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.

Advertisements
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.

coke

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  

Riding in Cars with Boys

70 camaro

My older sister, Pennye, was always more physically mature than other girls her age. She was tall and lanky, played basketball and ran track, and she was (is) very pretty.  As a result, there were always boys, older boys, hanging around our house.  When she was 14, there were 17 – 20 year olds driving to our house to pick her up. To his credit, my dad was congenial to these young men, yet protective of his daughter.  His normal course of action was to first invite them in for a cup of coffee.  If they declined, he then offered to show them his gun collection.  Much nonsense was nipped-in-the-bud by these two invitations.

This is a good place to point out that, like most fathers, pastors are very protective of their daughters.  Preacher’s daughters, however, usually feel a need to be “just like everyone else.”  That desire often ends up with some sort of over-compensation. Of course, a pastor does NOT want his daughter to be “just like everyone else.” These two  conflicting courses of action collided in our home, my father and my sister, the immovable object and the irresistible force.

The scenario usually went something like this: “Kevin,” a 6 ft. 4 in. lanky 19 year old pulled his bright yellow 1970 Chevy Camaro up to the house. My sister, who had just finished 8th grade, trots out of the house with a “See ya later; I’m going riding.” Two steps out the door, my father yells from the other room, “Pennye…PENNYE!” The door of the Camaro slams shut, and rubber squeals on the pavement.  My father was displeased about being ignored by his daughter and disrespected by her driver.  Not to worry, though. It was his habit to be in the good graces of local law-enforcement entities.  A quick call to the Sheriff’s office located Bonnie and Clyde, post-haste. Pennye’s return to the house was much less gleeful than her departure.  Her face was beet-red and contorted into something resembling “Chucky” from the movie Child’s Play.

Various versions of this event were played out more than once in our home. I have often seen my father and my sister face-off.  Pennye, mid-sentence, would spin around on her heels and walk away in a huff.  The only thing with worse consequences than getting in a man-boy operated vehicle was doing so with cut-off jeans that were rolled up. My father was not so much a prude about wearing short pants, but Pennye liked to roll them up very short.  She would leave the house, rolling them up as she walked out the door to a waiting car.  The consequences of this action led to what would now be considered child abuse. My father reasoned if she insisted on baring her upper-thighs, he would whip said thighs.

Now, with all that said, I would like to point out part of my sister’s rationale. There is some sound logic here. She wanted not so much to ride in cars, but she wanted to drive cars, which the legal system frowned on at age 14.  She wanted to drive, and she wanted to drive fast, so she used her innate feminine prowess to lure unsuspecting, car owning, adolescent patseys.  She would talk them into letting her drive, once departed from home-sweet-home. I made this connection one day when my sister talked my grandmother into letting her drive.  Mamaw was known in the family as a bit of a push-over. She just couldn’t find it in herself to deny her grandchildren.  When Pennye asked her to drive, she conceded.  After all, there wouldn’t be any police presence way out here on these country roads. That lasted only a few minutes before a state trooper pulled her over and asked to see her license.  She confessed she had nary such a thing, and he said something akin to, “Well, you look old enough to drive, but you aren’t very good at it.”

As I alluded to, we lived in the country. Shortly before this incident, we had to have a new septic tank dug. Therefore, there was a very large mound of dirt just sitting behind our back yard.  Of course, Pennye had no money to pay the fine for under-age driving, so my dad had to cough up the dough.  He assured my sister there would be a satisfactory  arrangement made to work off the debt.  She was given a shovel and assigned the task of making the mountain flat. Every day after school, bit by bit, she worked on that hill.  (Although, I remember her offering me a bit of money to take her shift a couple of times).

I don’t want to leave the impression that Daddy and Pennye were eternally at odds. In fact, they loved each other dearly, and she still grieves his loss. My dear sister isn’t quite as fond of driving these days, though.  Years of commuting, sprinkled with a generous helping of speeding tickets, have dampened her enthusiasm a bit.  She now seems to prefer being chauffeured by her husband of 40 years or one of her adult sons.  In addition, she still won’t go anywhere near a shovel.

