I Always Get Caught

Numbers 32:23

I had mixed emotions about Vacation Bible School. I enjoyed trying to make creations out of Popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners, but I would honestly rather have been outside playing Tarzan or Baloo or Jungle Jim than lining up for the processional into the auditorium. I’ve always preferred variety over routine, and every morning was the same – line up, march in, say the pledge to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Bible. It was only one week long, though, so I survived. Perhaps my most vivid memory was story time. Our church had the latest technology with which to impress profound biblical truths into young minds – flannel-graphs and filmstrips.  The filmstrip was magical. A vinyl disc record played while still images from across the globe were projected onto a screen. At periodic intervals, the record would beep, signaling to the projectionist it was time to forward to the next image. This was indeed an effective device because I still remember two of the stories.

The first story entailed how indigenous peoples in Africa captured monkeys. They would place a jar of nuts in the monkey habitat, and because the jar had a narrow opening, the monkey could not get his fistful of nuts out of the jar, and he was too stubborn to let go of the nuts. Thus, the creature was stationary and easily captured. In the second story, a snake would crawl into the hen-house through a small opening in the wall. The serpent would find and swallow an egg and, on the way out through the same hole, the egg would crack, thus allowing an easy meal and an easy escape. The owner of the property eventually replaced the eggs with hard-boiled eggs, and the snake was caught. Both of these stories had the same theme, “Be sure, your sin will find you out.”

As I continued growing up, I learned this lesson repeatedly. I always got caught… always. There are two reasons for this: first, I was a preacher’s kid. Everybody loves to tattle on the preacher’s kid. They take a special delight in publicly shaming the offspring of the Man-of-God.  There is an assumption that PKs should be more holy than other children. Even my father thought so. He would constantly remind me, “You’re better than that!” Secondly, I was simply not good at being bad.  I tried, I honestly tried, but I was just a rotten sinner. Two specific transgressions come to mind, and both involved plagiarism.

In Fifth Grade, I had an English assignment to write a limerick.  I knew I could do it, but I waxed lazy. The idea popped into my head that I had read a very fine limerick just a few days earlier. Pennye was taking piano lessons, and one of her assigned pieces was called, “Three Limericks.” Why reinvent the wheel, right? I reproduced the last of those three:

“There was a young fellow from Perth – He was born on the day of his birth – He was married, they say, on his wife’s wedding day – And he died when he quitted the earth.”

Assignment complete, now let’s move on. (Not so fast.) A few days later, the teacher took five of us down to the local newspaper office. She had not told us, but her plan was to pick the five best limericks in the class and have them published, along with a photo of our bright young faces, in the local paper. I knew the jig was up. Someone would recognize the verse I had claimed as my own.  Furthermore, we were to recite our limericks at the end-of-school program, not many days hence.  I sat on the couch in the lobby of the newspaper office and explained to her why I could not appear in the picture with my classmates. She thanked me for my honesty and said, “Wes, you’re better than that.” She also graciously allowed me to write a new limerick to be read at the program, as my name was already in the printed hand-outs. With a lump in my throat and a red face I read my genuinely original limerick:

“There once was a bunny – Who really was quite funny – He would jump once or twice, then eat some lice – and say it hurt his tummy.”

I received numerous kudos over the success, but I was just glad the ordeal was over.

As if I hadn’t learned my lesson, two years later my Seventh Grade English teacher assigned us the task of authoring a short story.  Again, Pennye (who was truly creative) provided my rescue (or my demise). She had earlier composed a similar story for an English class. It was a parody of “Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin,” and I remembered it verbatim “Barlie Chown and the Great Watermelon.” How on earth did my English teacher know what Pennye had written for another English teacher in another town?? Well, she knew, and I was caught…again. This teacher was not so gracious, and I simply received an F on the assignment. And since people love to tattle on PKs, she told my father.  He was not forgiving or gracious either. He applied the “board of education” to my reset button, and said, “You’re better than that.”

I was not better than that. Sin is universal, and laziness is a cruel mistress. The saddest fact is that I was more grieved by the fact that I got caught than I was about my actual felonious deeds. I was angry because on so many occasions my accomplices seemed to escape with little or no consequence, while I paid dearly.  This much I can assure you, dear reader, whatever we think we may have hidden well will come out – some day, somehow, somewhere. The punishment will be swifter than we think and more severe than we hope. Take it from me; I always got caught.

jail

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Published in: on June 20, 2018 at 11:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Cotton Burrs and Railroad Spikes

Psalm 127

My dad was raised on a farm, so he believed in hard work. He also believed in training his children to do hard work. Daddy was especially fond of having large mounds of something or other delivered to the house, so we kids could distribute it evenly upon its desired destination.  I have previously mentioned that one of these large mounds was dirt from the new septic tank that Pennye had to distribute over the back yard as recompense for the sin of driving without a license.

