Everyday Heroes

They are all around us, and we see them every day, even if we don’t always recognize them for who they are.

Everyday Heroes.

Surely you have seen these people. You might even be one yourself. If so, thank you. Who are they?

They are the firefighters who run INTO burning buildings, when everyone else is running out. They are the police officers who run TOWARDS the sound of gunfire. They are the nurses who help patients with unpleasant symptoms, especially when those patients can’t help themselves.

They are the teachers who buy school supplies out of their own pockets and offer encouraging words to struggling students. They are the pastors who quietly sit with families that have gotten bad news. They are the linemen who climb utility poles in the cold and wet, so the rest of us can stay warm and dry.

They often go unsung, unnoticed and unappreciated. They watch as our society cheers athletes, rock stars, actors – people most of us will never interact with or personally know. But our everyday heroes hear no cheering crowds, and nobody is paying them much attention. And yet, every day, day after day, they quietly go about their business of helping other people, being a friend, making a difference.

They are Mr. Holland. They are George Bailey.

Surely you have known such people. A Sunday School teacher. A little league coach. A Scout leader. They are the folks who get involved in other people’s lives in a positive way and make a difference. They’re not flashy, and they’re not celebrated. But they’re remembered as the people who care.

And here’s the good news: we can all be in that category, if we’re willing to take a moment, to offer a kind word or a shoulder, or a sympathetic ear. I was a pastor for a long time, and I’m convinced that when tragedy strikes, people don’t remember very many of the things that other people say. But they remember who was there.

You can be a hero today. Somewhere around you right now, a kid needs a mentor. A neighbor needs a friend. A co-worker needs someone to talk to. The Experienced Citizens Center could use some more drivers to deliver meals. You can do that. We all can – the question is, will we? Jesus said that if all we do is offer a cup of cold water in His name, we would certainly be rewarded in His Kingdom.

It’s not too late to put this on your list of things to do for 2021. Be a more caring person. Give a damn. Get involved. Make a difference.

Now, more than ever, we need all the heroes we can get.

The Christmas Guest

One of the greatest blessings of my life was to be the host of A.M. Sunday, a Gospel music radio show on KVRP in Haskell, Texas. I used to take requests, and every year at Christmas, I’d get requests for Grandpa Jones reading “The Christmas Guest.” The only problem was, I didn’t HAVE a copy of him doing that piece, and this was long before you could simply download the song from iTunes or pull it up on YouTube. But I DID have a version done by Reba McEntire, and I would play that. And I understood why people liked it so much, because I absolutely fell in love with it.

There have been many different versions of this story. This one was written by American poet Helen Steiner Rice, arranged by Grandpa Jones and Billy Walker. An older telling was by a French pastor and author, Ruben Saillens, and another by Leo Tolstoy.  They’re all based on the words of Jesus when He said, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”

So whether you heard it back in the day on “A.M. Sunday,” or if this is your first encounter with this poem, I hope it blesses you as much as it always has me. And Merry Christmas!

THE CHRISTMAS GUEST

It happened one day near December’s end,
Two neighbors called on an old friend,
And they found his shop so meager and lean
Made gay with thousand bows of green.

And Conrad was sitting with face a-shine,
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine,
And he said, “Old friends, at dawn today
When the cock was crowing the night away,
The Lord appeared in a dream to me
And said, ‘I’m coming your guest to be.’

“So I’ve been busy with feet astir,
Strewing my shop with branches of fir.
The table is spread and the kettle is shined,
And over the rafters the holly is twined

“Now I’ll wait for my Lord to appear,
And listen closely so I will hear His step
As He nears my humble place.
And I’ll open the door and look on His face.”

So his friends went home and left Conrad alone,
For this was the happiest day he had known.
For long since, his family had passed away,
And Conrad had spent many a sad Christmas Day.

But he knew with the Lord as his Christmas Guest,
This Christmas would be the dearest and best.
So he listened with only joy in his heart,
And with every sound he would rise with a start.
And look for the Lord to be at his door,
Like the vision he’d had a few hours before.

So he ran to the window after hearing a sound,
But all he could see on the snow-covered ground
Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn,
And all of his clothes were ragged and worn.

But Conrad was touched and he went to the door,
And he said, “Your feet must be frozen and sore.
I have some shoes in my shop for you,
And a coat that will keep you warmer, too.”

