Friday, August 31, 2007

Preaching With Brand New Teeth!

When I was a teenager and going steady with my future wife I got to see her pretty much based on what was provided to me. Since her dad was a pastor this consisted of attending many Church services, sharing a few meals with her family, and showing up for other Church related fellowships and functions. The name of their Church was New Hope and my buddies back in my hometown called it and me “No Hope” because of me never being around anymore to do anything with them. (I’m certainly not complaining about the Church services too much since I came to know Christ as my Savior at one of their Saturday evening services in January of 1964.)

One time I went with them to attend a Bible conference about 60 miles away. It was an all day Saturday affair with preaching and singing. The prominent preachers were reserved for the late afternoon and the night services while the morning and early afternoon sessions were more or less where the new preachers and less experienced could do their thing. I remember the night featured preacher was a big tall cowboy from Beaumont, Texas. His name was J. Boyd Davis and he was a highly sought after revivalist and special event speaker. He was all decked out with a custom made cowboy suit, special boots, and he wore a fancy belt with a huge sparkling buckle. And, he could preach up a storm.

That morning to my dismay one of the local fellows from my hometown got up to speak. I knew him well. He had been called to preach at an older age and had not been doing it for very long. He was the local mattress maker in our small town. I had also been with a friend of mine to his house with my friend’s dad and other guys where they all played instruments and sang, making music with a sound something akin to bluegrass.

He had signed up and was one of the early morning speakers. He was very nervous since the men on the platform were highly respected Bible preachers from near and far. I don’t know why but I felt connected to him and was on edge from the time he came to the pulpit. He not only was visibly shaking and very pale but the first thing he announced was that he hoped God would help him because he had that same week gotten a brand new set of teeth.

I could see the coming disaster unfolding before my eyes. When he began to try and speak his teeth began to slip and slide and make noises. There were several different sounds, some high pitched squeaking and some hissing but it was all very unnerving. His hands were shaking and I thought he might tear the pages out of his Bible trying to locate his text. Finally, the moderator asked someone to bring him a glass of water. The men on the platform were doing their very best not to laugh but I could see their shoulders shuddering as they tried to hold it in.

The water arrived and it made it worse. Now he began to gurgle as he squeaked and hissed his way through his sermon. I think he lasted about fifteen minutes and everyone in the building said a loud and hearty AMEN when he left the pulpit. I don’t remember his text but I do remember feeling very sorry for him. Yet, when you think about it, if he did what he did to honor God, then we know that God wasn’t laughing at him, but rather He was smiling with approval and saying, “Well done my child, well done.” Something to think about. See Matthew 25:21. More later……………..

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Too Good to Be True!

I was always taught growing up that if something sounded too good to be true then it really needed to be checked out closely or you could end up getting yourself in a bad situation. This is what I thought about whenever I heard the news heads talking about the collapse of what is called sub-prime loans. One of the people they interviewed said what actually happened was the financial industry loaned money to people who were never qualified to begin with and when the crunch came these folks who couldn’t afford the home they bought had no equity whatsoever, and are now stuck with a foreclosure.

When I grew up we were taught there is a difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and we never dwelt that much on illegal versus legal. Today it is precisely what one can get by with legally versus anything concerning right and wrong. It is not illegal to loan money to people who cannot afford it and who really don’t understand the implications of what they are signing, but I will tell you it is clearly wrong. The financial person said that many of the people who have now been kicked out of their homes would never had met even a minimum standard, but making the loan was the primary goal, not doing the checking necessary to qualify those borrowing the money.

Of course the Bible has much to say about honesty, integrity, and doing the right thing but in today’s world we have made it obsolete other than to be used in religious private practice. Right and wrong is now whatever a person might think it to be. Our children grow up in a world given over to making sure there’s really no bright lines regarding morality and the only real offenses are when one takes a strong stand for something like biblical values.

I do see the evil around us as indications of a world fueling itself on greed. These poor souls are now trying to find housing because they were allowed to borrow money which they were doomed to not be able to pay back are only the tip of the iceberg. Older folks are being fleeced all around us every single day. Our children are quickly becoming prime targets of those who would harm them while we as a society debate the cost effectiveness of trying to do something about their would be molesters.

