Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

It’s a “Dippity-Do-Dah” Day

If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth.”  1 John 1:6

Dippity-do dah, dippy day, my oh my, what a wonderful day!  I joined the Air Force back in 1972 and in so many ways it was a different world.  At that time longer hair was still very much in vogue.  It seemed the only guys with shorter haircuts were either born in the 1920’s or in the military.  I was the latter.

It was also a different day in the way people view the military.  The country was coming out of the Vietnam era and sadly many saw veterans and the active military in a dark light.  I can well remember walking around town and getting the “one of those” look.  While I was never ashamed of being in the military, in fact, I was proud to serve, I did want to be cool—part of the in-crowd and short hair just wasn’t in.  But you know the old saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”  Hello Dippity-do.

It’s funny, I don’t remember anyone else doing it nor do I remember how I started.  I found this hair stuff called, “Dippity-do.”  It was a gel like product and depending on how much you applied, it would make your hair stay where you put it.  So I bought a jar and slowly I let the hair on the top of my head and sides grow out.  I would wakeup in the morning and put this stuff, in fact a lot of this stuff, on my hair.  I would comb it kinda on top of my head and toward the back.  The effect was—well, effective. The funny part is when this stuff dried out it made my hair as solid as a rock.  Of course, my mom always said I had a hard head.

I found that I could have the required white-wall around my ears and have all this hair glued down to the top of my head.  When I got off work, I would go take a shower, wash this stuff out and believe it or not have enough hair to totally cover my ears.  I looked like any other guy in the early 1970’s.  Even as I write this I’m saying, “What?”  But believe me it worked.  I looked like a military guy during the day and a regular off-the-street guy at night.  Looking back, it was weird.

Even stranger I worked in the command section of my squadron and to show how effective my ruse was, no one said anything.  It looked, and I guess was, regulation.  I remember one day walking in the local mall and coming straight toward me was my squadron commander, Major Hobbs.  We passed within five feet of each other and he didn’t even recognize me. Yup—G.I. Joe by day and a 70’s hipster at night. Looking back there probably was a word for it.  It was probably pretty hypocritical.

The word hypocrite means to “play the part” or to “wear the mask.”  It was used to describe actors in ancient Greece who were one thing on stage and another off the stage.  The one thing I remember is that I always felt a certain amount of fear while doing this.  There was always the “what if I get called in and don’t have time to plaster my hair down” thing.  What if my commander and my first sergeant saw me and did recognize me?  I knew they respected me and what would happen to that respect?  It’s the feeling you get when you are one thing one time and another thing later.

Well, finally I figured it wasn’t worth it and I’ll tell you that story another time, but the bottom line is I went and got a regular haircut.  Two things happened almost immediately.  First, I felt free.  The fear of the wrong person seeing me at the wrong time was suddenly gone.  It was like a weight was taken off my shoulders.  The second thing that happened was I discovered that in spite of what the culture said, I was proud to be in the Air Force and that haircut identified me as part of a special family and team.  It wasn’t something to be ashamed of…it was something to be proud of.  And the best part, the girl I was dating, who I later married, thought I was even cuter.  Now for the funny part. I have been out of the military now for 36 years and I never, not even once, grew my hair out.  I decided I like shorter hair.  More than that…I decided I like being real.

So, what about you?  What is it in your life where you “wear the mask?”  What is it in your life where you have decided to pretend—to be something you aren’t?  While you find that in every aspect of life, sadly it’s also common in the Jesus follower world.  People say one thing and do another—people who act one way on Sunday and another the rest of week.  If I learned anything from my Dippity-do world is that authenticity beats a plastic mask every time. 

