Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Clear the Stage

Clear the Stage

I ran across this video on YouTube. Please take the 9 or so minutes required to listen from beginning to end.

Hear it.

Live it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Dose of Reality

I grew up in the country- the riverbottoms and cottonfields of West Tennessee, specifically. Though for some, the jury is still out on whether I've grown up or not. But alas, I regress....

The move to Tulsa several years ago has been, shall we say, eye-opening. Tulsa is a lovely, progressive town with vision for growth, infrasturcture to support it, and all the political and social problems relative to a mid-major city in the midwestern United States.

The church I serve is downtown; the city is building a new baseball stadium across the parking lot from our main entrance (woo-hoo!!!!!). One block north of our main entrance is the city Greyhound Busline station. Two blocks west of our location is the YMCA. Travelling between the two sites are individuals and families with nowhere to live. Some are travelling through to other locations with a day or two layover; others migrate to the bus station hoping for a free meal or free bus ticket to a better way of life. The "Y" offers a hot shower and a hot meal and an overnight cot for men who are down on their luck. And every day and every night, they walk right by our church.

Last year we opened the First Baptist Church Caring Center on the other side of the bus station. There, we serve individuals and families who have overwhelming physical needs- food; clothing; companionship. Sometimes the Caring Center will send a family here for counsel; more often than not, the church sends people to the caring center for help. The Caring Center is staffed by a legion of volunteers and is supported through the budget of our church. It is a wonderful ministry, and literally hundreds and hundreds of struggling people have benefitted from its existence.

Yesterday was our annual Caring Center Outreach Luncheon, where dozens of volunteers cook a hot meal, prepare gift bags, and invite Tulsa's homeless population to the church for a meal, some entertainment, and a presentation of the gospel message. It is a neat time; once you get over the intimidation of the dress- and- smell of most of the guests. We served a couple hundred hungry souls yesterday; some familiar to the churh and the caring center, some not. There were several who have been a part of the Tulsa homeless community for years now. We know their names, we know the general area in which they "live". My heart breaks for them.

Most disturbing, however, was the number of children- and babies- that we saw yesterday. Single moms with infants living in their cars at night because they have nowhere else to stay. One mom was on the streets with her toddler daugter in order to escape an abusive situation at home. Beautiful newborn babies who laugh easily and cry loudly. Children who haven't had a hot meal in days. While it is difficult to reserve judgement ("there, but for the grace of God, go I") on the parents, it is obvious they are doing the best that they can. They provided a good meal for their kids yesterday, which was more than they got on Monday.

I think the Bible would have us be generous to this community- very generous. Grace is controversial at best, and at its worst, is indefensable. After all, isn't that, at its very nature, the purpose of grace? To offer value and purpose and hope to the undeserving?

The truth is, none of us are deserving of any good thing. We are all blessed beyond belief, and grace is lavished on us every day. It's time to send it on down the line.

We pray for our homeless community and attempt to serve their needs as best we can. And yesterday, it was good to see some folks still kicking, still "making it" on the streets. But our hope is that they can get off the streets, get their lives together, and either restore or build the necessary relationships that will keep them off the street. And so next year, we will see them as volunteers, not as clients.

By the grace of God.

Friday, April 18, 2008


“Get up if you’re going with me.”

As I rolled my sleepy 10-year-old head out of bed, I could barely contain my excitement! It was always fun to go to the river and run our trot lines, do some fishing with hand poles, maybe shoot our .22 rifle a little- all things that 10-yr-old southern boys like to do.

I dressed quickly and quietly. In the back of my mind was the fear that I would be too slow or forget something or otherwise be the cause of us leaving late, and my dad would not let me go with him anymore. Years later, Dad told me how he enjoyed those times with me. Well, most of them.

