Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A question we all can ask this Fourth of July

A sweet memory of my kids in front of the U.S. Capitol one summer.
 I sat in a third grade classroom at Medlock Elementary probably stumped by some arithmetic problem, which was usually the case. The intercom box blared on with static, and for a moment, I was glad for a distraction from the drudgery. But the static subsided and we realized we were listening to a radio broadcast. The announcer said in an urgent way, “President Kennedy has been shot. The president has been shot.” The shock of it caused the young students to respond in various ways.  I only remember growing very quiet.
From a child’s perspective, the Kennedy presidency did indeed seem like Camelot. I had a tea set made just like Jackie’s and my mother wore pillbox hats like hers. And so as his death and funeral unfolded over the next few days, the sadness seemed profound.
Though as an adult my historical perspective helps me see some of the illusions of that time,  John F. Kennedy said a few now familiar words that I memorized as a child which will always be  important to me, and I know to many, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Since our country’s birth, more than a million have answered the call to service and giving, as Lincoln said, “the last full measure of devotion.” Nearly three million have been wounded.
Today, many are still putting themselves in harm’s way to defend our country. But though we may not serve in a branch of the military, we too, need to ask what we can do for our country. Its people are hurting, polarized, angry, and sad. Even in our families, we find ourselves at odds with others opinions. Friendships are dissolving because of conflicting political views. One comment can quickly escalate into a shouting match in person or on social media. I have found myself at odds with people very close to me, and remember often my grandmother’s advice to “bite my tongue.” I’ve said here before if I had known how important that piece of wisdom was going to be, I would have had it tattooed on my forehead.
I have a lifelong friend, with whom I have found myself on opposite sides of an important issue. When I was around her, I sensed she was almost scared I would reject her because of it. But God has called us to love unconditionally. He didn’t say only love the people that agree with you. I went to her and said, “Listen, we may be in different places on this thing, but you and I are going on. Let’s not allow this to split us apart.” And it hasn’t. In fact, we may be closer today than we were before.
When someone disagrees with us, we could have a dialogue, instead of flaring and sounding off. We might learn something. We might aim to live loving but perhaps not agreeing on all things.  
I’m trying my best to listen and love every day. Failing often, but getting up and trying again. As we celebrate our nation’s birthday this year, I invite you to join me in this endeavor and let's remember the words President Kennedy spoke at his first inaugural address. Yes, asking what we can do for our country rather than what our country can do for us may take us to a new place entirely.  And let's all continue to pray because really it's the most important thing we can do.

Friends, have a happy Fourth! May God bless America.
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).




Tuesday, June 23, 2020

When your wings are broken, what then?

I sat outside near dusk on my mother’s old green glider praying and pondering. A vexing problem had left me bewildered. You know the kind―it dogs your heels and though you pray for a solution, there doesn’t seem to be one. You don't know what to do next and if we're not watchful, the enemy can bring on crushing discouragement.

A fluttering over at a butterfly bush distracted me. I got up to investigate and was amazed to find an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail with shredded wings and part of one tail almost entirely gone. He was still flying.

The butterfly mirrored the tattered and torn way I felt in the present circumstance.

The insect had almost fallen victim to some predator, but somehow escapedits scars a tribute to its fierce fight for life. The damage was mostly to the anterior wings, which aren’t as necessary as the forewings, but still it was significant. I snapped a few blurry pictures and had to wonder if perhaps God wanted to say something to me through the butterfly’s appearance at that particular moment.

Most of us know butterflies are pollinators carrying pollen from plant to plant to help them produce seeds. This is important work because if plants don’t produce seeds, we’re in big trouble. A butterfly just goes about his business, broken wings or no broken wings. Despite our sense of being fractured, God has a purpose for us. It could be bigger than anything we might imagine. One type of butterfly is even considered a keystone species, which means the loss of it will cause an entire ecosystem to disappear. We cannot forget each of our lives bears inestimable value.

A butterfly’s life span is only two to four weeks, so one only has a few weeks to deal with compromised wings. I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s words, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (I Corinthians 4:17). We need to view whatever troubles we’re dealing with here through an eternal lens. These troubles are temporary and something great is in store for us.

I  stood for a while studying the butterfly and then it flapped its wings, took to the sky, and soared out of sight.

Maybe, just maybe, the insect’s encouraging appearance in my garden was not only for me, but so I could also write about it here and say to someone who feels their wings torn, “Hey, keep flying, friend, despite your brokenness. God has a special purpose for you. And it won’t be long before we see His face.”

I’m praying the visitor to my back yard leaves you with the same thing it gave mehope.  



Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Three Things I Learned from my Dad, the Builder

My dad built things.

Not for a living, mind you. His career was in banking. My dad built for joy.
He constructed the house he and his wife lived in for many years. Sure, he contracted out a few elements, but he built a surprising percentage of the structure with his own two hands. It was not a tiny house concept but probably approached 3,000 square feet.

He crafted this French Cupboard for me. Simply because I asked.

He erected this playhouse for my daughter, which later became her studio.

