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

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

I Come by it Honest – or – Hubbin’ It

Exodus 34:7; Psalm 32:9

(Disclaimer: The following anecdotes are recounted as I remember them. They may or may not be historically or factually accurate, but they are my memories.)

This post partially answers the question many of you may be asking. “Wes, why are you the way you are? How did you get like that?”  Recently, I was shopping for some items in a store, and the young worker inquired, “May I help you?” I simply answered, “I don’t think so, but a lot of people have tried. Thank you.”  The blank glassy-eyed stare gave me the idea she didn’t get it. In Texas, we like the colloquialisms, “The apple don’t fall far from the tree,” or “He comes by it honest.”  That is simply a way of explaining how eye color, hair color, height, and weight aren’t the only things we inherit genetically from our parents and grandparents. Sometimes we also acquire a manner of speaking or walking or acting.

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I reveled in my dad’s stories of his father’s educational journey, as well as his own. My paternal grandfather must have been quite a character. In the day when students entered college at 16 years old, he enrolled in Simmons College.  Almost immediately, he ran afoul of the dean of students. I was told he quickly found himself one demerit away from expulsion. Demerit systems, in that day, were used by colleges to punish adverse behavior at prescribed levels. When he became aware of the situation, he decided military service was the better option. On his way off campus to the recruiting office, he winked at the female dean (an egregious act of flirtation in the early 1900s). Since he wasn’t old enough to join, he lied about his name. His nickname at school was “Hairy” because of his hairy chest, so he entered the service as “Harry” Wellborn, instead of his given name, Walter. His veteran’s tombstone still bears that inscription.

Daddy entered Decatur Bible College at Decatur, Texas (now Dallas Baptist), in hopes of preparing for a lifetime of ministry.  That did not mean, however, he had suddenly become a somber personality.  He loved to laugh, and loved making friends laugh. Pranks, such as walking a milk cow to the top floor of the administration building (and leaving her there) were evidently frowned upon as conduct unbecoming a young academician.  Not only did he love to laugh, he loved to love…when love was right. He once told me the story of having a fiancee before he met my mother. He was engaged to a gal named Vesta, whom he described only as “a big girl.” It seems he decided to call it off on short notice, but Vesta’s Pa and brothers would have none of it.  Daddy claims to have hid in the woods around Decatur all weekend because Vesta’s father and brothers were armed and looking for him. He found sanctuary in the home of a long-time buddy, Red Yancey.  I got to meet Red in my childhood years, who corroborated my father’s stories. Ironically, his future mother-in-law (my mother’s mother – my Mamaw) was also named Vesta. I never fully discovered why my dad called it quits with the original Vesta, but I know he loved my mother with a passion. He adored her, and anyone who saw them together knew it. He never shied away from publicly showing her or us affection.

I remember Daddy telling me I walked with a “Gannaway wobble.” His maternal grandmother’s last name was Gannaway, and he was named for her husband, Arthur Wesley Gannaway.  He claimed that strolling style and his love for preaching were owed to his predecessor in life. Papa Gannaway was a man I never met but heard a lot about. He surrendered to a call to preach late in life and pursued it as best he could.  Both my parents have told me he encouraged my father about ministry at their wedding ceremony.  “Son, don’t hub-it like I did.”  He never felt like he completely fulfilled his calling, for various reasons.  I’ve thought a lot about that bit of sage advice. It comes from the idea of a wagon going down an old trail, where the wagon wheels have dug deep trenches in the dirt.  The wagon can’t change course because the ruts are too deep, and the wheels are up to the hub. You have no choice but to go until there is more level ground.

I remember after my 41st birthday, I came to a mental and emotional crossroad of sorts.  My father died four days after his 41st birthday.  Until that point, his death had been the defining factor in my life. Even at middle-age, I saw myself as the poor orphan boy.  I realized from there on out, there was no road map.  I had no pattern to model.  I had no ruts to follow.  Now, I was no longer a settler, I was a pioneer. I had to find my own way.

Sometimes, we feel as if our life has already been pre-determined, mapped out for us, and is unchangeable. Because of our lineage or our past, we only take familiar paths with deep ruts. Some of the things our ancestors instilled in us are good things, but that does not mean their failings also have to be ours. We don’t have to be like a horse or mule, changing course only when there are no alternatives. We can also rely on God-granted wisdom to change course when the situation calls for it.  And yes, I still love a good prank now and then.

