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

 

Advertisements
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)  

Man on Fire, or The Accidental Arsonist

Matthew 3:11

We homo sapiens have an odd ambivalence toward fire. We are simultaneously drawn to it and afraid of it. The very element that causes widespread destruction also ensures our dominace over other species. Thus, we constantly engage to harness and master the energy of the flame.

Personally, I’ve experienced less than stellar success when igniting flammables. As I have previously demonstrated, money was scarce at our house. Consequently, I had to learn to be my own repairman for most projects. I have also previously demonstrated a woeful lack of expertise in such skills. Once, while attempting to coax a stubborn carburetor into functioning again, I trickled a bit of petrol into it; the gas in the bowl ignited. The entire top of my motor was instantly on fire. Fortunately, I knew not to put water on it. A nearby towel sacrificed itself to save my engine.

On two separate occassions, I experienced a brief memory loss and managed to incinerate a push mower by the same process. Not having a fire extinguisher handy, a towel and a sack of flour aptly prevented damage to any other personage or possession. (Actually, I singed my eyebrows.)

Lawnmower-fire-Frank-Boston-Flickr-CC-Cropped-640x479

I once attempted to burn weeds from a large rock pile on our property. I had seen my father and numerous farmers carry out this act with splendid results. My Achilles’ Heel is spillage. In the process of dousing the weeds, I inadvertently splattered the legs of my blue jeans. When I tossed the match, the weeds and my pant legs were immediately engulfed in flames. I was suddenly full of the Holy Ghost and dancing up a storm. Now that I think about it, this probably explains why my children get excited when they see me carrying a portable gas can. They usually shout warnings at me, as they are vacating the premises.

Between cars, lawn mowers, weeds, and charcoal grills, I have been baptized by fire numerous times. In scripture, fire is often used as a metaphor, communicating the various processes God uses in our life to rid us of dross, those impurities which hinder our ability to love and follow him completely.  Sometimes the flame is of our own doing, mistakes with more severe consequences than we intended. Sometimes the fire is divine in origin and completely beyond our control. In either case, those temporary things in our life, which we cling to so tightly, tend to fall back to their proper perspective in the midst of the flame. Only that which is most precious remains.

According to Jesus, his followers should expect fire in their lives. That does not mean we should feel compelled to carry matches and a gas can, torching everything in sight. It does mean we should strive to see flammable situations from a heavenly view, discerning what is truly important and treasuring only what is eternal. Everything else can be replaced…even eyebrows.

 

Published in: on March 14, 2018 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Sandbox

Matthew 7:26

Not much grows in west Texas, except jackrabbits, rattlesnakes, cactus, and mesquite. In some places, there’s not even mesquite.  In west Texas there is sand, lots and lots of sand. I always wondered why, in other parts of the country, there was such interest in children having a sandbox.  We had miles of it.  There’s no novelty in that.

For several years my Mamaw lived in Odessa. I remember her back yard had no grass, just sandy clay.  My uncle Eddie, my brother David, my cousin Darrell, and I would go back there and play for hours.  We would grab a shovel and dig fox-holes, so we could play soldier.  We got pretty good at it too. Looking back, I was about four feet tall, and the trenches we dug were up to my chin.  From our fox-holes and trenches, we made light work of the enemy.

sandhills

(photo used by courtesy of TripAdvisor)

Another local attraction was Monahans State Park.  There are six square miles of Sahara-like sand dunes.  In order to prepare for a trip to the sandhills, we would take the leaf out of the formica-top kitchen table and pack it up in the car. We also packed broken down cardboard boxes. Some people took large metal or plastic trash can lids. The amusement was climbing to the top of the hill, getting on your chosen vehicle, and sliding down the dune.  There were usually rich kids there with dune buggies, and I confess to a bit of covetousness and envy.  Motoring up the hill in a souped-up VW Beetle is just way more cool than sliding down in a paper towel box. It seemed the table leaf worked best because we could wax it slick, but there was only one.  I was lower in the pecking order, so I rarely got to use that.  A box or a trash can lid was my lot in life.  Other than that, the only option was to simply roll down the hill, all willy-nilly. That could be fun, too, at least until the dizziness subsided. It was a giant beach, just without the surf.

It was all great fun. Well…not exactly…not really.  We willed it fun, and even that was iffy, at best. The sand got in my eyes, my ears, my nose, my hair, my shoes, between my toes, and down my pants, where it’s nigh impossible to remove. Why, on God’s brown earth, would we want to play in the very substance that vexed our lives every March? I still remember when the west wind would kick up, and there appeared a massive brown wall of dirt, bearing down on us with a slow, steady, ominous pace. When it hit, the sky grew dark, the streetlights came on, and breathing was a chore for the healthiest. David, who suffered from both asthma and allergies, would begin to wheeze and cough.  The dust penetrated every crack and crevice of our home. Walls, windows, and doors were no match for the second-most abundant substance on the planet. When the wind finally died down, there was dust everywhere.

The question remains, what is sand good for? In a quick Bible search I found these options.

  1. Sand is good to illustrate large numbers (Genesis 22:17).
  2. Sand is good for burying Egyptian bodies (Exodus 2:12).
  3. Sand is good for hiding treasure (Deuteronomy 33:19).
  4. Sand is good as a boundary for the sea (Jeremiah 5:22).