I vividly remember the afternoon I got off the school bus and saw a large pile of… something in the front yard.  When I went in the house, my dad was sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee. (I have acquired his habit of drinking coffee at all times of day or night.)  I asked about the mound, and he replied, “Those are cotton burrs, gin trash! It’s good fertilizer, and I want you and David to start spreading it over the yard after your homework.” I didn’t talk back and I didn’t complain, at least not out-loud. I did, however, apply myself more dutifully and diligently to my homework that night.  My math took much longer than usual, and I proof-read my English assignment three times. Maybe that was part of his plan all along.

gin trash

In that part of West Texas, getting a lush lawn is difficult, but Daddy knew all the tricks. One such trick was collecting the scrap railroad spikes from the tracks across the road.  He had us drive them in the ground all around the trees he had planted because the iron produced, as they slowly rusted, would provide nutrients for the saplings. Just two weekends before, he had us digging in the bar-ditch.  He showed us how the Bermuda grass was growing nice and thick because of the water that had collected in the ditch.  He had us dig up layers of it to be moved to the bare spots in the front yard. Now, it needed to be fertilized, and the cotton burrs were just the thing. It would need to be spread thinly over the entire yard. He wanted the yard of the parsonage to reflect his good stewardship of the living quarters the church provided.

The Psalmist said sons are like arrows in the hands of a warrior. To my dad, hard work was the bow that shoots the arrow straight. The Psalmist goes on to say “They shall not be ashamed.” He wanted to teach us to take pride in caring for things we are responsible for. While being proud is to be avoided, taking pride shows respect. As an adult, I practiced what I learned from him.  In each parsonage, I worked to make sure the grounds were always presentable. I used his thrifty, common-sense practices to maintain and enhance the landscaping.  I never had to be ashamed of what passers-by saw.

That summer, armed with shovels, rakes, hoes, and other  instruments of horticulture, we spent the following weeks digging, moving, spreading, and watering. When we finished, it looked like there had been a blizzard followed by a sandstorm. The whole yard was a dirty white. By the end of the summer, though, it was deep green, and our shoulders and arms were dark brown. We had one of the nicest yards around, and on a pittance of investment.  Healthy trees, healthy grass, and healthy sons are hard to dispute.

 

Published in: on June 11, 2018 at 8:51 am  Leave a Comment  

A Year of Firsts

Psalm 65:11

Just over a year ago, I lost the bride of my youth. As I look back over the past year, I am reminded how attentive she was to time.  She would often mark a day by observing, “One year ago today…” then recount some event that was significant.  On the anniversary of her death, I started my morning at her grave, remembering the blessings she brought to my life. Then I embarked on a 1,000 mile motorcycle tour of the Texas coast and its ports. As I rode to  Port Aransas, Rockport, Port O’ Conner, Port LaVaca, Freeport, and all other ports, I recounted the past year – a year of firsts.

This past year, we welcomed new family members. One week after Kimberly’s death, we celebrated my son’s wedding and welcomed his sweet bride, Maddie, as my third daughter. A few weeks later, my oldest daughter met her true love, John. (They will marry next week, and I will become “Big Daddy” to two more grandkids.)

The past year has marked significant events for me personally. In the fall, I was invited to teach a Wednesday night Bible class at our church.  I had not taught in church regularly in over a decade, so it was good to dust off the cobwebs and get back in the saddle. The class was small, but that group of men was deeply encouraging to me. I was also elected as state President of a professional organization. I discovered the duties included a trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, so I drove my trusty Dodge across 13 states and 3,000 miles. (Have I mentioned I’m a road trip junky?)

The first Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays without her were a mystery to me. Kimberly had always spearheaded all planning and preparations for menus and activities. That was never my strong suit. I just did what she told me.  My three daughters took all the initiative, but I was a little lost because there was no one telling me to please vacuum, get out the decorations, or go to the store because we’re out of… The empty chair was conspicuous at these family gatherings, and we all shed tears at some point, but we also laughed a lot. It was also during the holidays that the headstone for Kimberly’s grave was finished and set. The rose colored marble with an engraved grand piano was perfect. It was elegantly simple, like her.

