Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, New Year, Southern born, thankful

New Year’s Eve Eve

And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” Ezra 3:11

We weren’t famous but we had fun.  I was fortunate to have what a lot of kids never did. First, I know that not everybody did or does the church thing…and certainly not all teenagers but when I was growing up it seemed a lot more kids did.  I went to the same church from the time I was about 10 until I joined the Air Force at age 18.  We had the most incredible youth group you could imagine.  We were all good friends and it seemed we did everything together.  Almost every Friday or Saturday night we had a party at someone’s house.  It was some kind of cookout and always involved some kind of crazy game. Personally, I was partial to spin-the-bottle.  Smile.

Music was a huge part of our teen years.  Again, it was a different time but I believe our group was special.  We would rush through our Sunday night Bible study just so we could sit in a room and sing four-part harmony.  We weren’t the Tabernacle Choir but we sounded pretty good and better than that—we loved it.  After church it would be a trip to Frosty’s or one of the local pizza places.  I believe that a lot of who I am today came from that group and the awesome leaders who poured into our lives.  Musically that would be Lloyd and Jane.  She was the church pianist and he was the music director.  They loved Jesus, loved music and loved kids—in that order.  And that is how it all started.

It had to be Lloyd and Jane that came up with the idea of forming a four part quartet.  Now you have to understand in the late sixties and very early seventies, two things were huge: church softball and gospel music.  So, it probably seemed more natural than not.  Four of us young men, Doug, David, Steve and myself, formed a quartet with Melody on the piano.  After a contest to find a name we became…drumroll please, “The Youngmun”. Lloyd and Jane took us under their wing and taught us how to sing parts, add tone and balance and after a while we sounded decent.  Then, we started getting gigs—opportunities to sing.  Sometimes it was Friday nights, sometimes Saturday nights and sometimes Sunday afternoons with a sprinkling of times in-between.

We just had a great time. We loved to sing and were really good friends.  One of the Bible guys said that we should sing responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” And do you know what?  We tried to do exactly that. Well, eventually we went our separate ways, but the memories still live in my heart.  And that is the reason for this story.

You see, back then there were things called “all night singings”.  You can guess what it was by the title.  While they were held at different times the all-time favorite was New Year’s Eve.  Churches or groups of churches would book groups and they would literally sing all night long.  More than once we sang very late or very early—depending on your perspective.  And amazingly, people came and people stayed.

Well, times have changed.  I rarely hear of gospel concerts like the ones from days gone by.  I know there are some but not to the level of those days.  I don’t miss staying up all night—these days if I make it to 10:00pm I am doing really good.  The ball may fall in Times Square but it does it without me!  But I do miss the way we started out the New Year.  Being with a bunch of people who loved Jesus and loved music was pretty cool.  Song after song spoke in poetic ways of God’s incredible love for us and the hope of tomorrow and the day after that “Because He Lives.”

You know, it probably wouldn’t work today to try and have an all-night singing, but do you know what would work?  This New Year’s Eve maybe we could, maybe we should, take some time to thank God for all the blessings He sent in 2020.  Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking He went on strike.  Oh no, His blessings, His love notes were everywhere.  They always say the most powerful person in the room is the guy with the microphone.  Well, we all know too often that person didn’t shout the most encouraging news in 2020.  In fact, I’m not sure they could spell encouraging. 

But I do know this.  No matter what 2021 holds, if we choose to follow the God who made it all, if we will trust and believe, no matter what—I think we will find that it’s gonna be a great year.  We may not always get exactly what we want from God, but we always get what is exactly right for us.  Someone said He is too wise to make a mistake and too good to be unkind.  I know, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but He loves us—a lot.  How much—enough to plan Christmas and Easter—and that is a lot. So, I don’t know your plans for New Year’s Eve but I hope it includes Him…the God who wants to be your Father—your Dearest Daddy.  I hope it will include some quiet time so that you two can chat as the Whisper whispers His love in your ear. Listen as He speaks those three precious words, “I’ve got this.” 

