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.”

Posted in Christmas, Family, fear, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, Military memories, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

Hard Christmas

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.” Deuteronomy 7:9

Not every Christmas is merry and bright.  I suppose if we live long enough all of us will experience a Christmas that is not so merry.  Life can be difficult and when those difficulties occur around the holidays, it can be difficult indeed.  I remember 1972 which was my first Christmas in the Air Force. I managed to get leave and fly home from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.  When I arrived home, the house was dark and empty.  There were no decorations, no tree.  My father had suffered yet another big heart attack and he was in the hospital recovering.  It was hard.

Another time that Christmas had a dark shadow was December 1978.  Judy and I were stationed in Sembach, Germany.  It was a great place to live and it seemed that every day was an adventure.  We were living off base in an apartment, a short drive from the base.  Just living in a German village was an adventure in itself. The heat did not come on until October 1 of each year, no matter how cold it was and the heat didn’t go off until May 1, no matter how warm it was. There was no air conditioning, which we didn’t need anyway. In one of our apartments, I especially remember the small two gallon hot water heater.  It called for a very quick shower.  Judy had long hair in those days and it was a race to get her and her hair washed before her two gallons of warm water were up.

We also didn’t have a phone.  Of course, cell phones were a long way in the future and land lines were very expensive.  In December of 1978 we were sound asleep when we heard a sharp knock on the door.  It must have been about 1:00 am in the morning.  I went to the door to find the officer of the day for my squadron.  He was there to let me know I had a call from the Red Cross and I needed to call them immediately. He followed me to the base and from my office I made the call.  The Red Cross made arrangements for me to call my brother and sister-in-law in Florida.  The message was short and to the point.  My sister-in-law Sonia said, “Dewayne, honey, if you want to see your Mama while she is still alive, you need to come home right away.”  I was shocked.  I had no idea that she was sick—especially not that sick.

Well, when you are thousands of miles from home across the Atlantic nothing happens quickly.  But as fast as the wheels could turn and with a lot of help from the Red Cross and the Air Force, Judy and I were able to catch a transport aircraft back to the States.  It landed at Dover Air Force Base on Sunday, December 3rd. My brother, who lived in New Jersey, was able to pick us up and together we drove south to Jacksonville. It was a long day’s journey and we got there Monday afternoon.  We went straight to the hospital and were able to see Mama for a few minutes. We then went to my brother’s house to get some rest.

That evening we gathered together, visited, and prayed.  We told God that whatever He wanted was ok.  If He chose to heal Mama of that cancer, that was great but if He chose to heal her by taking her home…that was ok too.  The next day He answered our prayer.  Mama went to heaven—less than 24 hours after we got there.  It was Tuesday, December 5th and she was 62 and I was only 24.  Well, we planned the service and celebrated her life and worshiped her God and our God.  We had some family business to take care of and when that was finished, so were we.  Judy and I had enough leave approved to stay for Christmas, but the truth was there was no reason to stay.  There was not a home place any more, so we decided to go back to our home—in Germany.  In a few days, we were back and celebrated Christmas knowing that it would never really be the same again.

I can’t tell you it wasn’t hard because it was.  I was grateful we had a couple of weeks before Christmas, but it was still the season.  It felt strange to leave a home that wasn’t home anymore. As much as we loved Germany, we realized when we got back to the States 18 months later, there would be no going home for Christmas.  And then God, via the Air Force, planted us in Missouri for a few years and then a whole lot of years in Illinois.  He also called me to pastor so that meant Christmas was here every year.  And do you know what?  That was ok because God gave us a new family to love and care for us.  That family was His people wherever He placed us to serve.

No, every Christmas is not merry and bright and we (who have some sense of normal this Christmas) need to remember those whose life is anything but normal this year.  It may be the loss of a loved one, it may be loss of health or a job, or it just may be this COVID-19 mess.  But like the Bible says, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.”

So these days and especially in these days, we need to love one another.  And, just like that night in December when my brothers and sisters came together and told God whatever He wanted for Mama was ok…we need to come together and tell Him whatever the future looks like, we will trust Him with that, too.  I’m so grateful that He is faithful, that He is good, and that He can be trusted.  And because of that, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, Trials, wisdom

The Brothers

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35

It just bears repeating.  They say that two of the things that has been so difficult about this season called COVID-19 is the isolation and the division it causes.  I couldn’t agree more.  One of the things I have read and heard over and again is how pastors in particular have struggled through all of this.  Church size and denomination mattered little. With so many different opinions, unity was bound to suffer…and it has.

