The Benefit Of Showing Up


Last week, a friend at church mentioned the possibility of a group of us responding to a need of one of his friends.  One of his former classmates from high school had fallen on tough times.  Failing health had created a multitude of difficulties. In addition, the friend was confined to a wheel chair and his inability to physically and financially address structural issues in his home were additional stress factors.

A couple of days ago, the friend from church sent me a text asking that I give him a call if I wanted to help.  Of course I wanted to help. I previously verbalized that I would.  The workday was scheduled for Saturday.  Before I contacted him, I got a message that my granddaughter was playing in a volleyball tournament in Cedar Park on Saturday.  In addition, my son and at least one of his boys were also going to be there.  It was their expectation that the General and I be there as well.

Wouldn’t you know it? There is always more to do than you can possibly get done and time is a commodity that seems in short supply.  What to do?  What could I do?  Obviously, I made the only ethical choice that I could make.  I had verbalized a commitment to help with the work project.  Consequently, I felt obligated to keep the earlier commitment.

As it turned out, the friend orchestrating the work project also invited one of his other classmates to assist as well.  The man turned out to be highly skilled in carpentry.  I was amazed at his knowledge. I asked: “How did you learn to do all of this?” He said, “I grew up with this stuff. My father was a builder and I worked at his side. In addition, my brother is the guy we refer to as the finish carpenter. He is very skilled”.

He didn’t tell me that he had built his own home.  I learned that from my friend.  Okay, so I’m a little envious.  I think it would be great to have that kind of skill set.  It may not be rocket science, but it is better than that and way out of my league.  In fact, most things are beyond my grasp.  Maybe in the midst of retirement I can learn how to do something. The General would probably say that anything would be an improvement. She is ever so right.

Of course I’d prefer to call an electrician and avoid electric shock therapy that potentially could be deadly if I were left to my own discretion. The same is true for plumbing.  I have the unique skill set to make a small water leak turn into a gusher before I’m done. Been there/done that is all I can say.  Actually that’s not really true. I also can say: “You live and you learn”.  Consequently, I’m not gravitating toward electricity or water. Someone who knows what they’re doing in both those areas is worth every penny it cost to hire a professional.

Professionally, the classmate worked in law enforcement.  He has been retired for the past seven years.  He turned out to be very personable and his skill set also was top-notch.  He chose to settle for nothing less than perfection.  I was assigned to help him (tote-and-fetch-guy) and he thoughtfully explained what he was doing during the process.  It turned out to be a fun day and I learned some things.

The man whose home was being worked on was also very gracious and appreciative.  I enjoyed watching the interaction between the three previous classmates.  The commaradarie and life experiences they’ve shared speak volumes about their friendship. All three were in the Johnson City High School graduating class of 1960.  Interestingly, I know one other guy that was in that same high school graduating class.

I am amazed by the number of people who grew up in small towns around Austin and stayed there for the entirety of their lives.  On the other hand, who could blame them?  Hills, water, trees and friendly folks define the area. Why would you want to go anywhere else?  I grew up in Odessa. Now you know why I think Henly is the edge of Heaven.  The contrast is amazing.  Odessa = Friendly People/Henly=Hills, Water, Trees and Friendly People.

I didn’t ask what year the three classmates actually met and became friends, but I made the assumption they probably went through most if not all twelve grades together.  The guy I was helping said he was born in the Blanco Court House.  Of course, at one time the previous courthouse had served as a hospital. Both he and the homeowner said that when they started to school they didn’t speak English.  German is the only language they had ever known.

I was fascinated by that reality.  I knew there was a large German community in the Johnson City/Fredericksburg area, but it never occurred to me that families spoke only German.  I didn’t ask if either of them still speak German, but I hope they do. It would be sad to let that part of one’s heritage fade into oblivion.

Consequently, yesterday was a feel-good day for me despite the fact that I missed seeing my son and grandkids. It felt good to help out on a project where someone benefitted by your contribution of time.  Consequently, I’d call it a day well spent.  The experience reminded me of something I once heard Dr. Karl Menninger, famed psychiatrist say. I was attending a workshop at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas City.  Someone asked Dr. Menninger what he’d recommend as a treatment option for depression. He said, “I’d suggest the depressed person leave his house and go across the street and help his neighbor”.

