Visit to the Smokey Mountains

In November of 2014, we drove to Tennessee to visit my 91-year-old Aunt Evelyn, and 95-year-old Uncle Bert for their 70th wedding anniversary. During that trip, we made a trek into a portion of the Smokey Mountains south of Knoxville, and that’s a spectacular part of God’s creation!

“The Smokies”, as they are often called, are a portion of the Appalachian Mountains which runs from Canada to Alabama. In the area of Lenoir, Sevier, Townsend, and Pigeon Forge, we saw beautiful scenery that far surpasses any televised armchair travelogue. (Pigeon Forge has been built up to be a lot like Branson, MO.)

Near Townsend, we took an excursion up the Foothills Parkway. Stopping at a turnoff to gawk at the beauty, we saw a red Toyota with a man inside watching us. As I approached him, he rolled down his window and asked, “How you folks doin?” And we formed a friendship.

His name is DH Tipton. Pointing southeast, he said, “I come up here every week to look at the beauty of God’s nature. See that hill right over there ‘bout a mile off? I was born there 81 years ago. I’m the last from a large family, and by the time I was born my momma ran out of names. So she just called me ‘DH’, and that’s my name: DH Tipton. DH don’t stand for anything. You should’ve seen the looks on the faces of my friends in the Army Corps of Engineers when I told them ‘DH IS my name.’ And yep, I’m a native who was born over there, right near what is now called the Foothills Parkway.”

Quoting from the Blue Ridge Highlander, “The Foothills Parkway West is a 17-mile long section of the Parkway that travels along the backbone of the Chilhowee Mountain between Chilhowee Lake and the town of Townsend in Blount County.  From this vantage point you can view not only the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to the southeast, visitors can also enjoy views of the huge and grand valley lands of the Tennessee River Valley bordered by the long plateau of the Cumberland Mountains to the northwest.”

This mountain range is famous for its smoky haze that is actually a perpetual fog. DH said, “Anyone from California, New York, or any densely populated area thinks this haze is air pollution. But it’s not. It’s been here before man arrived. But now that I mentioned it, air pollution has been invading these parts. Visibility has been reduced by smog blowing in from both the Southeast and the Midwest.”

Over 9,000,000 people visit the Smoky Mountains National Park each year, which makes it the most visited park in the country. Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet, is the highest peak in the Smokies. It’s the highest peak in Tennessee and the third highest in the Appalachian range. However, Mount Le Conte is an impressive sight: although it reaches an altitude of only 6,593 feet, it towers more than a mile over the town of Gatlinburg located at its base. That reminds me of Sandia Crest which towers a mile above Albuquerque, NM.

As we drove through the mountains, we would often “catch a glimpse” of a valley, waterfall, or steep mountainside in its pristine beauty. Schedules are a necessary part of life, but as we drove through this part of God’s creation, we decided to modify the schedule. We wanted to see more.

But time eventually ran out and we continued our trek. We drove to Sevierville and ate at the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant. This restaurant has a far-reaching reputation, and we found out why: the service and the food are GOOD!

We were continually amazed at the magnificence of God during that trip through the Smokies. I know many folks who think that amoebas, salamanders, fish, dinosaurs, man, the earth, and the entire cosmos just happened to materialize out of some mythical and mysterious big bang. But when we stop and think about it both logically and scientifically, we know it’s impossible for stuff (atoms, molecules, stars, galaxies) to appear out of nothing. And it’s also impossible for rocks to morph into life.

The excellent fish dinner I ate at the Applewood Restaurant didn’t just happen to become a cooked meal and plop onto my plate. It took planning and work. Also, life didn’t just happen to exist: it took planning and work. God did both the planning and work. (The staff at the Applewood Restaurant cooked the fish.)

Visit the Smokies if you can, and check out the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant in Sevierville, TN. You’ll enjoy the trip and the food.

A Life Saved

I don’t know the best way to describe this man, but his life was a mess. I’ll call him Joe. He was recently fired from his job, and his wife filed for a divorce with a corresponding restraining order. His children – one was nine years old and the other fifteen – were afraid of him. Simply put, he was an alcoholic and was abusive to his wife and kids.

Joe started drinking alcohol in elementary school by sneaking it when his parents were away from home. Oh, the family went to church and put on a good façade for the community; and most folk thought they were a fine family. Very few people knew the mental and spiritual torment the family was experiencing.

