HO HO HO Holiday Relief 2016

Having survived a devastating EF4 Tornado the evening after Christmas 2015 I find that I’ve learned a lot of things from being displaced from our home for 9 months. But what I’m writing about now is not about me or any losses we incurred.

In the months following a huge and deadly storm I’ve participated in a number of social media groups that have offered up support and resources for people who’ve suffered loss as a result of losing homes, personal belongings of every kind and just about every sense of safety and security that one might have.

These groups have pointed people to Relief Centers, Red Cross Offices, State Insurance Offices,  and a myriad of places for help with every possible need. People lost lives that warm and humid winter night in North Texas  (miraculously only 8 died). Of those lost they were all in vehicles traveling on the highway when this massive twister rumbled through south Garland headed northeast to Rowlett and beyond. The track went 13 miles with wind speeds up to 180 miles per hour.

With all of the loss that night there are items you wouldn’t normally think about losing at a time like this. You think food, clothing, furniture, cars, and personal belongings of every sort. But something lost because of being immediately following Christmas Day is peoples holiday decorations (both indoor and outdoor).  One big howl of the wind and your house is gone and everything in it is blow to parts unknown.

Having had great insurance and a very competent and trustworthy contractor to rebuild our home we feel especially blessed. Fortunately we only lost what little outdoor decorations we had. Our inside items (with the exception of the Christmas Tree damaged by the move and storage) didn’t sustain loss. So our tons of crates of decorations remain intact.

So as we are now back home I feel inclined to give back to our community that continues to suffer as a result of a fluke storm that changes many people’s worlds.

I am in the Christmas business 365 days a year as a buyer for a Lighting company. So Christmas lights and decorations are not a seasonal item for me. It is something I do year round. And you wouldn’t believe how many people will buy these products year round!

Currently I am soliciting the help of some of my vendor/suppliers for donations of Christmas lights, greenery and any other product that they are willing to send me. I’m also soliciting items from the local community as well via social media and other means. Then whatever we come up with we will assemble and distribute to those in need for this 2016 holiday season. We even have crews of men standing by ready to serve by installing displays as needed.

I heard a story last week of a lady who had just installed Christmas lights for the first time in a fairly new home. Her 2 year old son loved them. But they were all blown away and destroyed in a span of about one minute. She’s already told her son that they won’t be able to decorate their home this year. (oh, by the way her home was destroyed). They’ve since rebuilt but there have been plenty of expenses for every other imaginable thing besides holiday decorations.

Hearing stories like that propel me to action. Knowing people might not have such a normally festive time for lack of Christmas lights, presses me to do all I can to meet those needs. “The need is great but the supply must be greater”. I may capture that phrase as our motto in the project we are calling HoHoHo Holiday Relief 2016.

See our Facebook page for detailed donation and distribution locations and times. https://www.facebook.com/hohohoholidayrelief2016/

 

Passion Week – What Does that Really Mean?

By many, the week leading up to Easter Sunday is referred to as Passion Week. For some the word passion might be a confusing term, especially in the world in which we live.

For me that word has a much deeper connotations than just a sensual human response. One definition of passion says “having a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something”. Another is “intense, driven, mastering a feeling or conviction”.

I admire musicians who have true passion in the way they display a total surrender in the the way they perform. They can convey a message with such force that you are left with little doubt about the importance of the message. They just lay it all on the line with unfettered emotion. If you cannot sing with passion, why bother?

People are passionate about many other things in life too. They can encompass the entire spectrum of humanity. Even in the realm of business there are those who are totally engulfed with a passion for their goods or services. The truth of the matter is, if you bring a passionate zeal to your work or avocation, you will excel and exceed in whatever you do. Regardless of your craft, people will follow and respect you because of your depth of commitment.The intent of my writing today is to examine a passion that far outweighs all other human pursuits or desires.

