Saturday, December 31, 2016

Enjoying the Adventure

Will you fight off the Sandman to stay awake and listen to the countdown and watch the big ball drop in Times Square tonight? 2016 has been a great year; no sentiment like "good riddance 2016" here. But unless we have a bout of insomnia, Sandy and I won't be tooting party favors or raising glasses to toasts. Honestly, it would be anti-climatic after the week we just spent with our kids.

Tomorrow marks the first day of 2017, and it falls on Sunday. We will gather with our faith community at Hamilton Baptist Church. Ours is a small congregation, and I know many will be traveling due to the long weekend. But for whomever is there, I will bring a message entitled "Enjoying the Adventure." Actually, I will be on that very theme for the first month of the New Year.

To quote my Bride, "We are living life backwards." How so? We started out in ministry as church planters, ministered to broken churches, led a well established SBC church, and were missionaries in an Asian country. Now, we have come full-circle to HBC where we are approaching our assignment as church planters once again. God has sent along some incredible people to join with us, and we are growing spiritually and numerically. We are enjoying the adventure.

Christian faith is an adventure, but not the vacation sort. It's never presented as a straight-line journey from the new birth to eternity. Conversely, we don't stare up into the sky waiting for the ball of God's Providence to drop like clockwork at 1-second past midnight. No, there are ups and downs. Exhilaration and deflation. Fits and starts. Straight lines and detours. Crawling. Walking. Running. Stumbling. It's learning to journey by faith, knowing that the One we trust is trustworthy, even when we don't trust ourselves. We don't always get it right, but because of God's graciousness, everything will be alright, and that is why we can enjoy it...   

Friday, December 30, 2016

Looking Back...

Today, Justin, Erika, and The Amazing Wyatt flew back to Boston from Atlanta.

Last night, we sifted through stacks of black and white photos. Most of the photographs were from Sandy's family and looked back over eight generations, but scattered among them were some colorful pics of our children. From time-to-time I would send along copies to Meg and Josh. As we shuffled through them, every time Wyatt saw a picture of a baby he would ask, "Is that me?"

Today, Wolf Cub and I took a final ride on the RZR around the pond and across the rolling pastures. He loves his bow Josh (Bapo) got him, and I stood looking over his shoulder as he fired his quiver of five arrows at least a half-dozen times. Finally, I had to face the inevitable; it was time to pack the bow away and garage his truck. "Let's drive your truck over to the storage building. I'll do an engine rebuild while you're gone (Meaning, I will keep the batteries rotating on the trickle charger)." This will be the last year Wyatt will be driving his truck, because he is outgrowing it. BUT! A baby brother is growing in the beautiful Erika and is due to make his arrival with the warm sunshine of spring, so it's yet to be retired.

On the way to the airport, The Amazing Wyatt fell asleep in his carseat with Optimus Prime in his lap.

Tonight, for the first time in a week, the house is quiet. All the kids, significant others, and friends are gone. Constant flowing of traffic into The Shire has abated. Between work responsibilities and family activities, Sandy and I happily burned the candle on both ends. Bedtime will come early.

Tomorrow, I begin taking down my Clark Griswold-like outdoor Christmas decorations and turn my focus to preparing for Sunday.  





Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Robin Hood 2.0

"Bapo" aka our son, Josh, bought the Wolf Cub a bow and 5 blunted arrows for Christmas. For the last couple of days Wolf Cub has become a great little archer. Robin Hood would be proud. It's been wonderful to watch him progress from awkwardly trying to nock an arrow to more smoothly drawing it back for release. Throughout the early evening into the dark of night he fired away as I stood behind him with a flashlight watching his arrows take flight.

Meg left today. Sammy and Josh leave tomorrow, and Justin, Erika, and Wyatt leave on Friday. This has probably been the best Christmas we have ever experienced together. I had a sweet moment with Wyatt today. It went like this... Justin and Josh took Meg to Atlanta for the first leg of her trip back to Seattle. Wyatt went with them; the plan was to take him to the aquarium. Before they left I told Wyatt what a great adventure lay ahead. He asked me who was going, so I told him. His response? "But I love everyone!" I told him Papa had to work and not everyone could go. They had a great time.

Tonight we are going to watch the latest version of Jungle Book. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Family Time

Our three adult children, plus our daughter-in-law, grandson, and Josh's girlfriend, Sammy, are at our home. Within hours of arriving, our oldest son, Justin, created a spread sheet of stuff we all want to do. Christmas is the one time of year we are all together; we try to make the best of it. This year we are experiencing near record high temperatures. For this group--who've experienced many a bone chilling winter in the northeast--soaking in the brilliant sunshine of the southeast is quite tolerable.

For Sandy and me, part of the joy is the constant traffic of our kids friends who flow in and out like the ocean tide. The Shire (what we call our home) becomes a magnet drawing friends from near and far. There's plenty of room here, and today the immediate acres of surrounding pasture provided hours of long-range archery competition. Using a longbow, Josh actually put arrows on target--no sites--at 70 yards. In the back-corner of another field 410's and 20 gauges blasted away at hand-slung skeet. Then it was down into the creek bottom to fire handguns and long-guns of every caliber known to man.

Wyatt, is four and buzzed around in his electric F150, or was running the wheels off his RC car he got for Christmas. Our little wolf cub lives in the city in the Boston area. Once here, he is like a colt let out of the barn with all the wide open space. Throughout the day he spent a good amount of time collecting pine cones, loading them into the tiny bed of his pick-up, then driving down to the fire pit to offload them. This Christmas, for the first ever for me, I went full Clark Griswold with outdoor Christmas--a friend gave me a BIG trailer full of Christmas lights and scenes. At night, when everything was twinkling and sparkling, I asked Wyatt which of the displays he liked best. His response? I love them all, Papa! His parents, Justin and Erika are incredible. Wyatt is full of life, extremely bright, self-confident, well behaved, and the object of much affection. As I write, he and our daughter, Meagan, are making chocolate chip cookies. I wish everyone could listen to the conversation they have as they crack eggs, mix batter, and place them on cookie sheets. There are definitely not too many cooks in that kitchen...