Because they had their own problems, Joe’s parents didn’t learn of his alcohol problem until Joe left home. After Joe’s parents’ messy divorce, his father committed suicide.

As Joe entered adulthood, he prided himself in being able to drink on the job, yet effectively perform his vocational responsibilities. As with so many alcoholics, he thought he was hiding the problem; but his friends, vocational associates, and family were covering for him.

Let me say here: “protecting” the alcoholic is the worst thing anyone can do for him or her: it prevents potential recovery. We shouldn’t condemn the alcoholic, but don’t cover for them.

Joe’s life went from bad to worse. I won’t go into the details, but the police department began building a file on him. Then Joe remembered his dad. Swearing early in life never to be like his father, Joe had, in reality, become just like him. Now, thinking there was nothing left in life for him, Joe found himself considering the same final action: suicide.

He stole a pistol and ammunition, robbed a liquor store (took whiskey and money), and went to a motel in a run-down part of town. Sitting on the edge of the bed with loaded weapon in hand, he thought maybe he should write a note to explain to whoever found him why he did it. Opening the top drawer in the nightstand to get a pen and paper, he became angry when he realized that the cheap motel wouldn’t even provide writing material. But he did see a book in the drawer.

Curiosity prompted him to look into the book before killing himself, so he picked it up to see what it was about. The title on the cover said, “Holy Bible”, and there was a round logo on the bottom with the words, “Placed by The Gideons.”

“Who are they?” Joe wondered as he opened the Bible. It seemed to fall open to the Gospel of John, and Joe began reading something he had never read before: “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Joe wondered who the Word was, so he kept reading. Verse fourteen started with, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”

This was all new to Joe. Having nothing to lose, he decided to read a lot more before ending his miserable existence. By the time Joe had finished reading the Gospel of John, it was getting light outside and tears were running down his face. Something was happening inside of him. He blurted out, “Do you love me, Jesus?” No Answer.

Hiding the firearm, Joe called a local church. “There’s probably no one there to answer my questions” he muttered to himself. But amazingly, the pastor answered the phone. After listening for several minutes, the pastor invited Joe to breakfast. Time with the pastor lasted through lunch and into dinner. Joe finally met someone who could answer many of the questions he had asked for most of his life.

Because of that Gideon Bible, Joe reached out for help.

At thirty-eight years of age, Joe was introduced to Jesus Christ and Joe’s torment was over. Don’t misunderstand: he still had many issues to face and reconcile; but the pastor promised to walk with him every step of the way if Joe would give him the gun and whisky, and permit him to call the police. Joe did, and his healing began.

God’s word in that Bible, backed up by someone who cared, saved Joe’s life. This is only one of many thousands of real-life examples of how the Lord saves and changes lives.

If you are facing frustration, misery, and confusion, don’t end your life. Instead, start a new life with the One Who loves you and died for you. Turn to Jesus. He might not solve all your problems, but He can guide you and help you do what’s necessary to solve them. And find a Christ-honoring friend who can lead you in the right direction.

Your future doesn’t need to look bleak – it can look bright.

Is Anyone Normal?

The study of psychiatric abnormality, the diagnosis of abnormality, and the medicating of those deemed not normal is a big business today. Two major prongs of study are that of autism and ADHD. Controversy overshadows each one because as humorist Patsy Clairmont said, “Normal is only a setting on a dryer.”

Let’s talk about normality and ADHD.

One report says, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder of childhood. It affects about 3 – 5% of school aged children. ADHD is diagnosed much more often in boys than in girls.” The report says that the symptoms fall into three basic groups: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Did anything in that last paragraph catch your attention? Let me rephrase it. Inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are more prevalent in boys than in girls. Surprise? No. Any parent in the past 6,000 years could tell us the same thing without a multimillion-dollar study. Boys are generally more restless, noisier, and have a harder time paying attention. That’s the nature of boys. So why is it called a disorder?

A medical definition of disorder is: “A disturbance or derangement that affects the function of mind or body. Also, to disturb the normal physical or mental health of someone.”

Dear reader, if that is the proper medical definition, then I submit to you that boys do not have the disorder: rather boys are the disorder. (I am joking.)

Historically parents taught children to obey and to respect their elders. When they disobeyed or were overly disorderly, they were disciplined in some manner. And the human race trucked right along for thousands of years without having to drug any hyperactive or inattentive rascal. And hyperactive boys (okay: some girls, too) somehow managed to grow up into decent law-abiding citizens who, in turn, learned how to harness their own children’s energy. But a change was made in the 1950s.