Posted in Family, fear, food, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, Thanksgiving, travel, wisdom

A Thanksgiving to Remember

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead…” Philippians 3:13

It was a Thanksgiving to remember.  Throughout the years, Thanksgiving has been a big deal in our family.  Growing up, it was a time when Mama would buy a huge turkey and cook it all night in the roaster oven that set by the stove for such an occasion.  It was a time when pies were cooked, ambrosia was made, and giblet gravy simmered on the stove.  It was a time for two kinds of dressing—cornbread and cornbread with oysters. I’m not sure where that came from, but it was pretty popular.  Then, of course, it was a time when most everyone would come home, and we would feast—on good food and enjoy family.

When I graduated from high school and enlisted in the Air Force things had to change.  My first duty station was about an hour from the Canadian border in a town called Minot—Minot, North Dakota.  I arrived there in October and it was already too cold for a Florida boy.  The holidays were looming ahead and it looked like Thanksgiving was going to be a solo flight.  But then something happened.  Somehow, remember this is long before cellphones, my brother Jimmy, who lived in Amarillo, Texas, called and invited me to his house for Thanksgiving.

Again, somehow, someway, it happened.  My base pay of $320 per month didn’t allow for plane tickets, so it meant a trip to the credit union to see if I could get a loan. They granted it and I bought the ticket, got my leave approved and had someone haul me to the airport. So, like the song says, over the river and through the woods, I was on my way, not to grandmother’s house but my brother’s.  I can remember flying down to Amarillo in that two engine, piston driven, plane feeling excited and afraid all at the same time.  What in the world was I doing?

Soon enough, I was on the ground and there was my big brother and a couple of his kids waiting for me.  The best I can remember he worked, maybe managed, a ranch of sorts.  It seemed we drove a long way out into the Texas countryside before finally arriving at his house.  The next day was Thanksgiving and it was so much like the one at home.  We ate well and enjoyed good family fellowship.  The thing that was so different was that in the past I was treated as the baby of the family—which I was.  But that day—I was his peer.  I was a man.

As much as I enjoyed Thanksgiving Day, the next couple of days were also awesome.  We went jackrabbit hunting.  It was cold with snow covering the ground, and we would jolt and bounce through the fields in his old Willis Jeep.  Back at the house we drank hot coffee as he would spin tales about his time in the Air Force.  Jimmy was always bigger than life and he was that day too.  We also put up the Christmas tree while I was there.  One of his favorite Christmas songs was Charlie Pride’s “Christmas in My Home Town.” We played it over and over again while I was there.  To this day it is still one of my favorites.

Soon it was time for me to head back to the far north.  We headed back to the airport and soon those piston engines were shaking and vibrating the old plane again as I flew back to Minot.  I’ve had many good Thanksgivings over the years but that one stands out for me.  It was a time when my brother made sure I wasn’t alone at a time when too many were.  That was back in 1972 so a lot of water has flowed beneath the bridge.  I’m decades older and he is now in heaven.  But I am left with the memories…memories that still refresh my soul and make me smile.

To be honest, there are other Thanksgivings that were not so easy…times when another brother and his family were not on speaking terms with the family, times when Daddy was sick and times when the family went separate ways. But I have grown to realize that each of us have a choice.  We can choose to remember and relish the good times, or we can remember and dwell on the hard times.  The choice is ours.  Paul, the guy who wrote about two-thirds of the New Testament in the Bible had plenty of hard memories.  He was a pretty bad guy before he met Jesus.  After Jesus, he began to write some new stories in his life and he made the decision to leave the past in the past.  We should too.

I know holidays can be hard because of the past, or maybe the present. Let me encourage you to choose to remember the good and let go of the rest.  It’s not easy but it is possible—with a little help from God.  I know these days He’s getting a lot of bad press, but trust me, if you don’t know Him you should get acquainted.  He loves you more than you know and He wants to help you do life here.  He can even help with those difficult memories.

One of the things that is a staple of mine in life is to eat and nap. Today, Lord willing, I will eat a very good meal, and I will take a very nice nap.  Try it—you’ll like it.  Also today, I’m going to take a nap of sorts with my best friend Jesus. I’m going to pull aside, rest, and just chat about all the ways He has blessed me.  It might take a while because I’m pretty blessed—and so are you.  We also will probably talk about some of the hard things going on now. He won’t judge me—He will just love me. You know, that Thanksgiving so many years ago my brother treated me as his peer. Today Jesus treats me as a friend—a friend closer than a brother.  He’s a friend that can handle my past and my future.  A friend I can trust. That’s why I know…He’s got this.

