Adjustments

March 10, 2017 – Friday morning

As I write this, it’s been a little over two weeks since I’ve moved in to live with my dad as his caregiver. I knew this would be an adjustment in many ways, and certainly it has been. Some of those adjustments have been tougher than others.

I knew I was going to miss my family in Abilene, and I do. I miss our home, and especially my wife, Kathy, and her sweet smile and her gentle sense of humor. She is wonderfully attuned to hearing the Spirit of God, and I miss the blessings of just being around her. As many of you know, she also has an amazing singing voice, and I have always loved standing next to her as we worship, and hearing that beautiful voice offering up a sacrifice of praise in gorgeous harmony.

I miss my many wonderful friends. Many of them are from church and from our Bible class. Proverbs says as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another, and I am a better student of God’s Word because of the “sharpening” these friends have provided. It has been a privilege to study with them. Others have shared with us through life groups and other ways. Whether sharing from the bread of the Bible, or sharing Chinese food at Szechuan’s, the sweet friendships and fellowship have been a rich blessing.

As I said to some friends before I left Abilene, most blessings in this life are temporary, and when those blessings are gone, we can either be angry that we’ve lost them, or be thankful that we got to enjoy them for a season, and I choose to be thankful.

I don’t want to forget my friends from our model train club, and the fun we had running trains together and sharing that great hobby.

And that’s not all. Certainly, I miss the good friends and colleagues with whom I worked at CCC, and I miss the work of meeting neighbors and building a better neighborhood. Yesterday was the second Thursday of the month, which was the regular day for “neighbor lunch” potluck dinner, where I would prepare the main dish and the neighbors would bring the sides. I miss the good food, and the good conversation that we had together.

I miss my CCC co-workers, and the shared struggles that we had together. That’s what it means to be part of a team, so that “joys are magnified and disappointments lessened,” because we went through them together. And in shaping teenagers to become Young Leaders of Abilene, or in helping families move towards better financial stability, or just giving someone a ride to the store, they are still doing that work, and God knows, we need more good neighbors in this world.

So yes, there are people and things that I miss greatly about Abilene. But I am receiving many blessings as well.

I enjoy sharing time with my dad, and hearing stories about the interesting life he’s led, people he’s known, places he’s been. He has worked hard his whole life, and always put his family first. Imagine: all those years, I thought he LIKED the dark meat of the chicken! Turns out, no, he actually prefers the white meat, but he was letting his family have the first pick.

So now, if he needs a little help with the chores of everyday living, it’s my privilege to assist him with that. I figure he’s earned it.

Just the other day, he showed me a picture from his days in the army. He was about 23 or 24, a corporal in charge of a crew manning an anti-aircraft gun. The picture shows him, kneeling down, with the members of his crew all around him. They’re all smiling, and you can tell that these are young men in the prime of their lives, defending their country during the Korean War, but also ready to have a good time when they’re not on duty.

I’m learning other things too, and receiving blessings beyond measure. And I’m thinking that somehow, in some way, maybe this is what God has in mind for us. Not that we should all move in with our aging parents, necessarily, but that we should be more willing to care for each other, to give up some of our own conveniences and comforts when necessary, for the sake of helping someone else.

And just this morning, we got a phone call that my niece and her husband had just had their first baby, a little girl. Everybody is doing well, and the pride and love in my brother’s voice was special beyond words. It was a wonderful moment, being with my dad when he saw the first picture of his newest great-grandchild – this makes number eight. And thank You, Lord.

So there are compensations for the things I’m missing. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

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.

Welcome Home

My wife and I have very different TV habits, but there is one show that we both like, and it’s on the HGTV channel: “Fixer-Upper”

In case you’re not familiar with it, “Fixer-Upper” features the husband and wife team of Chip & Joanna Gaines, of Waco, Texas. Chip is a contractor, and Joanna is a designer and owner of a local boutique. Together, they operate Magnolia Homes.

Chip-and-Joanna-Gaines-HGTV-Fixer-Upper-with-kidsEvery week, a client hires them to help find them a home, which they then remodel to suit the client’s needs and desires. As Chip says in the show’s opening montage, their goal is to take “the worst homes in the best neighborhoods,” and turn them into their client’s dream home. The show is unabashedly, unapologetically, Texan.

