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 Family, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture

My Name is Sue

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

Johnny Cash sang it. “My name is Sue…now you’re going to die.” Well, his name wasn’t Sue but it was Francis.  Like Sue…it was a somewhat unusual name for a man and Francis was an unusual guy. I met Francis when I went to pastor at the LaMonte Baptist Church.  The church had three deacons and they were named Leo, Francis, and Floyd.  All three of them were special guys and I grew to love each one of them for who they were.  I was a very young, inexperienced pastor.  I was new at the pastoring thing.  So new, in fact, that when I mowed my grass at the parsonage, across the street from the church, I would wear dress pants.  I wasn’t sure if pastors were allowed to wear jeans so close to the church.  They can.

So, even back in 1984, Judy loved flowers and the parsonage was woefully short in that department.  In fact, I’m not sure there were any flowers in the entire yard.  Well, one day Judy declared that she wanted a flower bed.  She began to actually plan the “where’s and how’s” of the flower bed.  If it would have been me,  I would have grabbed some flowers, dug a hole, stuffed them in, and added dirt.  Good luck.  Not Judy.  She decided that the flower bed should go along the front of the house and that it need to be raised.  That means we needed to find some timbers to build up the height of the bed.  Again, after a little thought, she decided that railroad ties would do the job.

Somehow, I casually mentioned to Francis that Judy wanted a flower bed. Now Francis was the “go-to guy” when it came to things like the parsonage.  He had already led the charge in installing a brick flue so we could have a wood burner so he was the natural choice for the flower bed.  I said, “Francis, Judy would like to have some railroad ties for her new flower bed”.  Francis didn’t miss a beat.  He said, “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at five.”

Well, sure as shooting, the next day at five, Francis pulled up in his big ole dually, white Dodge pickup truck.  You know there are pickup trucks too pretty to get dirty and then there are real pickup trucks.  Francis had a real pickup truck. I climbed inside and we headed toward Sedalia the largest town nearby.  I figured we were heading to the hardware store there to purchase some ties.  I was wrong.  You see, there was a railroad that ran parallel to the main highway.  We went down the road a ways and then…Francis turned.

Yup, he turned on a small road and then immediately took a right.  We had arrived at the railroad tie store only it wasn’t a store…it was the factory.  I found myself in railroad tie heaven.  You see, the railroad company had recently replaced their ties and the old ones were strewn all down the rails.  As far as you could see there were railroad ties. I was just amazed.  I should have been afraid.

Francis said, “Preacher, how many ties do you think you will need?”  Well, I told him I thought ten or twelve would be enough.”  So we started going along the tracks and selecting the best ones for the flower bed.  Just like a carpenter would choose the best 2×4’s at the lumber yard, we picked the best ties.  This was just awesome.  And then it happened.  I heard the sound of distant train whistle.

Now I didn’t think a thing about it. I always was a bit gullible and way too trusting. I had just assumed that Francis had called the local railroad office, told them the church needed a few of their old ties and got permission to get some.  I was wrong.  I heard the whistle the second time and it was decidedly closer. I noticed that Francis had picked up the pace…he was definitely moving a little faster.  I still didn’t think a thing.  I just assumed he didn’t want to be that close to the tracks when the train went by.  Well, that was kinda true.

The whistle blew again and this time it must have been about a mile down the tracks and Francis said it, “Preacher, we gotta go.”  I did sense a bit of urgency in his voice but I kinda thought it was a safety thing.  It turned out it was a bit more than that.  As we got back in his truck I said, “Francis, what’s the hurry?” I was thinking we could just move the truck further away from the tracks and we could even wave at the crew as they went by.  “Preacher, you don’t think they are giving us these ties, do you?”  Wait.  What?

Yup…I just discovered that we were stealing ties from the railroad.  It wasn’t a matter of safety it was a matter of not going to jail. So, Francis cranked the engine and mashed the gas and off we went just before the train came by. In the back of the truck were a bunch of railroad ties and in the front were two guys.  One was a preacher, one was a deacon and both of them were guilty as sin. One knew all about it and the other was just learning but both were tie stealing criminals. Francis was smiling and I was wondering if I was going to jail.  But somehow it all seemed like a great adventure.

Well, we got back to the parsonage and we built the flower bed. Francis helped with that too.  Years later when I would return to the church to preach, share at a funeral or maybe just drive through town, I would look and see the ties.  I didn’t remember the sin (I’m sure I confessed it. God had forgotten it and I figure I should too.) No, I remembered a crusty old deacon, but more than that, a friend who wanted to help.  His way wasn’t ethical but all these years later, his willingness, his own brand of love is still lodged in my heart.  The Book says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” You know there are fancy friends, and rich friends and maybe even friends in positions of power.  And then there are the Francis kind of friends. Of course if you’re gonna steal railroad ties, you definitely need the Jesus kind of friend.  As a matter of fact, He says, “go steal no more” in Ephesians 4:28, and I didn’t. His specialty is forgiving when you mess up and He’s the best friend of all. He’s the kind of friend that wouldn’t have frowned or pretend He didn’t know you when He saw you in Walmart.  No, He’s the stay by your side friend.  Through thick or thin, jail or not, He would say, “Don’t worry…just rest in Me.  I’ve got this.” Now that’s my kind of friend.