The Flood Diaries, 2

(In my previous post, I began compiling Facebook posts that I made during Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. Here are the rest of those entries.)

 

Saturday, Sept. 9 – Back at the house in Orangefield. My brothers Jimmy & David & their team have done some amazing work, getting wet flooring, sheet rock, cabinets, and more removed and thrown out, and stacking up things that can be salvaged.

Job 1 over the next few days will be to go through all the salvaged stuff and continue the sorting/storing/disposal process. Kathy is washing dishes right now, and I’ve also been on the phone with FEMA and the insurance people. I foresee an immediate future of lots of organizing and sorting, and a lot of trips to Walmart and Home Depot. This will be a long process. So many others are in the same shape or worse. As always, your continuing prayers are deeply appreciated.

 

Tuesday, Sept. 12 – The work of cleaning, sorting, and boxing up what can be salvaged, continues here at the house. It’s a slow, tedious process with lots of little joys and much sadness – joys at finding unexpected sentimental items that were either undamaged, or else can be dried out and kept; sadness at so much that was soaked and cannot be kept. So many books – books that I have treasured – so many Bible study notes – all gone.

On the other hand, it’s just stuff. And we are still very blessed. My son Travis was able to get my computer going again! That’s a definite blessing. And so many friends, praying for us, encouraging us, sustaining us.

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

 

(From my sister-in-law, Christy) Saturday, Sept. 16 –  I have to say that today has been ridiculously hard. For over 33 years this home has been an anchor for our family. I watched my kids grow up in this house and I can’t even begin to count how many dinners I had around her dinner table. I did not grow up in this house but it was my home too. Overwhelming is an understatement by far. We will restore what’s been lost and work to bring Dad home. We will have family dinners, holidays and reunions here again. We are strong, we are 1RG!! #1RGFamily

 

Saturday, Sept. 23 – I’m happy to report, it has been a fairly productive week. We have completely emptied out all of the closets and gone through all of the records, receipts, papers, keepsakes, and memorabilia that my mother collected / acquired / inherited over the years. This was a group project that several family members worked on together.

We found some absolutely fascinating material, such as:

  • A list of all the towns & villages in France where Grandpa Garison fought during World War I, including notes about which villages they marched to, and which ones they rode in trucks to reach.
  • Mom’s scrapbook from her senior year in high school, including souvenirs from attending the Texas Music Educators Association convention in Dallas in 1955. I never knew she had dreams of becoming a music teacher and band director!
  • The “bride’s book” that my grandmother Sallie had from her wedding in 1934.

And on and on and on.

Meanwhile, we have pulled all the sheetrock from the house. We still have to demo dad’s bathroom – it got a LOT of water behind the walls – and to finish taking out the upper kitchen cabinets. We’re planning to reuse some of those, but for now, they have to come out. And other work remains.

I am so tired. Tired from moving stuff from room to room. Tired of smelling the mildew stink from the enormous pile of rotten furniture and moldy building materials piled up out by the road. Tired of being tired.

But I know we are making progress. The piles of stuff to go through are getting smaller. Our family is closer than ever, I think. Friends are coming alongside us to help in ways big and small. God is faithful, and He promises that when we pass through the floodwaters, they will not sweep us away.

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

#1RGStrong

 

Wednesday, Oct. 4 – Most of the work of sorting, packing, and throwing away is finished. On the upper shelves of five closets, my mom had saved box after box of photos, scrapbooks, old receipts, and more. Some of it has been wonderful to explore – but much of it, quite tedious. (Mom, did you really need to save your cancelled checks all the way back to 1957?)

Anyway, we have finished going through all that, and repacking what’s worth keeping. We have ripped out all the old Sheetrock and insulation from the whole house, except for one tiny bathroom that we’re still using. It’s next on the demo list. Then we can start to rebuild.

For my part, after several long conversations with my brothers, we have decided that I should go home to Abilene. There’s really not much for me to do here, and my carpentry skills are so poor, I usually tear up more than I fix. Fortunately, my dear wife Kathy also thinks it’s a good idea for me to come home. So, towards the end of next week, we will load up a truck with my stuff and schlep our way west across Texas.

Dad remains in a skilled nursing center in Lewisville, where my brother visits him twice a day, and where many of the grandkids and great-grandkids can come to see him. He’s getting excellent care. At some point during the rebuilding process, we may move him to a care facility closer to home. Our goal, of course, is to get the house back in a livable state, and get dad back in it. That is several months away.