 

Published in: on February 13, 2018 at 4:20 pm  Comments (1)  

Rough Ridin’

Hebrews 12:26-27

Recently, I received some feedback encouraging me to write more about bicycles.  There is, in fact, a reprise concerning my first bicycle.  A couple of years after I inherited and overhauled the red rocket, our family moved. My dad had accepted the invitation to pastor Challis Baptist Church, which sits just off U.S. Highway 62, halfway between Brownfield and Meadow.  The parsonage was a small, two bedroom “Redi-built.”  I didn’t really like to spend a lot of time in the house, simply because there wasn’t much room.  Since it was a two bedroom, my parents got a room and my sister got a room.  My brother and I slept in the hall on foldaway camping cots. We shared the hall coat closet for our clothes. Later on, my parents purchased a hide-a-bed sofa, so we shared that. It was more convenient and moderately more comfortable than the cots. It was always cramped quarters, though.  I preferred being outside, whenever possible.

Riding my bicycle on the highway was, of course, forbidden.  There was, however, a dirt road just beside the church that stretched for miles and conjoined several other dirt roads through cropland and pastureland.  John Smith (yes, that’s his name) was a friend I rode the school bus with.  He lived on a nearby farm, so we would both ride our bicycles all around those roads.  Our favorite spot was an old abandoned farmhouse surrounded by elm trees.  We would ride the three miles to the old house, BB guns in tow. We would shoot anything that didn’t move and several things that did move.  On an especially good day, we could lay waste to old cans, antifreeze jugs, and the slower sparrows and field larks.  I make no apologies to my anti-hunting friends.  That’s how we were raised, and there was an overpopulation of that particular species. We were, in fact, helping the eco-structure.

Over time, those old dirt roads grow hard and rough.  You can only run the graders after a good rain, and those were few and far between. Keep in mind, this is a day and age before so-called mountain bikes or cross country bikes.  Ours were strictly rigid frame vehicles designed for pavement.  We were not deterred, though. We rode our bikes almost every day after school and most of the day on Saturday.

Eventually, the rough roads started taking their toll on my bike.  The first casualty was the bracket that held the seat on. First it cracked.  The seat was still on the stem, but it would not tighten up.  When I rode the bike, the seat would swivel around all willy-nilly.  It was better than no seat at all, though.  That would soon change.  After a few weeks, the seat bracket totally broke in half.  Big deal.  I stood as I rode most of the time, anyway. Boys do that, because you can get more inertia directly to the pedals, thus increasing speed and momentum.  I rode my seatless bike with no noticeable adverse affects.  The next issue was a bit more tricky.  The yoke on the steering column broke.  That meant the handlebars would not be fastened on.  I had watched my dad enough to know that duct-tape can fix anything.  Surely it can attach handlebars to a steering column.  I found a roll of the gray wonder and promptly created an adhesive monstrosity about the size of a softball.  “That should hold them on,” I thought, and it did….for about three days.  I had to reassess the situation.  I remembered that I was very adept at riding without hands, every boy is.  All I had to do was get started.  I cut loose the handlebars and re-wound the tape, so as to cover the sharp edge of the broken yoke.  It had just enough forward angle left for me to grab with both hands, like one might grasp a baseball bat.  I got started easily enough, then I could just let go and ride…if I had a seat.  Now, standing up on a bike AND riding without hands was a complication I had not counted on.  Ultimately, I had to settle for standing up, leaning forward, holding the steering column, and riding like they do on the Tour de France, except without a seat.

All this was fine and good, until I got two flat tires from riding in the stickers.  I tried, folks; I honestly tried. I rode for about two weeks with no seat, no handlebars, and two flat tires. I just didn’t have anything left in me.  Eventually, I saved enough money for bicycle pump and a tire patching kit, then I was back on my semi-merry way.  I must admit, the magic was gone.

broken-bike

Sometimes we invest much of our lives in things that aren’t inherently good or bad, they are just things.  The problem comes when we allow those things to become our identity and our security.  To paraphrase the verse from Hebrews, anything that can be shaken will be shaken until only that which cannot be shaken remains.  We have to come to a place where we can live with or without that house, that car, that person, if need be. That’s when we are most pliable to God’s will in our lives. Also, that’s often when God gives back to us “all these things as well” (Matt. 6:33)

Recently, I’ve been looking at bicycles in Wal Mart.  I find myself drawn to the old fashioned kind with the big fat saddle and the broad handlebars. I think maybe a red one.

