Friday, June 27, 2008


Except for a couple of area rugs, we have wood flooring throughout our house. We like the way it looks so natural. It seems easier to keep clean and matches our taste in furniture. The only thing it’s not good for is chasing cats, especially if you’re a 60 lb. Golden Retriever chasing a 10 lb. calico.

Sophie largely wins the war with Sam by ignoring him. Something instinctive tells her that pests tend to go away when they realize they can’t control you through manipulative irritation. Sophie can sit mere inches from Sam and win the snout-to-snout battle by just letting him wear himself out barking. A soft answer may turn away wrath but no answer at all drives the crazy-makers nuts.

Now and then, however, Sam gives chase and Sophie gives in, just for the fun of it, I guess. In a split-second, she kicks in the after burners and, at the last second, takes a hard left from the hallway into the kitchen. Sam, going full speed right behind her, locks down on the brakes to make the turn with her only to discover that his paws get no traction at all on the wood floor. His four legs go their own separate direction as Sam’s bellies out on the floor, like the overweight kid in 6th grade who did gut-busters off the high dive at the public swimming pool just to get attention. Before Sam’s had time to figure out what’s happened to him, much less gain control, Sophie’s high-tailed it to a place of safety where even we can’t find her.

I’m guessing that if Sam had his way, he’d prefer carpet to wood flooring. As hard as it is to keep carpet clean, there’s something to be said for being able to get traction.

Occasionally, we wish others smooth sailing. It’s a fitting metaphor if you’re going to sea. On dry land, smooth sailing may not be all it’s cracked up to be. If you can’t get traction, what happens when you need to apply the breaks or make a quick turn in another direction?

Rough times in the journey sure make it hard on that part of our personalities obsessed with high maintenance. It’s hard to keep the rough places clean and neat, spill-free. We tend to resent it when rough spots make the road hard, even cursing the speed bumps of difficulty and confusion. On the other hand, when things are roughest, we tend to pray more, seek the guidance of scripture and others God has put in our lives just for those times we need an extra dose of humility and wisdom at the same time. It’s when we hit the rough spots that our souls and our faith are getting more traction than they ever do when the sailing, or running, is smooth, don’t you think?

I may not like where I am at any given moment. But, as long as I’ve got traction so I can make a critical turn or just stop for a while, then maybe, just maybe, I’ll look back on all of it someday and, from the vantage point of holy retrospect, thank God for the rough spots. As jarring as they can be, the rough spots where I put down my feet have given me soul-traction I wouldn’t have any other way.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Along the Road

Years ago, when I was going through a divorce, the road ahead looked pretty frightening. The things that I knew for sure about divorce and its consequences were scary enough. What was most frightening were the unknowns. What would this do to my kids, my finances, my health, other people who were counting on me, my ability to make a living in church work? What would this do to my relationship with God? What would it be like to be – so alone? All the logical responses to those questions aside, when you know your life is about to wreck and there is not one thing you can do to prevent it, those fears are as real as your own hands in front of your face.

An older minister had become something of a mentor/spiritual father to me in the years that led up to what became a divorce. I had confided in him. I’d told him things I’d never told another human being. I had grown to love him for the way he had loved me unconditionally. I have to admit that, when he died in the summer of 1998, I took some comfort in the fact that he had literally taken some of my secrets to the grave.

Whenever I called, he always had unrushed time to talk. I called a lot. He was always available. He didn’t have answers for everything; no one could. But, one day, when I was talking about my fears about the future, he said something I’ve never forgotten – something that profoundly shaped my life. “Whichever way the road turns for you,” he said, “I’ll be with you on it.”

Dente, Becker and Ashton once sang, “Joy at the start, fear in the journey, joy in the coming home. A part of the heart gets lost in the learning somewhere along the road. Along the road your path may wonder. A pilgrim’s faith may fail. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Darkness obscures the trail. Cursing the quest. Courting disaster. Measureless nights forebode. Moments of rest, glimpses of laughter, are treasured along the road. Along the road your steps may stumble. Your thoughts may start to stray but, through it all, a heart-held hunger levels and lights your way.”

