Contacting Craig

To contact Craig for speaking or interview opportunities, email at craigd2599@gmail.com
Visit his website (Big Fat Grace) at www.craigdaliessio.com


Monday, December 22, 2014

Bell Ringers, Salvation Army Kettles, and Reminders of Christmas

I went to Walmart tonight to pick up some trivial trinket or other. On the way in, there were three people braving the cold drizzle to ring the bell at a Salvation Army Kettle. I instantly recalled the line in Rich Mullin's "Hold Me Jesus" "...and the Salvation Army band is playing this hymn. And your grace rings out so deep, it makes my resistance seem so thin..."
That first Ragamuffins Album is smattered with snippets of Americana. I know the Salvation Army is an international ministry organization, but something about a bell ringer and a kettle feels purely American.
I got teary eyed...as I often do when I recall Rich and especially that record, and especially that song. I've been locked in a real wrestling match for months now and the line "Your Grace rings out so deep...it makes my resistance seem so thin" grabbed hold of me. I've been at this crossroads for a while, and no clarity seems to be in sight. But I know I can count on His Grace...even though my humanity resists it, for lack of grasping it. There was comfort in the bell ringer at the kettle. Comfort in knowing that 2014 years have come and gone since that scandalous, wild, illogical, mystical night in Bethlehem and -try as it might- this world simply cannot remove the impact of that night on humanity. It can try to remove it from the vernacular, but it can never remove it from our hearts. As Brennan Manning said "Behind every Christmas ornament and every sprig of mistletoe. Behind every twinkling light and every antiseptic "Happy Holidays, there is the truth of this Baby." Christmas seems to annually take my heart on an excursion back to a place I long for and can never return to. The only thing that remains unchanged throughout the years...the star still leads us to the Baby. And deny it as some voices may...the whole world knows this to be true. The star still leads to the Baby. Come as you are...
...I guess I heard all that in those simple bells this evening.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Borrowing Christmas: Thoughts about not going home this year.

A couple of last minute plan changes and it turns out I’m not going home for Christmas.
I can’t begin to express the heartbreak. I can’t even begin to touch on the depth of sadness I feel about not being there, in the Philadelphia area, this year.
It’s compounded by the fact that my daughter is at her mom’s in Tennessee and this is the first time in probably seven or eight years that I won’t be celebrating with her.
It’s barely Christmas without her as it is, but to not be going home makes it insufferable.
I was driving last night, working my second job, and the heaviness of all this weighed me down terribly. I miss my daughter. She’s been in Tennessee since the weekend before Thanksgiving and won’t be back here until New Years. I was thinking about our dozens and dozens of trips back to Philadelphia / Wilmington DE where we typically spend our Holidays and where we most often refer to as home.
I was thinking last night, and again this morning, about my life and how very different it turned out from what I’d hoped for. Christmas, especially, is a very emotional, introspective time for me. I realized some things about my own Christmases that caused a lot of tears this morning. My heart is still heavy and its hard writing these words but they desperately need to come out and this blog has become a refuge and my one and only venue.
It occurred to me this morning that I have never had my own Christmas.
Christmas was always made infinitely better by the presence of others. Now, most people would say this is universally true, but not in the way I mean it.
Christmas, growing up, was the one and only time when there was any peace in our house. It was the only time when there felt like anything that resembled love was expressed from one person to another. We never went on vacations, never did “family” things. Family “Game Nights” typically became tense and uneasy because we honestly didn’t like each other. The healthy competitiveness that can come from simple game playing, was only a microcosm of the competition we all had with each other just to find some air to breathe and a ray of sunlight in that house. We clawed and scratched at each other to find our way to the top of the pile and hopefully catch just a scrap of the affection that every kid wants. It transferred itself into those game nights in the form of hurt feelings, increasingly acerbic comments, and the overbearing, overwhelming domination of the “head of the household” who deigned to give us 30 minutes once in a while, stifled our childish expressions, and then ran out on the game so he could return to his place of isolation in front of the TV, purposefully watching something that none of us had any interest in, so we would leave him the hell alone.
But Christmas was that one, two-week- period when the façade was erected, and it was so beautiful and such a breath of fresh air, and it was so close to what my heart always hoped for from family and Christmas that we never minded the falsehoods. We ate our sawdust hot dogs and wore our plastic jewelry and played the roles. Even fraudulent happiness is better than the other fifty weeks of brood and darkness.
But it really wasn’t the façade that made it Christmas…it was the others.
Christmas was the only time we consistently saw friends and family. Outside of the occasional cookout we were not entertainers. But Christmas was different. Christmas Eve there was, for the last 10 years or so that I lived at home, an open house. I couldn’t wait for the first guests to arrive because they brought with them the greatest gift of all…life.
Our house seemed to burst with life when my Aunt Donna and Uncle Jack arrived with my cousin Stephanie. Then my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Ed and their girls. Then the neighbors and their families. As I got older and my friends had licenses and cars, they would stop too. People we didn’t see all year, (and nobody ever wondered why) would come around for Christmas Eve and stay, and talk, and the house felt like a Currier and Ive’s picture.
I also made a point to visit the open house of another family whose son was one of my best friends. I spent an hour or two with the Winward’s before returning home to finish the night with our guests.
Christmas day was more family, either them coming to us or us going to them. The week between Christmas and New Years was spent outside with my friends or in my room reading or doing whatever. Another week and it was back to school and back to the normal way of life we knew. Five people (briefly six when my youngest brother was born, just a few years before I moved out) who coexisted under one roof but who neither knew, loved, or even liked each other.
It was this fertile soil that made me dream –from an early age- of creating my own home one day and having the Christmases I wanted. Where we weren’t faking it but we were actually just expressing the love and joy and fondness for each other that had been building all year. I took that image into marriage, and sadly only had two Christmases with which to try to create that picture. Then came the divorce. Then came the next fifteen years. Fifteen years. Fifteen Christmases come and gone, and all of them with me trying desperately to give something to my daughter that I never had, and failing at it. The years when I was successful and we had a home of our own, Morgan and I decorated and celebrated. But oddly enough…when she was with me for Christmas we never stayed in Nashville. We went home.
Because, once again, we needed someone else’s Christmas.
We had a wonderful set of traditions, my daughter and I. but instinctively we knew something was missing and we couldn’t recreate it alone. Our Christmas at home needed the other half of our family and she was never going to be there. You want to know another reason God hates divorce? It’s this. Christmas can never, ever be what it would be if you remain together.
And so Morgan and I took a journey almost every year, back to where I grew up, and other people’s Christmas became our Christmas. Just like when I was a kid.
I think this is what was breaking my heart last night, and again this morning.
I seem to need Christmas more each year and this year especially. And now I won’t be going home. The last seven years I have spent Christmas Eve with my Cousin Toni and her husband and his family and Toni’s dad, my Uncle Franny. They taught me about the family I missed being a part of, and about the traditions I needed to learn. They taught me about “Feast of Seven Fishes” and what it means to have someone love you, simply because you are family.
Something I longed for my whole life.
I can’t share my family’s Christmas this year.
I can’t stop in on the Winward’s this year –something I’ve been doing for over thirty years. Being so far away these last 17 years, this was the only time all year I would see everyone under one roof.  
I can’t share the Winward’s Christmas this year.
I wanted to spend the week reuniting with friends I haven’t seen in a while. Even going on one long overdue (about 30 years) date. I can’t merge my frail dreams of Christmas with those of people I love and feel something of their joy.
And share their Christmas.
This morning it tore me apart. I am Fifty-one. It’s not that I will be alone at Christmas… It’s that I have always been alone at Christmas. But before this year I was always able to immerse myself in the company of friends and families (even if they weren’t the one I lived with) and it felt like Christmas anyway.
I didn’t stay single these last fifteen years on purpose. It just sort of happened. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should have given it another shot. Maybe this Christmas, and a few prior, would have been better. I can’t say. And I can’t go back now.
But I do know that if I could just get home, at least this Christmas would feel right.
But that isn’t going to happen and it isn’t going to feel like Christmas at all.
There has never been a question about how much I love my real family and friends. The enormous pain I’m feeling about not seeing them this year is all the proof I need.




Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Letter to my Daughter...