I’m looking forward to being back in Abilene, and so many wonderful friends there, but I’m also going to miss being in Orangefield. I will miss the old friends that I have reconnected with, and the new ones I’ve made. I will especially miss the West Orange Christian Church where I’ve been preaching, and the wonderful folks there. None of us knows what tomorrow holds. Im planning to move back here in the spring, assuming that dad is able to come back home when the house is ready. God may have other ideas.

This will probably be my last update from the flood zone. It’s been just over a month now, and life goes on. But I have been reminded of how precious and tenuous life is, and how much we need our neighbors, family and friends.

Thank you to all who have shared so generously with your prayers, concern, your calls and emails, and your gifts. There’s a part of me that is thankful for having gone through this, because of what it has taught me about learning to depend on God. On the other hand, I’m ready for this chapter to be over, and to get back to ordinary things.

What’s next?

The Flood Diaries, 1

Longtime readers of this blog know that I took the summer off from writing – then came Hurricane Harvey. I broke my self-imposed exile from Facebook to post pictures and make comments and observations during and after the flood.

I thought I would gather all of those thoughts and pictures together to keep them as a record of this whole episode. I’m planning to edit these as minimally as possible.

Here’s my look back at Harvey and his aftermath, 2017.

Saturday, Aug. 26 – As of 3 pm CDT, Dad & I are fine. There are reports of tornadoes in the area, but we’re safe. Prayers appreciated for everyone being affected by these storms.

Monday, Aug. 28 – 15″ here & counting, so far. Many have received 2 or 3 times that much. The next round is starting.

Tuesday, Aug. 29 – As of 8 am Tuesday morning – we have received 18″ here at the house, including 2.5 over night, and it’s still raining. There is widespread flooding across the county, and rain is expected for at least another day or two.

We are fine here, thank the Lord – the house is dry, and we still have plenty of groceries, and electricity. We are all going a bit stir crazy from being cooped up together, but not bad, considering what so many others are dealing with.

Continuing prayers for everyone affected by this storm certainly appreciated!

 

Thursday, Aug. 31 – Okay, first things first – dad and I are safe. We started getting water in the house about 3:30 yesterday morning. By mid-morning it was 18″ deep & rising.

Dad's House

Dad’s House

House & yard

The house & yard from the road

Kitchen

The kitchen – the water is about 14″ deep at this point and still rising

We had quite an ordeal getting out, including waiting outside for over two hours in a cold, windy rain. But after 7 hours and 5 different transfers, we made it to the emergency shelter at Bridge City Elementary School. I hereby take back any snarky thing I may have ever said about Bridge City. Those people absolutely knocked themselves out to take care of us. God bless them for their kindness and generosity.

 

This morning we were bussed to Jack Brooks Airport (Beaumont/ Port Arthur), where we were transferred into the care of FEMA. We are not sure what is next. They’re telling us we’re going to be flown out to shelters outside the hazard zone, especially with new storms expected here this weekend. We’ve heard Dallas. We’ve heard Galveston, or perhaps Austin. I don’t think anyone knows for sure.

Dad is holding up pretty well. He got very wet & cold yesterday but was better once I got him warm & dry. And we are thankful to our friend Max, who was able to take in Chica, so we don’t have to worry about her.

I will try and post some pics when I can. Meanwhile, just know that we are safe & dry, and sooner or later will head to a shelter. I will update as I get the chance. Thanks to everyone for all the prayers, and please keep ’em going up.

Praise God for His care, and for the kindness of neighbors and strangers for the assistance they are continuing to give – sometimes at the peril of their very lives. God’s protection be over them.

PS – I forgot to mention – we received an ADDITIONAL 28″ of rain from Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday morning. Crazy.

 

Friday, Sept. 1 – Friday morning – My apologies for not being able to update before now. FEMA and the Air National Guard evacuated us last night to Dallas on a C-130 cargo plane. Buzzy picked us up at Love Field, and Kathy and Erin met us at Buz & Deb’s house.

Dad is fine, sort of. He’s absolutely exhausted. I think we’re going to have to admit him into an assisted living center, for the time being, which is not going to make him happy. I’m afraid his house will be unlivable for a while. Last we heard, the water had not even started to go down there. I have been involved with enough flood recovery to know that it will be a long process. We fully intend to rebuild and get him back home ASAP. We are going to start talking to FEMA and our insurance people today.

