Posted in Family, food, friends, gratitude, life, loving others, Scripture, thankful

Vine Ripened

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

You know there’s just something about a vine ripened tomato.  Yup, it is that time of the year again.  Around our neck of the woods, it starts happening around the 4th of July.  All those folks who planted tomatoes earlier on are now enjoying the fruit of their labors. Oh, and by the way…did you know that tomatoes are a kind of fruit?  Well, that’s what I read on the internet anyway and you know everything on the internet is true.  Smile.

Well, every year some nice folks who raised tomatoes will call and offer us some of their bounty.  If we don’t have any we would gratefully answer yes and get some.  If we still had some on the counter, we would let them know we were good but not to forget us.  This year, like everything else from toilet paper to new windows for your new house, tomatoes are rare and expensive.  My friend was telling me how he paid $3.19 for one large, vine ripened tomato.  Holy moly that is like red gold, but I suppose a good tomato is worth it.

The other day, Judy stopped by a stand and got three small tomatoes and a couple of other veggies and paid about $7.00.  That night we had them for supper.  We put some salt and pepper on them and then some feta cheese. Oh my, and shoot that thing, they were so good and worth every penny.  Well, a couple of days ago, she got a nice large tomato from one of the local grocery stores.  I mean it looked really good. So, we sliced it, added salt and pepper, and crowned it with feta cheese and…it was terrible.

You see that bright red large tomato wasn’t vine ripened.  I don’t know all the details, but somehow most commercially grown tomatoes are picked green and then “gassed” and this causes them to prematurely turn red.  Consequently, they may look good, but they are almost tasteless.  They spend less time on the vine and consequently simply don’t taste as good.  The ones that hang on the vine, taking the time nature intended are so much better than the ones we force to maturity.

I wonder, no I know, that is true in life also.  So often we force situations and sometimes force people into relationships, and segments of life for which they simply are not ready.  I know it seems our children are forced to grow up so much faster than I was.  When that happens, well, in the best case they miss out on some of the great parts of growing up and in the worst case they end up struggling in life because they simply were not ready.  But it is not just the kids, but it can also include relationships.  We jump into marriages for which we are not ready…sometimes just because the clock is ticking, and we don’t want to end up alone.

I wonder if we can learn something from the tomato and the ones who grow them.  I wonder if we can learn the value of just taking our time…time to ripen on the vine and gain the flavor that God intended?  I wonder if we can learn to slow down and trust God just a little more?  I remember just how disappointed I was when I put that “gassed” tomato in my mouth and found it bland and tasteless.  It may have looked better, but it surely didn’t taste better than its vine ripened cousin.

I’m reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:1 which tells us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”  What a difference it might make if we let things have their season…their time.  Our world might be a little better, our lives a little sweeter and our tomatoes a little tastier.  I know that sometimes it is hard to wait for the seasons but if you think about it…it might be worth it.  Need some help in the waiting department? If you know God personally, why not ask your Dearest Daddy for a little advice?  I’m sure He would be more than glad to help.  And if you don’t know Him yet, go ahead and introduce yourself.  Just whisper a prayer and you will find Him ready to love and help you.  After all, He’s got a big heart and strong arms…and “He’s got this.”  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, fear, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, Trials

Baseball, Miracles, and Concubines

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” Genesis 17:17

I just quit a little too soon.  So, I think there must be this line in heaven where all the babies wait to be assigned dads, moms, skills and bodies in heaven.  I can just imagine me standing there waiting.  I am watching as all the boy babies make it to the front and they are soon on their way with these bodies that are destined to be tall and muscular.  They make the jump to earth and their new homes just waiting to grow up and become the next Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan.  I can also imagine my turn at the front of the line and Saint Peter saying something about sports and I miss understood and thought he said something about ketchup, and I said, “Sure, I’ll take a squirt.” Anyway, I arrived on earth a little shorter than average and not a sports bone in my body.  I should have listened closer.

All this became pretty apparent when it came to choosing teams.  Whether it was kickball, volleyball, basketball, dodgeball or baseball, when the teams were chosen, I was near the end of the line. As far as school sports, well, there were hundreds of kids in the schools I attended and trust me no one ever offered me a contract.  The only place I had a measure of success was, of course, at church.  I managed to make the church softball team though it was the “B” team. We did play tackle football after our Bible study time on Wednesday nights and there I made a name for myself. One of our teachers was named Eddie and he was, well, one large man and no one could tackle him, so they called him “Big Eddie.”  While I wasn’t near that large, I was harder to tackle so I gained the name “Little Eddie.”  Hey, when you are nameless in the world of sports, you will take anything.