I’ve said it several times, but personally as a leader it has been incredibly difficult.  I have served as a pastor for 38 years and twenty of those have been with the church family located at 1300 South Feazel Street.  It has been a great ride.  One of the gifts it seems that God has given me is the ability to bring and sometimes hold the family together. But this season has made me doubt that giftedness.

Oh, I know, you can’t please everyone.  I even wrote a story about that.  But this has been one time that the family is divided and it seems there is no easy solution. As the pastor, I’m not called to one group or another—I’m the shepherd of the whole family. Oh, it’s gonna be ok.  Our best days are ahead of us, but can I be honest?  I began to wonder if our love, my love was going to be enough to see us through this in one piece.  There’s a part of the Bible that says love will cover the multitude of sins, but could it be enough to cover our journey through COVID-19?  Like the old Christmas song says, “I wonder as I wander”. And then God sent me a love note.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving we had our family celebration at my daughter’s house outside of Murray, Kentucky.  My wife and I went down Friday, spent the night and enjoyed some good family time.  The rest of the tribe joined us Saturday for a great meal and more family stuff.  About mid-afternoon it was time to head home.  We had church the next day and there was a full night of preparation waiting for us. So we headed north.  When we got home, I turned up the furnace (I had turned it down to save the planet and a few bucks) and started unloading the car.  After about thirty-minutes or so it occurred to me that the house wasn’t getting any warmer. Hmmmm.

I went downstairs and our furnace was stone, cold dead.  It was really strange as the breaker had flipped. I called one of the brothers in our church who knew about boilers…in fact, he had helped me before when I had some trouble.  Our boiler is older than our first born so…well, you know.  Since it was Saturday evening I just called for some advice.  He gave some. Since it sounded electrical, he suggested I start with an electrician. That sounded like good advice, so I thanked him.

I called another brother in the church (we have a lot of brothers in the church) who knew about electrical stuff (which appeared to be the problem) and asked if he could maybe come by Sunday afternoon and take a look.  He refused.  He said it couldn’t wait till then and volunteered to come as soon as he finished supper. I thanked him and also thanked God for brothers to call when there is a need.  In just a few minutes the doorbell rang.  I assumed it was the electrical brother but in fact it was the boiler brother.  Before long, the other brother showed up too.  So, on a Saturday night, two brothers came to try and make sure Judy and I weren’t cold that night. 

Working together they found a short in the control box and within an hour the furnace was up and running. That night Judy and I slept warm because two brothers were willing to help another brother in a time of need.  I was pretty overwhelmed.  I said to them, “Thank you for loving us.”  The boiler brother said, “How do you know we love you?”  And the answer was simple truth.  I said, “Because of your actions.” The COVID-19 hot mess had left me running on empty so God caused a furnace to fail so He could send to brothers over to say, “I love you.”  Isn’t that just like our Dearest Daddy?  I think it is.

The Bible says people will know we are Christians by our love.  Love is a great noun, but it is an even more powerful verb.  Compassion is love in action.  God demonstrated that by sending His Son to die on a Roman cross.  These two men, on a Saturday night, demonstrated it by coming and doing.  I believe the one quality that must be evident in a church is love.   We need to love God and we need to love each other.  God has made it clear that nothing will come between Him and us.  We must make sure that nothing Satan throws out today comes between brothers and sisters.

We talked Sunday about how amazing it was that God could ask a young virgin girl to be the mother of Jesus.  She couldn’t understand how that could happen.  An angel simply said, “With God nothing is impossible.” We wonder how we can love when we disagree, when we are hurt, when we being pulled in opposite directions.  The answer is simple…everything is possible with God.  Judy and I rested good that night with a warm house and a heart warmed by love…both His and theirs.  It reminded me fresh and anew that He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, wisdom

Faith

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father…” Luke 15:17-18a

Houston, we have a problem.  The words rambled around the silent control center. There was trouble in space and men’s lives were hanging in the balance.  It wasn’t as bad as they thought.  It was worse—much worse.  The command module of Apollo 13 was damaged beyond use and their only hope was a frail lifeboat called the lunar module.  They were off course, a long way from home, and running out of oxygen.  Their prospects were beyond bleak. The morale breaker was, as the crew commander said, “We just lost the moon.” Perhaps, just perhaps, you can identify with them.  Our world is laden with things that might cause some of us to doubt our survivability.  But don’t lose hope because help is on the way. More on that later.