The Christmas season is a time of the year that many folks think about helping others in need.  I don’t really understand why that should be defined by the season of the year.  Shouldn’t the experience be ingrained in the fabric of who we are and happen on a regular basis?  It falls under the auspices of “It is better to give than to receive”.

All My Best!

Apple Computer, Inc.




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Someone recently commented to me that they didn’t know how I find something to write about on a daily basis. They were actually being complimentary because they read my blog regularly, but were puzzled about how I always manage to come up with something of interest.


All I can say is that memory is a wonderful gift. Truthfully there are mornings when I sit down at my computer thinking I’m going to write about one thing and find my thoughts going a completely different direction. Consequently, my writing steers completely away from what I initially had in mind. When that happens, there is generally a smile on my face because that could put me a day ahead in having something to write about the following day. However, truth-be-told, it generally becomes a lost thought because by the next day something completely different surfaces in the resources of my mind.


I awakened this morning feeling like I had been in a war zone last night. Of course the dream was as real as life and it didn’t take place in a third world country with a reputation for violence and brutal military action. The setting was very different. The nightmare came to fruition from simply experiencing everyday life in what is thought to be a safe environment.


It was one of those dreams where guns were blazing. The perpetrators of violence were a couple of thugs with automatic rifles shooting indiscriminately toward people they didn’t know. I was one of the would-be victims. However, miraculously I survived but emerged with a sense of horror from the experience.


Earlier this week I read an article about a father who is haunted by the memory of his 6-year old son’s death in the Sandy Hook School shooting. Who wouldn’t be? My heart goes out to him.  His son was one of twenty first-graders killed on December 14, 2012. The father’s grief has inspired action on his part. He co-founded Sandy Hook Promise, an organization that works to prevent gun-related deaths through creation of a national movement. He now travels the country advocating for State and Federal gun safety laws, as well as mental health and wellness programs.


Conversely, there are differing thoughts related how to best orchestrate safety. Following the recent mass shooting at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church, the Texas attorney general reportedly said that churches should be arming some of the parishioners or hiring professional security. Speaking with the voice of prophesy, he predicted that massacres of that nature will happen again. He is of the mindset that if more church-goers were armed, the gunman could be taken out before he has an opportunity to kill many people.


I have a friend who is pastor of a church in a small town. The Sheriff approached him and suggested that he get a license to carry. In fact, he stated that law enforcement officials are encouraging pastors across the country to be armed.


I’ve never given much thought to packing heat. I did get my picture made once at church holding a shotgun. I looked like one of the sons of the pioneers.   I was wearing a black western hat, a black coat and vest, a black bolo tie, white shirt, Levis and western boots. Some would say it was not my most flattering look. Others would say, I’ve never looked better. In fact I have one parishioner who wants me to dress like that when I officiate at her funeral. I will honor her request, but I will leave the shotgun at  home.


When the picture got posted on the church’s Facebook page, it didn’t fare well for me with all of our parishioners. Actually, until that happened, I didn’t even know our church had a Facebook page. I’ve still got the picture somewhere. It was actually one of the better pictures made of me. I laughingly said, “I looked like a 2nd amendment pastor”.  Trust me, not everyone thought that was funny.


Truth-be-told, I don’t’ do guns. I do own an over-under shotgun for skeet shooting, but I’m not even sure I remember the combination to the case in which it is stored. At this point, I think I can safely say that folks are safer if I don’t pack heat at church. For that matter, I’m also not known for “hellfire and damnation” type preaching with pulpit pounding thrown in. I think that more people are inclined to graviate toward a God of love.


At any rate, last night’s dream was surreal. In some regards, the dream may have been spurred from a morning telephone call I received yesterday. The call was from a man I’ve known since his childhood years. He telephoned me with the sense that he was in imminent peril. Reportedly, there were people wanting to bring him harm and he couldn’t manage to effectively distance himself from them.


Consequently, he sought safety inside a Wal-Mart store the night before. He reportedly stayed inside the store all night long. One of the folks who had something other than his best interest in mind, periodically came inside the store with the message, “We are waiting for you.”