Chica is staying with our friend Max, who didn’t get flooded.

Lots of people have been asking how they can help. To be honest, we got out with not much more than the clothes we were wearing. I’m still a bit overwhelmed by it all, but thankful to the Lord for His help and for so many wonderful friends.

 

Friday, Sept. 1 – Lunch in Ft. Worth – Happy to be out of the aftermath of Harvey – heading back to Abilene for a while, and having lunch at .Whataburger

 

Saturday, Sept. 2 – First morning back in Abilene. Ate some great Mexican food last night. Going shopping for clothes. Filling out FEMA forms. Happy to be alive and out of SE Texas for a few days, but my heart aches for so many who have lost so much – ourselves included. Praising the One Who is close to the broken-hearted. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever!

 

Wednesday, Sept. 6 – Exactly one week ago, dad & I were on the side of a canal levee, in the rain, waiting on a second boat ride, to get to some place dry. Today, I’m sitting on the patio of my favorite Mexican food place in Abilene, enjoying a delicious chile rellenos for lunch.

The contrast is surreal.

I have no words to express my gratitude for SO MANY FRIENDS who have blessed us with their prayers, phone calls, gifts, and so much more. Abilene – Haskell – West Texas – I cherish you. A thousand times, thank you.

Dad remains in a skilled nursing center in North Texas. It’s not where he wants to be, but it’s necessary for the time being. We plan to get him home as soon as feasible. Two of my brothers are going into the house today, to begin the cleanup & recovery phase of all this. Kathy & I are planning to head that way soon. So many of our family & friends in SE Texas are in the same situation as us, or worse. Your continuing prayers, along with other expressions of support, are definitely appreciated: prayers in protection against looters, especially.

Meanwhile, the truth of Isa. 43:2 has become very dear to me.

PS – In thanking our WEST Texas friends, I didn’t mean to leave out our EAST Texas friends who have also been so kind. We treasure you all!

 

Friday, Sept. 8 – “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” I have cherished these days in Abilene with family & friends to rest up from our evacuation, but now it’s time to get back to work – heading back to Orange County, where my brothers and their team have already begun working on dad’s house. It will be a long process.

Words cannot express how moved and overwhelmed I have been by the outpouring of love and support from so many. You have refreshed my spirit in many ways, and I am deeply grateful.

Please continue in prayer for dad and our family through this time. And until I see you again, may the good Lord bless and keep you.

 

A Few Good Books – 3

(Third and final in a series)

Regular readers of these posts will know that I have been offering a list of several of my favorite Christian books, a list which I’m ready to wrap up today. Just to review the requirements for inclusion: written in the last hundred years, non-fiction, only one book per author, only five books in total. The first two books discussed were Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, and What’s So Amazing About Grace?, by Phillip Yancey.

Number 3: God Came Near, Max Lucado

I went back and forth about this choice; in fact, when I originally began putting this list together, I had a different Max Lucado book in this slot. (Check out the “Honorable Mention” category, below.) Many Christians would list Max Lucado as their favorite Christian author, and I would be hard pressed to argue against that opinion. Six Hours One Friday and No Wonder They Call Him the Savior were the first two books of his that I read, and I remember how deeply moved I was by his writing.

The complete title of this book is God Came Near: Chronicles of the Christ, and that is a pretty good summary. In God Came Near, Lucado explores the implications of the humanity of Christ. My favorite chapter is, “The Question for the Canyon’s Edge,” based on the encounter between Jesus and Martha, after the death of Martha’s brother, Lazarus.

Number 4: A Drink at Joel’s Place, Jess Moody

This little book is based on a radical notion – there are a lot of ways in which the church should be more like the neighborhood corner bar. (The TV show Cheers, with its promise of a place “where everybody knows your name,” is another example of this idea.) The title comes from the story of the birth of the church in Acts 2. When Peter and the other apostles, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, were accused of being drunk, Peter pointed the audience to Joel 2:28 ff.

In this book, Jess Moody explores the idea that a church should deliver on its promises, that accepts everyone who walks in the door, and that offers excitement and fellowship. He emphasizes the need for the church to stay relevant to the culture around it, and he also goes on to argue for a quality that is sorely lacking from many churches (and especially lacking in many pulpits!) today – PASSION!

