Posted in Family, friends, life, Scripture, thankful, travel, Trials

Nothing But the Truth….the Whole Truth

By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.” 2 Peter 1:3

It was a cute little sign…if only it had told the whole truth.  Well, I was still in North Carolina and my wife Judy was still in Illinois.  If she had been with me this probably wouldn’t have happened.  The schedule gives us some time off Tuesday afternoon just to relax or whatever. I decided to drive up to Mount Mitchell which is the highest point east of the Mississippi River.  It was only about thirty miles and best of all most of it was on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Because of the elevation, there was already some beautiful color on some of the trees. God was doing it again.

Judy and I had made this drive last year but on that particular day everything was “socked” in.  There were heavy clouds, a misty fog, a strong wind, and it was quite chilly.  This year, the skies were blue, and the sun was shining bright.  While there was a wind, and it was still chilly…it made for a perfect day to see what God had been up to.  There’s an area called Craggy Gardens where there is an observation place and a welcome center.  Well, before I got to that I saw a sign that said Craggy Gardens Picnic Area.  It looked interesting so I turned left.

When I got to the top and to the parking area, I happened to see a sign.  I walked over and it said, “Trail to welcome center.” It also gave the distance which was a mere eight tenths of a mile.  Roundtrip was just 1.6 miles and I do two miles a day regularly, so this wasn’t even a challenge.  I slipped on my boots, grabbed my walking stick, and headed to the trail.  To get started there were about ten steps.  Well, this is where all the trouble started.  While the sign said where you were going and it even told you how far, it failed to mention the fact that it was all, and I do mean all, uphill.

Now there is uphill and there is UPHILL and this one was exactly that.  In short order I was huffing and puffing like an old steam train engine.  Now keep in mind I walk fast regularly.  None of that made a lick of difference.  This trail was a monster…a preacher eater if there ever was one.  Well, I finally made it to some sort of a shelter where I could sit down and try and catch my breath.  A couple of people showed up and I asked if they knew CPR and they quickly moved on…I was on my own.

Before I could stand, two more people came, and they were from Singapore. They spoke limited English, but they did assure me that the welcome center was somewhere ahead…about 500 meters.  So, I followed them and suddenly realized we were now going downhill about as steep as I had been going uphill.  I asked one more time how much further it was to the welcome center, and he pointed down, way down in the valley.  It then occurred to me we had not parked in the same place.  My car was at the picnic area and his was at the welcome center.  He was almost back, and I was still heading away from my car.  I made a decision…a wise decision…a lifesaving decision.

I told them I was turning around, and they smiled and eventually, I made it back to the car.  I wanted to tell the little sign what I thought but figured it wouldn’t matter.  After all he had told the truth…just not the whole truth or the whole story.  Exhausted, it felt great to pull off my boots and get into the car. Soaked with sweat…I knew I was done. Maybe.

I went ahead and drove up to the top of Mount Mitchell, elevation 6,638 feet. When I got there, there was another little sign.  It said it was only 300 yards to the observation deck. I said, “Anyone can do 300 yards.” Well, off I went.  You know what, I am a slow learner.  Yup, it was only 300 yards…straight up.  At the top, huffing and puffing, I looked around and then headed down.  I had had my fill of “mountain goating” and it was time for this preacher to go take a nap. And I did.

The point of this story is simple.  Before you take a hike make sure the signs are telling you the truth.  And before you take a hike down the path of life, make sure the signs along the way are telling the truth and giving you all the information, you need.  If not, you might end up huffing and puffing and looking for someone who knows CPR.  Can I make a suggestion?  Before you start, read the Guide to Hiking through Life Book, the Bible.  It is all true, and it gives you everything you need to succeed in your journey.  I didn’t see a ranger that day, but I can promise you there will be One guiding you as you hike the trails of life.  Some call Him God, some call Him Father, but I still like knowing He is my Dearest Daddy. And no matter what, He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in friends, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, thankful, travel, Trials

Packing Extra Weight

Let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us.”  Hebrews 12:1b

I thought it felt heavy. You might remember I told you a story about a group of friends from our church in Cobden, Illinois who took a trip up to Mount Leconte in North Carolina.  In that particular story I slipped on a slippery rock and earned the name, “Chief Wounded Cheek.”  Well, that wasn’t the only story from that trip.  There was a least one more.  You see, even though we were only staying one night, most of us still had a backpack full of stuff to tote up the mountain.

What do you carry up a mountain?  Well, I guess it all depends on the person.  I know one lady in our group had her husband carry just about everything but the kitchen sink.  I remember we laughed when we found out she was taking her curling iron.  It wasn’t that it was inappropriate it’s just that the top of the mountain didn’t have any electricity! In my case, I decided to leave the curling iron at home (smile) but did have a good selection of food.  I mean can you ever have too much food? I didn’t think so.