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

Bait and Hook

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Proverbs 17:17

His name was Bill, and he was an investor.  When Judy and I landed in Warrensburg, Missouri, via God and the Air Force, we began attending First Baptist Church.  For us, being Jesus followers was an all-in deal, so soon we were singing in the choir, attending church, and going to Sunday School small group. Our Bible Study teachers were Bill and Edith Hensley, and they were a class act.  The time we spent in that class was rich in every way imaginable.  We built friendships and did life together.  It seemed that whether you were in the Air Force like I was or a professor at the local university, or a lawyer, it just didn’t matter.  We were pilgrims journeying with each other and with Jesus, and it was good.

Bill was a lawyer by trade and a disciple-maker by faith.  He believed in Jesus, believed the Bible, and believed in people—including me.  I’m not sure how it happened, but he kinda adopted me and began teaching me about fishing, hunting, and growing in my faith.  He loved to fish.  He would often call the house and say, “What time is it?”  Now it might be time to wash the car or time to mow the grass, but I knew what the answer was.  “It’s time to go fishing,” I would reply, and in about 30 minutes I would be in his pickup truck heading to some pond to see if we could reel in a bass or two in.

That was the case one particularly late summer evening.  We had the boat out in a small pond.  Things had been slow, and the sun was just about to call it a day.  Bill suggested that I make a cast or two more toward the shore.  He pointed out a log that just broke the surface about three feet from land.  I gave the rod a swing and, amazingly, that ole hula-popper landed right up next to that log.  A hula-popper is a soft lure that sounds just like a wounded frog when you pull up on the rod.  I pulled up on the rod and heard the familiar gurgling sound.  Nothing happened.

I gave it another tug, and two things happened.  First, there was a small splashing sound, and second, the lure stopped dead in the water.  At first I thought I had snagged the log, but I then realized I had hooked a pretty good-sized bass.  Now, since it was late summer, the water was a bit cool, so there wasn’t this epic battle—you know, man against whale.  Instead, it was like reeling in a big piece of wood.  Of course there was a tug here and there, but whatever was on the other end of the rod wasn’t up for much of a fight.

Before long the fish was beside the boat and Bill got the net and brought him on board.  It turned out to be a pretty big fish.  It was a 6.5 pound largemouth bass.  I couldn’t believe it.  Bill couldn’t believe it, and I am pretty sure the bass couldn’t believe it.  Well, we snapped a couple of pictures and headed for shore with the bass safely in the fish well.  I asked Bill if I should have him mounted, but he said no because I was sure to catch a bigger one someday in the future.  Well, I didn’t, and honestly I believe he knew (because I didn’t know) my Air Force salary couldn’t handle the cost.

Bill and I enjoyed many more fishing trips before I finally moved out of the area and over into Southern Illinois.  I slowly lost touch with Bill and Edith, and now they are both in heaven.  I am sure they heard “well done” when they got there.  I can only imagine how many lives they touched.  I do know that night I learned a good lesson, and my relationship with Bill taught me another.

The first lesson came thanks to that old bass.  I wonder how many nights he had lain up by that log.  You don’t get to be a 6.5 pound bass in a few nights or by making bad decisions.  So many a night there he lay, and each of those nights he was wise enough to say no when a fisherman came by with a tempting bait.  For some reason that night was different.  It wasn’t that I was an expert, and it wasn’t that the bait seemed that real.  More than likely he just let his guard down and took the bait.  That night he learned a valuable lesson, although it cost him his life.  As Greg Laurie puts it, it’s “better to shun the bait than to struggle on the hook.”  Now that is good advice. In these days that take way too much energy just to do life, don’t get lax and make a really bad decision.  Resist the bait.

