We’re at the beach, see . . .

We’re at the beach, see . . .
Windy and i are at the beach this weekend with Win, Guion, and Abby. This has been our family vacation spot since the boys were very, very little.
Back then Windy and i noticed that, near the end of the day–maybe five or six o’clock–the boys would gravitate each to a space of his own and be very content to dig in the sand or whatever. It was sort of mindless activity, it seemed, and we’d watch them, wondering what was going on in their heads.
We finally learned to pray that Jesus would wander through their thoughts and leave his footprints there. It appears to be a prayer wonderfully answered.
We watched them playing on the beach yesterday. Abby says Guion becomes a six-year-old at the beach. I wonder why . . . ?
Peace to you, friends. Miss you all.

mike

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Connection

The following appeared in a publication in 1998. i found it the other day, and thought it’d be fun to share. We have lots of friends who are now in college, so it seems to fit…

Our boys had some friends over the other night. (That sounds funny to me because it seems that only yesterday they were too young to know they even had friends!) It was a costume gathering the night before my least favorite night of the year, which usually falls on the last night or so of October. (I dont’ even like to mention the name–and to call it a holiday is a bit of a stretch too, don’t you think?) It was a cookout and hang out party, you might say.

At some point when the trampoline had been bounced, the treehouse climbed, the soccer ball kicked, the hot dogs and Pepsi consumed, the older kids (sixth graders) and the younger ones (fourth graders), too, found their own spaces as age groups and settled down for a nice chat.

A chat! What do they have to chat about!? i wanted to get close enough to…overhear? Or i’d at least need to be close enough to be able to answer some question that might come up or settle some dispute.

Before you could say “refrigerate pickles after opening” the older crowd was off to play moonlight soccer while the younger group went back to the trampoline.

As friends in high school, and later in college, a few of us used to sit in Marilou’s driveway and chat like that. Or not. Sometimes we just looked at the sky until one of us was struck by some profound thought, or profound need to visit the facilities. We felt connected as friends just because we’d been in the driveway together. I still feel that connection.

Jesus got away from the crowds and went up on a mountainside and sat down. Some of His friends joined Him. As they sat there on that mountainside, a few profound thoughts were planted in the hearts and minds of those simple men. “Blessed are you . . . ” he said.

Connection.

Some real holidays are coming. One for being thankful, one for looking back on a time when God put on skin to come and connect with us. Meet Him in the driveway or wherever. But please, make the connection.

“And now, what is my hope? O Lord, my hope is in you.” (Psalm 39:8 RSV)

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Last Night i Had The Strangest Dream

Do you remember that song? “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” was written in 1950 by Ed McCurdy. It was covered by everybody you ever heard of, from Simon & Garfunkel to Johnny Cash. Being an impressionable kid during the sixties and seventies, i remember its antiwar theme set against the backdrop of the Vietnam Conflict. But get this, “In 1989, school children on the East German side of the Berlin Wall sang “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” en masse as the wall was being dismantled.” How would you like to have written that song?

If you don’t know the song, grab it on iTunes or someplace. See the lyrics at http://blindbeggar.org/?p=1141 .

Last night i really did have the strangest dream. Actually, it was this morning, just before i blinked my way into wakefulness. i don’t think there was an anti-war message in it, or a peace message. But, we’ll see…

In my dream i was playing in a baseball game. i’ve done this before, when i was just a boy. Played a lot of baseball, but gave it up for other things just before high school. i played other sports after that, but did have a job in the summers as an umpire for the local softball league.

In my dream i was playing outfield. This is a position in which one stands all alone with responsibility to cover lots of space. In theory, one should have time to track down a ball and get to it, given that one is so far away from the batter’s box at home plate.

What i kinda saw in my dream, except for the part where i'm not really an artist, at all...
What i kinda saw in my dream, except for the part where i'm not really an artist, at all...