He was terrified with the thought. So was the threat real or was it imagined?   He spoke fairly convincingly that the threat was real. I suggested he call law enforcement and get them involved in helping orchestrate his protection.


Only once have I lived with that level of fear. I was a relatively new child protective services worker. The father of a child removed from his home because of abuse threatened my life once. He said, “You’ve got to leave the safety of this building. I will get you sooner or later. You can count on it.”


Living with a level of fear is terrifying. I hope never to do that again. I am probably not going to be packing heat at church, but I reserve the right to change my mind. I am fairly certain that I won’t open carry. So you’ll never know.


All My Best!


Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow


Around noon yesterday I saw a weather alert predicting: “SNOW IN THE HILL COUNTRY”. I found myself a little envious. The welcoming sign in Dripping Springs designates our location as the “Gateway To The Hill Country”, but I didn’t really expect to see snow. However, I was wrong. By mid-afternoon it was snowing despite the fact that it really wasn’t cold enough for the snow to effectively last. At least it looked pretty falling from the sky.


I mentioned to the General that a bowl of chili would really be good. I had no idea that we had homemade chili in the freezer. Of course it would take a while for the thawing process, but at least it was in the makings. A short time later a friend telephoned and invited us over to visit.


I jumped at the chance. A roaring fireplace is even better than a bowl of hot homemade chili. True to his word, the fireplace was blazing. What started out as a brief visit turned into a couple of hours of friendly conversation. It had not been our intent to stay that long, but every time I mentioned we needed to go, we were encouraged to stay longer. The camaraderie and conversation also added warmth to the room.


The couple we visited were one of the first couples with whom we visited in their home before we moved to Henly.  That was thirty-seven years ago. In fact, visiting in their home was one of the catalysts for me to want to move to Henly. It was so incredibly peaceful and quiet.  I was both fascinated with the thought of enjoying life in the country and a little anxious at the same time. I had never had cows for neighbors. It was uncharted territory. I guess at some level I thought if your street didn’t have curbs you were forfeiting something of value. Actually, it was a big decision.


At the time we had only been in our new home in Austin for about a year and a half. Some say it was a show place. It was a very different look from the open living area we now enjoy. We were attempting to capture that early Texas 1920s look on the inside with touches of wallpaper and custom drapes. Trust me, I invested enough sweat equity into the yard that it should have resembled the Garden of Eden. It didn’t, but it did look good.


At some point after I was provided the opportunity to pastor the church in Henly in February 1979, we began to stay a portion of most Saturdays in the parsonage (mobile home) located behind the church. So the routine was “get the yard work done at home and get to Henly”. Finally the question became “Why?” Since we wanted to be in Henly, why maintain a home in Austin?


Some dear friends at church sold us ten acres and we made plans to move. The intent was to put everything (or most things) in storage and live in the parsonage until we could get our home built. Actually, it worked out a lot better than that. Our home sold immediately after putting it on the market and the sister and brother-in-law of the people we purchased the land from insisted we move into one of their two homes in Henly. They didn’t live in Henly at the time, but had two different homes there.


It was a very gracious and kind welcoming to the neighborhood. It really doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago. Yet, when you do the math, it was well over half of my lifetime ago.


The couple we visited with last night certainly fall into the category of “like family” folks. We’ve been close friends since moving to Henly. The guy takes credit for the incredible young (or now middle-aged) man my son became. Craig spent as much time at their house as he spent at ours.


Late afternoon yesterday, as we watched the snow falling, we reflected back on the snow in Henly that blanketed the area into a “Christmas wonderland” kind of experience. I don’t remember if it was before or after Christmas 1983 or 1984, but I do remember the fun. It was probably 3” of soft white powder. I had never been on snow skis before, but it couldn’t be that different from water skiing or so I thought.


If you’ve not been down “The Divide” on snow skies on Hwy 165 between Henly and Blanco, you have no idea what you’ve missed. Actually, let me step that up a notch. If you’ve never been down the divide on snow skies, you’ve not fully experienced the divide. Truthfully, I can’t claim credit for having the idea. I don’t often think that far outside-of-the box. My friend on the other hand, has lived most of his life outside-of-the box. Everything from wild bull rider to rodeo clown is part of his very long history of death defying acts. How many plane crashes? One would be more than enough, but his record far exceeds that. Trust me, this guy is like a cat with nine lives.


