Thursday, October 30, 2014

Eulogy for a Sheltie

Every Wednesday for the last few years, my Subaru wagon would roll into the driveway at 305 Illinois Avenue and two things would happen - I'd deliver some meals to the family, and I'd be greeted by their dog. He was a beautiful Sheltie - like a miniature collie - and announced my arrival by "talking" to me and coming to me to be petted.

If he wasn't at the front of the house, his owner would say "your friend is here" and he'd come waddling down the hall. He wasn't fat - but he sure was fluffy. Okay, he was kind of fat.

Over the years we had formed a bond.

But last week he finished his race. Cancer took him away.

When I rolled into the driveway, the older woman and her son were both outside. As I was walking to the door I heard them talking and finish with "you tell him." Neither one could look up for a moment after the words were spoken.

So I said, "he was a good dog."

And that was enough to start the tears.

For five minutes I heard about a puppy that brought life into the family, and tales of times when he comforted, when he took the day's pain away burst forth.

It was like being at a funeral listening to the eulogies of the family. I've been to a many of them, hear a lot of words.

But you know, it's pretty hard to top...

He was a good dog.

And he was.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Are There Many Of You?

During the first week of school in Okaloosa County, teachers are required to eat lunch with their students in the cafeteria. It's a great time to get to know your new charges on a personal level. Most days now, "lunch" consists of my wolfing down something while simultaneously working on getting ready for Math after lunch, but maybe I need to eat with them every once in a while just to experience something like that which happened that first week.

It's the very first day, and I get my lunch and sit on the corner of two tables, between a boy wearing a ninja turtle shirt and sporting a green mohawk on my right and a sweet freckle-faced little girl with ribbons in her hair on my left.

At first the boy dominates my attention as we talk ninjas, turtles, and ninja turtles. We disagree over which is the coolest, but do so agreeing to revisit once I learn more. It's a slam dunk that I will learn more during the year, as TMNT trivia along with Pokemon traits are hot topics for third grade boys.

Then the little girl tugs on my sleeve and gets my attention. Looking up, she says, "Mr. Wilson, you are my first boy teacher. Are there many of you?"

It took everything I had to keep from bursting into laughter. It was as if she was studiously observing an animal so rare that just being in its presence was a treat. I was trying to decide whether a white rhino or unicorn would be the best avatar when I replied, "No, there aren't many like me in elementary schools, not many at all. But I LOVE teaching third graders like you!"

She grinned from ear to ear, and I looked in the other direction and every one of the others was grinning back at me too.

Tonight, I'm tired and cranky after spending hours planning and grading. I gave everything I had to give this morning at church, enjoyed a great lunch with friends from New Hope, and took a quick nap in the afternoon. But the next 6 hours were intense work, and it wears on you.

So I chose to write this so I could focus on why I teach.

God put me there to make a difference. And I believe I make one.

A rare one. :)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Forgiving and Forgiveness

It's Sunday after church and we're going out to eat. Now being creatures of habit, there's a certain set of restaurants we'll likely go to. But on this day we decide to try a new one. Arriving at the table, I notice a couple sitting nearby (among a dozen or so others) who used to be members of New Hope that I haven't seen in a long time. Maybe a decade.

They were great members of New Hope, and friends and supporters of what we were doing as a church... until they weren't. And in one of those things that happens far, far too often, they left in a huff. The minister of music quit, so they quit. They left in a cloud of bitterness and vitriol.

It hurt.

But you forgive and focus on the blessing that they were when they were with you, and move on. No wailing and gnashing, no grumbling and blaming. It's a choice you make, and it's the only one that heals the hurt.

So there they were. I walked over and said "Hi," and mentioned in passing that I had just used the lawnmower they had purchased for the church (right before they left) just a few days ago, so they were still being a blessing to us. Then I walked back and enjoyed lunch.

I was conscious of his looking over at us as we ate, and every now and then I smiled back. They finished their meal and he walked over. He's in his upper 80's now, so feeble he walks with a cane, and after greeting everyone else, he turned to me and said, "I'm so sorry if I hurt you and the church."

He continued, taking my hand in a trembling handshake and with tears forming in the corners of his eyes he said, "Please believe me, I didn't mean to hurt you or the church. Please forgive me."

I looked into his eyes and told him he was our brother in Christ and we loved him and his wife. That I knew he would never mean to harm the church. That forgiveness was his before he had even left on that long ago Sunday.

He hadn't let go of my hand, and when he heard that, his grip grew stronger and his eyes grew bright. We hugged and he and his wife left.

You know, one of us had held onto a hurt for over ten years. It apparently had been something that was always there, like a weight that couldn't be laid down. But on a lazy Sunday afternoon, far from any church, unexpected grace showed up.

I LOVE that about our God.

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” 
― Corrie ten Boom

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

I Forgot Them All

I love this picture!

Maybe it's because I have witnessed this two times from the perspective of the man in the background, feeling the thrill of helping my sons take their first steps toward independence. They are men now, and one has experienced that same thrill.

As they learned to walk, not every one of their attempts was progress. I'm sure there were a lot of times when they sat back down, wobbled into things, or face-planted.

But here's the thing - I cannot remember a single failure. Not a ONE.

Why? Is it age? LOL, no I don't think so. I can remember a lot of moments.

So why can't I remember their failures?

Maybe it's because I've seen them walk. And run. For many years.

You may still be feeling the effects of a failure you had in your Christian faith. It may gnaw at you, rob you of your joy, or make you feel less loved by God.

Please read this carefully.