My only foray into “professional sports” was Little League baseball when I was about 9 or 10.  I don’t remember if I made the team or if everyone made the team.  Regardless, we were called the Gators and we, or rather they, were pretty good.  Again, I had absolutely no talents in baseball, so I was assigned to right field on the rare occasions that I got to play.  I was the kid who prayed a lot during the games.  It wasn’t that I was particularly spiritual—it was emotional survival.  First, I would pray that they wouldn’t play me and then, if they did, I would pray that no one would hit the ball to right field.  It didn’t work. Invariably someone would and well, it wasn’t pretty very often.

Then, of course, there was the batting thing.  Did you know that there are players who say they can see the stitches on the ball as it comes toward them?  Did you know there are players who actually know when to swing and how to swing?  Can you guess I wasn’t one of those players?  Nope, the pitcher would pitch, and I would wonder where the ball was. That wasn’t pretty either.  So, the sad (you are feeling sorry for me by now, aren’t you) bottom line is that one day I just refused to go to practice.  I made it through about three quarters of the season, and I just gave it up—I quit.

Well, guess what?  It turns out that even without me, the Gators ended up winning the championship.  Yup, they sure did.  I remember, the coach came by my house one afternoon and he was carrying a trophy.  He said that the team had won it all and even though I hadn’t finished the season he wanted me to have a trophy.  I probably mumbled something about quitting because I was hit by a semi-truck and thanked him for bringing the trophy by.  The truth was there was no excuse—I just quit. And the other truth is because of that the trophy meant absolutely, the grand total of—nothing.  I didn’t earn it and I didn’t deserve it.  Not because I wasn’t good but because I didn’t finish.

I really don’t have a lot of regrets life but that is a small one.  I’m ok with not being tall and gifted in sports but I really am not ok with being a quitter.  Not then—not now. If I would have waited, I could have been a champion, but I didn’t wait it out.  You know there was a guy in the Bible who had the same issue.  God had promised him a son, an heir.  The only problem was they both were old—really old.  In fact, this guy fell on his face and laughed and said, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

Instead of believing God he decided to do things his way or really Sarah’s way. Since she couldn’t conceive, they opted for a concubine rather than wait on the miracle.  What a bad idea.  He and the woman did have a son, but it wasn’t the son God had promised.  It really didn’t go well…and sadly it still isn’t going well.  Much of the conflict in that part of the world stems from this one man.  Oh, the consequences.

Oh, and by the way, guess what?  When they were both older than dirt, Sarah, his wife did in fact conceive and the promised son was born.  God came through after all—surprise, surprise.  If only they had finished the season…if only they had waited how different things would have been.  The good news is that God kept His word and blessed Abraham beyond his wildest dreams. You see even though Abraham quit believing, God never quit believing in him…and He won’t quit believing in you either.  I like that…I love that.  Regardless of what you are waiting on, just hang on…just be patient, just wait and see what God has in mind.  He’s got this. Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, food, forgiveness, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, priorities, Scripture, Trials

Patience 101 – Repeating the Class

Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.” Ecclesiastes 7:8

And I thought I was just going out to eat! Just a couple of weeks ago, a couple of good friends invited my wife Judy and I to go out and eat.  It sounded like a special gig.  A restaurant located in a small town, oh, about 15 miles from our small town, had invited a renowned chef to come in and cook that evening.  My friend had received an invitation right from the owner’s lips to come and experience it and he invited us.  Now I am not much of a gourmet nor is gourmet food my deal.  To ring my bell, all you need to do is serve up some meat and mashed potatoes and another starch or two and I’m in.  Even so, it was chance to spend some time with these good friends…so we made a date.

They said they would make some reservations which for Southern Illinois is kinda unusual.  All we SI people do is show up and eat.  But I can be partial to reservations…especially if it keeps me from waiting.  So, with the idea this was a special thing for a small group of special people and with the safeguard of reservations, I was looking forward to our Friday night gig.  Oh, and a bonus was the fact this was Friday night of Valentine’s weekend and Judy said this could count as “date night.”  Sweet.  Can’t fail. In the bag. And then…the school bell rang.

