Thursday, August 28, 2008

No Questions Asked

Having just returned from a long weekend, I had to make a grocery run. Making a run means that you want 7-11 speed with major grocery store selection. I figured fifteen minutes total from start to finish. What are the odds? As luck would have it, everyone else made their run at the same time. As luck would also have it, I found myself standing in line behind a woman with a basket full of groceries. It’s one of my life’s greatest unsolved mysteries, how I can pick the one line, at the bank or the grocery store, that always moves the slowest.

Sure enough, after the checker finished totaling up her purchase, the woman slid her debit card through the reader and it was rejected. The checker suggested she do it again, which she did, with the same result. She fumbled through her purse looking for cash or whatever. Finally, the checker suggested she take her card to the customer service desk and see if they could use her debit card to get cash. When she moved out of the lane, to my impatient relief, the checker started in on my basket.

Just as the checker finished with my purchase and I was pocketing the receipt, the debit card lady returned to announce that she’d had no luck getting cash. “I guess that deposit I made yesterday just hasn’t posted, yet,” she told the checker who then, very unsympathetically, helped her begin unloading her food. I couldn’t help but wonder how embarrassing all of this had been for the woman, knowing that several people saw and heard the whole ordeal.

By this time, my impatience had turned to pity. I remembered the times my mother, long before debit cards, wrote checks for groceries just hoping to beat the check to the bank the next day. I remembered the times when I was still in Jr. High mowing lawns for spending money that mom would borrow money from me just to buy groceries, making me promise I wouldn’t tell my dad. She always paid me back. It’s not the money that kills families, it’s those family secrets. They really suck, don’t they? Mom and dad both went to their graves without my breaking the private vow.

So, I’m standing behind this lady, about my age. No wedding ring on her finger and a basket full of single-serving meals. She had no credit card when the debit card didn’t work. Not enough cash to pay the balance. Never married? Divorced? Children? Who knows? It wasn’t mine to ask. I was pushing my cart away from the counter when something (or Someone) stopped me cold in my tracks. I looked back at the lady and wondered. I didn’t know her story, whether she was deserving of help or not. Then again, when the Prodigal came home, his Dad just doled out the grace freely, no questions asked.

Walking three steps back I asked the lady if she’d let me buy her groceries that day. You see, I remembered my mom and how sad I still feel for her. I still wonder how many humiliations she encountered at the grocery counter. I also remembered that we’d just gotten back from a weekend in South Texas where people hadn’t asked questions, they’d just doled out grace freely, generously, beyond belief. My heart was so full of unearned grace.

I honestly believe if I hadn’t given something of it to someone else, my soul would have burst from overflow. The lady tried to say “No,” graciously. But, it looked like she knew she needed to say, “Yes.” I didn’t and still don’t know her name, much less her story. She came and stood by me while the checker rang it all up. “I hope this makes you feel as good as it does me,” she said. “It does,” I said squeamishly. I could feel myself blushing; I felt embarrassed for being thanked for something I really needed to do. I didn’t have time to tell her the story of my sadness for mom or the unbelievable grace I had just experienced and how giving to her was both a healing experience for me and a liberating one.

“I’ll let you pay if you’ll give me your name and address,” she said. As I walked away with my basket full and my heart bursting at the seams, I shook her hand and said, “Don’t worry about it.” It wasn’t a loan. It was a gift.

It would be hard to describe how I felt while walking to my car. It was a rush like I haven’t felt in a long, long time. Giving, just for the fun of it! Wow! How do you describe that? I walked away, as though floating on white puffy cumulus clouds carried by the winds of the Spirit, having been reminded that grace isn’t really grace until it’s received and then given away. When we accept grace without giving it, our souls become Dead Seas of sad, dark, lifeless narcissism. We know that the Truth is setting us free when grace completes the circle and we give to others what Someone else gave us, no questions asked.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


A friend’s mother was gracious enough to tell me part of her story the other day. It was priceless. There is nothing more beautiful or unique than the stories of other people’s lives. Nothing more humbling than for someone to open up the treasure trove of their life’s story and share just a little of it with you personally.

