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!

 

Survivors

There are times in the human condition when life throws stuff at us that we’ve never dealt with before. Illness, financial woes, strained or broken relationships, co-workers that make your life less than perfect and a myriad of issues that test the very fiber of your soul. Even the most balanced and grounded person can lose equilibrium and find themselves flat on the ground. It is just a reality that life is never perfect.

I’ve witnessed family and friends go through what seemed insurmountable pain and suffering. There were times that the only thing they could successfully do was cry. Every season of life seems to bring its share of heartache, yet humans just keep on going. Kids and family and even friends depend on us. We have bills to pay and lawn to mow. We just keep on keeping on.

We were blessed with a desire and a will to succeed. And if we find a true passion for something we can  even excel in what we do. Although created from the smallest of cells and molecules we somehow ended up with everything needed to become persons of value and worth.

There is a hope that each of us might become productive citizens one day after adulthood comes crashing into our worlds. At conception we were lavished with so many amazing potentials by our creator. Among the many wonderful things He gave us the ability to think and learn. He also gave us an innate need to love. Even when selfishness clouds our way we seem to find something down deep inside that causes us to have empathy and compassion on the other sojourners around us.

Most of us have been blessed to be parents. Once that happens we practice for years to get that right, or at least close. We scrimp and save and finds ways to provide, when there seems to be no way. And it all just comes natural for us to love and care for our mates and the broods entrusted to our care.

So if you are reading this I must assume you are a survivor. You’ve faced things that made you want to quit. You’ve given up so many times, only to wake up with a new resolve to putting your shoes in a forward direction.

Was it the cry of your child after a bad dream that gave you wings to keep flying? Was it the hoped promotion at work that pushed you? Did the strings of your heart renew your desire when you finally found that someone special? Did your best friend kick you in the teeth or lovingly lead you to renewal? Or maybe you were such sick of your position in life?Regardless of the reason you dusted off your boots and you just kept going.

Whatever make makes us survivors, it is must be a powerful force?

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!

 

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.

 

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.