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!

 

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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.

 

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.

 

Light Bulb Moment today

I had one of those light bulb moments early this morning.
It came to me as a single word – Mission.
What does Mission mean?
Webster defines this as: an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction; a calling or vocation, or an important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed: or sending or being sent for some duty or purpose.
 
For a number of years I felt like I had several missions in life. Among those were to be the provider for my family and to be the man God called me to be, for the protection and nurture of the wife  and brood he blessed me with. Another mission was to raise our kids in the “right” way. That mission was a joyous and rewarding endeavor.
 
A little later in my adult time I had a mission to be a leader among, and with, men of faith. That became a passion that was shared with other like minded guys who were in various stages of their lives. It was also a rewarding and fruitful experience and watch as God blessed and prospered that deepening faith experience. 
 
All the kids are gone now. They are pursuing their own missions now. So, for the most part my fathering mission is pretty much accomplished. My provider mission and role of provider has changed to being the provider for my wife and myself. The men’s ministry mission waned in recent years, as some of my closest allies and comrades left this place for a better land.
 
A discussion began last evening with my bride about the frustration we feel as believers in that the population at large are very much different than we are. Our society is very much “into themselves” and searching for happiness in things and events that we personally find no joy or purpose in. We sort of feel out of touch with the mainstream. We want to be and attempt to be relevant and “part of the crowd” yet we just can’t embrace many of the activities and attitudes that make the multitudes happy nowadays.
 
So, as often happens early in the morning, the Holy Spirit speaks. Not with great detail but with single words like MISSION. In the “mature age” of our lives I think we need a new mission. We need something that we are jazzed about. We need to throw ourselves into something that makes a difference in the lives of other people. And we need to be on the same page as a team for this mission. At this point I have not a clue what that might look like or be? But the same spirit that injected this new word into my thoughts, will also bring something to us that will energize our batteries and give us new meaning and purpose.
As we allow our spiritual gifts to be employed openly in the mighty hand of God, there will be purpose and drive and success. There will also come with that the fulfillment of knowing that what we are about is something that makes our creator smile.
I’m ready to find my new calling, whatever that might be. Stay tuned for further mission news!   

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!

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.