Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

“Firsts”

God is not a man, so He does not lie. He is not human, so He does not change His mind. Has He ever spoken and failed to act?  Has He ever promised and not carried it through?”  Numbers 23:19

Saddle up your horses, boys, this is the great adventure.  I was 23 and Judy was 19 when we got on a plane and headed to Germany to live for three years.  Of all our adventures this one was one of the most special because it was the first.  And speaking of firsts, it was a series of many firsts for us.  It was our first trip out of the United States.  As great as our three years in Germany were—it was great to finally come home.  You know they say that there is no place like home—and they are correct.

I am a gadget guy and Germany held a couple of great gadget firsts.  First, if you were in the service (USAF) and went overseas anywhere—you bought a BIG stereo.  I had speakers the size of end tables and a rack of equipment that would make any audiophile jealous.  Receiver, equalizer, cassette recorder/player, reel to reel player/recorder was just the short list of my stereo gadgetry and I was proud of every piece.   I remember coming up with different sale pitches to Judy on why I just had to have whatever was next.  I was pretty good at it too.

It was in Germany that I got my first digital watch.  One of the pilots in my squadron called me over one day and said, “Hey Sergeant Taylor, check this out.”  It was a silver Casio LED digital watch with buttons and a screen.  I was instantly enamored. “Where did you get it, sir?” was the question and the J.C. Penney catalog was the answer.  Three things happened.  First, I checked it out—$69.00 (and trust me that was a chuck of money); two, convince Judy I had to have it.  Last, order it and wait a three weeks for the order to be mailed to America and the watch to make the return trip.  Finally it came. That same watch is $4.99 today.  Imagine that.

It was also in Germany that I learned the wonder of the microwave and got my first one.  There was only one brand in those days—an Amana Radar Range.  This is how it happened.  A senior NCO who attended our church told me one day, “I can boil water in a paper cup.”  I said, “No you can’t” and He said “Yes, I can.”  That resulted in a trip to his house where he promptly  put a paper cup in this magic machine and proceeded to boil water in a paper cup.  Done deal.  Had to have one. Amazingly, I was in the Base Exchange (the store on base) and there it was—an Amana Radar Range on clearance no less—for $370.00 dollars. Three things happened.  I convinced Judy we could not live without this modern marvel.  Two, I put it on layaway (remember that?). Lastly, I waited six weeks for three paydays to scrape up enough money to bring it home.  Finally we did, but you know you can only boil so many cups of water before it loses its pizzazz.

There was one more first thing that we got in Germany and it had to go into layaway too.  Midway through our last year in Germany, we learned that Judy was expecting our first daughter.  This time the layaway was for nine months.  We left Germany in August of 1980 and Rebecca Dawn was born in Missouri on January 24, 1981.  Unlike the microwave, she kept us pretty amazed day in and day out.  We were so amazed that we decided to get another one and just 19 months after we got Rebecca out of layaway, Jennifer Lynne came along.  I have to say we decided to wait awhile to do that again but it wasn’t for lack of pizzazz.

The firsts didn’t stop in Germany either.  I can still remember the day we discovered something called Walmart.  We were fresh home from three years in Germany and were setting up our home in Warrensburg, Missouri.  We needed a trash can or something and went with what we were familiar with—TG&Y. It was a five and dime kind of story that we had in South Georgia.  Judy called it “Tator, Gator, and Yator.” Don’t ask me why, but it stuck.  So anyway, TG&Y didn’t have what we were looking for so I asked a clerk to be sure we weren’t missing it.  She confirmed they didn’t have it and suggested we try the Walmart down the road.  To this day, I remember my reply, “What’s a Walmart?”  Apparently while we were gone to Germany this new store started sweeping the Midwest and then the country. In 1980, Walmart 296 stores and today there are 11,501.  How amazing is that?

What makes life so interesting is that there is always one more first. Things change—the old moves to the rearview mirror as the next new thing appears in the windshield.  And do you know what?  I’m good with that.  But I am also glad that there are things that remain.  Tonight I saw another beautiful sunset personally painted by the God of the galaxies.  It was amazing.  Tonight, Judy once again confirmed that she liked me and loved me.  I thought that was pretty cool.  I told her she had way too much invested to start over.  She told me she didn’t want to anyway. Nice. But it doesn’t stop there.  In fact, that’s just the beginning.