In the spring, I was again invited to teach a Wednesday night class. When I showed up for the first meeting, expecting half-a-dozen folks, there were almost 50. I had optimistically provided 15 handouts.  Through the spring, I was overwhelmed as each week the participants devoured the material on Spiritual Warfare (Eph. 6). Each week, time expired and people patiently waited in line to ask me questions or discuss some concept.  I met new friends, which is very difficult for me.  These friends, without exception, have been a blessing in my life.

There was more loss in the past year. In February, I lost my best friend of 25 years when (on his bike at a stop sign) he was struck and killed by another vehicle.  This year’s motorcycle tour was marked by his absence. The coastal tour was one we had discussed for several years but never got to complete.  It was the first extended bike trip I had taken without Kimberly or Terry.

my birthday

We celebrated a year of birthdays: August – Maddie; September – Amber; October – Kimberly and Avery; November – Alyssa; December – me; January – Art, Gran (my mom), Alyssabeth, and AnnaLena;  March – Keith. Unfortunately, I haven’t remembered the dates for John, Allie, and Major. Kimberly always kept up with the birthday list, so I need to get on the ball. This May, we welcomed our newest addition, Adelaide.

I’m not sure why our human brains attach such significance to another trip around the sun, but we do. This year of mixed blessings and a year of firsts has been “crowned with goodness” and our paths have been abundantly blessed. At this point, Kimberly would be reminding me, “One year from today…”

 

Published in: on June 5, 2018 at 11:17 am  Comments (1)  

Special Friends

1 Cor. 12:23

Early in my ministry, I was serving as Youth and Music Minister at Calvary Baptist Church in Canyon, Texas.  The church was in a transition time of developing new ministries, and we had just purchased a church van when we received an interesting phone call from a local institution.  The Woods Living Center had called to inquire whether some of their residents could attend our services, but none of them could drive.  We responded, “Of course! Anyone and everyone is welcome. We have a new church van, and we can arrange to pick them up and take them back each week.”  The next statement caught me off guard. “Oh, good! None of the other churches seem very interested in having them.” The first week, we picked up five or six of their clients and we found out why this was the case.  I gathered the Woods Living Center was a care-giving facility designed to transition folks with emotional difficulties from full-time institutional living back to everyday life in society, a sort of halfway house.

On that first Sunday, we met Winston, who at one time had been a baritone with the Denver Opera Company.  When it came time to stand and sing, Winston started singing,  and it was LOUD. It was so loud, in fact, that it drowned out all other sound.  Everyone else and everything else stopped.  The sound technician thought it was feedback, and he was frantically turning knobs on the sound board.  The fellow next to him started casting demons out of the contraption.  The organist thought she had done something wrong on the organ, and she held her hands up in surrender.  The pianist, likewise.  The congregation stood there silent, frozen.  I quickly realized what had happened and  stepped to the microphone. I said, “It’s alright folks. We have some new friends with us today, and we’re going to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Now, let’s sing.”  We all started again, timidly at first.  Winston started singing again too, but he wasn’t singing what we were singing, and it wasn’t in the same key. It sounded more like vocalise exercises.

We also met J.P.  I don’t remember what his background was, but J.P. was not shy at all.  He always wanted to know what page we were singing, even if it had just been announced to the congregation.  Until I had told J.P., personally, he didn’t know what page.  It went something like this: “Let’s all stand and sing Hymn 365.”  J.P. would ask, “Hey! Wha’ page? Wha’ page?”  He would continue to ask, until I looked directly at him. “Page 365, J.P.”  He would then respond, “Oh. Ok,” and start flipping pages in the book.  On one occasion, J.P. stood with the congregation to sing, then realized his pants were unzipped. J.P. usually sat on the first or second row and, not wanting to feel exposed to the leaders facing him, J.P. turned around (toward the rest of the congregation) and zipped up.  Satisfied he was again modest, he turned back around and started to sing.

We met Wanda, who had a tendency to cackle at all the jokes the preacher told, and many other comments that were not jokes.  Wanda liked to cackle.  We met Patricia, who was simply broken.  She had a sweet loving spirit, but she was broken. I don’t know how it had happened, but her condition broke my heart too.  There were others who came and went, but these folks all still hold a place in my memory and in my heart.  At some time in their lives, they had each encountered some event or series of events that was just too much for them.

Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, instructed them to give special consideration to special people, just like we give special consideration to the “less comely” parts of our body.  We cover them in attractive clothing, not to hide them, but to make them more attractive.  That is what Calvary Baptist Church did. Led by our pastor, our little church took these people in and loved on them.  They became part of our family.

Over a period of years, we began to see subtle changes.  Eventually, Winston started singing the same song as everyone else and at a reasonable volume.  Wanda, after some exhortation, stopped cackling at inappropriate times.  I remember one prayer meeting where everyone surrounded Patricia, gently laying their hands on her and praying for her, just for her.  There was not a dry eye in the place.  I sat at her feet just bawling for her past pain. That night, Patricia ministered to all of us.  And J.P.?  Well, he was just always J.P., but he was fun, and we loved him for making us laugh.

CBC canyon

Published in: on May 21, 2018 at 10:11 am  Comments (1)  

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Hebrews 4:12

I have already elaborated on my love of The Jungle Book, but that was only part of a larger trend.  As a youngster, I loved all things jungle.  Tarzan was one of my favorites, and I was mesmerized to watch movies where the safari master was blazing the trail through the underbrush with his machete. Ah yes…the machete. That was the indispensable tool every self-respecting explorer must have. With that one instrument, the brave-at-heart could make a trail through impassable terrain. With that weapon, the protector of the weak could fend off lions, tigers, and bears…oh my. With that single piece of equipment safely sheaved in its leather home, attached to the belt, the dashing hero could win the beautiful damsel.

I recently spent a couple of weeks bunking at my mom’s house in between moves. One day as I was doing a bit of cooking, I opened a drawer, and there it was, the butcher knife. From my youngest memories, that knife has resided in my mother’s kitchen. I was instantly transported back to my childhood. I wasn’t allowed to play with that knife, so I did, as often as I could. It looks much smaller now than it did then. To a five year old, it was just the right size to become…a machete. Whenever mom was teaching at school and my dad was in his study at the church, I would sneak out my machete and go to the vacant wooded lot one house over from ours.  I blazed trails, fought wild beasts, and posed bravely with it tucked in my belt.

Another use for the machete was foraging for food. Many movie scenes feature the thirsty protagonist laying a coconut on a stump and, with one mighty blow the shell was  neatly cleft in two, and the milk provided its life-giving sustenance. Of course, mangoes and papayas were also consumed in such manner, just not as frequently as coconuts. Tropical fruit is a delicacy, therefore, we never had any. Occasionally, we had bananas, but certainly none of the other.  What we did have were lemons. To this day, my mother boldly asserts that she prefers sour things to sweet, so we usually had lemons.  One day, as I was leading a safari, I found myself thirsty. Opening the refrigerator, I spied the one remaining lemon, and I smiled.  Firmly grasping the lemon, I laid it on the counter top, but it rolled. No problem, I’ll just hold it still. Holding the lemon with my left hand, I raised the machete high into the air with my right. With one mighty blow, and a “kerchunk,” I buried the blade halfway into the lemon, and halfway into my thumb.

My folks bandaged it up, as best they could. There was no thought of stitches or tetanus shots, just pour alcohol on it and wrap it. Actually, I think I remember them using some  Merthiolate (or was it Mercurochrome?), I always got those two things confused.  Had I been any older than five years, or had I not been small for my age, I would probably be thumb-less today. At that age, I had no real comprehension of just how sharp the knife was nor how to use it properly.  I just wanted to be able to do something that would be impressive.

In the Bible, a sword is sometimes used as a metaphor representing God’s word. In too many cases, those with little understanding proudly spout snippets of it, wielding it like a machete. We have a thought or opinion, then we find a scripture verse that sounds similar and start hacking away.  With this approach, we either injure someone else or ourselves or both.  I’ve been guilty of this, and perhaps you have too.  God’s word is indeed very sharp, but for what purpose? First, to fend off our spiritual enemy (not flesh and blood – Eph. 6:12). Secondly, to help us discern our own heart’s thoughts, intents, and motives, so we can become aware of things that need to be changed.

Over 50 years later, I couldn’t help but snicker when my son-in-law, on the night before his wedding, stabbed himself in the leg with his own pocket-knife. In the emergency room, it seemed he was too enamored with the process of getting stitched up to be embarrassed.  I hadn’t yet had the chance to impart this bit of life-wisdom to him, but I’m glad he had no lasting ill effects. So when life gives you lemons, call the doctor.

lemons

Published in: on May 14, 2018 at 3:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

And Then it Started to Rain

Job 1:21

Early in my driving career, I had less than stellar results with vehicles, and I went through several in high school and college. My first car was a 1969 Buick Wildcat with well over 200,000 miles. Cosmetically, it was in great shape, and it started every time I turned the key. I was proud of the 400 cubic inch engine with a four barrel carburetor. I was easily visible from a mile away because it billowed thick black smoke from the tailpipe. Speaking of the tailpipe, the muffler clamp refused to tighten. The result was that every time I hit a bump, the muffler detached from the pipe. I didn’t mind, though, because it suddenly sounded like a NASCAR vehicle. I confess to hitting bumps on purpose.