“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sakeand will never think of them again.: Isaiah 43:25

God doesn't remember those failures. He's the Father who rejoices to see His children living everyday. To see them draw on His strength and His love, facing life's challenges. Sure sometimes we fail, but what does God remember? That we got up and kept following His Son.

So live secure in the knowledge that God LOVES YOU and rejoices to see you living in Him.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Memorial Day

There's no way I can know. No way for most Americans to know. But that doesn't excuse us on Memorial Day.

Every year we get a chance to grasp the incredible - to appreciate what should for us be a deeply moving and abiding revelation.

Men and women, some barely having reached adulthood, gave their lives - with all that would have held for them - laughter, joy, legacies of family, of love - for us.

I can remember talking with my father, who served in the Pacific theater in WW2, about what he saw - about what he experienced. Most of the time he wouldn't say more than just "it was rough." But when the curtain he had created between him and the horrors came down, it was as if he was seeing ghosts.

When I think back, fragments of scenes he described scare me still.

When a terrifying night where Japanese attacked in wave after wave from the darkness - screaming "Banzai" with officers waving samurai swords ended, my father looked out over a field where "Japanese were stacked like cordwood, and body parts scattered like melons - like cornstalks."

"My friend and I were in a ditch, a little dip in the ground, trying to stay alive. A shell hit right next to him. I turned to look and all that was left was his legs."

New Guinea, Saipan, Mindanao, Okinawa.

Places on a map for me.

Scars that never healed for him. Scars...that...never...healed.

And he came back. Scarred, profoundly affected - but he came back.

Memorial Day is not for him, as much as he and all those who came back deserve our respect.

It's for his friend, and the others who gave "their last full measure of devotion."

For us. For our country.

Think on these things.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Power of We

We finished tired and happy today. No, we didn't win a trophy.

But let me tell you what kind of class this is.

We fell way behind in the lap-run. Just wasn't a strength for us. On the second half though, Tyler took over and took off. He made up an enormous amount of the gap. But here's where it gets good.

Every child ran to the halfway point and joined Tyler in his race to the finish, all the while shouting encouragement. Because of that, Tyler got even faster and finished strong.

That's what people - big or small - who truly care about one another can do - they create a climate where what you thought could be accomplished is blown away and a new level of achievement takes place.

It's the power of "We."

I'm very proud of all the academic success I've seen from this class, but this morning may have just been my favorite moment all year.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

"So how big did this place get?"

It's funny how an offhand comment or question can sometimes drive me into periods of really deep thought and reflection. That's really not a neighborhood I frequent much anymore, simply because the pressure of getting this done NOW is so much a part of my life. Between church and school there's just not much down time.

The question came from a friend while we were preparing meals to be delivered to people who live in the neighborhoods around the church. I could be there because it was a "snow day" for us at school, so I could help Bunny get the cooking done and then be able to show up at church hours earlier than normal. His job on base let him be there too. The roads were icy, and most people had hunkered down at home, but that didn't mean they didn't need a hot meal. So some of the folks at New Hope turned out including this young man.

He and his family had simply showed up one Sunday and quickly became a part of our church. Their heart for Christ and willingness to serve have just endeared them to everyone at New Hope. And their precious daughter is a sense of endless fascination and joy while we watch her scamper around. It's been a great blessing to have them within our church family.

So his question was delivered while he and I were filling clam shell containers with black-eyed peas and rice. Not a probe, just a curious question. But it's made me think.

I answered him like most pastors would do - with numbers and relating them to the size of our sanctuary and number of seats. It's possible I mentioned some of the factors that have caused those numbers to shrink - but I don't think so.

At any rate we kept filling the containers with food, and another New Hope family member came in with some rolls to add to the meal. Then in a little while another brother came in to help finish up "plating" the meal and help deliver them. And once we got them all filled, we left and delivered them all - 99 meals to people who needed them, and maybe reminding of the fact that God loves them and so do we.

Today as I was taking a look at Sunday's Bible study, the conversation came back to my memory. You have to understand - I've spent over 14 years at New Hope, preaching and teaching the Word, loving and praying for the people, and doing whatever it took at the time to see us love people and reach them with the love of God. There have been times I wanted to leave out of frustration with what was happening, and a couple times I could have left, but I knew absolutely it was God's will for me to move here and though it has been tough at times, He has never released me from this call. So here I am.

Look - we've had more people. Twice as many plus some. We've had some really great folks come and serve with us, and then move away or move on for one reason or another. God bless them all. I'll be forever grateful for what they meant to God's work at New Hope, and what they meant to me personally.

You don't serve with someone, spend time in each other's homes, do funerals for their fathers, mothers, and pets; you don't stand up with their children as they pledge their lives to God and each other; you don't laugh and cry with them - without a feeling of loss when they leave. Not sure many people understand that when you have prayed for a person as their pastor - calling out to God for them by name everyday for years, you grow kind of attached. So yeah...

But you have to understand this too. A pastor does not live in the past, he runs to the future, because that's where his prayers to the timeless God he prays to - lead him. I'm always praying for another chance to see God capture the heart of a child, of a teen, of an adult. I'm always hoping to be there when God mends a broken heart or when He sets one on FIRE for souls. That's what drives me - what keeps me excited about being a pastor.

And right now I'm seeing a rekindling of that fire in the people of New Hope. We may have less people, but we have a group who love, who serve, who give, who want to see the Kingdom come and His will be done right here in a small church in a small town.

"So how big did this place get is?" a question I hope to ask the Father one day. In person.

I really expect to be blown away.

Because Scripture tells me that God can do more than we can ask or even imagine. And I believe it with all my heart.