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas Cheer

One of our neighbors gave us a trailer load of outdoor Christmas decorations--a BIG trailer full! My kids have renamed me, Clark Griswold. I can't wait until our grandson The Amazing Wyatt (A.K.A Wolf Cub) sees it all: penguins sliding down a lighted arc of ice; a herd of reindeer; an igloo with a little penguin that pops out of its top; a moose parachuting from the sky; a drummer-bear; a serpentine Candy Cane Lane, thousands of lights, and so much more. Clusters of traditional Christmas scenes fill the backyard between the house and our pond. Flood lights soar upward, illuminating limbs of tall pines and oaks standing like sentries around its edges. Reflections of reindeer and sleigh shimmer across its glassy surface.

As a family we are only able to gather together once a year, so for that reason Christmas is especially meaningful. It's not about gifts. Wyatt is the only one we surround in boxes wrapped in bright colored paper and topped with shiny bows. At 11 a.m., on December 25th we will recognize and worship the true meaning of Christmas together at Hamilton Baptist Church. Traditional Christmas hymns will be sung, and the little ones will gather around me at the front of the church to hear the story of the Advent as told in the Gospel of Luke.

I'm grateful our kids--now adults--love each other, and love Sandy and me. Their significant others are family, too. We are a close-knit clan.

We are blessed...

Monday, December 5, 2016

Rest In Peace, Justin...

At the front of the chapel the casket was in place. Spread across the top of the casket was an Alabama Crimson Tide football team blanket. Kenny Chesney's "Boys of Fall" played. Justin, an endearing twenty-seven year old, was being memorialized and laid to rest. His large, grieving family filled up a third of the pews. Sniffles and muffled cries of grief accompanied Chesney's ballad. A brief interlude followed Chesney, and the music changed to Amazing Grace.

I've know Justin and his dad, Paul, for over three years. Paul, I see on a weekly basis at his place of employment; I'm his chaplain. It is truly an understatement when I tell you that he is an inspiring father and caregiver. Paul's coworkers love and respect him. I became friends with his son Justin, by visiting him each time he was hospitalized. Each of those times he was in a life or death struggle. Each of those times we prayed for his healing. This last time God chose to take him home. He's completely healed now.

Justin never lived a day on this earth without physical struggle. Severe medical issues began the day he was born. Yet, you couldn't find a person who could recall him complaining a single time. No, Justin is remembered instead for his love for prayer--nobody left his side without him requesting you pray for him, and to say it mildly, he was an avid Alabama football fan (he even received a call from Nick Sabin).

One aspect of Justin's illnesses limited his ability to converse; he spoke few words. But Justin could always muster enough communication to say ROLL TIDE! My favorite part of each visit was to get him agitated by telling him I'd heard he'd switched SEC allegiances to Auburn University. He would smile and thrash and once again growl ROLL TIDE!

Justin's funeral service was beautiful and thoughtful and devoid of any pretense. His pastor delivered a sincere heartfelt eulogy, clearly describing Justin's indomitable spirit. Justin, as I said earlier was speech impaired, but being the overcomer he was, evangelized one of his nurses. How so? By insisting she pray for him before she left after caring for him. That prayer led a young woman, who herself was broken and searching, to turn to God for spiritual healing and deliverance.

During the eulogy, Justin's pastor had us--on the count of three--shout out ROLL TIDE to honor our fallen loved one. I wanted to hug the guys neck. He also graciously shared the Gospel. I wanted to hug his neck again.

I'm humbled and grateful for the opportunity I had to know Justin. I have a son who bears the same name, so Justin Smith will be forever remembered. I'm grateful for the three years I got to see Paul Smith's love in action as he prayed and cared for his dear son. I'm grateful for the inspiration that observance gave me to be a better human being, a more compassionate Christ-follower, and to embrace every opportunity to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

For my friends who read this, please pray God's peace, comfort, and awareness of His presence upon this family...        

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Giving Thanks...

Josh and Sammy arrived from Knoxville today around 2:30 a.m. It's Thanksgiving Eve, and Sandy and I are thrilled to have family with us. As soon as the sun rose high enough, so I could see, I went out and did some work with the chainsaw (no injuries). Clearing away brush and creating sight lines around The Shire gives me more joy than I can express. Later in the morning, Josh and I took a walk in the woods and picked out a spot for the possible harvest of a deer. Now, all of us are in full "chill mode" drowsily watching the Hobbit trilogy.

We are grateful for the life with which we've been Providentially blessed. To us, our home is the mythical Shire of J. R. R. Tolkien's robust imagination. Surrounded by pastures and mature forests, a bass pond to the east, and a canopy of a billion stars perforating the night's black sky, never a day passes without our giving thanks. Sharing the serenity and beauty of this place with family and friends brings us great joy. A couple times each year our children are able to gather here with us. Their friends filter in and out, and we are blessed with an atmosphere of celebration. Lord willing, this Christmas, we will all be together once again.




Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Vote...

He [God] gave them the desires of their heart, but sent leanness to their soul. ~ Psalm 106:15

Our form of government and political processes gives citizens of the United States the right and privilege to choose between two major political party candidates (or independent candidates) to elect one of them as President. Last night Donald J. Trump was declared winner. Millions of Americans voted.

I don't believe the outcome was the result of Divine intervention. As I wrote yesterday, Jesus said, My kingdom is not of this world. Neither do I believe all Christians agree with the position I just stated.

Maybe we would agree on this much--at least within the broader "Christian" community. How a country and the individuals in it votes does reveal much about their view of how the world should work, and so to a great extent their view of how God believes the world should work. God does not stop such processes, even if, as the Psalm above says, the desires of our heart have long since abandoned the desires of His. The Psalm also reminds us--with the freedom of choices come consequences.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

My Kingdom Is Not Of This World

[Jesus said] My kingdom is not of this world... Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" Pilate said, to him, "What is truth?"  ~ John 18:36

Just hours before he was crucified, Jesus said to Pilate, My kingdom is not of this world. Jesus is clear,  "I am a king, but not of this world system you represent."

From this dialogue we know there are two kingdoms. Jesus stands before Pilate, an authoritative representative of one of those kingdoms. Pilate does not represent Jesus' kingdom. In Pilate's world, Jesus is disdained and eventually murdered for the truth he spoke.