The plan was to bring the spacecraft around the moon and slingshot it back on its way to earth.  They passed within twenty-five miles of the moon. Twenty-five miles. The explosion had made the possibility of a moon landing an impossibility.   They could look but not touch.  The thing they had planned for, trained for and risked their lives for, slipped silently between their fingers.  Crises can do that, you know.  As COVID circled the globe, we lost the moon…we lost our purpose…we lost our dreams. Businesses were closed, churches were closed and families were left jobless and isolated.  But don’t lose hope because help is on the way.  More on that later.

As they rounded the moon they were slung by the moon’s gravity toward the earth. Still problem after problem arose and had to be overcome.  They were literally running out of oxygen. Unless they found a way to “scrub” the air and make it more breathable, they would die. Amazingly, the guys on the ground literally created a way to do that, and then shared with the crew how to do it there.  The ground guys had one rule.  They could only use what the guys in space had to use.  So with some scraps, a roll of duct tape and a hose or two they made it happen. Their situation probably seemed a little like your situation.  Pretty hard, pretty difficult, nearly impossible, but don’t lose hope because help is on the way.  More on that later.

As they neared the earth they grew ever closer to the most dangerous obstacle of all—reentry.  If they were just a fraction of a degree off, if the heat shield didn’t hold, if there were any of a thousand things not quite right—they would burn up in the super heated friction of our atmosphere. Their back was against the wall and their chances were slanted in the wrong direction.  So many people feel the same way today.  I know because I see it and sometimes I feel it.  Mine is caused by frustration…frustration that there are too many things that I can’t control.  I want to fix it and I can’t—neither one of us can. We have a choice—we can lose hope and “burn up on reentry” or we can refuse to lose hope and believe because—help is on the way.

Remember the “more on that later”—well later is now.  You see, those astronauts had to believe—they had to have faith.  They had to choose to believe.  They did and miraculously they had a near perfect entry and landing.  It was amazing.  And just like when the guys landed on the moon just a few months earlier—the crowds went wild again.  They needed some good news and they got it.  Their world was racked by division over the Vietnam War, mistrust in the government, crazy economics, racial divide and a thousand other things.  That one miraculous victory helped, at least for the moment, to pull their world back together.

That’s what we need now…that one miraculous victory.  And as much as we need a cure for the virus, or the right political victory or some other “deal,” we need to regain our spiritual equilibrium.  In every major crisis, this nation somehow righted itself and somehow managed to find enough faith to believe—in God.  Some who knew Him rediscovered Him. Some who had walked away—walked straight back home into His arms.  Some who had never believed found the faith to start.  Miracles do happen…everyday.

Maybe, just maybe, the safety, the security, the hope you are looking for is not in a piece of cloth or a vaccine or a political victory.  Maybe, just maybe, it is in a God who wants to be your Father.  Why not take a moment and take a rest—in Him?  And then, ask Him to help you believe that—He’s got this. 

Posted in fear, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, sovereignty of God, wisdom

Houston… We Have a Problem

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.”  Romans 8:28

Houston…we have a problem.  Those famous words…or something similar to that effect were first uttered 50 years ago during the Apollo 13 mission.  They are used today whenever there is a problem that needs to be addressed.  As an example, my wife Judy is “glamping” down at the Land Between the Lakes this week.  She pulled out her tennis shoes this morning to realize not only did they not match…they were both for her left foot.  She texted me with a picture and the words, “Houston, we have a problem.”  I laughed, but fifty years ago there was no one laughing.

Apollo 13 was only the third trip to the moon—only the third—but amazingly in that short span of time public interest in the moon missions had dropped to virtually zero.  The launch was a minor story and the news conference from space wasn’t even carried by the networks.  We humans are a fickle bunch.  It is amazing how quickly the extraordinary becomes ordinary…the unbelievable garners a yawn.  That was not only true when we were shooting repeat trips to the moon but also when we worship the God who made the moon.  We yawn our way through everyday miracles because, well, they are everyday.  And then something happens that shakes our world.

In the case of Apollo 13 the crew was asked to do a routine stirring of the oxygen tanks.  Certainly no big deal.  The task fell to the rookie on the team and he flipped the switch to stir the tanks and what happened next was anything but routine.  There was a massive explosion in a couple of the oxygen tanks which placed the crew’s life in grave danger.  The crew commander instantly snapped at the rookie, “What did you do?”  His first assumption was that it was the rookie’s fault.  In reality it was no one person’s fault.  There was some faulty wiring in the tank and whoever flipped the switch was going to have the same result—BOOM.