So with grateful heart the man went away,
But Conrad noticed the time of day,
And wondered what made the Lord so late
And how much longer he’d have to wait.

When he heard a knock, he ran to the door,
But it was only a stranger once more:
A bent old lady with a shawl of black,
With a bundle of kindling piled on her back.
She asked for only a place to rest,
But that was reserved for Conrad’s Great Guest.

But her voice seemed to plead, “Don’t send me away!
Let me rest for a while on Christmas Day.”
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup,
And told her to sit at the table and sup.

But after she left, he was filled with dismay,
For he saw that the hours were slipping away.
And the Lord hadn’t come as he said he would,
And Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood.

When out of the stillness he heard a cry,
“Please help me, and tell me where am I?”
So again he opened his friendly door,
And stood disappointed as twice before.
It was only a child who had wandered away
And was lost from her family on Christmas Day.

Again, Conrad’s heart was heavy and sad,
But he knew he should make the little girl glad.
So he called her in and he wiped her tears,
And quieted all her childish fears.

Then he led her back to her home once more.
But as he entered his own darkened door,
He knew the Lord was not coming today,
For the hours of Christmas had passed away.

So he went to his room and knelt down to pray,
And he said, “Dear Lord, why did You delay?
What kept You from coming to call on me?
For I wanted so much Your face to see.”

When soft in the silence a voice he heard,
“Lift up your head, for I kept my word.
Three times my shadow crossed your floor,
And three times I came to your lowly door.

“I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet;
And I was the woman you gave something to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street.
Three times I knocked, and three times I came in,
And each time I found the warmth of a friend.
Of all the gifts, love is the best,
And I was honored to be your Christmas Guest.”

What’s Cooking?

Sometimes, if you stay open to trying new things, you’ll discover something about yourself that you never knew before.

Case in point: I’ve discovered that I love to cook.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ve always loved to grill. I think most guys do – there’s just something about an open fire, and being outside, and sizzling meat cooking on a hot steel grill that appeals to a lot of men. But I’m talking about more than that.

Several years ago, my family and I moved into a neighborhood ministry called “The Friendship House,” on Abilene’s north side near Hendrick Hospital. Part of my job was to host regular block parties and other get-togethers where we would eat and visit and get to know one another – and that meant I had to fix a main course, and the neighbors would bring the side dishes.

So I learned to cook. And in the process, I also learned how much I enjoy planning and preparing the meals, trying out new recipes, and experimenting with different ingredients and techniques. (I’ve also discovered that sometimes, even failures can still taste pretty good!)

Then a few years later, when I resigned from that job and moved back to Southeast Texas to be my elderly dad’s caregiver, I was able to fix his favorite meals and make his closing days a little more enjoyable. It was a real treat for me, to share those dinners with him.

Enjoying a meal with family and friends has a number of genuine benefits. For one thing, food creates community. I’ve seen it more than once – people arrive as strangers and leave as friends. There’s something about the act of eating a meal together that helps people tear down the walls they’ve built and get to know others in a way that few other activities can.

It should come as no surprise that, in the Bible, one of the most common images God uses to describe heaven is a fabulous feast. For example, in Isaiah 25:6, we read, “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the finest of wines.” The prophet goes on to say that in that day, God will “swallow up death forever,” and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

And speaking of creating community: in Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.”

Here’s another reason I enjoy it: cooking links generations together. My mom has been gone for over ten years, but when I drag out one of her recipes, in her own handwriting, and make that special item, it’s like she is right there with me. And when my kids eat it, they know that at some level, it’s with love from Maw-Maw. The same with that Roast Venison recipe from Grandpa Garison, or Aunt Bib’s Christmas Divinity. We tell the family stories about those loved ones, and it’s like they are with us again, in a very special way.

I have an Hispanic friend who told me about growing up in a home where they always fixed tamales for Christmas, and how multiple generations would be working together in the kitchen. Everyone had a specific job to do, she said, and one of the ways you knew you were getting older was that you were given a more important job to do in helping make the tamales. And as she talked about working with her beloved “Abuela” (grandmother) and her precious “Tía” (aunt), both long since deceased, it was obvious that this was more than just something good to eat.