Jesus' kingdom, and the kingdom of this world, remain in conflict to this day. Why? Because Jesus said his kingdom is a kingdom built upon truth. That would mean the other kingdom is not built on truth. Also, Jesus declared himself the source of truth. Any other kingdom--to be truthful--would need to be a reflection, and echo the truth Jesus declared. That is not the case in our world.

This helps us understand why in the United States we are witnessing such a contentious struggle as we elect our President. Both persons vying for the Oval Office say they represent the truest beliefs and culture and will of the citizens of the United States of America, but neither candidate believes there is such thing as absolute truth. Within the U.S. there are many people who believe there is.

So, let us be clear. Whichever kingdom you identify with you feel conflicted. Christ's kingdom declares there is truth. But the kingdom of this world, rather than echoing Jesus' witness, echoes back Pilate's answer, "What is truth?"

From there, "truth" becomes subjective, and the two kingdoms come in conflict.


















Friday, October 14, 2016

At the beach...

We are staying on the thirteenth floor. Beneath us, and to the west, waves roll onto the beach. Above the low rumble of the surf, voices of children fill the night with excited sounds of their after-dusk discoveries. Night's darkness has arrived, and beams from their flashlights cast distinct white lines and circles in the talc-like sand that stretches on for miles. Someone, legal or not, has a fire burning amid the sand and surf.

Friends gifted us with a stay at their condo in Sandestin. Sandy and I have had coffee each morning on the patio and then walked the beach two-to-three miles. When we are done, we leave the resort to find a place to get a healthy breakfast. Other meals we have cooked at our plush accommodations.

Since arriving, a full moon has been waxing. Last night, or should I say, early morning, I got up at 2 a.m. to see the beams of a full moon cast its light upon the gentle surf and white sands. Countless stars fill the night sky. A steady breeze from the east made the white, long-sleeved shirt I wore comfortable.

This morning, a devil-ray kept pace just off shore as we walked toward the rising sun. Sharks chased a school of fish not more than 30 yards off shore. O, how I wish I would have had my camera to photograph them. Sea birds plucked and scavenged their breakfast from the white beach. Several Royal Terns--unique looking seabirds--broke up the monotony of the squawking seagulls.

As I type, my bride of 39 years is reading a book. I spent a lot of the unfettered time here reading, too..










Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I Will Look Back...

Once our gear was packed, we climbed aboard our horses and went off the grid. No phones. No camera. No electronic communication. John Muir Wilderness here we come! Our guide promised there would be hundreds of photos at journey's end. There was.

I love photography and have taken thousands around the world. But I'm not much for "selfies." Looking through the photos, there were a few of me. Immediately, two things came to mind: first, the confirmation of why I don't like selfies--I have a face made for radio, and second, a question--where has the time gone--who is this old guy?

Like our national symbol, the bald eagle, my hair is beyond white--it's neon white! As a teen it was auburn and wavy. Fortunately, as the saying goes, it hasn't waved good-bye. I remember the stop when that picture was taken. Looking at young Kovey, Justin, and Josh, I thought, One day they will be the elder in such a company of travelers.

Somewhere I have read, The best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse. Within that quote is truth to be savored. For a few days we lived at a pace--and in a habitat--that suits me fine: twisting dusty trails; majestic soaring elevation; simple daily goals; meals around a campfire; clopping of falling hooves; bedrolls  on the ground, and a canopy of stars overhead.

Twenty years from now, should the Lord give me such a lease on life, I will return to these moments captured in digital form. One glance and memories a camera lens could never capture will arise from my memory bank. I'll look at them and think, "O, to be young again!"

   

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Crackshot Kovey And His Craggy Trail Gang

Youngest in our posse, Kovey (pronounced K0-V) was just shy of 12 years old. Both grandfathers, Glen and Rudy, along with his dad, Adam, had a surprise in store for Kovey.

First, let me tell you about Kovey. Only the horse he rode upon enjoyed him as much as the rest of us. Weighing less than 80 pounds, Kovey was the lightest mount any horse in the remuda carried. Unintimidated, he was more than up for the journey. Before riding into the Sierras, he
had been astride a horse a total of 4 hours. After a 7 hour trip that first day, his new boots, bandana, cowboy hat, and clothes puffed clouds of dust with every move. But he was as fresh as a daisy, whether running to fetch firewood or down to the mountain stream for water, he was all in. No job was beneath him or above him. From his backpack he constantly pulled bags of goodies to share with everyone on the ride. He was one of the gang--we became his gang.

Unknown to Kovey, this trip was more than a ride into the wild--it would also be a time of initiation into his strength and responsibility as a young man. Some of the celebration his father and grandfathers planned was private--for the men of his immediate family only. Each of the adults exchanged a specially engraved knife to commemorate the event. But when that was done, Kovey emerged with a specially engraved sword--about the size of Frodo's in Lord of the Rings--he could hardly wait to show all of us! From that moment on it swung from his hip whenever he strode though camp.

Several times, as I observed the interactions between Kovey, his grandfathers, and father, I couldn't help but cry. His innocence and exuberance carried me back to my days as a boy and a longing for one more moment with my father. Thoughts of my own sons at that tender age, Justin and Josh, overwhelmed me.

Kovey received a gift few young men ever do in such an intentional manner. The masculine bond taking shape before our very eyes was beautiful and moving. Our littlest rider was adored--we proudly declared ourselves as Crackshot Kovey And His Craggy Trail Gang. To a man we were proud to ride for that brand.

Kovey had a trail name for me--Barehands Bill, a name I earned by telling him farfetched tales each morning of how, with my bare hands, I turned a bear inside-out during the middle of the night saving Kovey's and everyone's lives, and caught fish from rushing streams, so we would have food to eat. On-and-on the stories went.

At trail's end, we stood by a road curb waiting for our Uber rides to take us to different destinations. Kovey hugged me, "Good-bye, Barehands Bill," and to each of his trail mates, with tears filling his eyes, he squeaked out a "Good-bye."

