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Blogger, Christ-follower, Encourager, Friend, Husband, Dad

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

They Talk Funny Here

“They talk funny here.” That’s what Mrs. Sweetie told me the first time I took her to Alabama to a family reunion.  I reminded her that, since we were the ones from out of town, we were the funny talkers there.  
Did you know that in Alabama there are only 25 letters in the alphabet?  There is no R.  “Pass the buttah, please.”  In Texas, we vocally capitalize the R, even in the middle of the word.  That’s why the name Carl sounds like a two-syllable word. (If you are reading this in a public place, I hope you didn’t just embarrass yourself by trying that out loud).
I had an “Aha” moment during the worship service in the church I attended this past Sunday. Those moments should occur in church a lot more frequently than they do, but that’s another topic for another day. 
I was worshiping with one of our Hispanic congregations. I took three years of Spanish in school over 35 years ago and grew up in west Texas where there was already a large Spanish-speaking population, so I can understand enough to generally keep up with what is going on.  But I miss a lot, too.  On some of the songs, I may only catch a phrase or two before it’s over.
It was during one of those unfamiliar songs that I had my “Aha”.  I realized that I didn’t have a clue what they were saying, but I had joined my heart with theirs in the worship of our God.  I clapped along with the rhythm, hummed along in harmony, and raised my heart to God.  I did not have to like, understand—or even agree with—every word to join with them in spirit.
I had a similar experience in the Crimean city of Sevastopol about three weeks ago.  Except this time the service was in Russian and the only word I ever understood was the Russian word for God.  But I worshiped as they lifted their hearts and voices to their God and mine.
I got to thinking about the complaints I have heard from church-goers over the years.  Complaints because they didn’t like they style of music.  Complaints because they didn’t agree with everything the preacher said.  Complaints because they might agree with it, but they just didn’t like the way he said it.  Complaints because the service was too long or the thermostat was set too low or the sound system was set too high.  Complaints because … you fill in the blank. Sometimes one might get the impression that we think the worship service is about us.
Jesus once said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23)
Our lives matter so much to God that He is seeking us so that we can seek Him. Even if we talk funny.

Monday, May 21, 2012

My Red Solo Cup

Who would have ever thought a silly song about picnic supplies would be a major country music hit?  Oh yeah, it’s country music.  No insult intended.  Just an acknowledgement that if you can hit a down-home, regular old boy vibe with a catchy melody, you might have a country hit.  Every genre of music has its own sweet spot. 
I just watched the YouTube video of Toby Keith’s performance of this song on the recent Academy of Country Music awards show.  Over 1.7 million people watched this video before I did.  Crazy.
I don’t have any great affinity for any particular picnic implements although I do have a list of picnic essentials, based on my upbringing.  Probably most of the picnics I remember from childhood were meals that my Granny Lewis turned into picnics.  She always had Fritos, bean dip, and those little sweet gherkin pickles.  I have no idea what in the world a gherkin is, but if you don’t have them, you don’t have a picnic.
Granny Lewis went to be with Jesus and Grandpa in 1990, just about 4 months before my son was born. I have a few quilts and afghans that she made, but one particular item stands out.  It is a little neck pillow that she made for me when she was still able to sew.  I don’t remember at what point I started putting it over my face at night to block light, but for the past 30 years or so, I can’t sleep without something over my face.  Fortunately, Mrs. Sweetie hasn’t felt the need to put the big bed pillow over my face.
Granny’s little pillow began to look a little thread-bare a few years ago, so Mrs. Sweetie used it as a pattern to make me another one for every day use.  But I still carry Granny’s when I travel.  I looked at it on my recent trip to Ukraine and noticed that the fabric is now tissue paper thin, the cotton batting is in clumps, and it doesn’t block much light anymore. 
I got a little nostalgic thinking that the time is soon coming that I will have to retire it completely.  Toby Keith says the red solo cup is his friend.  I guess this little neck pillow is my red solo cup.  It reminds me of picnics, back rubs, and Granny’s tiny kitchen.
Last week I wrote about looking forward rather than looking longingly backward.  That doesn’t mean that memories are not precious and heritage is not important.  When I look back on how God used special people in my life to prepare me to be the man I am today, it makes me want to be sure that I am allowing God to use me in the lives of those around me.  Who knows what my future grandchildren will remember about me?
Our lives matter so much to God that He wants us to finish well.  Granny’s little pillow is my reminder.