This was a night game. And, the outfield wasn’t very well lit. My eyesight being what it is (or isn’t) these days, i could barely make out the fact that there was activity in the infield (where they are much closer to the batter), but i couldn’t really tell what was happening. i could discern lots of movement from time to time immediately following the faintly distinguishable sound of the crack of the bat. i absolutely knew that if the ball came out to where i was, i would never know. It was simply too dark.

After one of these flourishes of activity in the infield, there was much cheering, and i could see that the guys on my team were excited and running back to the dugout. This meant the inning was over, and it was our time to bat. i jogged on over.

Somehow, you know the way dreams work, i discovered that i was batting fifth. i began to get ready, warming up my swing, getting my helmet situated, and watching the pitcher to see what kind of pace he employed. i saw the faces of some of my friends–they were vaguely familiar, but i cannot now recall any of their names…

And then, i woke up. i wish i could tell you the result of my trip to the plate. But, i haven’t a clue. (Now, most people who know me well would say that’s the moral of the story: “Mike hasn’t a clue.”)

And that probably is it. But as i blinked myself awake, i was immediately impressed more by the experience i was having in the outfield.

In baseball, i notice that the most important statistic is a player’s batting average. It’s what he does at the plate that seems to matter most. If he’s a pitcher we track his “earned run average”, if he’s a shortstop we also track how many double plays he’s been involved in. For an outfielder, we track his batting average and how many times he drops the ball.

It seems like i work kinda hard these days. Long hours, lots of time on the phone. i think i know what i’m doing, but there’s so much that i just can’t control. Also, i watch my family. i like to think that i know what’s going on–i’m the dad, after all–but to tell the truth, i feel more like a spectator than i do a leader. It all goes on, with or without me.

So, in my dream, as i stood in that dark outfield aware of but not really involved in the game that was going on 30 yards away, i think i heard the still, small Voice whispering, “play your position, I AM in control. There’s no way you could understand all I AM doing. Everything you encounter is too big for you. You have a place on the field. Trust me for the processes and for the results. Just play your position.”

Or, something like that.

Teresa told some of us a story last weekend. i think it was the same message, “You won’t understand, it won’t make sense. But, it’s ME.”

Friends, i don’t know what you’ll be doing today, but i’m praying you’ll know that, when your boat starts rocking, Jesus himself will come walking to you on the water, saying, “Peace, be still.”

We pray for all of you, all the time. It is our joy…

Peace!!!

mike

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Abby’s Surprise!

Guion surprised Abby Friday night. i wasn’t there for the surprise itself, so i’m just reporting what i’ve heard.

He developed this elaborate scheme, it seems, so she would be caught totally off-guard. Some other people, Rose & Kemp, Christina, Eric, Emily, Win, Jonathan, Courtney and several others were were enlisted to

A great couple . . .
A great couple . . .

assist in the process. Kemp drew her into the circle and she watched closely as he “planned his proposal to Rose.” All these friends created a perception in order to get her away from the setup at the right time, and then back to the setup when everything was ready. I’ve heard tell of lilies, candles, coffee . . . and there was a ring, too. And, Abby’s house mates were decorating the place for the party after, and her parents were driving over from Davidson, and Windy and i were coming from different parts of North Carolina.

By the time Abby got to the arboretum on the UNC campus, she was thoroughly convinced that she was helping Kemp propose to Rose. So convinced was she, that when Guion appeared, on one knee, with the ring box opened before her, she didn’t believe it was really happening to her.

Caught her flat-footed. The video of them telling the whole story is a hoot. Take a look when you get a minute. It’s in two parts…
part 1
part 2

And, i’ll never forget the look on her face when she walked into her own house and saw her mother there waiting for a hug of approval. Priceless . . .

As i drove across the state late Friday afternoon, i was of course thinking of all Guion’s preparations for this time. He’s been laying the groundwork for weeks and weeks. Talked to Abby’s dad, Jak, and to her mom, Teresa, and her brother and sisters—and even her grandparents. He shared it all with us in frequent phone calls and a few conversations around the table. He wanted this to be one of the best moments and memories of her life.