Lord willing, it's not the last time we will see our young cowboy. Next summer his grandfathers and father and many of the Crackshot Kovey And His Craggy Trail Gang are planning an August reunion. Not in the wild western mountains of California, but instead, in the northeast, at a wood frame cabin that sits on the edge of the beautiful Penobscot River, in the state known for "The Way Life Should Be." There will be no horses, but there will be tents, flowing water, kayaks, fish, and stories around a campfire...


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Endless Vistas...Emptied Vocabulary

Each rider settled into the rhythm and cadence of their horses' steady pace. Bobbing along in the saddles through the Sierras, long stretches passed when nobody spoke a word. But our heads, as if on a pivot, never stopped turning.

Why?

Sensory overload of twisting rocky trails, crystal mountain streams, and snowy soaring peaks filled our vision, all the while emptying our vocabulary as we tried to describe what we were beholding. As they say, "we were left speechless."

Justin, Josh, and I had a particular conversation that has come to mind many times since leaving the mountains. Josh said something like this. "I find myself constantly wowed by the wonder of all this."

Justin responded, "Me too. I'm flooded with amazement... all the time. I can't find words."          

I responded, "We are just a "'Wow"' family, aware of the wonder around us... that's a good thing."


Actions speak louder than words...
One of my favorite pictures...
Scenes like this made us never want to leave.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cowboys...

I confess. I'm a wannabe. I grew up watching Gun Smoke, Rawhide, and Wagon Train. I love cowboy boots and hats, chaps and dusters. Were it up to me, Levis and a button down collar shirt would be fashion. Friends, like Cary, have been so kind as to give me opportunities to ride horses. I've been thrown seven times, but always climbed back on them to ride again. But I am not a true cowboy.

When Justin, Josh, and I straddled horses and rode into the high Sierras it was like a dream come true. At 60, I still have a vivid imagination and sometimes think I was born in the wrong era. When I was a boy, my dad had a 38/40 rifle--with a saddle ring. I often snuck out of the house, roamed around in a patch of woods, or crossed a branch of the Penobscot River and scouted an island; fully convinced I was in a life or death situation. Danger lurked everywhere.

Campfires, wilderness, and wild terrain still captivate me. My bride, Sandy, along with our children Justin, Josh, and Meagan have the same blood flowing through their veins. Though often trapped in the monotonous drone of autos, deadlines, and modern constrictions, we are adventurers at heart.

Yes, I'm a rhinestone cowboy. No doubt. Nothing more--nothing less. I ride when I can. A bit clumsy. As long as the horse carrying me is compliant--I am fine. I lean out of the saddle looking for "sign." Sign of what, I'm not sure. Unlike our son, Josh, who takes to a horse like a duck to water, I climb on--and hang on whenever the opportunity presents itself.

In this post I have attached a few photos from our trip into the Sierras. Void of pretention, they captivate some of the vistas we were so privileged to experience. I dream of one day riding with the Amazing Wyatt into such wild places.
Justin and me 
Fly fishing in a high mountain lake
Phil, a real, honest to goodness, cowboy



  

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Like A Mirage...

No gallop, just steady plodding as the surefooted horses carried us upon there backs up, up, up. As switchback after switchback undulated behind and before us, we continued to gain elevation on the John Muir Wilderness Trail. Those horses... they amazed me. I was one of their lighter fares at 175 pounds, yet I was constantly in awe of their strength and ability to cling to the many narrow, rocky, trails where, to the left and right, the earth dropped off for hundreds of feet.

Like masked bandits of the old wild west, we often pulled our bandana over our nose and mouth to diminish the amount of fine, stifling, choking dust rising in plumes encircling each rider. Be it blue denim or any other colored fabric, soon every inch of us turned to beige.

Leaving the tree line behind, hour after hour we rode through a world of moon-like landscape rarely changing color. At times, sight lines were blurred to a few feet. Then, we would top a rise or turn a corner and a mountain lake,
the result of melting snowpacks and a shadowed low spot, appeared. Looking completely out of place, from its edges crystal clear water revealed the sandy tones of its bed beneath. As it deepened, clear lines of demarcation revealed bands of emerald green, then deep blue. Like a mirage to thirsty men, each pool shimmered vividly amid the hot, dry, dusty world surrounding them. Every single rider felt the urge to dismount, peel off our clothes, and plunge into its coolness for relief. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hitting The Trail

At the packing station
On the first night we stayed in a lodge before hitting the trail. Apart from the fishhook imbedded in the rough carpet of the bunkhouse I stepped on--it was a pleasant stay.

About four in the morning I carefully treaded down the stairs. Stepping into the humidity free air I started up a road surrounded by darkness unpolluted by unnatural light.

Why?

By all accounts it was to be the zenith of a month-long shower of meteors streaking across the August sky. Picking my way along the pavement, with the sound of a tumbling stream drowning out all other sounds, I came upon Felix, our cook. He too, had resisted the lure of Mr. Sandman forfeiting sleep to see the celestial fireworks. Not far up the trail two bodies lay sprawled out on the road--it was Justin (like father like son) and Rudy, gazing up at millions of pinpoints perforating the black of the night sky.

"How many have you seen?" I asked.

"Fifty-five." Justin responded.

"I've seen 15-20 on my walk here." I said.

We stayed awhile longer, but the rising sun began chasing away the darkness, so we all headed back to the lodge.

Around 7:30 in the morning we loaded our gear and headed up to Rock Creek where our journey into the fabled John Muir Wilderness would begin....

Phil, The Legend



Hitting The Trail


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Father And Sons


In the last month of 2015 I turned sixty. In July, prior to that, I had a cycling accident that resulted in a full hip replacement, four surgeries—two on each arm to reroute the ulnar nerve, and a couple more to repair injuries to my upper-jaw. All of that resulted in a change of some of the plans to celebrate my sixth decade. In particular, those with my sons. But in August of this year it all came together…

After months of waiting, Justin, Josh, and I went into the John Muir Wilderness of the Sierras on horseback with pack mules in tow. We traversed switchbacks, crossed streams, sat through a half dozen earthquakes (really!), and rode thin trails along rocky cliffs. Vistas we had never before seen captured all our senses: stubborn snowpack stained by windblown dirt still remained from last winter; boulders several stories high towered over us; turquoise lakes and mountain streams as clear as bottled water reflected a cloudless sky, and at our highest point we topped out at 12000 feet above sea level. By the end of the first day we had straddled horses for 7 hours and descended to 9600 feet to set up camp.