John, one of the guys who followed Jesus in the Bible, said it pretty well.  He said, “If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth.”  In other words, if we say we are one thing and really are another—we are just living a lie.  It is better to be real than fake.  It is better to be authentic than counterfeit.  I may have fooled my commander that day but I never fool God when I choose to be one thing in public and another in private.  But the one thing I love about God is that He never rejects me.  He is never ashamed to call me His child. I can always rest in Him and more than that, He can handle who I am—Dippity-do and all.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

“Foot in Mouth” Disease

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

I just shouldn’t have said it.  We all have said things that we wish we hadn’t.  I learned a lesson about that the hard way.  I had two bumps in Air Force basic training. One involved singing…you can check that one out on my blog www.gritswithgrace.com (https://gritswithgrace.com/2020/06/01/i-said-sing/). The other one also involved my mouth…I wonder if there is trend there.

In basic guys were assigned to a flight (group) and each flight had a dorm chief.  He was someone, a peer of sorts, the flight chief selected from within or outside the flight.  Ours was selected from outside.  He had a weight issue so was put in a special group that helped men get down to a weight level that was acceptable.  That of course meant they had to stay longer in basic.  Well, our guy, whose name was Guy, was one of those guys.  Because of his longer tenure in basic he was named our dorm chief.

Now it could have been a little jealousy on my side or it could have been that I was a little judgmental or maybe I had a momentary case of the stupids but I said something to one of the guys about this guy.  The words are lost to time but it was probably something like, “Who does this guy think he is? He’s not a leader…he is a loser.”  Well, anyway, something like that. I said it and forgot it assuming it just died away.  It did not.

So, apparently either that guy told another guy who told another guy who told the guy named Guy.  The guy named Guy told the guy named Sergeant Catchings who was the same guy that caught me singing.  Well, things were about to go south.  There was a lesson that needed to be taught and I was the object of that lesson.

Sergeant Catchings gathered the flight outside his office and leaving the door open sat down at his desk.  We all were like, “What’s this about?”  I quickly found out it was about me.  Soon a booming, “you’re in deep weeds son” voice said, “Airman Taylor, get in here.” I got up and went in the office and he instructed me to close the door.  I stood smartly at attention in front of the desk. Sergeant Catchings harshly invited me to take a seat.  There was no chair.

He had me place my hands flat on his desk and then squat by bending my knees till my arms were parallel with the top of his desk. Three things immediately came to my mind.  One, what in the world have I done? Two, this is very uncomfortable.  Three, I’m going to die.  Well in about one minute I found out that Dorm Chief Guy had told him I was mouthing off.  I had broken a cardinal rule…don’t mouth off about those in leadership above you.

Sergeant Catchings, jumped to his feet and began to lecture me about respect for leadership and how I should never, ever disrespect those put in authority over me.  Now don’t forget.  One, I still “sitting” in the invisible chair with my hands on his desk.  Two, the entire flight is outside the door.  And by now he is screaming at the top of his voice.  For added effect, he would occasionally walk over to the door and kick it or slap it making it sound like I was dying.  I was.

Finally, after about ten or so minutes he opens the door and says two words, “Get out.” Imagine 27 guys looking in the office and seeing me squatting with my hands on the desk.  I can’t move.  I am locked in place.  My muscles leg and arm muscles were frozen.  He said it again, LOUDER, “I said get out.”  So, I fell over and managed to crawl, yes I said crawl, out of his office. I was in agony and the rest of guys were in shock and we all learned a lesson about gossip and respect for authority.

The lesson that day was very valuable. I wish I could tell you that I learned it so well I never had the “stupids” again but that wouldn’t be true.  But I can tell you this.  There is a reason the Bible talks so much about the tongue and the mouth. It isn’t a matter of finding a verse…it is a matter of choosing a verse.  We can start with a little nugget found in Proverbs 21:23, “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut,

and you will stay out of trouble.” I wish I had remembered that one before I uttered the words that prompted my visit to Sergeant Catchings office.