Under the leadership of several medical doctors and psychiatrists – Dr. Benjamin Spock one of them – a new parental paradigm emerged. My over-simplified version is this: Allow the little ones to develop into their own person. Don’t attempt to mold them or their little psyches may be damaged in the process.

Well, the new parental paradigm evolved under the leadership of the evolving American Psychiatric Association, and in 1980 they coined the now popular term: ADHD. That seemed to be a wonderful solution, for parents were finally absolved from the responsibilities of teaching and disciplining their offspring.

Reacting to the fear of being abnormal, they can have their little blossoms drugged into submission. And now over 1,000,000 kids may be inappropriately diagnosed as having ADHD, with over 800,000 of them receiving behavioral medication. The behavioral modification drugging continues until the person learns to control himself. But drugs do not help in the long run. The absence of child-discipline and inappropriate methods of discipline are a major factor in crime today.

I agree with Dr. Dale Archer who said, “I’m not opposed to medication to treat those with severe symptoms, but does 1 out of every 12 kids really have ADHD?” He continues, “The National Institute of Mental Health has found that 26 percent of Americans (1 in 4) have a diagnosable psychiatric illness. The only word for that is ‘ludicrous.’”

I agree. Hyperactivity is not an abnormality, nor is it a disorder. It is simply human. We need to understand human nature; but in the process, teach children to obey and accept their responsibilities of living in society.

Hyperactivity is good and is one of the drivers of societal progress. We must help people understand that it is okay not to be normal. The CEOs of many companies have been diagnosed with ADHD, but that didn’t inhibit them from fulfilling their dreams. As Dr. Archer said, “Being different can make us exceptional.”

I recently took the ADHD test and was classified as “boarder-line ADHD.” But I found that the lowest possible rating (out of five steps) is “No ADHD likely.”

Did you understand that? That means the tests are rigged to make everyone at least suspect—thus, upping the disorder count. But that also means a mild ADHD diagnosis is normal. So, what’s the problem?

Folks, let’s train and discipline our children. Let’s teach them to be orderly and to obey. It presents greater long-term benefits than drugging them.

How’s Your Attitude?

The longer I live, the more I realize how important our attitude is. Our attitude is more important than our past, our circumstance in life, education, skills, good looks (or bad), and more important than what people think of us. Our attitude can determine the success or failure of a church, business, or home.

We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can always choose our attitude; therefore, our responses.

Charles Swindoll on his Insight For Living broadcast said, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to the circumstances.” I agree with him, and that’s why problems seldom trouble me. (However, contrary to popular opinion, I do get bothered sometimes. That’s why I, also, need encouragement.)

Some years ago, I read of a man who received life-threatening injuries when someone robbed his store and shot him. As Jerry was being prepared for emergency surgery, he noticed the grim look on the doctor’s face. When the doctor asked Jerry if he was allergic to anything, in his dangerously weakened condition Jerry mumbled, “Yes. I am allergic to – bullets. Operate on me as though I will live.”

At first the doctor smiled, then laughed and said, “I’ll do my best for you, but it is your golden attitude that will bring you through.”

Yes, Jerry did make a full recovery, and his attitude mirrored another Swindoll quote: “The remarkable thing is, we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. And attitude governs the way you perceive the world, and the way the world perceives you.”IMG_0091

Do you know how your attitude works for or against you? Very simply: When a person is happy, certain endorphins and hormones are secreted which produce clear thinking, enhance pleasure, and reduce physical pain. When a person is upset, other endorphins and hormones are secreted which enhance anxiety and increase pain.

Years ago, I encountered a man who harshly confronted me. Afterwards, one of our daughters asked, “Daddy, how did you keep from blowing up when that man attacked you like that?” I answered, “Oh, he wasn’t upset with me. He was ticked off about something else.”

At that, she asked, “Is that one of your mind-games?” Laughing, I said, “It might be, or it might be the result of a decision I made to not let people bother me. Then I leave the results up to God. I know He can take care of me, and that’s my primary reason for having a good attitude.”

A good attitude is a decision I make based on my faith in Jesus Christ. And I have to make the decision several times every day.

When I was told that there are many factors which contribute to bad attitudes, I said, “The difficult part is, most of us have been programmed as a child to respond in a negative manner. We also are born in sin with an innate selfish mindset. So we start life with a double-whammy that we must overcome: 1) we must learn to overcome the negative, and 2) we must ask God to forgive us for our own sin and help us to become like Jesus. Then we have a foundation from which to work. It isn’t always easy, but it can be done.”