Published in: on February 8, 2018 at 1:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Old Swimming Hole

Psalm 42:7

Learning to swim came slow for me.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I remember thinking, “I should have this down by now!” My first, feeble attempts at mastering the art came in Balmorhea, Texas, in the irrigation ditch.  Before you pooh-pooh the idea of dunking in a ditch, let me explain.  All the farmland in that area is watered by a vast system of irrigation ditches which originates at the lake.  If you have ever enjoyed Pecos cantaloupe, you owe it to these ditches. The lake is spring fed and has served as a reliable water source for the past century.  Periodically, water is released from the lake into the irrigation system, a good portion of which flows through a downtown rock-lined canal.  The water runs a little over three feet deep and about five feet wide. The flowing water serves many a young tyke as a refuge from the summer heat.  My first attempts at swimming was with my siblings and the Methodist preacher’s kids, as we all would crowd into the water rushing through the culvert. Before I could actually swim, I could float. I would position my head pointing upstream and float vertically, letting the water rush past my body.  Actually swimming was a different matter.

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As I got older, I gradually learned to swim in water that was not moving.  I learned the breast stroke, then the backstroke, then freestyle.  On occasion, the family had a bit of extra spending money, and we would go to the nearby state park. Balmorhea State Park was and is a jewel. The same San Salmon Springs feed the enormous pool there. The water stays 72-76 degrees year round and  is crystal clear, and you swim with the catfish.  I remember when I finally got the nerve to go into the deep end.  The deep end of the pool is a social barrier, as much anything.  Big kids go to the deep end. It’s a rite of passage when you can ascend the ladder to the dizzying heights of the diving board then plunge into the perilous depths, touching the natural rock bottom before coming up for air.

The naturalistic setting of that pool formed my aquatic preferences for years to come.  I don’t mind a swimming pool, and will almost always use one when it’s available. My first preference, though, is natural water and deep water.  If a swimming pool and a lake are side-by-side, I will choose the lake.

As teenagers, David, Darrell, Eddie, and I would regularly head out, wearing nothing but cut-off blue jeans, bound over the barbed wire fence of the Double-U ranch, trek a mile or so through the mesquite and cactus, and have an afternoon of tom-foolery at Jackson’s Tank.  I have no idea who Jackson was, but I liked his tank.  (For you urbanites, a “tank,” in West Texas, has no man-made materials. Think more along the lines of a great big pond or a small lake, for watering livestock.) We spent hours on end swimming around in the redish brown water, seeing who could stay under water the longest and throwing mud and moss at each other.  I remember one time when “Babs,” a local friend, had especially good aim.  I had been under water somewhere around 60 seconds and came up for air just as Steve Babb launched a mudball. It went directly into my mouth instead of the air I had hoped for.  I spent the next few minutes coughing, spitting, and rinsing my mouth, as the others were raucously celebrating his prowess and accuracy.

A few years later, Uncle Don and Aunt Pat moved to Galveston, shortly followed by Mamaw and Eddie.  I traveled there as often as I could, soaking up the salty seas, diving into the surf, and even attempting (poorly) to learn surfing. No matter. A full afternoon of swimming on the beach leaves one pleasantly crusty, exhausted, and smiling.  In addition, there are few experiences more soothing that watching the sun setting and the moon rising over the water.

There is something about deep water that beckons us to approach then immerse ourselves in it. There are always various degrees of peril, but it’s possible to drown in your own bathtub. Danger be hanged. The best safety strategy is the ability to swim, using the water itself to transport yourself in it. Sometimes, we are afraid to get too deep into following God. It’s dangerous. It will cost me.  Yes it is, and yes it will, but navigating the deeper life will also enrich yours.  I and others invite you, “Come on in. The water’s fine!”

Through the years, I have experienced swimming in pasture ponds, alpine lakes, meandering rivers, and spreading oceans. I have immersed myself in spring, summer, fall, and winter.  The water calls to me, and I respond. I hope to never reach the point where I feel too feeble or too afraid to walk myself out into the water that is over my head.