The other lesson was from Bill…the man who invested his time, his wisdom, and even some of his resources in a young Air Force sergeant. Bill was simply a good man who loved Jesus.  He was busy, but he wasn’t too busy to pour his life into mine.  The Bible says, “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Bill was that to me, and I know that I am a better person for knowing him. So, again, in days like these when it seems the top priority is survival, don’t get so self-absorbed that you can’t invest in the folks in your world.  There are plenty of people like me who need someone a little wiser to speak into their lives.  Why not be that voice?  That voice may be whispering, “Don’t take the bait,” or it might be encouraging someone to trust in the One who is worthy…to trust and rest in the God who made it all.  I think Bill was one of the ones who spoke into my life and helped me believe that I could trust God because “He’s got this.”  Thanks, Bill.

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful

Stinky Feet

Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.” 2 Corinthians 2:15

I smelled it as soon as I opened the door.  When God made us, He did a really good job.  In one place His Word says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  In another it says that we are made just a little lower than the angels.  And then at the beginning He says that we are made in His image. Wow…that is all pretty impressive. When God was working on our blueprint, He decided to give us five senses—five ways to interact with our world around us.  Those five senses are touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste.  All five of them are incredible and it is almost impossible to pick one over the other.  For a foodie like me, it would seem that taste would be my number one, but I’m just not sure.

If smell isn’t number one, it certainly is a close second.  Smell enhances our taste and can trigger so many different emotions. Smell can change what is going on in a whole room.  Many years ago, I went through a period when I had—oh, I hate to admit it—stinky feet.  It was bad.  We had some good friends and we were frequently at their house.  To this day, I am in the habit of taking off my shoes when I am in the house.  I think it is a throwback to my Southern genes.  Anyway, when I got to these folks’ house, I would kick my shoes off and what was in the shoes suddenly spread throughout the room.  It wasn’t pretty.  I’m trying to say, it was really bad.

Within minutes, perhaps seconds, moans and groans filled the air along with the atrocious odor. There was an immediate rebellion and demands to stuff my stinky feet back into my shoes.  I had no choice.  The good news is that it turns out there was something about my walk-around, everyday shoes that caused the odor.  When I changed shoes, the offensive odor went with them.  But to this day, I (and maybe you) should be aware that certain things can cause certain reactions—and they are not always good.  But, fortunately sometimes they are.

Enter Bath and Body “Leaves” candles.  You probably know that Bath and Body is famous for several things but their three wick candles are—well, wicked.  And one of our favorite scents is “Leaves.”  It is just the essence of fall.  During this time of the year I can walk into my house after a long day and as soon as I open the door a sense of calm and “all-things-good” just washes over me.  I love it. Try as I may, I can’t describe it—it is just good.  And then it happens.

Slowly, the longer I stay in the area where the candle is, the rich aroma of fall suddenly disappears.  That smell that made me feel so relaxed seems to mysteriously disappear. But wait—don’t lose hope.  If I go back outside, if I go upstairs and come back—it comes back.  Once again, the rich aroma of fall invades my senses and I am changed.  This cycle goes on hour after hour and day after day.  In the mornings, I like another candle in my home office.  It is called Teakwood Mahogany.  It is a man candle. After a few minutes…I smell nothing.  Judy opens the door and comes into my office and is instantly overwhelmed—almost offended—by the strong smell.  Amazing.

The truth is, it can be dangerous.  It isn’t dangerous if it is the scent of a candle, but what if it is the scent of love in your marriage?  What if it is the scent of faith in your Dearest Daddy?  What if it is the scent of contentment—in all things being well? If and when that happens—it becomes dangerous.  When the aroma of life becomes like stinky feet or as bland as an unscented candle—well, it can and will lead down paths that we don’t want or need to take.  Marriages go south, faith downs in fear, and discontentment creeps into every corner of our lives.  At best we become unhappy, but worse, we began to throw away the things most precious to us.  I am certain that in this COVID hot mess some of the things most precious to us have been cast aside like leftover food.  Last night’s spaghetti becomes today’s stinky garbage.  We must beware.

I think, like leaving the room refreshes the aroma, we need to keep moving.  We must avoid becoming stagnate.  You know what happens to a stream that stops flowing don’t you?  It becomes a slimy pit.  So, we need to find ways to keep our marriages, our faith, our contentment, fresh, by stirring our lives with His grace—with His presence. We have to make sure the aroma we are giving off is pleasant and not “stinky feet.”