Isaiah 40:4

Published in: on December 13, 2017 at 1:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Slumbering with the Saints

Proverbs 3:24

I was genuinely surprised at the response generated by a little blurb I posted on social media today.  I recently submitted my heavily guarded nocturnal processes to the scrutinous observations of a middle-aged man in a white coat. It’s called a sleep study, and they hook a couple dozen wires to your head, face, chest, and legs.  My public query was how anyone could be expected to sleep, much less have said sleep dissected, quantified, and analyzed.

Let me first say, I have never felt I had trouble sleeping. In fact, my sleep is very predictable.  I usually get quite good rest during the third quarter of the Dallas Cowboys’ football game.  After all, it’s the fourth quarter that really matters.  I often take a short snooze about an hour before the evening news.  At my desk, around 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon, I am more than moderately comfortable in my ergonomic chair.  Perhaps, most importantly, my sleep habits are a fairly reliable measure of a preacher’s effectiveness.  If I miss my usual nap during the second point of a three point sermon, that fellow is quite the pulpiteer, and that is the station where my train-of-thought dropped me off, sleeping in church.

The afore-mentioned verse promises sweet sleep for the follower of God. Many a saint has enjoyed the fulfillment of that promise during the pastor’s sermon. While most servants of God take offense to this reality, it can be easily explained.  Those sleepers may have been up all night, ministering to the lost, the needy, the downtrodden.  Perhaps the sermon soothes the aching conscience for the wayward sinner.  I remember one dear old saint asking whether or not I recorded my sermons. I told her I thought that was the case, when Henry at the sound board remembered to load the cassette tape into the machine.  Then, I waxed humble. “I’m glad you have found my messages meaningful.”  She replied, “Well, actually, my husband has been having trouble sleeping, so I thought that might help.”  Yes, I walked right into her trap.  She grinned broadly, and we both had a good laugh.

For youngsters, sleeping in church is treacherous. For me, the end result was usually a sound thumping on my cranium or a stinging pinch to my fluffy love-handles. This particular issue is addressed in Acts, the church handbook.  In Chapter 20, we find the story of  Paul preaching to the believers at Troas. Paul talked long into the night, and a young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window.  Young Eutychus drifted off to sleep and fell out of the window and down into the street, killing him.  Paul runs outside and lays down on Eutychus, raising him from the dead.  More than once, I have taught this passage of Scripture, when someone interrupts.  “See what happens when you preach too long?”  I simply respond, “See what happens when you fall asleep in church?”

I am thankful I have not died in church, and I am thankful no else has died while I or my father were preaching.  They tell me sleep apnea can actually lead to death, though.  My family members strongly encouraged me to explore whether I might be suffering from this condition.  After my sleep study, I am relieved to report I slept quite soundly in between my average 86 “episodes” per hour.  In fact, the lab technician informed me that on their official snoring scale, I am categorized as “heroic.”  Well, it just doesn’t get any better than that. At any rate, I plan to placate my loved ones by letting the doc prescribe an anti-apnea, anti-snoring machine. They call it a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). I call it a CRAP (sorry if I offended you little ones). Sometimes, I am a DIY guy, so I may just hook a garden hose to a 5 horse Honda air-compressor.  We shall see.

sleep study

Published in: on December 5, 2017 at 3:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Celebrating the Sloth

Proverbs 26:14

“As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed.” (KJV)

“The English word ‘sloth’ (a derivative of the adjective ‘slow’) is recorded as meaning ‘laziness,’ ‘indolence”‘ from the twelfth century onward, and is considered one of the seven cardinal sins” (“Sloth,” Wikipedia).