My brother in law, a lifelong executive with the Boy Scouts of America, requested one summer if my dad could build birdhouse kits for summer campers. And he did. All 400 of them. Each house had at least six parts.
I’ve been reflecting on my dad, and what he taught me through his building that I use in my life today.

1.       The way you do hard things is tackle them in small increments. The summer he built the birdhouses, he worked on them for many, many days but he took breaks and didn’t become overwhelmed with the task. In building books with words, I don’t look at sixty, seventy, or eighty thousand words. I just think about the ones I’m writing today.

2.       Don’t say no to a big job just because it seems impossible. Dad could have said no to all the big jobs he tackled, but he didn't. From the beginning, being a writer has seemed implausible to me. However, I have a heritage that says that’s not a reason to say no.

3.       You can make something from nothing. Just as my dad did in wood, by the grace of God, it feels as if that’s what I do in words every day.
The things my dad built transcended wood and nails. Because of his influence, there are principles built into the center of who I am. I hope to pass these on to my children. I am grateful for his example because when I come up against a seeming mountain, I can think, well, my dad did it, and I have his DNA, so I can, too.

We can never measure legacy in dollars and cents. The most important legacies are the ones that endure in the hearts and minds of family members for generations.  Proverbs 13:22 reads, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children . . . " I am blessed to have had a dad who left behind such a legacy.

I’m grateful The Upper Room Magazine is publishing one of my devotions about Dad on Father’s Day, this Sunday, June 23. If you don’t have access to a print copy, you may access it on line at upperroom.org. It thrills my heart that people will read of his life and legacy in over thirty-six languages around the world. To God be the glory.



Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Note to Self: Seven Things to Do

This will be a short blog post, because sometimes many words are not what we need. You might put this under the category of a note to self, and I’m inviting you to look over my shoulder as I try to think of a few simple things I can do right now to make a difference in these challenging times.
Here goes:

1. Listen more. Listen more. Listen more.

2. Stop interrupting as if I understand. I don’t.

3. Realize only God truly knows my heart, the depths of which are often unknown to me.

4. Eliminate the word but, because every time I make that word choice, it invalidates what I said before it.

5. Don’t tolerate injustice. Even in small ways.

6. Be willing to accept change and not sentimentalize hurtful vestiges of the past.

7. Pray as the Psalmist did, “Will you not revive us again . . .” (Psalm 85:6).

That’s where I’m beginning. This plan is not complete or perfect in its scope, but what I’ve learned from my writing journey is that small steps add up to something big. If I write 1,000 words a day five days a week, I could have a rough draft of a novel in three or four months. What it takes is persistence and a bit of discipline. I think that principle may apply here too. Change will take focus and determination.

I’ll end by using a boomer song reference that seems applicable here, “Let it begin with me . . .”


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

In this together

Because Jerry is a University of Georgia football letterman, a couple of years ago we were invited to attend the naming event for the Payne Indoor Practice Facility at UGA honoring letterman and former Olympics Committee CEO, Billy Payne and his father, Porter. Billy Payne and Jerry were teammates.

We wrote about that night on One Old Dawg. But because we met someone that evening whose wisdom and advice is essential for the times we live in today, I want to highlight a bit of it here.

Jerry and I had the very great privilege of meeting Andrew Young, who has been a U.S. Ambassador, U.S. Congressman, and Atlanta Mayor. As he spoke that night, he covered the challenges in bringing the Olympics to Atlanta. He and Billy Payne traveled to over 100 countries, a black man, and a white man with such love for each other, it gave the world a new picture of the American South.

When the two men began pitching the idea of bringing the Olympics to Atlanta, many thought it an impossible task. But their close relationship and perseverance yielded an extraordinary result.

Young praised Payne and credited the hand of God for their successes. I had not realized that Andrew Young started his career as a pastor, but his faith in God was obvious as he spoke.

Young was a close ally of Dr. Martin Luther King and participated in civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, St. Augustine, Selma, and Atlanta.

He related a story in an interview this week of the protest in St. Augustine where he and other marchers came face to face with a white supremacist group. Instead of violence, they chose peace and responded by singing. He said that choice led to action in congress, the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Another extraordinary result.
In a powerful op-ed piece in the AJC this past Sunday, Andrew Young wrote of the terrible injustices in our country, as well as the protests, but he also pointed to the viral plague that is wreaking havoc on our global economy. He pointed to partnerships and said, “We must find a way to live together and work as brothers and sisters . . .”

We’ve read it and said it many times during this pandemic, “We are all in this together.” But that applies to other challenges as well. Though it may seem we are much divided in many ways in our country, the truth remains, we are in this together.

In Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he says that by faith, “we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

It seems at every turn we are facing as Dr. King said, “a mountain of despair” right now. But as he also says, it is by faith we will be able to make of it a “stone of hope.”

So, let’s pray and look to the only One who can heal our broken lives, our splintered hearts, and our fractured souls. Let’s ask him to root out racial bias in all of us. We must reach out and love despite our differences. Who knows what God might do with any of us if we fully surrender and allow him to use us as vessels to heal this fragmented world? Who knows what unexpected beautiful thing might result?

Because as you might have heard, we are in this together.
"Finally, all of you, be likeminded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble" (I Peter 3:8).
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