My old friend and I didn’t see each even once the last ten years of his life. He lived a long way off and did his caring long distance. But, care he did. Until the day he died, though, I knew that he was on the road with me, even thought that road did take some nasty turns. My heart got lost in the learning more than once. But, I knew that I was never alone.

The people that have the most profound impact on our lives are not the people who always have all of the answers to all of our questions. They are not the people who offer false assurance just to get us off of the phone or just to make us feel better. Even when they have to be the bearer of bad news themselves, the people who make the most profound difference in our lives are the people who stay with us, no matter which way the road turns.

Our best friend once made the same promise. “Lo, I am with you always.” He doesn’t always offer up answers to our questions. But, no matter what, we are never, ever alone. Never. No matter which way the road turns for us.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


It’s hard to remember how many times I was asked, “Did you taste the ribs?” I was sorry to say I hadn’t. Because of the generosity of a dear friend, I was able to attend the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Assembly in Memphis this year. I spent the night in downtown Memphis, just yards from some of the most famous barbeque in the world. Sorry to say, I didn’t taste the ribs!

I could say I was too busy. That’d be a lie for sure. I could say I felt guilty for not being at the Assembly every waking moment. That’d be true. Not that I attended every meeting. But, I did feel guilty for it. I feel guilty for not doing a lot of things – always have – a skill I’ve learned well from my religious upbringing. You get so deep into religion that you learn that you may as well go ahead and go to church. Even if you’re miserable at church, if you skip, you’ll just spend the time feeling guilty for not being there.

At the Memphis airport I ran into a friend catching the same flight home. “Did you taste the ribs,” he asked. Turns out, one night when I thought it was most crucial to be at the “meeting,” he and another friend tasted the ribs instead and even caught a ball game, too.

Many of us spent so much time in church getting ready for the big eternal meeting, we never learned to enjoy the life we had now, to sample more of life’s wonderful buffet of simple joys. We’ve been trained well to believe that the only part of life that really counts is the eternal part, heaven and not earth. Eternity, we were taught, doesn’t begin until the moment we die. That’s why we Baptists are better at scaring the hell out of people and not so good at dealing with the hell they already live in, and injustices that created that hell and continue to fuel its fires.

Is this world just a waste of time, a dirty bus stop on the way to heaven? If so, why did God bother creating all of it and give us the ability to enjoy it? What if eternity has already begun and our lives now are an important chapter in the eternal story?

Surely, God didn’t create this earthly world just to throw it away. This is our Father’s world – and always will be. He gave us all that is in to enjoy it – while we have it. To revel in it. To celebrate it. To love and even protect it. There is something of Adam’s rib in all of us, is there not? Something that made God say of it all, “That’s incredible!”

Wouldn’t it be something if the first question we’re asked at the Pearly Gates is not, “How did you like church?” but instead, “Did you taste the ribs?”

Monday, June 23, 2008


Just after 9/11, I had to fly to Atlanta for a meeting. It was very late on a Wednesday night when my plane arrived. My nerves were shot from having to fly back then. No sooner had I gotten my luggage than I found myself riding a train across the dark city to a place I’d never been before. As late as it was, the train was packed. You could tell the locals from the tourists. The locals had this thousand-mile stare of boredom in their eyes. I had this deer-in-the-headlight look staring at maps and signs hoping not to spend the night riding loops around Atlanta.

Even with maps and signs, I was still so very lost. At one point, a woman sat down beside me. Early thirties, Eastern descent. Pakistani, Iranian, Palestinian, maybe. Easy to profile with suspicion in those days. She was reading a technical paper, not that I was looking. She and I were also observing the unwritten rule that you don’t talk to strangers in the city on the train. I was so lost. I bet I smelled nervous.