In an unfair stereotype (preachers only work one hour a week) the uninitiated assumes the Sunday morning sermon is the sum-total of the pastor’s labors. Preachers are lazy. I heard it in my ministry, and I’m sure my father heard it in his.  One fellow, attempting humor, once said that to me. “You preachers only work one hour a week.” I dryly responded, “And even that is too long for you.” Any serious deliberation of the matter leads to the realization that even a 30-40 minute sermon requires hours of preparation. The Sunday night message requires no less.  Dare we mention committee meetings, hospital visitation, and personal prayer and Bible study.  No doubt there are indeed lazy preachers, but that’s because the clergy is comprised of people, all kinds of people, not simply because they are clergy. One does not equal the other.

Part of the stereotype is imagined as valid when a parishioner can’t locate the pastor. Surely, he is sitting there waiting on my phone call. After all, he doesn’t have a real job. (Actually, I usually had a part-time gig of some sort, just to make ends meet.) If a parishioner looks in the church office, the pastor should be there.  Of course, if he is in fact there, he should instead be out visiting the church members.  If he is out visiting members, he should be available in the office. What’s a pastor to do? It’s a true conundrum, a quandary, a catch-22.

Recently, I was challenged by a friend when I referred to my work habits as “lazy.” I have often found it easier to embrace that stereotype than try to rebut it. That is a remnant of my earliest days. My father was rarely in a hurry. He moved slowly, but with purpose.  His experience in higher education portrays a man more interested in learning than having a framed document on the wall.  He only enrolled in classes that interested him. After a decade, he had well over 120 credit hours, but no degree. That was often misunderstood. He wanted an education, not a diploma.

I don’t know if it’s genetic or if I just mimicked what I saw as a child, but that’s where I am most comfortable, moving slowly and with purpose.  I think my dad was somewhat self-conscious about being characterized as lazy because he tried to prevent any sign of it in me.  He would make comments to the ilk of, “Son, you only have three gears – slow down, back up, and stop.” Other times he would say, “Boy, you are the first one to the dinner table and the last one to leave.” I never quite figured out why that was a bad thing. Nutritionists sing the praises of eating slowly.  A period of three years passed between my first date and second date with my late wife, Kimberly.  I moved slowly as I waited for her to come around, but I ultimately won her (Sorry Brett, Tim, and John). I took six years to complete my undergraduate degree, but I went on to finish two masters and a doctorate. Yes, I move slowly, but I accomplish my goals.

The sloth gets a bum rap in Proverbs.  Not to argue with God, who created the sloth, but that lowly mammal is under-valued. The sloth is a wonderful study in slow, methodical processes. Undeterred by onlookers and nay-sayers, he goes about his business, making sure and steady progress.  Progress is the key in our spiritual lives as well.  There is no prescribed time-table when it comes to sanctification. (Thankfully, Aesop’s Fables was kinder to the tortoise. His steady but slow method was extolled over the quicker hare.)

Recently, the sloth has found more favorable reviews, thanks to movies like Ice Age. Sid the Sloth is a bumbling but lovable character who occasionally stumbles into success, in spite of himself.  In Zootopia, Flash works at the DMV; now there’s a stereotype for you. YouTube is rife with videos of the  lovable little furry fellows. I will take advantage of this climate and encourage you, dear reader.  Keep moving; don’t give up; don’t let others who are in a frenzy distract or discourage you.  All hail the mighty sloth.  Sid_Flash_Zootopia

 

Published in: on November 28, 2017 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

B.O.G.O.

Hebrews 13:2

That’s right, folks, this week is a Buy-one-get-one-free sale; two blogs for the price of one, and you don’t even have to wait until Black Friday.  What’s more, if you are not 100 percent satisfied, just send me an email, and I will gladly double your money back.  You just can’t find a deal like that anywhere else.

The truth is, I have one more Thanksgiving story I wanted to share. I toyed with the idea of waiting until next year, but there are a couple of problems with that. The main issue is, I might forget between now and then.  Also, due to rising overhead costs in blogging, there could be lay-offs in the staff.  Thus, I decided to extend this Thanksgiving day anecdote.

I was in my early teen years, soon after my father had died.  My family took the opportunity to get out of town and spend the holiday, as we often did, with Mammaw, Uncle Glen and Aunt Sue, Eddie, Darrell, and the other cousins, in the scenic destination of Post, Texas.