So finally, with our packs on our backs, we headed up the mountain.  The climb took us most of the day.  It was about five and a half miles and a lot of it was…up.  We went up and up and up and finally we made it.  The lodge was rustic, but the feeling of accomplishment made it all more than worthwhile.  Bob, our leader, said when we got there, they would give us some of the best hot chocolate in the world.  Well, they did but honestly, I think it was some of the best because we were pretty tired, pretty chilled, and pretty desperate. 

For supper he told us we would be having canned horse meat.  Remember there was no electricity and that meant no refrigeration.  As it turned out, it really wasn’t horse meat, but I do believe it was canned and for the record…it was pretty stinking good.  Pretty soon it was time for lights out…well, there really weren’t any lights because…well, you know why.  We slept well, got up and had breakfast and soon started our journey back down the mountain.

I threw my backpack on my back and started the journey down.  I remember being surprised how heavy my backpack felt.  Again, a lot of what I carried up was food and it  was no longer there…well, at least not in my backpack.  Anyway, we continued walking and after about an hour or so, it was time for a break.  I found a place to sit down, being careful of my “wounded cheek,” and opened by backpack for a quick snack.  And I found a surprise.

Yup, my backpack was heavy all right.  It turned out that some of the guys in the group had put several grapefruit size rocks inside.  They were just waiting for me to make the discovery and when I did, they laughed—we laughed until we couldn’t laugh anymore.  I love practical jokes regardless of what end of the stick I am on—giving or receiving. Well, needless to say the rocks came out and the pack was considerably lighter and we had a new story to tell along with my new “wounded cheek” name.

I learned a great lesson that day.  First and foremost—check your backpack—especially when you are traveling with a group of guys who love practical jokes.  I also learned that you should never carry extra weight up or down the mountain. Period. And in hindsight, that is true with hiking and that is true in life.  All of us have this tendency to carry extra weight around…and I’m not talking about around our waist.  I am talking about things that tend to weigh us down.  It might be a bad habit, or it could be the consequence of not starting a habit we should have, like exercise.  It might be misplaced priorities that steal time away from family.  Whatever it is, the truth is we need to chuck the unneeded and unnecessary.

Paul, one of the big writers of the Christian New Testament, said that we should lay aside every weight and the sin that slows us down.  Now that is good advice.  As we travel through this life, let’s get ready to go but let’s also be sure and check our backpacks.  We never know what might be in there and weighing us down.  If you need help figuring it all out, just ask the One who made it all.  You know, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, thankful, Trials

The “I Want You to Die” Tick

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Romans 13:14

You know there are one or two things that are good about a really cold winter.  Number one is the fact that it kills all the bugs. As you remember, last winter wasn’t very cold. I’m not sure what you thought about last winter’s weather, but apparently the local tick population thought it was just fine.  Even around my house—and I live on the main drag in the small town of Harrisburg, Illinois—we have had to check every once in a while, to make sure we didn’t pick up any unwanted hitchhikers.

Last summer Judy and I went hiking in a wooded area.  The trail we were on was plenty wide, but I guess ticks are good jumpers. Later in the week, I was working at my desk at home, and I felt just a little itch on my leg.  You know, nothing major—just a “hi—I might need you to scratch me later” itch.  I ignored it.

After a bit, it developed into more.  It went from a “you might need to scratch me” to more of a “hey, now would be a good time to scratch me” itch.  So, I did—and when I did, I felt a small bump.  At first, I thought it was a small bite and whoever had done it had moved on to greener pastures.  I was wrong.  It was a dirty, rotten, no good, “I want you to die”… tick.  Oh, he wasn’t big—in fact he looked quite innocent. He was only the size of a writing pen head.  Well, I try to be a friendly guy—just not with ticks and especially not with one having dinner—and I’m the meal.  So, in my best interest, we departed company and I made sure he went to the tick afterlife. So long friend…adios. No prayer, no service…just “you’re out of here.”

So, I thought it was not big deal—but I guess big is relative.  You see, by the next day that little bite site had turned red and was about twice as big as before—and it was still itching—only more.  Now fortunately it was NOT the kind of dirty rotten, no good, “I want you to die” tick that gives you weird diseases. But even so, the spot where he bit me itched for several weeks.  Even a couple of months later while the itch is gone the scar remained.  It’s hard to imagine that one little tick can cause so much trouble.  Write that one down:  little things can have bigger consequences.