Politicians have little to offer since they are beholden to the funds provided by the lenders and others who flaunt responsibility while trying to walk a thin line of legality. Those who do speak out actually end up being hypocritical as they live in luxury and actually have profited by the woes of those who have been taken advantage of. Yes, it’s enough to make you sick. I heard of a Church recently enforcing a pricing stipulation on an elderly couple where it was clear the couple had not understood the implications. The Church said they were trying to be good stewards. There’s a wonderful Greek word for that, it’s called BALONEY!!

I had a fellow tell me one time that he bought some valuable property from an immigrant couple who had no idea what it was worth. He told me he gave them multiple opportunities to change their price but in the end he gave them exactly what they asked. I told him I could not have done that. Why didn’t he tell them what the property was worth and make a reasonable profit but not take advantage of their ignorance? I’m afraid this illustration is far more common even within the world of those who claim to live by the Book.

However, it is not hopeless. Because you and I don’t have to follow suit. We can be different. We can teach our children differently. We can live with God’s help a life that illustrates what He would have us to do, not what makes the most sense for our own personal gain. Too often we are all tempted to throw in the towel and join the crowd. I’ll never forget a gentleman who sold me a van one time. He sold it at a very reasonable price and we were happy to take it as is. But he would not have it that way. The only way he would sell it to us was that we accept a 90 day 100% warranty on the vehicle’s mechanical status. He was adamant because he wanted to be sure he had done his duty towards us in this sale. Wow! More later……………..

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Falling Down!

I injured my ankle playing baseball as a kid, perhaps re-injured it again, and then re-injured it some more. This left me with a serious life long liability because whenever I step on any type of un-level territory I can, but not always, have that ankle turn and give up the ghost. What happens when the ankle gives way is typically I hit the ground. That means exactly what it says. I hit the ground. It has to be funny to watch because over the years those who have seen me fall have had to exercise great restraint and control to keep from bursting out laughing. For me it’s not funny because when the ankle goes it generates a burst of pain so intense that your only response is nausea and at times an inability to catch my breath because of the impact of hitting the ground.

Fortunately, it does not happened often but every few years it does rear its ugly head. I once had it happen while walking with an associate in the downtown metroplex. I stepped onto an uneven chunk of sidewalk and down I went. He kept walking. I’m laying on the ground writhing in pain and trying to breathe and he finally stopped, turned around, and said, “Well, what in the world are you doing?”

It’s not funny but it is funny. Its like whenever someone flips a chair in a conference room and everyone holds their breath until they see they are okay, then they all can individually and collectively give out a hearty laugh for the unplanned America’s funniest video event.

I’ve been blessed because I haven’t fallen in quite some time. That is until week before last. The day after my birthday celebration on August 16th I had come in early and drafted my blog entitled “Counting and Naming My Blessings!” where I talked about my wife, my boys, their wives, and all of my grandchildren and the great night we had together. At 5:45 a.m. as I went out to open up our shop buildings and get everything turned on I was still thinking about all the many blessings God had provided to me.

It was drizzling rain and I didn’t bring my umbrella so I was hurrying from building to building. When I came out of the main shop building there are some stepping stones that provide a sort of walk through to the next group of buildings. It had begun to rain a little harder so I picked up the pace and when I hit those stepping stones, one of them was slick, and my old ankle said, “Hey, I don’t like this and promptly surrendered.” In a flash I was flat on my face laying in the mud. My flashlight had landed some 10 yards ahead. There I lay. No one around, just me. There I lay, first trying to recover from the pain, and hold back the nausea, but then getting back up on my feet. I didn’t move very fast and as I lay there my thoughts were still on counting my blessings but I must admit I will need forgiveness for my immediate attitude about the falling episode.

I ended up with a couple of bruised knees and a very sore ankle and some pretty messed up trousers. But here’s the kicker. As I reflected on all of this it struck me how that God’s mercy and love and His blessings were still the same, regardless of me having a great day or laying out in the mud between the buildings. Perhaps it was appropriate for me to have this situation happen as an opportunity to put into context the overflowing and undeserved blessings which He has bestowed upon me. So, until the next time I and my ankle provide comic relief I’m inclined to continue to count my many blessings. More later……………..

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Cultural Collision!

We married in December of 1964 and I took a civil service job with the United States Air Force at England AFB, Alexandria, Louisiana, in the fall of 1965. This caused us to leave our family support system and move away from our rural roots of 500 residents to the city of 50,000. My new supervisor was a air force tech sergeant and he and his family became our new support system. He had been stationed all over the world but had been raised up not far from the Alexandria area. He had a unique background in that his heritage was a mix of Coushatta Indian and Cajun French. His wife was a wonderful woman from the Bronx and a more unlikely couple you would never find.