I have thoroughly enjoyed this little book every time I have read it, and as in so many other ways, I am deeply indebted to my friend, mentor, and former professor, Dr. Mark Berrier, for the recommendation.

Number 5: A Sacred Sorrow, Michael Card

The church in America today is often criticized for being out of touch with the harsh realities around it. We put up fake smiles and phony friendliness, offering facile, “bumper sticker” platitudes and coffee mug theology, while ignoring the complexities and pain of the world around us.

And then we wonder why the world has written off the church for being clueless and irrelevant.

Michael Card is a brilliant Bible scholar and writer, who first came to public attention through His music. (If you’ve heard Amy Grant sing, “El Shaddai” or “Emmanuel,” then you’ve heard his music.) Besides his music, he has also written a number of really good books, including one I like called A Violent Grace. In A Sacred Sorrow, he argues that the church today has lost the ability to LAMENT, and I think he’s absolutely right. When you read the psalms, for example, you come face to face with the honesty of someone struggling with the pain of a bad situation. But you would have a hard time finding music in most churches today that cry out with that level of transparency.

Here, Card examines four people from the Bible – Job, David, Jeremiah, and Jesus – and considers what each of them can teach us about growing closer to God through our pain. Rather than avoiding hard or uncomfortable conversations, Card invites us to be honest enough with God to trust Him with our pain. I highly recommend this book, especially if you’re feeling angry or questioning about God, and some well-meaning friend has told you that “you shouldn’t feel that way.”

Honorable Mentions

Want more? Here are five additional recommendations –

  • The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis (or Miracles, or The Problem of Pain)
  • The Bible Jesus Read, Phillip Yancey
  • The Applause of Heaven, Max Lucado
  • Your God is Too Safe, Mark Buchanan
  • An Arrow Pointing to Heaven, Rich Mullins

Good luck, and God bless.

A Few Good Books – 2

(Second in a series)

In a previous installment, I began listing some of my favorite Christian books, starting with Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. To review, here are the ground rules:

  • One book per author.
  • Non-fiction.
  • Written in the last hundred years.
  • Only five books on the list.

Let me again say that I realize that, by its very nature, a list like this is highly subjective. My list almost certainly will not be your list – AND THAT’S OKAY! My point is not to argue about whether I should have chosen C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, instead of Mere Christianity, or if my fourth or fifth choices should be ranked in a different order.

The point here is to encourage believers to read more, and to choose books to read that will challenge, inspire, sharpen their thinking. Too many of us either don’t read at all, or we only read stuff by writers who agree with us.

I recall a conversation I once heard about between a college student and one of his professors. The professor asked the student what he was reading, and the student replied by naming a famous novel (I’ve forgotten which one). The professor smiled tolerantly and said, “Yes, yes, that’s fine for the gravy, but what about the meat?” In other words, the professor was saying, that while there was nothing wrong with reading that particular novel, it was not going to challenge the student in the way that the professor was hoping.

So, my next recommendation is –

What’s So Amazing About Grace? – Philip Yancey

Copyright © 1997, by Philip Yancey – Zondervan Publishing House

By his own admission, Philip Yancey has had a difficult road of faith. Born in Atlanta in 1949, he grew up in a very rigid, fundamentalist church. When he was still a child, Yancey’s father died from complications of polio, after church members told him he needed to “turn off the machines” so that God could heal him.

Yancey’s journey of faith was a long road back from that.

He went on to become the editor of Christianity Today magazine, and has authored a number of outstanding books. The first thing of his I ever read was Disappointment with God – the love the honesty of that title. I’ve also read The Bible Jesus Read, Where is God When It Hurts?, and The Jesus I Never Knew, but I think his best work is the one I’m suggesting for you, this book on grace.

Early on in the book, he acknowledges the difficulty in writing about the subject of grace.

As I look back on my pilgrimage, marked by wanderings, detours, and dead ends, I see now that what pulled me along was my search of grace. I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else.

I have barely tasted of grace myself, have rendered less than I have received, and am in no wise an “expert” on grace. These are, in fact, the very reasons that impelled me to write. I want to more, to understand more, to experience more grace.