So, how do we generate and keep a good attitude?

4 generation Linzeys0016bMy father taught me, “Son, you think and feel the way you dress and act. So purposely dress nicely, make correct decisions, keep happy thoughts in your mind, and live for the Lord.” Even though I’ve made mistakes, that counsel has served me well.

A poor attitude generates low self-esteem; but a good attitude with enthusiasm brightens your life, and brightens the attitudes of others around you. So treat others the way you would like to be treated, and don’t be concerned if they don’t reciprocate. Either way you will be a healthier, happier person.

Psalm 42:5 says, “Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled? I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him, my savior and my God.” Also, Psalm 103:2 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and don’t forget the benefits of serving God.”

So believe in, and actively trust in God. Loving God and loving people are the foundation for good attitudes. That reminds me of the chorus of a song Bill Gaither wrote:

Loving God, loving each other; making music with my friends.

Loving God, loving each other; and the story never ends.

Panic Attack!

[Truth waiver: This article is a simplified compilation of various doctors’ reports with my own commentary interwoven.]

What is a panic attack? Panic attacks are malfunctions of appropriate responses. Panic is a response to danger or threat. Short term panic or anxiety is called the fight/flight response because all of its effects are aimed toward either fighting or fleeing the danger. The number one purpose for panic and anxiety is for protection. Example: if you were crossing a street with a car speeding toward you blasting its horn, and you experienced absolutely no anxiety, you would be killed. However, your fight/flight response would take over and you would scramble off the street. The purpose of anxiety is to protect us, not to harm us.

What causes a panic attack? Determining the cause of panic attacks is difficult because panic and anxiety are natural responses, and we all respond differently. However, panic becomes a problem when it occurs for apparently no reason. When our brain senses danger or possible harm, it reacts with an “act-now-think-later” response that causes a heightened emotional agitation. This can bring on a panic attack which is a response of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and multiple symptoms appear; but those suffering from panic attacks must attempt to determine the cause of unjust or irrational panic.

What are the symptoms? Panic manifests itself through three separate systems. Identifying these symptoms will enable the person to learn to gain control.

  • The mental system (includes feelings of nervousness, anxiety and panic and also includes thoughts such as “there is something wrong”). The number one effect of the fight/flight response is to alert us to the possible existence of danger. Thus, one of the major effects is an immediate and automatic shift in attention to search the surroundings for potential threat. Although sometimes an obvious threat cannot be found, most humans cannot accept having no explanation for something. Therefore, in many cases, when people cannot find an explanation for their sensations, they turn their search upon themselves and often come up with the wrong answer.
  • The physical system (includes all the physical symptoms such as dizziness, sweating, palpitations, chest pain, breathlessness, and much more). When some sort of danger is perceived or anticipated, the brain sends messages to a section of your nerves called the autonomic nervous system which is directly involved in controlling the body’s energy levels and preparation for action. When you perceive a danger or threat, your body prepares itself for fight or flight, and adrenaline is pumped into the veins.
  • The behavioral system (includes primarily escape and avoidance). As mentioned before, the fight/flight response prepares the body for action – either to attack or to run. Thus, it is no surprise that the overwhelming urges associated with this response are those of aggression and a desire to escape wherever you are. When escape is not possible, the urges will often be shown through such behaviors as foot tapping, pacing or aggression towards others. Overall, the person feels trapped and wants to escape.

In panic attacks the physical system becomes the most important since these are the symptoms which are most easily mistaken as indicating some serious disease.

What does a panic attack feel like? When a person has a panic attack, they feel a need to escape. They can think something awful might happen like death, heart attack, not being able to breathe, losing control, or becoming embarrassed. A panic attack causes the fastest and most complex reaction known within the human body. The symptoms of panic attack include immediate alteration of the functioning of the eyes, several major glands, the brain, the heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, pancreas, kidneys and bladder, and the major muscle groups. The cardiovascular system is launched into overdrive, and the rate of respiration increases. The metabolism is increased, and excess amounts of sugars and fatty acids are released into the bloodstream. This physical response can lead to emotional responses such as the belief that one is dying. Generally speaking, the more physical symptoms one has during an attack, the more emotionally devastating a panic attack can be.