She was 100% east coast Yankee and he was 100% Louisiana bayou. I’m not sure why but they more or less just assumed and absorbed us into their family. She was Catholic and he was nominally so and they had five children to prove it, (which eventually became six along with several they had lost in miscarriages). My wife and I came from a ultra conservative Baptist tradition and how we were able to fit into this very different environment is quite amazing. When I say they took us in, I mean that more or less, literally. We shared many of our weekly meals with them in their home. We spent many Saturdays with them in their home. He and I spent many hours fishing on a nearby lake. We would catch small channel catfish, bring them home, and barbecue them in their backyard.

On Saturdays they liked for us to come early and we would spend all day with them. He started drinking beer pretty early in the morning which he loved to tease my wife about. He drank it out of quart bottles and professed never to get drunk but he could get loud and often laughed when no one else knew the joke. We essentially became part of their routine. They were able to pick up a Lafayette station so we watched Cajun box accordion music and Cajun singing along with most of the commercials in Cajun French nearly all day on most of our Saturdays.

They took our list and bought our groceries out on the base to save us money. They were a unique couple and often fought like cats and dogs even with us there. He had this makeshift barbecue pit made out of a number three wash tub with hardware cloth stretched across it. We grilled many chickens, hamburgers, sausage links, and catfish fillets on that grill. He had a special barbecue sauce that was made from slow cooking about five pounds of onions in a tomato mixture and then after many hours he would use the drippings to base the meat. It was like nothing we had eaten before, but we learned to love the food and our adopted family.

It would take too many blogs to tell all the stories we could tell about these remarkable people. And, I will no doubt get to some of them at some point in time, that is, if the Lord is willing and the Creeks don’t rise, (Creek Indian nation, not water). They owned a 1957 Chevrolet sedan and one day he invited us to go with them to visit his mom and dad who lived in Elton, Louisiana. We crammed his entire family along with myself, my wife, and our infant son into that Chevrolet to make the 60 mile trip. There were no seat belts and no infant seats in those days so we had kids sitting all over the place.

When we got to the turn off to go to his parent’s house, he told us that this was a very special day for his dad. It was his dad’s birthday but also a very special birthday and they were to celebrate it with a roasted pig that had an apple in its mouth. This sounded okay to us and then he told us the rest of the story. He said since this was such a special occasion for his dad and they had a Cajun feast planned in his honor, then it would be bad if anything happened to make his dad unhappy on his special day. Something like maybe someone showing up that he did not know and immediately did not like. That could be like us, my wife and I. Wow! Talk about putting us on the spot!

But thankfully we were accepted and while we didn’t understand most of what was being said it was a tremendous experience for us to participate in. The food was unbelievable and the people so gregarious towards us. We did not get to where we are today by ourselves. All along the way there were folks who came along side and helped and supported us. I can’t think of any who did more than this couple to help us on our journey. May God bless John who is still living and the memory of Bernice who died about five years ago. More later……………..

Monday, August 27, 2007

Learning A Valuable Lesson!

The part of Louisiana I grew up in rarely ever had snow. Maybe it snowed twice in my twenty plus years there. But the times it did were magical for us kids. I remember once when I was a young teenager we had perhaps the most snow ever with two or three inches accumulated. Talk about walking in a winter wonderland!

We didn’t have winter clothes, therefore, just about everything we had was soaked as we would go out and play and come in and change. We had eaten enough snow ice cream to make us all sick but we were having a ball. Granny was hollering about us all coming down with some bad ailment if we continued to stay outside, but this was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities and we intended to make the best of it.

We boys, of course, lived to torment girls. My sisters had some friends over that day and it gave us new targets for snowballs. I knew all of the girls there except one who was a new friend and my sister told me it would be advisable for me not to mess with her because she was a rodeo girl. What a laugh! A rodeo girl? Don’t mess with Ann because she might get angry? That was like saying sick em to a dog.

This warning sent me into special operations as I sought to make a champion snowball with Ann’s name on it. Who ever heard of any boy being worried about a rodeo girl? I didn’t even know there were any rodeo girls anywhere around where we lived. Having made me a huge wet snowball I slipped around the house and then to the back porch where they were all sitting. I had noticed that this Ann person was pretty stocky and she was wearing boots but after all, she was a girl, and girl’s typically scream and fret but that was about it.