Yep, that’s right.  Some small habit, some little action or inaction, a few seconds of a wandering mind, a few misspoken, unkind words—can have large and lasting consequences. And the worst part is that it doesn’t just affect us—it can and does affect those around us. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because it starts small it stays small. It rarely does.  It really isn’t practical to totally avoid the outdoors so there must be another way.  A good insect repellent is a good start.

A guy in the Bible named Paul wrote gives us some good advice on how to avoid pesky sins.  He said, “but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”  Paul said the best way to avoid the aggravation and consequences of sin is to give yourself a good smattering of Jesus and then avoid sin wherever and whenever it is likely to jump on.  The truth is the more we read the Bible and apply it and the more we act like Jesus the less likely we will find ourselves infested with pesky, troublesome sin.  Trust me…life is just better.

Well, the site where the friendly little tick decided to visit is finally about gone but it was a journey to get here.  The bottom line is it would just be better to avoid it in the first place. The old saying an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is so true.  That is true in avoiding ticks and it is also true in avoiding sin. One thing is for sure.  It is good to know that God is more than willing to help us know when there’s a pesky sin close by.  All we need to do is ask, and He will help.  Mark it down…we can rest assured with Him close by.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, love, loving others, Scripture, thankful, travel, Trials

Chief Wounded Cheek

For all have sinned.” Romans 3:23a

Turns out this falling thing isn’t new.  If you are a regular reader of Grits, you might remember that about once a year I decide to see if my body will bounce.  Last year it was Indian Point Trail.  I tripped over a root and before you could say, “shoot that thang” I was stretched out flat on my face.  It was painful.  Then a little over a month ago I hung my toe on the edge of my patio and did it all over again.  And yes, I fell hard and yes, it hurt.  In fact, my hand is still healing from that one.

So, the other day, I was thinking (I sometimes do that) and remembered another time and another fall and this one garnered me a new name.  When I pastored another church in another town, we had a great guy named Bob who would take a bunch of us to the Smoky Mountains and hike to the top of Mount Le Conte. We did this for several years and I am pretty sure I made the trip each time.  We would leave early and get to the mountains around mid-afternoon.

Bob was a pro at this hiking stuff, and he knew the importance of warming up.  So that afternoon, the day before the big hike, we would take a warmup hike.  I remember one time the warmup hike was the Chimneys and if you have ever done that one you know it isn’t that long but it is a killer.  As I remember, the warmups made the real deal almost anti-climactic.  And then, there was another time that I remember…well.

So, we got to the mountains and prepared for the warmup.  This one, as I remember, wasn’t straight up…in fact it was kinda level but it did involve crossing a couple of boulder strewn creeks.  And crossing one of those creeks gave me a new name.  As we crossed, we carefully picked our way over and around the rocks…leaning on our hiking sticks and trying to stay dry.  We did pretty good…I did pretty good…until I didn’t. Yup…you guessed it…down I went.

Gratefully, back then I bounced even better than I do now.  That time I didn’t fall flat on my face, I didn’t fall on my side, I fell on my, uh, well, my bottom.  It all happened in a split second, and I am sure if my pants hadn’t been double stitched, I would have split something else.  Well, once everyone determined that I wasn’t mortally wounded, the laughter started.  The sight of their fearless pastor laying, sitting catawampus—half in and half out the water—was too much to contain.

And then someone, who knows who, said it.  “It” was my new name.  They said, “Look there is “Chief Wounded Cheek.”  Well, then everyone, and I mean everyone, started laughing again.  Well, they helped me out and up and we continued our warmup hike but for the rest of the trip and several months later, I was “Chief Wounded Cheek.” Even to this day the memories make me smile because we had shared life together and laughed together.

There is one more thing that I so appreciated about that special group of friends, and friends like them through the years—they allowed me to be human.  You see sometimes people like to put leaders on some sort of pedestal.  The problem is that is a place they should never be because if and when they fall, well, sometimes it is unrecoverable. One of the best things you can do for a leader is love them, respect them, but allow them to be human.  And what is true of leaders and pastors is true of husbands, wives, and yes, parents. Remember, we all walk on clay feet.

Well, I’m glad to report that Chief Wounded Cheek is still bouncing along and gratefully most of the time, most of the people allow me to be human. Paul, the guy who wrote a large portion of the New Testament, reminded us that everyone of us are sinners—you know, broken people.  At one time or another, we have all messed up. The good news is that failure doesn’t have to be final.  The other good news is if we are wise, we will learn when we fail.  Someone said, “If you aren’t failing, you aren’t learning.” I like that. Oh, and the final good news is that when we fail, there is Someone standing by who says, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in gratitude, life, Scripture, thankful, travel

Stoneface

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

Stoneface.  Without context that could means several things.  Like when you are late for supper again…and your wife gives you the look–stone face. Or you have your eye on a parking spot and someone whips in front of you and you give the other driver the look–stone face.  Well here in Southern Illinois, it can also mean a rock formation that when viewed from the side looks like a man’s face.