In this book, Yancey describes examples of grace and forgiveness that are so lovely they will make your heart ache and your spirit soar. He points to soul-crushing examples of what he calls “ungrace” – attitudes of pettiness and meanness that we see all around us, and too often, still within ourselves. He tells stories of grace extended that will absolutely make you weep until you cry out with joy – my favorite is chapter four, “Lovesick Father.” And I will not spoil it by saying more than that.

In a later chapter, Yancey writes –

Jesus’ images portray the kingdom as a kind of secret force. Sheep among wolves, treasure hidden in a field, the tiniest seed in the garden, wheat growing among weeds, a pinch of yeast worked into bread dough, a sprinkling of salt on meat – all these hint at a movement that works within society, changing it from the inside out. You do not need a shovelful of salt to preserve a slab of ham: a dusting will suffice.

Jesus did not leave an organized host of followers, for he knew that a handful of salt would gradually work its way through the mightiest empire in the world. Against all odds, the great institutions of Rome – the law code, libraries, the Senate, Roman legions, roads, aqueducts, public monuments – gradually crumbled, but the little band to whom Jesus gave these images prevailed and continues on today.

Soren Kierkegaard described himself as a spy, and indeed Christians behave like spies, living in one world while our deepest allegiance belongs to another. We are resident aliens, or sojourners, to use a biblical phrase.

He goes on to say,

The Christian knows to serve the weak not because they deserve it but because God extended his love to us when we deserved the opposite. Christ came down from heaven, and whenever his disciples entertained dreams of prestige and power he reminded them that the greatest is the one who serves. The ladder of power reaches up, the ladder of grace reaches down.

Amazing.

A Few Good Books

Read any good books lately?

One thing is for certain – there’s no shortage of books on the market, and more coming out every day. And for Christian believers who want to grow in their faith, or perhaps be challenged in their thinking, there are literally entire bookstores selling nothing but “Christian” books. But having so many available is in itself is a problem: how can you know what’s worth the money to buy it, or the time to read it?

I’m not claiming to have any special insight about what makes a book “good” to read – it’s obviously very subjective. But I wanted to highlight a few volumes that have especially blessed me over the years. These are books that have challenged me, taught me, annoyed me, made me think, made me question, helped me grow closer to God, and in the end, blessed me.

First, the ground rules: First, this list is for non-fiction ONLY. Sorry to disappoint fans of Christian fiction, but that’s not my purpose here. Second, only ONE book allowed per author. Third, I’m only including books from the last hundred years – I’m aware of great Christian books from earlier times, but I’m excluding them. And finally, I’m limiting myself to only FIVE books. I’m not saying these are the best five, or that they are somehow better than a list of your top five, just that these are some books that have blessed me, and that I recommend for your consideration.

So, with that said, here’s the first in my list of favorite Christian books. Future installments will follow in blogs to come.

Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis

(Copyright © 1952, renewed © 1980, C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.)

Anyone who knows me well is not surprised at this point. And I freely admit it: I am a HUGE C.S. Lewis fan. (In fact, without Rule #2, this entire list might have been his stuff!) The story is well known of how Lewis went from being a reluctant churchgoer in his youth, and moved from agnosticism to theism, and finally to Christianity. Mere Christianity was originally a series of radio talks given on the BBC between 1942 and 1944, which Lewis later edited and compiled into its present form. “Mere” is used in the sense of “basic” – in other words, the book contains the principles and teachings which are held in common by ALL Christian groups, rather than more “advanced” doctrines about which different denominations would disagree.

Now, I will freely admit, this is NOT an easy book to read. Lewis was British, and his writing can sometimes come across as wordy and cumbersome, especially to Americans who are used to three second sound bites and 140 character tweets. When you read the book, you have to remember that it started out as a radio script, and so you should read it as a good announcer would on the air, with appropriate pauses. And the subject matter is considerably deeper and “denser” than most of us are used to reading. There’s no denying it: this is heavy stuff!

But I urge you: please make the effort to read this book. It may take a while to get used to Lewis’ rhythm and style of writing, but I assure you – it’s worth it. In these days of bumper sticker theology and coffee mug wisdom, Lewis is a deep breath of very fresh air.

Here’s a favorite passage:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

 

 

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.

The Train

First, the obvious – I like trains. I like riding on them, watching them, and reading about them. When I can’t do any of those things, I enjoy the hobby of model railroading. One of the great things about Christmas is that it’s the one time of the year when “playing with trains” is considered cool, rather than quirky. So the following piece is one of my favorites.