Your first Christmas, you were only six months old.
Being a dad for the first time was the only present I needed.
You had no idea what was going on, but your mom and I did.
Every smile. Every laugh. Every single second was a Christmas present from God to me.

By your second Christmas, we weren’t a family anymore. You were still too young to realize what was going on in your world, but I knew. I knew you’d never have a Christmas again the way it was on your first one. Never again with both your mom and me together with you. I swore I’d never introduce the word “divorce” into your world. I can’t remember being more sad at Christmas than I was that year.
But I had you… and that made it Christmas.

The years flew by. On the Christmases you were with me it was joyous. We went home every year. Remember the first time I took you to Wannamaker’s in Philly and showed you the lights? The very same lights I went to see when I was just a little boy. We have always been great connoisseurs of Christmas lights, you and I, and with technology being what it is; you weren’t as impressed with the Wannamaker light display as I was as a child. But you smiled and we took pictures and made a day of it. I wished the monorail was still there. And the big toy department.  You were always so happy. Always so caught up in Christmas, like I was when I was that age. To be honest, you helped me survive those Christmases.
All I ever wanted for my whole life was to create the family I didn’t have. The home I never knew. I wanted you to wake up every single day of your life, knowing…almost taking for granted…that your daddy loved you, that your parents loved each other and that home was a safe haven. Not the place you wished you could get away from. I couldn’t give you that. That wasn’t my choice but I had to live with it just like you did.
You made it possible. You and Christmas.

You got older. Finding the perfect gifts got a little harder each year. You weren’t satisfied with just “Dollies and Dishes.” You loved music. Loved it. I don’t remember a time when you weren’t singing. Making up little songs in a voice that had no business coming from a four-year old. You were born with that gift. It showed up almost as soon as you could talk. Christmas gifts always included something musical. You still believed in Santa, and I still climbed up on the roof on Christmas Eve and shook sleigh bells and stomped around and “Ho Ho Ho’d” and called out to invisible reindeer as you shut your eyes tight and listened as Santa delivered his packages. I lived for those Christmas Eve, rooftop adventures. I loved being your daddy.

Just as you were turning ten, my world collapsed again. I was just getting back to normal. Just feeling like a whole man again after years of heartbreak from being divorced and missing you so much when we weren’t together. Then my world spun the wrong direction again and everything was gone. No job. No success. And not long after…no home. Our beautiful little ranch house in the country was gone. And with it, our garden, our dogs and our cat and your beloved pony “Silly Willy.” Gone. You were ten. I’d spent ten years very carefully trying to never fail you or let you down. But I couldn’t stop it this time. It was out of my control, and when you’re a dad, you are supposed to be able to fix everything. I always could. I used to make little repairs around the house and you would be so amazed at what your daddy could do with his hands and some tools. But this time, I had no answers. This time I was helpless.

That was the Christmas that you stopped believing in Santa. Your cousins had told you about him, and you told me late that fall. We stopped doing the Advent Calendars too. And there was no longer any need for the sleigh bells, or the ladder to the roof.
But it was still Christmas. We still had Uncle Franny and Cousin Toni and Sissy and Nick and Feast of Seven Fishes. And I still had you.

This year will be the first Christmas in about five years that we won’t spend together. You’re with your mom…and I understand that. I love having you living with me now, and life is beginning to rebuild. But I miss Christmas.
I miss you being little, and I miss being your hero and your favorite person. I miss making you laugh with my Winnie the Pooh impersonations. We won’t be watching Christmas movies this year. Or listening to our traditional Christmas music. Or decorating our house.
Our house.
I miss our house. I miss Christmas. I miss my little girl.

Next Christmas will be the last one before you go off to college. It will be like all the others you have ever known, except that first one. It will once again be spent away from one of your parents. I’m still sorry about that. It still hurts. I would have endured for your sake. I would have chosen to give you your family, if the choice had been mine.

I don’t know what future Christmases will look like, or where you’ll be. One day, some young man will come and win your heart. And you’ll begin your own Christmas traditions. I hope you’ll have better success at it than I did. I think I’ve been a pretty good dad. I think I did Christmas pretty well, given the circumstances. I wish I could have a few more of them with you. Like when you were little. Like the time we drove to the beach on Christmas Eve day and saw deer feeding by the side of the woods, and you turned to me and said; “Look Daddy! It’s Santa’s reindeer getting ready for tonight!” And you were pretty sure you saw Rudolph’s nose blinking. And for a minute I felt like the best dad in the world.

I miss you at Christmas. I love you more than ever, even as you’ve become a wonderful, beautiful young woman. But I remember that first Christmas. And how much promise it held. You are still the greatest gift I ever got. And you always will be.

Merry Christmas, Morgan. My beautiful Daisy. You have always meant Christmas to me.
I love you.


Daddy 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

An Average White Guy Talks Honestly About Race...