My wife and I were talking the other day about what a significant part food has played in so many of our family gatherings. Everyone has a favorite dish, and so as we fix that item, a little extra love goes into it while we think about that family member. Sharing together in a good meal makes for very special memories that can span generations, and even lifetimes.

One final blessing: food connects us with our Creator. When we are cooking a meal from scratch, we know that there is more to it than just opening a can or removing the plastic and sticking something in the microwave. When we have handled those raw veggies, just the way they came from a green plant – whether we picked them out at the grocery store, or the farmer’s market, or our own garden – when we have peeled it and put love and time into preparing it, then we are reminded of God’s gracious bounty. When we have cut and cooked that meat, or scrambled those eggs, or whatever we’re doing, it’s an opportunity to be connected more closely with the “Giver of every good and perfect gift.” It’s also a good time to be thankful to the farmers, the ranchers, the grocers and others who were God’s partners in helping to grow and provide that food for us.

The holidays are coming, and even in this season of a terrible pandemic, even when we can’t be together, we can still be thankful for the blessings of food, family and friends.

Overcoming Fear

What is the most negative, most destructive, most harmful emotion? There certainly is no shortage of possibilities – anger, hatred, pride, just to name a few – but in my opinion, the worst of all has to be fear.

Have you noticed how many television commercials make their appeal by trying to make you afraid? A majority of money management and investment ads fall into this category. They’re trying to stoke your fears of outliving your money, or not being able to “keep up your lifestyle,” or some other vague concept to threaten you and make you afraid.

Elected officials give fiery speeches that pump up our fears and appeal to our lowest natures. Some gun owners point to “being afraid” as their number one reason for buying weapons – and especially buying multiple weapons. And, I’m sorry to say, most national news networks seem to exist, not to keep us informed, but for the purpose of stoking our fears and inflating our anxieties.

We live in a society that seems to be drowning in fear – fear of running out of money, fear of burglars, fear of disasters, fear of “others.” We are afraid of dying, and afraid of living too long. We are afraid of the government and afraid of each other.

Fear is destroying the very fabric of our society.

We need to realize this type of paralyzing, crippling fear is not new. In fact, one of the most frequently quoted phrases in the Bible is, “Do not fear” – by some counts, that phrase appears 365 times in the scripture. And it’s clear from the Holy Word that while fear may be common and understandable, it doesn’t have to rule our lives. Consider –

God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim. 1:7)

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, … (Psa. 91:1-5)

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psa. 27:1)

It’s natural and normal – even healthy – to have a certain level of fear about the unknown, about new situations, or unfamiliar circumstances, but we cannot let that fear paralyze us into inaction. When we are making a decision about something, we need to evaluate that choice, consider the pros and cons, seek the counsel of wise friends – then decide! We must not let the fear make the choice for us.

I am not against planning or preparation; certainly not. But we need to realize that we cannot always be ready for every possible situation. That does NOT mean we should be afraid; it DOES mean that we must recognize our own limitations, and our dependence on our Heavenly Father.

God told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:9). That is still good advice for us today for overcoming fear. Strength and courage!

Overcoming Fear

Here’s a question for you: what is the most negative, most destructive, most harmful emotion? There certainly is no shortage of candidates to consider – anger, hatred, pride, just to name a few – but in my opinion, the worst of all has to be fear.

For example, have you noticed how many television commercials make their appeal by trying to stoke your fear? A majority of money management and investment ads fall into this category. They’re trying to make you afraid of outliving your money, or not being able to “keep up your lifestyle,” or some other vague concept to threaten you and make you afraid.

Insurance companies excel at this, promising to protect you from “mayhem,” and the fear that arises from the unknown and unexpected. We enjoy spending time on social media, but then are horrified to discover that personal information has been shared without our permission. Our elected officials give lengthy speeches that pump up our fears and appeal to our basest natures. A recent study by a major university found that an overwhelming majority of gun owners point to “being afraid” as their number one reason for buying weapons – and especially buying multiple weapons.

Last summer’s hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and mudslides affected millions of us, and made us realize how helpless we are to prevent natural disasters, and how susceptible we are to becoming a victim. And fear grows.

We are living in a society that is drowning in fear – fear of running out of money, fear of burglars, fear of disasters, fear of “others.” We are afraid of dying, and afraid of living too long. We are afraid of the government, afraid of corporations, and afraid of each other.