What sand is not good for is a house foundation. The aforementioned sand-forts were notoriously unstable.  When I hear on the news the story of some person being buried in a sand tunnel on the beach, my mind always goes back to those days.  More than once, our little fort would cave in.  By the grace of God, we never had the stamina to make them and deep as we wanted to.

For some reason, humans tend to construct their lives on the most unstable of premises. We verbally confess an understanding that money, possessions, careers, and notoriety will all vanish one day. There is only one eternal solid foundation. Build wisely, my friends.

Published in: on March 7, 2018 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

There is a Friend

Proverbs 18:24

Terry

I had in mind to write a fun and happy post this week.  As often happens, life (and death) came crashing into my plans.  This morning, I received word that my dear friend of 26 years, Terry, had been killed in a motorcycle accident.  He had attended his weekly photography class in Amarillo, and on the way home his motorcycle was hit by a car.  The news, given me by his precious wife, was a gut-punch. We were planning to take our annual ride just two weeks from now. Our plans, our frail human plans, are nothing more than scribbles on a calendar.

I met Terry in spring of 1992.  He had just been hired as the Senior Chaplain at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch, and I had been hired as the Director of Christian Education.  My first impression of Terry was how enthusiastic he was.  He loved life and lived life with gusto.  My second impression of Terry was how short he was.  What he lacked in stature, he more than made up for in personality. For the most part, we got along marvelously. We shared the same love for humor, the love for theological banter, and the same love for simply having fun.  Humor was highly prized by both of us, and he could carry out a practical joke flawlessly.

Terry had been in the Navy during Viet Nam, and was serving as a U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain.  After serving three tours of duty in Iraq, he ultimately achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel and was awarded a Bronze Star. He was always a chaplain first, then an officer. I have met several of the men who served under him, and they all loved him as I did, as a brother.  Terry was like that.  He showed himself friendly, to everyone. He was just as comfortable with little old blue-haired ladies as he was with the Bandidos motorcycle club.

Terry loved his family.  He and his beautiful wife, Janiece, walked with our family through the good, the bad, and the ugly of life.  Our children played together. My son took his first steps in Terry’s office.  His daughter babysat our son.  Terry loved to cook for his wife, go camping with his kids, and road-trip the family to Oregon, where Janiece grew up.  He cooked and cleaned for her too, and often.

We have ridden thousands of miles together, smoked thousands of cigars, taken thousands of photographs, told thousands of jokes, laughed thousands of times, and cried thousands of tears.

Terry was sometimes a bull-rider, sometimes a bike-rider, sometimes a pastor, sometimes a painter, sometimes a sailor, and sometimes a singer.

The one thing, though, that Terry always was, he was my friend.  I shall miss you, brother.

Published in: on February 27, 2018 at 2:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Stuff of Life

Ezekiel 12:3 (KJV)

Early in my ministry, I served several churches in the Texas panhandle. Part of our Sunday morning routine as a young family was to turn on the television and watch the broadcast of First Baptist Church, Amarillo as we were getting dressed for church.  I still remember one especially salient sermon preached by Dr. Howard Batson. He talked about stuff and the way we relate to it. According to Dr. Batson, we fill our houses with stuff. When the house is full, we put the old stuff out in the garage and in the attic to make room for more stuff. We go to garage sales to buy other people’s stuff. Then we rent buildings to put more stuff in.  It’s all just stuff.

This week, I have been keenly aware of that point, with one minor adjustment. I recognize why we human beings sometimes cling so tightly to our stuff.  Sometimes it is out of greed, but sometimes it’s not the stuff itself but what it represents.  At this writing, I am preparing to close the sale on my house.  Through various circumstances, I have no new place waiting for me.  On Wednesday afternoon, the movers will come and pack up the last 35 years of my life and lock it away in a 10 x 15 steel building. All my stuff will be in storage, and even though I have never been a particularly materialistic person, I find myself sad.

My father’s preaching library is being packed away.  The china set my wife and I received as a wedding gift is being packed away.  The antique china hutch that was a wedding gift from a fellow minister is being packed  away.  The antique amoir and matching dresser we scrimped and saved for is being packed away. The plates, cups, saucers, glasses, and silverware we bought when we tried our hand at running a bed-and-breakfast is being packed away. My wife’s jewelry is being packed away. The boxes of seasonal home decor my wife loved to use in making our home welcoming for visitors is being packed away.  Our family pictures, my son’s little league uniforms, my daughters’ music books, our grandkids’ toy box is all being packed away.  At the end of the month, I will move out of the custom-built house we were able to buy, the house my wife spent her last years, months, weeks, and days in. I can still see her sitting in the recliner in the morning with a cup of coffee, looking out the window at the corn field, and saying, “I love this house. Thank you God for this house.”

I know I can get to any of that stuff at any time I want to. I have a key to the storage unit.  The thing is, when that stuff is out and placed prominently around the house, decorating the walls, it is a silent testament to God’s faithfulness in our lives and in our families.  It’s a reminder of the struggles and the joys we traversed as a family. Sometimes, though, he calls us to give up clinging to the very blessings he gives.  Right after the miraculous catch of fish, Jesus called those fishermen to follow him. The scripture says immediately… immediately, they left all…their father, their boats, their nets, and their fish. Loving the people and memories attached to the stuff is never wrong. Loving the stuff is a problem. I am preparing my stuff for removing. I hope to do it in a way that honors not only what God has done in the past, but what he plans to do in the future.

stuff

Published in: on February 20, 2018 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment