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

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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  

Write Me a Letter

2 Corinthians 3:2

For the last several weeks, I’ve been in the process (the long, drawn out process) of moving. I sold my house, and I decided I could spare the extra cash to have movers do it for me. They took a whole week to pack everything from the house to a storage room; strike that, three storage rooms. I’ve been trying to find a rental, but everything keeps falling through. I’m 57 years old and living with my mother, but at least I’m not in the basement.  I am supposed to sign papers on a duplex in the next day or so and move on the weekend. I feel…cautiously optimistic.

Moving isn’t my point, though. My point is something that happened in the process – the long drawn out process. I came across two boxes of letters.  One box contained the letters I had written to Kimberly when we were engaged. The other box contained letters she had written to me.  I had accepted a full-time position as Youth and Education Minister, and she was staying with her parents and working as a bank teller. Our jobs were 130 miles and two hours apart, so for the last six months of our engagement, we wrote daily letters.  I don’t mean we emailed; that hadn’t been invented yet. We wrote, by hand with ink pens, on stationary, addressed envelopes, bought stamps, and dropped them in a mailbox, then waited for a response.  Once a month, we talked on the phone, the kind with a handset connected to a spirally cord connected to a wall mounted base. Long distance calls were billed at $ .40 per minute. One month, we lost track of time, and talked for over an hour. It almost broke me financially, so we wrote letters.

love letter

I won’t take the time here to describe in detail the contents of the letters. Most of them were comprised of the predictable, “I love you… I miss you… I can’t wait until we are finally together.” Many times, we would describe our day, what we did, where we went, who we saw, what we ate for Sunday dinner, and all the other seemingly meaningless details. They weren’t meaningless, though. Those were ways of including each other in our daily lives. Not only that, we could go back again and again, on those days when loneliness set in, and read about each other’s undying love. I used to go home from work, look in the mailbox, and either be thrilled by seeing that flowered scented envelope, or be mildly disappointed by its absence, thinking, “Oh well, maybe it will come tomorrow.” If the letter was there, I would settle down in a comfortable space and let her words soak into my soul.

A couple of weeks ago, as I read these letters over again, I contemplated how communication has changed. Now, communication – or what passes for it – is executed almost exclusively on our cellular devices. I intentionally use this term because the telephone function of modern devices seems to be the one least used.  There is an un-advertised pitfall inherent with these devices. We get addicted to immediacy; we expect instant responses.  Now, I whip off 50 characters or less, then five minutes later I think, “Hey! Are you avoiding me?? I know you have your phone there. You ALWAYS have your phone. You’re always looking at it!” Silence leaves my mind trying to fill in the blanks.  That’s multiple choice.  (A) I’m being ignored.    (B) The person is busy and can’t talk.   (C) I’m being ignored.    (D) All the above. These are hasty unfair judgments to the other person.

Growing up, I had only seen one cellular phone. It belonged to my great uncle, Forest. “Frosty,” as his friends knew him, was an oil man. Large oil companies provided their important employees a car phone to conduct important oil man business. I was so impressed. My uncle was so important, he had a phone in his car – IN HIS CAR! I never imagined a world where everyone from grade-school children to grandmothers would have such a thing. I also never imagined a normally laid-back and easy-going person, such as myself, would get sucked into the trap of immediacy.  (Please don’t pretend you have never fallen into that same trap.)  Sometimes, the very thing that is designed to enhance communication and bring us together can also hinder meaningful discourse.

I always prefer face-to-face communication. You can see the other person’s eyes, and you can see if that person is smiling or frowning. The next best thing is a voice call. Hearing a person’s intonation and inflection yields a true rendering of attitude. A letter, though, slows down the process for both the writer and the reader, so our mind and spirit can fully absorb the message. When the nights got long, we had our letters. We were ahead of our time, though. We used emoticons.  Kimberly was always fond of drawing a smiley face or a heart in just the right place, emphasizing her affections.