It’s my opinion that this fear is destroying the very fabric of our society.

We need to realize this type of paralyzing, crippling fear is not new. In fact, one of the most frequently quoted phrases in the Bible is, “Do not fear” – by some counts, that phrase appears 365 times in the scripture. And it’s clear from the Holy Word that while fear may be common and understandable, it doesn’t have to rule our lives. Consider –

  • For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim. 1:7)
  • Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)
  • He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, … (Psa. 91:1-5)
  • The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psa. 27:1)
  • When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? (Psa. 56:3-4)
  • I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

God wants to walk in peace, not fear. So how can we do that?

Recognize fear when it appears. It’s natural and normal – even healthy – to have a certain level of fear about the unknown, about new situations, or other unfamiliar circumstances, but we can’t let that fear paralyze us into inaction. When we are making a decision about something, we need to evaluate that choice, consider the pros and cons, seek the counsel of wise friends – then decide! We must not let the fear make the choice for us.

Pray. In Philippians 4:6, Paul says “Don’t be anxious about anything; instead, in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”. We need to cultivate our relationship with God so that we can stay in touch with Him about every situation of our lives.

Stay positive. One of the most important techniques for battling fear is to fill our minds with positive and encouraging thoughts. Please don’t misunderstand: I am not suggesting any strategy that ignores reality. But as believers we must be filling our hearts and minds with the teaching of the Scriptures, the encouragement of Christian music, and the help of the Holy Spirit and godly friends, so that we are not vulnerable to falling into fear and despair. Remember that the first time God appears to Joshua after the death of Moses, three times in that conversation, God tells Joshua, “Be strong and courageous!” (Joshua 1:6-9).

Plan well but realize… Nothing I am saying here should be interpreted as if I am against planning or preparation. By all means, we should plan and be as ready as humanly possible. We should try and anticipate possibilities and be as prepared as possible for any situation. But at the same time, we must remember that we are not in charge, that sometimes situations and circumstances come that no one could have expected or prepared for. I say this as a survivor of Hurricane Harvey. In those situations when our planning fails, let us not fall into fear, but let us know that our God is still bigger than our circumstances, that it has not taken HIM by surprise, and that He is with us, through everything.

Let us, then, have full confidence that we do not need to be anxious, that we can face each day and every situation knowing that He is with us, and that we need not fear. Strength and courage!

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

No matter how much we try and plan for the future, none of us can know the twists and turns of “what’s next.” The truth of this principle has recently been reinforced to me. I have resigned from CCC, effective by the end of February. How this came about is a bit of a long story, but I think it’s a good one, so please bear with me.

My 88-year-old dad has been battling a crippling neuro-muscular disease for about 10 years. (Some of you may recall that I wrote a post about him back in the fall of 2016.) This disease has left him unable to walk, confined to a wheelchair, and essentially homebound. He lives in Orange County, Texas, between Orange and Beaumont, in the same house where I was raised, and on the same piece of land where he was born and raised. Recent events, including a visit last month to help care for him, have convinced my brothers and me that dad is simply no longer able to stay by himself.

My brothers and I have discussed this at length, and considered all the various options available – hiring an outside caregiver, relocating dad to live with one of us, moving him into a nursing home. For various reasons, none of these options can work for him, or for us. We have decided that the best course of action would be for me to move in with dad and serve as his full-time caregiver.

While I am looking forward to spending more time with my dad and serving him, I am overwhelmingly sad about leaving Abilene and the non-profit I work for, Connecting Caring Communities. In the nearly nine years since I joined CCC, I have been blessed to make some wonderful friends and see amazing things done, working with neighbors and others to better our community.

(I’m also going to really, REALLY miss our church, Beltway Park, and so many friends from our Sunday School class and our Bible Study life group. The folks in my Sunday class gave me a great send-off yesterday, with lots of prayers, hugs, tears, kind notes & cards, and even gifts of cash and more. Our Sunday night group had a farewell dinner for us last night. It was a very rich, full day of love and friendship, and one more thing I will miss about Abilene. But right now I’m talking about work…)

I have learned so much during my time with CCC – especially about what it really means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The opportunity to meet some great people, to get to know neighbors from different backgrounds, different cultures, different religions, and to host them in our home – these have been priceless blessings that I will always cherish.

