Storms.

Posted: April 24, 2018 in Uncategorized

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25 years ago today, I almost died.
April 24, 1993 was a Saturday.
At first, it seemed like a normal Saturday destined to come and go and be forgotten like so many other Saturdays. But, this would prove to be a Saturday that I can’t ever forget…
Diana and I were youth pastors at a church in Tulsa. We lived in a little bitty house on the church grounds. The house was roughly the exact same size and shape as a cardboard shoe box. It was between two identical shoe box houses that were occupied by our friend, Marilyn, and the senior pastors, Howard and Catherine Mabery. The houses aren’t there anymore, they were all demolished years ago to make room for a QuikTrip parking lot.
I had worked all day at Mardel (a bookstore AND office supply place). Diana, who we had just found out was PREGNANT, was away at a women’s conference in Buffalo Gap, Texas. I got home from work about 6:30 pm. I was all alone, and I had some BIG ambitious manly plans. I was going to eat some hearty, manly grub—a delicious and nutritious Hungry Man salisbury steak TV dinner—and I was going to watch professional wrestling and probably make rude, manly noises.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
When I got home I noticed the sky looked really weird. It was almost a surreal shade of gray. I turned on the TV, and the high-strung local weatherman was nervously talking about storm fronts and funnel clouds and possible tornadic activity. If you live in Oklahoma for any amount of time, you get used to the threat of tornadoes. Storms are just a natural part of life in the Sooner state, you do learn not to sleep naked during tornado season.
I wasn’t too worried…
I put my Hungry Man meal in the microwave and set the timer. I put on some old basketball shorts and was about to assume my rightful position in the recliner with a remote control in my hand when the silence was broken by some loud sirens going off right outside.
I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I called my neighbors who had survived many more tulsa springtimes than me…
Howard and Catherine Mabery were great people who had been pastors for about 50 years. They loved Jesus, people, and all-you-can-eat seafood buffets. When the sirens starting blaring, I called them, and Catherine answered.
I said, “What is that?”
She replied, “Well, it’s a tornado.”
I said, “Oh, what do I do?”
She answered, “Get somewhere!”
Then she hung up—evidently so she could get somewhere herself.
The wind was really picking up outside, so I decided I really ought to get somewhere, although I didn’t know where to get. I remembered hearing somewhere that the bathroom was the safest room in the house, which is reassuring because I spend a lot of time there. I ran in and knelt down by the tub.
The weather was actually getting pretty scary at this point. It was getting noisier, and the wind was getting stronger. I started praying hard and fast. I was pleading with God for protection. I just wanted to see my wife. I wanted to be around to meet my unborn child. I could hear and feel things banging up against the side of our little house. It literally sounded like a freight train was going right through our living room. I was facedown on our bathroom floor, shaking and shivering and crying out for help. I reached out and clung to the nearest possible anchor…the toilet.
It’s during times like this…
when all pretense and pride is stripped away, that you realize what’s really important in life.
It’s just you and God and a storm, and you realize what matters most.
It wasn’t what I was wearing or driving. It didn’t matter where we lived or that we only had $2.37 in our checking account.
It was pretty simple: What mattered was my faith and my family and friends.
And that was it.
Then just as quickly as the storm started, it ended, and there was a tangible weird stillness all around.
I lay there shaking on the bathroom floor hugging the toilet for a while. When I was able to finally get up, I realized our little house was intact.
I walked outside, and it looked almost like a war zone. Howard and Catherine were fine, although the tornado had demolished Catherine’s little storage building. She had kept 40 years worth of sewing and craft supplies in it, so there were strands of fabric everywhere. Broken glass and wood were everywhere. Large chunks of other people’s houses were in our front yards. The storm had knocked out the windows in our cars and knocked the steeple off the church. The wooden playground and jungle gym were totally gone.
My parents somehow got through several roadblocks to check on me.
We walked around, trying to take it all in.
There was so much to take in.
It was a F4 tornado that left a 6 mile path of destruction. Our little houses were right in the path.
The tornado hit a large truck stop right across the highway from us. It killed 7 people there. They were people who were just trying to get home. These people were parents, grandparents, children, brothers, and sisters. They had plans and dreams.
But their plans and dreams came to an ugly end on a spring day in Tulsa.
The truck stop was totally wiped out. Twisted steel and destruction were everywhere. Yet right where the truck stop kitchen had been minutes before, there was a Styrofoam container of eggs just sitting there, and not one of the eggs was even cracked.
Storms are wild and weird.
That night, I sat in my living room in the dark watching the fire trucks, ambulances, and helicopters come and go.
It felt like a war zone.
Sometimes life leaves us breathless for all the wrong reasons.
Situations and settings feel like a long, hard, unrelenting sucker punch to the gut.
I sat there alone on the couch trying to catch my breath, thinking about how life can change in an instant. We make our plans, but in the blink of an eye, storms come and everything can be turned upside down.
The wisest investments are made in the things that matter most. What are our anchors in the storm?
When we’re shaken to our foundations, suddenly fashion, popularity, fame, and mutual funds don’t really matter at all.
We’re left holding onto our faith, our family, and our friends—and that’s about it.
If that’s what matters when the storm hits, why can’t we live for those things when everything is smooth sailing?
Why do we allow ourselves to be distracted by things that don’t matter?
I’ve been through many storms since that day in 1993.
I’ve experienced stormy times when I’m shaken to my core.
I’m left breathless, looking for something to cling to…
And I remember…
I remember a desperate little man lying on a bathroom floor and the clarity about what matters most that I gained there.
25 years ago today, I survived the storm.

