Toast… in the Eyes of the Law

 

Courtroom settings are familiar scenes. We’ve seen them in television dramas or experienced them first hand as a plaintiff, defendant or juror.

The nervousness of being there has different emotion levels. If there as a juror you are wide eyed and all ears, wanting to be the best listener you can be. Being there as a plaintiff brings a degree of seriousness and determination to present your side of the story and win your case. But being there as a defendant is in a class all its own. You are on trial. Your life is on the line. Everything hangs in the balance. All eyes are on you and you are being judged. Total strangers only know basics of your case. Just from a first glance or few words spoken you are being judged by every person in the room based on nothing more than primary facts.

All cases before a judge or jury have things entered as evidence that support the charge. Witnesses are called to either support the facts or cloud the facts from the view of the accused. But as the facts are presented against you, it seems the cards are stacked against you. You answer back with your view of the charge. But the more the prosecution presents, the more you know you are sunk and have no hope in redeeming yourself.

This backdrop of a courtroom scene is so you can see what I think it might be like when we one day stand before our creator God and answer the charge against us as sinners. There will be plenty of evidence for a conviction and very little, if any, facts supporting our innocence.

But in that grand courtroom that we all will face, in will come a couple of surprises. Mercy and grace show up to testify on your behalf. Miss Grace is a lady who shows up with complete favor and gives you more goodness than you’ll ever deserve, for no apparent reason. Mr. Mercy however, shows up and removes the charge against you, even though the evidence clearly shows you should be convicted and doomed.

It’s not only that we will have been released from the charges against us, but we’ve been given a gift instead of judgment. How can I leave the place of judgment with a clean slate and awards to boot? It is only because our gracious and merciful God loves the heck out of us for some reason.

When you think you are destined for destruction and ruin one day, remember that Mercy and Grace can show up on your behalf, if you’ve trusted in the judge of all creation.

Dust That’s Settled – Or Not

 

A full month has passed since our Christmas storm ordeal began. We’ve learned to           appreciate some things while living in a hotel space.

  1. Home cooked meals – We had our second one last night in a month. It was Homemade (with love) Beef Stew and Corn Bread. Yum!
  2. Space – What we thought was a good sized “suite” was great for a few nights, but it’s gotten smaller by the day. Can’t wait until we move to an apartment next week with 2 bedrooms!
  3. Washer and Dryer – We’ve not had to lug laundry around for a long time. That’s a true pain for my bride, but she’s a trooper.
  4. Your own furniture – A sleeper sofa is the most uncomfortable sitting device on the planet. And whoever heard of a sitting area with no chair?
  5. Sleeping in your own bed – We’ve been blessed with a decent bed, but there’s nothing like your own clean sheets!
  6. Quiet – The guy upstairs must be building something at 7 p.m. every night or doing jumping jacks? It could be worse!
  7. Having your own parking space – You get the luck of the draw every night. Mostly it’s been good for us.

I think we all get pretty comfortable with where we live, how we live, and with the self-imposed standards of living we all enjoy and expect. But those things can change in an instant. When change occurs sacrifices aren’t optional. They just come with the territory. Change does help you with your perspective though. It makes you genuinely appreciate things you had.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We’ll get to remodel our home at some point. And we will get most of our stuff back later this year. The process getting the ball to that end of the field is a slow one. The anxiety of not knowing how the process of rebuilding will go, or if you’ll even be able build it back the way you want hangs around in your mind. Then you wonder if home will still seem like home, when you return?

So many unanswered questions. And on many things going forward we don’t even know what questions to ask or what to expect in the process? We are plowing new ground. We will continue to take this just one day at a time and we intentionally decide to have joy in the journey!  I guess I am no longer stuck in the 1960’s? Wait, I am in my sixties darn it!

Progress is Slow – But it’s Still Progress

Finding your sea legs after something crazy as a tornado hitting your home is a difficult task. Being patient and being placed “on hold” is something I don’t’ do well. I manage my personal affairs with a “full hands on” for most things. Being dependent on other people and waiting for dominoes to fall does not come naturally for me.

We all hate insurance, until we need them – to pay off. The constant battle is this – Do I or don’t I trust the insurance company? Currently I do trust them. They said the right things. They seem to be on our side and in our corner.

Storm follow-up and repairs are slow, especially in such a hard hit are like North Texas. I am learning a great lesson that I’ve heard about before- That this is going to be a marathon not a foot race. We are taking a very LONG foot race. it will be about endurance and hanging in there. The word race will now be replaced with journey.