Nine other riders were in our posse, but compared to the two genuine cowboys leading the trip, every last one of us might as well been wearing rhinestones. Those boys were tough as pine knots. 

Even more so than the epic vistas of the Sierras, it was my sons—both grown men now—that impressed me most. Actually, they impressed everyone. Without forcing themselves forward they were leaders. Their interaction with the rest of the group was something to behold. Tough as nails, they are also as tenderhearted as a child. Whether it was chasing down horses, helping set up camp, or joining in the conversations around the dancing light of a campfire as one of the cowboys, with hands as calloused as a camel's knees, created a surreal atmosphere playing a fiddle. Yes, sitting in a massive, high altitude granite bowl, surrounded by rugged craggy mountains stretching to the heavens, one of the cowboys played ol’ timey, brokenhearted, country/folk music.


It’s been days since we returned, yet I am still recalling and processing images and the dialogue that took place between father and sons. It’s nearly four in the morning as I write. Memories of two boys, who entered this world at just over eight pounds each, flash forward to a couple of grown men covered in trail dust, but with hearts pure as gold.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Snorkeling on the Penobscot

Winds ruffled the surface of the Penobscot River causing squares and triangles of refracted light to reflect off the stone and gravel-strewn bottom of the river. From time to time, as we snorkeled beneath the waves, smallmouth bass would swim up to us. Through eyes, located on the sides of their heads, they curiously stared at us giant creatures who possessed a large single eye. Completely unintimidated, the smallest of them hovered around our flippers that stirred up the silt on the river bottom flushing out easy pickings for a meal.






Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ballet Of The Little Ones...

I got their pics, but no autographs
Nearly every morning--after I have a cup of coffee and the rising sun begins turning the blackness of night into the soft grey of dawn--I step onto the front porch to begin my walk. Ruby throated hummingbirds swirling around the feeder we keep filled for our tiny visitors scatter.

"Hummies" are mesmerizing. Delicate and beautiful; swift and acrobatic; territorial and feisty, they provide cheerful entertainment.

Airborne, yet stationary, they sometimes hover and stare into our front window; always the same one. I'm told the reason they do so is somewhat narcissistic--their reflection is a selfie of sorts. This may be true, but it is uncanny how they only do this at The Shire when their feeder is empty. I know I've probably mentioned this before, but I prefer to believe they are letting us know we need to get with it!

As I write, thunder rumbles and cracks in the distance, but undaunted, the ballet of the little ones goes on. Dancing upon a stage of humid, stormy air they flit back and forth, stopping only long enough to take a graceful bow and plunge their needle-like beaks into the rose colored wells of sugary water.



Monday, July 11, 2016

Spartan Place In The Woods...

Recently, I returned from Maine. It was the first time I have been there in two years. Arriving in the early evening, I turned down the dirt road leading to the Penobscot River where our rustic cabin sits perched close to its edge on high-ground.

Removing the padlocked from the door, I opened it and crossed the threshold. Once inside, the unique spartan ambiance surrounded me. Within those four walls time seems to be in a different dimension, and the world a different era. My eyes swept around its borders at the unique features. Sandy's decorative touch is there--simple, but elegant expressions. Justin, Josh, Meg, and I have all left our impressions. An eclectic collection of books from a broad array of genres are grouped here and there. Leaned against the edge of the loft is the handmade ladder I made from birch trees using pegs rather than nails to attach the rungs. On unfinished 2x4 studded walls are giant feathers of ospreys and eagles plucked off the river by our family and friends. A 1950's gas stove we cook on, its enamel chipped and yellowed, sits next to the fairly modern gas refrigerator. Journals and a collage of other things meaningful to each family member look back at me. No theme, but it all fits together perfectly.

If there is a more beautiful and calming sound than the trills of a wood thrush, and the soft moan of the Penobscot River as it flows over the contour of the ledges, I have yet to experience it.

Like big blue eyes opening and closing, and then opening for good, the dull, gray, sleepy face of the sky above awakened; remnants of a dissipating low pressure broke up and were whisked away by gentle breezes.

Before it was completely dark, I struck a wooden match, and turned the lever on the gas lanterns hanging from the rafters above the wood stove. First, there is the hiss of gas filling the mantels. Then, the pop when it ignites. Shadows redecorated the interior of the Spartan place in the woods...
  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Fretting...

A doe and its fawn has shown up at The Shire. Based on the size of the little one, it appears it was born in the last few days. Usually, does dropped their fawns weeks ago. But there is also a second  rutting season that can extend into January, and a few babies come into the world at this late date.

Last Friday, Sandy watched the baby as it lay alone, curled up beneath the river birch tree in our front yard. Newborns have no scent, so the mother--who does--will stay away so as to not attract predators. From time-to-time mothers show up to nurse them. For a couple of days there has been no sign of either mom or offspring. So, like nervous parents, we fret. Always concerned about the abundance  of coyotes that roam the woodlands around our home.

Tonight, just before dark, a doe nervously paced around on our side lawn. We believe her baby is hidden away in the blackberry briars behind the cottage. After a while, I circled the area--not too closely--but didn't see mom or baby. Hopefully, they are safely bedded down. Tomorrow I will buy some deer-corn and make life a little easier for our new mother and child.

I will also have my rifle nearby to discourage any coyotes from predation. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

All Gifts...

It's Father's Day. This morning before we left for church, Sandy and I were having a cup of coffee on our back porch. We sat quietly, sipping our favorite brew, and a young doe grazed along the southern bank of our pond.
It's been a wonderful afternoon. Sunlight drenches the pastures surrounding our home. The Red Sox won, and guests filed into our fledgling church this morning. After church, in the early afternoon, I received phone calls and FB posts from our children: Meagan on the west coast, Josh in Knoxville, and Justin on the east coast.

Later this week, Sandy and I will travel to Seattle to see our baby girl graduate with a Master Degree in counseling!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Here, Then Gone...