But the one that probably says it best is this, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Imagine how less complicated our lives, our families, our marriages would be if we mastered that one.  Imagine how our work lives and even our worship lives would change.  A pastor once said that if we knew we would have to personally apologize to every person we slandered or gossiped about, we probably would hit “pause” a lot more often. Oh well, I’m sure glad we have a graceful God.  I have learned over the years to deeply value his patience with me and His mercy for me.  There have been too times I’ve had to go to my dearest Daddy and have a chat about “foot in mouth” disease.  I’m glad He graciously invited me to come sit close beside Him. He has always heard my confession and honored my repentance.  I find rest right there…next to Him. Because He’s got this.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, Scripture, thankful

This Day

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

June 12th is a special day in my life.  I graduated from high school on June 8, 1972.  I am amazed that 48 years have passed beneath the bridge of my life.  Time seems to travel so quickly.  As a child it was a gentle stream and now as a mature (that is in years and not necessarily actions) adult it seems a raging torrent.  So 48 years ago I was member of the largest graduating in the state of Florida for that year…714 seniors from one high School.  Trust me…it was easy to be a small fish in that big pond.  By Monday all that was in the rearview mirror.

On Monday, June 12, 1972, I raised my right hand and swore to protect and defend the constitution of the United States and to obey the orders of those appointed in rank above me.  I was eighteen, naive, had never been away from home and wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into.  If I remember that day correctly we took the oath, had last minute medical exams, and filled out a mountain of paperwork. They took us to Morrison’s Cafeteria for a last meal of sorts and then on to the airport for the flight to Lackland Air Force Base.  Intentionally we arrived at about 2:00 am…something they still do today.  We were given a couple of hours of sleep before beginning the great journey of becoming airmen.

The privilege of serving my country for the next twelve years marks that day as one of the great days of my life. The training I received there impacted the rest of my life. The skills I received in my advance training and then in my career prepared me for something far greater then I could imagine. Little did I know on June 12, 1972, what God had planned for me.  Saddle up your horses boys…this is the great adventure.

After twelve years in the Air Force it became apparent that the winds of change were blowing in my life.  I so loved the Air Force—it was my niche, my calling.  Starting in 1980 there were these whispers from Abba Father, my dearest daddy, that He wanted to do something more.  It was a whisper from Him to jump into the unknown. It was a whisper to trust Him at a level that I had never before experienced.  He was calling and it was undeniable.

The details are still vivid in my mind but time doesn’t allow the whole story to be told.  On February 14, 1982, I went forward in a morning worship service and told God I would do whatever He wanted.  Four short months later I found myself still in the service but in His service pastoring a small church close to our home.  Those days were crazy days.  Over the course of a few months the deal was sealed.  He whispered that He wanted me to give myself completely to Him.  He no longer wanted share me with the Air Force.  With that, Judy and I, along with our two very young daughters, prepared to jump big.

That leads to our second June 12th.  On that date in 1983, on a hot Sunday afternoon, I sat before a large ordaining council and a larger crowd.  That day, June 12, 1983, I was ordained, set apart, to serve Him.  My fondest memory of that day came after the council had asked all their questions.  They had been graceful to me and I was grateful.  The chairman of the council told the moderator that he had no more questions.  The moderator then asked if anyone else had an questions. I only thought I was done.

An elderly pastor, slowly stood to his feet and said, “Young man, the Bible says that the husband is the head of the home.  It also says that a pastor is to rule his house well.  Are you going to rule your house well?” And he sat down. If there was ever a time that I needed for God gave me the right words to say it was probably then.  With all the intentional fortitude I could muster I said, “Yes sir…if Judy will let me.” The room erupted and I got ordained.

And here I sit thirty-eight years later so grateful for a God who believed in me and hundreds of people who were patient and loved me. I have seen wheelbarrows full of grace from the God of the universe and His people.  If you ever wonder why I am grace heavy in my teaching it is because I have needed it so much and I have experienced it so much. I am blessed. Game. Set. Match. The Bible says that this day, this very one, is a day that the Lord has made.  We get to choose how we are going to live it and how we will remember it. Well I am so grateful for two days in June, both the 12th.  They are markers for this incredible journey called life. How about you?  Do you have some special days that God moved, that God spoke, that God just showed off?  Let me encourage you to celebrate them…and Him.  He is such a good Abba Father to do less is unimaginable.  So go ahead, relive the times, relive the days when He showed up, when you rested in Him, when you just knew “He’s got this.” Then you can be the whisperer and softly say, “Thank you, Father.”