When the Wildcat finally gave up the ghost, I took my sister’s 1966 Oldsmobile Delta 88. She said she didn’t need it in college because she had boys take her wherever she wanted to go. It was in perfect shape mechanically and cosmetically. Again, I confess to hot-rodding. I don’t know for sure how fast it would go, but I buried the speedometer needle way past the 120 mark on more than one occasion. That ended when I took a curve too fast and jumped  the car over a bar ditch. (Jay still loves to remind me he was sitting next to me and “almost lost his life.”)

My next car was a 1969 Dodge Charger. I rebuilt the motor at 100,000 miles, but at 180,000 miles, the transmission gave out, and I was too broke to fix it. I sold it to a college friend who had intentions of re-creating a Duke of Hazard General Lee. My brother had bought a 1970 Dodge pickup that needed a motor, so we swapped out with the Charger.

At that point, I was afoot, but God looked down upon my misery. I purchased a 1964 Buick Skylark for a mere $200.  At one time, it was turquoise with a white vinyl top.  When I procured the vehicle, most of the paint had peeled off, as well as most of the vinyl roof. The vinyl seats were ripped in multiple places, all four tires were bald, and there was no spare. I wasn’t picky, though. It beat walking, and I didn’t have a payment to worry about.

Soon after I bought the vehicle, my uncle, Eddie came for a visit. He, David, and I took old blue to the next town because there was a late movie showing we wanted to see. After the movie was over, we came out to the parking lot to discover not one, but TWO flat tires. I think it was around 11:00 pm, so we were in a pickle 30 miles from home. With no spare and two flats, someone quipped, “Well, at least it isn’t raining,” and we all laughed…and then it started to rain. Just about that time, the East Texas sky opened up and big drops started hitting the ground. We went to work, quickly jacking up one side of the car. We grabbed a cinder-block that was in the trunk and placed it under the axle, then proceeded to jack up the other side.  With one side resting on a cinder-block and the other side resting on a jack, we got both flat tires off the car and were deciding what to do next. Fortunately, there was an old fashioned service station nearby.  We got the flats patched and back on the car. About the cinder-block – when you grow up poor, you learn to be resourceful.  Carrying various items in the trunk – such as a shovel, booster cables, or cinder-block – can prove handy.

nomoreflatti

Sometimes it seems we can relate to Job of the Old Testament. Of course, car troubles are nothing in comparison to what he suffered, but it can feel that way when we have a series of setbacks in rapid succession. Then, just when we think things can’t possibly get any worse, it starts to rain, adding insult to injury. Grief upon grief and loss upon loss seem to beat us into the ground, tempting us to view God as being unloving and uncaring, at best, or somehow gaining pleasure from our misfortune, at worst.  Other times, we feel God is punishing us for some unknown sin, but “it rains on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Trouble is part and parcel of living in a fallen world. Anyone can praise God in the midst of abundant blessings, but praising him when our life is seemingly nothing but adversity is nigh impossible. Job’s loving wife encouraged him, “Curse God and die.” Sometimes the people around us are no better.

Horatio Spafford penned the beautiful hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.” After experiencing bankruptcy, he planned a trip with his wife and four daughters. At the last minute, Spafford was delayed, sending his family on ahead. After receiving news the ship had been sunk, and only his wife survived, he wrote, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”  I offer no brilliant insight to situations such as this. Sometimes, our assignment for the day is to simply survive and wait for tomorrow. It does help a bit, however, if you have stashed a cinder-block in the trunk, preparation for when (not if) trouble finds you.

 

Published in: on May 8, 2018 at 9:36 am  Comments (1)  

Ate Eight

Proverbs 16:18

When I was 10 years old, my father found himself unemployed. It was a rough time for us, more so than usual. He had resigned as pastor of the church with props on the outer walls. Looking back, I assume he left under duress. Most likely, he had committed some grievous transgression, such as wearing red socks instead of black, or maybe he offended one of the patriarchs of the congregation. Whatever the case, we moved 20 miles to the next town, where my mother had secured a teaching job.