During the COVID shutdown, Judy and I decided to take a hike and see this natural formation.  After work, we slipped on some comfortable shoes and drove out to the trailhead.  That is where the story begins.  Now this is going to be a two-part deal so be sure and tune in on tomorrow for part two.

So, at the trailhead, several things became apparent rather quickly.  One, the trail wasn’t maintained very well.  Well, actually it wasn’t maintained at all.  There were holes, rocks, roots, and a host of other hazards that made the hike not difficult but challenging.  Second, it was wet.  There were several places where water had found a way to puddle up (it didn’t practice social distancing) and the result was a mud obstacle course. I should have worn my boots. Third, at times the trail became difficult to follow.  Now at no point did it totally disappear but it was a little difficult to see.

Oh, and there was one more thing. Up. The trail went up. That shouldn’t have caught me by surprise since Stoneface was up and I was down.  But after a while it occurred to me that this was more up than I thought it should be.  The bottom line is this hike was not meeting my expectations and I might have gotten a little grumpy. Judy with her optimistic spirit was chatty all the way up.  “Oh look,” she said at a rock by the trail. “Oh look,” she said at a tree growing by the trail.  Like I said, I may have been a little grumpy.

After a while we got to the top of the bluff and the trail improved and so did my attitude.  I started noticing the rocks by the trail. Do you know what?  They were beautiful.  I started noticing the trees by the trail.  Each one was unique–hand crafted by a God much bigger than me.  Within a few minutes I too was quite chatty.  God had impressed me.

From the top of the bluff the rock formations were incredible and so was the view.  You could see the beautiful Southern Illinois landscape for miles and miles.  The handiwork of God was awesome.  As we were standing on top of the bluff I looked down and right there, slightly below us, was Stoneface. It was smaller than I expected but more detailed and obvious too.  About then it happened. I was glad to be there.

The rocks, roots and holes on the trail were far less significant.  The times when the trail seemed difficult to follow no longer mattered.  My chatty sweetie that seemed a little annoying on the way up seemed especially beautiful at the top. It was worth it. And just about then it hit me.

God’s plans for me–they’re not always smooth and paved.  They have their potholes and puddles.  They aren’t always downhill for He is often leading me uphill for a view from the top–to see His grandeur.  Psalm 37:23 says, “A person’s steps are established by the LORD, and He takes pleasure in his way.” That means that God directs my life and He is leading me in a way that is for my good and His glory.  Always.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”  2021–trust.  Illness–trust.  Personal loss–trust. Unemployment–trust. You get the idea.  The path may be a little challenging but the view from the top will be worth it.  Always. So, trust Him.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne 

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, Trials, wisdom

Tripped Up by Life

When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36

Well, it’s a week later.  If you are a regular Grits reader you might remember that a week ago, I wrote about my grand adventure as I hiked a local trail called, “Indian Point.”  It is an incredible trail and a hike that I will remember for quite a while.  Whenever I do something for the first time it kinda hangs in my memory.  For instance, this time I remember the first quarter or third of a mile up the hill that the trail was more roots than dirt.  I remember after a while there were several short trails leading to some large rock outcrops.  I took a detour down one and stood amazed as I surveyed the valley below.  I also remember what happened next.

Next was my boot caught a root. In a split second I tripped and landed flat on my face.  I told you last week that I fell very hard and it hurt. I haven’t changed my mind. I banged up my left arm and side and well, let’s just say all week the pain just kept right on coming.  Finally, on Saturday, almost a week later, I could cough and bend over without my side not so gently reminding me of the fall.  My arm, on the other hand, is still plenty sore and I am sporting a really, ugly bruise.  It isn’t one of those wimp bruises either.  It covers most of my elbow and upper forearm and is a nice purple and yellow color.  It’s the kinda bruise when people see it, they say “ouch.”

This past Sunday I returned to Indian Point.  My wife Judy was back from her journey to the “Southland” and I wanted to share the trail with her.  I narrated the way along the trail and finally we came to the place where I fell. Right in the middle of the trail was the root…the only one, but then it only takes one. I told her, “This is where it happened.” I think maybe she then had a better understanding of my fall and a new appreciation for the bruise that I am still sporting. Perhaps, that experience made my experience better because it became her experience too. I know this is true because right there she gave me a sermon about hiking alone and being careful.