I think of friends I made who have passed away: people like sweet Sandy, a tattooed elderly lady that I met through Meals on Wheels. Sandy, you must have lived an interesting life in your younger days; I’m sorry I never got to hear the stories I’ll bet you could have told. People like David, confined to a wheelchair, yet always with a smile on his face. Rhonda; Jimmy; Paul; all of you blessed me with your friendship, and I thank you. I will continue to miss you, and remember you fondly.

I think of the kids who spent part of their afternoons with me and our volunteers at “Kids’ Club,” and the parents who trusted me to watch their little ones for a while. It was my honor, and my pleasure. We had a good time doing homework, drawing on the sidewalks, climbing trees, doing crafts, and more. And I remember the Bible stories we told – “they say stories like that make a boy grow bold, stories like that make a man walk straight.” The Fruit of the Spirit and the Armor of God, David, Deborah, Moses and Esther. Mary & Joseph, Peter and John and the boys, and best of all, Jesus, the manger, the parables, the miracles, and the cross. And the twelfth and final egg, which is, of course, empty.

I think of the meals, and all the laughs we had around the table and out in the yard. Easter egg hunts and Halloween carnivals. Banana boats and dirt cake, hot dogs and Frito pie. A dunking booth on a certain very cool October day, and kickball games. Swing sets and bluebonnets. The prayer walks and recruiting volunteers. Working with teens for the “Young Leaders of Abilene.” Finding unexpected skills, like the time I handed my neighbor Diego the spatula during a cookout, then couldn’t get it back, only to learn that he used to be a short-order cook! I wouldn’t trade a minute of any of it.

And I think of so many friends who have supported, and continue to support, our work through your prayers, your gifts and your financial participation, a huge and heartfelt “thank you.” We literally could not do this without your gracious assistance and partnership.

To the colleagues I’m leaving behind, past and present: Please know that I’ve enjoyed every minute of working beside you. It has been a privilege to serve with you. I’m praying for your continued success.

Working for CCC has been one of the greatest blessings of my life, and I shall always cherish the opportunity to live out the call to love our neighbors, to bind up the broken-hearted, and to seek the shalom of our city. Thanks to everyone who participated in this ministry, and may the Lord continue to bless and guide all of you, as you continue to work on behalf of CCC, our neighbors, and our community.

A Small Group of Citizens

This will come as no surprise to regular readers of these ramblings, but for as long as I can remember, I have loved trains. I enjoy watching them, riding on them, and reading about them. I also enjoy building and operating miniature trains through the hobby of model railroading. And so I am a member of a model train club here in Abilene.

It’s a good club, and we have about 30 members. Some of us are skilled at building and maintaining well-running train cars and locomotives. Others are good at scenery – fashioning mountains and lakes or modeling city streets and industries that our little trains can serve. Some are good at carpentry, others understand electronics, and still others enjoy researching a particular railroad, so that they can duplicate its practices in miniature.

Put all these various skills and interests together with members who are willing to share what they know, and it makes our club really special. No matter what aspect of the hobby I’m working on, there is someone in our club who is good at it, and who is willing to help me with my project.

It is this willingness to share what you know and help others that elevates our club into a community. In fact, many organizations thrive on this same sort of camaraderie – mutual respect for others, sharing of valuable skills, the willingness to help, and the humility to ask for assistance when needed. Ideally, we should find the same principles at work closer to home, even in our own neighborhoods.

Last week, CCC sponsored a dinner in the College Heights neighborhood, with more than two dozen neighbors coming together. We ate and got to know each other a little better. We talked about our dreams for the neighborhood and how each of us can contribute to those dreams. Neighbors were asked to write down one thing they were good at. The answers were surprising – and encouraging.

Just within that small group of neighbors, we found people who know how to restore old furniture, and others who can speak Chinese. Some said they were good at providing child care, others understand how to use social media and technology, and others enjoy baking. We have some who sew and some who sing. And we won’t go hungry – one neighbor said she can cook Spanish rice, and another offered to make Maryland Crab Soup!

CCC believes strongly in the principles of Asset Based Community Development. In other words, instead of focusing all our attention on the problems we are facing, let’s focus on the assets we have to make our neighborhoods better. And without fail, our strongest assets are our neighbors themselves.

