Celebrating a Birthday – Especially in Heaven

He was my sounding board and confidant. And spiritual younger brother/friend. We pulled each other back from despair a number of times when life just didn’t make sense. He was Encourager-Par Excellence. He was the “get it done” person in the room. If you told him “Sorry that idea or project just isn’t possible” it was his signal for “watch and see it happen”. He’d go into high gear and make things happen. That thought process wasn’t just a human determination. It was coupled with the understanding and belief that our God is bigger than our problems or any obstacle we might face. The word “no” was just not a valid answer to my friend. He simply wouldn’t accept failure or defeat. He had a zeal for life that many will never attain. The enthusiasm and determination he exuded had a way of rubbing off on you.

One day he wanted me to come over with my pick-up to help him with a chore. It was one of those cold and blustery North Texas days late in the winter. I was sort of in a mess at that time because I was recovering from a broken arm and torn rotator cuff. The plan was to load a horse into a trailer and then take that horse to a breeder somewhere down close to Tyler, Texas. Because of my injuries I was still in a sling, but I could still drive.

We (bride and I) arrived at the land across from Jeff’s house and one of the guys who lived next to  the pasture had captured the horse in question and was trying to load said horse into a single stall horse trailer. After some wrangling, the horse finally reluctantly complied and they tied his bridle to the inside of the trailer, with what I thought was a flimsy rope. While watching being loaded I noticed that this little trailer had seen better days and I was a bit skeptical of the road worthiness of the wheels and tires for a 90 mile trip. But knowing Jeff, we were going to at least try.

Before I could back the truck up to latch onto the now loaded trailer and leave, this horse starting bucking and kicking in the trailer. I really thought the horse (and trailer) were about to start rolling down the hill. But while Mr. horse bouncing around in that trailer the rope with which he was tied broke free. So now this horse was confined, but loose, inside that little trailer. You are not going to believe this next part.

This horse was not happy and was not going to have any part of this trip or this trailer. His eyes were bugging out and then his head was sticking out the window of the trailer. Believe it or not, that horse proceeded to come out that side window. I was certain this whole thing was about to get really ugly with a horse half in and half out of a trailer window. But somehow he came out completely and then headed for the hills! It was the craziest thing I think I ever witnessed.

Horses became one of Jeff’s passions during the final chapter of his life. He left us way too early. But we are only given so many days on this earth by our creator. God’s purposes for Jeff had obviously been accomplished. During our friendship some great spiritual lessons were learned by both of us. In the pursuit of trusting God we both witnessed God’s hand in our lives and in lives of others too.

Jeff Thompson would have turned 52 years old today. He left an indelible mark on those around him, especially me. I might have a few impossible tasks in my path, but those are not really obstacles in my estimation, thanks to my buddy Jeff. Happy Birthday in heaven little brother and friend!

 

Normalcy – Crazy is Normal Too!

It really hasn’t been all that bad. People say “oh I am so sorry for your loss” or they have very careful responses when we are forced to tell them “our home was damaged in the tornado”. People have been really kind, but guardedly careful in their responses to us – as if we might just break down and boo-hoo on the spot. We’ve even gotten to the point that if the subject comes up (for whatever reason) we are starting to avoid telling people of our plight.

There have been annoying aspects of having things change so quickly – but being displaced by a Christmas tornado is not the end of the world. We all have stuff in our homes – like clothes – and appliances – and tools and closets full of food, and other items we can’t seem to live without. But to put it bluntly, virtually everything at our home either got thrown in the trash, tossed hurriedly into a suitcase or moved to a warehouse in very short order.

In the middle of the really drastic changes of the past 50 days we’ve been able to gain back a little familiarity in the past few days, by simply getting our hands on a couple of our own chairs. Hotel and rental furniture leave a bit to be desired in the posterior and lumbar departments. And excitedly one of our cars came back “home” last week after an extended excursion to a tropical body shop. The other car hope to make its escape this afternoon. So instead of driving my beat up pickup truck or the wonderful borrowed car from our daughter (which we were very grateful to have), we are getting back a few things that we depend on to help make things seem “normal” again.