I entered the kitchen in sock feet (my worn boots were kept by the kitchen door) to the smell of fried bacon and the sound of a fork scrambling eggs in an iron skillet. “Can’t find the pepper”, my Dad said, with that early morning ‘don’t-wake-the-girls’ whisper. I didn’t know where the pepper was, either, so Dad reached for his outdoors lunchbox- the big, grey, heavy-duty plastic boxes reserved only for high in the sky steel construction workers or trucking company employees, and pulled out his emergency supply of pepper. He doused a generous supply of pepper on our eggs, and an odd thing happened. The eggs turned a funny caramel color, and smelled burnt. I glanced up at Dad, but he was busy scrambling, and either didn’t notice, or if he did, he didn’t show it.

Once the eggs were cooked, he piled them on the plate with our bacon and white bread, a bountiful 4:00 am feast. I sucked down the eggs, which had a foul, bitter taste, but I would not let my face show its displeasure. I watched as he ate, stern jaw set with age and hard work, and to my surprise, I watched a knowing smile grow across his stubbly face. Suddenly, he laughed out loud as the realization of his mistake dawned. You see, dad kept shakers of salt and pepper- and coffee- in his lunchbox. It was coffee that he had heaped on our eggs that morning. We ate in silence, each wearing a grin that said “this ain’t good, but it’s all we’ll get for a while, so we gotta eat it”. And gone was the hurried sense of urgency to get to the river before the sun came up. The pace of the morning seemed to relax as father and son cleared the table of the breakfast dishes, laced up our matching boots, and quietly locked away the worries of the day inside the kitchen door. Whether or not we caught any fish at all, it would be a good day.

There were to be lots of good days, growing up in the cotton fields and river bottoms of West Tennessee. We lived indoors and outdoors, went to school and work and church and didn’t hunt or fish on Sundays. My hometown was small, and every parent parented everyone else’s kids, with many thanks. Every kid should be so privileged to grow up in a small town. Even more, every kid should grow up in my family.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Stormy, Stormy Night

Last week in our part of Oklahoma, we witnessed what is commonly know as "one of those Oklahoma storms", complete with lightning, thunder, hail, and lots of rain and wind.

It all started about....

....2:00 AM. I woke up from a deep sleep with a painful back and bulging bladder. As my senses collected themselves and I hoisted myself from the bed, I was aware of a faint ringing sound. Having suffered tinnitus for dozens of years, this was nothing new for me. However, this sound was different. As I walked down the hallway to the kids bathroom on the way to the television, it began to dawn on me what I was hearing. The tornado sirens were sounding in our sleepy little community. As I finished my business, I turned back toward the bedrooms to awaken my sweet wife and children. We put on some clothes and shoes, and hurried to the hallway with our pillows and purses. The weathermen on television were telling of severe weather all over northeastern Oklahoma. Outside, the sirens were wailing their plaintive but steady cry. The wind was gathering with mounting fury as the rain came down in sheets. Periodic hail interrupted the sound of pounding rain on the windows and roof. Pea-sized, now bean-sized, with a few penny and nickel-sized chunks of ice fell on the patio.

We were nervous, but not anxious. We have completed this drill more than once, and we all, well, sort-of- knew that nothing would happen.

The sound of rain and wind faded; the tornado sirens ceased their wail. We listened to our friends at the news station deliver updated reports of terrifying weather in surrounding communities. We relaxed...

The wind picked up, the rain came in earnest, complete with additional hail and sirens. Three times in the course of 2 hours we were summonsed to the protection of a central room in our home, and urged to stay away from windows.

Finally our bodies' desire for sleep superseded our fear of the weather, so we decided to return to the warm confines of our beds and try to get some sleep.

When the first light of morning broke across Green Country, we could look outside and know we were safe, that we had been spared a terrific and terrible storm. Others were not so lucky, and suffered terribly. Homes and businesses destroyed; damage in the millions of dollars. Some structures will need to be torn down and rebuilt completely. Some owners will choose to take their losses and move on to another area of the country.

Another area without sudden and powerful spring storms. Locations with milder weather and not so many difficult memories.

Locations that offer hope for their futures.

My family is grateful for being spared the brunt of the storm, and we pray for those who were not spared. We will press on one more day here in Green Country, Oklahoma.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Or So I Thought....