                                          Honesty about Race: One Man's perspective

For all I know, this could be the last post on this blog. I might lose friends. I might be ostracized. I might be shunned or I might be lauded for being a hero and saying what everyone feels. But I do know that I’m going to speak my mind. I want to talk about race.
I am a dad. I have a 16 year old daughter that I am trying to raise in a world that is growing exponentially more insane with each passing day. I am 51 years old and I’ve seen a lot in my lifetime. But these last two weeks I have seen things that are making me furious and I’m sick of some of the garbage being shoveled out from BOTH sides. So I’m going to speak my mind here and let the chips fall, because if we don’t start saying what we think, we can’t ever find out if our thinking is wrong, we won’t ever find common ground, and we’ll just go on being further and further apart from each other.
First, let’s talk about the term “racism” itself. Here’s a simple truth…do you want me to listen to your complaint? Do you want me to hear your problem and help you solve it? Then STOP calling me a racist! STOP saying that every time we disagree, or I don’t see thing your way, it’s because I don’t like you because you are black. That has NOTHING to do with it. Here’s a scoop for you” I disagree with you because I simply don’t agree with you. Nothing more. If I disagreed with you because your skin is black, then I wouldn’t agree with Dr. Ben Carson, or Herman Cain, or Allen West, or JC Watts, or the late E.V. Hill, or Martin Luther King. See my point? We ALL tend to agree with people who agree with us…PERIOD. You do it too. Don’t tell me you don’t. And you know what? That’s okay! That’s life. Stop calling it “hate” “bigotry” or “racism.” It’s none of those things. Its two ideologies that don’t agree and that’s all.
It’s not racist if I don’t like your music. Is it racist if you don’t like mine? I don’t care for Bluegrass very much either. Or Classical. Or Polka. But I don’t HATE Polish people. I don’t like Hip Hop or Rap. In fact I hate it. But I don’t hate you. I DO hate it when you insist on blasting it at the gas station when your car is off and your windows are down. I hate it because it’s obvious you are trying to make me listen to it. Don’t deny it. I used to do the same thing with my Clash CD’s in my Jeep…then I grew up. Here’s another truth for you…I hate it when WHITE kids blast their music too. I don’t drive around with Rush Limbaugh screaming from my overdriven sound system making my trunk lid rumble. How about we agree not to do that to each other? Turn your crap down. I’ll keep MY crap turned down and the world will be a better place.
Now to get a little more serious…
I hate it that you can use a word that I can’t. I don’t want to use it, but if it’s so bad, it’s bad for everybody. It’s not “black” bad or “white” bad…it’s just bad. Do you want me to never use the “N” word? Then stop using it yourself. Otherwise don’t ask me to clean up MY lexicon if you won’t do the same for yours. Stop with the "We're reclaiming it" Bullcrap too. Because that's what it is. The word is bad...stop using it.
I hate it when you say I have no idea what your life is like because I am not around black people. Then when I tell you I have black friends…you call me a racist and tell me that’s a racist thing to say. I can’t freakin win with you people and it’s because of stupid rules like this. Listen…if you tell me I don’t know any black people or have meaningful relationships with them, and I give you evidence otherwise, don’t dismiss that as racism. That hurts. That’s me trying to let you know that I DO have black friends and I AM trying to reach out and when you bite my hand I want to STOP reaching out…you got that?
Now I want to tell you about my history with racism.
I am 51 years old. I was 5 when MLK was killed. I barely remember any of it. I am the generation where the changes were going to begin. My daughter would be where there were no differences anymore. That was the plan, and it started off well, but it’s crashing and burning.
I remember being 7 years old and reading a biography of Jackie Robinson and crying in my bedroom over the way they treated him. I remember being so thrilled to watch Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s record and it never dawned on me that he was overtaking a white man. Never. I had black friends in my neighborhood and they were just folks from the neighborhood. At first they were black…then they were just from New Castle like the rest of us. Nobody pushed us into friendships, nobody accused us of being friends for wrong motives, and nobody attacked those friends for being our friends.
Now let me tell you how that has changed. I have three men who I consider my best friends in the world and one of them is black. His name is Rich. Richie and I have been friends for 30 years. When I tell you I love this man, it’s the way I love a brother. Rich and I have been through hard times with our families, our jobs, our Faith. We’ve talked about everything you can talk about with your best friends. I sincerely say that Rich is a better man than I am and I wish I could be half the example of godliness, integrity, Faith, and family that he is. His family has been loving to me since the first day we met and they still are. He is a husband, a father, a loving son and a faithful man of God.
In 2008 when Barack Obama was running for office, I had a race discussion with a black guy in Nashville. He accused me of not having any black friends and not knowing about the black community. I explained about my friend Rich. This man instantly attacked my friend…whom he’d never met in his life…and called him vile names and racial epithets. Listen…if someone is my friend I love them dearly…don’t you DARE attack them and dismiss them simply because they don’t line up with you politically. Calling my black friends “uncle Toms” or “House Niggers” because they have conservative political leanings is FAR worse than anything I could ever call you. And worse…it’s a guarantee that I will not listen to a word you say ever again.
Every time I watch a town burning in racial unrest, I think of my friend Rich, or my friends Tunde, Or Artis, or Carter, or Greg, and my heart breaks. Because I know that in the midst of the rage and anger I'm witnessing, might be some other guys I would come to love and be friends with if they would permit it.
I don’t have to go to your church, your concerts, or your movies to be your friend. I might do some, or all of that at some point, but I don’t HAVE to in order to be your friend and if I don't, it doesn’t make me a racist. None of those things are measuring rods for friendships.
Stop making everything I do racism. Allow me to NOT be the same as you, NOT agree with you 100% of the time, and NOT want to always make sure I hang with an equal number of black folks and white folks. I can’t play basketball. You probably suck at hockey. Let’s meet up for dinner after our games and figure out what we DO have in common. We don’t need to see eye to eye on everything. That would be boring.
I don’t dislike Obama because he’s black. I dislike him because I disagree with pretty much everything he stands for and all his policies…but not because he’s black. I’m not afraid of having a black man in power. I simply think he is a terrible president and he hides behind racism charges to get away with being a bad president. That makes me even MORE angry because it removes my right to honestly disagree. That brings me to my final point…
STOP FINDING RACISM EVERYWHERE! I know racism is real. I know it exists. I HATE it. I want it to stop. But when you keep claiming that everything that doesn’t go your way is because of racism…it makes me simply stop caring about ALL racism and it makes me want to tell you to “suck it up buttercup…fight your own battles!” And believe me…I really DON’T feel that way.
I get angry. I am mad. Life has been hard. But in my heart I LOVE people. I love ALL people. I want there to be peace. I hate it when you are hurting because you are an AMERICAN just like me. JUST an American. You're no more an "African American" than I am an "Italian American." I was born here. My father was born here. That makes me an AMERICAN of Italian heritage. Same with you and Africa. We need to stop this stupid hyphenating. We used to be a nation of neighbors and communities. Now we’re just screaming at each other…or worse…one side is screaming and the other has simply chosen to ignore it.
I want to KNOW you and celebrate your heritage like I celebrate my own. But I celebrate this NATION more. If you're really serious about common ground and ending racism...I GUARANTEE you so are we. But we need to see the same urgency and effort from you, that you want from us. Nothing else is going to work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Final push for The Ragamuffin's Christmas"




Hey kids, this is it.
This will be the last Christmas I try marketing this book. First of all, thank you to all you guys who have supported it over the three years I've had it for sale. Thanks for buying it, telling people about it, writing me notes about it. I've never had ONE person...not one...tell me "Yeah it was okay." Every comment has been emphatic and positive. people gush over it. I don't say that to brag, I say that because it's an honor. Some people are very good writers and when they work their craft the results are amazing. Others tap a vein once in their life. The guy who wrote "The Shack" is one such example. He's really not a good writer. In fact he had two ghost writers who really made "The Shack" readable. His subsequent efforts have essentially been horrible, but hey...he's worth millions so who cares? But he had that one moment where he was inspired and something special happened. (regardless of how you feel about the theology of "The Shack" it was a phenomenon)
Chaim Potok, on the other hand is a craftsman. He was born with the gift. He never wrote an average book in his life. It was all varying degrees of greatness. Timeless authors are like that. Some people are both. Hugo was both. Brennan Manning was both. In the songwriting world, my friend Rick Elias is both. He could sit down and make a conscious effort to write a good, pop-catchy song and nobody could be better at it. He has also written some of the most inspired-in-the-moment songs I have ever heard.
Me...I think I am a tiny bit of each. The natural ability is there, I recognize that, albeit halfway through my life before I did anything with it. But the Christmas book was really, truly, inspired. I know many of my FB friends remember all the way back to that winter in 2010 when I wrote it. It actually began as just a series of blog posts during Advent season that year. The first story was Santa Claus kneeling at the manger and it was written in maybe 5 minutes. The words and the vision just poured out. The next day, if I remember correctly, it was Joseph. That one too, just wrote itself. After about a week, some of you were emailing me and telling me how you were looking forward to the next day's story and how much they were affecting you.
(I treasured that, by the way) So somewhere along the way...about the second week of Advent...I decided to make this an online Advent Calender for grownups. The stories sometimes shocked me as I wrote them. The story of Andre Deputy was one of my favorites because of the way it all came about. I was homeless then and I used to walk about five miles each morning at the walking trails at Williamson County rec center. I used this time to pray and meditate and recharge my weary batteries. I remember thinking..."I don't have a story for today" and I prayed. I asked God for a story that morning. That was the first story I specifically asked God for. The ones prior had come about from the well in my soul. I walked a few steps further and suddenly the name "Andre Deputy" echoed in my heart. It was so strange to me that I literally stopped in my tracks. I never knew the man, I only knew his story because he made the news while he fought his eventual execution. I had come to know Bill Killen, the former Attorney general who became a liaison for criminals who sought pardons and commutation later in life. Bill was a devout believer and a wonderful man, and he worked with Andre in the futile attempt to stay his execution and give him a shot at living the Faith he had come to embrace.
But that morning, I suddenly said the name out loud..."Andre Deputy" the name I had never had a reason to say out loud before. Within seconds the entire story started taking shape in my mind. A murderer, his victims, the baby Jesus, forgiveness...
I was bent over with my hands on my knees sobbing uncontrollably. Another walker came over to me and asked me if I was okay. I was too moved to be embarrassed. I finished my walk, took a shower, went to Panera and did some online research. Sure enough...the victims of Andre's crime were believers. There HAD been a reconciliation and restoration in heaven when he was executed. There was forgiveness.
The story poured out like a river and I was doing my best to hide my tears while I typed furiously in Panera. I remember when I posted that one...the comments were amazing. That one story touched so many people.
After that it was easy. I prayed every morning after that for the story of the day. So many times I found myself literally overwhelmed by the emotion of the visual images the stories evoked before I even wrote a word. The Roman soldier whose hands had been blood-stained for years but who finds them white as snow after holding Jesus. The innkeeper. Maybe my other favorite story was Mother Teresa. For whatever reason the thought occurred to me to find out her birthname and use it throughout the story and only reveal her identity with the final words. That made it more emotional than anything I had written outside of the Andre Deputy story.
I guess I needed to remind myself this. I am struggling with this book. If I hadn't written it, I would have wished I had. I think it's very special and it has something that everyone seeks at Christmas. It's one of the most unique Christmas stories I've ever read. And yet I can't GIVE this book away.
You guys have been wonderful and bought copies and told people about it. But I have not figured out how to market this to the masses and get them interested. I'm tired of trying. You are probably sick of seeing my hoot-suite automatic posts every hour during Christmas too. So this will be the final attempt. After this Christmas it just sits there on Amazon and if people buy it, they buy it.
I really NEED this book to succeed. Not simply for the dollars. I'm a good enough writer that if I wanted to simply write for a buck, I'd trot out some vampire-eats-zombies storyline with sex and gore and issue it under an assumed name and make a few dollars. But I don't want that. I don't think all my books are special. I think they're all good, but Ragamuffin is special. The stories are special. The setting is special. I need this book to do well to show me somehow that six years of living like an animal actually bore some fruit. I need something to be a little proud of.
Thanks for listening to my rant. Bear with me for one final Christmas push. And please pray for success on this. Thanks kids