One of the things I really like is that a lot of the renovations feature old “Craftsman” style homes. With their client’s input and approval, they will strip the old home down to the bare studs and original floors, then restore it to its original appearance – only better. Each episode demonstrates this husband and wife duo working together. Chip and his crew do the heavy demo work, taking out walls, opening up rooms, enlarging doors, in accordance with the vision that Joanna and the clients have developed. Then she takes over, directing the construction team as they install and make the house into the home the client wants.

Along the way, there’s lots of playful interactions between these two, and their chemistry together is really attractive. Many times, Chip will bring their kids over while mom Joanna completes the staging for the client.

On the day of the “reveal,” they will bring the clients, with their eyes closed, to the front of the house, and have them open their eyes – only to see a giant photo of the UN-restored front of their house. (This photo is in two parts, with each half mounted on wheels.) They will talk about why they selected that property, and what was wrong with it. Then Joanna will ask, “Are you ready to see your fixer-upper?” At that point, she and Chip will each take hold of a different end of the photo on wheels, and open it up to show them their house.

(Of course, this being television, they have to cut to commercial right before that happens.)

But then, they will look at the new and improved curb view of their home, and talk about whatever landscaping and other external work was done. They walk to the front door, Joanna opens the door and leads them inside. As she does, she says, “Welcome home.”

Then they walk through the house together. Chip and Joanna will show them all the features of the new house and point out all the little touches that were just for them. They will express their good wishes for the new homeowners, and how much they hope they will be happy in their new home for many years to come.

It’s good television, and I like that they’re restoring old homes and repurposing old items that would otherwise end up on a junk pile somewhere, but that’s not the best part, at least in my head. I think the best part is knowing that, in a spiritual sense, Jesus is doing the same thing for me.

Even now, in my life, He is ripping out old ideas and enlarging my way of thinking. He’s removing old habits and refurbishing broken parts. It’s going to be like new, only better. As C.S. Lewis once described it,

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

And one day, when my room in the Father’s mansion is completed, Jesus will open the door for me and bid me enter, and He will say those words we all want to hear.

Welcome home.

October Blessings

autumn_railroad_by_celem-d5ogfhqI love October. It’s absolutely my favorite month of the year.

I don’t think this will come as a galloping surprise to anyone – I mean, LOTS of people consider autumn their favorite season. But for me, October specifically is my favorite, for several reasons. (And no, I didn’t take that picture; it’s one I found somewhere online. But I love it!)

And okay, yes, full disclosure: my birthday is in October (the 11th, if you’re wondering). I remember as a kid feeling a kinship with others in my school grade who shared October birthdays. I seem to recall that Paul Christian and Carlene Chandler were two in my class who shared this month with me. Later, I learned that my best friend from college, Kurt Stallings, has an October birthday, and my brother Jimmy and wife Christy got married in October. (On Kurt’s birthday, as a matter of fact.)

Of course, once you get over the age of 10 or 12, people stop making a big deal out of your birthday. Still, I enjoy mine. But that’s not the only reason I love October.

Getting to October means that we’ve survived another Texas summer. This is not a small thing. Summers around here are brutal, and September is nothing but a tease. The calendar may say that summer is over, but really, it isn’t – even in late September, the highs can easily reach the upper 90s or more. But October is a different matter – there are still warm days, to be sure, but the evenings and mornings have a delicious chill about them.

Another thing I like about October: postseason baseball. By this time of year, only the best teams are still playing. Playoff baseball is a thing of beauty – even more than the regular season. Big players make big plays in big games. And there’s a reason nobody in baseball is nicknamed, “Mr. April.” (Thank you, Drew Bowen!) So bring on the World Series, and Let’s – Go – Rang – ers!

The changing season means some changes to the menu. I love a good pot of chili, and there’s something about good chili – especially venison chili – that is warm and comforting and satisfying. I don’t know why we don’t eat chili when the weather is hot – we eat other soups and stews – but chili is the ultimate cold weather comfort food. And I know, at some point before the calendar changes again, I’ll be making a pot of it.