We were living in a two bedroom house that had a basement. My brother and I bunked down there. I thought it a great adventure to live in the basement.  We slept on army cots and shared a “chester drars,” – (translated “chest of drawers.”) In the backyard, there was an old storm cellar, but we were prohibited from going in it because it was full of junk, so of course we did just that as often as we could.

That period of time was when I met “her.” My father found an advertisement in the Baptist Standard for Pethahiah Springs, a church camp just outside of Medina, Texas. It was located on the Medina river and operated by a retired Assembly of God pastor who had a heart for fellow men of the cloth. He would allow pastors and their families to stay in a cabin, without charge, at times when there were no other groups scheduled. All you had to do was provide your own groceries and linens.  It was the perfect opportunity to give the family a break from the cares of life.

When we went, there were four or five other families on the premises. My brother and I were absolutely giddy to have the chance to fish in a real river and to meet new friends, and I did both. The proprietor had an auburn haired fourth grade daughter who made my heart jump.  I had never had a girlfriend, but I had heard it was a worthy endeavor, so I embarked on my maiden voyage.

The second night, I struck up a conversation with this long haired beauty. I think it went something like, “Hi. What’s your name?” She told me, but then I was stumped, so I just stood and looked at her for a while. “Uh…where do you go to school?” Again, she answered, and again I was lost. She sensed my floundering and rescued me by taking the lead, asking me questions, which I would then respond to.

That night, all the residents chipped in for a weenie-roast. If you’ve been keeping up, you know how I love hot dogs. The conversation took a turn in my favor. “How many hot dogs can you eat?” She laughed and said, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe two, if I’m really hungry.”  I knew destiny was there for the taking, so I began to eat hot dogs as she talked. One…two…three…four. I was a man on fire. I had found my way to impress the women folk, and I wasn’t about to back down. Five…six…seven. (How could she resist me now?) After eight hot dogs, I decided she was impressed. I think she even said, “Wow! You’ve had a lot of hot dogs!” As I was pondering an appropriately worded response, it happened – that telling churning in my innermost being. “Um…I’ll be right back.”  Yes, you guessed it. I got back to the cabin bathroom just in time to lose all eight dogs.

hotdogs

Sheepishly, I went back, but I avoided her, trying my best not to divulge what had happened. Even if she had no idea, which she probably did, I was embarrassed, mortified. I was just sick about it. She found me and picked up the conversation again. Fortunately, she continued to overlook my arrogance and subsequent shame. Each night, we walked and talked. I even held her hand once. Because I knew common theology was important for any lasting relationship, I asked my dad how Baptists and Assembly of God differed. Was there enough in common to support an abiding bond? He laughed and assured me there was.

I learned an important lesson. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. He will engineer circumstances to confront our pride, whatever it is based in, and take it down. Those who are wise will take that opportunity to embrace the fall and humbly endure its natural consequences.  He will also give grace in that moment, so he can restore us to favor with himself and those around us.

It was a magical week, and we vowed to write each other every day when we parted. I wrote to her, keeping my promise. I think I received a single letter from her. I knew her heart was mine, though, and she must have been providentially hindered from corresponding with me. My heart was with her too. I will never forget those intimate moments I shared with what’s-her-name.

 

Published in: on April 30, 2018 at 3:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Bear Necessities

Matthew 6:24-34; Matthew 22:37

Look for the bear necessities, the simple bear necessities,

Forget about your worries and your strife

 I mean the bear necessities are mother nature’s recipes

That bring the bear necessities of life

As a young boy, my favorite movie was the animated Disney film, The Jungle Book.  There was something about Baloo – singing, eating, and dancing his way through life – that captured my six year old mind. As long as he had something to eat, a place to sleep, and good friends, he was happy.  He wasn’t exactly lazy, just…laid back. He was the kind of bear that could  be counted on in a tough situation. He was the kind of bear who would listen without judgement. He was a tender-hearted kind of bear. He had a heart as big as…well…as big as his belly! He wasn’t silly, like Yogi, and he wasn’t a children’s bear, like Pooh. He was the kind of bear I wanted to be.

For weeks, I danced around the back yard, in nothing but a loin cloth, singing his theme song while eating a banana. Things like making the bed, taking out the trash, and homework now seemed frivolous and superfluous in the grand scheme of life. My parents did not share my enthusiasm over this new epiphany.  They thought it unseemly for the pastor’s son to constantly parade himself half-naked for all the neighborhood to see.