You see,  the Bible says “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” The answer is No and No.  He is faithful…He can be trusted. I’m glad we have a God that doesn’t change nor change His mind.  He loves me and you today and He will love us tomorrow.  A zillion, billion years from today—He will still be loving me.  That’s good to know.  It’s good to know that tonight I will lay my head down on my pillow and rest—rest in knowing that I’m in His care.  I am not subject to circumstance, accident or happenstance.  He holds me, and He holds you—tight.  And tomorrow I’m going to wake up—either here or in an awesome place called heaven—my final first.  Either way, no matter what, He’s got this—and that is enough.

Posted in Family, Grace, life, Military memories, travel

Three Days and a Wake Up

“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” Psalm 126:1-2a


We were coming home.  From August 1977 to August 1980 we lived in Germany while serving in the United States Air Force.  Our time there was incredible.  We saw windmills in Holland, the alps of Switzerland, the famous horse-fountain in Salzburg, and ate real pizza in Italy.  Where we lived was much like living in the middle of the Shawnee Forest—large rolling hills and lush green forest.  We loved it.
 
Some hard times happened while we were there too.  Those were the days of no internet, no cell phone and no overnight delivery from Amazon prime.  Landline phone calls were rare and expensive and snail mail was all there was.  I remember Judy receiving a letter that opened, “I guess you heard about your dad’s heart attack.” Turns out right after we left for Germany he had a massive heart attack and almost died.  One night about midnight or so, a knock came at our apartment door.  It was an officer from my squadron.  He said I needed to call the Red Cross immediately.  My mother was dying.  They connected me to my sister-in-law in Florida.  Her words were simple and direct, “If you want to see Mom alive you have to come now.”  We made it home the day before she died.
 
So, our time in Germany was divine but difficult.  The bottom line at the end of three years we were more than ready to come home.  As the time neared and preparations were underway for our leaving and returning we started counting down.  Everyone did. We would say, “25 days and a wake up. 13 days and a wake up. Three days and a wake up.” Finally, we woke up, got on a plane and came home.  There was no place like home. There is no place like home.
 
I can remember picking our VW van at the airport (we had shipped it home) and driving.  It was marvelous.  We could read the signs and we could understand the people.  Instead of four dollars for a gallon of gas it was 69 cents.  I stopped at a market and got a fried apple pie.  I can almost still taste it.  For lunch we stopped at McDonald’s.  No big deal right?  Not at all unless you had spent the last three years explaining a cheeseburger and fries to someone who didn’t speak English.  And, instead of a few dollars you paid almost twenty.  As I ordered at the counter, speaking English and being understood…I wept. I apologized to the young lady and explained we had been away for three years.  And I explained…there is no place like home.
 
Well, after too many weeks away, church families in Illinois will have the opportunity to come home.  Sunday we will be gathering as a corporate body to sing, pray and preach.  Now whether you are reading this in real time or months later it doesn’t matter.  There is no place like home.  My time in Germany taught me several things and one of them is you appreciate the simple things.  A fried apple pie and a McDonald’s cheeseburger never tasted so good.  My family never looked so good.  Driving the roads of America never felt so good.  Reading the billboards never seemed so interesting.  By the way, did they ever find out who shot J.R.?  Smile. Somethings were different but it was still…home.
 
So coming back to church is like coming home and I am almost giddy. When the Israelites realized they were coming home after 70 years in Babylon they were just a little more than giddy.  Here’s what one of their songwriters wrote, “When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” In those words you can almost feel their excitement. Things were going to be different when they got there but that didn’t matter.  They were going home.
 