What should a person do when he feels the attack is coming on? Because panic attacks are created by an overly emotional response, thinking it through can help calm the panicky feelings. The AWARE method is based on this idea and it works in this way:

Accept that you are having a panic attack.

Watch the attack as it unfolds.

Act normally—continue doing whatever you were doing.

Repeat these steps until the attack has subsided.

Expect the best.

The key to being free from panic attacks: You Must Learn To Break The Fear Of Having Another Panic Attack Or You Will Never Experience Complete Freedom From Anxiety.

Are You Creating a Legacy?

Are you creating a legacy? That’s actually an invalid question, because you ARE creating DSCN1350ba legacy. There are two kinds: physical and spiritual. So, what kind and what quality of a legacy are you creating?

Webster’s dictionary says legacy is defined as something received from an ancestor or predecessor, or from the past. It also refers to the memory of those who have passed from this life and to what contributions they made to society while they were alive; and that reflects on the person’s character. So, if you were to leave this life in one, five, ten, or fifteen years from now, what legacy would you like to leave? How would you like to be remembered?

A funeral setting might help you think about it. When the person (parent, relative, friend, neighbor, whomever) in the casket was lowered into the ground and you left the cemetery, what left with you? Money? Land? Clothing? No. So if none of that left the cemetery with you, what did?  MEMORIES! The person’s character – exemplary or disappointing – does not get buried, but remains in the minds of all those who know him or her – or even know OF him.

I’ve read about a funeral where the talk of the town was how much the man loved people and how much he will be missed. Hundreds of people attended the funeral. But although the deceased didn’t have a penny to his name, he left a rich legacy. Another time I observed the funeral of a wealthy man where the attendance was minimal – not even all the family was there. Oh, they got their inheritance – the physical portion of the legacy – but the spiritual side was bankrupt. In that case the talk of the town was how the world will be better off without him.

Sadly, in the second funeral, even the money (physical legacy) that was left to the heirs will not, in the long run, help them live better lives. Their bitterness (spiritual legacy) will lead them to use their money unwisely, and they will be left with nothing but disappointing memories.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not against money: I could use a little more of it, myself.

That reminds me of what Tevye said in Fiddler On The Roof: “If money is a disease, may God smite me with it; and may I never recover!” Yes, that was intended to be humorous. In that film, Tevye’s legacy was (in spite of his faults): stability within the community.

Another way to view a legacy is a launching pad. It takes thousands of workers to build our rockets and space shuttles. I was on several of those teams. Each person designs, programs, or builds his own portion, then hands it (the legacy) to someone who takes the product to the next level. There is always someone who will pick up where we leave off. If we do our part well, we have created a good legacy. Then when all the parts are finally assembled into a rocket and space shuttle and placed on the launching pad, what happens? If the vehicle is assembled properly the passengers will safely reach the space station, the moon, or whatever destination has been programmed.

So, what legacy are you creating for those who come after you? Remember, the physical legacy is needed and helpful if used wisely. But it needs the support of a wholesome spiritual legacy to fully help family, friends, and society. Someone is going to take what you hand them and build on it. So, what do you have to give?

A.W. Tozer once said, “When a man of God dies, nothing of God dies. The legacy of the man lives on!”

Paul said in Galatians 6:7, “You will always reap what you sow.” And it has been proven throughout history that others will be either blessed or hurt by how we live. Proverbs 11:18 tells us that if we do what is right, we will be rewarded. Proverbs 22:9 informs us that those who share what they have with others will be blessed. Those three verses talk about our legacy.

So, what is the name of the legacy are you creating? Selfishness? Hedonism? Monetary? Loving? Giving? Godly? Altruism? Think about it: will people remember you for what you gave them, or for who you are? How will you be remembered?

The answer to that question will be your legacy.

A Day At A Time

Carol and I recently completed a ten-month trip around this wonderful country. Starting the trip with 30,159 miles on the odometer, we ended the trip with 52,143. Simple math says that we drove 21,984 miles. However, the trailer we pulled logged only 9,105 miles which reveals that every time we parked the trailer, we did a lot of other traveling. Moss does not grow on our wheels.

And a special note: after ten months of being cooped up in a 23-foot trailer with each other, Carol and I are still deeply in love with each other.

In those 10 months and almost 22,000 miles, we were blessed with no major malfunctions in the trailer, car, or driver. Although we missed a turn here and there – excuse me, I missed a turn here and there – we never got lost. We just recalibrated our GPS, made a correction, and kept on trucking. We took the trip one day at a time and enjoyed it.