 

Published in: on January 30, 2018 at 11:57 am  Leave a Comment  

My Sister, the Beauty Queen

Esther 2:7

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in the same house as a beauty queen? Wonder no more; today you will be enlightened.  My sister, Pennye, went through a period of time when she was the darling of the county, the region, and the state. As I’ve stated in previous posts, Pennye was always pretty.  She was tall and lanky and walked with an air of confidence, occasionally bordering on arrogance. Not only was she pretty, she was talented.  My sister could play the piano and sing exceptionally well, and she did neither with timidity. In fact, she did nothing half-way, ever. Of course, this garnered her a fair amount of attention at school and in the community. She was often invited to perform for church and special occasions. She functioned well in societal gatherings.

With all of this local attention, she was soon elected as the local Lions Club Queen, District 2-T1.  That meant she was the darling of all Lions Club members in the Texas panhandle, from Lubbock to Amarillo.  Not long after, the local wheat growers association elected her Miss Wheatheart. (I’m pretty sure they intended the pun.) She knew almost all the farmers by name and had dated, at one time or another, one of their sons.  These two honors kept her travelling quite a bit, and she got her money’s worth from her newly minted driver’s license and our family’s 1972 lemon yellow Buick Electra 225 with a white vinyl top. She was a classy lady flying down the road in a classy car. The best was yet to come.

beauty queen

(All photos are representative. Any similarity to any person, living or dead is pure coincidence.)

 

Shortly after Pennye went to study at tiny Wayland Baptist College, she was invited to participate in the Miss Wayland competition. While that sounds like next-to-nothing, small potatoes, peanuts, bear in mind two things. (1) The winner would advance to the Miss Texas pageant – part of the Miss America scholarship competition. (2) Wayland is the home of the Flying Queens. This team still holds the record for the most consecutive wins in women’s collegiate basketball. Of course, Pennye won.  My sister was advancing to the Miss Texas pageant, and I got a ticket.  She proceeded to the top 10. She won the evening gown competition, but her manager had saddled her with a miserable song for the talent competition.  Judges later confided in her, it was the song, not her voice, that cost her the crown.

I haven’t yet answered the question I began with. What is it like to live with a beauty queen? Agonizing.  First, she expected me, her brother, to bow before her and polish the crown and kiss the ring. No dice. The more significant occurrence was the day she could no longer pin me in a wrestling match.  While she was ascending the cultural ladder, I was hitting my first real growth spurt. I had grown two inches and gained 30 pounds during her first year of college.  She decided one day to put me in my place, and she ended up on the floor. It wasn’t violent, by a long shot. I simply picked her up and put her on the floor, that quick, that easy.  Her eyes bugged out and she just looked at me, grinning down on her. A second aspect of being sibling to royalty was pride, my pride.  I was more than happy to tell anyone who would listen, this picture of perfection gliding across the stage, wowing the audience with her operatic soprano melodies, was my sister, my flesh and blood.  At the Miss Texas pageant, she invited me to dance with her.  I was the proudest person in the room.  Pennye, I love you.

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Are We There Yet?

Genesis 33:12

I am a road-trip junkie. I look for any and every excuse to throw a bag in the car and hit the asphalt.  That is likely caused, at least in part, by the way our family used to vacation. I have mentioned in previous posts, since Daddy preached, we took vacations that started after church on Sunday night, and ended on Wednesday morning, or trips that started after prayer meeting on Wednesday night and ended on Saturday.  That practice enabled him to be home in time for the next scheduled service. We would load kids, bags, and sandwiches in the car and start out for the nearest relatives in the direction we were headed.

Because it was night, we usually had blankets and pillows in the back seat. That’s when we started jockeying for position.  There were three kids and three options. Pre-mandatory seat belt years meant at bedtime you would end up laying across the back seat, laying in the “trough,” or laying in the floor.  The benefit of the seat was comfort and space. You could stretch out to your heart’s content.  The benefit of the trough was the view.  There wasn’t as much space as the seat, but you could look out the back window and see where you had been, you could see the stars, and you could see the cars Daddy had just passed. The benefit of the floor was…there were no benefits to the floor. It was awful. That blasted hump down the middle prohibited any comfort whatsoever. It cut you in half, either by your stomach or your back. To my mind, it was a simple solution. Since Pennye was the oldest and tallest, she could have the seat. Since David was the youngest and smallest, he should have the floor. He could almost fit in half the floorboard.  Unfortunately, that fact that David was youngest somehow meant he had to have a more prime piece of real estate, i.e. the trough.  I tried so many times to find a comfortable solution to the back floor. I tried curling up into a ball…too big.  I tried leaning my back against the door, so only my legs lay over the hump…the door came open, so I never tried that again.  I tried putting my head and shoulders on the seat, with just my legs and posterior in the floor…Pennye pushed me off because I was invading her territory. I was shoved into the back of the driver’s seat.

