Get a Job!

Genesis 2:15

Today is that day…Monday. Almost universally, Monday is the most hated day of the week. I am at work in my office, and that’s the extent of my exuberance. This day is an exercise of endurance, and all I am called to do is survive. I will be excellent tomorrow. On this particular Monday, though, I find myself reviewing the scope and sequence of my work life.  I remember the day my mother, who felt I was growing too idle for a 14 year old, walked into the house and announced, “I got you a job; you start on Saturday.” Needless to say, I was not ecstatic, but a little spending money sounded agreeable.

Like many other West Texas lads, my first job was simple and straightforward – chopping cotton, aka “hoeing.” For any urbanites who may be reading, it’s actually not the cotton that is chopped, but the weeds that spring up around the cotton. Laborers are dispersed throughout the field and, taking several rows each, work their way from one end of the field to the other, until the acreage is clean. For this day’s work, we earned a few dollars each. To be specific, I think we earned $1.50 per hour. Like any other job, one hopes for advancement, and I was no exception.

From chopping cotton, I expanded my prowess to other agricultural endeavors. I learned to drive a tractor. This was quite a promotion, and what young man doesn’t enjoy sitting astride several tons of machinery. I learned to plow, plant, and harvest at the helm of a John Deere 4020. I learned how to set irrigation tubes, and I learned how to assemble and dismantle center pivot irrigation systems. In kind, my compensation was commensurate to my greater responsibilities – $20.00 a day.  Only once was my income in jeopardy, when I brushed the auger spout of the grain cart against the auger spout of the combine I was shadowing. Fortunately, the spout was rubber, and the only consequence was a stern look from the combine driver.

Tractor

Tractor driving was actually enjoyable, as it allowed me time to think. You do have to pay close attention on the turns, but most of the time, you simply keep the wheels tracking straight and the disc or planter depth steady.  Repetition and routine trend toward boredom, though, at least for me. I decided to branch out from horticulture to business, and I landed a job “managing” a gas station. I thought it odd when the owner warned me about avoiding contact with any vehicles bearing a state emblem.  I was still green, though, so I didn’t ask too many questions.  Besides, I was manger of the gas station AND arcade. I had the magic key to open and operate the pinball machine and jukebox…  without quarters. Who says work can’t be fun!

I admit, there is a slight lazy streak in me, one that has viewed “work” as a four letter word. I much prefer play (ironically, also a four letter word). I have always had a job, though; it’s never been an option. I have to remind myself that work was always part of God’s plan for humans, even if the first vocation was simply gardening.  Work was not a consequence of mankind’s fall. Hard work, unproductive work, that was the curse. The process of investing one’s self into planning a project, pressing through obstacles, and persevering to completion is a blessing – and you even get paid.

In addition to ministry and teaching, my work history includes the following: farm-hand, pump jockey, shoe sales, fast-food cook (KFC and Wendy’s), milking dairy cows (Jersey and Holstein), theater technician (set, sound, and lights), warehouse manager (furniture and wholesale), school bus driver, substitute teacher, carpenter, security guard (armed and unarmed),  motorcycle and boat service writer, fork-lift operator, corpse dresser and hearse driver. Each of these jobs had it’s own unique set of benefits and drawbacks, but they all helped pay the bills and put food on the table.   All things considered, I am thankful for the blessing of being able to work. I prefer it to unemployment. Maybe Monday isn’t so bad after all.

 

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Published in: on July 16, 2018 at 3:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wanna Fight Me?

Psalm 68:5

Almost every young man has heard these words at some point in his growing up years. It seemed to me that I encountered them more frequently than most. Not only was I the Preacher’s Kid, but I also wore thick black-framed glasses, and I made good grades. That’s the trifecta for bullies on the prowl.  My father had frequently advised me, “Son, don’t you ever start a fight, but if someone else starts it, you finish it.” When the gauntlet was thrown, however, and the adrenaline triggered my “fight or flight” response, I most often flighted, as fast as I could. The recurring resulting emotion was one of double shame. I was a coward, and I had let my father down.

1950s Two Boys Wear Tee Shirts Blue Jeans Playing Rough Fighting Wrestling On The Grass

Junior High and High School were especially fraught with pitfall and peril. When I lived in Hartley, America, I spent most days wondering who would try to beat me up that day.  Our class was the largest in school (21 students), and I was the only one who had not been born and raised there. I was the only one who didn’t own a pair of cowboy boots. I was the only one with long hair and bell-bottom jeans. Jimbo, Gerald, Matt (and some really big pock-faced guy whose name escapes me), had me squarely in their cross-hairs. Jimbo was especially diligent.

I remember standing in the cafeteria line, and he uttered a couple of adolescent boys’ favorite vulgarities at me. I didn’t respond. He went on mocking; “Wes can’t say those words. He’s a KREESCHUN!” I reluctantly admit, in that moment I didn’t especially want to be one. After I got my food, I sat silently in my normal corner spot in the back.

For weeks-on-end, this wiry banty-rooster would meet me outside the school, challenging me, taunting me. I understand that evolution created the innate need for the masculine species to have a clearly defined Alpha male, and the ensuing pecking order. I wanted no part of it. One day, however, I knew it was inevitable; I had to at least make a pretense at fighting, and pretense I made. What seemed like the entire student body gathered across the street behind the local Community Center / Boy Scout building, waiting with bated breath. I successfully feigned fighting.  He and I squared off, and I lunged wildly. I hit him in the fist with my eye. I thwarted his left upper-cut with my gut. I popped him in the knee with my groin. It was heroic. By that time, of course, the school principal had arrived and intervened. Mr. Privett dispersed the crowd and instructed us to report to him the next day.