Amos Whitlock, her dad, was born in 1895 in Commanche County, Texas. He never had a chance for an education, just the opportunity to scratch a living out of the dirt with his family. Then, along came WWI. Amos went to the train station with a whole slew of other Commanche County boys and shipped off into a world they’d never seen. To leave a North Central Texas farm and end up in combat somewhere in France must have felt like being transported to another world altogether. Maybe it was.

Amos was there, in the trenches, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when hostilities formally ended. November 11 would later be designated Armistace Day and eventually Veteran’s Day. His daughter says that, the rest of his life, November 11 was his favorite day of the year.

Like most people who have personally witnessed combat, Amos rarely spoke about what he saw or what he did, even to his family. When he did, he reflected on how it sounded to him the day the guns fell silent. At one exact moment, all those years of war just stopped, at the very same exact moment, all along the front. After all the shooting stooped and the bombing ceased, Amos said, “the stillness was deafening.”

The other morning in Fair Oaks Ranch, I was watching the sun come up. In just a few hours, I would be formally accepting the call as pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church, a decision that looks like a long-awaited chance to begin life again, at least in another world. I have to tell you, after nearly dying last summer and then dealing with issues for several months afterward that made death seem appealing, the other morning, the stillness was deafening.

It was so quiet, even in my soul, I think I almost heard the roar of the sun’s blaze. It’s amazing how loud the stillness can be. It felt like – well – like a long-awaited and desperately needed God-from-heaven-sent peace. Have you ever heard stillness like that? I have. It’s truly amazing, how deafening the stillness can be.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Grace comes in different ways. Sometimes we experience it as forgiveness, from God and others. Sometimes we experience it as receiving a gift we didn’t deserve from someone we didn’t even know cared. Sometimes, grace comes to us in the form of a new opportunity. That grace of a new opportunity means all the more when it helps reawaken your personal sense of calling in life, your true vocation.

Yesterday, Sunday, August 24, I accepted the invitation to become the pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church, Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas. Fair Oaks Ranch is a community in the Texas Hill Country, just northwest of San Antonio, not far from Boerne. Grace Fellowship is a new church, with about 30 active members. They are affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Most importantly to us, they have extended a real, genuine grace to us.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back into the pastorate after my last experience. One or two churches sniffed around. Having been out of a job for six months, that wasn’t particularly encouraging. Yet, I never could get excited about anything they were doing. I hadn’t gotten desperate – yet. It never occurred to me that I would ever want to be involved in leading a new church, at my age. I never dreamed a new church would be interested in me. Sometimes, grace surprises us. Some of the kids took to calling me “Papa Schmuck” over the weekend. For the first time in my life, it felt like affection and not purely an age reference. I will confess that it was strange to join a church and, at the same time, become the sum total of their Senior Adult Sunday School.

The paradigm out of which most of us preachers live out our entire careers usually has something to do with hop-scotching from one church to the next largest church. Even in seminary, the model we were given for success had more to do with the size of one’s congregation than almost anything else. Forget vocation, just grow that church at all costs, even that of staying true to yourself. Not surprisingly, in my last experience, there were those who could not even see the remarkable ways in which we were touching the community because they could not look past the size of the congregation, which has been slowly shrinking since 1938, sixteen years before I was even born. A very noisy few found very creative ways of projecting their sense of failure onto me, because I couldn’t make that church bigger. The only way I could pull the plug on the projectors was to put distance between myself and them. I was very close to letting them hijack my sense of calling.

On the way to San Antonio, I decided to re-read Parker Palmer’s wonderful little book, “Let Your Life Speak.” Its size belies its potency. I’m so glad some editor didn’t decide it wasn’t big enough to publish. This one passage reaffirmed the decision I was making about Grace Fellowship as the right one. “From our first days in school, we are taught to listen to everything and everyone but ourselves, to take all our clues about living from the people and powers around us. Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. ”

Grace surprised us over the weekend. It seemed that saying no would have been a choice not to listen to my (even our) vocation, an unwillingness to accept the grace gift extended to us. So, we said, “Yes.” Already, I’m feeling true to myself again, as much as to the God who gave my self to me.

With no face further than ten feet away when I preached yesterday, I could see every smile, every tear. It felt like family. It felt like grace. It sounded like vocation.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Be Kind

The mournful look on his face is permanently pressed into my memory, like one of those patches mom used to steam press over the tear in my blue jeans. Something was torn, terribly deep, in that young man’s life. It had something to do with moral failure and was so painful he couldn’t talk about it. Whatever it was, it had happened recently those many years ago. He wanted help so badly he would sit in my office and just cry, or stare mournfully into some other world only he could see and I could not. Like he was watching the life he thought he was going to live passing before his eyes, slipping from his grip.