Thanksgiving day had come, and the food was all ready. We were just about to bless the food, when the doorbell rang.  If memory serves, Sue went to the door and looked out to see who was there.  She immediately walked away and said to Glen, “You need to get this.” At the door was a person who seemed to be a bum, a hobo, the kind my father often brought home to dinner.  Glen opened to door to greet the surprise visitor.  The man gave his name, said he was hungry, and asked if he could share Thanksgiving dinner with our family.  Glen, being a man of the Word and of the Gospel, invited him in.

I think the fellow introduced himself as Andrew. Of course, it’s been years ago, and I can’t remember for sure. I feel positive one of my relatives will refresh my memory. That’s a service our kith-and-kin gladly provide each other, correction.  At any rate, it was a common name, and the name I will use for the sake of the story.

Andrew sat and ate with us, commenting on how good the food was and how glad he was that we opted to share it with him.  After the dinner, we all gathered in the living room, waiting for the football game to begin.  Andrew made some small talk, then asked if we might have a guitar.  We had one and brought it out.  I believe Darrell may have been attempting to learn, so he had a rather cheap guitar in his closet.  Andrew informed us he had a song he would like to share, a song about Jesus.

jasmine-by-takamine

As he started to play, it became obvious there was no rhythm or rhyme, no detectable pattern.  Andrew “played” and sang his song.  Friends, it was, by all accepted musical standards, bad – no… terrible…horrible…awful.  We kids gave each other a knowing glance and snickered as he sang. He played and sang for a bit, then put the guitar down.  At that point, an uncomfortable silence fell on the room.  Andrew somberly looked around the room, then said, “You kids didn’t think that was very good, did you.” We hung our heads, like kids caught with our hands in the candy jar.  No one responded. He continued, “It wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t for you. That song was for God.  Be very careful that you don’t judge people by the quality of their performance, but by their heart.  God loved that song because it was from my heart.”

Now, he turned his attention to Glen.  His comments were something to the effect of, “I know you are in a tough situation here as the pastor of this church.  There are a lot of obstacles in the way of what you are trying to do, and a lot of people are opposing you. God wants you to know, he is with you. Keep up the good work.”  Then, Andrew stood up and asked if someone could take him to the hotel where he was staying.  Eddie had just received his driver’s license and was anxious for any excuse to use it.  As his younger kin, David, Darrell, and I were more than happy to ride in the car with him.

We all loaded into Eddie’s new (old) 1965 Ford Falcon (Or maybe it was the lime green AMC Rebel).  We put Andrew in the front seat and headed off.  He directed us to the dumpy little hotel in town and the room he occupied.  Andrew thanked us again for our time and our hospitality, got out of the car and entered the hotel room.

We drove about three or four blocks away, when one of the bunch noticed he had left his knit toboggan hat in the back seat.  It was pretty chilly, and we thought he might like it back, so we headed back to the room.  One of us got out and knocked on the door.  No answer.  For a few minutes, we knocked, but there was no response.  We drove up to the office and took the little toboggan hat in, explaining the situation.  Would the manager please make sure Andrew in room number so-and-so got his hat back. The fellow at the desk furrowed his brow with a questioning look on his face.  To his knowledge, that room had not been occupied for a couple of weeks.

I’m not going to offer possible explanations for that scenario, other than something that sounds like an episode of The Twilight Zone. I will say, however, I have been since been reluctant to criticize anyone who offers to God a musically sub-par performance.  A couple of blogs ago, I talked about Leonard and guardian angels.  In Scripture, there are also messenger angels, and this fellow seemed to know a lot about teenagers and struggling pastors.  His message to Glen was spot-on. There were indeed struggles in the church; Glen did persevere, and he spent the better part of a decade seeing a church transformed.

Not all strangers are angels, to be sure. The author of Hebrews warns us, though, to be careful to entertain strangers. They don’t come much stranger than Andrew.  Sometimes, they actually are angels. The point of that passage is we may never know.

Published in: on November 23, 2017 at 12:56 am  Leave a Comment