We had a great visit yesterday. Apparently a partially snow blanketed area makes for good sleeping. I slept until 7:00 a.m. this morning. That explains my very late posting of my morning blog. The snow is still evident, but it isn’t the kind of coverage that one could use for skiing down the divide.


That leads me to question the posting by a local (Austin-local) news station. I’m not questioning the accuracy of their statement: “From the Hill Country all the way to Fayette County, most Central Texans saw at least some snow flurries in their area Thursday evening”. Actually, there subsequent report may also be true. In fact it probably is true. They reported they heard from: “Viewers in Hays, Caldwell, and Bastrop counties who recorded 4 inches of snow in their yards”. All I can say is, “Don’t believe everything your told unless of course you read it in my blog.


For now I’m opting to stay toasty warm while maintaining the hope that the weekend will bring ragtop-top-down weather. I need more time down two lane roads in Texas soaking up the sunshine.


All My Best




An Early Morning Commute With A Purpose In Mind


Call it the luck of the draw if you want, but I hate driving in Austin in rainy weather and today I don’t really have a choice. I need to be at the State Capitol at 9:30 this morning and the only way to get there is through the rain. Okay, so was there an outside chance that the rain would provide a reprieve long enough for me to make the commute in to town and get back before the roadways become treacherous? Not a chance is my best guess.


Have you ever noticed the line-up of wreckers that park under the MoPac bridge and elsewhere along major roadways? I predict they will be really busy today. I always find their presence a little disturbing. When I first noticed them several years ago, I intuitively thought of them as a group of vulchers awaiting their prey. I noticed them with almost a sense of disdain. After all, they were waiting in line to capitalize on one’s misfortune. Isn’t that their motivating for setting close at hand to the roadway? The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.


I’m not sure how it happened, but one day I looked at that same group of vulchers camouflaged in big flatbed trucks with emergency lights across the top of the cab and saw them differently. Instead of seeing them as vulchers awaiting their prey, I saw them as folks providing a community service. In so doing, they were strategically located to be a first responder when the need arose. Wow! What a different mindset to see them as a resource rather than a nuisance.


I guess there are always two ways of looking at things. You can focus on positives or you can focus on negatives. You can read into every scenario whatever your heart desires. Happiness and contentment has more to do with one’s attitude than it does with one’s set of circumstances. Personally, I’d rather hang out with the upbeat crowd than the suspicious “everyone is out to get you” group. You can find yourself surrounded by like- minded people with little effort. Friends can be a source of encouragement if you choose to make those kinds of friends. If you want to be miserable, you don’t have to look far to find misery and like minded friends.


I checked the weather forecast earlier this morning and I was shocked by what I saw on the horizon for Dripping Springs for today. We obviously don’t have to wait long until Old Man Winter comes showing up. The 90% chance of today’s participation has a freezing twist to it. The low reportedly is anticipated to be 29 degrees. The very thought is enough to chill my bones.


I realize that folks who live elsewhere in colder country would welcome a warming trend of 29 degrees, but a low like that will be the first for Henly this fall. It certainly is a contrast to the ragtop weather over the past weekend when I hit the two-lane roads with the top down.


Winter doesn’t officially start until December 21, but if Old Man Winter shows up this evening, that is close enough for me. Did I mention that I am not a fan of cold weather unless I’m on the side of a ski slope? I think the coldest morning I’ve ever been on the slopes was 0 degrees, but it warmed to the low 20s before mid-morning. I was dressed for the occasion and the level of adrenalin pumping through my system warmed my heart so to speak. In addition, the snow-covered mountains added a sense of perfection to the landscape that the experience was unblemished. Oh, to do it again!


In case you’re wondering, I plan to do it again. Every time I get a call from the med-alert folks wanting to outfit me with an electronic call button in case of a fall-emergency, I have the thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me! I fall every time I go snow skiing. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop”. Sometimes it hurts, but most of the time it is more embarrassing than painful. It is just a little inconvenient. I bounce back like a champion or at least I’m undeterred in my resolve to keep the momentum going. When you’re headed down the mountain, you’ve got gravity to thank that you’ll get there.