Posted in life, Military memories, Scripture, Southern born

I Said, “Sing”

“My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27

Bummer.  I knew I should have listened.  I have always liked music and I have always loved to sing.  From the time my mother forced my oldest sister to allow me to sing at her wedding…I’ve been hooked.  Not only do I like music I generally like almost all kinds of music.  To me music is the melody of life.  It often expresses emotions and feelings that otherwise might go unexpressed. So I sing…loud and all the time.

You know, some people says, “I saw you at the store the other day.”  Not me.  People will say, “I heard you at the store the other day.”  Regardless of where I am there is usually a song somewhere close by.  And the funny part is you never know what you will get.  It might be “Amazing Grace” or Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”  That’s really not an issue except for the fact I work at a church.  It can be kinda strange.

I also have a hard time getting the words right.  I know some of the words to hundreds of songs but unfortunately know all the words to very few.  People used to correct me when I would get the words wrong.  Most finally gave up.  Now they just smile. I should have listened a long time ago when someone would try and correct me.  Especially since that time in basic training.

Basic training in the Air Force is that time when they teach you the ways of being an airman.  That includes knowledge and action.  Clearly it involves learning to follow orders.  I was raised in the South so saying, “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am” came real easy for me.  I was even a pretty compliant person.  But one day, well, I just missed it.

For some reason I was in the barracks by myself and I was letting it go.  It was an old hymn, maybe “Amazing Grace.”  From somewhere a voice boomed, “Shut-up.” Well, I thought it was one of the guys jerking my chain so I kept right on singing at the top of my lungs.  From somewhere the booming voice boomed again, “I said shut-up.”  It was just about then that I vaguely remembered hearing that voice before.  “Oh, that’s right,” I said, “that’s the voice of my drill instructor, Sergeant Catchings.”  Oops.  Game, set, match.

So he comes from somewhere and is madder than a hornet.  “Taylor” he said, “didn’t I tell you to shut-up?” he boomed in his drill sergeant voice.  I knew there was no use trying to explain that I didn’t know it was him so I just muttered a weak, “Yes, sir.”  So he walks over to the mop closet, opens the door and invites me to step inside.  Gulp.  I step inside and as he shuts the door he said just one word, “Sing!”

So, with all its odors and in the dark, I start belting out “Amazing Grace.”  After a few verses, he opens the door and says, “Do you know, “Rock of Ages?”  “Yes, sir” I said.  Once again came the one word command, “Sing.” The door closes and I sing.  After a few verses, the door opens and he said, “Do you know…” and he named another hymn long forgotten now. “Yes sir” I said. You know what he said, “Sing.”  Well, after a few verses the door opens and he says, “Get out.”  I wasn’t sure if he meant out of the closet or out of the Air Force and I didn’t stick around to find out.  I got out.

Well, I learned something that day.  It is important that I learn to recognize and obey the voices around me…especially those that might be in charge.  I never missed the voice of Sergeant Catchings again.  When I heard that booming voice…I listened. No more mop closets. Listen to your sergeant.  Oh, and even more importantly, listen to God.

You see, one day Jesus was describing His followers to a bunch of religious bad guys.  He said, “My sheep (code for followers) know My voice. I know them and they follow Me.” That verse, in English, has 12 very important words.  First, he said, “My sheep know my voice.” Check.  We need to recognize Jesus’ voice.  Amid all the noise of the world we have got to hear Him.  Second, He said, “I know them.” Wait, what? He knows us. I like that.  It means that He has a relationship with me.  He is looking out for me.  It also means He knows my quirky habits like singing too loud in the middle of WalMart…and loves me anyway.  Last, “They follow me.” What He is saying is that followers follow. Plain and simple.  Follow Him and you might avoid the “mop closets” of life. Trust me…I’ve been there and done that.  It’s not the kind of place you want to visit or sing in. I’m sure Sergeant Catchings had my best interest in mind.  He was there to teach me discipline and he did. Looking back, I’m sure he thought it was all pretty humorous.  So do I…now.  But that day, well, I just wish I had listened a little closer.  Its’ important that you…. Wait, do you hear something?  What’s that?  Is it Jesus saying something?  Oh, He’s whispering.  “Rest in Me. I’ve got this.” “Yes, sir” I whisper.  I believe you do.