Friday, October 31, 2014

Thoughts on hope, from a formerly homeless man. (Spoiler...Obama didn't give me my hope)

      “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12
Today marks the 73rd day I’ve been employed here at Liberty University. For six years I struggled to find work while living as a homeless man. I’m intelligent, very hard working, willing, and able. I took anything offered while looking for the “perfect” job. I’ve built chicken coops and pressure washed driveways and even cleaned windows for a hundred bucks.
When I first lost my job in 2008, I refused to collect unemployment. I’m old school and I wanted to work my way out of it. A friend reminded me that state unemployment is insurance. It’s a policy you have been paying into since the day you started working on a W2 basis. For me that was since age 15 when I worked at the local Gino’s restaurant. He told me this was my money; I had been paying into the fund and paying for others when they were having a hard time and so I should take what I’d earned. So I did. That lasted about six months. After that I was told to enroll for the federal unemployment program. This I refused. Federal unemployment is taxpayer funded and it wasn’t money I had worked for. That’s how I saw it, at least and so I refused. I refused food stamps and Section 8 housing too.
I am entirely convinced that this stubborn refusal to accept a handout was the reason I kept trying to solve the problems instead of simply giving up and becoming a shame-filled, broken, humiliated dad, who lost any shred of hope and was enslaved by the system. I didn’t do that. It doesn’t make me a hero. But it makes me different from a lot of folks these days.
Sadly, the long, drawn out battle also stripped me of something besides my dignity and pride. It dimmed my hope. I’ve always been an optimist. So much so that my friends would frequently have to reel me back in from taking leaps of faith because I always saw everything as an opportunity, every person as basically good, every day as a new chance. Six years of homelessness, broken dreams and mostly deferred hope, changed that.
Most of my life I was the funniest guy in the room. I was always singing a song, if not out loud, at least in my heart. I was quick with a smile, just as quick to laugh, and quicker to forgive. I had a long fuse and a thick skin. I had the same passions and the same bedrock values, but I didn’t defend them with the edge and the anger that, sadly, became more and more prevalent as the last six years progressed.
But as the years dragged on, my heart grew sicker and sicker. This verse is one of the most perfect observations of humanity in the entire Bible. I think that I will ask Solomon one day; “What were you observing when you recorded this bit of wisdom? Whose life had been so badly shattered, who was it in your administration, or your family, who had been beaten and defeated for such a long time that you literally saw his heart getting sick?” That’s something to ponder for a lifetime.
I’ve lived this for the last six years. I saw my own heart grow colder and harder and sicker as time wore on. Each day, the scar tissue got thicker and the flame grew more dim and the warmth turned tepid. The laughter was gone. The jokes weren’t funny anymore, the smile faded. In their place were tears, anger, a short temper, words that hurt more than encouraged, and almost no optimism. I became an almost entirely different person than I had been for the forty-five years prior.
I started my job on August 18th. The first month or so I had some difficulty adjusting. I was very wary of people. I had not been in a daily social setting since 2008 and it is sad how you can get out of practice when you live in such an isolated way as I had been. I told a coworker today that I understand why homeless people talk to themselves so much. It’s because nobody else talks to them. We aren’t made to be so isolated, and it eventually renders every other person an intruder. I think that’s the real danger of so many mobile devices. We walk around texting, reading email, Facebooking or checking sports scores with our heads down looking at a six-square-inch screen and we are quickly becoming a world full of individuals without recognition of anyone else. We don’t see people as people anymore…we see them as Twitter handles, Facebook “friends” or “Selfie-Stars” (That is officially MY term. Don’t you rascals steal it)
I was living like Will Smith in “I am Legend” walking alone through my own personal post-apocalyptic world and talking with mannequins to fight the sheer loneliness of my life. The hope had been deferred for so long that my heartsickness was almost terminal.
It took a month for me to begin to feel like my old self again. It took another two weeks after that to really feel comfortable around my coworkers and begin to crack jokes or say hello in the hallway or smile. But it has happened. It’s wonderful that, while six years of damage was done, it only took two months to restore so much life to my soul. I have a lot of hope again. But I will never forget what hopelessness feels like.
When I began this journey six years ago, our nation had just elected a man who promised “Hope.” He was wrong. We have less hope now than ever before. We are more changed and less hopeful and, sadly, more broken as a society and less united as a country than ever in our history. Obama failed. But as much as I dislike this president and his politics and his personal beliefs, I’m not blaming him entirely. We should have known better. No president…NO president, can simply imbue hope in the hearts of people by passing laws or passing out money. You can’t give hope. Only God can do that. What we can do for each other is cultivate hope; we can fertilize it and protect it for each other. But we can’t grant it. Reagan never tried to give us hope…he pointed us within ourselves and told us how to find the hope we had already.
People don’t need free money, free cell phones or free health care. They need a job. They need a purpose. They need a dream that pushes them and they need a reason to believe that they can –with hard work- achieve that dream. They need opportunity. I finally got an opportunity and it made all the difference.
I feel my heart healing at light speed and it makes me happy, but it also makes me sad. I hurt people while my heart was so hardened and my hope was so deferred. I have asked forgiveness from those I needed to ask and I’ve received it for the most part but it still makes me sad. It makes me sad for a lot of others out there who are also feeling their heart shutting down day by day, and because of this, they are running people off when they really need their company. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. A sick heart shuts off the light of the soul. I have hope again but I wonder about those who do not.
Remember this when you interact with someone who has been losing hope for a long time. Remember this when they bark at you or snipe at you or simply walk past you without a smile or a nod. They aren’t trying to be monsters…they’re simply heartsick. They need hope. Not a government program, or a free check or a cell phone or a handout. They need a reason. They need a purpose. They need to feel like real productive people again. They need to come home to a house they are paying for, sit at a table they bought, eat groceries they didn’t buy with a “SNAP” card, and sink into their own bed, feeling worn out but thankful for work and for the promise that tomorrow brings.

That…is hope. Without it, there is only sickness.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Review of Dave Ramsey's "The Legacy Journey"

Life is funny.
You don’t have to live very many years to understand this, but the older you get, the truer it is every day. Life is funny.
If you know me at all and know my story these last six years or so, you know how almost surreal it is that I am sitting at my kitchen table, in Lynchburg Virginia, writing a review of Dave Ramsey’s latest book.
Just that sentence alone is chock full of miracles. I’m sitting in my kitchen. At my table. In Lynchburg Virginia. Writing a review of Dave Ramsey’s latest book. For the uninitiated let’s review why this is so many answers to prayer all in one line of type.
For the last six years I have been homeless. I slept in my 1996 Yukon, parked on a friend’s property in Franklin TN. Before that, I slept in my 1995 Volvo 850, until it died at the 250,000 mile mark. That was the car I had when I lost my entire career, my home, and for the six years that ensued…my hope. When I first became homeless I would hide it behind the Oak Hill Assembly of God on Franklin Road in Nashville TN, where I lived the past seventeen years.
So my having a kitchen -with a table- is nothing short of a miracle to me. My kitchen is in my little townhouse in Lynchburg, Virginia. I’m here because I work for my alma mater, Liberty University. So I have a job, a home, a kitchen with a table, a new (to me) car, and best of all…I have hope.
I also have this friend in Nashville. Maybe you’ve heard of the guy. His name is Dave Ramsey.
Now, that line right there made some of you chuckle. Or it made you “LOL” as we say these days. If it made you laugh, then you know why. If it didn’t, here is a link to the recent history with Dave and myself. This explains most of it.