Much later in life, I discovered that my first name, Arthur, is a derivative of the old Welsh word for “Bear-man.” There’s something about that connection I like. Somewhere along the path of life, Baloo’s philosophy became my own. I try to reduce complicated or complex issues down to their must fundamental form, the base elements, the lowest common denominator.  Those were the only exercises of science or math I enjoyed. I never could see the sense in making something more complicated than it is. This approach is very evident in my teaching career. What is the most crucial concept my students need to know? How can I make this simple? That’s what I try to communicate.

Twenty-first century life rarely seems simple. We have complex personalities, we live complicated lives, we even suffer from confused priorities.  Somewhere between computers, cell-phones, careers, competitions, clutter, and all the other “cares of this world” we obsess over the least crucial things and miss the most important things.  That kind of existence is maddening.  I need my life simplified. We need our lives simplified.

Jesus spoke much about priorities. First and foremost, love God, and love those around you. Next, stop worrying about how much money you need to make. Stop worrying about what you’re going to wear today. Stop worrying about what you’re going to eat for dinner tonight. I wonder how much mental, emotional, and physical energy is  centered around obtaining and protecting just these three things. I wager more than a little. God knows you need food, shelter, and clothing. If we set our heart on him, he promises to provide those needs.

I have now moved from a 2,000 square foot custom-built home into a 1,000 square foot duplex. I had to make some decisions about what things I really needed, and what things could be sacrificed.  My new home has everything I need, including a small, fenced back yard. I think I may grab my loin cloth and a banana.

Baloo

 

Published in: on April 23, 2018 at 1:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Chicken!

Isaiah 41:10

I have only a few memories before Balmorhea, Texas, but I do have one or two lasting impressions from the town and house we lived in previous to that. Balmorhea was small, but Toyah was tiny.  My dad pastored the Baptist church there, and my mom taught school.  We lived in a modest little house – strike that – it was a hovel. This desert village was depressing in every way. Even as three-year old, I knew this. In an effort to keep food on the table for three little ones, my folks had a chicken coop with about half a dozen laying hens and one rooster.

I’m normally not a fearful person, but there are a few things that give me pause.  For instance, I had an ambivalent relationship with chickens. There’s something about the way they suddenly morph from menial, docile, bug-pecking cluckers to fly-in-your-face talons of terror.   Of course, when I was growing up, “chicken” was a moniker no boy wanted to earn. It ranked right up there with “fraidy cat.”  The metaphor is supposed to be based in the idea that a chicken will retreat and flee when it feels threatened. That was not the case with these birds. They were full-fledged attack chickens.

chicken

Mamaw knew how to deal with such beasts, though.  In her day, she could make light work of a frying hen.  I remember how she would go in the back yard and slap a broomstick across the bird’s neck. She would then grab its body and give a firm yank, detaching the head from the body.  Again, a headless bird running straight at me, blood spurting from it’s neck, traumatized me.  I was running and screaming, as the Ichabod Crane of the fowl world was chasing me.

Finally, the chicken accepted its fate and surrendered.  I can still see the plucked and dissected offender, coated in flour, submerged in grease, and sizzling in the deep cast iron skillet. After my morning of fear, a new emotion began to emerge – joy, pure, unadulterated joy.  There is something extremely gratifying about eating your defeated foe.  I have loved fried chicken ever since.

We all face fears of some sort. Sometimes our fear makes sense, and sometimes it doesn’t. Most often, we fear things we have no control over, or we fear things that never happen.  Over 60 times, the scripture instructs God’s people to “fear not.” The only thing we are instructed to fear is God himself. I know, that’s easier said than done, but once we see how God intervenes in our fears, and even uses them to strengthen us, we can learn to fear less and be fearless.  After a while, we are surprised to realize we no longer fear the thing that once terrified and paralyzed us. We become more than conquerors.

Years later, when I was in high school, I landed an after-school job with Kentucky Fried Chicken. On my first day, they informed me no left-over chicken could be kept overnight, so it would be divided among any employees who wished to take some home. I was ecstatic! The manager laughed and said, “You are going to get so tired of chicken, you will hate it.” He lied; I took chicken home every night, and I never, ever got tired of it. My battle with bird-fear has long since been won, and I enjoy the spoils of war as often as I can.

 

 

Published in: on April 16, 2018 at 10:38 am  Comments (2)  

Noah’s Ark – NOT!