Monday, May 14, 2012

AJ & Doris - My Newest Heroes

The latest superhero move, The Avengers, has broken all kinds of box office records over the past few days.  More than likely, my first viewing will be in a few months when I can watch it on pay-per-view from the comfort of my own recliner and hit pause for the necessary potty breaks. That was probably too much information.
During my recent trip to Ukraine with the Singing Men of North Central Texas, I met a couple who have become my newest heroes.  AJ and Doris Stroud are the parents of one the men in our group.  How rowdy this group must be when we have to have our parents go along as chaperones!
Seriously, this trip consisted of 95 singers, and another 70 or so wives and “mission partners”.  Their role was to do the real work of the ministry.  In other words, if it didn’t happen on stage, they were doing it--going out on the street to pass out concert invitations, serving as greeters at the concert venues, conducting English lessons with locals before each concert, praying through the concert, and distributing free CDs and Bibles (more than 8000 of them) at the exits at each concert.  All of these mission partners are the true heroes of a trip like this.
So what makes AJ and Doris stand out among all these heroes?  Well for one thing, they celebrated their wedding anniversary on this trip.  They could have gone anywhere in the world to celebrate their anniversary, but they chose to spend it sharing our ministry. 
But that is only part of the story.  What really makes them my newest heroes is that this wedding anniversary was their 67th.  No, that is not a misprint. These globetrotting octogenarians have been sharing life, love, and mission for 67 years! 
I got to visit with them for just a few minutes on our last morning in Ukraine and I told them how they blessed and inspired me.  If the Lord is gracious enough to allow me another 39 years of marriage to Mrs. Sweetie, I hope that we will be still looking for new ways to serve Him together.
A modern version of Philippians 3:13-16 says, “Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward — to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back. So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision — you'll see it yet! Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it."
Our lives matter so much to God that He doesn’t want us looking longingly backward.  AJ and Doris are already planning their next adventure with Him.
So am I.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Moving On Up

Are you old enough to remember that Jeffersons theme song?  “Moving on up to the east side, to that DE-luxe apartment in the sky …”
Well, this week my baby boy moves out of the college dorm into an apartment.  It is not a DE-luxe one, but it will certainly be different from the walk-in closet he has called home for the past three years.  He’s a year from graduation, but the end is in sight and this is the first step toward that transition into big boy world.
This first step also marks the end of an era.  One of my offspring has been a resident of Conner Hall, the honors dorm at West Texas A&M University, since January, 2007.  Big sister was moving out of the girls’ wing just as little brother moved in on the opposite side. 
“Honors dorm” sounds pretty cool if you aren’t aware that it was built as a military barracks in the early 1950’s and is still heated by the original radiators and cooled by whatever fans the kids bring with them since there is no A/C.  The cool thing about it is that you get to have a private room and hang out with a lot of smart kids who may not win many intramural sports trophies, but they are enjoying succeeding in their college experience.
I happen to think it is also good preparation for life.  Some lessons are better learned early. Like the fact that you are smart, make good grades, and work hard does not necessarily mean that you will live in the lap of luxury.  Or that success does not always equal comfort.  Or that your life will be more affected by your choices than by your environment.
Since I left home for college 32 years ago, I have lived in 2 dorm rooms, 4 apartments, and 3 houses.  I am certain that is way below average.  Every residence has been based on a series of choices.  Even the fact that I have lived in the same house for the past 21 years results from choices to stay when I could have moved onto something new.
We don’t use the word “abode” much anymore, but it is related to the word “abide”, which means to “stay or remain”.  Because I have chosen to abide, my house is my abode.  Though I have no plans to relocate, only God truly knows how long I will abide here.
There is another kind of abode that is more important to me. Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
Our lives matter so much to God that He has given us instructions for true success and abiding joy.
Now, that’s moving on up.

Wherefore Art Thou, Romo?

(Note: Due to traveling and spotty internet for the past few weeks, I am posting several blogs today that have already come out in print form as my newspaper column)
Does it mean you’re getting old when you only listen to ESPN or talk radio in the car?  I’ve tried listening to the oldies music station, but I just can’t get no satisfaction there.  (Yes, I know that was corny).
One of my morning commute staples is the Ben & Skin show on ESPN.  If you are familiar with it you are probably mentally humming the theme song right now.  I think I really like it because they are a couple of local guys who are primarily fans of our DFW area sports teams.  Usually their humor is not offensive and they seem to just be having a good time with their dream job.
Last week they talked to Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo about the recent birth of his son.  As one whose first experience as a dad was almost a quarter century ago, I love hearing the “aha” moments new dads have when they realize you can’t completely understand it until you experience it.  Tony seems smitten with that little boy and it makes me smile just to think about it.
Toward the end of the interview, Ben & Skin asked him to imagine 20 years down the road when someone talks about him to his son.  They asked him what he would like that conversation to be like.  Without hesitation, he said the first things he wants to be remembered for are being a good father and the spiritual leader of his family. 
I’ve been a Romo fan since he became the starter, perhaps because he wasn’t a highly touted, can’t-miss early draft pick.  Of course the high profile nature of being the QB of the Cowboys means that every move is scrutinized and every mistake is magnified.  His dating relationships, vacations, post-loss comments, and interceptions have been ammunition for those who say he is just not focused enough to lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl. They just don’t know for sure wherefore he is mentally.
I have been a Cowboys fan since Super Bowl 5.  I want them to go back to the big game and win it and I’d love for Tony to have that opportunity.
But if he doesn’t, he is going to be ok and I am going to be ok with him.  At the end of life, accomplishments and accolades are not the most important thing.  His marriage and children will be the legacy that matters.
Admittedly, I don’t know for sure what being a spiritual leader looks like for Tony Romo.  But I know what it looks like for me. Jesus said in Mark 8:36-37, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?  For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” That’s a reality check.
Our lives matter so much to God, that he knows wherefore we are in every way.  If Tony’s a winner at home, he’ll have a fan in me.