I came to the corner of the house and with my best Dixie League fast ball I let the snow ball fly and it caught its target right in the face. A direct hit! Wow! What a shot! But Ann didn’t whimper and scream, she bolted up off that porch and started towards me. There was something about the way she moved that made me aware that I should leave the premises, so I turned and ran about as fast as I could in the snow. I could hear her breathing. She was still coming.

Ann caught up with me down in the grove of pine trees in a lot beside our house. She brought me down like I was a steer and having pinned me in the snow she began to teach me some rodeo techniques. She was laughing as she smothered me in the snow. She flipped me over and stuck my face into the snow and began squashing it and rubbing my nose in it. I couldn’t catch by breath and I couldn’t get up. This was not like anything I had experienced before.

Finally, she stood up with one foot on me and let out a yell. Everyone had come down to observe my humiliating predicament and they all stood there laughing, everyone that is, except me. I was still trying to catch my breath. I learned at least one lesson that day. No, it wasn’t anything about the feminist movement or equal rights. It simply came down to this, ‘Don’t mess with Ann because she is a rodeo girl!” More later……………..

Friday, August 24, 2007

Food Surprise!

I grew up eating homegrown vegetables, meats butchered locally, and home cooked meals made from scratch. Some people look back on this type of eating and think it to be poor people’s food or something they are glad they never have to eat again. Obviously, those who see it this way didn’t have the types of food or the cooks we had. My Granny Mac along with my mom were recognized as top shelf cooks in our area. At our Church homecoming special meals people who elbow each other to get to Granny Mac’s cornbread dressing or my mom’s homemade dumplings. We may not have had a lot of things but we always had good quality meals because of the love that went into making them.

And, that’s exactly the ingredient Granny Mac used to talk about. She always said that good cooking starts with caring. Her reward came when those she loved sat down and gobbled up her many hours of hard labor. She would actually stand and watch us all eat before she ever sat down herself. That wouldn’t work in today’s world where equality reigns but in Granny’s world she received the blessing as she knew she had poured her best into making the meals she prepared something special.

I also have the extra special blessing of having a wife who was brought up in the same tradition and she has become our queen of the kitchen to me and our boys, their wives, and their children, our grandchildren. What’s her secret? The same one Granny Mac had: CARING! How does it show itself? Getting up at 4:30 a.m., to prepare each and every sumptuous dish so that at noon time when the herd shows up it will be not only a meal, but a lasting memory. I sometimes feel sorry for her but she, like my mom, her mom, and granny mac, receives the sense of satisfaction in seeing her brood enjoy the fruits of her labor.

As a senior in high school many days I would only have to go for a half day. Our school was only a few blocks away so I would walk home. On a cold wintry day I would come in the back door and the first thing to greet me was the aroma of something so wonderful it’s impossible to describe. The windows were all fogged up from the heat of the oven and there stood my granny with a big smile on her face. I would say, “Granny, what in the world have you been doing?” She would always respond, “Oh, I thought I would make you a little dinner.” Of course dinner is what we called lunch and what most folks called dinner, we called supper.

Granny had made me a small pan of homemade cornbread dressing and used my favorite link sausage cut up into rounds as the meat. She served that with some field peas and tomato and okra that had been put up in jars from last season’s canning. She also had some homemade rolls and for dessert she had made a small banana pudding. I was the only one there. She had made this feast for me! Even as a seventeen year old I knew there was something extraordinarily special about what she had done. Yes, she stood there and watched me eat, and yes I cleaned my plate because that’s what you do whenever someone has gone to such effort. Afterwards, I sat there and groaned and she smiled that unforgettable smile that only a granny has. What a memory.

Every once in a while my wife does something very similar as a surprise. When I walk in that back door that smell hits me. Suddenly it’s my granny, my mom, my mother-in-law all rolled into one as those memories of great times and great feasting flood my soul. I look on the stove top and she has prepared smothered steak in gravy, mashed potatoes, field peas, fried okra, and freshly made cornbread. Just for us? Yes, and especially just for you! What a wife and what a life! Wow! Am I blessed or what? I don’t know exactly what will be on the menu when we all get to heaven but I do know that if it’s better than this type of eating, folks, it will have to be something! Amen. More later……………..