I have a friend who maintains that he never falls when he goes snow skiing. At first I thought he must be an exceptional skier. What I’d give to fall (sorry about the pun) into the same category. In many respects my friend is exceptional in a lot of areas, but to hear him talk you’d think he is the epitome of being “better than most” at everything. Humility isn’t one of his over-riding virtues or so it seems. One thing is for sure, he can yarn a story and tell it for truth. It took me a while to figure it out, but I’m not buying the “I never fall when I’m skiing” line. It goes against the pull of gravity.


Have you ever thought about the personifications that we associate to the seasons of the year? Old Man Winter and Jack Frost represent two associated to winter weather. When either are mentioned, you get the sense of an incoming storm bringing with it the chill of winter. Like I said, “I’m not a fan unless I’m on the ski slopes”. I guess it is all up to Mother Nature.


My low level anxiety about the morning’s commute to Austin has no relationship to the cold. I’m not even concerned that one of the vulchers (oops – I mean community servants) with the flat bed trucks will be headed to my rescue. I just know that the commute time will be twice as long because traffic doesn’t move in the greater Austin area when the rain is falling. I haven’t figured it out yet, but it is a reality.


On the other hand, I welcome the experience of showing up at the State Capitol. I’m meeting a group of colleagues there to make a presentation to one of the legislators for his diligence and commitment in orchestrating legislation that makes things better for children from hard places. In fact, the Coalition of Residential Excellence, the professional organization in Washington, D.C. that I am privileged to work with as the executive director, named two recipients as “Policy Maker of the Year”.  Both are in  the Texas Legislature.  It will be a good morning.


In addition, the opportunity to share space with friends of the same mindset and commitment warms my heart. Consequently, I’ll remember everything I learned in defensive driving about keeping a safe distance behind the car in front of me as I get into traffic. I won’t have to pace myself. It will be slow going, but it will be worth the effort.


All My Best!


It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas


The General has been home for a day and a half.  Obviously, she’s already discovered some things I didn’t get right while she was away. Take for example, paying the electric bill.  Okay, so I didn’t pay my doctor’s bill either.  To my credit (pardon the pun), I at least opened the doctor’s bill. Why I owe $14.78 is beyond me, but the way I saw it, the bill could wait until the General returned. After all, she was only gone for two weeks.  In addition, she has the checkbook.


What was I supposed to do?  After all money doesn’t grow on trees. In addition, it is illegal to counterfeit.  When it comes to excuses, the General isn’t going to accept anything I come up with as a reasonable explanation. After all, responsible people pay their bills in a timely fashion. Bottom line (oops – there I go again) I’m not responsible.  In addition, most bills are payable based on receipt.


What happened to the ten-day-rule?  I figure it isn’t going to break the bank or the vendor to wait a week to get what’s due them.  The General sees it differently. I could have paid online; after all, I have a credit card. I also know where the extra checks are stored even if they aren’t yet in the one and only checkbook we maintain.  I also know where to find envelopes and stamps.  I guess the General is right, but I’m not at risk to going to debtor’s prison just because the doctor had to wait two weeks to get his $14.78.


Okay, are there any other errors of my ways for which the General has called me to task?  “So far so good”, is my way of looking at it. She hasn’t yet discovered that I left two Christmas packages in the back of her car.  I purchased them at Pottery Barn after I had taken her car to get it serviced.  I even waited for them to be gift-wrapped.  It was a very long wait.


I figure in a perfect world the General could have had the oil changed in my truck. The “service due” yellow light was on when she brought My truck back.  Seriously, I could have made a big deal out of her driving the truck after the yellow light came on, but I know the General knows nothing about changing oil or getting it changed. She could have cut me the same slack with the bills. I was out of my league.


Perhaps she saw it as a teaching moment.  Thankfully, she didn’t rap my hand with a ruler as punishment for my omission. That’s probably because we are both Baptist and went to public school.  Don’t you get your hands or knuckles rapped with a ruler at Catholic School when you’re a kid?  Who knows, that may just be a legend? I think my son-in-law can verify that it is  more than legend.