It has been an emotionally grueling 3 weeks since our world flipped over. Emotions change every day or two. It goes from shock to sad to mad to hurt, and then bits of each all over again. At least now I don’t take those big nose dives after visiting our home. The hurt is being replaced with “OK, let’s get this ball rolling and get it all done”.  If you don’t like simple auto damage claims, you’d not believe all of the elements of a catastrophe dwelling claim. I’m trying not to get overwhelmed by it all. So many decisions face us in the months ahead. But the alternative is homelessness! We are grateful for small things that we took for granted before.

We are on a quest to find joy in our journey. We’ll look back one day and know what we should have worried more about, and what we should have done differently. We hope we’ll be better people for this chapter. We can’t help but think there is some grander purpose in this all. We just know it.

Faith – Does it Really Work?

Knowing truth is very important. Burying bits and bytes of tested truths into your memory can be like having a life preserver tucked under the seat of an unsinkable ship. You just “know” you will ever need it. Yet there it remains under the seat, untouched.

To keep a ship moored at the dock for fear of future storm nullifies the purpose of having a boat. Sailing vessels are now equipped with every form of radar, sonar, radio, digital satellite communications, back up engines and generators. Yet there are still life boats and life preservers on board.

The importance of tucking away ageless nuggets of wisdom cannot be overlooked into your life’s ship. Times of trial, chaos and despair will surely come. Always remember to keep that orange vest securely tucked away. You never know when it will be needed.

In our youth we wrongly assumed that hard times would never befall us. We seemed invincible. We made no disaster plans, we had no backups, we reserved nothing with which to help ourselves when things went bad. We simply thought bad things would not happen to us. Therefore we lived in oblivious worlds.

The reality is that things do break, plans do fail, jobs are lost, homes are destroyed, and people do die, with no concept that these things do really happen to virtually all of us.

As young adults my bride and I were fortunate to have had some really good teaching shared with us. And not just life lesson teachings from parents and friends. We had biblical truths that were laid out before us by gifted and faithful men. We listened, we learned, we memorized, we even applied some of the simpler truths we were being taught during that period. The basis of what we were taught were qualities about God. Those basic truths resonated as we grew in our understanding of who God really was.

God is Infinite. This means he has always been and will always be.

God is Omniscient. That means he knows it all.

God is Omnipresent.  That means he is everywhere, at all times.

God is Merciful. This means he has compassion on His creation.

God is Just. He is the ultimate judge and his decisions are based on goodness.

God is Love. Everything he thinks and does come from a position of love.

There’s a longer list of other traits about who God really is, that I won’t share now. But I’d like you to understand that we learned just enough, early enough, during our faith building years that we knew we could trust in God, and even trust in him when things didn’t seem to be going as planned.

When problems come into our lives we can always fall back on what we know to be true about our God. One attribute not mentioned is that He is Faithful. We can always rely on him because we believe that He has our ultimate good in mind, at ALL times. When you grasp this truth (and hold on to it) it takes away a ton of doubt and fear and allows you to transfer your worries back to knowing that He (or God) is still in control.

Faith does work. I believe. I trust. I rest. Because our good God.

 

Scabs and Scars

I’ve personally been met with obstacles and challenges in my life that left me battered, bruised and broken. I bear scars of failure and defeat. Some wounds have been deep and lasting. Some battles I’ve faced seemed to have lasted for a lifetime. Then there are are those really tough events that defined my life, at least for a time.

The human condition gives us all episodes of life where we get punched and slapped and knocked down. It’s just life. Some battles leave you with evidences of your survival. Some skirmishes can leave you with nasty little scabs. Then there are those events that leave indelible marks on your life. Those seem to stay with you. Scars left behind can be reminders of failure and brokenness.

A few years ago I was at crossroads in my life. Failure and despair seemed to haunt me. That thinking seemed to be a new norm for me. I decided one day that I was far better at failure than I was at winning. Let me tell you, that is not a place you want to be. That feeling takes you captive and makes you its slave. It seems there is no escape from that dungeon.

But then I found some really wise counsel, from some very honest and godly men. They didn’t ridicule me, they didn’t shun me. They didn’t try to figure it all out for me. They came along side me in my pain. They prayed with and for me. They hounded me with compassion and care, in an humble yet strong kind of way.

It was a rather odd and new time for me. Men were taught to suck it up, take it on the chin and just deal with it. Don’t show your weakness, don’t display your pain. And whatever you do, do  not tell any other man your weaknesses or failures. If you do, your man card is cancelled permanently. Does anyone know who wrote those rules?

I can honestly say, at this point in my life, that I wear my scars as badges of honor. I know I am a survivor of the rarest kind. I’ve been in the trenches of life and am still here to tell of them. I have a marriage that has stood the test of time. I have folks around me that I’d willingly give it all up for. I’ve seen ugliness and pain yet I smile in spite of it all.