That reminds me of my Uncle Bert. In April of 2014 we visited him, Aunt Evelyn, cousin Cathy and her husband, Curtis on our way to Washington, D.C. We hadn’t seen them for several years and were looking forward to this visit.

Uncle Bert – a United States Marine, a poet, and a former minister with the Church of Christ pictured here with his daughter, Cathy – was 94-years-old, and he delighted us with his quick wit and good memory. He spent some time regaling us with stories of the past including memories of Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal in World War II.

But what fascinated me most about Uncle Bert was his devotion to Jesus Christ and his wonderful ability to play the piano at 94 years of age. When he asked if I had read his poem A Day At A Time, I told him I had not. He brought it out, and it made a strong impression on me as I read it. He gave me an autographed copy and gave me permission to use it any time I thought it might help people.

Here it is. Please read it and consider the message:

A Day At A Time:

I take life a day at a time,

That’s the way it’s given to me.

Don’t make plans too far down the line,

Today’s good enough, don’t you see?

I may be here on the morrow,

And then again, I may not.

But my heart’s not filled with sorrow,

For life’s given me a lot.

For my Father’s in control,

And He’s been so good to me.

He gave His Son to save my soul,

His Grace is sufficient for me.

So I take each day that He gives me,

And fill it to the brim

Until He comes to take me

To go and live with Him.

Why did it make such an impression on me? Uncle Bert wrote it in 1991 – twenty-three years earlier! Not only is it filled with hope, faith, and confidence in the Lord, but it was as true in his life at 94 years of age as it was when he was 71. And it is true in my life, as well.

The poem reminds me of a song that starts with these words: “One day at a time, Dear Jesus; that’s all I’m asking of you.” But because we humans are easily prone to get stressed out, I think Jesus would respond by saying, “On the Contrary: One day at a time, Dear Christian; that’s all I’m asking of YOU.” Scripture exhorts us to take a day at a time, for Jesus said in Matthew 6:34 “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s concerns are enough for today.”

Jesus isn’t telling us not to plan for tomorrow, next week, or next year. He is simply exhorting us not to worry about anything. If our faith is truly grounded in Jesus Christ, and if we know that He cares for us, we will not worry.

Not only does worrying contradict our faith in God, it damages our physical bodies. It also blocks the creativity we need to solve today’s problems. So read the poem again, and ask the Lord to help you to truly trust in Him.

Aunt Evelyn graduated to heaven in her mid-nineties, and Uncle Bert when he was 99. I hope to see Cathy and Curtis again in this life, but I’ll see Uncle Bert and Aunt Evelyn in heaven.

Until then, I’ll just take life a day at a time.

Take Time to Relax

Get your coffee or tea, sit back, prop up your feet, and relax while I reminisce for five minutes.

Several years ago, Carol and I spent a month in Southern California assisting with some family issues. As a native of San Diego, I don’t visit California without visiting the coast. Watching the waves roll in with the accompanying sound of the surf is therapeutic for me. I can sit for hours watching the ocean; it changes from one minute to the next. What some people call “the pounding surf” is actually music to my ears.IMG_0151

I also like to walk on the beach, especially at low tide, and collect shells. Sand-dollars are my favorite, but any pretty unbroken shell goes into my plastic bag. Many people collect sand dollars and use them in their hobbies and craft-work. They are commonly used in creating home décor: wedding favors and place cards are high on the list. Some paint beach scenes, sunsets or put personalized messages on them. But I collect the shells, clean them, and give them to family members and to children who don’t know how to find the unbroken ones.

It’s amazing to see how many people like to go surfing. No, I don’t mean surfing the internet or television. These men and women ride their surfboards (from 6 to 12 feet long) for hours, day-after-day trying to “catch the big wave.” The boards are usually tied to their ankles so they don’t get away when the surfers get dumped. Their wet-suits keep them relatively warm, but they also reduce sunburn.

Remember The Beach Boys? They enhanced the popularity of surfing by writing and singing their 1963 hit: “Surfin’ USA.” The words to the second verse are:

“You’d catch ‘em surfin at Del Mar (Inside, outside, U.S.A.), Ventura County line, Santa Cruz and Tressels, Australia’s Narabine, All over Manhattan, And down Doheny way: Everybody’s gone surfin’ — Surfin’ U.S.A.”