The consequence to all this jostling was a scuffle.  Scuffle’s have a predictable response, “Don’t make me stop this car!” My dad was never one for idle threats.  He would and did stop the car.  From there, depending on how tired and irritable he was, the choices were few.  If he wasn’t too edgy, he would decide we just had too much pent-up energy.  Thus, when he stopped the car, he made us run in circles around the car until he said stop.  Don’t stop until he said to, though.  That was disobedience.  From last week’s post, you know where disobedience leads…the belt.  On other occasions, when he had been taken to task by the deacons or when he was especially worried about having enough gas money, he just went straight for the belt.  Laying prostrate over the trunk of a car on the side of a highway for a swat is a humbling experience, my friends. I thought maybe he should thank us for keeping him awake.  After all, it’s dangerous to drive when you’re sleepy.  He saw it differently, though.

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My dad had several years of tractor driving and truck driving experience, so he could tackle long distances in a single shot.  He wasn’t especially sympathetic to the idea that just because he had a man-size bladder didn’t mean we could also hold it for hours.  Somehow, he always had an empty coke bottle on hand when one of us had to go. I will not address all the implications and challenges of relieving one’s self in a coke bottle at 70 miles per hour, but you get the idea.

Lest you think I have unpleasant memories of those trips, I should state that we loved them.  Even in the floorboard, I eventually went to sleep. We all went to sleep.  In the morning, we found ourselves on a brand new adventure in some far-off land, like New Mexico. We explored the natural wonders of Bottomless Lakes and Carlsbad Caverns. We had a picnic in the shadow of  the majestic peaks in Ruidoso.  We also enjoyed much of our beloved Texas. We swam in the ocean at Galveston. We marveled at the sights of the Alamo and the HemisFair in San Antonio. One year was especially prosperous, so we thrilled to the amusements of Six Flags over Texas. We even got to see Ralph, the swimming pig, at Aquarena Springs.

In recent years, I find myself more drawn to sandwiches at the road side park than Denny’s or McDonald’s.  I’m more concerned about having a good time than making good time.  I pay more attention to the scenery than the traffic.  In fact, the journey is just as enjoyable as the destination.  I would even try to smush into the back floor again, if I could hear my daddy singing with the radio.

Published in: on January 17, 2018 at 5:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Belt

Proverbs 22:15; 23:13-14

We are all familiar with certain sights, sounds, and smells from our childhood that instantly bring back a flood of memories.  Seeing two little guys playing catch with a ball and glove, hearing the laughter on a playground, bread baking in an oven – all these miraculously transport us to another time and place, and we grow nostalgic.  There is one sound that permeated my childhood, and it is distinct from every other.  That sound is the soft pop-pop-pop of a man’s belt coming through the loops, as it is pulled off the pants.  That sound can still bring tears to my eyes.

belt

My daddy had a unique belt, and I’ve only seen a few like it. There was the basic leather strap, decorated with a western design. The tongue of the belt however, had a smaller strip of leather attached on front at the end.  The main strip slipped behind the buckle, and the smaller strip went into the buckle. I never knew enough beltography to understand the purpose of the two tongued belt. I completely understood, however, the meaning of the sound as those two strips of leather slapped against each other, coming through the belt loops of daddy’s pants.

My father was an old-fashioned disciplinarian.  He was serious about corporal punishment. The Bible said to use a rod on the back, but I think he was no legalist about that. A rod on the back was only symbolic for a belt on the backside.  If a man spanked his son, it proved he loved him. If a man refused to spank his son, it proved he did not love him.  Furthermore, this practice could drive foolishness from the child’s heart and save his soul from hell, all straight from scripture.

Typically, my brother and I would be involved in some sort of foolishness when we heard that sound.  I heard it while tying a firecracker to the cat’s tail. I heard that sound after painting the schoolhouse. I heard it shortly after I uttered my first curse word, and after my second.  We heard it regularly when we broke a piece of furniture in one of our frequent scuffles.  I heard that sound after I brought home a report card with three “Cs” and an “I” in behavior (Improvement needed). Improvement was promptly forthcoming.  If I got a spanking at school, I got another at home.