There is a lot more to this, of course but this isn’t a story about me and Dave. It’s about his new book. However, in the spirit of full disclosure I wanted to get these things on the table because I know…let me emphasize…I know, that I am going to get slammed for writing this review. I got slammed for merely having dinner with the guy, so I expect a few torpedoes here. But honestly...I don’t care.
So here is my review of Dave Ramsey’s newest book: “The Legacy Journey”
And for the record, Dave did not approach me at all about reviewing this book. He doesn’t even know I am doing this.

The Legacy Journey
Dave Ramsey
Copyright 2014 Lampo Licensing LLC
Published by Ramsey Press, The Lampo Group, Inc.
Brentwood TN
236 Pages

      First of all, let me say I simply love books. I love all kinds of books. I love the way they look and the way they smell and the way they feel in your hands. I will probably never own a Kindle version of anything, because a book is simply something you hold in your hands and feel the pages between your fingers. So the first thing I would say is, as a product, The Legacy Journey is beautiful. It looks like a journal. And in many ways it is. Half a lifetime has gone into the development of this particular chapter of Dave Ramsey’s life.
     But a book review is not about the outside. It’s about the content.
Right up front, you need to know that if you think this book is simply "Okay, I've followed the steps of Financial Peace, I'm rich...now what?" You are in for a surprise. This book isn't just about what to do once you've accumulated those "piles of cash," Ramsey frequently references. It's about something far more important.
This book taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about Dave Ramsey that I simply did not know before. Living in Nashville for seventeen years, where everyone claims Christianity, it’s easy to simply assume that everyone there was born a Believer and has had a faith-walk all their lives. This book explains that Dave came to Faith in Christ as an adult. When you put this in perspective, you begin to understand that he was maturing as a Christian at the same time God was taking him down a path he had not planned on. A path that challenged him at every turn but also blessed him beyond what he had imagined.
It’s hard to mature as a believer when you are having success. That’s just human nature. The more you have, the more doors seem to open for you and the easier it is to be caught up in your own hype and read too many of your own newspaper clippings. Dave Ramsey had to intentionally cultivate his spiritual growth even while his financial and professional life was exploding exponentially. That takes discipline. We’ve seen the other side of this with the rock stars and celebrities who come to Christ and are thrust in the evangelical limelight before they have a chance to put down roots. Ramsey had to make it a point to avoid this sort of pitfall. That’s simply not easy.
But it explained a lot as I read it, knowing that the Dave Ramsey I heard on the airwaves in Nashville when I first got to town in 1997, was in many ways not the same radio host I heard on my last day there this past May. Ramsey has grown as a believer. That’s obvious, and much like those members of the Sanhedrin in Acts 4 who saw the dramatic change in Peter and John and could only attribute it to their having spent much time in the presence of Jesus. Jesus will work off your rough edges if you let him and it is evident through this book that Dave is at his most reflective, and the imprint of his years with Jesus are showing more boldly than ever.
      There was one troubling section of this book that I need to address. It’s chapter two.
The chapter is called “The War on Success” and to be honest…I hate it. I hate that it had to be written. I hate that in this country, the day has come when successful people –particularly successful people of faith- have to literally hide their success for fear they will be run-through by the acid tongued both outside the church and, sadly, within.
It’s funny…when I was a homeless man, the people who attacked the wealthy could not believe that I didn’t hate them, rage against them for being wealthy, and twist scriptures to condemn them. But I couldn’t. I am a full-on, hard core capitalist. I have no problem with people being wealthy. Heck I want to be wealthy. I know as many mean-spirited, unkind, unfriendly “poor” folks as I do rich ones. Money only amplifies what you are. If you’re a jerk at your core…you’re just going to be a jerk with cooler toys. Why people have become so animus toward people who work hard and have success is something I’ll never understand. Dave addresses this in his book and he does it with patience and kindness, explaining it in a way that assumes that perhaps those folks simply never did the numbers. He treats their contempt as an oversight, and a result of their lack of information. The chapter is a perfect rebuttal to those who hold to a mantra that money is somehow akin to evil.
The chapters that follow are some of the best writing I’ve read on the value of being a better, deeper, more whole person. This isn’t a book about money…not really. This is a book about really being rich. Rich in wisdom, rich in integrity, rich in character. Rich in the things that your kids grow teary-eyed when they reminisce about them to your grandchildren one day. When you’re seven years old, you might brag about how much money your dad has, but when you are a little older, you want to be able to brag about the man your dad is.
That is really what this book is about.
Dave Ramsey takes his readers on a journey to a mountain top. Mountains give us the advantage of looking both backward in victory, and forward in expectation. On this particular mountain, Ramsey reflects not only on who he was way down in that valley you can barely see anymore, but who he became along the way, and who he sees himself becoming as he takes on the next leg of the journey.
His regular listeners and readers have made this journey with him, and while their mountain might look a little different, the view is likely just as rewarding. Reading this book you begin to understand that all his talk about stewardship, and being intentional, and setting goals and having plans, is not just for the financial areas of life. In fact that’s the easiest place to learn those traits, because the results are instantly visible, and palpable. No, reading this book you come to understand that the character you develop here with your money, becomes character everywhere else. Tithing is just a dollar figure, but a giving heart is cultivated. Carefully managing your checkbook becomes carefully managing your daily planner. A good steward of his paycheck becomes a good steward of his workday and honors his boss. A person with financial integrity, reflects a person with spiritual integrity. Money problems are really just symptoms. This book is about those who saw the symptoms, diagnosed the problem, took the medicine, got well, and then became stronger than ever. That is the Legacy Journey as Dave Ramsey describes it here.
His chapter on “Safeguarding Your Legacy” moved me deeply. I finished reading this book in the lobby of my church, waiting for my daughter to finish her small groups. On the way home we discussed my legacy, frankly and openly. It was a good conversation and I explained to her why I had asked. This chapter made me renew my vow to God to live my life before her in a manner honoring our Lord. It has been a hard road these last six years and she suffered much along with me. It was good to read Dave’s thoughts on what a legacy really is and how you measure it and how you guard against ruining it. These are great tips I am implementing before I even go to bed tonight.
Dave writes at great length about the value of family, history, integrity and faith in this book. But one story touched me deeply and I’ll close this review with this.
He writes a wonderful story about a man named Clyde Eckles West. To relate the entire story would be to spoil one of the wonderful, sweet moments in this volume. But suffice it to say that I blinked back a few tears as the story unfolded and the legacy of this man came into focus. Legacy really is everything.
In closing, I have to say this is a really great book. Great in its necessity. There is a lot more to this work than “Just another Dave Ramsey book about money.” Far more. A few years ago I read a wonderful book by a fellow Liberty University grad, Mark DeMoss. The book was “The Little Red Book of Wisdom.” It’s one of my favorite books about just plain being a better person. Dave Ramsey’s new book is a similar work. Sure, there is the expected money advice. That’s what he is known for.
But over the years, this is also a man who has been broken, rebuilt, and reshaped many times as God continued to “complete the work he has begun in you.”
The Legacy Journey is about taking a longer than usual pause to reflect, give thanks, reset the compass, and prepare for the rest of the voyage, while carefully leaving the road you travel a little better for the next sojourner.
It’s a wonderful read and I give it five stars.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Pastor Appreciation...

This month is Pastor Appreciation Month. We'll be out of town next Sunday and the next week will be November. So I thought I'd post this here today.
I have been a Christian since I was nine years old. In 42 years of faith, I have only had 5 pastors. I just don't church-hop. I like to go to one church and get involved.
So here is my list of appreciation for the men who have pastored me in my life. Plus a couple who were never actually my pastor, as least not officially, but who are pastors and whom I respect.