As we drove from our small town to the other small town, the car was filled with chatty talk. Nice and easy…just the way I like it.  As we approached the restaurant, I noticed there were quite a few cars but that wasn’t totally unusual.  It was when we got to the door that usual went out the window. The small foyer, the area around the check-in stand and the restaurant was packed to the gills.  At that brief moment, my countenance may have sagged just a little. But since we had reservations…it was no deal.  And then the school bell rang.

One of my friends checked us in and came back with the news—forty-five minutes to an hour.  Wait. What?  I said, “But don’t we have reservations?”  Well, no.  It turns out only parties of eight can get those cherished promises of a quicker sit-down.  So, that is how God enrolled me, once again, into the school of patience.  So, there I sat in the small foyer with what seemed like a thousand other people. Some were there to enjoy the gourmet chef, and some were there for a fish dinner.  It didn’t matter. I was in the school of patience. My Dearest Daddy knew I had some learning to do in the patience department and He had enrolled me.

Well, our time in class turned into about two and half hours and when we finally ate almost all of the gourmet food was gone and I had a hamburger…which by the way was just fine with me. At the end of the evening, an unseen hand handed me my test.  There at the top of the page was a well-earned, unqualified, no doubt about it—F.  Yup I had failed again.  And the bad news is, this is required curriculum…which meant there would be other classes…other opportunities…for me to learn and get tested.  Rats.  I should have studied more.  I should have prepared more. I should have done something or anything, but I didn’t. Class dismissed.  See you next time, pal.

Now with all that said, it was a good evening.  I still got to be with my wife and friends.  I did occasionally smile and engage in conversation.  Oh, and the burger was really pretty good and, wait for it, my friend paid the tab.  I think he did it out of sympathy and compassion.  Regardless, it was kind. So, when we got home, I sat down and relaxed, confessed my failing grade to my Father and vowed to do better.  We will see.  We will see.  This is one area that this Jesus journeyman is a little slow to learn and God ain’t gonna let it go. Solomon, one of the smart guys from the Old Testament Bible said, “Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.” Boy, he hit that one on the head.  Looking back, I should have remembered, I should have believed that thing that I write every time I write, “He’s got this,” because…He does. Bro. Dewayne

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

Your Expected Wait Time

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

Warning…whining ahead.  Ok, I just wanted to give you a heads up that I am about to whine.  It really isn’t my fault.  I think I was born with it…wired with it.  While most babies cried, I whined.  If the milk wasn’t quite the right temperature…I didn’t cry…I whined.  If it was a quarter past a diaper change…you guessed, I whined.  And if someone failed to realize just how precious I was…whine, whine, whine.  I am so good at it I believe it must be some kind of gift.  I know the Bible talks about people having a special gift from God so who knows…maybe there is a whining gift.  People sometimes say you shouldn’t whine but that is probably because they are jealous.  Whining is an art, a talent but there is a problem.  Nobody seems to appreciate a good whiner.  Someone even gave me a little plaque to hang in my office.  It simply says, “Thou shalt not whine.” Imagine that.

I try to be a good steward of my whining gift and save it for very, special occasions, but the problem is, to me everything day is special and almost every situation an opportunity to practice my gift.  But tonight, tonight it is valid.  Tonight, I have the right to whine…and I have.  Here’s why. So, a couple of months ago, my wife Judy and I planned our fall vacation and decided to go back to Fort Myers, Florida.  It just sounded like a good idea.

We began to make all the appropriate reservations and arrangements.  Car rental…check.  Places to stay…check.  Plane tickets…check.  Yup…we were all set.  And then it happened.  The airline, which I won’t name but whose name starts with a D and ends with an A decided to change our flight schedule.  Hmmm.

We always fly in and out of Evansville because it is so convenient.  As close as it is, it is still about an hour and a half from where we live to the airport.  We had arranged for the return flight to land in the early afternoon.  This is especially important since as a pastor I am supposed to speak the next morning.  It’s always good to have a cushion…just in case. Anyway, here comes the email.  Surprise, surprise, surprise…we have changed your flight from landing at 4:40pm in the afternoon to 9:09pm (yawn) in the evening.  Add an hour and a half drive and it makes 5:00 am come pretty fast.

