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...