Unusual for this time of year, a cell of dark ominous clouds have blown in from the northwest. At their outer edges, and in complete contrast, are clear blue skies squished away by their invasion. Angry roars of thunder echo through the woods, and tree branches swirl in frantic swooshes. Wrinkled and pocked by lines of wind driven raindrops, the smooth complexion of the pond's face has disappeared.

Then, just like that, the dark clouds move on, and a blended array of soft grays and pinks and yellows, streaked with an occasional slash of lightning, are all that is left.   

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Reasoned, Explained, Proved, Persuaded.

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead...and some of them were persuaded" ~ Acts 17: 2-4

Paul knew his audience held deeply ingrained beliefs. Entering a skeptical environment was customary for Paul. The Apostle was not naive, and was aware of the reception that often awaited. The message that Jesus lived, died, and rose again to redeem a lost world was hardly popular. Yet, undeterred, Paul patiently engaged listeners on their home-court for three Sabbaths. He reasoned, explained, and proved the necessity of Christ's sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection to atone for mankind's sin.

Were we to unpack the entire passage, we would see Paul's ability to communicate with hostile audiences. Valuable lessons can be learned. Without sugar coating the Good News, Paul modeled spiritual graciousness and maturity. The account in Acts 17 provides a crystal clear message--Overcoming objections to the Truth requires using reason, and explaining the Truth.

Today's Christ-follower live among cultures that hold deeply ingrained beliefs. Many of those beliefs are opposed to--dare I say it--the most basic Christian doctrines. Isn't there something holy and admirable about remaining conversationally engaged with those holding differing beliefs? Isn't there something spiritually courageous about navigating skeptical and hostile audiences with grace? Are those not indicators of a big step toward spiritual maturity, not a lack of it?

Rather than being bombastic, Paul chose patience,  reason, and explanation. Doing so, Paul brought his listeners to a proof they could not reasonably un-explain.

And some of them were persuaded.    








Monday, June 6, 2016

Green light!

Last July I took a nasty spill off my bicycle resulting in a full, right hip replacement. Four more surgeries required to re-route the ulnar nerve in my right arm and release pressure on the ulnar on my left arm. Carpal tunnel repair in both hands was also needed. To date, I haven't yet recovered feeling in four of my fingers--two on each hand--nor the edges of my palms and inside of my arms up to my elbows. My new hip healed in near record time--there have been no residual issue whatsoever!

Green Light...

I received the results back from a bone density scan, and I am good to go! Today, I begin the journey back to the full-body strength routine I have followed for nearly all of my adult years! High intensity--but low impact--cardio also begins today!

I'm sending out thanks to those who prayed for my recovery and checked in on my well-being. It's truly appreciated.

God wires us all with certain proclivities, and mine is the great joy of bringing my body, as well as my spirit into the condition I believe God intended. Physical activity has always been important in maintaining a balance between the physical and spiritual. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Despondent Responder

He [Jesus] said to them, which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out. ~ Matthew 12:11

Sunday eventually took the place of the Sabbath (Saturday) as the day of corporate worship for Christ-followers. During Christ's incarnation it was not so, and as was his custom Jesus was in a synagogue every Sabbath. But the synagogue was only a part of his spiritual worship, so he never let it stop him from doing the physical work his Father had assigned. This made religionists furious.

At least one facet of God's calling on the believer's life is that of a responder to people in crisis. As it was with Jesus, so it is with us, which day of the week those needs present themselves is irrelevant. Most people in a Christian's orbit will never darken the door of a church. But that doesn't matter. If, so to speak, one of those people fall in a ditch, responders are to lift them out. Broken people. Struggling people. Lonely people. Sick people. Dying people. Being such a caretaker can leave you exhausted, and spiritually out of breath.

Responders often have little evidence by which to measure their effectiveness unless they have met some sort of physical need. I think you know what I mean--It's hard to gauge the effect of being a listening ear or offering kind and redemptive words. Also, for the responder, stepping into and then out of devastating situations to disengage and recharge can be difficult and spiritually taxing.

Being called to respond can come in bunches. Perhaps you have been through such a stretch ministering to an unusual number of people whose world has been turned upside-down. Now, all of a sudden you as the responder find yourself to be the sheep in the pit. Not a depression in the earth. No, a depression in the soul. In such times the hope is that--at the very least--a friend comes to your aid. Someone who will reach down, take hold, and lift you up. Someone to go out of their way for you. That's what Jesus was getting at.

Question: Do you know your friends well enough to recognize when they have become a despondent responder? If not, why not?


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hard Times...Defining Times

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? ~ 1 Peter 4:17


This judgment Peter speaks to, what is it?

He is clear about where it begins--at the household of God.

Peter is also clear that it will move on to those who are not of the household of God--those who do not obey the gospel of God.

God has a timetable.

He sets the boundaries of time's epochs.Peace and trials are His to allot (Ecclesiastes 3).

History confirmed Jesus' prophecy foretelling the destruction of the Temple: Not one stone will one day be left upon another. Absolute destruction and desecration of the Temple carried out by the Roman Emperor, Titus. Precipitating its disappearance was a vicious aggression against Christ-followers. Jesus knew what was around the corner. So did Peter.


From our point of view it may seem strange that fiery trials would befall those who trusted their destinies to Christ. To those who faithfully committed to following Jesus. Why the trials? After all, hadn't Jesus taken the judgment of our sin upon himself at Calvary?


But history--both past and present--is replete with examples of those who followed the tenets of Christianity. In the end their follow-ship proved to be little more than culturally convenient. I mean, "When in Rome, do as the Romans." Front-runners if you will. One look at the Christianity of Emperor Constantine confirms this. It was he who made Christianity the State religion. Many Constantine wannabes have followed his game plan.


Winnowing is always a part of the Divine process. Trials amid the household of God go a long ways toward sifting the chaff from the wheat.
Peter saw that.
Peter knew that.
Peter had personally experienced that.

Not all that glitters is gold.


On the reverse side, to quote J.R.R. Tolkien, Not all that is gold glitters.


Make no mistake--hard times are defining times...