There was a lowly man who took up residence on earth and walked among us. He was from humble beginnings and led a simple life. This gentle man of whom I speak had a calling and a purpose. He may not have been a master builder or a great musician of ability or craft. But his goal and purpose pushed him to the ultimate level of passion. His resolve was born out of who he was. He was bred as a servant. His DNA fully tilted him to love people with a unique passion unknown before he came. His strong resolve led to his ultimate demise very early in his life. You’ve probably guess that I am speaking of Jesus, the Christ.

When he looked people in the eye, his gaze went directly to their core. He saw them where they were, yet loved them in spite of who they were. He was a magnet to those around him. He exuded a passion for life, but it not his own. The compassion he had for people was powerful enough to make rugged fishermen drop their nets and follow him without reservation. He just commanded a presence about him that was inexplicable. And he still does now.

For those of you who know and follow this man Jesus, he still has that magnetic draw and power. To become like him empowers you. To walk with him encourages you. To know him changes you.

As we ponder this week of “passion” we should be reminded how far his care and concern took him. It led him to to an early grave as “religious” leaders declared him their enemy because he obviously had a greater influence than they. Those same people took him down, or so they thought. There’s more to this story. Stay tuned.

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!

 

God. Is He Someone I can Pray to?

God is our Father and our creator. That is my story and I’m sticking to it. That is something I was taught in my upbringing.  Since God is our Father, that makes him in essence and in character, our Dad.  Being a perfect Father, we know that he must enjoy the interaction, respect and reciprocal love from his kids.

Long ago in my life experience I gained a great respect for God. That was even before I could say that I had a personal “experience” or relationship with him. As a child, when others would pray, I was taught to bow my head and close my eyes (simple I know). But if I knew nothing else personally about God, at least I knew to respect Him and revere who he was.

When we speak God’s name, mention him in passing or even simply think of him, he is acutely aware of us and at full attention and ready to hear from us. The scriptures instruct us to pray without ceasing. I think we all know what that really means. It means that in every situation we should have God’s name on the tip of our tongue asking him for guidance, comfort, and every other thing we could possibly need. Prayer is reaching out to God. It is also acknowledging that He (and he alone) is our source and strength. I’m a guy who loves fun and find some sort of humor in anything. It’s just how I’m wired. But mixed in with my humor there is a serious side to me as I think of who God is.

God expects us to call on him in thick and thin. I think it has to be a wonderful thing to him, when we call on his name to a simple conversation with him and lovingly thank him for being who he is. This conversation can be equated to telling our earthly father – I love you daddy.

Our paw owns it all. He’s really a rich guy. He lavishes his wealth on us each day. At times I feel like a spoiled brat the way he blesses and cares for me, even when I’ve been a fool. But in his goodness he knows what’s best for us. He also knows full well when to withhold his wealth from us and correct us.

The next time to have the need to reach out to your father for advice or strength or even to just thank him, don’t hold back. Speak his name, call out to him boldly. He will hear your voice and respond to you in grace and love.

God inhabits the praises of his children, all day – everyday.

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.

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.

Remiss in Writing. But time for new life.

I’ve been remiss in my writing and posting lately. Many different things jockey for our time. Most of them are worthy things that occupy my time. But there should always be a time to stop and think and reflect and record what’s going on.

I’ve met a ton of people in my life. Growing up I was not as outgoing as you’d think I might have been if you know me now. I guess I had the complex of being the heavy kid. And heavy or fat kids don’t get the greatest of respect at times. So the tendency is to take the back seat and stay in the background as the rest of the pack excels in relationships and life in general can be the norm. Yet even us fat kids were quietly building our lives, even if nobody even realized or cared.

Fast forward to now and I think I’m pretty self assured, even though I am still the “big” guy in the pack. As aging has set in I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter what I look like or how fat I might be. I’ve decided to be a friend even to those I might not know. That doesn’t always work out, but I try and find things in others to talk to them about and find out details of their lives and the things that makes them tick. I’ve found that I find joy in learning of other’s experiences. I try and encourage others on their journey. Life is fleeting and we don’t have a ton of time to live our lives to the full.