So, do you know someone that is pretty bruised up over life?  Has someone shown you their “bruise” recently?  No, I’m not talking about the kind that comes from tripping over a root, but the kind that comes from tripping over something in life.  An unkind word. An unnecessarily sharp criticism. A sarcastic zinger.  The loss of a friend or a job or a marriage?  You see, there are a lot of bruised folks around us, and it is important that we stop long enough to feel their hurt and pain.  Jesus did that so well.  It didn’t matter what, it seemed He always had the time to hurt with someone.

Whether it was a leper, a woman with a bad reputation, or a tax collector hated and disowned by everyone, He always took the time to stop, take a look at their bruised life, and hurt with them. One time He came ashore from a boat ride across the lake and there was a gaggle of people bruised and banged up by their broken world.  The Bible tells us that He saw them and then He had compassion on them.  He.Saw.Them.  In other words, He saw their bruises and then loved them.

So, if you bump into me this week, no pun intended, ask and I will show you my bruised arm.  It should be good for at least five or six more days.  We can laugh together because of the story, but at the same time it will be a good reminder for both of us to be like Jesus and share another’s hurt and pain.  Oh, and be sure and watch out for those roots…remember it only takes one.  But if you do fall, I know someone who can pick you up.  And if you listen carefully, you will hear Him whisper, “Don’t worry…I’ve got this.”   Bro. Dewayne

Posted in life, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

Falling for Indian Point

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand.” Psalm 37:23-24

 I fell and I fell hard.  It was Sunday afternoon.  I had the opportunity to speak a couple of times at the church where I pastor and it was, as always, one of the things I just enjoy.  I love sharing and watching truth come alive in people.  It was a great day to be at church too because every Sunday someone new comes back from the COVID blip.  It is like Christmas morning and a family reunion all rolled into one.  After church there was lunch with a couple of friends and family and then…wait for it…the nap.

There is something about a Sunday afternoon nap that is almost sacred.  After speaking and eating, napping is just a natural.  Well, after all the essentials were done, I decided to…take a hike.  My wife Judy was down south visiting family so I had some time to myself.  I really enjoy hiking with her but second best is just taking a hike.  It was a beautiful day and Judy and I had talked several times about trying a trail called Indian Point.  That was my destination. So after a short drive,  I arrived and was glad to find it wasn’t too crowded

So, I hopped out of the car and off I went.  I forgot my hiking stick in the trunk until I was about ten minutes in and I would regret that a little later but hey.  The first part of the trail was like a nice walk in the woods.  There were plenty of rocks and roots to avoid but not enough to distract from the beauty around me.  I slowly ascended and soon, off to my right, I began noticing spurs off the trail that led to various lookouts.  They were amazing.  Atop large rock formations, the valley below spread out like a beautiful quilt in various shades of green.  God impressed me…again.

Soon I was back on the trail, still amazed and still climbing up.  Before long, I could see what had to be the trail’s name sake…Indian Point.  It was a large rock outcropping many, many yards wide and it just invited you to come and see.  So, I stepped up the pace in anticipation of what was coming.  I should have been a little more careful.  On my way to the point, I suddenly had an unexpected experience.  As I was walking and as I was looking ahead, my boot caught a small root knob and, well, it wasn’t pretty.

I’m not sure if my hiking stick would have saved me or not but since it was back in the car that didn’t matter.  I stumbled for one step and then just fell. There was no time to break the fall, no time to put my hand out—I fell and I fell hard.  I landed on my left side and frankly for the first few seconds I was just stunned.  And then, in a moment of brilliance, I said, out loud, “That hurt.” And it did.  In my pride, I was immediately glad that no one was around to see my descent and painful crash landing.

I slowly, ever so slowly, stood up and accessed the damages.  First, thankfully, it involved no blood but it did include a large knot on my left forearm, a banged-up knee and a rib cage that said, “Ouch.”  Ok, so, I proceeded to the lookout, determined not to let what had happened rob me of the moment—and it didn’t.  I continued on the trail and what lay before me was just amazing.  The incredible rock bluffs, caves and flowering trees were amazing.  I was blown away. God was obviously showing off when He made this part of Southern Illinois.

So, I made it back to the car and, yes, there were definitely some sore body parts.  A few minutes later, I had to cough and I quickly found out just how sore my ribcage was.  When I got home, I found out I couldn’t even bend over to get my boots off.  The good news is that after taking too much Ibuprofen, I could.  And for all of you who are worrying, by Monday morning things were better.  My arm and ribs are still stinking sore but other than that—I’m ok.  Oh, and for the record, I wouldn’t have missed the hike for anything.  I can’t wait to take Judy with me.