Dr. E. L. Britton
He was my first pastor. I went to the church he started for almost 20 years. I became a believer there.
Pastor Britton started the church as a vacation Bible school in his neighborhood. He and his wife would move all the furniture out of their little house and into the garage or out on the lawn covered in tarps, then hold VBS inside for a week. He was a big man. Strong, both physically and spiritually.
Most folks saw him as a father figure and many of us still do.
Pastor E.L. is old school. It's funny the phases you go through. When you're 9 years old and all this is new, you just assume this is how every church does it and this is how it's supposed to be. Then you hit your late teens and twenties and you seek for something new. Then you get older, have a family, see the world through the eyes of fatherhood and after walking in your faith for a while and you yearn for some of that old school again. There was comfort in going to his church. Comfort in knowing everybody, in growing up with all the kids and the adults knowing you. Comfort in hearing battle- hardened old saints stand slowly to their feet, and lead us in prayer on Wednesday nights. I learned to pray there. I learned the value of living a consistent, honorable life. Great men like Harry Flohr and Dad Stanley, and Harold Alexander showed me that.
Pastor Britton is the Pastor Emeritus there now. He just turned 93 and he's still as spry as the mayor.
He's one of those folks who don't have to wait to hear God say "Well done good and faithful servant..." because God is already saying it. He taught me that a pastor loves his people. He taught me that if you truly want a church to function as a family, you lead by example. He was never unavailable, he answered every phone call, shook the last hand, put his arm around any needy shoulder. He was and is a great man, who I admire and love deeply.

Pastor Paul Walters
If you pinned me down and made me choose, I'd tell you Paul Walters was my favorite pastor ever. I was 29 years old. I was pretty broken and very burned out from the legalism that had so entrenched itself in the Fundamental Baptist movement of my youth. I was seeking something deeper with God. Something that would last. Some friends of mine attended Praise Assembly in Newark, Delaware and I decided to visit. I fell in love with the place and the people instantly. I fell most deeply in love with the man who quickly became my next pastor, Paul Walters. Pastor Paul and his wife, Betty are the sweetest, most loving, most caring people you will ever meet. The Apostle Paul compared the job of a pastor to that of a shepherd. Jesus did the same thing. There is a reason. A pastor must be a certain kind of man...he must have the same qualities a shepherd has. Sheep are stupid, stubborn, weak, defenseless, and easily attacked. They are dirty and smelly and have a short attention span. Sound familiar? Shepherds have to be gentle, yet occasionally harsh. Too harsh and the sheep will become timid and run off and get killed. Too gentle and the sheep will wander off and get lost. Because sheep innately wander. A shepherd really has to KNOW his sheep. He has to love them because being a shepherd is a thankless job that demands sacrifice.
Paul and Betty Walters love people. Really, really love them. Paul Walters would go without food if someone else needed his lunch. I've never know a more loving, caring, soft hearted man in ministry. Jesus wept over the grief of Lazarus' family. He let their pain touch him. Pastor Walters was the same way. He would put his arm around you when you were hurting and you just knew...he cares so much that this is hurting him as much as it is you. He was my pastor until I left Delaware in 1997. I miss those glorious days at Praise Assembly. I'm so thankful to still be in contact with this wonderful, Christlike man and his wife. If I were to become a pastor tomorrow...I'd just try to do it like he did it. If I came even close to being the pastor he was, I would be a great success.

Pastor Steve Allen
I moved to Nashville in 1997 with a pregnant wife and $450 dollars in my pocket. I went immediately to work doing carpentry and we immediately set out looking for a church. We visited a few places but eventually settled on Oak Hill Assembly of God. Although we had only been there a few months, they gave Holly a baby shower. The night my daughter was born, Steve Allen showed up and stayed for three hours until she arrived. Because he knew we had no family there, and he didn't want us to be alone. That's the kind of pastor he was. He is supremely talented. I've only ever heard maybe four or five pianists that were his equal. He loves music. Mostly, he loves people. Loves them. He is the kind of man who never sees people...he sees souls. He would share Jesus with a statue and have it praying in an hour. He finds a way to introduce Jesus into any conversation he is having. He was my pastor but he was more a friend. He served selflessly until just a couple of years ago when he finally retired. I left Oak Hill Assembly in 2004 when I bought a house that was too far away, and I found something local. But I stayed in touch with Steve Allen through the years and love he and his beautiful wife Vada, as much as ever.

Pastor Jonathan Falwell
This brings us to present day. I moved to Lynchburg in May of this year. The last six years have been hellish and devastating. My lack of a pastor made it all the more painful and made the desert walk all the more lonely. I had a church. I attended regularly and was an active member. But I didn't have a pastor.
Moving to Lynchburg was a revelation. I was bitter, I admit it. Going through the sequence of devastating blows I went through from 1999 until this year wore me out and made me an emotional recluse. Having to endure that all alone was the worst part of it. By the time I moved here with my daughter, I was wounded and looking for a fight. But deep inside I was desperate for someone to restore my faith in the faith. Someone to show me that pastors still love people and shepherds love sheep and churches still make a difference by loving. I found it here.
Jonathan and I were classmates in a few classes in our freshman year at Liberty University. I consider him a friend, and he might say the same about me, but we weren't "buddys" in school. Mostly because I worked a full time job and didn't have much time to hang out, and also because I innately knew almost everybody else was trying to cultivate a friendship with him because of who he was, and I was never comfortable doing that. I had one famous friend in my life, and the one thing he appreciated about our friendship was that we never ever talked about what he did for a living. We were just friends, simply because we liked each other.
Jonathan and I laughed a lot in our couple of classes. He has a great sense of humor, like his dad.
Fast forward 30 years and now I'm back in Lynchburg with just enough money to pay two months rent, a truck full of tools, and no housewares. We didn't even have dishes. My daughter had a beautiful bed (mattress and boxspring) because a dear friend in Nashville blessed us. Every step of the way, God provided.
Now, Thomas Road Baptist Church is enormous. 14000 people call it home on Sunday mornings. yet in all that, they saw me and my daughter. They saw us. The church I attended before this one is 1/3 the size, yet I sat, homeless in their midst, and they never even put an arm around my shoulder. No encouragement. No cup of coffee and a chance to talk and feel like a human. Nothing. They knew my situation, but ignored it. I felt worse about what had happened to me, when I went there...not better.
Thomas Road was 180 degrees different. Since day 1, people called asking what they could do to help us. They gave us furniture, dishes, glasses. They showed an enormous amount of caring concern for my daughter. They spread the word and found me work until I finally got hired at Liberty. They loved us genuinely. In that sea of faces, they saw us and reached out. About 6 weeks ago, I got a text message from Pastor Jonathan. I had not gone to him since we got here. Once again, I just didn't want to heavy up. He's a pastor but he is also a husband and a father and people were already doing the job of the church in my life.  But he knew we were here after a while, and he texted me "Hey Buddy...how is everything going? Tell me what's happening with you and your daughter."
You know...I spent the last 6 years living most of them in my car. I got my degree while homeless. I battled and fought and tried to rebuild my life. Most of all I remained faithful to my daughter and stayed in her world, In all that I never...not one time...got a text from the pastor where I was, encouraging me, loving me, telling me he was praying for me or especially...asking about my daughter.
Jonathan Falwell loves people. There are a lot of ways he is different from his dad and a lot he is like him. In this way, he is just like his dad. He loves people. After either service on Sunday morning, he stands at the front and greets anyone who wants a minute...or 10...of his time. No security guards creating a wall to separate him from the flock he leads. No glancing at his watch. No looking over your shoulder to see who else he would rather be talking to. Jonathan loves people.
I love TRBC. This church restored my faith in the way churches are supposed to be and how people are supposed to love. Jonathan didn't do it my watering down the truth and avoiding tough topics. He shoots straight and preaches what needs to be preached. But when you genuinely love people, you can say hard things and people will listen because they know you love them. And he does.
It's likely that TRBC will be my last stop, and Jonathan will be my last pastor. I'm excited at the prospect. I love this place and I love my pastor...because he loves me as well.


Honorable Mentions
There are a few men who have been pastoral to me, even though I was not a member of their church. They deserve a little appreciation as much as anyone else so here is the list.

Pastor Dave Lewis
Technically, he actually was my pastor. He was my youth pastor in high school, my coach in soccer and baseball, and above all, he is my friend.
Dave has been a friend who stuck closer than a brother in both good times and bad. He always seemed to know just when to call, just what to say, and just how to pray for me when I was enduring the heartbreaking devastation of my divorce, and then, seven years later, when I lost my career and lived in my car. He laughs at my jokes and cries my tears with me. He has never given up on me or stopped believing in me.
He pastors Ewell Bible Baptist Church in Dothan AL. It's a medium sized, church in a small town. Big enough to be self-sustaining, but small enough to allow the members to really know each other and really interact as a family. Dave and his wife Cindy love their people dearly. They pour themselves out daily in service to everyone. They have a vision for the lost that drives their every decision and motivates their mission. Their church is very blessed to have them as pastor.
They've raised two beautiful girls to adulthood and are now doting grandparents. Their sons in law are godly men who love their wives and children well. Dave and his wife did it right.
Above all else...he loves people. He loves leading them and loving them and serving them.
He loves being a shepherd.

Pastor John Willis
John and I go all the way back to high school. He's been a friend for a long time as is his wife. I don't know of a more integritous, honest, caring man than "PJ." He chose to go to the burned out, wounded-by-church, weary souls when he started his church. He didn't want the easy road. The decision has been costly at times but the harvest has been great and it's been meaningful. People go to Freedom Biker Church North, and they see something that instantly says: "This is for me. They get me. I'm safe here." John preaches the real truth. He's a tremendous apologist who knows his stuff. But he has never used any of that as a blunt instrument. He and Kathy have sacrificed and loved their folks well. Beyond that, he's been a true friend who encouraged me when I was down and who believed in me all along the way.  I love this guy, and I love his vision that says "Give me all the sheep you don't want to love. Give me the ones you have no patience for or don;t find attractive. There's room here for them along with all these "good" sheep. I'll love them all the same."
That, is a pastor.

Pastor Tim Britton
Pastor Tim is another guy who left his imprint on my heart since childhood. When I was a kid, and attending his dad's church, Tim was my hero. He was always joyful, always smiling, always deeply in love with the Lord. And he always loved people.
He pastors a church near home and he has taken that church from it's past history into a new vision. It wasn't an easy journey...a lot of folks didn't want to take a new approach. but under it all, Tim loves people and that lends itself to trust. The trust paid off. Crossroads Bible Church is a wonderful place. It's a great cross-section of the community it serves and it's abounding in love. Pastor Tim is as joyous as he has ever been. You can't be in his presence for more than a few minutes before you feel like he knows you, he loves you, and you matter deeply to him. He's always believed in me and that made all the difference. You have to love a man who loves as well as he does.

Pastor George Tuten
George and I have know each other since elementary school. We went to the same church, the same Christian High School, and the same college. He has been my hero at times and always my friend. George started a church from scratch a few years ago. Starting a church is not easy and it takes a toll. But George and Cindy remained faithful to their vision and the calling of God and God was faithful in return. Liberty Baptist Church sits in the middle of expansion and growth in lower New Castle County. His burning desire is the communication of the Gospel with the community this church is entrenched in. George is an excellent scholar who has put in the time it takes to really know the Word. Above all he loves Jesus. He loves Him deeply and he loves people because of that. he's been a friend, a mentor, and a brother who has spoken truth to my heart. He's been a great role model and has raised wonderful children who all love and serve Jesus. I love this man and respect all he has done.


There are others I suppose. But the list is long already. Pastoring people is hard work. It's easy to see the others out there who turned it into a popularity contest and became "Flockstars" and get caught up in that too. But these men resisted that temptation and remained faithful to one flock and loved them well. Pastoring takes a toll. It's demanding and you never ever ever please everyone. And far too often you only hear from the ones you somehow failed to make happy, and almost never from the ones you served so well. So this is my little way of letting these great men know..."You served so well. You did it so right. Keep going, don't quit when you think you want to. If my thanks and appreciation mean anything at all, let them be enough fuel for your tank for one more day and keep doing it the way you are doing it. Thank you for what you've meant to me.






















Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Hill Country" My memory-infused birthday present

My birthday present came in the mail today. It's a little late, but right on time...as great presents can often be. I bought it for myself. A little something to celebrate year number 51. 
So I'm sitting here at my table. Holding this book in my hands  

and almost not wanting to open it for fear it will do one of two things:
Make me regret buying it because I can't ever go back to this time again. 
Or make me regret buying it, because after 40 years, maybe my memories of Gene Hill and the "Hill Country" column are kinder than the truth of his writing.
I quickly come to my senses...Mr. Hill was every bit the great writer.
Here's why he was so special to me...
I grew up loving the outdoors and wanting to hunt and fish. I would have easily spent every waking hour that I wasn't in school, either on the baseball diamond or beside "NoneSuch Creek" with my three best friends catching fish or -later when I was old enough- hunting for whatever was in season.
It wasn't just about having success...it was about being out there

I drank my first cup of coffee at the Townsend Fire Hall Deer Hunter's breakfast. I walked miles and miles of hedgerow in St. Georges and at Phillips Nursery looking for rabbit. I ate packed lunches on hot summer afternoons at NoneSuch Creek and "The A-Bridge" and sneaking back into Smalley's Dam to fish with Johnny Wilkins and Richard Ferraro.
I learned to track deer. I learned how to smell the rain coming before it got there. I bought my first pocket knife at the Western Auto, to use on those excursions. I could decipher the call of the birds in the treetops. I learned how to set up a string of Canada Goose decoys.
Those days in the woods were about a lot more than just hunting or fishing. They were about moments.

I saved my paper route money when I was a kid and subscribed to Field and Stream. For me, the magazine was more than just good information, it was a script, of sorts. I would read about hunting Dall sheep in the Sierra and fishing for Steelhead on the Columbia and I would imagine what it would be like to do that with my dad. My father wasn't a part of my life then and my stepfather was not an outdoorsman at all and so I had to do these things by myself with my friends and their dads when I could. But when I would read about them in Field and Stream, I was there. I was out there with a really great Ithaca or a Purdy and a really smart, game, bird dog and I was taking quail with my dad and maybe my grandfather and I was where my heart always wanted to be.
Gene Hill's column was always on the very last page of Field and Stream. It had to be. The way he spun a wonderful, warm tale of the outdoors, there could be nothing after.
I guess I was nine or ten when I read him for the first time. From that day until this, I wanted to write like Gene Hill. I wanted to write like some others too...but Gene Hill was the very first author I ever read that I consciously made a connection with, and wanted to emulate. Gene Hill made you feel like you were in the blind with him, or walking that hedgerow with him as his champion Brittney Spaniel worked the honeysuckle.
And he made you feel like he really liked your being there.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering...

* I wrote and posted this last year on this day. I thought it was worthy of reposting.