So, I checked and found out there was indeed a flight that landed at 4:40 pm and there were indeed seats available.  I decided to call the airlines and ask them to fix the problem. I dialed the number and the chirpy voice on the recording assured me that I was a valuable customer (I even had a special number to call) and they would be right with me.  The expected wait time was just four hours.  I’m not kidding, 4:00 hours.  Well, I just knew there had to be another way but after spending an hour trying to find it, I realized there was not one.  Not an email solution, not a wish, or a prayer…nothing, nada.  If I wanted to talk to the nice airline, I would have to stay on the line for four hours.  Can someone say crazy?

Well, rather than stay on the line for four hours (yawn) I decided to spend the time writing a story about it.  I just know all of you out there in grits land will understand and whine with me.  I’m not sure how I’m gonna fix the problem, but I assure you it will not involve me holding on the phone for four hours.  I can also assure you it will involve an appropriate amount of whining.

Now fortunately, not all customer service is as poor as this.  In fact, there is one place where there is no wait, no busy signal and each person is indeed special.  And, where would that be…on God’s hotline.  I love the fact that my Dearest Daddy is never too busy, never too overwhelmed to take my call.  And the best part?  He always makes the right call—pun intended. He is too kind to be mean and too wise to make a mistake.  Even when His way doesn’t match my way, I am sure that it is the best way.  I guess I could ask Him for patience, but I hear the training program for that involves six hour hold times.  Yikes!

Well, I feel better now.  Thanks for reading and understanding.  Who knows, all this might work out for my good…actually, I’m sure it will.  I mean the Bible says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose,” and I suppose that includes long holds on the phone. Someone (and that would be me) tells everyone that will listen, “He’s got this” and I believe that He does.  I even believe that includes airlines with four hour hold times.  How about that. God bless you!  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, prayer, sovereignty of God, travel, wisdom

Construction Zone Ahead

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

It was a long time ago, but I remember it well.  Way back, before I knew anything about Harrisburg or Dorrisville Baptist Church, I made a trip to this small town in Southeastern Illinois.  I was pastoring in Cobden, a smaller town by far.  A person associated with our church there was having some mental health issues that required admission to a clinic.  Somehow, they ended up at the center located at the Harrisburg Medical Center.

I wanted to go over and visit them but had no clue how to get there.  This was a time, gulp, before GPS, so I had to rely on directions and an old fashioned map.  I made it to Marion and got off Interstate 57 and followed the road sign pointing to Harrisburg.  Before long, I found myself on a long and winding road (wait… isn’t there a song that goes like that?).  It was the kind of two-lane road that you got to play like a race car driver on.  There were plenty of curves and practically no passing lanes.  I remember coming upon a gigantic crane…I mean HUGE…that was abandoned by one of the coal mines.

Well, the long and winding road was about 24 or 25 miles but because I was blessed to get behind several slow, like really slow, drivers, it seemed like forever.  In fact, when I got to Harrisburg, I had to stop to get a haircut.  You ask, “Well, why didn’t you get one in Cobden?”  The answer is “I didn’t need one then.” Smile.  Anyway (I have to be careful not to get distracted.) I made my visit and then reversed the route.  I remember thinking how isolated Harrisburg was.  I mean you had to be going there to get there. I kinda reminded me of the wagon trains and the Oregon Trail.

Now, fast-forward years…I’m not sure how many…but lots.  My daughter Jennifer was going to try out for the Illinois Baptist State Association All-State Choir and her audition was at Dorrisville Baptist Church in Harrisburg.  When I heard that, I mentally blocked off two days for the trip (ok, I’m being facetious). But I still remember that long and winding road.  Now, imagine my surprise when we exited off the interstate again and followed the signs for Harrisburg and there before us was a four-lane divided highway.  No winding road, no 45 mph speed zones, no no-passing zones—just smooth sailing.  What a change.  What a blessing.  What took the better part of an hour now took 25 minutes.

Obviously, barring a road building fairy, a long and complicated construction project had taken place and replaced the two-lane, long and winding road with a modern highway.  I’m sure it involved multiple construction zones.  I’m sure it involved inconvenience.  I’m sure it involved frustration—though I’m not sure what could have been more frustrating that the original two-laner.  But I bet it all was worth it when the new highway opened and the miles flew by.  It had to be game changer.  Yup, the construction zones had to be worth it.