Our routine was certainly disrupted as this COVID virus rocketed around the world.  At the speed of space it spread from country to country—person to person.  Almost as quick, the finger pointing and jabbing started and hasn’t even began to slow down.  From presidents to pastors to everyday people, everyone is looking for someone to blame. The first performance of blaming began in the garden with a couple of rookie sinners and it has never stopped.  I bet that grieves God—a lot.

Well, things were bleak for Apollo 13 as the explosion damaged the spacecraft to the point where they could possibly die.  This was a good news/bad news deal.  First the bad news—they were blown way off course and only a miracle would get them back on track. That happens in times like these.  Our whole world revolves around one thing—the COVID virus.  Concern is a good thing—obsession is a dangerous thing. The only thing worth obsessing over is the One who can do something about it.

Now, the good news—when word began to spread of their catastrophe in space all of a sudden concern and interest spiked.  In a moment of time, driven by drama and danger, the national interest once again spiked. Spacemen were once again newsworthy. People were once again tuned in and hungry for a miracle—the crew’s survival. I wonder, I hope that there will be good news for us one day too.  I hope that news will be that we once again are focusing on the things that really matter!

There’s a lot more to this story that I would like to share with you tomorrow if you will tune back in.  They say that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.  I wonder how we will do with that…only time will tell.  It seems that these times are like quicksand—our vocabulary dominated by iffy words like fearful, uncertainty and bleakness.  That is why I am so glad that there is a God who is watching over and working for and through this.  Somehow, someway He is going to bring good from this.  If we let Him, He will make us stronger through this. If that is going to happen then we have to let Him be God.  Sounds like a plan to me.  Let’s do the old two step—rest in Him—He’s got this.  See you tomorrow for part two. 

Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

“There’s No Place Like Home”

A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory comes from the Lord.” Proverbs 21.31

Dorothy was right.  When I was a kid one of the highlights of the year was when the Wizard of Oz would show on television.  Normally I attended church on Sunday nights with my brother and his family. On that night, church took a back seat to Dorothy, the tornado and those annoying munchkins.  I have to admit I was partial to the part where the wicked witch got what was coming to her.  “I’m melting, I’m melting.” Too bad, wicked witch, too bad.

The whole thing started because Dorothy was driven by fear away from home.  Some mean old lady was going to do away with her dog and Dorothy goes on the run taking Toto with her.  The famous tornado shows up, she is knocked on the noggin and wakes up in Oz…or at least she thinks she does.  To make a long story short, in the end she misses home…a lot.  The good witch tells her the secret.  Just tap her ruby red slippers together and repeat, “There is no place like home.”  Next thing we know she is back in Kansas with all her family and friends and she tells everyone, “There is indeed no place like home.”  End of story, have a nice day.  Thanks for reading.

No, wait…I’m just kidding.  That may be the end of that story, but it is just the beginning of this one.  You see there are more than a few similarities between Dorothy’s trip to Oz and our journey in and through this COVID time.  Like her, many find themselves in a place they never thought they would be…physically separated from their friends.  It might be on the golf course, at the park, your favorite restaurant or maybe, and perhaps most significantly, at your church.  And like her, they might not be sure exactly how to come back together…to come back home.  Do you sometimes feel that way?  I understand.

For Dorothy it was as simple as tapping her shoes together and whispering a few words.  For some, maybe you, it just isn’t that easy.  The justifiable fear might have us isolated, separated from friends.  Like Dorothy you long for home, but the circumstances that we live in has you in its jaws.  I stumbled onto a verse that just might help.  It is tucked away in Proverbs 21:31 and it says, “A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory comes from the Lord.”  Nice…very nice.

The author is saying a good soldier will train and prepare his horse for the battle.  That is the common sense thing…the wise thing to do. But the author also knows a secret—and it is a big one.  Ultimately the victory does not come from a well-trained horse, but rather from an incredibly powerful God.  That is crucial in our return back to normalcy—including our return to church.  We should use good common sense…you know, take precautions that you feel are wise.  But never, ever forget that your health and safety rest in the hands of a very power, very sovereign God.  You are literally sheltered in the arms of God.  So, be careful, be wise, but don’t be paralyzed.