Ever have one of those days?

I was so looking forward to having a rare day off today. With Easter coming early and working through spring break, missing a week of work with the passing of my dad, and trying to make up that work, I was ready for a day at home. I need a haircut; I need to clean my guns; I need to clean out dad's truck so I can take it to have it detailed (clean it to have it cleaned- it is really dirty!). Plus, I have a little work left to do for Sunday.

I wanted to sleep late- no go. I had to take my beautiful daughter to school. I was coming right back, and that is where my wonderful day turned into a circus.

I was just running down the mountain, so I wore shorts and a t-shirt, house shoes, and a world-class bedhead. 43 degrees outside, but no big deal- I'll be right back.

Or so I thought.

When I slammed the door to get the latch to work, it inadvertently locked. My house keys were on the kitchen counter. I realized that when I returned from the school.

No big deal, I thought, I'll call my son on my cell and have him bring a key. But my cell phone was on the counter, next to my keys.

Following a brief, but intense, effort to try to break the door knob, I knew I'd need to develop a plan. Have you ever had to develop a plan while shivering in the garage? Anyway, my plan was to go to the bank and withdraw some cash (I did have my wallet), order breakfast at McDonald's in order to get some change so I could find a payphone to call my wife and get her to call my son's school to let him come home to unlock the door. Nothing to it!

Or so I thought.

I went to the ATM, and was third in line behind two people who were either illiterate or didn't speak english and were using a translation manual to get them through the ATM process. One had to open their car door in order to get to the control panel they couldn't reach. So it took a while- no big deal. A couple of deep breaths, and I had my temper under control. I finally took my turn and hurried off with my cash, which promptly fell to the floor underneath my right foot. I had to stop to pick it up, blocking the vehicle behind me form accessing the ATM for about three seconds. It seemed like a lot longer with his horn blaring in my ear.

I took the cash to McDonald's, where I was the ninth car in line at the drive-through widow. No big deal, I'll just take my turn. Today was slow day, evidently a special marketing opportunity to help customers learn patience. Finally, my turn came, and I ordered a sausage biscuit with egg. The lady I paid was very professional and polite. The lady who gave my my order looked like she had worked all night with the flu. She was less than pleasant. Oh well, no big deal.

Or so I thought.

I left McDonald's to try and find a pay phone I could reach from inside my truck. While driving around, I also noticed that my sausage biscuit with egg had cheese on it, a definite no-no in my world. By that time, I had a lot invested in that biscuit, so-

I went back to McDonald's and got in the drive-through line again. I waited through the slow-day marketing experience again. When my turn arrived again, I told the nice lady about the problem. Only they nice lady and the flu lady had changed places. She was not happy- but changed my sandwich anyway. OK. On to find a payphone.

How long has it been since you've tried to find a payphone? Especially one where I could use it from within my truck? Remember it is 43 degrees outside and I'm sporting shorts, tshirt, house shoes, and bedhead.

I finally settled on a payphone at a remote gas station. The phone was in the front of the station, and the station was deserted when I got out. While I inserted the change, and began the call, the parking lot suddenly filled with vehicles, and more than a few were waiting on the payphone. They were dressed in baggy pants, army jackets, and hoodies or bandannas. I needed to make this fast.

I called my wife, who didn't answer her phone. I left a message, got in the truck, and drove home as fast as I could. Surely she'll get the message and my son will be over soon....

Or so I thought.

She got the message, and then promptly forgot to call the school. For half an hour, she wondered around with those 4th graders, taking care of them and their needs in that warm classroom while I was stuck in the garage. While I waited, I cleaned out the door pockets and console of the truck- I had .22 LR, .22 shorts, 12gauge slugs, .30-.30 win, .38 special, toothpicks, cucumber and turnip seeds all in the door pockets alone.

Finally, my son drove up, laughing his sweet laugh that makes me want to rip his hair out. He unlocked the door without a work, then drove back to school.

I think I'll go back to bed and get up again and try to start this day over. It'll have to get better...

Or so I think....