Paul, one of the Bible writer guys, says, “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.” Well said, Paul, well said. What kind of aroma are you sharing with your family, your church, your workplace, your neighborhood?  Is it the sweet smell of love, faith and contentment, or is it the atrocious odor of self and sin?  I know one of the best things I ever did was ditch those shoes.  Bye, bye stinky feet.  What do we need to get rid of so we won’t be offensive but rather be welcoming?  Nothing smells as sweet in our lives like the aroma of Jesus.  So, sit down, pull off your shoes and rest with Him.  He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, food, Grace, life, loving others, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

Salty Watermelon and Sweet Grits

Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another.” Romans 12:4-5

It just doesn’t make any sense.  I am from the South and we know how to do food.  There are two foods that are mainstays.  They are grits and watermelon.  From my perspective you don’t mess with Texas and you don’t mess with grits and you don’t mess with watermelon.  Yet, there it is as plain as day.  And, for goodness sake, it is in my family.

My wife Judy, has long been a fan of watermelon.  I mean she isn’t friends with watermelon, she loves it.  And just like me, she loves a sweet watermelon.  When we were growing up, watermelons were just about the size of a small blimp, weighing up to 30 and 40 pounds.  Most of them were as sweet as sugar water.  There was not a question if a melon was going to be sweet, it was just a matter of how sweet it was going to be!  Those were the days.

However, somewhere along the way watermelons changed.  Most of them are now the size of basketballs and weigh-in at a feather weight of 12-15 pounds.  And it seems the only way to get a sweet watermelon is to inject it with sugar water.  Perhaps that might be the reason Judy has gotten confused about how to make a melon taste sweeter.  Someone has cast an evil spell upon her.  For many years now, she has been convinced that putting salt—that’s right salt—on watermelon somehow makes it sweeter.  What?  Listen, I’ve tried this, and the only thing salt does to watermelon is make it salty.

I’ve tried to remove this evil spell but to no avail.  And she even uses it against me.  She will sometimes cut up a watermelon and then sprinkle…or dump…salt all over it.  She knows then that the melon is all hers.  It is a devious plan indeed.  But that is what happens when you mess with melons.

Now the second problem is as bad.  Everyone knows that grits are not cream of wheat and not oatmeal …so you do not…and I repeat DO NOT…put sugar on grits.  It is a travesty of justice and some would say very close to a sin.  If God had wanted grits to be sweet, He would have made them that way.  I have a very good friend who has been mesmerized with a spell and he is convinced that sugar goes on grits.  It is a sad tale indeed.  And the crazy part is, he is wonderful cook.  I think it just goes to show that even the best cooks can be deceived.

You might ask, “Well, what goes on grits?”  That would be salt, pepper, and butter and lots of all three.  A good bowl of grits should slide down your throat like shoes on melting ice, raise your blood pressure by 10 points, and have a nice pepper burn.  But they should not be sweet…ever…never.  Now there are other acceptable variations such as cheese (oh, yes) bacon bits (I can taste it now!) and of course shrimp.  If you have never had cheese grits or shrimp and grits, you need to repent right away and go try it.  You won’t regret it. It is as fine as frog hair…and that is pretty fine.

Now I have learned (actually, I am still learning) that someone can believe that you need to put salt on watermelon and sugar on grits and still be your friend.  That becomes really important if you happen to be married to them.  You see, we need to learn that we don’t need to agree on everything.  If we would practice that, the world would be a better place for sure.  Now, not that I have ever had this problem, but sometimes people tend to get a little stubborn.  We tend to think that there is only one way and that is our way.  You know, kinda like when you think you don’t put salt on watermelon or, gulp, sugar on grits.  Oops, I think I just shot myself in the foot.  I knew if I wrote long enough it would happen.

The Book tell us, “Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another.” In other words, it is ok if Judy likes salt on her watermelon, as long as she keeps the salt on her side of the plate.  And my friend who likes sugar on his grits may need to go to rehab, but he can still be my friend.  Let’s not make mountains out of molehills, especially in these difficult days.

I’m probably gonna have to try this salt and sugar thing at least one more time.  If nothing else it will show that I am trying to understand. That’s what Jesus would want me to do and that’s what He does for me.  When I come up with some strange combinations in life, well, He just smiles and tries to show me the right way.  He keeps me from doing something too crazy…like eating chili and eggs.  It’s good to know that if I do, He’s got that too.