Posted in Family, Grace, life, Military memories, travel

Three Days and a Wake Up

“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” Psalm 126:1-2a


We were coming home.  From August 1977 to August 1980 we lived in Germany while serving in the United States Air Force.  Our time there was incredible.  We saw windmills in Holland, the alps of Switzerland, the famous horse-fountain in Salzburg, and ate real pizza in Italy.  Where we lived was much like living in the middle of the Shawnee Forest—large rolling hills and lush green forest.  We loved it.
 
Some hard times happened while we were there too.  Those were the days of no internet, no cell phone and no overnight delivery from Amazon prime.  Landline phone calls were rare and expensive and snail mail was all there was.  I remember Judy receiving a letter that opened, “I guess you heard about your dad’s heart attack.” Turns out right after we left for Germany he had a massive heart attack and almost died.  One night about midnight or so, a knock came at our apartment door.  It was an officer from my squadron.  He said I needed to call the Red Cross immediately.  My mother was dying.  They connected me to my sister-in-law in Florida.  Her words were simple and direct, “If you want to see Mom alive you have to come now.”  We made it home the day before she died.
 
So, our time in Germany was divine but difficult.  The bottom line at the end of three years we were more than ready to come home.  As the time neared and preparations were underway for our leaving and returning we started counting down.  Everyone did. We would say, “25 days and a wake up. 13 days and a wake up. Three days and a wake up.” Finally, we woke up, got on a plane and came home.  There was no place like home. There is no place like home.
 
I can remember picking our VW van at the airport (we had shipped it home) and driving.  It was marvelous.  We could read the signs and we could understand the people.  Instead of four dollars for a gallon of gas it was 69 cents.  I stopped at a market and got a fried apple pie.  I can almost still taste it.  For lunch we stopped at McDonald’s.  No big deal right?  Not at all unless you had spent the last three years explaining a cheeseburger and fries to someone who didn’t speak English.  And, instead of a few dollars you paid almost twenty.  As I ordered at the counter, speaking English and being understood…I wept. I apologized to the young lady and explained we had been away for three years.  And I explained…there is no place like home.
 
Well, after too many weeks away, church families in Illinois will have the opportunity to come home.  Sunday we will be gathering as a corporate body to sing, pray and preach.  Now whether you are reading this in real time or months later it doesn’t matter.  There is no place like home.  My time in Germany taught me several things and one of them is you appreciate the simple things.  A fried apple pie and a McDonald’s cheeseburger never tasted so good.  My family never looked so good.  Driving the roads of America never felt so good.  Reading the billboards never seemed so interesting.  By the way, did they ever find out who shot J.R.?  Smile. Somethings were different but it was still…home.
 
So coming back to church is like coming home and I am almost giddy. When the Israelites realized they were coming home after 70 years in Babylon they were just a little more than giddy.  Here’s what one of their songwriters wrote, “When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” In those words you can almost feel their excitement. Things were going to be different when they got there but that didn’t matter.  They were going home.
 
So this weekend, and every weekend after, when you walk into your place of worship and things are just a little different, remember how it felt to come home and the different things won’t matter as much.  When “Bob” irritates you at church after you’ve been back a while, just pause and remember how good it was him the first week.  When the sermon seems too  long, and the music too loud and the room too warm…yup…just remember how good it was…how good it is to be home.  And, in a few weeks, when something fearful pops up or something rubs you wrong…just remember the time He brought you home, when you rested in Him, when you realized He’s got this.  And dream. And sing. Be like the ones who knew the Lord turned our captivity. Because He has.
Posted in Family, life, Military memories, Scripture, travel

Memorial Day Rememberings

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.

Last year 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, the music centers on America.  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 we should be thankful for our freedom.  We can and should honor each person who served for their willingness and sacrifice.

So 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.