I must admit, there was a certain comfort in the predictability of the belt. We knew what was coming, we knew how it would go down, and we knew there would be an instructional session followed by a big hug.  I never fully believed the part about, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Especially when my offense was so silly, my dad couldn’t keep from snickering while he was instilling improved wisdom. I knew, beyond all doubt, that my dad loved me and cared about how I behaved.

I also much preferred the predictability of my dad’s spankings to my mom’s.  Mom rarely spanked. She usually warned, “Just wait until your father gets home.” On those rare occasions when she did spank, it meant she was so absolutely furious, she refused to wait for him.  Dad was calm when he spanked. Mom’s voice raised a couple of octaves, while she was spanking, shrieking words I could only make out a few of, ; “Shriek, shriek, never treat me like, shriek, shriek, show some respect, shriek shriek. Do you understand me?!” No mom, I really didn’t.  The other thing was, my mom had no belt. She spanked with whatever was within her grasp at the moment. She spanked me with flyswatters, extension cords, and a couple of times on Sunday, her shoe. Do you know what preachers’ wives wear on their feet on Sunday? Yes, heels. Also, if one child was getting a spanking from mom, whoever was nearby got it too, when she was done.  “And YOU!  Shriek, shriek, just like your brother! Shriek, shriek!”

Our current culture frowns on the belt and spanking. I tend to be old-fashioned, like my dad.  God made it really plain where a child’s correction spot is. It sticks out further than anything else, and it’s padded. How plain can it be.  With all due respect to child psychology experts, you cannot reason with a three-year-old.  You will lose the argument. A “time-out” to a toddler is simply time for more strategic planning.  Parents, remember this. The only thing that will stop a child’s misbehavior is when it is more uncomfortable to continue than it is to stop.

 

Published in: on January 9, 2018 at 8:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Put Me in, Coach!

Ezekiel 38:7

As a lover of all things classic rock, one of my special favorites is Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR).  Today, I can hear John Fogerty’s voice, unleashing the strains that give voice to the aspirations of myriads of young men everywhere:

Oh, put me in coach, I’m ready to play today
Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today
Look at me, I can be centerfield

In my last post, I recalled the disappointment of being relegated to basketball, learning a brand new sport in a brand new town.  It’s not really that I have any philosophical opposition to basketball, it just wasn’t football.  Part of my issue was I knew I was in the lower tier of athletes. I was usually small for my age, and don’t forget, I was cross-eyed.  Basketball and baseball require any given player at any given time being able to catch the ball. My right eye betrayed me every time, as it caused issues with depth-perception. More often than not, the ball would hit me square in the face. In football, half the players on the field, by rule, are not expected to catch the ball. Their job is basically to knock the snot out of the fellow across from them, and keep snot-knocking until the whistle blows. As fate would have it, though, I was now expected to not only catch the ball, but dribble the ball, shoot the ball, and get the ball back from the other team, all on a regular basis. That’s a daunting task for a chubby, cross-eyed, transient student.  I decided to learn basketball, none-the-less.

The next few months were filled with a strange expectancy. As I learned the required skills for the game, I decided I not only wanted to learn basketball, I wanted to play basketball.  In football, each team fields 11 players. In basketball, each team has five players on the court.  My chances of playing were just cut in half. I still wanted to play.  As time went on, I learned my role on the team.  When we were 30 points ahead (or behind), and there was less than one minute on the clock, I got to play.  Whenever my 45 seconds came, I was ready.  Actually, I was always ready, just in case seven other players were suddenly injured.  I could save the day for the 7th grade B-team.

Expectancy and readiness are not always easy for us, especially when circumstances find us in a time of long-term projects that are largely controlled by others and out of our hands.  We know there could be a time when we’re called on to do our part, but it’s not always likely in the middle of a tight game.  God instructs us as believers and followers of Christ to always be ready, at a moment’s notice, to be watchful for that moment when He says, “Now! You’re in.” Maybe that’s why I was always inspired by stories of athletes like my nephew, Brittan. He grew up as the son of a preacher. He played high school football for a tiny West Texas town.  He later earned a starting spot on the team for a small college. He sweated and clawed his way onto the practice team for the Chicago Bears, and later the Arizona Cardinals.  He has now been on the active roster of the Cardinals for five years.  He plays in every game. All of that is because he was ready, prepared, when his opportunity came.