So, i was thinking of all that as i drove. i thought about how all these people and events and “things” had been orchestrated so that Abby would feel incredibly loved. i was so excited for her. That there would be this moment when she would look around her and everyone she would see would be there because she is so loved.

Made me think of something else, you know…

i thought of that elaborate scheme, hatched so long ago, involving a scared couple camped out in a barn, giving birth to their first child. The family lines went back to David and his crowd so perfectly that you’d have to think even THAT was part of the plan. This child would grow in wisdom and stature, and become a teacher, healer, prophet, priest, and King. And . . . Savior.

And then one day, when i was least expecting it, when all kinds of people had been enlisted to help, and events had been orchestrated, this One (to use Abby’s phrase) stepped out from the crowd and made me an offer i couldn’t refuse. A proposal, if you will.

i thought it was too good to be true. But then i looked around at Lee and Ed and Marilou and Mike and Steve and Dale and so many other friends, and i knew they loved me and they assured me this was all true and the proposal from the Son was real. i never felt so loved.

And as i drove on Friday evening, i remembered that every one of us is loved like that, all the time. i thought about some of my friends who may not yet know that they are loved so intensely—or that they are loved at all, and i thought how we should get a scheme together, or maybe join one that’s already in progress on their behalf. Let’s call it Christmas! Let’s be sure they know it’s for them. That there’s a proposal of love that is dangling in front of them, presented like a ring in a box, theirs for the taking.

And, let’s treat each other like that, and folks different from us, and folks we have only heard about, and folks we’re told should be our enemies.

Congrats Abby & Guion. You are a gifts to me. Another way in which that Baby let’s me know i’m loved.

Season’s Greetings, Happy Holidays, and Merry Christmas.

Praying for all of you always,

mike

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It happens like this . . .

Hi friends.

Some of you are very familiar with Young Life’s ministry. Windy and i have been involved for thirty-something years, and love the work. Tonight is the fund-raising banquet for YL in the Sandhills–Allen Levi will be with us. That’s always a treat for me; we go way back . . .

i pecked out the following last night for the banquet “program.”

It’s a simple strategy really—if you can call it a strategy. It happens like this…

You’re just a kid, hangin’ around school with your friends. One day you begin to hear some buzz around the halls about something called Young Life. You hear it might be something religious so you avoid it like the plague.

Then some friends start to nag you about going to “club” one night, and you figure they’ve lost their minds. So, you make some lame excuse.

After a few weeks of that nagging, you find out that SHE is involved in this Young Life Club thing. SHE is so cool, and beautiful, this thing must be OK. So, you hang a ride with your friends on a Monday night, and off you go. Your mom thinks it’s good ‘cause you kind of pumped up the religious part.

When you get there, you’re amazed at the crowd. Not only are there lots of people there, but all kinds of people are there. You bump around and talk to some folks over the noise, but when the whole thing starts you find a place to sit near the back. They break out guitars and sing some songs you heard on the radio before, and then they play some game where the girls beat the boys with foam baseball bats. You don’t really understand it but everybody is laughing and it IS kind of funny.

Then they sing some more songs and somebody mentions a weekend camp. You don’t really know what that’s about, either, but some people you know kinda get fired up about it. Including HER. Yep.

The last couple of songs are about Jesus or somethin’, and you’re a little uneasy—even though the singing sounds really good. The leader is a guy about nine feet tall. He’s kinda relaxed and cool, so you find it easy to like him. He tells some stories about his family and about when he was growing up, and that’s all kind of funny. He picks up this little book and starts to read from it. You are surprised that all your friends and these other people are listening to a guy read from the Bible! This tall leader makes it seem familiar, and you could almost listen to him read for hours. He talks about what he’s read for a few more minutes, and then he prays. Everybody is quiet for the whole thing! And then, it’s over…

A few days later some guys invite you to come with them to the ball field to play Frisbee with the tall fellow. Everybody runs their legs off, and then heads to Bojangle’s for some tea. From there you get invited to have breakfast with all of them on Thursday before school. The tall guy can give you a ride. It’s just a time when the bros get together and yack about life and God and what it all might mean. Sounds fine to you, so you tell them you’re in.