By the way, General McArthur got it right too.  He was ordered from the Philippines and to Australia at the onslaught of World War II as the Japanese swept across the Pacific. He was forced to leave behind tens of thousands of troops…all about to be captured by a very fierce and merciless enemy.  As he left, he made a promise.  He boldly declared, “I shall return.”  At that particular point, he didn’t know exactly what that looked like, but he knew what it meant.  He was determined that his feet would once again walk on Philippine soil.  Well, it took almost four years, but he did indeed return and when he did, he changed the “shall” to “I have…I have returned.”  In the heat of the battle, he could be forced away, but nothing was going to keep him away forever.  Nothing.

So, what is your “I shall return” game plan.  Have you plotted your victorious return to normalcy…to worship and to church fellowship?  Again, we need to be cautious but that doesn’t necessarily mean the total absence of COVID.  Like McArthur it could mean that the tide of war has changed enough so that it is safe enough to return…safe enough to worship. Regardless of what church or what denomination, I hope you are plotting your return.

As you journey through your Oz, I hope, like Dorothy, that your faith in God and the hope of returning home will be greater than your fear.  Can it happen? Should it happen.  Absolutely is the answer to both questions. After all, the victory doesn’t rest in you, it rests in the hands of the Whisperer.  Listen carefully for His soft voice and you might hear Him saying, “There’s no place like home.”  Go ahead.  He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, wisdom

All That Glitters…

I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content.” Philippians 4:12a

I woke up to find my neighbor’s yard covered with gold.  I am an early riser.  Well, actually, I am a crazy, early riser.  Normally, my bladder and I decide it is about time to get up at around 4:30…am.  If you want to see what a quiet world looks like…try it at 4:30 in the morning.  These days the sun isn’t even up yet.  He won’t make his appearance for another couple of hours.  I usually get up, make some coffee in my magic Keurig machine, watch the weather, and have some God time. Predictable…just the way I like it.

Part of that routine is to take a peek out one of the windows to see if the sun is peeking above the horizon.  Naturally that means looking to the East.  Saturday morning I did exactly that.  As I looked out the window, I noticed that my neighbor’s yard was covered with gold.  I couldn’t believe it.  What made this even more unusual was the fact that my neighbor at the end of our alley had struck it rich too.  This was incredible.  And, if that wasn’t enough, when I was walking a few days earlier, one of my friend’s hit the jackpot.  Gold was everywhere.  Now you might think that I was jealous…but I wasn’t—not this time. You see, their yards had been “papered” as in with toilet paper. It wasn’t pretty.

Now you are wondering, “I’m just a bit confused.” You said their yards were covered with gold. That doesn’t sound like gold to me.”  Well, you’ve got a point there.  But let’s step back just a few months ago.  COVID was all the rage.  People were doing all kinds of strange things.  When you went to the grocery store there were certain things, things that you would expect, out of stock.   Hand sanitizer was a pipe dream.  Bleach wipes were the things of legend.  Certain food items were long gone from the shelves.  It was a shoppers nightmare.  But there was one thing that topped them all.  Toilet paper.

For whatever reason, and it still remains a mystery, people began to hoard toilet paper.  It was like gold.  People were selling it on e-bay for unbelievable prices.  There were even people on the side of the road hawking their rolls of gold for ten, even fifteen times the ordinary price.  The nightly news would show people coming out of stores with rolls of the stuff.  It. Was. Crazy. Then as people realized that this probably wasn’t Armageddon, two things happened.  The rolled gold was back in stock and the price plummeted.  People that had bought tons of this stuff as an investment of sorts were stuck holding the bag. Haha…the joke…or rolls…was on them.

Now here is what is amazing.  I wake up only to discover my neighbor’s yard is covered in the very same thing that six months ago was gold.  And listen, it wasn’t the cheap stuff.  Since they weren’t home, Judy and I went over and picked up the mess…I know neighbor of the year right?  But when we did, I realized this was “Charmin Plus” or something. If toilet paper was gold this would be 24 karat and yet there it was, lying out in the yard.  Well, I guess all that glitters isn’t gold after all.

If there is one thing to take home from all of this it is the fact that if you look around you will discover pockets of hope—pockets of normalcy.  Maybe, just maybe, all this will calm down and life will be somewhat like it was back in January.  A few bumps, a few hiccups but basically a world where things are in stock and you don’t have to mask up to go out. But until then, what should we do?

That’s a great question and here are a couple of answers.  First, don’t lose hope.  If I watch too much of the evening bad news, I find myself being convinced that life as we know it is over.  I just don’t believe that is the case.  One day, one way or the other, Mr. COVID is going to pack up and leave town.  One day it will be old news.  Until then, just keep trusting…in God. One of the writers of Psalms in the Bible…someone just like you and me…wrote, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.” What that means is if we are willing to delight in Him, suddenly the things we desire look a whole lot like His.  And when that happens—hope explodes!