I wanted to write something about today but I couldn't make the words come out for a long time.
12 years later and we're so dangerously close to being overtaken by the same animals who flew airplanes into our iconic towers. Last night our president essentially put OUR military behind the very people who committed that barbaric attack 12 years ago. I wish I could forget. I wish we had eliminated the threat forever and we could all forget. But we can't.
...so we remember.
I remember watching in horror and shock and then racing across town to gather up my 3 year old daughter at her daycare. On the way over, I worried that something would happen in the meantime...they'd attack the children, they'd bomb on a local level. Then I got there and saw on the faces of the other moms and dads, the pain of disbelief, and the frightening horrors of simply not being able to grasp an attack on our soil. I saw the hollowness in the eyes of the parents who thought as I did: We didn't know where we would really be safe but we knew our kids were safer with us.
My daughter and her friends were playing happily, not realizing that these were the final waning moments of the world they were born into. I wish I had thought to take a picture. Or write it down. Or just watch through the doorway for five more minutes before walking in and taking her in my arms. After that day...after that moment, my daughter would live under the shadow of terrorism for the rest of her life. She has grown up with security threat levels crawling across the screen on news stations. With being all but strip searched at airports. With surveillance, and war and fear.
It was the last day of innocence for her. At least as far as her nation was concerned. If I had realized it then, I would have savored it a few minutes longer. Maybe instead of whisking her off, I would have let her play with her friends until we were the last ones to leave. Maybe 30 minutes, maybe an hour. Just a little while longer before the post-terrorist world became her home.
I remember leaving the daycare, and calling her mom, and telling her I had her, and we were going to my house. And I remember not knowing what the heck to do. I went home. We stopped at the grocery store to get some things in case they...you know...in case this was bigger than even the WTC.  I remember thinking this might be a full on invasion.
The events that unfolded throughout that day are well rehearsed. We can all recall how it happened. What still hurts is how it felt. How it still feels.
Every generation has an "End of Innocence" For me, it was the day Reagan was shot. For my daughter it was this day. Her innocence ended before it ever began.
I love this country. Love it like a living, breathing thing. As crazy as this sounds, there are times when I wish I could literally wrap my arms around the expanse of her, and just hold on and let my heart beat into this sacred soil. I love her that much. She was everything to my family -immigrants on both sides- and she is everything to me. I miss the way she was when I was young. When my friends and I had no fears of airplanes, and bright blue September skies.
I wish we had leaders who loved her this much. Because her people still do.
I still do...
I
I wanted to write something about today but I couldn’t make the words come out for a long time. 
12 years later and we’re so dangerously close to being overtaken by the same animals who flew airplanes into our iconic towers. Last night our president essentially put OUR military behind the very people who committed that barbaric attack 12 years ago. I wish I could forget. I wish we had eliminated the threat forever and we could all forget. But we can’t.
so we remember.
I remember watching in horror and shock and then racing across town to gather up my 3 year old daughter at her daycare. On the way over, I worried that something would happen in the meantime…they’d attack the children, they’d bomb on a local level. Then I got there and saw on the faces of the other moms and dads, the pain of disbelief, and the frightening horrors of simply not being able to grasp an attack on our soil. I saw the hollowness in the eyes of the parents who thought as I did: We didn’t know where we would really be safe but we knew our kids were safer with us.
My daughter and her friends were playing happily, not realizing that these were the final waning moments of the world they were born into. I wish I had thought to take a picture. Or write it down. Or just watch through the doorway for five more minutes before walking in and taking her in my arms. After that day…after that moment, my daughter would live under the shadow of terrorism for the rest of her life. She has grown up with security threat levels crawling across the screen on news stations. With being all but strip searched at airports. With surveillance, and war and fear. 
It was the last day of innocence for her. At least as far as her nation was concerned. If I had realized it then, I would have savored it a few minutes longer. Maybe instead of whisking her off, I would have let her play with her friends until we were the last ones to leave. Maybe 30 minutes, maybe an hour. Just a little while longer before the post-terrorist world became her home.
I remember leaving the daycare, and calling her mom, and telling her I had he,r and we were going to my house. And I remember not knowing what the heck to do. I went home. We stopped at the grocery store to get some things in case they…you know…in case this was bigger than even the WTC.  I remember thinking this might be a full on invasion. 
The events that unfolded throughout that day are well rehearsed. We can all recall how it happened. What still hurts is how it felt. How it still feels
Every generation has an “End of Innocence” For me, it was the day Reagan was shot. For my daughter it was this day. Her innocence ended before it ever began.
I love this country. Love it like a living, breathing thing. As crazy as this sounds, there are times when I wish I could literally wrap my arms around the expanse of her, and just hold on and let my heart beat into this sacred soil. I love her that much. She was everything to my family -immigrants on both sides- and she is everything to me. I miss the way she was when I was young. When my friends and I had no fears of airplanes, and bright blue September skies. 
I wish we had leaders who loved her this much. Because her people still do. 
I still do…
wanted to write something about today but I couldn’t make the words come out for a long time. 
12 years later and we’re so dangerously close to being overtaken by the same animals who flew airplanes into our iconic towers. Last night our president essentially put OUR military behind the very people who committed that barbaric attack 12 years ago. I wish I could forget. I wish we had eliminated the threat forever and we could all forget. But we can’t.
so we remember.
I remember watching in horror and shock and then racing across town to gather up my 3 year old daughter at her daycare. On the way over, I worried that something would happen in the meantime…they’d attack the children, they’d bomb on a local level. Then I got there and saw on the faces of the other moms and dads, the pain of disbelief, and the frightening horrors of simply not being able to grasp an attack on our soil. I saw the hollowness in the eyes of the parents who thought as I did: We didn’t know where we would really be safe but we knew our kids were safer with us.
My daughter and her friends were playing happily, not realizing that these were the final waning moments of the world they were born into. I wish I had thought to take a picture. Or write it down. Or just watch through the doorway for five more minutes before walking in and taking her in my arms. After that day…after that moment, my daughter would live under the shadow of terrorism for the rest of her life. She has grown up with security threat levels crawling across the screen on news stations. With being all but strip searched at airports. With surveillance, and war and fear. 
It was the last day of innocence for her. At least as far as her nation was concerned. If I had realized it then, I would have savored it a few minutes longer. Maybe instead of whisking her off, I would have let her play with her friends until we were the last ones to leave. Maybe 30 minutes, maybe an hour. Just a little while longer before the post-terrorist world became her home.
I remember leaving the daycare, and calling her mom, and telling her I had he,r and we were going to my house. And I remember not knowing what the heck to do. I went home. We stopped at the grocery store to get some things in case they…you know…in case this was bigger than even the WTC.  I remember thinking this might be a full on invasion. 
The events that unfolded throughout that day are well rehearsed. We can all recall how it happened. What still hurts is how it felt. How it still feels
Every generation has an “End of Innocence” For me, it was the day Reagan was shot. For my daughter it was this day. Her innocence ended before it ever began.
I love this country. Love it like a living, breathing thing. As crazy as this sounds, there are times when I wish I could literally wrap my arms around the expanse of her, and just hold on and let my heart beat into this sacred soil. I love her that much. She was everything to my family -immigrants on both sides- and she is everything to me. I miss the way she was when I was young. When my friends and I had no fears of airplanes, and bright blue September skies. 
I wish we had leaders who loved her this much. Because her people still do. 
I still do…

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Trying to hold the grains of sand... Coming to terms with loss



     Jesus told us that in the last days, men’s hearts would fail them because of fear. He told us the love of many would grow cold and we sure are seeing that. I grew up hearing “Last Days” sermons quite regularly, but I never thought I’d actually live to see them.  At least I hoped I wouldn’t.  But apparently I have lived long enough to witness the final death spiral of mankind.  I don’t know how much longer we have…maybe hundreds of years yet. But something is very different now.  I can feel my heart being troubled. Jesus told me not to let this happen, but I guess I’m failing Him on this. I am troubled.  This world is sad. I can’t take watching another beheading and feeling the pain and the rage boiling inside and then having my face slapped by my “president” when he does nothing, even admitting that he doesn’t really know what to do.  Everyone else knows what to do, Mr. President!  Everyone.  A ten year old could tell you what needs to be done.  When you feel the pain that something like this brings out, then you have to suppress it because the people in charge don’t react the way they should…you lose heart.  I’m weary from it.   This is how I feel today:

     I’m weary from watching the world getting more angry and more violent and more ugly and trying to raise a child in the middle of all that.  I’m weary from watching The Church grow more and more complacent  as she turns her affections from a dying world to her “own kind,” trading the urgency of the Gospel for the comfort of the fellowship of the beloved.  I’m tired of Death.
     Maybe this all comes too soon on the heels of the devastation that was the last six years of my life. Maybe after so many years of living as an animal, trying to merely survive and not vanish into thin air somehow, I have finally been able to let my guard down a bit. Perhaps in the dropping of my guard, I am suddenly awash in the emotion that I had to bury for those six years in the desert.  I grieve all I’ve lost. I hurt over the years I’ve lost with my daughter.   I miss my home, and my dogs and my career.  I used to be necessary.  I need to matter to someone. 
     Now I’m the new guy, in a new field, learning from the ground up and starting over.  I am so very thankful for the new chance, but I feel lost in the middle of it all. A man needs a purpose and sometimes I wonder what mine is, beyond being the best dad I can be for my daughter.  I feel alive when I write and writing is hard these days. I’m grinding away on a project for some friends and it is good but slow and it doesn’t feel inspired.  It’s a story about their love and support for their dying friend.  Maybe writing about death isn’t the best thing for me right now but I have an obligation to finish this thing.
     More than anything…I think I need to go away for a few days as soon as I can. There is 6 years’ worth of hurt bottled up and it’s begun escaping now that it’s safe for it to happen and I need to go somewhere and let it take place.
     I told a friend of mine yesterday, “You don’t have time to count the grains of sand as they slip through your fingers, you’re too busy trying to hold on to them. It’s later…when you turn around and see the size of the pile that you realize how much you’ve lost. How much time…how much life. How many moments"  That's what I'm doing these days...gripping sand and trying to pick up some of the pile.