Two weeks later you’ve gotten to know Greg, the tall guy, fairly well. On the way to your third breakfast with the bros, Greg asks you if you want to go to camp. He says he’s got a spot in his cabin with your name on it. You ask your mom, again pumping up the religious part, and she writes the check.

Camp. That’s one word for it. The place is awesome is what it is. 300 high school folks are there, including HER. You actually get to sit near her on the bus, and you try to be cool.

They have all kinds of stuff to do at this camp, and it’s all crazy fun. Greg is right in the middle of it with you. The food is great, and they have Young Life Clubs, only on steroids! 300 kids singin’ awesome songs and there’s a full band and everything. A cool guy, not as cool as Greg but probably one of his friends, is the speaker at the clubs. He says it all in a way you’ve never heard it before. “It all,” you know, the stuff about Jesus.

Saturday night they give you some time to be by yourself and think about stuff the speaker has said. You find yourself saying thank you to Jesus, and wanting Him to be your friend forever.

On Sunday morning, the Young Life Club seems different somehow. It’s like you have stepped into another world you didn’t know about or understand before. Now you feel at home in it. And you realize what’s happened. You’ve watched Greg and his friends love something, or Someone, and they’ve shown you the way. It’s simple, really.
You were made for this.

Praying for you all, always…

mike

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Keep a rope in the back of your truck . . .

My first stop on today’s journey was to be Mandolin Valley, so i chose the scenic route up Highway 22, through the country.

Most days i drive either two or four hours, and prefer to stay off the Interstates, though i get little to no cell service when i do so. Most days, that’s ok with me, especially the drive home when it’s after business hours anyway. Nobody much expects to reach me or to hear from me after around 6 p.m.

Some days i go straight from home to Bass Lake, in Salisbury, and take 24/27 out of Carthage over through Biscoe and Troy. i love the drive across Tillery and through the Uwharrie Mountains and the National Forest. i stopped at the lake, just before the bridge to take in the scenery one morning this week, and updated my Facebook status. Julia responded that she was at Tillery, but i missed her.

So, today i came up through the woods. Just before the High Falls town limits, the highway crosses Deep River. i always think of it as the Tall Bridge over the Deep River at High Falls. The bridge is certainly much higher than the river is deep there, but from the bridge you can see the spillway up-river where there’s a little dam. The river really is shallow right there, and the water mostly rambles downstream through all the rocks and boulders. Windy would say it’s a nice setting for a picnic.

Several miles up the road from the Tall Bridge over Deep River at High Falls, is Coleridge. This is a small, quiet community with a beautiful, fairly new, elementary school and a little gas station/convenience store. North of Coleridge, along Hwy. 22, there are several farms, and somebody’s cows had gotten out just south of Parks Crossing. Some fellas were out there discussing what to do, and it provided some awesome entertainment for me.

That reminded me that a woman came into the office at Bass Lake on Monday to say that there was a cow loose just down the road at the river crossing, and asked if it was ours. “Not ours,” i said, wishing it were, though. We have some pasture already fenced that could support maybe as many as four.

Note to self: get a good length of rope for the next time you encounter cows on the loose, and always keep that rope in the back of the truck!

Further up the highway i was a bit offended by the Brahman bull in one of the pastures over there. i mumbled something like “you ain’t from around here, are ya boy?” i’m just accustomed to seeing those big, Black Angus bulls around here. The Brahman did make me remember, for some reason, that Grace is in India, and i smiled about that and forgave the bull for being there.

Jesse brought 60 watermelons and his wife Virginia to Banjo yesterday. 4th of July, you know. We have fresh corn, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, squash, onions, cantaloupes, and some other stuff in the store up there now. Garden fresh, you know. Marion says the Banjo Garden will yield some good stuff soon, and we can’t wait.