There’s nothing special or gifted about me, yet I’ve found the secret to success in life. It is not about reaching some pinnacle of fame or fortune, or reaching some lofty goal or getting some large reward.

I’ve learned to simply rest in what my God has shown me, in my pain. He’s a trustworthy teacher that takes you to the highest of places of submission and tests you to see if you really do trust him. When I’m shaken and thrown down I know that He still loves and cares about me, especially in my pain. It must seem odd to those around me, but I’ve been blessed beyond measure in some of the darkest places in life. Yet God is good. All the time.

 

Riding the Rails

The emotional roller coaster in the aftermath of devastation is quite the ride. The ride takes off with tons of adrenaline flowing that moves you to action as you take that first steep dive down the tracks. Then as you start up the next hill you get a bit concerned about how high the next drop might be .

Then after a few days of riding you are dizzy and downright tired of the ups and downs. The downhill falls seem to get steeper when they come. But pockets of adrenaline arrive to alieve some of your fears.

About a week in you realize that your life (all of it) will never be the quite the same. Planning for a life change and implementing that plan is quite different than being forced to change every single plan and thought you had about your future.

Yesterday was one of those days. It started out stressful at work with tons of things to do and not knowing where to start on them because they were all urgent. It was so overwhelming it made me want to just walk away. Then I found a happy place with earbuds in place with some soothing music that took me away. That’s when work started cranking out. At the crest of the ride I decided that I needed to go “home” at lunch to survey the mess to see what we still need to do in the mopping up process. That little visit sent me back to a bad place.

Life has its ups and downs regardless of the date or your station in life. Challenges that we all face can take us from contentment to worry and doubt, in short order.

As I reviewed my life (and not just the past 10 days) I was reminded of some words from Isaiah 54:10 that lifted me up.

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” NIV

That’s all I got today, and all I need.

Where’s My Cup – Quest for Normalcy

Having a normal nights rest is something that can be illusive the older we get. Depending on circumstances or diet or a change in the time we retire, we seem to search for the perfect sweet spot so that we can get a deep restorative sleep.

When your apple cart is flipped on it’s side or tossed a block from your home you reach for the fruit – it is not there. You look and all you find is an empty place.

When everything in it’s place has been moved, the quest for things from your normal routine begins. Whether it’s a favorite coffee cup or a small screwdriver, trying to navigate back to simple routine it can be as illusive as laughter at the IRS office.

Our complex world can become very simple in short order.

99.9% of our personal belongings are now in storage 19 miles from us. I almost said 19 miles from home. Camping out in a hotel room is fine for a couple of days but the novelty and simplicity grows thin rather quickly, especially when you can’t even find your house shoes.

Humans were created for routine. Navigating in the dark in our home is  (was) something I’ve took for granted. Not that I count, but I can walk directly the the door handle on the bedroom door. I can walk to the kitchen or den without running into a wall or stumping my toe. When I wake up in the morning I can tell you what time it is without even looking. I can take you to the top drawer of my toolbox in the garage for a screwdriver (in the dark) and pull out a phillips head.

When I rolled out of bed this morning I turned right and ran into the window. Then I put my foot in my bride’s shoe and it didn’t fit. I walked in the dark with my hands out in front and walked slowly. I saw a glimmer of light. Aha -the  microwave clock! That tiny light is so important to me right now. Who would have ever guessed?

We found that we have a nice lady here that can make a mean omelet in the hotel lobby. We have a new routine! The food is good but I have a hard time with total strangers sitting around in their jammies and hair so wild they could easily have a bird hiding in there. As we prepare to return to work tomorrow we will no doubt enjoy at least something that is routine and familiar. Who would think I want to go back to work?!

I promise to grateful today. I will be grateful to go to my church, even though it’s 12 miles further now. I will be grateful for a couple of meals prepared by someone else. I will be grateful to know I still have a partner that I adore with every fiber of my being.

It will take a little time, but we will find our new “normal”. And we will be happy with whatever that different routine brings us. We have no reason to fear. We have no reason the grieve. We have no reason to worry. We have each other and we hang onto a God that we believe in. We know that He will provide our every need. He’s that kind of God and we trust in His goodness.

Oh Holy Night – Part 2

In an instant your life and everything familiar to you can change.

For a few seconds the lights stayed on. I knew the storm had passed but somewhere during the walk from the security of the bathroom to our kitchen we lost power. I noticed then that the kitchen ceiling was down and the little pink insulation topped everything in the room.

Opening the door into the garage revealed tons of debris and items from the attic now resting atop both cars. The wallboard blocked it so that we couldn’t see. What I’d later find is not roof above the garage and the metal door on top of both cars.

