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, gratitude, July 4, life, Military memories, Scripture, thankful

John Ellis Believed

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.” Psalm 33:12

I couldn’t believe it.  Last night Judy and I decided to go out to eat.  We do that a lot on Thursday nights.  We went to one of our favorite restaurants (dining inside, thank-you) and then visited Sam’s Club to see if we needed to buy something that we didn’t need.  Then we headed for 217 back in Harrisburg.  As we were driving down the highway, Willie started singing in my head again, “On the road again, that’s where I long to be, on the road again.” So it was time for a spur of the moment adventure.

As we approached an intersection we had passed a hundred times before, I asked Judy, “Where does this road go?”  It said Creal Springs so we just turned and decided to take a little side trip.  We were driving along just enjoying the lush greenness of the warm summer evening and I thought I saw one of those “brown signs.”  These signs usually indicate a place of special interest.  As I went by I thought I saw the words cemetery and Revolutionary War. I went down the road just a ways and then told Judy I saw a sign for a cemetery…perhaps an old one.  I turned around.

Back down the road, there was indeed a sign. We pulled off the road and it said, “Ellis Family Cemetery and Revolutionary War gravesite.  What?  Can’t be!  The crazy part was there was no road just a driveway.  Well, after a bit of hesitation, we decided to give it a try.  Sure enough, the driveway went between two houses which led to a pasture.  Way at the back of the pasture we could see a small cemetery.  There wasn’t a road but I could see where a car had gone before.  Off we went.

When we got there, we found the gravesite of John Ellis.  He was born in 1754 and died in 1850.  He lived for 96 years and he fought in the American Revolutionary War.  He had two monuments.  One was much newer, one much older.  The older one simply said, “For Military Merit” and someone had painted his name on it.  I was overwhelmed.  Here in Southern Illinois was the grave of a man, a hero, who fought for the birth of our country. Amazing.

This man was there; this man was on the battlefield when a group of men and women declared our freedom from England.  This.man.was.there.  He put it all on the line for a cause greater than himself.  And for the last 244 years that is what freedom loving American heroes have done.  Through conflicts great and small they have served, they have bled and many have died.  I value the saying, “All gave some, some gave all.” I value the sacrifice of all these freedom fighters through the centuries and decades.  I also love what they fought for.

Right now is a difficult time for our nation but we have seen difficult times before. At his first inauguration on March 4, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt said this. “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Don’t rush past those words.  They are powerful and they are worth believing.

I believe in this country.  I believe even with all its warts and imperfections it is still the best country in the world.  Having visited well over twenty other countries I’ve seen the competition and America wins hands down.  I spent an Independence Day in basic training for the Air Force in 1972. Lights-out was about 8:00 pm and I was lying in my bunk when the fireworks starting going off.  I crept out of bed and went to the window and watched as the fireworks exploded in the Texas sky.  Two emotions came over me.  One, I missed family.  Somewhere in Florida they were celebrating freedom. The other though was more personal.  I was becoming an American airman serving my country.  I was one of her defenders and I was proud…proud to serve and proud to be an American.

So, please, don’t blow past Independence Day tomorrow and certainly don’t give up on America.  We have weathered many storms and we can weather this one…if we do what we have done in the past and that is trust God.  It is no accident that we have fought and won, it is no accident that we have survived and even thrived for the past 244 years.  It was more than American determination…it was and is the grace of God.

The Book says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.”  That is so true.  As a nation when we choose God, when we choose to make Him ours, we do better.  When we don’t, we don’t.  It is just that simple.  It isn’t politically correct these days but the bottom line is…its true.  The second part of that verse is equally important. God is still inviting, calling people to be His.  Skin color doesn’t matter, economic status doesn’t matter, creed doesn’t matter.  He simply invites every man, woman, and child to be His.  The decision is individual. So, God bless America.  If you are a God follower, a God believer, start the day tomorrow with a whispered prayer of thanks for this great country.  And then, pause, be still and listen for surely the Whisperer will whisper.  He may speak through His Word, He may speak through another person or a beautiful sunrise or sunset.  Regardless, He will whisper, “You can rest in Me.  I’ve got this.” 