“The Train” is a dramatic reading by the late actor Geoffrey Lewis, performed with the musical and storytelling group, “Celestial Navigations.”  I first heard it a few years ago on a local radio station, who had it in their Christmas music mix.  I don’t think it’s too well known, so I wanted to share it with you and hope you will enjoy it.

You can buy a copy of it here, or see the YouTube video here.

The Train”
by Geoffrey Lewis

There was hardly anyone on the train, as it moved through the countryside. The snow-covered land slipped smoothly by. Way out there I could see a lonely house now and again, just turning on their lights against the cold, oncoming night. Two thick-coated horses in the almost-dark, steam coming out of their nostrils, eating hay, then they were gone. The sky was quickly dark; the stars were crisp through the chill air.

Wasn’t very warm on the train. A man was asleep at the other end of the car, his coat rolled up for a pillow and a Christmas present had fallen on the floor. A few seats away a young woman sat with her baby. She was staring out the window. She saw me looking at her, reflected in the window, and she half-smiled at my reflection and she stared beyond that out into the cold dark landscape that was slipping away. I turned and gazed back out my window, and then I heard a very soft, “Ohhh.” I turned and looked at the woman and I saw her hug her baby to her, very closely and very intently.

passenger-train-bald-man-thoughtfully-looking-out-window-moving-journey-rail-lonelinessSuddenly I felt very close, very close and warm, and a door appeared in the back of my mind. I opened it and light flooded in and I heard my father say, “Burrrr, burrrr, it’s cold outside. You can put those logs right on the fire,” and as I stepped in, he shut the door behind me. I was standing in my living room; the Christmas tree was all lit up over by the front windows.

I heard laughter upstairs, my mother came through the swinging kitchen door carrying a plate of red and green frosted cookies, and behind her came the smell of roasting turkey like a gauze that draped around my head, like the smell of earth that hangs out in the ocean and lets you know home is just over the horizon. Someone was stamping snow off their boots on the back porch and my little sister and two of her cousins were lying on their stomachs in front of the tree, starring at the presents like sharks at a man’s legs under water, hoping to see beyond the tinsel and pretty paper.

I put the logs down and took off my gloves to warm my frozen fingers. In the dining room my grandma was scolding my grandpa about the best way for him to crack the walnuts that he was already cracking. He looked at me through the doorway and shrugged his shoulders and continued shelling the walnuts. I took off my thick coat and threw it on the floor by the door and went to stand by my aunt who had just called me to come sing the tenor part at the piano. There was talk and loud laughter coming out of the kitchen where the windows were steamed. We were singing, sometimes forgetting the second verses, but sounding pretty good.

But suddenly, somewhere in all the warm and familiar sounds, I heard someone very quietly crying. I looked around trying to locate the person and then my eyes landed on the young woman in the train, a few seats away holding her baby. Her eyes with tears, hardly seeing the back of the seat in front of her. I got up and walked awkwardly up the aisle of the swaying car. I put my thick coat around her shoulders, then I sat down beside her. I held her hand in both of mine and we rode like that, not looking at each other…looking straight ahead and I head her whisper under her breath, “Merry Christmas.”

The train slipped away across the sleeping land, into the dark winter night.

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.

 

 

 

Speak, Lord

It’s 3:27 in the morning, and I can’t sleep.

I went to bed just after 10 PM, and fell right asleep, but then I woke up a little before 2, and haven’t been able to go back to sleep, so I got up. I’ve listened to some relaxing music. I’ve sipped a little Jameson. I’m still awake.

Yes, I have a lot on my mind, but it doesn’t feel like it’s any more than usual – I mean, I always have a lot on my mind. We all do.

My wife and I have lately talked several times about how noisy and chaotic life has become. As a household, as a society, we’re never quiet. It’s almost like we’re afraid to get quiet. When it’s busy, when it’s noisy, we can ignore God, and pretend everything’s okay. When it gets quiet, we can’t pretend any more.

It reminds me of the Old Testament story of Samuel, living at the Tabernacle. As a boy, he kept waking up when a voice called his name. He would run to the aged priest Eli, to see what he needed, but Eli hadn’t called him, and sent him back to bed. Finally, the old man realized what was happening and told Samuel that it was the Lord who was speaking to him, and the next time it happened, Samuel should say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

It’s quiet. It’s still. I’m listening.

Speak, Lord.