Then there was the issue of decorating for Christmas. We always decorate for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving.  The General wasn’t here, but what kept me from decorating?  Okay, so I’ll be the first to confess, “I’m the Grinch who stole Christmas!” 


Fortunately, this year the Christmas Village that always makes it’s way on top of the kitchen cabinets is gone. The General passed that on to our daughter-in-law.  That was a substantial victory for me. I finally convinced the General that old people have no business climbing ladders to put a lot of stuff on top of the kitchen cabinets.  Why not just burn a scented Christmas candle and let well enough alone?


Then of course, there is the issue of the Christmas tree. Last year we had three or four Christmas trees throughout the house.  Isn’t one enough?  Of course, none of them were live trees. Did we really need to continue to carry on that tradition?  


So for most of yesterday, I walked around with the notion that we weren’t going to alter the house in anyway to decorate for Christmas. I was good with that or was I?


In a scary sort of way, the General was inclined to agree with me.  Why decorate for Christmas?  In less than a month it would all be over and I would taking it all down on Christmas Day. I’m not going to suggest that after two weeks with her mother, the General was a different person.  Please God, tell me it won’t last.  I much prefer the decorating for Christmas General than the one who doesn’t care.


Actually, as it turned out, I wasn’t good with that!  Consequently, it was my idea that we do something last night.  How about setting up two or three Nativity scenes?  That at least symbolizes the reason for the season.


My favorite Nativity scene is the one we always put on top of the 7’ armoire in the living room. Guess what? The armoire is no longer there.  What was I supposed to do now?  I improvised; the Nativity scene is now in a better place.  Actually, I’m not making that up.


The Nativity scene is now displayed on an antique oak table that reportedly has quite a history.  Even a former President is said to have sat at the table many times playing dominos.  The table was used more often for poker, but reportedly the former President only watched those games. It now has become the new home base for my favorite Nativity scene.


I said that it is my favorite Nativity scene, but the hand carved Nativity scene from Africa is also my favorite. It was given to us from the General’s sister and brother-in-law when they lived in Africa.  It is very different and unique, but it carries the message of Christmas from the other side of the world. I really like that.


Then there is the Nativity scene that was given to us as a Christmas present by our church.  The gift was given to us at least 36 or 37 years ago. That Nativity scene could also be my favorite.


All three of the Nativity scenes mentioned are now displayed and the house looks decorated or at least the living area does. I suspect before the end of the day, at least one of the three Christmas trees will resurface.


All My Best!

Apple Computer, Inc.




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A Kid In A Candy Store


I felt like a kid in a candy store yesterday. Perhaps the best part is that I didn’t have to leave home to experience it. It was the presence of a landscape crew who had come to make right what once was perfect but now looked out of place and obsolete. Nothing is more attractive in a person’s backyard than a pond and waterfall surrounded by vegetation with a broader view of oak trees and hills on the horizon.


Sixteen years ago when we selected a building site for our home, we opted to select a place in the middle of our acreage to build our home. They say you live and you learn. The first house we built in Henly in 1980 was also on a ten-acre tract on the same street. It was located half-a-mile beyond where we now live. At that time, we selected the perfect spot to build or so I thought. We nestled the house in the midst of several gigantic oak trees. It was a good look!


It was a good look, but unless one of your favorite pastimes is raking leaves, it wasn’t an ideal location. If I were building on that property again, I’d still select the very same spot. It was perfect, but he Achilles heel was the seasonal raking of leaves that seemingly had no end. I hated raking leaves, but nothing worth having is ever easy. Isn’t that what your mother told you during your growing up years? My mother often encouraged us through her words of wisdom: “Nothing worth having is every easy”. Mother was right.


After a ten-year stretch of hard labor and solitary confinement or so it seemed, we got out of Dodge while the gettin’ was good and moved back to Henly from West Texas. Actually, our ten-year pilgrimage in Midland was a good experience. Traffic was never a problem and the commute to work was only five minutes. When you went to the community theatre, you intuitively knew a coat and tie was in order. People in the tall city seemed to intuitively know how to capitalize on “flat ugly” and turn a sow’s ear into a purse.