Posted in Family, life, loving others, Scripture

Snake in the Hole

Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” Psalm 50:15

The story you are about to read is true and it may scar you forever.  When our girls were young, oh, about six and five, we lived in Cobden, Illinois.  We owned a large 100 year old Victorian home which was located on the edge of town.  We had woods near by and of course lots of flower beds.  The church where I pastored was wanting to hire a guy to lead worship and work with the youth.

His name was David and his wife was Sue.  They came and stayed for the weekend and we had them over for supper on Saturday night.  After we had eaten, we were sitting around and chatting.  It was getting close to bedtime so we told the girls it was time for them to go upstairs and get ready for bed.  So, because they were perfect little girls (not), off they went while we continued to visit and chat.  It was just about then chaos broke out.

We heard what sounded like a herd of water buffalo coming down the stairs combined with the sound of a tornado siren going off.  I looked at Judy, she looked at me as we waited to see what the girls had cooked up.  All parents know that when kids are told to get ready for bed there is always a great conspiracy to not do it.  It has gone on for ages.  Sure enough, here they come, screaming at the top of their lungs, “Daddy, there’s a SNAKE in the bathroom!  There’s a SNAKE in the bathroom!”  Really, I mean give me a break. Is that the best that you have?

I try to believe my children but this was just a little far fetched. I started the usual parent stuff, “There’s no snake in the bathroom. You better get right upstairs and get ready for bed.”  There were probably a couple of mild threats that included something about the wrath of God but all to no avail.  They were sticking to their story.  So, off we went to find the nonexistent snake.  Whoever heard of such a thing?  Snake in the bathroom.  Right. Sure.

So, we all tramp upstairs, with David and Sue in tow, to see this mysterious serpent.  I went first not because I was bravest but because Judy made me.  I looked around and thankfully there was no snake.  Then the girls gave us one more small detail.  “It’s in the toilet, Daddy” they said.  Right. Sure.  I tentatively walked over and took a look.  No snake. Yay and then one of the girls said, “Look under the seat, Daddy.”  Well, by now I was sure this was a grand plan to avoid bedtime.  And then I lifted the seat.

There, neatly conformed to the shape of the bowl was indeed a snake.  Yes, he was only about 15 inches long but to me it looked like a giant anaconda and about that time they weren’t the only ones screaming.  I dropped the seat and we all left the bathroom to formulate a plan of attack.  It involved a clothes hanger and a brave soul.  I was elected.  We got a clothes hanger and straightened it out.  The plan was to lift the lid, push the snake into the water and flush. The snake would be sucked down the drain. Crisis solved.  So, I tip-toed over to the toilet, lifted the lid and poked the snake.  It fell into the water and I flushed.

I learned three things about snakes at that moment.  First, they are very buoyant.  Secondly, they swim really well. In an act of desperation, I even tried to hold the snake under the water with the clothes hanger.  Lesson number three.  They can hold their breath for a really long time.  There was only one thing left to do.  Call Bob, our friend and neighbor.  Bob was a biology teacher so he knew about snakes. Bob liked snakes.  Bob wasn’t afraid of snakes.  So we made the call and in a few minutes Bob came to the rescue.  He assured us that it was harmless and he reached down and picked up the snake.  Bob was a little weird like that.

The girls when to bed and David and Sue went on to take the job at the church. At least they knew we obviously didn’t practice snake handling. For years…Rebecca rarely visited the bathroom without first checking under the seat. Judy and I learned to be a bit less suspicious of our girls’ bedtime antics. And Bob…well although he lives an hour away, I keep his number of speed-dial.  It always pays off to have a friend like Bob. I keep God on speed dial too.  In all the craziness that night there was a lot of praying going on.  And like Bob, actually even better than Bob, God is always there. He doesn’t care if it something crazy like a snake in the toilet or a pandemic in the world…He can handle it. God tells us in the Bible that when we get in trouble, when we don’t know what to do or when we simply don’t know the answer give Him a holler and He will come to the rescue. You know,  I’m glad for friends like Bob. I’m especially glad for a Friend like Jesus. He’s never surprised when I call…never too busy…never annoyed.  He just whispers, “No problem, Dewayne. Take it easy. You can rest in me. I’ve 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.

