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.