The following morning, we were both seated in the administrative outer office, awaiting our sentence – Jimbo with a gloating smirk, and me, stone faced.  I have no idea what the principal said to him, as we were in conference separately. When it was my turn, I sat in the appointed chair.  The principal looked intently at me a moment, then did the unthinkable. Referring to my deceased father, he shook his head and said, “Wes… what would your dad think of all this?” I was instantly reduced to tears. Of course, I knew my father would not have berated me for enduring an unwanted bout, but he also would not approve of me giving a half-hearted effort. No matter. Just the thought of him did me in.

That incident, followed closely by several others, was one of the darkest times of my young life. Two classmates came to my house one night and attempted to physically drag me outside. Not long afterward, another classmate attempted to dislocate my jaw just before first period. This continuing pattern left me feeling powerless. One day, I decided I’d had enough, so I formulated a plan. Just before school, I strapped a butcher knife to my ankle and dropped my jeans over it. I would not be pushed around today. They would pay, and dearly.  I sat steely-eyed through first period, second period, and halfway through third period. I suddenly came to my senses and realized what I was doing could never end well. I left in the middle of class and ran home.

All I could do for a long time was sit on my bed and loudly wail. There was no one to hear my plight, and there was no one to protect me. When my tears finally played out and a sullen void was the only thing left, I became aware of a quiet voice in my mind. “Wes, I am your father now.” In that moment, I knew God was my protector.  Since that day, I’ve never had to fight, and I’ve never had to run. I simply stand my ground. My Father takes care of the rest.

 

Published in: on July 10, 2018 at 2:55 pm  Comments (1)  

The Anti-Frat

Proverbs 27:17

Higher education has always been a valued commodity in my family.  Both my parents loved learning and teaching. My father had a rather unusual approach to college, however. Whenever we lived in driving proximity of a college, he would register for classes. He didn’t put much stock in things like degree plans or prerequisite courses, though. Rather, he would peruse the course offerings listed in the current catalog and decide what he wanted to learn.  He served as his own adviser and only signed up for subjects that interested him. The result was he never earned a degree, although he had well over 120 semester hours credit. He was a bit of a maverick, and I inherited that.

One of the colleges he had planned to attend, but never had the opportunity, was Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.  When my sister graduated high school, she enrolled there, and I followed her lead a few years later. Humorist Grady Nutt (of Hee Haw fame) once quipped, parents liked  Wayland because they could send their kids 100 miles off to school and sit on the front porch to watch every move they made. He further observed, Wayland was “eight miles from the nearest known sin.” It proved to be a good fit for me in multiple ways. The college was affordable, had a small student-teacher ratio, and boasted a  strong Religion department for training young ministers. More importantly, Wayland was not pretentious, like Baylor. (Yes, I judged Baylor unfairly, but it was my perception at the time.)

As in any college, there were many students who enjoyed being part of a fraternity or sorority, but that just wasn’t for me. While Wayland did not allow fraternity houses, there was still a sort of segregation in living quarters. The freshmen resided in McDonald Hall, the athletes and more affluent students lodged in Atwood or Marshall Hall (Caprock Complex – the newest dormitories).  I found myself in Brotherhood Hall, the only dorm not named for a wealthy benefactor.  We were the misfits, the “others,” and we basked in that identity. There was a camaraderie that developed among those of us who lived in “The ‘Hood.” We also relished any opportunity to satirize the fraternities. One particular practice we developed always sparks a wry smile when I think of it… Robe Walking.

Part of college life is intramural activities, and intramural basketball prompted a strong representation from the fraternities. Most of them had custom uniforms AND custom warm up suits! We Hoodies had the perfect response. We appeared at the games in our version of warm up suits – bathrobes. We played in sleeveless t-shirts and cut off blue jeans. I honestly don’t remember if we ever won a game, but there was something extremely satisfying about “dis-robing” before a game in front of a full house. We enjoyed the practice so much, in fact, that we continued it beyond the season.  Late at night, we would don said robes and simply walk around the campus. We may or may not have had any other clothing under those robes.

While other men’s organizations had chapter meetings, we developed a different kind of male-bonding. Brotherhood Hall had two floors of rooms above ground and one hall of rooms in the basement. For some reason unknown to me, the basement rooms were closed for business. Only the laundry room was accessible. One day while I was in the laundry washing both pair of blue jeans and all three of my shirts, I noticed a key ring hanging on a nail in an obscure corner. I had some time to kill while waiting for the spin cycle, so I decided to test my hypothesis that those keys fit the forbidden chambers. Indeed they did. I took one key, and over the next few weeks, I created a true man-cave. I had a bed, a chair, a chess board, a radio, reading material, and some candles (the electricity to those rooms had been disconnected). It was my private personal squatter’s  retreat. I would occasionally invite trusted friends to my hide-away for the purpose of sharing cigars and adult beverages while contemplating the meaning of life. I must say, that far surpasses reading of the minutes, approving the budget, and questions of parliamentary procedure.

As iron sharpens iron, my life was positively impacted by my fellow miscreants. These fellows were good at heart and down to earth. I’m sure there was much true benefit for those who chose to participate in Greek life. Whether in a structured or unstructured manner, though, men interacting with men, doing manly things, has something of a biblical blessing. I am privileged to have enjoyed that time with my fellows of the Hood.

wayland

“May we ever keep thy spirit strong, thy courage bold.

Pioneering Wayland, hail thy blue and gold.”

 

 

Published in: on July 2, 2018 at 9:46 am  Leave a Comment  

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

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 (2)  

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