Leap-frogging the unwritten rule that men don’t ever ask directions, I asked her for help. And, she gave it, very generously. She told me where to get off the train (not the first person to ever do that). When I got off, she stopped to point to the elevator that led from the loading platform to the street. She’d seen my luggage and knew the stairs would be too much.

I took the elevator. It opened up to a very dark and spooky place. Not the kind of place you want to be alone late at night looking so very much like a tourist. To my surprise, about thirty yards away, was my angel of the night was standing, waiting. She’d taken the stairs and gotten there first. When I came off of the elevator she pointed me toward the street, where my ride was waiting. Then, she walked into the darkness, like an actress exiting stage left, and I never saw her again.

I never knew her name. She didn’t owe me that extra bit of help. Why did she stop and help? Had she been lost once and someone waited on her? Someone who knew that signs and maps, rules of the road, can never substitute for a real human being who cares enough just to take a moment to show you the way. That you need rules but you also need hope.

A crowded train in the city. A person of Middle-Eastern descent. In my suspicions, I could have just written her off as not worth trusting. As it turned out, the very one I was tempted to judge was my personal angel, the one who knew the way and even cared enough to stop and give me hope.

It is true. Sometimes we welcome angels unaware. Sometimes, they welcome us. You just never know.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dog Food

We have two dogs and one cat, just one animal short of a herd. Fortunately, the cat takes care of herself for the most part. Both dogs are high maintenance. They know the other dog’s name better than their own. If we want one dog to come, we call the other, and so forth.

Beau is a thirteen year-old Cocker Spaniel-Golden Retriever mix, weighing in at about 28 lbs. He’s spoiled and arthritic, half-blind and half-deaf. I’m already shopping for doggy diapers. Sam is our new addition, a rusty-colored eight month-old Golden Retriever weighing in at 60 lbs. and counting. He’s got a huge pink tongue with beautiful brown eyes. We got Sam last Christmas because I told Nancy I couldn’t bear the thought of coming home to a dog-less house one day. Getting him not only threw Beau’s world for a loop, it introduced a whole new level of competition I never imagined.

At first we had to feed them separately. The vet told us that a new puppy’s nutritional needs were vastly different from an older dog’s. We’d have to lock one dog in one room while the other ate. After a while, we just settled for one multi-generational dog food. The dogs didn’t get the memo. For some reason, Beau thinks Sam is getting a better deal than he’s getting. Sam thinks the same thing the other way.

Even though we put the same food in each dog’s bowl and neither dog lacks for anything, once we put their bowls on the floor, each dog runs to the other’s bowl. They’re so afraid that one dog is getting a better deal. Feeding time is comedy time. Nancy and I stand back in amazement and just laugh. Why is it that neither dog can just appreciate the fact that there is food in their bowl? Like their animal cousins, the birds of the air, they neither toil nor spin. Their master takes care of them just because – well – that’s what loving masters do. We’d sooner neglect ourselves than let them go begging, like a dog.

Why is that we run when someone else’s name gets called, like we don’t have our own name and God doesn’t know it, too? Why is it that we are so eager to eat out of someone else’s bowl, when ours is full to overflow? Why is it we always want what someone else has, like their house or their car or their job or their wife or whatever, instead of just thanking God for what he’s given us?

I wonder if God just laughs sometimes.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Last Place

One of my sons has a terrible time losing his keys. It used to be funny. Then he called one night from work, like 1:30 in the morning. The phone never rings that time of night with good news. Your mind can run marathons through hell in the few seconds it takes to say hello. My son couldn’t find his keys and, even though we didn’t have an extra set at home, he thought talking to me would be helpful anyway. At 4:30 that morning, he finally found them in a nearby dumpster. I didn’t want to know the rest of the story. I figured he’d learned his lesson.

A couple of days later, he lost them again. At first, I considered exploring what it would cost to have his key chain surgically attached to his right wrist. Then, I remembered the most basic of finding-lost-things skills. I told him to look in the very last place he remembered for sure having his keys. “Trace it back in your memory to the last place and work forward from there.” It worked. This time he found them under the pillow on his bed.