I was working overtime not to be voyeuristic in my questioning. I had long since passed the stage where I found the moral failings of others intriguing or even remotely fascinating. If there is any compassion in you at all, the kind borne of self-humiliation, watching others stumble only breaks your heart for them, never seeing their failings as a source of entertainment or distraction. Something had broken that young man’s heart. He was able to say enough to point toward himself as the source of the failure. There wasn’t an ounce of blame in him toward others. But, he was never able to actually name whatever breach of trust over which he was self-destructing before my eyes. Looking back some years, I sense that it had to do with marital infidelity, though, to this day, I don’t know that for a fact. He had certainly broken someone’s trust, especially his trust of himself.

Of all the ministry experiences I’ve wished I could relive, that moment rates at the top. I’ve replayed that hour in my study so many times, saying out loud the things I wish I had said then. Something, anything that would have helped ease his burden or bear it more responsibly. That young man eventually faded into the rest of the faces of the past that stand like mile markers on my memory’s highway. I have no idea what became of him. I wonder what he finally made of the sin that was haunting him that day, his own personal demon.

A colleague recently told me something one of his professors once wrote in Greek on the chalkboard. “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” Some people have better poker faces than others and you’d never know anything is wrong. With others, you can read their pain in the grimace being permanently etched into their face as though with a laser, one burning cut at a time.

No matter what we see on the surface, we just never know what stories, what demons, lurk in the shadows of another’s heart. We never know what private battles of conscience they are fighting. It’s just safer to assume that every person we meet is fighting some battle and to be as kind to them as we would have them be to us. Almost certainly, the kindness we extend to others in their private pain will come back to bless us in ours’. Or, not.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Electric Fence

The very first church I served as pastor was located in the extreme northwestern corner of the Texas panhandle. The country was flatter than your computer screen and, for the most part, treeless except for a scrub brush here and there. Any summer day could be hot unholy but, a long sleeve shirt felt good at night as even the hottest July days cooled off in the high elevation. The winters blew cold, hard and long and wet. Maybe it was the stark geography or the spirit it took to settle that country but, whatever it was, the people were the best.

One of those folks was Kent Cartwright. Kent and his family lived fifteen miles northeast of town. There was nothing between his place and the North Pole but so much barbed wire. His ranch wasn’t in the middle of nowhere but, as the old-timers liked to say, you could see it from there.

Kent made his living out of the earth as a cattle rancher. It was hard to see where the dirt stopped and his well-worn boots began. He worked long, brutal hours, rain or shine, light or dark, sleet or snow, blistering hot or freezing cold. Raising cattle was a 24/7 kind of life. Something about being that close to the earth gave Kent a common sense view of reality that I found not only refreshing but even healing.
When things at church got boring, or started driving me crazy, I’d drive out to Kent’s place, hop up in his pickup and just ride around with him for hours. Kent had this long slow West Texas drawl. It took him ten seconds longer to say anything. Conversations could take a long time. An hour in the cab of Kent’s pickup was better than three on anyone’s couch.

One day, Kent began explaining the science of fencing. Turns out, there is one. Different kinds of cattle, geography and weather patterns demand different kinds of fences. In time, the lesson included electric fences. I couldn’t resist asking the next question.

“Kent, have you have you ever peed on an electric fence?” I asked, not sure how Kent, one of my deacons, would feel about knowing that his pastor knew how to say “pee.” Kent thought for a long time. Then, in that pokey-slow drawl, he answered, “Nope. Talked to an ol’ boy once that did – and that was good enough for me.”

I’m still laughing, twenty-five years later. Whatever that “ol’ boy” had described as his experience must have been horrifying as the stream of electricity followed his stream back up to his private parts in truly shocking ways.

I’m also still remembering the sage warning. We really don’t have to try to something before we criticize it. We don’t have to commit adultery or cheat on our taxes or spend money we don’t have or drink too much or stay in a career that’s robbing our soul and destroying our family. Sometimes, we can just talk to some ol’ boy, or girl, who did. Maybe that will be good enough for us, too. There’s more than one way to learn a lesson from an electric fence without getting burned, too.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Last summer while I was so very ill, unbeknownst to me, a dear high school classmate was also deathly ill, 1500 miles away. It was months before we caught up with each other’s stories. The illnesses were different, though both life-threatening. I just got started a little sooner than she did.