My big take away wasn’t the fact that I fell, or that I was going too fast, or that I should have been paying closer attention—though all those are valid.  My big take away—and don’t miss this—was how something so small could cause me to fall so hard.  The root knob was probably two inches high but it was all that was needed to bring me down. For all my trails in my future, at least as long as I remember how bad this hurt, I will probably be a little more careful.  I know I was a bit sloppy in my walking but it’s hard to look down when things above are so beautiful. There’s a lot of truth in that one!

My Dearest Daddy, of course, knew all about all of this and you might want to debate His goodness.  If He is so good why this and why that but you would be missing the point.  The fact is…I walked away.  The fact is…this morning, I can move.  The fact is…I was able to enjoy the rest of the hike.  The fact is…He is a good, good Father.  One of my favorite Bible verses says that He directs my steps and even if I do fall, He is there to pick me up.  I like that…a lot and He was there to pick me up.  And, He will be there to pick you up.

So, if you have some time and enjoy hiking, take a hike on Indian Point trail in Southern Illinois and be prepared to be impressed. Watch for the rocks and the roots and don’t get too much in a hurry.  You might take a tumble and you might miss something spectacular.  And don’t be afraid because whether it is a trail or day at the office, or no matter what, “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

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

Watch Your Step

Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.”  Ephesians 5:16

There are certain times you just need to watch your step.  For example, there are at least two things to watch out for when you are walking through a cow pasture.  First, you need to make sure that it is fact a cow pasture and not a bull pasture.  If it is a bull pasture you need to head to the nearest fence…immediately. Bulls are not cows, and most of the time the reason they call them bulls is because they are bullies.  The second thing you need to watch out for when walking through a cow pasture are cow patties.  You will just have to trust me on this one.

There are lots of other times and places you need to watch your step and one that I recently experienced was while hiking down by Bell Smith Springs.  My wife Judy and I have grown quite fond of hiking.  It is great exercise, and it is a great opportunity to get out and enjoy nature.  So, last week we headed down to Bell Smith Springs to take on the Sentry Ridge Trail.  It is a three-mile loop trail that follows a ridge (no surprise there) and looks down on a small canyon with a creek.  The problem is a pleasure.  It is just beautiful.  There is so much to see, you want to look and look. But that is also the problem.

You see, the trail, in more than several places, is quite rocky.  There are places when the trail is “paved” with large slabs of native stone.  In other places, though, it is as if someone had come along and strewn stones everywhere.  While they are mostly firmly embedded in the ground, they are still uneven.  The bottom line is watch where you are stepping, or one of three things is bound to happen.  One, you will twist your ankle.  Two, you will fall and bust something you don’t want busted.  Three, you will find yourself on the way down a long wooded cliff or bluff.

Now for the pleasurable problem.  So, as we were hiking one of us believes in the destination.  In other words, the goal is to make it, to do it, to get it done.  The other one is in it for the journey.  They actually believe the journey is primary to the destination.  Can you guess who is who in this scenario?  Yup.  I, as the man, the conqueror, believes that the primary purpose of this trip is to finish and put another notch in my “hiking” belt.  Judy, as the lady of the trail, wants to stop and take pictures of the trees—every tree; the rocks—every rock.  Her conversation is dotted with “Look, Dewayne…” and other phrases that conquerors don’t use, or necessarily want to hear.

Now, because I love her so much, I will actually try and look but there is a problem.  I have discovered that while you are looking around, you can’t be looking down and if you aren’t looking down you aren’t seeing rocks and if you aren’t seeing rocks you are in trouble.  Whew.  Now that was one long sentence.  But do you get my point?  I suppose you could actually stop, and look around, but that is just not what conquerors do.  We conquerors conqueror and you can’t conqueror much standing still.

So, what is a conqueror to do?  Well, the truth is, we should stop (all you conquerors forgive me) and smell the roses.  Judy is in fact right.  The joy is in the journey.  The joy is pausing and seeing what there is to see…to enjoy what is there to enjoy.  Now that doesn’t mean I need a picture of every rock and tree, but I do need to see what my Dearest Daddy has made.  We need to learn to hit pause, every once in a while and then soon enough, hit play again.

What happens if you don’t?  Well, actually,  two things.  You are going to miss the best part of the trip or maybe the day.  As I am writing, there is a big, and I do mean big, full moon.  They said it was a “Wolf Moon.”  I’m not sure why it is called that besides the fact that the conqueror in me kinda wanted to stop and let out a howl.  Earlier I was driving when Judy said those two words, “Dewayne, look…”. This time I got it right.  I stole a quick glance to my right and there it was…and it was magnificent.  I could have made some comment about I was driving but I discovered you can carefully sneak a look at the moon and drive too.  That is true on trails, and in many other sights and sounds.

Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament in the Christian Bible said that we should take the time and redeem the time.  What he was saying is that we should make the most of the time we have.  But we need to realize that while that includes working and doing life…it should also include time to enjoy the journey.  I’m glad I’m married to someone who knows how to do that.  Does it drive me nuts sometimes?  Absolutely, but even that is part of the joy of the journey.  So, be careful and watch where you step but be sure and take a few minutes to enjoy life around you.  Think you can’t?  Sure you can, with the Creator’s help! After all, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, food, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, New Year, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

Ralph’s

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

It was donut heaven.  Judy and I took a trip to middle Tennessee to do some hiking and be amazed all over again at the wonder of God’s creation.  We stayed in the small city of Cookeville which is about an hour east of Nashville.  We had driven by there many times on our way to Pigeon Forge and points east but never stopped.  And for some reason…this time it was our destination. It was wonderful.

Within a few minutes driving time were some of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen.  One, Fall Creek Falls, is the tallest falls east of the Rockies—256 feet of free falling water.  Then there was Burgess Falls which had not one, but three separate falls…each one more spectacular than the one before.  Finally we drove over to Rock Island State Park and were amazed by a river that fell and fell and fell—each time creating a beautiful waterfall.  Then, coming out of caves in a huge, high bluff was a massive waterfall falling into the river.  Unbelievable. I would think God would get a 10 for all the beauty that we have seen.  And then…there was Ralph’s.

When we stay at an Airbnb, we always check out all the literature that the host leaves to make the visit more enjoyable.  We also check out comments in the guest book for tidbits of information.  That is where we heard about Ralph’s.  Three different previous guests mentioned this mom and pop donut shop in downtown Cookeville.  We had to visit.  To not do so would have been a travesty of donut-ism.  So we were on our way on Monday morning when Judy checked their website.  Oh no…closed on Mondays.  We had to wait another day.

Tuesday morning after planning our hikes for the day, we headed to Ralph’s Donut Shop to ensure we had plenty of calories on hand for our journey.  When we arrived it was indeed an ordinary mom and pop donut shop.  But trust me…it was anything but ordinary.  The first thing I noticed was the sign stating that they had been open since 1962.  Do the math and you will find out that they have been making donuts for 58 years—in the donut world that’s like forever.  And then—we opened the door.

It was donut heaven.  I know that to be true because so many things in the case were “holey.” Get it?  Anyway, to my left was a horseshoe shaped counter with almost every stool filled with locals enjoying coffee and pastries.  There was a long glass case and a whole wall filled with pastries and donuts.  And there to greet us was the best donut salesman in the world.  You could tell this guy loved his job and was “in the right seat on the bus.”  Judy and I use that phrase to describe someone who is doing what they were meant to do.  This guy was meant to work at Ralph’s.  The first thing my eye spotted was the royalty of pastries—the fried apple fritter.  It was massive, fried crispy, covered with glaze with the middle stuffed with apple filling.  One please.

Then the sales guy told us the fritter was their best seller until the butter twist came along.  It was a fried donut but the twist was they brushed it with butter before cooking.  He said it was voted the number one donut in the entire state of Tennessee.  I’m sure he was telling the truth.  Two please.  Judy wanted something chocolate.  No problem—a butter twist with chocolate frosting should do the trick.  One please.  Then I asked about this chocolate creation on the top shelf.  It was a devil’s food mix and saturated with chocolate.  He said it was diabetes on a plate and should come with a shot of insulin.  We passed on that one. His final gift was a spice bar that was broken in two, so it was free.  He said it was as if Little Debbie married gingerbread and had a baby.  I loved it.

Judy and I had read that they closed at 11:30 so we assumed 11:30 am but we asked anyway.  Oh no…they have three shifts of bakers and are open from 5:00 am till 11:30 pm.  Now who has ever heard of a donut shop staying open that long—and they are doing quite well, thank you.  Oh, and did I mention that they are listed in the top 20 donut bakeries in the entire United States?  Oh, yes…it was donut heaven and it was “holey” ground.

Well, there is one thing that was obvious at Ralph’s—they were all in.  They knew their product, they believed in their product and they wanted to share their product.  Even if you didn’t like donuts, you wanted to buy one by the time you left.  You wanted what they had because it had to be worth having.  I have a feeling that we as Jesus followers should take a lesson from Ralph’s.  We know we have the best thing in all of creation to offer those in our world—the good news of Jesus Christ.  Donuts may be “holey” but Jesus can make us holy—holy enough to call God, Father—holy enough to go to heaven.  And Ralph’s may have been making donuts for 58 years but God has been loving us since before the foundation of the world.  He wants to walk with us through this New Year and every year.  He is a beyond amazing God.