When recently preaching about Mary going to Jesus’ tomb the first Easter, something occurred to me. Mary had lost Jesus the Friday before. Was she returning to the last place she knew for sure she’d seem him last, hoping to work forward from there? The scripture doesn’t say; scripture doesn’t tell us many things. I couldn’t help but wonder. What better place to find Jesus than the last place you remember for sure having seen him?

Of course, the really good news is that Jesus never loses track of us. He is the Holy “G” in our spiritual GPS. He can pinpoint us, geographically, emotionally, spiritually in all kinds of weather, day or night, 24/7. The problem is, we can’t always find him. He gets or seems lost to us. As though Jesus’ question to his Father remains hanging all these centuries later, “My God . . . why have you forsaken me?” Translation: “God, I feel like I’ve lost you? Where are you now?”

Sometimes, in order to find Jesus again, I have to go back to the last place I remember for sure having seen him. One day that might mean taking a physical journey to a special place, like the altar of a church not many miles from where I now sit. Another day it means taking a trip down memory lane, to the Sangre de Cristo mountains north of Santa Fe, where, sitting alone atop a summit one summer afternoon, I touched the face of God if I ever did. Sometimes, I at least hear his voice in a song. As much other noise as there is in my head, the moments when I know for sure I saw Jesus, or heard him, are few and far between. They are touchstone moments for sure.

When I am lost, I like to go back to the places I knew for sure I last saw Jesus. Then, the adventure starts all over again, the adventure of working my way back from the last place to wherever I’m standing now, then just taking the next step forward.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I think the strongest I’ve ever been in my life was one summer during high school. It wasn’t because of the boot camp that they called “two-a-days” football camp, most of which I sat out “on the bench,” even in two-a-days. It wasn’t because I mowed my dad’s lawn to perfection, which he taught me to do before the days of weed-eaters, clipping the edge of the grass up by the fence on my hands and knees with hand-clippers. It wasn’t because I loved to run, which I didn’t.

I was so strong because I worked for a farmer every day, from spring break until two-a-days started in late summer, moving irrigation pipe. The pipe was laid out on the ground in thirty-foot joints for a quarter of mile. It took twelve quarter-mile lines of irrigation pipe to water all of his cotton. Every morning, just after the night’s twelve-hour watering, the farmer’s son and I would move the pipe by hand. We had to move it sixty feet forward in the freshly plowed and newly muddied field, one thirty-foot joint at a time per man, all three miles of it. It took from sunup until sundown, every day, six days a week. We did get Sundays off because he was a Christian.

My only real motivation for slogging through calf-deep mud carrying 100-pound joints of pipe in a mind-numbing routine was the whopping $1.15 per hour the farmer paid, a good check every week and no time to spend it. That, and the sunrises and sunsets. I love West Texas sunrises and sunsets. When all else fails, they inspire faith in eternal Providence every single time.

All I could do when I got home at night was eat whatever mom left out for my late supper, take a shower and go to bed. I was worn out every night, my muscles aching to the core, every sinew stretched, my chest strong, my thighs pumped up and my belly flat. I don’t know if I’ve ever been stronger.

Someday, a long time from now, I wonder if I’ll look back on this moment in my life and say of my soul, “I was never stronger.” It’s really hard to pray right now. It’s really hard to have faith in a lot of things I told people when all the bills were paid as far as I could see. It’s hard to forgive – and I really like to. It’s really hard to write, and I love to write. I saw a sunset the other night. I watched until the last micro-second when the sun slipped beneath the horizon on the other side of the world I could see. My soul took a deep breath.

I wonder if someday I’ll look back on this moment, when everything souls are supposed to do is harder than ever, and say of myself, “I was never stronger.” I wonder.

Monday, June 2, 2008

This Week

This week, Ken Hall, President of Buckner International, has graciously asked me to write the posts for his blog. Please take a moment to link over to that site, just for this week. The link is:

God Bless!