Acts 27:32

The summer after my sophomore year in high school, we moved across the state, from the panhandle to east Texas. Jay was the first person my age to welcome me to the new community.  He was a very congenial, down-to-earth fellow who helped me get acclimated to my new town and new school.  Jay showed me where the local hangouts were: Herschel’s Drive In, “The Parking Lot” where teens congregated, and the lake where juveniles recreated. I was not accustomed to lakes. I had been to lakes, but it was rare. The only lakes in the panhandle are playa lakes, that only have water after a heavy rain. This was a real, honest-to-goodness lake.  The locals acted like it was nothing much to get excited about, but I thought it was absolutely wonderful. We borrowed a small 10 foot sailboat from one of the church members, and Jay showed me how to sail, both with and against the wind.

One summer, we had the opportunity of a lifetime.  The same church member who loaned us the tiny sailboat made me and Jay an offer we couldn’t refuse.  She had inherited a 1957 motorboat, but it had been sitting out for years. If we would take the boat and refurbish it, she would let us use it anytime we wanted.  Of course, we agreed. My dad had taught me to work on cars, and I was pretty good at it. Boats were a different matter, though.  I was excited about the challenge. WE were excited.

When we went to her land to pick it up, it was covered by a large tarp.  We lifted the tarp, shook off the dust, and…it was a mess.  We decided this was just the project to occupy our summer, so we hooked up the trailer and hauled it to the marine shop.  The only purpose there was to verify the wooden hull and old Evinrude 75 hp motor were sound. After a few days, they gave their seal of approval and we had our green light.  We hauled to boat to Jay’s house, where his dad had agreed to let us use the garage.  We had to agree to be done in a reasonable length of time. Dr. Bob did not want that boat just sitting in his garage.  Dr. Bob had five sons, so he knew the potential of boys and the pitfalls, too.

Once school was out, Jay and I worked a schedule around my job.  First, we stripped all the old varnish and paint from the hull and the deck.  Next, we gave three coats of high gloss gray marine paint to the hull. After that, we applied stain and marine varnish to the deck.  The deep red mahogany wood was so beautiful.  We drained all fluids from the motor, changed the spark plug, and polished the hull. It was a behemoth motor, capable of at least 40 mph on the water.  Finally, we had to replace the tires on the trailer.  No need having this beauty stranded by the side of the road. Our masterpiece was ready for its maiden voyage.  We named her “Lady Lazarus,” since we had resurrected her from the dead.

1957 boat

On the appointed Saturday, we hauled old Double L to the lake.  I backed her into the water, and she slid off the trailer with great ease as Jay tied off the bow.  We got in and looked around to make sure there were no visible leaks.  After several minutes, we felt it was safe to proceed. As Jay turned the key and pushed the starter button, the motor turned over twice, then rumbled to life.  A shot of adrenaline coursed through my veins. I was absolutely giddy.  Slowly, we backed away from the dock.  Bringing her around, he switched from reverse, to neutral, and into drive.  We could feel the power in the motor, effortlessly pushing this seaworthy ship along.  Five mph – no problem; 10 mph – gliding across the waves; 20 mph – we’re giving high-fives; 35 mph – the wind in our hair, the spray on our faces, the…BANG! “What was that?!”  I looked down to see a two foot by four foot gaping hole in the hull. Water was gushing in!  “She’s going down! Hand me that floater!”  We both got out just in time to see all but the bow submerged.

Fortunately, another boater witnessed our catastrophe and sped over to help us. After verifying that everyone was alright, he tied a line to the rope anchor on the front.  His new boat towed our old heap back to the dock, where we managed to get it back onto the trailer, with no small difficulty.  We headed straight to the afore-mentioned marine mechanic – the one who said the hull was fine.  He assured us we must have hit a submerged stump; the lake was known for submerged stumps.  I think he eventually bought the boat for parts.  Whatever the case, we mourned for weeks over our loss.  One very short ride is all we got, but in an instant, all our efforts were for naught, vanished.

The next summer, we opted for a camping trip through Colorado. Today, we still laugh about that summer, though.  I would do it all over again, if I had the chance. Even though we don’t communicate on a regular basis, Jay is one of those friends I can call anytime, and he can call me.  Sometimes, we get upset when circumstances don’t work out as we had planned.  In the story of Paul’s shipwreck, God’s plans prevailed over man’s.  The ship went down, but the people were safe. Yes, we had to let our boat go, but the friendship is greater than the outcome of our joint plans.

 

 

Published in: on April 10, 2018 at 12:55 pm  Leave a Comment