We talked about how strange it had been trying to re-enter our worlds, looking for some sense of normalcy. We both affirmed that, when you are gone that long, for whatever reason, the standard of “normal” has been redefined. New roads have been built. Others have closed. People have moved on while you were locked down. From your bed you could see the sun rising and setting each day. In my case, my hospital room was too high to be able to see the cars and lives passing on the streets below, on their way to their new life, while mine stood freeze-framed, locked in place.

People would ask us if “we were back to normal.” Some asked because they were genuinely concerned. Some asked with a tone in their voice that betrayed impatience. Answering their questions, despite their motives, was complicated by two facts.

One is that, when you are hit that hard, every part of you gets taken down. There is no part of your being, physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological that is not sick with you. In my case, when my liver nearly died, my heart, my soul and my mind all suffered. In short, it was easier to recover physically than it was to recover, say, spiritually.

I got out of the hospital just a little over a week ago. Hard to believe it’s been a whole year. I want to say that I’m back to normal, except that normal isn’t what it was the day I went into the hospital. That’s the second thing that complicates answering the “Are you back to normal?” question. What’s normal? I’m still figuring that out, frankly, and hope to be for a while.

There were those who just couldn’t understand why it took so long. That’s only because they’ve never been that sick. Someday they will be and then they’ll be more compassionate, maybe. Until then, the lesson from it all is just for me. “Be kind,” someone once wrote. “Everyone you meet is carrying some heavy burden.”

We don’t have to have a personal understanding of anyone else’s pain in order to be compassionate toward them. Compassion and empathy should be our default positions with everyone we meet. We never know when we may need to ask them to scoot over so we can climb into the same bed with them.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Fresh Air

The other day I was driving along and, out of nowhere, there came this memory of a person at church who had been particularly unkind to me, even seemed to enjoy it, get energy out of it. What she did and said easily rate as some of the most disrespectful, dehumanizing, insensitive and heartbreaking things I’ve ever heard come of out of the mouth of one who would claim to be a Christian.

Where did that come from? I was having a nice day until that memory got caught in the car with me on a very hot day. It was flying around like a wounded hornet looking for someone to sting again, me in particular. Every attempt to flush her out the window only made her madder and drove up the chance of me having a wreck exponentially. How’d she get in my car? How come I couldn’t get her out?

As I remembered what she said, the tone of her voice, the scowlish-mean look on her face, I found myself right back in the room where that conversation took place. My heart was racing. My palms were sweaty. I was coming up with things I was going to say back to her if and when she ever came up for air. I actually started talking back to her, as though the hornet was listening. Suddenly, it occurred to me that, by just allowing myself to remember what she said, I was actually reliving the moment, physically, spiritually, emotionally, feeling the hornet’s sting. From head to pucker, I was tight as a drum, needing to cry but not able.

Just as suddenly, something (or, Someone), recalled to my memory one of the Apostle Paul’s more potent hornet-swatting scriptures. “This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and pressing on to what lies ahead.” Like a swatter, it’s one piece of equipment, with two sides. One side is forgetting, the other side is pressing on. Without both sides, it doesn’t work.

That’s when it occurred to me. One of the greatest of all spiritual disciplines is that of being able to remember but choosing, instead, to forget. The capacity to remember is a gift of God. Some researchers say that every event we’ve ever experienced, good and bad, is recorded somewhere on a molecular piece of our cerebral computer. Along with that gift, God also gave us the gift to say no to certain memories, to assign them a place in our heart and mind where they will starve to death for lack of attention. It’s a spiritual discipline, remember. It takes commitment and practice, all of your life, knowing how to remember but choosing instead to forget.

