pm, Mama and Daddy would put us in the bedroom to “go to sleep” but of course that never happened.  We would lie in bed, whispering and giggling.  At some point, we would begin hearing strange noises coming from the living room.  I remember one year my sister asked for a “chord organ.” Imagine our excitement when, as we were “asleep,” we begin to hear musical sounds coming through the thin walls.  We couldn’t wait.  We would holler out and tell lies.  We would say, “We have to go to the bathroom.”  Of course, we didn’t, but we would do anything to “sneak a peek.”

Eventually, and it varied from year to year, we would doze off to sleep.  And yes, there were visions of sugar plums dancing in our head. I am sure we woke up several times throughout the night to check the clock and it was always too early.  But we would know when it was time to get up.  The “410” would tell us.  You see my Daddy owned an old single shot 410 shotgun and every year that became our alarm clock.  Daddy, or one of the old brothers, would open the backdoor of the breezeway, stick the gun out and let her go.  The window where we were sleeping was right beside that door, so we had no problem hearing old Bessie when the time came. And, trust me, when the gun went off, we were up and running.

The door would fly open and we would turn right into the living room and there would be a wonderland of toys and presents.  Our stockings would be stuffed to overflowing and we, well, we were amazed.  As we sifted through the piles of gifts and as the piles of used wrapping paper grew taller, it was heaven—at least to the three little ones.  I remember my sister-in-law, the same one that changed my diapers, took on the responsibility of going through all that paper to make sure some tiny, but important, part didn’t get accidentally thrown out.

The “410” became an heirloom in the family and I’m not sure who ended up with her. She had killed her fair share of squirrels but the most important thing, in my opinion, was that she let us know it was time for Christmas.  It was time to get up. I think that is one thing I have learned through this COVID-19 hot mess.  You might say it was a 410 of sorts.  When it started in-mass to impact us, it sent a message loud and clear that it was time for some changes.  It was time for new priorities.  It was time to make time for the things that matter, like family, and time to let go of a lot of stuff. It was time to make every day matter because for too many—there wouldn’t be another day.

Hopefully, and I think the jury is still out, it will be remembered as a time when a lot of people discovered or rediscovered God. A time that, for the first time, many could call Him Father.  Hopefully, and I also think the jury is still out, it will be remembered as a time that the church rediscovered what it was supposed to be and do.  Maybe it will be known as a time when the church stopped being a building at a certain address and became a people who still met in a building but then left to touch the lives of hurting people.  A “410” of sorts that heralded the Good News of God’s love.

The old “410” let us three little ones know it was time to wake up and the Bible says it is time for the church to do the same thing.  It says that we Jesus followers should know the time, that the hour has come for us to wake from sleep. The reason? Our salvation is nearer to us now then when we first believed. In other words—wake up sleepy head—it is Christmas morning—time to rise and shine.  Rise and shine—that sometimes is easier said than done but I have a suspicion that with His help—we can shine for Him—letting others know loud and clear that, “He’s got this.”