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, fear, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

He’s Got This

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

I like love notes.  My wife Judy and I have been married for a long, long time.  Sometimes people ask how it is that we have stayed married to each other for forty-four years.  It could be that I am an incredible husband but the truth is Judy is an incredible wife.  She is pretty patient with me when I mess up and well, that’s quite frequently. She also has a great servant’s heart.  She is constantly doing the small things that just say, “I love you.”  In that way she is a lot like God.

It always impresses me when God does something really big in my world.  It causes me to just stop and be amazed.  Our lives are filled with stories that show the handiwork of God.  Each one is a love note and each one bears His signature.  Whether it is getting though a particularly hard time or fulfilling a dream, He is always there.  The trick is learning to see it.

Back in 1981, Judy and I were living in Warrensburg, Missouri.  We were attending the First Baptist Church there and having the time of our lives.  God had blessed us with a wonderful group of friends and we were serving in several ministries there. Two of those involved music.  We were teaching preschool choir (those songs still roll around in my head) and both of us were in the adult choir.  Our worship leader, Dan Tracy, was a great guy and great leader.  Every choir practice and performance was spiritually magical.

One of the things that Dan did was lead a choir tour every Spring.  The church would rent a bus for the weekend and our choir would sing at several churches.  In the Spring of 1981, Judy and I were brand new parents.  Our first daughter Rebecca had been born that January.  She was obviously too young to leave with a sitter so Judy and I agreed she would stay home and I would go with the choir.  So on a Thursday afternoon, she took me to church to leave with the choir.  We were all excited, but I kinda felt bad leaving Judy behind.

Finally, just about everyone was on the bus and it was time to go.  Someone, it may have been Dan, was locking the church door when he happened to hear the phone ringing. For some reason, he stopped and went back inside to answer it.  It really didn’t make a lot of since because it was after hours and it was a larger church so people called all the time.   Regardless, he answered the call.  It was for me.

Now before the story goes any further you need to understand that most of our family had no clue what state we lived in.  Most of them probably didn’t know where Missouri was on the map.  Certainly, no one knew we were attending First Baptist and certainly no one knew I was there late on a Thursday afternoon leaving on a choir tour.  Yet the call was for me.  It was Judy’s brother…her father had died suddenly of a heart attack and we needed to go home to Georgia.

Now pause just a moment and be amazed.  No one knew what church we were attending, it was after hours, I was moments away from leaving for the tour and someone just happened to hear the phone and answer it. Amazing. It was obviously very hard news but to this day Judy and I both marvel at how our Father orchestrated this.  It was as if He said, “Judy, you have a difficult journey ahead of you but I am putting this together so you will know that I love you and I will walk with you.”  And yes, it was as if He signed it, “Love, Dearest Daddy.”

It was a difficult journey that left us both shocked and surprised. Judy’s daddy had just been with us for Rebecca’s birth and suddenly, he moved to heaven. But even in those sad, heartbroken moments, we knew He was not leaving us to walk through this hard time alone. We trusted that He would show us the way as we walked this new, unplanned path. And He never left us to walk alone.

How about you?  First, I hope you have made the decision to ask God to forgive your sins and be your Father.  It is the greatest and best decision ever. Again, it has nothing to do with religion or church.  It has everything to do with a relationship with the Creator of everything.  Second, if you have done that I hope you will make it a habit to look and see the handiwork of your Father in everyday life.  He is constantly at work—in the good times and hard times.  He is at work when it is obvious and when it is not.

It is one of those verses that a lot of people throw around but it is just packed with truth. It says, “we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  Now, it doesn’t say that everything is good but that God can bring good from all circumstances.  God in fact did get us safely through a twenty-three hour drive to South Georgia with a six week old baby girl in the back seat.  God did show us His love through an amazing phone call. And the best part—He does it for each of His kids.  So, snuggle up and rest in Him.  He loves you and He’s got this.