Now that we have identified these strengths, we will be looking for ways that these neighbors can use their various skills and interests to serve the entire neighborhood. We believe that doing this will inspire others to step up and do the same, and in the process, our neighborhoods will be improved for everyone.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

It’s true for model train clubs. It’s also true for neighborhoods.

Hello, I Must Be Going

A little over two years ago, my family and I moved into a beautiful, spacious home on Abilene’s far north side, to continue doing the work of meeting neighbors, building relationships, and serving the community. It has been a very enjoyable time, we love this house, and we have made some wonderful friends among our neighbors in the North Park neighborhood.

npfh-sw-1And we’re leaving.

About a year ago, my colleagues and I at CCC began asking some very hard questions about ourselves and the work we are doing in Abilene neighborhoods; the result of those conversations was to decide that as an organization, we were not being as effective as we would like to be. The work of building relationships is great work, but relationships in and of themselves will not bring about the kind of community renewal that we all want to see. Creating the social capital of bringing neighbors together is great, but you have to then “invest” that social capital in ways that make sense.

npfh-se-2Part of the way CCC had been doing things was to have several community coordinators – that’s my “official” job title – and place each coordinator in a separate neighborhood. Some of those neighborhoods were small; some were enormous. Some coordinators enjoyed focusing on kids and families; some were more interested in working on “bigger picture” issues. All of us wanted to bring about the “safe, caring, whole community” our mission statement envisions – we just weren’t sure that the strategy we were following was going to get us there.

We talked with a lot of people. We read books from numerous experts in this field. We sought input and approval from our board. And at the end of that process, we decided that what was needed was for all the coordinators to live in the same neighborhood, so that we could more effectively work together – to share the load and to take advantage of our various gifts and talents, and also to support each other, so that one individual was not having to be responsible for an entire neighborhood by himself or herself.

From there, we naturally began to ask, “Which neighborhood?” And again, following a lot of discussion, we settled on College Heights as being the most logical choice. The irony, of course, is that College Heights is the neighborhood where my family and I lived for over six years, in the old Friendship House there, before we moved to North Park. For a lot of reasons, though, College Heights makes the most sense as the place to refocus our team efforts. We talked with our partners; we talked with our funders.

Then I had to confirm to my family that we were, indeed, going to have to leave this beautiful house.

There have been a lot of logistics in all this. Buy or rent? New or old? How large? Which section of the neighborhood? We searched for over eight months, until we finally found a small house in the southeastern part of College Heights that we think will work for us. It’s currently being re-habbed, and we should be able to start moving sometime by mid-October.

To be honest, we’re not sure what will be happening with the North Park Friendship House. It could become CCC’s administrative offices, and continue to serve as a venue for neighborhood events; there are other options as well. Certainly, we want to carry on the wonderful relationship we have had with Hardin-Simmons University, and CCC is definitely planning to have an ongoing presence in the North Park neighborhood.

This move will be an adjustment for our family, to be sure. Like many older homes, our new house has precious little storage space, so we’re having to downsize and get rid of a bunch of stuff. It’s a two bedroom home with a living room and dining room, but less than half of the square footage of our current home, and certainly without the large community room for hosting events. It will take some getting used to, but it will be fine, and I’m looking forward to renewing friendships with some of the neighbors in that immediate area, and to making new friends, too.

I’m especially looking forward to continuing to partner with my CCC colleagues, to loving neighbors in Jesus’ name, and to helping build a stronger, safer, better community by building relationships one neighbor, one home, one block at a time.

So, farewell, North Park. You have blessed us and welcomed us into your lives, and we’ve enjoyed being your neighbors for the last couple of years.  We look forward to continuing as friends. And hello again, College Heights. It’s good to be back.

Here we go.

 

 

 

Peace for One and All

And just like that, it was over.

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you know that my colleagues at CCC and I have been leading a series of summer day camps in various neighborhoods around the city where we serve. It’s part of the “Young Leaders of Abilene” program; the summer camps are made possible in part through gifts from the Ruth & Bill Burton Family Fund, and the T & T Family Foundation, at the Community Foundation of Abilene.