Many of those dedicated surfin’ souls hit the water at sunup, and surfed until they needed to eat or tuckered themselves out. And as I watched them, I couldn’t help but hear the refrain running through my mind: “Everybody’s gone surfin’ — Surfin’ U.S.A.”

Carol and I enjoyed walking on the second-longest wooden pier on the west coast (a DSCN12901,954-foot-long pier in Oceanside), eating at Ruby’s Restaurant at the end, and watching the California Brown Pelicans go fishing. They would circle an area where the school of fish were, fly to about twenty feet above the water, then drop like a dive-bomber – folding their wings before they hit the water. Under water, they immediately open their beaks and scoop up fish. Surfacing, they swallow their hapless prey, then start the process over. Many times thirty or forty pelicans were fishing simultaneously.

Where the pelicans were diving, there was often a flock of California Cormorants sitting on the water. They would dip below the surface, swim to the school of fish, grab their share of the meal, then resurface. To everyone’s delight, the dolphins would often show up. Everyone liked seeing the dolphins surfacing; leisurely taking a breath of air between gulps of fish. And, of course, the ever-present sea-gulls were squawking as they fought for the left-over food. For that group, it was definitely first-come-first-served! On our last walk on the pier, we saw a school of anchovies swimming around the pier. The school was about fifty-feet in diameter and perhaps twenty-feet deep.

No fishing license is required while fishing on the pier, and we saw people from many DSCN1358different countries tending their fishing poles. Sand-perch, sting-rays, skates, mackerel, and anchovies were the common catch on that trip.

Thinking of fishing makes me hungry, so I’ll remind you: the food in Ruby’s Restaurant at the end of the Oceanside, California Pier is very good!

I remember another trip we made to the Coast in January of 1993 for my Grandmother Linzey’s funeral. The weather in Southern California was mild, as it usually is, and Michael (our son who was ten at the time) said, “Dad, a California winter is like a New Mexico summer!” Indeed, it was. The temperature was around 73o F on the Southern California coast at the time.

That’s enough reminiscing for now. This evening, why don’t you sit back, relax, and take time to review some of your memories?

The Real Story

You think you know the story in Luke 15:11-32 because you’ve heard it a hundred times? Keep reading, because this time you might be surprised. Bear with me as I put the story in a modern setting.

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A man was successful as a rancher and in his investments, and his family had everything they wanted that money could buy. He had two sons, George and Jake: both of whom secretly disrespected dad, and openly hated each other.

Disillusioned with life, one day George, the younger boy, said, “Dad, I’ve thought it over and I want nothing to do with ranching. I want to live my own life without you telling me what to do. Give me my half of the inheritance and I’ll get out of your life!

The dad evaluated his business, sold enough stock that was equal to half his worth, and gave it to rebellious George. Jake was ecstatic! Now everything the old man owned was his, and he would do everything he could to build the business; for he was now heir to it all!

Over the next four years, George spent his money on prostitutes, cars, gambling, drugs and alcohol. He flew around the country and around the world  visiting the best casinos. The owners got to know him and welcomed him with open arms as they offered him free alcohol and free rooms for him and his current partner. Thinking that his friends loved him, he lavished his time and money on them, too.

But he forgot something: continual outflow, without a corresponding inflow, will dry up the money-flow. And it happened to George. Now penniless, he realized he needed a job – anything that might provide enough money for another drug fix, bottle of booze, or cheap sex.

With a four-year history of extravagant but shameful living, no one would hire him; and all the friends he thought his money had bought had deserted him. Totally abandoned, he figured that suicide was his best option. But as he began to make the plan, a thought entered his beleaguered mind: “Maybe dad will hire me to repair fences, or something. There’s enough to do on the ranch where I can stay out of his way.”

He called home from the Salvation Army office. When he asked dad if he could come home, his father said, “Son, I’ve been waiting for you and my door is open; come on home.” The Salvation Army captain took George to his house to get cleaned up. He gave him clean clothing and bought him a bus ticket.

Eighteen hours and two states later, the bus pulled into town around noon. Wondering howDSCN4942 he would get from the station to the ranch, the boy looked out the window. His mouth dropped open as he saw his dad and a group from the church waving signs that yelled “WELCOME HOME GEORGE!”

As he disembarked the bus, he broke down. Sobbing, he said, “Dad, I’m ashamed of what I’ve done. I’ve wasted everything, and my life is a mess. Can you hire me as one of your ranch hands until I get back on my feet?”