Reading a message written in the person’s handwriting on a parchment she has intentionally chosen with you in mind – that process communicates thoughtful intent and includes a bit of her soul.  Jesus did that.  He wrote love letters to us with his life.  He wrote in his own blood on the wood of the cross.  Our lives are letters back to him. Each year, I attempt to read through each of God’s letters. Some, like Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus, are sometimes seemingly frivolous details. Some, like the Gospels, are the story of how our love evolved.  Some, like the Prophets, are challenging, as my failings in this relationship are lovingly pointed out. Some, like Revelation, are about our future plans.  Let me encourage you today to put down your device and go read one of your love letters. After that, choose someone special in your life, and write them a letter.

Published in: on April 3, 2018 at 11:10 am  Comments (1)  

Honey Mustard and Little Girl Prayers

(apologies to Bob Carlisle)

Psalm 127, 128

Driving through the flat-lands of the Texas panhandle, we were on our way to Missouri for a family vacation before I started my new job. Kimberly had packed a lunch with makings for her favorite sandwiches, ham and swiss on wheat with honey mustard. She LOVED honey mustard.  She fixed everyone a sandwich, then her own. About two bites into the sandwich she shook her head. “Nuh uh.  That’s not good.”  I could tell she was getting nauseated. “Do I need to pull over?” She shook her head in the affirmative. Afterward, we pressed on and enjoyed our two weeks in Missouri and Arkansas. She didn’t eat honey mustard for a year after that, though.

honey mustard

I clearly remember the night, just a few weeks earlier, when my two daughters, Amber and Alyssa, told their mom they wanted a little brother. The girls were ages five and seven, and every night their mother prayed with them before bedtime. They sat on their beds and informed her they wanted a brother.  She curtly replied, “Well, you’ll have to talk to God about that.” They took her instruction to heart and simply prayed, “Dear God, please give us a baby brother. Amen.”

Kimberly’s lack of enthusiasm may sound harsh, but she had endured long labor to get those two into the world.  With Amber, her labor was 28 hours, and with Alyssa, it was 26. Although she managed to shorten the second one, she still wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of doing it again.  She often rebutted the old saying, “Once you see that baby, you forget all about the pain.”  Her eyes would get steely and she would say, “That’s not true. I remember, and it hurt!” In addition, raising two kids who are only 18 months apart can be quite draining.

After Alyssa was born, my mother-in-law urged my wife, “Oh…you’re not going to have any more, are you?” That statement was a validation of Kimberly’s agony in childbirth and a concern for our financial status.  Kimberly was born into a family where everyone had two kids, period (except for a rebel uncle in Colorado). Money was tight, to be sure, so I never pressed the issue.  At my younger daughter’s birth, however, the doctor asked my wife about a previous conversation. “Now, you wanted a tubal ligation, right? Are you sure you don’t want any more children?” I started to answer, feeling confident I knew how Kimberly felt.  As I was opening my mouth, she said, “No. Don’t do it.” I was stunned.

Six years after Alyssa’s birth, I was having my morning Bible reading in my office. I read Psalm 127 and Psalm 128. Secretly, I was still hoping for a son, so I wrote down those scriptures. The next day, I received a call from Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. They wanted to offer me a position as a full-time chaplain. I thought that must be the way God was going to give me sons, 450 of them.

Six weeks later, and after our vacation, I was on duty with my new congregation.  Kimberly was certain she was coming down with the flu, so she made a doctor’s appointment. She knew she couldn’t be pregnant because the tell-tale sign was absent. With the girls, she didn’t want coffee. That was not the case now. Sure enough, her nausea and aching back were not caused by the flu but by the fetus. She later told the girls, “Well, I guess your prayers worked. You’re going to have a baby brother.” I went back to my journal and ciphered the date; she had already conceived by the time I read those verses. God was giving me a son, my son.

Let me be clear, I absolutely love my little girls. I often tried to give their mom a break by helping them get dressed and doing their hair for school in the morning. “Daddy, that’s not how mommy does it.” I just kept going. “I know, but this is a Daddy pony-tail.” We also had Daddy breakfasts, Daddy dances, and Daddy dates. The night before Kimberly was scheduled for induced labor, we made it a point to take the girls out to eat dinner and watch Disney’s “Aladdin.”