Well, I was praying this morning and something like this came out of my mouth, “Lord, help me to be patient in the construction zones of my life.”  I paused when I said it because it really grabbed my heart.  The construction zones of my life.  Hmmm.  You see, it made me realize that I am like a construction project and it can be frustrating.  But God is in charge of the project and He does have a plan that He is working out in my life. I know I use this a lot in my writing but it just too good.  Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  One day, someday, it will be worth it.  It might be years down the road, or it might even be heaven, but I will see the big picture and I will know that no matter how painful or costly, it was worth it. It.Was.Worth.It.

There’s an old song (my apologies to my younger readers) that says, “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus. One look at His dear face all sorrows will erase.”  I believe that. So, as you tootle down life’s road and you hit one of those stinking construction zones—hold on and throttle back.  It could be that God is working in one of His mysterious ways.  It might be to bring you into His family or it might be He is just trying to make you a little bit more like Jesus.  One thing I know for sure…it won’t be wasted.  God doesn’t waste time and He doesn’t waste suffering. I like that. If you find yourself in stopped traffic on this road called life, just hit the pause button and breathe deeply.  Then repeat this as many times as you need to, “I choose to rest in Him.  He’s got this.”  There you go.  Now, don’t you feel better already? 

Signpost photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

Bang, Bang

Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

I waited and waited and it seemed like it would never come. People say that good things come to those who wait.  I’ve heard that a lot but I’m not sure I believe it.  In fact, I’m not even sure I know what it means.  But one thing is sure…I know what it means to wait…especially if it involves the government and a by-pass.

When I came to Harrisburg in 2000, we bought a house on West Poplar Street. Now back in those days that was THE main drag.   Every car and truck going East and West through Harrisburg had to travel down Poplar Street.  When we looked at the house we were told that a by-pass was on the planning board and would be done within five years.  Well, that sounded pretty good, so we bought the house and waited…and waited…and waited.  As it turned out it was a little longer than five years.  In fact—it was almost twelve.

Now in our 20th year at 217, I am grateful, very grateful, that the by-pass finally came. I know some folks weren’t sure we even needed one and some went another way so they are indifferent.  You might ask, “What’s the big deal about the by-pass?  Well if you have ever lived on West Poplar Street…you would know.

You see, Mr. Bob, my neighbor back in the days before the by-pass, told me that he counted in one day, and 60 semi-trucks went by his house in one hour–that is one per minute.  In those days there were probably more coal trucks, but believe me there were  still plenty of trucks.  You kinda wondered where in the world they were all going.

Now check this out…for the first seven years…count them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 years or 2,555 days, there was a hole in the road right before my house. Every time a semi-truck went by it would hit that hole with a resounding “BANG.”  Allowing for 60 trucks an hour and 12 driving hours in a day that equates to 1,839,600 bangs. Remember how people say if you live by a railroad track long enough you stop hearing the whistle?  Trust me…that does not apply to bangs.

Now do you understand why I was so excited about the bypass?  Oh, and did I mention waiting two or three minutes just to get out of my driveway?  So, we waited and finally in 2012, the bypass opened and traffic was drastically reduced. Oh, and gravy on the mashed potatoes…they even fixed the hole.

I guess it is true, good things come to those who wait.  But waiting is hard.  There was a lady in the gospels who was sick for twelve long years…about the same time I waited for the by-pass.  She had been to doctor after doctor and the only thing that left her was all her money.  Then she met Jesus and He changed everything. She was overwhelmed with gratitude.

I supposed that is the one good thing about waiting. When, and if, what you are waiting on comes to pass, you are usually pretty grateful.  She was, I am, and you would be too.  The psalmist writes, “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14)

Down in the South we say, “a watched pot never boils.” Well that isn’t true…it will boil, but it sure seems to take longer. So, if there is something in your life and you are praying and you are waiting, be patient.  Wait on the Lord and who knows, your “by-pass” may come too.  All this COVID hot mess has definitely stuck around longer than I ever thought. I still believe, though, that it hasn’t come to stay…it has come to pass.

I think this afternoon I will go sit in my quieter front yard and take a rest with the God who made all of this.  He even had a big hand in the by-pass! After that, I’ll just remind myself that no matter what…He’s got this.