Knowing we’d been spared total destruction I continued out front to see what else I’d find. A view of the street was shocking, to say the least. Even in the darkness I could see entire trees and tons of debris blocking the path to the street. There were pieces of houses so large it was unfathomable how they arrived there, especially in the span of less that one minute.

Next thought was to see if our neighbors of 30 years were intact and OK. As flashlights began to appear I could see what looked like one half of a house directly across the way. My pickup was still in front of the house buried under a tree with a limb impaled in it’s windshield all the way through the dash.

I could hear my bride in the background trying to reach our daughter Holly because the trajectory of this storm would place it on their doorstep. We later found that they were close to downtown Dallas and not at home. home was within 6-7 blocks of some of the worse destruction in Rowlett, TX. Their home suffered only minimal roof damage.

Within minutes a number of saints showed up at our place to check on us and lend  lend a hand. Without our children and close friends I think we would have probably caved in emotionally in short order. There was an urgency in everyone that I’ve not witnessed firsthand before. It was hectic and fast and crazy. We didn’t have time to worry or cry.

As we continued to survey the damage we saw one shocking thing after the other. Walls missing, roof trusses that looked like matchsticks and destruction too great to fully comprehend. I believe  the emotion of shock protects you from caving in and giving up. For me preservation mode kicks in and my mind starts to prioritize everything.

For one of the first times in my adult life I wanted to set aside my instinct to take control and make things happen, to that of wanting to just be a foot soldier behind a great general. We had several such officers that night that were taking on my normal role of leader and protector. I appreciate every one of them more than you will ever know. They were firing questions at me as if I were in charge. I was anything but in charge. So having these folks in full battle mode was just what we needed.

With large sections of roof missing and heavy rain coming, within hours, I think we instinctively knew that moving recoverable items to covered areas of house was crucially important. Try taking a fully furnished house and pressing everything into a couple of rooms and you quickly find that is a difficult task, while at the same time trying not to damage what was being moved.

The emotions of our disaster seem to run in circles. Shock one moment then sadness. The old mind races and normal sleep is hard to find. It’s been a week and I just had my first full restful sleep. Perhaps that’s because we left town. Perhaps that’s because we have something great to celebrate being able to meet our new grandson Austin.

When I held this little fella last night there seemed to be a great salve of healing being applied to my soul. This little boy represents hope to me. He represents OUR future. Destruction and despair and worry and doubt melt away like hot butter when I think of this majestic creation that God created from microscopic cells.

There is more to this story because it’s still unfolding. But for now I have bright hope and encouragement. God is not finished with us yet.

 

O Holy Night – Part 1

On the early morning of this new year I find myself awake early. The past week has been a bumpy ride, literally. Following Christmas day there were errands to run and  the decompression after the buildup to Christmas Day. Upon settling in my old easy chair to watch a little TV, little did I know that silent night was about to become anything but silent.

The networks were being preempted by the weather on this warm and sticky December Texas evening. We knew we had a cold front on it’s way and heavy rain coming the next day. Texas weather is a crazy thing. We laugh, but all four seasons can happen in a single day.

As I watched the weather guy track a heavy thunderstorm, that was starting to turn ugly, little did I know that weather front had a late Christmas present for us.

One storm had produced a tornado south of Dallas and it had tracked almost to the downtown area of Big D. As I watched the trajectory of that storm, I told my bride that I was more concerned about the eastern side of the track because that is where we were sitting.

A few minutes later I lost satellite signal. Usually when this occurs it will rain pretty heavily within a short time. I waited for the sound of rain on my chimney. Nothing.

As I sat in my recliner looking out through my patio door I could see some flashes of light that were most likely lightning strikes from an approaching new storm. Being the constant weather watcher that I am, I stood and looked out to the southwest to see in the back-lit sky what surely looked like what they call a wall cloud.

I summoned my better half for a look. She saw what I saw. It was a cloud hanging lower than the surrounding clouds. And there were flashes of light that made it evident it was more than a wall cloud.

I opened the door and stepped on the patio for a better view. That’s when I heard “that” sound. It was a roar with a loud motor grinding pulsating. It appeared several blocks from us. I quickly tried to determine if it was headed left or right. It was neither. It was coming our way.

I loudly called out to my wife that we needed to head to the main bathroom. I’ve always been a scoffer at the warnings to get in the tub. This time I knew better than to question what my ears and eyes had seen.

So with pillows in place and Miss Sadie in (our dog) we closed the door and waited. A mere 60 seconds had passed when we heard a couple of loud “booms” and a little vibration. Then quiet. I said it’s over. And it was.

The “easy” part was now over.