I’d like to tell you about some really awful things others have done to me, and some I’ve done to others. But, then again, I’d just be swatting at hornets and reliving the stings of them all, and wrecking my life and the lives of others for no good reason at all. Driving along, I think I’ll just leave the windows down and let the fresh air of God’s future clear my head. I might even stick my bald head out the window and feel the freshness of the new morning that just came with the sunrise!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Getting Lost

Back to Garmin. Nancy gave it to me for Father’s Day. We found out pretty quickly that you don’t need it to navigate places you know well. At home, Garmin leads a lonely, quiet life. Out in LA, though, Garmin was a life-saver. Driving in totally strange places, we never once got lost, unless we ignored the directions, which was an option we actually chose once.

What we could see from the freeways was so limited. The winding drives up the mountains where palatial mansions clung by inches to vertical hillside foundations kept begging us to come have a closer look-see. We decided to listen to whatever voice was calling us up those unknown pathways, to take a closer look, without directions. We just wanted to drive wherever the road took us. We weren’t afraid of getting lost. We knew that, when we were ready, Garmin would tell us exactly where we were on the planet and how to get back home. Getting lost was the cost of exploring a world you just can’t appreciate from a distance.

Letting your children go off to college, you can’t realistically pray that they won’t ever get lost. They will. Sometimes, horribly lost. Sometimes, lost for a long time. What you can pray is that they will have the courage to explore unknown pathways. (I didn’t know until horribly late that education’s synonym is “exploration.”) A huge part of me believes that the day we won’t ever take an unknown road for fear of getting lost is the day we stop living, no matter how many more years we keep driving. I want Cameron to explore. I know that this all comes with the very real risk that he will get lost sometimes. I take my courage, my eternal hope, in God’s raw, unconditional grace.

Years ago, Cameron asked Jesus into his heart. Letting me lower him into the water, he made his profession from the baptistery as he arose symbolically to a new life as a faith trailblazer. In a time, a place and a way no human mind could ever grasp, the Jesus who had known and loved him before he was even born became an even more intimate part of his life that day, one of the benefits of which is the presence of God’s Spirit in Cameron’s heart. A kind of spiritual Garmin, if you will, is always present with him, even when he chooses to ignore the directions.

My hope comes in knowing that getting lost is a part of life, even of faith. I can’t explain this as much as I trust it. But, the best stories of my life and the best part of my faith were forged while stumbling through lost places, looking for a way back home, even when I was lost because I chose to be. Like I said, I can’t really explain how God’s unconditional grace just won’t give up on us. I do believe with all my heart that grace never, in all of eternity, ever gives up. God is the eternal shepherd, never resting until the last single lost sheep is found, even when they behave like bad-tempered goats.

As he leaves for LA and whatever unknown roads await him there, I can also hope that Cameron has seen in me a good witness of what it’s like to get lost and still believe. Losing is an invaluable part of faith exploration. When he is lost, there will still be that still, small voice within his heart. If Cameron will just listen, that voice will lead him back home, no matter how lost he is, no matter how long he’s been lost, no matter why he got lost.

That’s how God is. There is no place on this planet where God is not already present. We can never go where God is not, and, therefore, where we cannot be found. Joy happens the day we personally discover just how much God loves exploring, too, looking for his lost children, and leading them back home.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Male Assist

“Male assist!” the TSA agent always yells just after I set off the metal detector at the airport. It happens every time and I’ve finally resolved myself to the fact that it always will. That’s unless they invent a device that can distinguish between the titanium that used to be my right knee and a genuine security threat. The other day, on the way to LA, they actually put me through one of those machines that blows spurts of air all over you. It was kind of exciting, actually. Almost like a cheap ride at Six Flags. Not sure what Puff the Magic Blow Machine tells them, but it didn’t hurt, nothing fell off of me and at least I cleared that level of security.

The part that bugs me the most is what happens right after I take everything off that’s holding me up. My shoes, my belt, my watch. Like one of the sheep being led to the sheering, I drop it all into plastic bins and onto a line that’s passing through an X-ray machine so fast they couldn’t possibly detect a 747 trying to get through. At least I’ve learned the value of only wearing shorts and sandals when flying. I don’t look very hip showing that much hip but it does help get my knee through easier. Something about being able to see my knee replacement scar makes the security guys frisk me less.

Frisk me they do, though. Some friskier than others. Not that I’m really worried about untoward advances at my age, from any sex. But, honestly, some of those guys seem to enjoy it more than others! One time, after the security guy wanded me over like he was prepping me for a giant rotisserie, he then gave me a thorough blue-glove pat down in the places he’d just wanded! When he finished I actually asked him if he wanted to share a cigarette. He looked at me with one of those thousand-yard stares and I figured trying to explain the joke would just ruin it, or get me locked up for the night. I just moved on.