BG1

This dead-ish time of year, after the major holidays, waiting for the long dark nights to end and the warmth of spring to begin, this is your time of preparation. This is my time of preparation. In fact, many in my family are experiencing that preparatory waiting. My oldest daughter is engaged to be married. She is waiting and preparing.  My younger daughter is expecting her third child. She is waiting and preparing. Waiting is hard. Preparing is harder. Sitting on the bench and watching can be maddening. My friend, if you will walk with God, if you will be diligent to prepare, if you are watchful and prayerful, that moment will come for you. It will.

By the time I moved from Basketball, Texas to a larger town, I had been named the most improved player on the team.  That may not sound like much, but I had earned regular playing time in the dead middle of games that weren’t a blow out. For me, that was victory.  I should also point out that my family then moved to a town where the schools played football.  I had never played football on an organized team, and I was joining a team that had played together as a unit since 8th grade.  I got to start the learning process all over again.

Published in: on January 3, 2018 at 12:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

When a New Year Isn’t

Isaiah 61:3

Fresh off the heels of the contemplative gratitude of Thanksgiving and the unadulterated joys of Christmas, we head into the celebration of new beginnings and fresh starts. This is our chance to rectify unhealthy habits, initiate productive practices, and emotionally embark on a brighter day.  Occasionally, though, the new year isn’t new at all.  The only thing in front of us is a continuation of the old, the sequal to a bad movie. 1973 was like that for me.

The year I was to enter my teens was fraught with disappointment.  I was happy, enthused, even giddy to be entering seventh grade. I would finally be able to play football on a school team, real tackle football, with the slap of leather, the introduction of budding testosterone, and male camaraderie. Knocking other guys senseless would now be officially sanctioned in the name of education.

That July, my dad accepted the call to a small Baptist church in a small town that had a small school which did not play football. No, they played basketball. I ask you, what use is basketball when it’s actually a penalty to way-lay an unsuspecting opponent? Not only was there no football, there were no new kids in school, except me and my siblings.  We had not been born and raised there; we were transients.  I owned no cowboy boots, and I wore long hair.  You know what they say, time wounds all heels. Things only got worse.

In September, my father was diagnosed with inoperable untreatable lung cancer. In November, four days after his forty-first birthday and two days before Thanksgiving, he died. At Christmas, the church presented me and my brother with identical 10 speed bicycles, and my sister got a guitar, as she was a budding musician. What a thoughtful gesture. Two days later, they informed my mother we would need to move from the parsonage, so they could offer it to a prospective pastor. Before school resumed, we moved to a two bedroom trailer house. Let me clarify. This was not a mobile home; it was a trailer.  My sister got one bedroom, my brother and I shared the second, and my mother slept on the couch.  While my mother had purchased the trailer, we did not own the lot. She had only a few days to buy a lot and hire someone to move the trailer across town (with his John Deere tractor). This new year was not new at all.

By the time February rolled around, we were finally regaining some sense of normality, but that was short-lived.  One weekend my Mamaw and Uncle Eddie came to visit. Mother and Mamaw went shopping in the nearby town, and we kids were enjoying a nap in the living room.  Suddenly, Pennye, who had been preparing for a bath, came crashing through. “Get out! The house is on fire! Get out NOW!”  We were used to such practical jokes, but she and the billowing smoke quickly convinced us this was real.  With no shirt and no shoes, we ran outside into the biting February wind. The stickers made us do the one thing you never ever do, we ran back for shoes. It was God’s grace no one was hurt or killed, but there we four stood under the gray February sky in various states of nakedness, watching every possession, every shred of decency, and every hope of a normal life consumed in less than an hour. In that hour, we transitioned from orphans to homeless orphans.

In the following weeks, folks did their best to help us.  They brought cast-off clothing, they fed us, and they took turns hosting us for a night or two at a time. We alternated between a nearby motel (15 miles is nearby in the Texas panhandle) and borrowed beds. One fellow offered his vacant mobile home only 30 minutes away.  We stayed there until the insurance snafu was straightened out. It seems mother had been paying insurance payments along with the trailer payments to the mortgage owner, who promptly pocketed the insurance portions as well as the payments.  By spring, we finally had another trailer, which we were able to furnish with donated and garage sale items.

In this period, it seemed no one except God was being unkind to us. The church was only being reasonable, and the fellow who sold the trailer was only doing what any other savvy businessman would do. Almost everyone did the least they could do, and almost everyone looked at us with pity in their eyes. Folks said we were walking miracles, simply because we failed to die.