The second thing is learn, or maybe relearn, the magic of contentment.  While our old way of doing life has taken a vacation somewhere, a chunk of it will be back.  Just like toilet paper made a comeback—so will normalcy.  Now, until that time, just sit back and be content. I like what Paul, a guy in the Bible, said, “I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content.”  What makes that incredibly valuable is that he wrote that sitting in a stinking Roman prison.  Amazing.

Well, all that glitters is indeed not gold, but all around us are golden nuggets from our Dearest Daddy.  He whispers to us that He’s still around and still in control.  Each sunrise and sunset, each new baby that bursts on the scene, each tree covered in color and glory shouts to us that we can rest in Him. Each new day is indeed a gift from Him and that is golden. Remember this…each day committed to trusting Him is a step in the right direction.  Go ahead…trust Him…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, gratitude, life, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

Joy Comes in the Morning

Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones! Praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:4-5

Day in and day out—they just sit there.  I work at a church and consequently at the church office.  It is good place to work and it’s always nice to work with good people.  I was sitting in the outer office and the administrative and ministerial staff were having our daily COVID discussion.  I made the comment that if I spoke 1,000 words in one day, at least 800 of them would involve COVID.  Sigh.

I was sitting in a chair and I noticed something that I see every day, but for some reason that time it made me stop and think.  Next to the chair, on a table in front of the window there are three pots.  The pots are amaryllis plants.  The plants have grown some long, green leaves but frankly they are, well, unattractive.  They don’t look healthy, they don’t look happy—they look like they are just existing.

You might be asking, “Why would anyone want a plant like that?”  Well, the answer is quite simple—when it blooms it is in a word, magnificent.  Though they come in several colors, the most common is red.  My daddy raised them in our southern yard and they were the talk of the neighborhood.  I remember he had one that was pure white…I believe it was quite rare.  Apparently someone really like it also, because they dug it up and stole it.  Daddy wasn’t very happy.

Now these plants we have in the office don’t bloom.  They were Christmas gifts to someone, and they bloomed then, but ever since—nothing, just green, saggy, sad leaves.  Now I’m not totally sure, but I believe there is a reason.  I’ve read that in order for them to bloom they need to hurt.  It goes like this.  First, you cut the stalk off.  Then a little later you stop watering the plant and the leaves die.  After that, it goes in a totally dark place for about eight weeks.  Finally, after the period of pain, you bring it back into the light and start watering it again and it will bloom again in all its glory.  Before the bloom, there has to be a period of pain.

I guess I didn’t realize that when our Creator made us, He could have had an amaryllis plant in mind.  You see, it is true that for us to become the beautiful creation God intends us to be—then some pain must come into our lives.  Oh, I know, we love the sunny days, but you and I both know without some rain—things would never grow—never bloom. It is also true that during the times in our lives when dryness occurs and darkness overcomes us that two beautiful things happen.

First, we learn to trust our God.  It is one of our natural bents that we tend to put God on the back burner when things are going well—especially when they are good for a long time.  I suppose this COVID mess has helped a lot of us to grow in our faith, our trust in God.  I heard it said once that while the view from the mountain top is beautiful, it is often barren.  It is in the valleys where the lush, green forests and meadows grow.  So true for us too.

Second, we develop character.  Those dark times, those difficult times, steel us and make us strong.  You see, character is what you are, what you do when no one else is watching.  That is true.  Take people off the stage of life and often the real person is nothing like the actor on public stage.  When we are going through those “valley of the shadow of death” times, it is there we have the opportunity to grow stronger. It is there when we prepare to once again bloom.  Remove the pain and we are like the amaryllis—a few sad, saggy leaves—never truly knowing the fullness and purpose of our God-called life. We need to remember what the Psalmist says, “weeping may last for the night…but joy comes in the morning.”

Well, I hope someone will have the courage to help our flowers bloom again.  As they are, they are just part of the landscape of the office but with a little help—they could take center stage.  I’m glad there is Someone who is willing to invest in us, who loves us enough to allow some dry times and painful times to help us grow and bloom.  This present time may well be one of those times.  Maybe we, maybe you, aren’t ready yet but perhaps one day, we will be able to say “thank-you” for all the difficult times in our lives that helped us to blossom.  Until then, let’s trust in the Master Gardner, let’s rest in Him…even if it means darkness.  Let’s choose to believe—have faith that He’s got this.