My wife was indeed a fruitful vine.  (She often referred to herself as “Fertile Myrtle.”) My children surround my table now, like olive plants, accompanied by their own families. They are all active in their churches, and so my quiver is full of sharp arrows. I often think back to that first sign of my son’s impending arrival – in fact, every time I have a ham and swiss on wheat with honey mustard.

 

 

Published in: on March 28, 2018 at 2:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Original Head-Banger

Judges 2:19

My younger brother, David, was the original head-banger.  Long before heavy metal music was a thing, he was regularly bustin’ his noggin on some significantly more dense object.  It was like the antithesis of cats, who supposedly always land on their feet.  David always landed on his head.  In an earlier post, I recounted the time I busted my head on a concrete slab while spinning tops.  With my brother, it was a weekly occurrence.

head banger

I think his love for gymnastic feats was partially to blame.  At age four, he truly loved attempting somersaults – both forward and backward – off the back of the couch.  I use the word “attempt” intentionally. He was rarely successful. That toe-headed tyke would climb up on the back of the couch, crouch, and spring into action. CRACK! Just that quickly, there was a chunk of the coffee table knocked out, and his head had a blue lump. This didn’t happen just once – as I said – weekly. He would squall and run to mother, and after a couple of days, he was once again ascending Mt. Ethan Allen. I should let you know that David eventually mastered gymnastics on his own.  In high school, he could execute double-digit perfect consecutive back somersaults, standing flat-footed.

Maybe it was the climbing part that was his habitual undoing. David liked climbing to the tallest point of whatever object on which he could get a foothold.  Some weren’t actually all that tall, unless you consider everything is tall thing to a three-foot tall  person.  I stood by and watched as he climbed onto the trunk of my aunt’s 1962 Chevy Bel Air. It sloped just enough that he thought it would make a good slide, and it did. He slid right off the trunk, and the back of his head hit squarely on the trailer hitch mounted to the bumper. I honestly don’t know how he survived some of those spills.

Many times, I suspected those concussive impacts were the cause of his hearing loss.  As a youngster, he was diagnosed with total hearing loss in his right ear and partial hearing loss in his left.  While I have sympathy for that condition, I am his brother, and I know him well.  There are times when his deafness is suddenly convenient. If someone is talking about a subject he doesn’t care to hear, he turns his head with a doe-eyed blank stare and utters an innocent, “huh?”

My father used to refer to his sons as “hard-headed,” and I guess there’s a certain truth in that.  Some say, “thick-skulled.” The Bible uses the term “stiff-necked.”  People often use the cliche, “banging your head against the wall” to communicate frustration. While I don’t necessarily think David intentionally cracked his cranium, neither did he shy away from the behaviors that resulted in those frequent mishaps. That could be attributed to perseverance, a positive trait, but every positive trait has an equally negative shadow.

In the book of Judges, the young nation of Israel was stuck in a vicious cycle. They allowed the surrounding nations to have undue influence on them and their families. They allowed themselves to be drawn away from the God who delivered them from Egypt and worshiped wood carvings and stone statues. As a result, God would allow them to fall into oppression at the hand of those peoples.  They would cry out to God for mercy, and he would have mercy.  He would raise up a judge, who would in turn deliver them.  Just a few years later, they fell back into the same pattern with the same result. Sometimes, we do that in our lives, and for some reason, we think the result will be different the next time around.

Here is the question I usually ask someone who seems stuck in that cycle; how many times do you have to be hit in the head with a two-by-four to know it hurts?

David stopped his head-banging years ago, and he has retained an amazing amount of perseverance through incredibly difficult circumstances.  More than once, he has been unjustly terminated from a job.  Somehow, he kept his family sheltered and fed through months of being unemployed and homeless. He was able to secure and keep permanent housing, working only as a pizza delivery driver.  David, my hat is off to you, (and it’s not off because I banged my head).

Published in: on March 21, 2018 at 1:27 pm  Comments (2)