Two previous Presidents called the “tall city” home. That is only one of many names associated to the location. Capt. Randolph Marcy referred to the region as the “Great Zahara of North America” in 1849. So was he smoking Marlboros at the time or was it something else? Who is to say? He may have been in the sun too long. Rumor has it that the designation had something to do with the thought that the region had been and must remain uninhabitable. He was obviously wrong on both counts.


In the early days, every house and store in Midland had its on windmill. Consequently it came to be known as “The Windmill City”. It was referenced as that in John Howard Griffin’s 1959 historical book entitled: “Land of the High Sky”.


When we lived in Midland, the Hilton Hotel had a billboard out by the airport. It stated simply: “People keep coming back. It ain’t for the view”. Perhaps that is where I came up with the description of “flat ugly”. I used to tell folks elsewhere that West Texas is known for its friendly people. Of course “friendly people” is always fourth on the list of what most people want. It is usually preceded by the importance of “hills, water and trees.”


Reportedly Joan Baskin, one of Midland’s foremost community leaders, told a reporter of the Midland Reporter-Telegram in the 1980s that she liked to think of Midland as “the Switzerland of the Desert.” She also referenced the late editor of the Reporter-Telegram as saying Midland is “the best little city between two oceans”.


Though our time in Midland was good, we opted to return to the “gateway of the hill country” in 2001. At least that is the designation that Dripping Springs gives to itself. We were only gone from the area for ten years. Obviously, our absence was good for the real estate market. Prices tripled during the ten years that we were away. Did I mention that my income did not?


At any rate, when we were provided an opportunity to move back to the area, we didn’t balk. We moved back to the same street where we previously lived. It is all about location, location, location. Henly has a Dripping Springs mailing address, but it is about eight miles to the west of Drippin’. I refer to Henly as the edge of heaven. My Church of Christ friends fear that is as close as I’ll get. If the scales have to balance, they may be right. However, I am hanging on to the concept of grace.


I’m also hanging on to thoughts of the revised new look the landscape crew is orchestrating in my back yard. Like I said earlier: “Nothing is more attractive in a person’s backyard than a pond and waterfall surrounded by vegetation with a broader view of oak trees and hills on the horizon.” My neighbor calls it my snake magnet. If he is correct, I am in total denial.


I do know that nothing looks worse that a pond with an inoperable waterfall. Ours worked perfectly until it didn’t. That was about four years ago. Try as I may, I couldn’t come up with a workable solution to keep water from leaking. Consequently, I attempted to camouflage the waterless waterfall by setting plants in it. It was not a good look, but it was the best I could do.


Consequently, I had moved beyond the thought that the waterfall would ever hold water again. Instead I was going to have the waterfall reconfigured as rock planters and do away with the pots.


Instead, when I asked about their doing the work, I asked if they’d ever revamped a waterfall. Miracle of miracles, they had revamped one just like ours last week. Watching them revamp and apply a lot of new mortar to the rock structure filled me with delight. Like I said, “I was a kid in a candy store”.


All My best!







Christmas Bells


In an uncharacteristic approach to Christmas 2017, I dedicated my sermon yesterday to doing something unprecedented. I actually began the month of December with a Christmas message. I figure if the commercial side of Christmas can begin to gather momentum by September, that I can probably justify focusing on different aspects of the Christmas story throughout the month of December.


Perhaps you could call it a paradigm shift for me. Historically over the past forty-five years, I’ve attempted to emotionally distance myself protectively from some of the intensity associated with the celebration of Christmas. Please don’t mistaken what I’m saying. I love the message of Christmas – The gift of God, the birth of Christ, the availability of life everlasting. I cherish that message and I love the reason for the season, but Christmas time is not my favorite time of the year.


It don’t think of it as a character flaw, but it is complicated. So for the past four and a half decades, I’ve protectively been cautious. At some level a part of me would like to access the remote control of life about this time every year and press the fast forward button until it reaches January 2. That day in January is my daughter’s birthday. I wouldn’t want to speed past the celebration of her birth.