We are undoubtedly part of the “Golden Agers Club” in our trendy apartment home. It is definitely a change parking in a garage that has more than one level and wondering each day what choice spot we’ll score (and hoping it is close to the correct exit). Then there’s the walk from the garage to the mailbox, and then up the elevator to the frigid hallway to our new paradise. Was that a right then left, or other way around?

But somewhere in my past I heard that new experiences are supposed to stretch you keep you young, aren’t they? If so we should have trimmed about 20 years off by now! At least things are not mundane and boring. One positive is that we’ve found like twenty new places to eat while waiting for a place where we could actually cook a meal or two on our own. Making our own food this past Friday night, was fine dining indeed. Hog heaven was more like it.

Over the course of time we’re learning to sit back, see the scenery, and enjoy the ride! What comes around the next bend might be yet unknown, but it surely will be just another adventure in the twists and turns of a crazy trip!

 

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.

Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near You – Illness

 

Like any communicable disease, there are limited but effective ways to stop whatever illness is knocking at your door. One solution is isolation – stay away from others who might infect you and your kin. At times a virus may come to us when we least expect it. An accepted way to combat the potential of an invading bug is to see if there is a serum or vaccination available to prevent infection. We go for an injection in hopes that we can build up immunity and avoid catching the invader. Some viruses are very resistant to elimination and require stringent and often serious isolation and might even require a different kind of protocol to stop the spread. As you know, we faced such a threat with the Ebola virus that came unexpectedly to our shores in 2014. Some people got sick, and some even died. But with fast action and certain isolation we were able to stop its spread and the ultimate destruction of thousands.

We have a subtle yet deadly virus that’s already made landfall in the U.S. quite some time ago. It is spreading like wildfire in many communities. We’ve not been sufficiently inoculated ourselves to keep this virus from invading and destroying us. The really scary part is that we’ve allowed the germ to grow pretty much unchecked so far. Thousands more that are already infected by this deadly virus are seeking entry into our land, and are actually being encouraged to come. They carry with them the potential of destroying us all if left unchecked. They already freely walk among us with the destructor in tow. In case you haven’t realized what threat I’m talking about, it is called Islam.

If we think North Korea is a problem or if Russia or China are serious threats, then we are fooling ourselves when those worries compare to the worldwide spread of Islam. This false religion will bring us all to our knees and ultimately destroy the civilized world. Its mission is to overtake, control and eliminate the Judeo/Christian message. If we fail to take decisive, serious and immediate action to limit the spread of the carriers of this plague we will face certain and complete destruction.

Fortunately there is a vaccine. It’s called the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith in Him is the only hope. He is the one and only God. He can protect you from any invading virus or ideology. He can remove each and every strain of disease being perpetrated and promoted upon our society. It’s not too late to be protected. Immunization requires action on your part, as it’s not an automatic prevention. You have to go to the source of the maker of the vaccine.

Ask the one and only true God to redeem and protect you from the spread of the invader with a complete dose of the vaccine that gives life. A good  place to find the answers is by taking a stroll into the pages of The Gospel of John in the New Testament. It’s a simple and forthright read.

 

Trip of a Lifetime – Coming soon!

 

   I think we’ve all envisioned what it might be like to travel and experience places we’ve never been before. We fantasize about going to Europe, Australia, or Bora Bora, just to mention a few of the dream locations in the world. We’ve all had friends, relatives or co-workers who report back the fun they’ve had at locations where as they were bowled over with awe from their trip. My own kids have been and seen things in their young lives that I’ve only read or wondered about. From the great wall in China, to the outback in the great down under, to Europe and back. And even in the Americas my kids have traveled to places that make my own life seem boring.    

  As we age, our mind’s dreams of going to such locations grows farther and farther as our priorities change and as the old body just doesn’t have the same spring in the step of earlier years. I’ve always loved to travel. It never mattered what the destination was. Just leaving the comfort of normalcy for a weekender has always recharged my batteries. Always has. And hopefully always will.