Monday night i got home around eight. i dumped my two computers and assorted other junk i carry around all the time, and went straight to the garden. There were a couple of squash ready to pull, and i took them inside to wash them. Sliced, salted and peppered, i put them in a pan with some butter, and was eating them along with my steak within half an hour after they were pulled. That was sort of my vision for the garden; eating fresh food from it often. i did tell Windy i’d love to have a squash casserole on Christmas Day with squash we’d put up from our own garden. It’s in the freezer now.

My friend Murf was always fond of talking to the boys about “green-housing” their souls. i like that idea. It speaks to me of taking in the right food (for the soul) and sinking deep roots, and paying more attention to the private life than to the public life. Gordon MacDonald says many of us are so “out there” that much of what we are is mostly public, to the neglect of our “private worlds.”

Eating fresh from the garden made me think some about staying close to the Source, and keeping the cows inside the fence, so-to-speak. i pray for all of us that this season in our lives will find us in the greenhouse, close to the Source, and keeping the cows eating the home-grown hay instead of that ever-enticing green grass by the road side. Jesus is the lover of our souls.

Peace, friends. Prayers for you always,

mike

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So, you want a garden? Plant it!

If the garden is tilled, fed, watered, and fenced, but nothing is planted there, is it still a garden?

Or is it just a garden plot.

We started the seeds in the house, in little seedling cups. All except for the tomatos, which Laura and Larry gave us as plants. When the time seemed right (no more really cold weather), we transplanted everything outside. Everything is arranged in rows pretty much. We drew a diagram so we could keep up with what’s what.

And we poured the water to it. For over a week we thought the tomatos weren’t going to make it. Imperceptible growth. Ditto squash, peppers, peas & beans, lettuce, cucumbers, and onions.

Jesse told me not to panick. “It’s the roots that are growing now. They’re finding the food and getting set up for the growin’.”

So, i went out there and spoke to the garden. This was over a week after planting. “Is this gonna work? i mean, are you gonna hold it against us that we don’t really know what we’re doing? Are you gonna let any of this live and produce?”

The garden said, “Go away. I know what I’m doin’. And, hey, back off the water a little, will ya?”

You know, i don’t like to be talked to like that. Especially by dirt that’s 3 parts cow poo. Made me mad, boy. i went in the house, bypassing the water spigget.

That was a few weeks ago. It’s rained some, and been hot some. We’ve only watered a couple of times since then.

Look at this:

Snagged these today, 6/14
Snagged these today, 6/14

i guess there might be something to that part about the roots needing time.

Caleb and i were yackin’ about “dry times” and it reminded me of the garden and of my grass, too. Somebody told me that when you deprive plants of water, the roots go deeper looking for it, and the plant gets stronger. Maybe in dry times or tough times in our lives, our soul goes looking for the grace and mercy to make it through.

Come on Grace and Mercy!

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Back to the garden . . .

We really worked hard to prepare the ground for that garden. i mean, we worked hard at it. Roots, rocks, weeds, ivy…you name it, we yanked it out of there.

And, we tilled-in 300 pounds of composted cow poo. Organic, you know.

Then, for a couple of weeks i would drive up at the end of the day, grab all my stuff from the truck, and run to the fence to look at the garden.

Nothing was growing. Dang.

And it dawned on me one day that there was probably a reason for that. We hadn’t planted anything yet!

One of my friends used to say we need to give God something to bless. We need to show up. i guess he’s right.

There are lots of things i’m not good at that i have to do anyway. i resist doing those things, preferring instead to get someone else to do them while i go about the things for which i think i’m better suited. Sometimes, though, i’m the one who is  . . . well, it’s like they asked for volunteers and everyone else took a step backwards!

When i’m doing things i’m not good at, i feel like my shoes are on the wrong feet or something. Maybe i have to be more intentional about asking God to come alongside me when i’m doing those things.

Or, maybe i should realize (as i might be right now) that it is i coming alongside God whatever i’m doing.

Jesus said “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 ESV -italics added)

Go figger . . .