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, Scripture, thankful

Flag Day

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands. Psalms 9:1

It was for better or worse.  In a little more than a week my wife and I will celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary.  I know if you have ever seen us you would find that hard to believe because we look so young.  Smile.  The years have flown by so quickly.  I can remember the days we would go to a conference and something and they would introduce the guest speaker saying they had been married for 35 years or so.  The crowd would erupt in applause.  I would think how old they were.  I am now that person.  But they say that age is just a number and that’s true. 

When I married Judy that hot (and I do mean hot) June day in south Georgia we made a commitment to each other.  It went something like this, “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health till death do us part.”  It was a deal we made with each other that no matter what we were stuck on (and not stuck with) each other.  We decided that we were in this for the long haul.  There have been speed bumps, detours and even a few fender benders but love somehow learns to forgive, and sometimes ignore, those. 

I bet you think this story is about marriage, didn’t you?  Got you.  Nope, it is about my love for this country.  Yesterday, June 14th, was Flag Day.  It garnered a place on our church marquee and a mention in the sermon intro. Oh, and I also worn a flag pin.  But it had a much bigger place in my heart.  I love my country, the land where God put me, America…not because it is perfect but because I can stand every week in our church and say what I want…and no one is going to arrest me.  I love America because it is still the land of the free.  I am writing this in Tennessee.  I didn’t need anyone’s permission to leave; I just got in the car and off Judy and I went.  Yup, I love America. Having lived in and visited over twenty-five countries in this world…I have seen and experienced many others and America still tops the list. 

You are probably wondering, “Dewayne, with all its warts and imperfections, with all its injustices and wrongs, with all its junk, how can you love America?”  Well, the answer is two fold.  One, from where I sit, it is still the best place in the world to live.  Its landscape and people-scape are just amazing.  It is filled with people willing to die for what they believe…that is why we are free.  It is a place where you can speak your mind and even protest a wrong.  The second reason is I signed up for the long haul.  Its kinda like the deal that Judy and I made.  “For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health till death parts us.” I’m an American till the end. 

Judy loves me…a lot.  She somehow manages to love me in spite of my failures and faults.  It kinda reminds me of God.  He just refuses to give up on us.  He extends grace and mercy and works to make us more and more like Him. With that comes a better me.  As we work to make America a better place to live and work, as we extend grace and mercy to each other, we are mirroring Him.  Sounds like a good plan to me. 

Like I said earlier, yesterday was Flag Day.  When I look at Old Glory I see the rich history, imagine the price that countless men and women have paid for this experiment in democracy and fall in love all over again.  And in these stars and stripes I see the hope not only for you and me, not only for America but for the world.  I see the gospel according to Old Glory.  I know each color and each part of the flag has special meaning but allow me some liberty…pun intended. 

When I see the field of stars I am reminded that in Psalm 19:1 “the heavens declare the glory of God.” It reminds me that every star in the sky is a witness to the existence of God. The blue field reminds me that there is a King in heaven.  Blue is the color of royalty and it points to the King of the universe…the creator of all.  His name is Jesus and He loves everybody regardless of skin color, language spoken or place lived.  The red reminds me of the measure of this King’s love..He died on a Roman cross.  He was not murdered and He wasn’t even martyred…He willingly died.  The payment for sin…all sin…was death and He paid the price. Amazing. 

And the white…well that is my favorite color because it stands for forgiveness.  White shouts that my sins are forgiven, that I am free and that I can call the Creator of the universe, “Abba Father or Dearest Daddy.”  I know you might think I’m taking a little too much liberty with that title but that is what He is. 

Anyway, I’m grateful for a wife who loves me regardless of my shortcomings.  I am grateful for a place to call home that gives me the freedom to live, worship and believe as I see fit.  Perfect? Not even by a long shot but I’m gonna stick around and do what I can to make her better.  I’m gonna stick around and make sure the America my grandkids grow up is even better that the one I knew and know.  And I am very grateful for a God that loves me unconditionally, that He is big enough to handle all the fears and warts of life and big enough to give me a place to rest…in Him.  Oh, and I’m glad that He is big enough to conquer sin, death and grave because it just proves…He’s got this.