Monday, May 30, 2016

It's Memorial Day...And I Am Grateful

Another Memorial Day comes to a close. Another year I stayed with my commitment to watch "Band of Brothers." As I was doing so, I struggled with the niggling that says I am wasting time. But I steeled myself against those wretched voices and watched and wept and concentrated on every scene. Can too much appreciation, gratitude, and respect be paid to the men and women who gave so much? Shouldn't we know their story? Can't we weep for those who had no one to weep for them?

My dad, Burleigh Vernon Shorey, was a Navy Submarine Veteran. His battles were with the Japanese. He was also a Plank Member on the Pintato. Years ago, I climbed down into the same model submarine, a steel tube, where Dad sacrificed a good chunk of his teenage years. He was 5'11" tall, and I am 5'9". Stooped over, I took the tour through cold, narrow, gray, steel corridors lined with tubing and valves. Thick heavy bulkhead doors were open. Squatting lower I stepped through the oval openings. I remember thinking, "How in the world did those men endure these cramped quarters? What went through their minds as depth charges rained down on them, exploding and rocking their boat from stem to stern? Did I even have a clue as to the meaning of courage and sacrifice?"

Just outside the torpedo tubes was my father's bunk. Every 8 hours a new shift of weary, nerve-wracked sailers crawled into the shared racks for some shut-eye. I won't even begin to try to explain how uncomfortable they looked, except to say, their beds were stacked atop torpedoes whose noses were stuffed with TNT?

Toward the end of his life, Dad opened up about memories that for decades he had sealed away in his memory vault. Reader...few of us today have any idea about what it means to sacrifice. Those brave men and women who died to secure freedom have nothing to apologize for, and we have no reason to be anything but grateful.




Thursday, May 5, 2016

Number Seven

Today it's my Bride's turn for surgery. Nothing life threatening--thank God, but absolutely necessary. I've been cut and stitched six times in less than a year. We are hopeful this is the last for awhile... 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Do Not Disturb

Most nights--when it is legal--I quietly slip out our front door. With flashlight in hand I follow the beam of its white light in a sweeping semi-circle. As it washes across the pastures surrounding our home (we call this place The Shire) I look for the bright eyes of deer. They love the safety of darkness, and the succulent feed of the green fescue. I love watching them.

On this night, I go out a little early, and the last vestiges of the dying day linger long enough to illuminate a blue canopy of a cloudless sky. Contrasting it is the dark, colorless silhouette of the horizon. It is awe-inspiring.

"Sandy, it's a beautiful evening. Let's sit on the back porch and watch and listen." I said, when I returned inside. On the porch, only screens separate us from the out-of-doors. Night sounds comes to us unhindered. Every sightline is only slightly diminished. Our first gift was the song of a whippoorwill--not a frequent occurrence in this neck of the woods. Then, a single bullfrog began its deep croak; a sound so bold and boisterous it seems impossible for such a small creature. Within seconds, from the opposite side of the pond, others began to grumble. Soon, tree frogs began their high pitched trill. Above the pond, bats squeaked and swished through the night skies. Toward the southeast an owl hooted.

Now, darkness has swallowed up the last of the daylight. At the furthest edge of the pond something is splashing and causing a ruckus--the bullfrogs go silent. Is it a blue heron fishing under a moonlit sky? A raccoon pawing in the shallows for a crayfish? Not sure. Were I to retrieve my flashlight and fan the banks with a wash of white light I could resolve the question. But I choose not to disturb Mother Nature in the earliest hours of her beauty sleep.




Sunday, March 6, 2016

We Didn't Care...

As the sun sinks lower and lower, shadows grow longer and longer. Elongated silhouettes of the horizon perforated by patches of light break up the greening expanse of the pastures. Breezes once hassling the surface of the pond have moved on. A liquid mirror doubles the beauty of everything surrounding it.

Weeks have passed since we last saw deer, but we know lurking in the shadows of hundreds of acres of woods they forage. Impressions left in the sands around Standing Boy Creek leave traces of their presence. In the wombs of does little ones grow. Nearly indistinguishable from their mothers, their fathers masculine antlers have been shed. Before long, through our floor to ceiling windows, we will watch spotted fawns naively prance and frolic, unaware of the dangers of their new world.

Earlier this afternoon Sandy and I slung plastic bait into the pond trying to entice bass to bite. They weren't interested. We didn't care...



Monday, February 29, 2016

What Time Is It?

Up until the third-grade, we lived in Old Town, Maine, on Center Street. My grandfather, whom I am named after, and grandmother lived a short distance from us. On many a Saturday morning we used to walk to their house on Elm Street. We couldn’t wait to get there, because Papa Bill would cook up flapjacks and scrambled eggs, and we would have breakfast together. I loved going there.

Like the two old souls that lived there, their home had the aura of something aged, too. It had orderliness to it; there was a place for everything, and everything was in its place. And everything in its place was antique and of a time long past.
Do you have similar memories?
A story is told of a little boy who love to go to his grandparent’s home during summer breaks from school. It was a serene place, and in particular, he loved the steady tick-tock of a big grandfather clock standing in a corner of the sitting room. Each morning his grandmother would pull the two long chains that rewound the old time-piece. Its steady cadence seemed to set the pace of the elderly couple’s day. But what he loved most about the big clock was the way it sweetly chimed every hour on the hour. In the mornings the little guy would wait for it to chime seven times. At seven a.m. he knew when he came downstairs breakfast would be cooking.

One morning, as he lay in bed, the clock began to chime…once, twice, three times, four, five, six, and finally seven. It’s time for breakfast he thought. But it kept chiming. Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, and then thirteen! Thirteen, the little boy thought! Throwing off his blankets, he hopped out of bed, and ran down stairs, yelling. Grandma! Grandpa! Wake up! It’s later than it’s ever been! It’s thirteen o’clock!

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. ~ 1 John 2:18

In the passage we just read it’s not a little boy, but instead an old man; the Apostle John. In tune with the Divine time-keeper, he’s like the grandfather clock, but he is not sweetly chiming. No, he is more like the resounding throb of a gong. John is exclaiming to his spiritual children in Christ, Wake-up! It’s later than it’s ever been!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Enigmatic to the End

In 2010, I wrote a blog. Revisiting it - I revised it a bit. Nothing of any consequence. The title was changed.