I get reflective at times. For some reason the changing of the seasons has a tendency to fuel thoughts. As the natural order of the plant world changes from life to death to life again, so our lives take on the same form. Spring has sprung and death becomes alive again. Former living things that were brown and wilted and gone, are now sprouting forth with tender and green vegetation.  The air is full of fresh air as the plants take a poison gas (carbon monoxide) and turn it into life giving air for all of human kind.

Go and enjoy and soak up God’s creation and be thankful for new life. It is all around us this time of year!

Tough Week…..Tender Family

…..Well my reflective and sentimental mind awakened me again very early for the second Friday morning in a row. Last week I was up early reflecting on my Mom’s life and passing and remembering what she did for me and I shared many of those thoughts at her memorial service. But today it is about Jeff.
I could not fall back to sleep as my mind was reeling with thoughts and memories of Jeff Thompson and family. I knew that I had to get up and jot down my thoughts or I would not be able to remember them or I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep completely.
So here goes, from a restless mind.
Could this family possibly have started with a Toga party? Not 100% sure if that is correct but I think I recall Jeff telling our Tuesday morning guys when we were all telling about how we met our wives. DeeAn, if this is not true I apologize! We all have our unique stories of how we met our spouses, huh? Some are just more amusing than others.
When I first met Jeff his family was still in what I would call the “fledgling stage”. His kids were still pretty young. And Amy (the youngest) was a very young duckling and cute as pie. They were all small, innocent wide eyed and cute.
Just so you’ll know what kind of folks I’m talking about, this portion of the Thompson clan began with a special needs child. Families with special needs kids have challenges that most of us will never face. It takes people of true compassion and care to intentionally have a child with many needs. And then to add five more gifts to their quiver makes this story even more special.
Jeff was a learner and observer. He watched how others were parenting their kids and was always curious about how to deal with the challenges of raising kids, especially once they reached the dreaded teenage status. For those of us a little further along in that process, we gave Jeff what advice we could and then we would all pray together for God’s direction and the grace to be the kind of husbands and dads that our families needed.
I remember a few extra special times where Jeff was doing things for or with his kids. Like when he went to church camp for a week. Reports were that he was the kid that was very close to being kicked out of camp for speeding on a golf cart around campus and “other things”. He was just one of the kids. But he wanted to be with his kids any time he could. So he went to pre-teen camp.
Then there was the time of the surprise gift of two four wheelers that were hidden in my garage until Christmas morning when I delivered them for Jeff to his driveway. The looks on those kids’ faces were something. And the excitement Jeff had was equal.
I recall a Colorado trip when the family van broke down and it took almost a week to get parts for repair. They turned that potentially bad experience into a memory, as they sort of camped out in that little town and even went to the local church there that week.
Jeff intentionally took his kids individually on trips to wherever that child wanted to go. I guess living in a large family, you can at times get lost in the shuffle. Well that is not the case here. He planned for inclusion and always made it fun and directed to that child. From NASCAR to Mexico to Mid America Mall to rescuing dogs or rescuing friends, he always included his kids and taught them by example.
Besides Jeff’s wife and kids that he cherished, he loved dearly his mom, his sisters and their extended families and had many funny stories to go along with them all. I could extract some hush money from them, I’m sure!
There were others that Jeff considered family as well, like Andrew and Lori Spurgeon. He opened up his home and his life to their family and supported every international mission effort they were involved in with compassion and care. He very much respected Andrew’s spiritual wisdom, squeaky laughter and his love of rutabagas. Go figure.
From my view Jeff keyed on strengths, not weaknesses with respect to his family. He always told them he was proud of them and affirmed them every chance he got. He taught them hospitality, by on many occasions having groups into their home for meetings or welcomed anyone into his home.
I could go on for much longer but I will end this now. These are not just random thoughts, but reflections screaming to be released from my feeble mind.
Jeff was not a superman. He had feet of clay. He was broken at times and deeply remorseful for any errant thoughts or actions. And he knew he was forgiven by and relied fully on God’s mercy and grace to keep going.
This wild and crazy guy poured out his life into his family.