So, all summer long, we have conducted a series of day camps across Abilene. Teenagers from our neighborhoods have been working as counselors, and their elementary-aged siblings, cousins and neighbors have enjoyed the fun program of snacks, crafts, games, and more. The theme for the summer has been, “Kids for Peace,” and we have tried to reinforce the message that you’re never too young to be a peacemaker – and there are many ways to work for peace. Part of our curriculum has included saying the “Peace Pledge,” which challenges and encourages kids to make a difference for peace through kind words, through caring for the earth, through valuing diversity in all things, and through everyone working together.

But now, we’re up to our final week, and we’re doing something a little different – a week of service projects, involving our teenage counselors putting into practice the peacemaking activities they’ve been talking about all summer. We’re going to a neighborhood nursing home, to use our kind words to brighten someone’s day. We’re doing yard work for some disabled neighbors, and picking up trash in a part of the city that’s too often overlooked. We’re assembling packets of school supplies for kids whose families have recently arrived in Abilene, from places in the world that aren’t safe.

On Thursday, we’re meeting at Hendrick Medical Center, in a beautiful little spot on the west side of their campus, to install and dedicate a “Peace Pole.” If you’re not familiar with them, Peace Poles are hand-crafted posts that display the message and the prayer, “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” in different languages on each of its four sides. The idea began in Japan in the 1950s; today there are over 100,000 peace poles in more than 180 countries around the world. And this week, we will be installing three more, including the one we’re putting in at Hendrick. The kids will be in charge of the dedication ceremony. They’ll offer prayers for peace, and say their peace pledge one more time.

So, after a week of training camp, four weeks of neighborhood camps, and now a week of service camp, the “Young Leaders” summer program wraps up for another year. We will continue meeting with the teenagers throughout the coming school year, and they will continue to serve as leaders and role models for the younger kids around them. We will continue to help them with service projects and activities for neighbors and neighborhoods across Abilene. And we will encourage them to continue to be peacemakers as they go about their lives.

Now if we can just get the grown-ups to do the same. Shalom.

Kids for Peace

A few weeks ago, I wrote about CCC’s “Young Leaders of Abilene” program, and the summer day camps we would be hosting in some of the neighborhoods across the city. (If you missed it, you can click HERE to read that article.) So now, with mid-July approaching, we have finished two weeks of camp , we have one in progress this week in College Heights, and we have two weeks more ahead of us.

Our theme for this year is “Kids for Peace.” That’s a name that we borrowed from an organization that is accomplishing great things, doing just what that name suggests.

Ten years ago, Jill McManigal and Danielle Gram met at a neighborhood party in their home of Carlsbad, California. Jill was the mother of two young children, and Danielle was a high school honors student. The new friends began to discuss ideas about ways of working for peace, and they realized they both shared a vision of finding ways for children to be more active in making that happen. And the “Kids for Peace” movement was born.

The kids began working together, learning about other cultures, and learning to respect people of different backgrounds. They began to join together on various projects to make practical, positive changes in the world around them – as well as around the world. Currently there are 113 recognized chapters of “Kids for Peace” at work in 23 states and more than 20 foreign countries, and they’re involved with conservation and recycling efforts, neighborhood clean-ups, and community art projects. They’re working to promote listening and understanding, and learning to celebrate diversity of cultures, languages and traditions.

One of the most visible parts of “Kids for Peace” is shown by their motto: “Kindness Matters.” This past January, through their “Great Kindness Challenge,” they coordinated more than 5 million schoolkids around the world and more than 250 million specific acts of kindness! And they’re hoping for an even bigger response in January, 2017.

In our summer camps, we are putting these principles to work. The kids are making “Kindness Coupons,” which they can share with family members or neighbors, while they learn about specific ways of helping others. We’re planting flowers, to help the campers learn respect for the earth. We play games from different countries around the world, to help them learn to appreciate diversity. And we have fun through it all!

We are also teaching our campers the “Peace Pledge:”

I pledge to use my words to speak in a kind way.
I pledge to help others as I go throughout my day.
I pledge to care for our earth with my healing heart and hands.
I pledge to respect people in each and every land.
I pledge to join together as we unite the big and small.
I pledge to do my part to create PEACE for one and all.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah looks ahead to the establishment of God’s peaceable kingdom, and he says, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together, and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

Kids for Peace is getting a head start on it.