I spent hours in the Scripture sifting through its pages and passages. I mulled over the tragic and triumphant, confounding and confusing, comforting and conflicting, pitiful and precious, gritty and glorious life of David. A collage of contradictions . . .

His is a story of the great heights to which a good man can ascend, and the great depths to which a good man can descend...

David was God's man - he was a fallen man.

His passion shaped him - his passions broke him.

A fountain of poetry and praise - A sea of poison and pride.

A man after God's own heart - he broke God's heart.

He lived close to God - he was estranged from God.

Men adored him - men loathed him.

He could be righteously crafty - he could be ruthlessly shifty.

He was brilliant - he was stupid.

He raged against God - he rested in God.

David's story gives me hope - David's story frightens me.

I want to be like him - I fear I am too much like him.

Like father - like son. Solomon penned the wisdom of the Proverbs and the vanity of Ecclesiastes.

In the end, the New Testament Scriptures had the last word on David. Chiseled into the foundation of eternity is David's epitaph: David served God in his generation - then he died.

In our journey . . .

It's not the beginning or the middle, the highs or the lows, the kudos or the curses, the seen or unseen that is most important. No. Most important will be God's summary of our life.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Tomorrow's Message: What's Love Got To Do With It?
Few people know Anna Mae Bullock. She grew up in poverty, in Nutbush, Tennessee. Raised a Baptist, Anna Mae Bullock also had vocal talents and joined a band as a backup singer. Later, she married the marquee musician. As a duo they had astronomical success. But her husband snorted virtual snow banks of cocaine, and their tumultuous marriage ended when Anna Mae divorced him. For solace Anna Mae turned to a spiritual mixture of her Baptist roots and Buddhism.
The world hadn’t heard the last from Anna Mae Bullock. Later she wrote a biography about her music and marriage. She included the retelling of her famous Ex’s physical abuse. Anna Mae was not done with music either. Embarking on a solo career, she became an even bigger sensation. Her biography became a movie. Anna Mae became the #1 female recording artist of all time; a career spanning five decades. She was voted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. In all, her albums and singles sold over 180 million copies. 
BTW, Anna Mae Bullock changed her name. We know her as Tina Turner—her Ex’s name was Ike… 
Tina Turner’s first million-copy song, What’s Love Got To Do With It garnered 3 Grammy Awards, and the Record of the Year. Obviously, it connected with the populace. Read the chorus. Millions found in it an ethos of common ground. 
What's love got to do, got to do with it?
What's love but a second hand emotion?
What's love got to do, got to do with it?
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?
What's love got to do, got to do with it?
What's love but a sweet old-fashioned notion?
The Apostle John saw love differently, and his wasn't a philosophical discovery--It was a revelation that Jesus gave him. Love, says John, It's more than emotion. It's not a notion. 
That's what we will be talking about at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Hamilton Baptist Church.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Further and Deeper...

In no time at all the golden sun melted the white frost blanketing the fields surrounding our home this morning. Not a single cloud stood between heaven and earth once its warming rays hurdled the horizon and drenched my world with infused light. Hardy grass, which has remained green throughout the winter, shook off the chill, stiffened, and reached upward gathering in warmth and life-giving energy. Bluebirds, cardinals, and ground sparrows chirped and foraged. All of creation seemed happy.

With a smile and wonder, I greeted the brilliant skies. Attaching the trailer to the four-wheeler, soon  it was heaped with a mound of branches winds had torn from the trunks and sturdier limbs of trees, scattering them across our landscape. Less than one-hundred yards away was my destination for the load of twigs and pine cones. At the edge of the pond was a circle of stones forming the fire pit where I would deposit them.

But my journey this day was so much fuller than the trailer and further than the fireplace. At one point I stopped mid-stride and thought...

Is there anything more fragrant than a wood fire? Is there not a mystical quality to the twisting, slow-dance of the wispy blue smoke teased by slight breezes? What about the kingfisher chattering and nervously zipping back and forth across the pond--does it not quicken something inside me? And the screeching hawk way up there in the sky, does it not stir within me longings for adventure? Those  geese unseen, but not unheard, do they not inspire a flight with like-minded companions to new discoveries?

Sometimes we go furthest and live deepest when we stand still...




Sunday, January 3, 2016

Today and Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning Justin, Erika, and The Amazing Wyatt leave for Atlanta. From there they fly back to Boston. Meagan, Josh and Sammy left a few days ago. This has been the best Christmas we have experienced in many years. I'm grateful that our kids all love and enjoy each other's company, and the company of their parents. As a family, we attended church together for the first time in years, ate great food, watched Elf, played games, hung out, and gifted each other with thoughtful presents.

Wyatt had the time of his life. Seeing him drive the little electric F150 all over The Shire, steering the RZR through fields, trails, and along the swollen Standing Boy Creek, all the while seated in Papa's lap filled us with a joy that only a grandchild can deliver. Our little wolf cub caught a fish from our pond, and woke up every morning calling out for me. We lavished love on him in doses that far exceeded the record rains that caused epic flooding here in the southeast.

Tonight, toys that have been scattered all over the house have been be packed away. But soon Wyatt's buddy, Moose, will liberate them and strew them every which way across the living room floor. In no time, that little guy will be sitting behind the wheel of the electric truck, rather than being chauffeured by Wyatt. And we will love it!

Tomorrow it's back to work for the big people. Tomorrow night the house will be eerily quiet...




Friday, January 1, 2016

Enough is Enough...


Between its opening page on January 1 and its closing page of December 31, a book of memories penned in a journal, or written on our hearts, bears record to the uniqueness of 2015.

Most of us have a short-list of do overs--situations we would revisit and redo. Why? One reason is we have gained wisdom and perspective. Looking back we know a different decision would have resulted in a better conclusion. On the other hand, behind us is history we have no desire to revisit or revamp--once was enough! Events we wouldn't have chosen--were choice an option--occurred, but satisfaction is found in that we kept our nose to the grindstone, trudged on, and broke through. Like Weebles we wobbled, but did not fall down (or at the least didn't stay down). Enough. Yep, enough is enough!

In 2016 the unknown and unexpected awaits. There will be delights and there will be disappointments. But there is One who lives outside of time and is there at all times, and we know that the plans He has for us are good. And that is enough!