Since He is so incredible—if we love Him, if we believe in Him—we should be all in too.  We should live like we believe and share the Word about Him like we believe it.  I left Ralph’s wanting to tell people about this amazing place.  I think we need to get up every morning wanting to tell everyone the great Good News.  On this first day of this great New Year let’s figuratively get behind the counter—not to sell donuts but to share the Good News. And what is that? It is that God, Creator God, so loved this world that gave His Son to a Roman cross that anyone who believes in Him and what He did—can have everlasting life.  And that is the best news ever.  Oh and then there is more.  No matter what today or this year sends our way, we have the assurance that He’s got this.

Posted in Family, fear, life, Southern born, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel

Incognito

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Psalm 23:5

I could relate to King David. Judy and I decided to make a return visit to North Georgia recently.  We discovered this gem of a place in July on our way to spend a few days with our family in Florida.  We picked this area as a stopover on the way and it was just a tremendous area to explore.  We enjoyed some great hiking, waterfalls, and other beautiful places where God just showed off His creation. It was so good…we decided on a return visit.  We made reservations for November because we knew we would be spending some time with family again—this time in Pigeon Forge.  Toccoa, the town where we stay, was just three hours south of there so it was a great opportunity to return.

Once again we found the area just full of great places to visit.  Incredible trails and waterfalls seemed to be around every curve.  Amazing.  Another novelty of the area is the fact that it is close to a couple of other states.  It is very close to one in particular.  That would be South Carolina. In fact, it wasn’t just close to South Carolina, it just happened to be very close to Clemson…home of, you guessed it, Clemson University.

To most, Clemson is just another fine southern university.  But for me, and for many, it is something else.  Clemson is famous for its football team, famous for winning the national championship (January 2020) and finally, famous for beginning and remaining number one in the national ranks for the 20-21 football season.  That is, until they met Notre Dame.  If you read my stories, you probably know that this is one Baptist preacher who likes, no, loves Notre Dame football.  Some things transcend denominations!

A couple of weeks before our trip to North Georgia, Notre Dame and Clemson collided on the gridiron.  After two overtimes the game ended with the Fighting Irish defeating Clemson. How sweet it was.  So, when I found myself right next door to South Carolina, and despite the fact that it was close to the home of Clemson University, we decided it would be a great place to take a hike. I did however decide it wouldn’t be wise to wear my Notre Dame hoodie. You know, just to be safe. Wisdom. We went hiking in a place called Brasstown Falls and the falls were amazing.  How can something that beautiful be so close to Clemson?

Since it was past lunch time, we decided to go ahead and eat while we were in the area.   We drove a little closer and found ourselves about ten minutes from their campus.  We were literally in their backyard. I was incognito—you know, undercover, but I wanted so bad to tell our server that I was a Notre Dame fan.  I wanted to kinda, sorta, pour some salt in her football wound but I did resist.  I wasn’t being humble, I was just afraid she might sabotage my food.  You see, football is serious business in this neck of the woods. Turns out, she was a great server and we had a delicious meal, which, in spite of the “danger” of being in enemy territory, we greatly enjoyed.  We finished and then we escaped back across the border.

So, that’s why I kinda felt like King David in the Bible.  You see, he was the arch enemy of the guy who was currently king, and who wanted to do him in.  The deal was that God had anointed David to be King while Saul, the other guy, was still in office.  It was pretty dicey. But David knew one thing…God was greater than Saul or anyone else for that matter.  He was so sure of it he would later write something that became pretty famous—the 23rd Psalm.  In that Psalm, David talked about how God had prepared a table for him to eat right in the presence of his enemies.  How could that be? I mean I would have indigestion knowing my enemy was right there.  But not David.  Do you know why? The bottom line is that David was sure that he was safe anywhere because God was in control.  God.Was.In.Control.

Now I know I was in absolutely no danger in Clemson’s backyard, but I am also sure I would have gotten some stares if I had worn my Notre Dame colors. But what about other times?  What about unemployment times? What about COVID times? What about high stress times? What about “I’m sorry to tell you but…” times? Well, let me tell you what I know.  God would be there and God will be there. We don’t have to worry—we don’t have to fret.

I don’t know if God prefers Notre Dame over Clemson or if He even likes football, but I do know that He loves me and He loves you.  He has this incredible plan for His kids and when we are within the will of His plan…well, it is a great, safe place to be. We can sit down in the presence of those who would harm us or things that could destroy us and rest and know that He watches over us.  I like that. I know that whatever tomorrow holds, He is already there.  I can sit down and eat a big old meal right across from the Clemson football team in my blue and gold and rest in Him because I know, “He’s got this.”