So this weekend, and every weekend after, when you walk into your place of worship and things are just a little different, remember how it felt to come home and the different things won’t matter as much.  When “Bob” irritates you at church after you’ve been back a while, just pause and remember how good it was him the first week.  When the sermon seems too  long, and the music too loud and the room too warm…yup…just remember how good it was…how good it is to be home.  And, in a few weeks, when something fearful pops up or something rubs you wrong…just remember the time He brought you home, when you rested in Him, when you realized He’s got this.  And dream. And sing. Be like the ones who knew the Lord turned our captivity. Because He has.
Posted in Family, life, Military memories, Scripture, travel

If You’ve Seen One “Brucken”

A person’s steps are established by the Lord, and He takes pleasure in his way.” Psalm 37:23

We were so close and yet so far away. It was 1977 and we had recently arrived at our new USAF assignment in Germany. We had purchased a 1967 Volkswagen station wagon which turned out to have virtually no floorboards just floor mats.  We found that out the first time it rains.  It rains a lot in Germany.  Anyway we named him Herman.  He wasn’t fast, he wasn’t pretty.  But he would go…most of the time.

Our friends that lived a couple of hours away invited to come over and spend the weekend with them.  We lived in Sambach which wasn’t too far from Sembach where I worked.  You can probably already tell that things can get confusing in Germany.  So, we had been in country for about 10 days, we had our international drivers license which meant I paid someone $15 dollars, and we had Herman.  Not to sound like Gilligan’s Island but we started out on “a three hour trip…a three hour trip”.

We were heading to a small city called  Zweibrucken where our friends lived.  The Air Force had a small airbase there where he worked and since Zweibrucken means “two bridges” I assume they had those also.  It was simple.  Get on this highway with your car named Herman and with no floorboards, drive about an hour or so, take a left and head toward Zweibrucken.  Not a deal. Right? Well, not so fast.

Soon Judy and I were traveling along, excited for a new adventure.  We had no traveling experience in Germany, it was raining, remember it does that a lot in Germany, so we had miniature swimming pools for floorboards and the antique wipers were just keeping up with the rain. After about an hour we came to a large directional sign.  It said Saarbrucken straight ahead.  Well, Mr. “I’m a man who doesn’t get lost” looked at his sweet, dear “Don’t look at me, I’ve never been out the country before either” wife and said, “Uh was that Saarbrucken we were looking for?”  You know, if you’ve seen one “brucken” you’ve seen them all.

Well, I couldn’t remember, she couldn’t remember so we kept driving and it kept raining.  We drove for quite a while and suddenly found ourselves in Saarbrucken which happens to be on the French border. We also found ourselves on the verge of having to learn French. Since we hadn’t mastered any German either we decided we had best turn around before we started an international incident.

I did a quick turn around and headed back the way we came.  We were disoriented, discouraged, and disappointed.  We drove back about 30 miles or so and there we saw a sign:  Zweibrucken.  I remembered, she remembered—sweet Zweibrucken. Hallelujah. We exited off the autobahn (which is German for “you can drive fast if you don’t drive a Herman”) and as we exit we see our friend just pulling away.  He had come to look for us and was just about to give up.  We saw him, he saw us.  We laughed, we embraced. We had made it.  “Guten Tag.”  Guten Tag, indeed!

We still laugh about that crazy story.  Two young people who didn’t know better driving in a foreign country, taking off in a too old Volkswagen station wagon with swimming pools for floor boards, getting lost and unable to ask directions. Yup, life was good. Now knowing me,  I was probably frustrated, discouraged, and discombobulated. I’m not exactly sure what that means but I am sure I felt it that day.  But the bottom line is, we had fun. Even then we laughed at the hot mess we were in.  It was a story we would tell our kids one day.  Well, we have and it still brings a smile to our lips.

I know there is so much craziness today.  So many missteps, so many “I don’t knows,” so many “Saars” when it should have been a “Zwei.” But remember this.  There is a God who is writing this story called your life and He is a God who loves a good adventure.  And the things that we count as disruptions just might be one of His great adventures purposely put in our path for our ultimate good and pleasure.  David, in Psalm 37:23 writes, “The steps of a good person are ordered [directed, planned] by the Lord.  And He delights in that path.”  In other words, God has a plan and it is a plan that He has written just for you. I know I sometimes question my GPS when it takes me down some crazy roads to save a minute or two but I am learning to just enjoy the journey.  I wrote a few days back that Judy and I love to drive around and try to get lost.  One of my friends said, “Come on down to Pope County.  I can get you lost.”  I think I’m gonna take him up on it.  I’ll have my trusty GPS on standby and my friend won’t be too far away so it should be a great adventure.  I’ll just go along for the ride and rest in Him.  After all, He’s got this.  Guten Tag.