Posted in Family, food, life, Scripture

Food Truck

“When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36

There’s a new food truck in town.  For the past several years I have begun my day by walking for exercise.  I take several different routes but one of my favorites is around the lake at the city park.  It was there I met Bubba the goose (for past readers he said to tell you hi), saw the power of integration in the goose families (they are doing fine), saw a man waging a war with people I could not see, and saw the new food truck in town.  Let me explain.

We walkers see two kinds of exercisers.  Some people come and go and some are regular as clockwork, they show up to walk each day.  Like Forest Gump they start running—or walking—and just don’t stop.  These folks become unofficial friends.  We may not know each other’s names, what we do for a living or where the other person lives but for those few minutes at the park our lives intersect. And then, there’s the “food truck.”

She loves dogs and really animals.  She walks her dogs every day in the park…and there are several.  But what is interesting is that for a long time there was a cat walking with her.  I mean a lot of people walk dogs, but a cat?  The feline wasn’t on a leash but would just quietly walk behind her and the dogs.  Talk about intriguing.  So after a while I just had to talk with her.  It turns out it wasn’t her cat at all.  She met the cat one day while walking and it looked a little thin so she started dropping some dry cat food on the sidewalk and …well the cat had breakfast and hung around for dessert. There was a new “food truck” in town.

Sadly, one day our feline friend wasn’t there and I learned that he was hit by a car and didn’t survive.  We mourned together…a lady I didn’t know losing a cat she didn’t own but we paused and grieved.  But before long, there was another cat.  I first saw him on the sidewalk about a block from the park and he was having breakfast on the sidewalk and I knew the “food truck” had been by.  The relationship wasn’t as tight or as long but she had made a new friend by meeting a need.

Well, one day I was again walking in the park and ahead I saw several squirrels having breakfast.  Yup, the “food truck” fed squirrels too.  And then a few days later I saw several ducks gathered on the walking trail.  Turns out ducks like cat food and they too were having breakfast.  The “food truck” was a hit in the park and everyone was invited.  But the funniest part was yet to happen.

So I am walking, and across the narrow lake I can see her walking her dog.  Behind her is a group of ducks having breakfast.  Then on my side of the lake there are three ducks and they are on the move.  They are waddling as fast as their little legs would take them and they are quacking up a storm.  Again, my duck is a little rusty but I believe they were saying, “Hey wait for us.”  So huffing and puffing they waddle down a small peninsula and jump in. Paddling furiously they headed straight across the lake.  Like kids chasing the ice cream truck they swam on.  It was my last lap for the day but the last time I saw them they were on shore and hollering, “Wait, we’re coming.”

I don’t know my friend’s name but I do know her impact.  Her acts of kindness to animals makes her a hit with them and with me.  She just seems to care and really, besides this strange sort of fan club, gets no other reward.  She just does what she thinks is the next right thing.  I wonder how different our world would be if we did the same.  Jesus did.  The Book tells us that when He saw people—He didn’t see social class, He didn’t see color—He just saw people and He had compassion on them. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd or maybe like ducks needing breakfast.

Compassion is best defined as simply love in action.  Its seeing a need and then doing what you can to meet that need. Imagine today taking the time to show kindness to someone having a difficult day.  Imagine today taking the time to give someone a smile when they are only used to frowns.  Imagine today doing simply the next right thing—without reward, without expectation—simply because it is the right thing to do.  It might just be amazing.  It might just look crazy…like a cat following a lady walking her dog. It might just be game changing.

In a few minutes, I’m going to do my walking thing.  I don’t have any cat food.  In fact my shorts don’t even have pockets but I can pack an intentional smile for someone who needs one.  I can do that.  Sometimes Jesus gave out free lunches to crowds—big crowds.  Sometimes He healed broken bodies and spirits.  But something that I think we overlook is that He probably smiled…a lot.  Imagine His joy as He shared and showed compassion—love in action. Like the cat, like the ducks following the “food truck” people followed Him.  Not just for the bread, though some did, but because around Him they felt safe. They felt loved. They found a place where they could rest from the craziness of life.  We can too.  He’s got this.