As a matter of practice, I generally ease into Christmas the same way I ease into a swimming pool when the water is a little too cool. I pace my steps along the pools declining surface to allow my body to gradually adjust to the water’s temperature. I am the same way with Christmas. Doing a cannonball off the diving board into the water isn’t my desired approach. That holds true for Christmas as well.


During the midst of last week, I did a mental inventory of some of the folks for whom I’ve been praying. I wondered how they were handling thoughts associated to the Christmas season? Didn’t it make sense that their life circumstance would pre-empt anything other than a sense of gratitude for the birth of Christ? It happens all the time. All of the other activities associated to the Christmas season becomes really inconvenient for many in the midst of overwhelming difficulties.


Today marks the tenth anniversary of my mother’s homecoming to be with the Lord. I probably wouldn’t have been aware of that benchmark anniversary if the General hadn’t telephoned me Saturday night reminding me to write checks for the church’s bills in order to get them signed and mailed yesterday. When I dated the first check, the alarm went off in my head. It is December!!!


I remember the day before mother’s heavenly homecoming ten years ago as though it were yesterday. In fact, I would call it my personal Christmas miracle. I remember it well – It was late in the evening. I was driving home from Houston. When I turned on the radio, I was startled by the sound of Christmas music filling my car. Intuitively, I quickly hit the seek button to advance to another station. I was greeted with more Christmas music. Again I hit the seek button and found another station playing a Christmas song. Protectively, I chose to turn the radio off.   I just wasn’t prepared to think about Christmas.


I was content to drive in silence, lost in thought. Do you ever do that? Lost in thought is not a bad neighborhood in which to drive. Of course, it could be a dangerous way to drive. That probably falls under the category of distracted driving. At some point in the dark of night on my journey homeward, out of nowhere the tune and the lyrics to “I’ll be home for Christmas” began to roll around in my head.


Much to my surprise, the experience was very comfortable for me. It was similar to sharing a cup of hot flavored coffee with a treasured friend or sitting in a comfortable chair reading a great book. It felt like home. It was warm and comforting.


The next day in the late morning or early afternoon, I received a call from by younger brother that time was near. That evening as I stood at my mother’s bedside attempting to process everything I was seeing and what I’d just been told about her condition, a thousand thoughts filled my head. Interestingly, all those were subsequently replaced with a duplication of the experience I had from the day before. The tune and lyrics to “I’ll be home for Christmas,” filled my thoughts and gave me the assurance that everything was ultimately going to be all right. In the midst of sadness, it almost put a smile on my face.


Because of God’s gift of Christmas, the promises of Christ ring true: John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.


Christmas proves that God is aware of our need for that which only He can provide. All of the things in our lives that make Christmas 2017 seem inconvenient at best don’t catch God by surprise. Ours is a broken world and we are broken people. Yet in them midst of our brokenness he offers us the gift of life because of his great love for us. In addition, he asserts his ability to come along side us at the point of need.


Perhaps acknowledging the downside of Christmas may be the first step in being open to discovering the upside of Christmas. It was true of Henry Wadson Longfellow as he crafted his poem Christmas Bells on Christmas day in 1963.


The poem is a personal reflection of the author’s thoughts, reflections and life circumstances. Longfellow’s life was tragically shaken by overwhelming life circumstances. Two years earlier, his wife’s dress caught on fire from either candle wax or embers from a fireplace. I’ve read both explanations. Tragically she perished in the flames. Even Longfellow’s hands and face were burned as he attempted to put out the flames. It is thought that the beard he subsequently wore was to camouflage the injuries to his face.


John Ortberg writes of Longfellow’s experience: “On the first Christmas after losing her, he wrote, ‘How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.’ Six months later he wrote, ‘I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.’”


In addition, the country was tragically in the midst of the American Civil War. His son Charles Appleton Longfellow was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church in Virginia. Christmas time in 1863 was inconvenient at best for Longfellow.


He shares his heart and his life circumstance when he writes these words:

“And in despair I bowed my head;

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;

‘For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!’”


Fortunately the poem does not end there. The sound of the Christmas bells from the church that morning reminded Longfellow that God is not limited by our circumstances:


“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,

With peace on earth, goodwill to men!’”


Acknowledging the downside of Christmas may be the first step in being open to discovering the upside of Christmas.


All My Best!