   With my bride of 40 years we’ve been a few places when we’ve had the chance, that have provided wonderful and lasting memories. Our travels have taken us to and from Canada both in Ottawa for us both and Saskatchewan for my better half. On our joint trip we came back via Niagara Falls (you have to see it to believe it). We’ve taken time in both northern and southern California and we’ve seen some incredible sights. A few years back we had the opportunity to travel to the northeast, all the way to Maine. It included the wonderful drive through Tennessee, Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and on through the Big Apple. It culminated in old New England. And the return down the Appalachian Trail was wonderful.  We’ve had shorter trips within our own little country, known as Texas.  From the tip top of the Panhandle down to the tip of Brownsville. And even from the southeast shores of the Gulf of Mexico to the dry and dusty El Paso. So even within the confines of the U.S. we’ve really been able to eat a good tasty slice of Americana pie.

So it was with a great deal of amazement last fall that our sneaky kids brought us all together for a Sunday dinner where they presented us with a copy of a large check in an amount beyond belief for a cruise! We were shocked with the size of the gift and how they had been saving for years. The gift is to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, that happens later this year. The kids were thinking we might do Europe, Hawaii or some other exotic location, but my very first thought was it HAD to be Alaska!

   The great state of Alaska is still considered a pioneer and pristine destination. It seems to be the only place in North America (and maybe the world) that is virtually untouched by the blight of man. The only experience I have with the 50th state is second hand knowledge from a friend who traveled there as a teenager and from my step dad who traveled there and stayed several weeks camping alone. He had the time of his life. The difficult adventure getting there and back was half of the adventure for him.

   We’ve all seen the photos, travel videos, documentaries, and even quirky sitcoms and dramas with the backdrop of beautiful Alaskan. The views are magnificent, even in photos. Ever been on vacation somewhere and snapped what you thought was an award winning photos only to have your viewers say nice. Nice? The photos and experience to me was WOW and I get a “nice” from someone that didn’t go. They just weren’t “there” and don’t really understand so they? That scenario is probably played out with most vacation photos for everyone. I tend to think after seeing a number of YouTube videos that those really do capture more closely the sights and sounds of the adventure. The missing components from a sensory standpoint is actual sights, actual sounds, and actually feeling whatever weather elements and scents only captured while “really” being there. 

So very soon (less than 3 weeks) we will be embarking on something wonderful. I’ll try and share as much of it with you, that I humanly can.

Left Turns. Ever made one?

LEFT TURNS
Right turns when driving are fairly easy, aren’t they? Most states allow a right turn on red light, if no other traffic is coming. Some times there are arrows that allow right turns. But for the most part in America we could all agree that turning right is fairly simple.
Left turns however are another matter entirely. My most poignant remembrance of a left turn was when I was a little bit younger (OK, a lot younger!). I met regularly with two older men on Saturday mornings for coffee, encouragement and prayer. The route to our meeting place required a left turn at an intersection. One particular morning when at the signal light and turning left, I proceeded to make my turn at the end of the light’s cycle.
On the other side of the intersection another driver was coming through the intersection, also at the “end” of the cycle going straight. That morning we met without a handshake. It was a small disaster. The other driver T-Boned me on the passenger side of my car. I had my driver’s window down at the time and the impact flung my eyeglasses into the street and we run over later. The right side window exploded and some of the flying glass now resided in my face.
After the spinning stopped I surveyed the scene and realized my little car was done, Caput, totaled and basically a nice new U shape.
I made my meeting that day after a brief discussion with the other driver, the police, paramedics and a few other “concerned” citizens that were worried about us clearing the intersection. My meeting guys saw the blood and the no glasses on my face and said, “What the heck happened?” “I said, well I was just making a left turn, when………”
I survived that crash. My car didn’t. Had my pregnant wife been with me in the passenger seat that morning most likely she or my unborn son might not be with us today. It was that bad of a collision.
How can out life be changed so quickly and drastically with a simple left turn?
As I look back on that day and survey the many days of my life since that time, I can tell you I’ve had and seen many other “Left Turns” in my and countless other lives. Can you recall those times when your world changed in an instant? Was it a phone call? Was it a birth or death you witnessed? Was it coming home to an empty house unexpectedly? Or maybe it was that day you were called into the boss’s office for some bad news?
My bride and I were discussing just last night how many of our friends, co-workers and others we’ve known of the past couple of years who’ve had some drastic and even fatal left turns. Often without any warning, we’ve seen settled lives get toppled in an instant. Is it that we are just getting older and everyone around us is too, or does it seem that problems for all of us are mounting up like pending storms?
Regardless of why, we will ALL have LEFT turn(s) in our lives. It is just part of the human experience. How, oh how, do we prepare for such events and drastic changes? I think we can’t. We just have to live our lives in such a way that we keep our “bags packed” to some degree. Bags packed thinking also means we need a level of faith and trust in our creator God that He is the one that is ultimately in control of our lives. If you don’t believe this to be true, I surely wish you would consider seriously trusting Him for your own destiny. He’s the one whose set my life back on the road after many, many left turns. He is working out his will in our lives and HE is good ALL the time!