I’m fully aware of the cynical content and attitude of this particular post.  My point is, there are times when the events of life make us feel overwhelmed and cynical. I want to point out that we did survive, and things did get better.  My mother drove to work 60 miles a day to make sure there was food, shelter, and clothing.  I don’t tell her enough how I appreciate her enduring impossible circumstances.  My sister, at age 16, made sure supper was cooked and we had lunches packed for school.  I haven’t thanked her enough for this sacrifice. Soon afterward, in the depths of my grief and loss, my heavenly father spoke, “I am your father now.” He has fathered me ever since. God didn’t abandon us in our fire; he walked through it with us.

There are times when a new year is everything except better and hopeful.  Those are the times when God is all we have. Those are the times when He and only He can replace beauty for ashes. That’s the trade. I leave with you the words from a friend’s song.

I will praise You in the fire, Lift my face up for Your rain

When I do not understand, And all I feel is pain

When the storm is raging wild, I know I’ll never be the same

Still I will praise You in the fire, Lift my face up for Your rain~

wallup.net

Published in: on December 27, 2017 at 5:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Merry Birth-mas

Romans 8:32

Sunday was my birthday, and it was a very good one.  I spent the afternoon surrounded by my mom. my kids, and my grandkids. While others may complain about getting older, I honestly don’t mind.  For one thing, I am finally old enough that my advice is actually considered before it’s dismissed.  Also, my gray (white-ish) hair seems to attract attention.  For better or worse, I get noticed. (Pet me or kick me, but don’t ignore me.)  I much prefer my adult birthdays to my childhood and adolescent birthdays.

My birthday is in December, a week and a day from Christmas. Here’s to all you December birthers; I feel your pain. Growing up in a poverty-level home with a December birthday presents a special temptation for the parents to present their present for the two occasions, simultaneously. “Here is your Birthday/Christmas gift.” The last few days, I have been trying to recall specific birthday gatherings I experienced as a child.  I had little success.  I remember my sixth birthday.  I received a giant stuffed purple velvet python. At least I think it was stuffed. It seems we lost a dachshund around that time.  I remember another birthday, perhaps ninth or tenth, when I received a Hot Wheels Fat Track.  I also remember my sixteenth birthday, because I got my driver’s license.  I aced the test except for parallel parking.  I don’t know anyone who can parallel park a 1972 Buick Electra 225.  The beast is 228 inches (19 ft) long, but I digress. I recruited my mother to help me remember my birthdays. She acknowledged they were often combined with Christmas. Could she remember any of my individual birthday events? She could not, except to remind me that one time a friend brought baby guppies in a mason jar as a gift. I remembered the guppies, but my recollection was they were given for my sister’s birthday rather than mine.  Whomever was the rightful owner of the guppies, there were plenty go go around. Those things multiply at an alarming rate.

There’s another version of the combined gift giving. This happens when there are two siblings in the home.  My brother is two years younger than I, so there were times when we were given a single toy as a present for both of us.  In a former post, I mentioned a “set” of boxing gloves. It all came in one package, but because there were two pair, the set was a gift to both of us.  Likewise, one year we received a Rock-em-Sock-em Robots. This single toy was a gift to both of us, but there are two robots on the toy, and there were two brothers, so it sufficed as our Christmas gift.

Rock em sock em

These toy gifts were actually very rare.  I believe one reason I cannot recall specific birthday gifts may be due to pragmatism.  If I could rewind my life and view each of my birthdays and Christmases, I wager my gifts, more often than not, were socks and underwear, the gifts no child wants.  One of the best Christmas sermons I ever heard talked about just that, socks and underwear.  The speaker illuminated to us the idea that God, like our parents, doesn’t always give us what we want, but He always gives us what we need.  I wish I had written that sermon.  Oddly enough, when my children asked me what I wanted for my birthday and Christmas, I told them “athletic socks – in any color except white – and stuff that smells good.” I’ve outgrown my need for toys.  Having my family surround me and enjoying a meal and quality time together is present enough.

The greatest gift of all was a combination gift.  God’s son, his gift to the world, is the gift that fits every occasion. This gift gives you a new birth to celebrate. It’s a shared gift, enough for every person who has or ever will live.  It’s the gift we most need. Dear readers, I wish you all a Merry Birth-mas.

Published in: on December 20, 2017 at 11:37 am  Leave a Comment