October means the holidays are coming, but not here yet. We have the excitement and anticipation of those good things, but don’t yet have to put with the craziness of too many events and too little time to do them all. I can, and do, look forward with a child’s excitement to the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I love the colors of fall: red, orange, yellow, golden brown. Even though we don’t have the brilliance of New England or Appalachia (or even East Texas!), it’s still nice to see the changing colors of leaves, and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation.

In some ways, autumn is like a parable. The changing colors can inspire us to glorify God by taking up a new interest and exploring new opportunities to grow. The loss of leaves can remind us that sometimes we need to let go of some things, to allow old habits and destructive patterns drop away.

October is a reminder that nothing is permanent. Seasons change. Life is transitory. Make the most of every opportunity. Summer’s over, winter’s coming, but for now, October is here. And I’m happy about that.

Let’s enjoy it while we can.

Looking Back: The First Year

It’s hard to believe that nearly a year has gone by since we moved into the North Park neighborhood. It’s been an eventful year! Here are some of what I consider highlights of the just-completed twelve months.

Neighbor Lunch. One of my favorite things about this neighborhood is the tradition of meeting every other week to share a meal. The Friendship House hosts the meal, and I get to prepare a main dish, and the neighbors all bring side dishes – usually veggies and desserts. As we eat together, we sit around the table and share life together. It’s a wonderful slice of real community, and I’m happy to say that I’ve made many special friends – and had some great food! – sharing neighbor lunch. (The tradition continues, every 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month. Come join us!)

Serving Line 4 Thanksgiving Meal. Speaking of eating together, one of the real highlights of the past year was sharing a Thanksgiving meal with about 25 neighbors and friends. The kitchen “island” was filled with a massive assortment of delicious dishes, and we had extra tables set up where folks could sit, and it was a wonderful day of visiting and enjoying each other’s company.

IMG_20150604_145902Youth Day Camps. Thanks to a generous grant from the Ruth & Bill Burton Family Endowed Fund at the Community Foundation of Abilene, CCC was able to plan and conduct a series of youth day camps across the city during the summer of 2015. Our plan was to bring together a team of older teens, train them, let them practice, then have them serve as staff members and counselors for the younger kids who would participate in the camps. The camp was a great success, and it started with training week here at the North Park Friendship House.

IMG_20150718_094520Landscaping Project. The Bailey family have been friends to CCC since before the Friendship House ever opened, and it’s been a blessing to share life with them. For his Eagle Scout project, Tanner Bailey wanted to do something to “give back” to the Friendship House and to this neighborhood. He planned, and with the help of his BSA troop, carried out a massive landscaping project that included new crepe myrtle bushes, planter barrels, mulching flower beds, and installing a new basketball goal. We are so honored by his generosity and unselfishness.

Neighborhood Cleanup. Late last spring, I was approached by some Hardin-Simmons students who wanted to organize a neighborhood cleanup as a service project for this fall’s incoming freshmen class. And so on, in late August, over 300 new HSU students spread out through the neighborhood, picking up trash, hauling off junk, getting to know their neighbors, and making a difference. Then they all came back here, and with the help of neighbor Jay Barbian, we cooked hot dogs for them. It was a great morning, and I hope they received as much of a blessing as they gave to others.

Meeting Great Neighbors. The best part of any neighborhood are the neighbors! It’s been such a joy to get to meet and get acquainted with some incredible folks who call North Park home. World War II veterans, young families, teenagers – North Park is blessed with a variety of wonderful neighbors who give the community its heart and its character, and all of whom have great stories to tell. I’m blessed by their friendship.

It has indeed been a great year – what’s next? In the year to come, I look forward to continue meeting and getting to know our neighbors. We’re planning to resume another old tradition of an “end-of-summer” swim party at HSU. We’re helping organize a neighborhood observance of National Night Out. We’re looking into how we could offer some exercise classes. We’re hoping to put in a community garden – at least a small one – share the work, and share in the harvest.

We’ve made a good beginning, but this is no time to quit. I know that, working together, and alongside with our partners at Hardin-Simmons, we can continue to make North Park an even better neighborhood for everyone.

 

 

How Good and Pleasant

I grew up in a family of four brothers. Three of us, and our wives, just finished spending the weekend together.