Ready to Retire? Always!!!

Well, today we say farewell to my good buddy Curtis. I’ve had the privilege of working with Mr. Curtis for almost 4 years. When I walked into this place for the first time (through what I thought must have been the back door to the business) I was smack in the middle of the customer service department. I was there looking to interview for a new job and Mr. Curtis was the first person that greeted me.

It really helps when you walk into a new place seeking employment to find some like Mr. Curtis. Whatever fear and trembling I must have felt was tempered quickly by the ease of style and friendly character of this fellow. While waiting for the person interviewing me, it was only a few sentences in that I and my buddy were talking food and especially BBQ. Funny how God uses people and passions together very quickly, isn’t it?

Well, I ended up getting the job. And I worked in a different building but shortly thereafter we moved to another location and all of us were finally all together. It was here that I learned about the life and adventures of Curtis. And what a storied life! I thought I had done a lot of things in my time. But I met my match.

Once you meet Curtis, you will never be the same. And if you’ve met him you will understand (without a doubt) that he has a deep and abiding faith in our God. And yes we do share the same One and only God, expressed in the form of Jesus the Christ.

Speaking of Jesus, one of Curtis’s common questions is to anyone he knows is this – “Did you know that Jesus loves you and I do too?” I would kid him at times and say “I sure hope so!” Or I might tell him “I know Jesus does, but I’m not sure about you.”

He ends all Facebook or email messages with “Love Ya”. Now it takes a real “manly man” to boldly tell someone (anyone) that he Loves You. But that’s how he rolls. And it is his signature.

He told me last week that he would be moving on to greener pastures this week and move to the retirement home. Well, at least he has plans of staying home more. And fishing. And singing and whistling and humming. And doing just about anything he wants to.

But I have a suspicion that as he enters this new phase of fun that God will have some new things for Mr. Curtis to be involved in. And I’m sure it will be spreading good news somewhere in his world.

We all have “stories” to tell about our lives. But Curtis really does have a life changing story of redemption. He’d be the first to tell you that he was a real stinker in his earlier life. And it wasn’t just doing all the wrong things. He was a real life agnostic. Webster’s defines this with several flowery words. Doubter, Scoffer, Cynic, Skeptic, Unbeliever.
agnostic – a person who claims that they cannot have true knowledge about the existence of God (but does not deny that God might exist)
It’s interesting that the descriptors of such a person seem to all be negative. But the Curtis that I know is anything but negative. So how’d that change happen?
It was a complex, yet simple, change that he attributes only to God’s “wonder working power”. Not only was Curtis ill and close to death more than once, but he was despondent, depressed and pretty much without hope. Yet in the midst of his pain, someone kept praying for and encouraging Mr. Curtis that he’d turn to God for help and healing. Finally Curtis did “simply” turn to God for his “complex and complete healing power”. I can’t recall how many years ago that was, but the main point is, it was not a temporary “fix”.
God took that piece of clay that was broken and made it pliable again. And what he reconstructed was a “man after God’s own heart”.
I didn’t know the old Curtis Shelton. I only know the redeemed man that God healed and changed. Happy Trails my friend! I know you’ll keep telling the Good News of God’s redeeming power.