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i shaved my head

Yep, i shaved it a few weeks ago. It was a medical thing. Nothing serious, they just needed access to that which lies below what was left of my hair.

Here’s some advice: if you ever have to shave your head, don’t look in the mirror. It’s a scary thing.

When i looked in the mirror i was reminded of a physics lesson i had early in my childhood. See, i had taken a running leap off that brick porch a thousand times. At take-off i could sail through the air, arms stretched out in front of me Superman style, for what seemed like hundreds of feet – maybe 20 seconds of hang-time. Well, either that or something else.

So, i figured, if one can run and jump OFF the porch, shouldn’t one be able to run and jump back ONTO the porch? Strapping on my flying cape, i got another running start, and jumped with all my might.

The concrete corner of the porch was about head-high on me, and that’s where i got my first stitches. Who knew gravity had such an attitude?

When i shaved my head, i saw that scar. And several others. i’m a slow learner i guess.

Trials, i think, are like a spiritual head-shaving. When we see the scars, we might recall the corresponding failures or mistakes or accidents that created them. And we can learn.

My wife and my mom tell me my shaved head is beautiful, scars and all. That’s what they’re supposed to say. Amy Carmichael said this:

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And piercèd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

She was a missionary in India for more than 50 years. She followed far.

Some of us have scars from self-inflicted wounds. i guess those are the toughest to think about. That’s my challenge.

Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus three times one “crucial” evening, knew he was in trouble the minute that rooster crowed. Talk about self-inflicted… Jesus restored Peter, and used him in a huge way to build the Kingdom.

When we pray for all our friends every day, we ask that Jesus will reveal Himself to you, and that you’ll see Him clearly and know Him better.

The scars? When we look up to Him, our eyes are off the mirror.

Hope you are all doing well. You are in our prayers always.

Peace!!!

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The Bunny

We have a bunny. Well, actually, we don’t have him so much as he has us. i saw him in the yard last week, the day after Easter. Interesting timing . . .

We’ve known this bunny, sort of, for more than a dozen years. He took up with us so many years ago and we’d see him sitting out in the yard frequently back then. He’s grown, of course, into quite a healthy fella. i call this bunny “him” because “his” behavior is decidedly male.

See, the circumstances surrounding the bunny taking up with us are such that, i think you’ll agree he has to be a masculine bunny.

A friend was looking at our front yard one day and told us she had just the thing we needed. She left and returned in a while with a little concrete bunny about the size of a football. We nestled the little bunny under a holly bush near the front steps. “It” looked comfortable there.

It wasn’t long until we noticed that nearly every evening a live bunny would appear sitting right beside the concrete bunny under that bush! We thought it was hilarious and imagined “conversations” between the two. We figured these chats probably followed a similar pattern to those of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby of Uncle Remus fame. The real bunny probably spoke in frustrated tones about how the concrete bunny NEVER spoke. Not giving up, Real Bunny kept coming back every dusk, sitting right beside “his” friend. i admired his determination. It seemed as though he had set his cap for “her” (Concrete Bunny), and would not be deterred.

So, it was good to see him back last week. i’ve noticed him hopping around near the Leland Cypress trees in the side yard. Windy has seen him too.

i have to say, though, the sight of Real Bunny has saddened me in a way. His relationship with Concrete Bunny must leave several things to be desired. For one thing, it’s the need to be known that he must be missing. Concrete Bunny may show some interest, but that interest can only exist in Real Bunny’s mind. It can’t be real. Isn’t that sad? It means that this gentleman bunny, romanticized in our memories, is leading a sadly delusional existence.

Oops. i’m afraid my real sadness is that Real Bunny has shown me something about my own life. About how i set my affections, all too often, on things that aren’t real. i hate it when that happens. Today i’ll seek what’s real out there, and get in touch.

Real Bunny, thanks, i think. i wish you a deep life full of real relationships. If possible, i’d love for you to know your Creator.

i’ll leave some food for you by the redbud tree this evening. Take care; we’ll have heavy rain today. Peace!

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