Our family has always been close – thankfully, no major drama or fights. I’m very grateful for that, and I think my brothers would say the same. And in spite of the fact that we used to squabble and fuss as kids, since we became adults, we all pretty much like each other, and enjoy each other’s company.

But still, it’s easier to stay apart than get together. That’s no one’s fault – it’s just the way it is. We grew up in Southeast Texas, between Beaumont and Orange, and our dad still lives in the home we grew up in. But I live in Abilene now. One of us lives in Lewisville, north of Dallas. The other two live north of Houston, in the Spring/Tomball area. We all have jobs, kids, in-laws; some have kids that are married now, and some have grand-babies starting to come along.

So, all of that to say, we are all very busy, as just about everyone is these days.

But this past January, when we were all together and doing some work at our dad’s house, we talked about finding a way to try and gather for a weekend. After a lot of emails and text messages, we found there wasn’t a perfect time to make it happen, but we settled on a date that seemed like the best compromise with the fewest conflicts and said, “Y’all come.”

BuffaloUnfortunately, one of our brothers and his wife couldn’t join us this time, and we missed them, but the rest of us had a great time. We talked and laughed and grilled hamburgers. And talked. And laughed. And we reminisced about our childhood and shared memories and swapped lies, and played ping-pong and dominoes, and made chicken and dumplings with a recipe that was pretty close to our grandmother’s version. And we went to church together and had communion together. And talked. And laughed.

And – we began making plans to do it all again, next year.

Families matter. So let me respectfully suggest that you get together with yours. Pick a date, pick a location, send the word. Those who can be there, please don’t have any anger against those who can’t, and those who can’t shouldn’t harbor any resentment against those who can. Keep it simple, and have fun.

How many times have we all stood around at funerals and said, “Gee, it’s a shame someone has to die for everyone to drop what they’re doing and come together. We should plan a family reunion sometime.” Unfortunately, that’s as far as it gets sometimes.

As for me, I’m looking forward to the next time our bunch can do this. We’re busy trying to pick a location and set a date for 2016. We’re going to plan it far enough out so that everyone can come this time, including kids, grandkids, in-laws, out-laws, and the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle.

It will be here before we know it.

 

 

Thoughts While Mowing

Let me make this clear: I don’t like mowing.

I realize that in the grand scheme of things, mowing isn’t all that bad. And I’ve heard many people say that they enjoy it – they find it relaxing and stress-relieving, something they can do without having to think about it, to let their minds unwind for a while. That’s fine.

Me, I’d rather be watching trains. Or reading. Or visiting with a friend. Or doing lots of other things. But, mowing is one of those things that we nearly all have to do, and I do. So while I was mowing my yard the other day, I came up with a list of things to be thankful for while mowing.

Rain. This definitely tops the list. In a few more weeks, the West Texas summer will be here with all its searing heat and lack of moisture, and the yard will turn mostly brown. So while it’s green, I will be thankful for the showers.

Health. My health is far from perfect – I’m overweight, I have Type II Diabetes, and I don’t exercise nearly enough. Still, I’m healthy enough to be outside and do this work. Many of our neighbors would love to be healthy enough to mow their own yards, and so for that, I’m thankful.

Space. I have been blessed with a large lot and nice house to live in as part of my job. When I think about how much of the world’s population lives in housing smaller than my bedroom, it seems extremely ungrateful to complain about mowing. Talk about First World problems…

Tools. Along with the house, I have a riding mower to use, and also a push mower for areas where the big mower can’t reach. Again, these are definitely blessings for which I am thankful.

Resources. Of course, it takes money to buy the gas to run those things, and I have been given that. Another reason to be appreciative.

Peace. I can worry about needing to mow, because there are courageous men and women going in harm’s way to protect us. Let us never fail to give thanks for their valor and sacrifice.

Security. The mower was still where I had parked it after the last time I used it, at least partly because we have police officers who protect and serve our community. They are not perfect, and do not claim to be, but I’m thankful for their efforts.

So that’s my list. If I worked at it, I’m sure I could come up with more things to be thankful for while mowing. But for now, I think I’m going to take a break and get something cool to drink and sit in the shade for a while. Besides, I think I hear a train whistle somewhere…