But his father took the young man into his big arms and said, “Son, I have been waiting every day for four years for you. Everything I own will belong to Jake, but you are still my son. And as long as I am alive, my home is your home.” When they pulled up to the big house, his mother, aunts, uncles, and neighbors had a barbeque shin-dig ready; and a huge cake had been prepared that was decorated with “Welcome Home!”

George asked, “Where’s Jake?” Dad said he was up north conducting business, but would be home in a couple of days. But someone called Jake and told him George had returned. Jake blew up!

Jake immediately called his dad and demanded, “What’s that good-for-nothing wino doing back home! I’m the one who has stayed with you and built the business. I don’t want him here living off what I’ve built! Get rid of him!”

Dad responded, “Jake, everything I have will be yours. But George asked to be forgiven, and it is only right that we let him in. After all, he is family. As long as I’m alive, George can stay.”

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Dear reader, you’ve been told the story was about George who wasted half the family fortune. But George’s narrative is only the background for the real story. The parable is about Jake’s rebellion, rejection, and refusal to forgive.

CrossJesus told the parable to the those who considered themselves the elite of society and heirs to the kingdom of God. The proud religious leaders thought it would lower their prestige if they accepted traitors, tax collectors, winos, and prostitutes into their society and into their church meetings.

The moral: Pride is just as bad as wasting a life. But anyone who truly repents – whether pastor or prostitute, model citizen or murderer – is accepted by the Father and welcomed into His kingdom.

Humbly turn to our heavenly Father, tell him you’re sorry for how you’ve lived. Ask him for guidance and courage to turn around, and he’ll help you.

Enjoy the Trip

SWOOOOOOOOSH!! It seems that a powerful gust of wind blew into our house, flipped 1280px-Strommast2the pages on the calendar, turned our hair a little whiter, took money out of our wallet, and blew back out of the house leaving us a little off balance. The birthdates of our kids and grandkids seemed to be but a blip on the radar screen. Does time fly that fast for you? Time seemed to 0go a lot slower when we were younger.

When Rebecca, our younger daughter, was in high school she asked me, “Daddy, how can I make time go faster?” I said, “Either learn to like what you are doing, or become very busy.” That didn’t quite satisfy her at the time. But when she went to college and loved her time there, time began to fly. Now that she is a wife and mother of five children (four girls and one boy), she is wondering how to slow time down.  However, she told me recently that she is learning to make the most of each day with her kiddos – and logging the life-enriching memories.

With the days and months seemingly whizzing by, is there something you have been intending to do? A project waiting for you? A book you want to read? A trip you want to take? Maybe something you want to write? Don’t wait too long because we never know what tomorrow brings.

Some years ago, Carol and I found a way to slow time down – a little. We refrain from putting too many items on our calendar, and we spend more time with each other, helpingjanuary-2019-calendar2 each other. Relating life to a cross-country trip, Rev. Chuck Swindoll summed it up in six syllables: “Stop, and smell the roses.” He informed us that merely putting miles behind us does not enrich our lives. We must stop! Get out of the car. Walk around. “Smell the roses.” In other words: Don’t just finish the trip – enjoy the trip. Learn something. Do something meaningful for yourself.

Make your life count or be significant within the context of other lives. This doesn’t require a New Year’s Resolution, a Masters’ Degree, or $25,000 in the bank. Instead it requires the desire to really live life fully – in a Godly context, of course. And it produces peace, less stress, a gentler pace of life, and most likely a longer life.

All that is sometimes difficult to do because we have a hard time deciding what to eliminate from our hectic, overcrowded schedule. You’ve probably heard the statement: “When you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s easy to forget that the initial objective was to drain the swamp.” But you can ask for help getting back into the boat, and seek counsel to make better plans.

Some of the best counsel you can receive is found in the Bible. When my grandfather was 96 years old, he told me, “Everything you need to know is in the Bible. You can learn a lot of things, but everything you NEED to know is in the Bible. Study it.” He is right. Read the Psalms and Proverbs. You will be surprised at the wisdom for everyday decisions you will find there. The added benefit is reading, studying, and living by the Godly principles there enables us to experience a more peaceful and enjoyable life.

So, cut out a lot of the unnecessary busyness, and think about that project to do, book to image00771read, trip to plan and take, or book to write. Lighten the load by eliminating unimportant things. Keep the important items. Don’t make your life more hectic, but more valuable.

Spend time with family. Attend worship services regularly. Stop and smell the roses.

And all year long remember this: God loves you.