“Male assist!” is always the first warning the National Security Agency gets when I set off the alarm. It’s so abrupt, almost crass or rude. The biggest set of lungs in TSA history announces, “Male assist!” so loudly to anyone who wants to hear that even to my not-too-pre-hearing aid ears it sounds like, “Herb! Tampons, aisle six! Price check!”

They never tell you you’re growing older. You don’t even realize it yourself until one day you wake up and shock yourself with the first glance of the morning in the mirror wondering how your granddad slipped his skin over your body during the night. Other than that, the surgeons will begin replacing your broken, falling-off parts and, if you have to travel, someone will yell, “Male assist!” Then, you’ll know for sure.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Calling Home

The first thing I felt this morning was nostalgia, and I’ve only been in this place three days. That was long enough to add some new life-long memories to a place in my heart reserved for Cameron, my youngest son. It’s been way too long, longer than I remember, since he and I had seventy-two uninterrupted hours together. Part of me wants to stay, though my heart is calling me home.

We landed in Los Angeles Tuesday, missing the earthquake by just about two or three hours. We were actually kind of bummed about that. I’ve never felt an earthquake, don’t stand much chance of ever feeling one in Texas. I’ve had plenty of earth-shaking experiences, though. Like taking my youngest son 1,500 miles from home to find a place to live just one month before he moves away.

We found the place, by the way, the very first day. We both laughed about how men hunt and women shop. We took the first place we saw. It’s one of three 11x19 rooms just above an art professor’s really messy studio. (Do clean studios ever produce really good art?) He will share a bathroom and a kitchen with two other students who are never there, like he won’t be, either. The Craigslist advertisement read “Spartan conditions,” which turned out to be an artistic way of describing a 1930’s era place with rotting stairs, cracks in the walls, barely enough light to walk around and no AC. In LA, though, that’s where he’ll start. He loves the place, plans to paint the walls and make it his own. The smile on his face was like soul medicine; it did my aching heart good.

Finding a place and talking to the financial aid people at the Art Center College of Design seemed to quell the little bit of anxiety he felt about moving this far away. It’s where he wanted to go. I’d never even heard of the ACCD before he mentioned it. Apparently, a degree in film from there will go a long way in the world he’s passionate about exploring.

Yesterday, having already bagged the crib, we went to see The Dark Knight, at the Universal City IMAX. I’d been on those grounds before, over twenty-five years ago with a youth group from Abilene on a “mission” trip. I have few memories of that trip. I’ll always have yesterday’s.

After that, we took a drive up Mulholland Drive. Its breathtaking mountainside overlooks gave us a spectacular view of downtown Los Angeles and a little more perspective of the massive city my son will call home for the foreseeable future. In the middle of all those millions, a piece of my heart will live there now, too. I’ll have to come back and check on my LA heart when Southwest runs Internet specials.

We cut our traveling budget by being more careful about where we ate. Olive Garden saw us twice, the same one. Last night, over really good Italian flatbread, chicken parmesan and a so-so plate of fettuccini alfredo (I make the best), Cameron looked up and thanked me for coming with him. At 19, I let him swig the last drop in my complementary glass of way-too-fruity house wine. He almost looked a little too experienced at the swigging part. I swallowed my spit harder than he did the wine. Flatbread and wine, it was a communal kind of thing, you know.

We rediscovered something I always suspected, that we have more in common than I think I ever did with my dad at nineteen. We actually enjoy hanging out with each other. We played together with the Garmin while the irritating computer-generated holy-spirit-of-driving voice guided us around a city I’ve never driven, without ever getting lost (well, almost). We finally found the mute button and just read the directions. The radio stayed off most of the time. We talked and said “Wow!” more than once, gawking at the hilltop mansions humans from another world call home.

Our plane takes us back home tonight, at least for another month. Where will home be next month? What do you when one son you love more than yourself lives one place and the other son you love that much, too, lives 1500 miles away and your wife who loves you more than you love yourself sleeps right next to you every night? You reach down and pat your dogs on the head then you roll over and thank God that your heart is big enough to love that much, to stretch that far and to call more than one place, “home.”