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Image  —  Posted: April 24, 2018 in Uncategorized

My Greatest Parent Regret.

Posted: April 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

I was/am far from a perfect parent.

We only had one daughter, Delanie, who is now raising her own daughter.
Nobody gets a chance to really be perfect when it comes to raising another human. There are too many variables. Every kid is wildly different. You are dealing with messiness, emotions, personality, and outside influences.
It’s a tough job to be a parent.
Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you blow it.
Second guessing yourself becomes a competitive sport.
You have celebration and disappointment.
Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, there’s one I have to mention…
My greatest parent regret…
It’s not feeding my child unhealthy crap. As an elementary school student, Delanie was raised on a steady diet of Slim Jim’s, chicken McNuggets and cherry slurpees. Don’t judge us! She was a picky eater.
My greatest regret is not letting her watch questionable television…we had a neighbor who wouldn’t talk to us for a year because she found out that we did, in fact, let our daughter watch The Simpsons. Del also watched Titanic repeatedly and would dramatically act out the last scene with a pillow…”I’LL NEVER LET GO, JACK. I PROMISE!”
My greatest regret is not letting her stay up late. She was a night owl from the beginning. The girl likes to party.
My greatest parent regret is not encouraging her to be herself, express herself, and create stuff.  She started countless projects involving glitter, paint, and occasionally fake fur. She learned to think and stand up for herself. She cut her own hair as a 5 year old, along with the hair of everyone of her Barbies.
You know what, I don’t really regret any of that.
My greatest parent regret happened when Delanie was about 8 years old.
It was her second year of horse camp, she went with her friend, Sarah. It was a week long camp where kids stayed at a cool ranch and rode horses. Delanie was a serious mini-equestrian. On the last night, parents picked up their kids and the kids would put on a big program to display their cowgirl skills.
That is where the regret rushes in…
At the time, we were lead pastors of a messed up little church in Farmers Branch, Texas.
We hadn’t been there long, just long enough to piss some people off.
The church council called a meeting on the same night as the horse camp finale. They had concerns about my leadership, I had made some stupid decisions, I had started to make changes, and I had rubbed them the wrong way.
So they scheduled a meeting on the last night of horse camp.
They wouldn’t change it, and they demanded that I be there.
I allowed them to push me around.
I blew it.
On that night, I found myself sitting in a metal folding chair listening to hateful accusation.
I should have been sitting in wooden bleachers watching my daughter do what she loved.
Diana video taped the program and I watched it later that night.
Delanie rode out, loud and proud, on a beautiful horse. She was smiling…until she looks into the crowd…then she looks straight at the camera and says…
“Where’s Dad? Where’s Dad?”
I only watched the video once…
I didn’t need to watch it again.
It was permanently seared into my mind and instantly set on continual replay.
“Where’s Dad? Where’s Dad?”
This happened almost 2 decades ago, but the guilt keeps the memory from ever expiring…
“Where’s Dad? Where’s Dad?”
Dad wasn’t there.
He was in a meeting.
I was bullied into attending a church council meeting, with people who didn’t love me nearly as much as that little girl did.
In fact, they didn’t love me at all, AND they had put together a long list of everything that they DIDN’T love about me. They were trying hard to destroy me.
It was a very painful meeting and very painful season.
But, I couldn’t miss that meeting…
I chose to be there, instead of where I should have been.
After all, it was my ministry, my career, my dream…right?!
so very wrong.
That was the night that I really figured out that no destination (career, ministry, or dream) is more important than the people who are on the journey with you. The plan is for your family to be in your life long after the assignment has ended and the dream has died.
I believe my priorities are in order, I do put God first, but my family comes next. Before the ministry, career, or dream.
WHO God has entrusted me with is MUCH more important than WHAT He has entrusted me with.
WHO is eternal.
WHAT is temporary.
Sometimes, putting WHO before WHAT requires some creativity. I have to find ways to continually prioritize.
It’s worth it.
I will never regret it.
It’s not a popular stance.
I’ve been told by people that I worked for that I was blowing it because I put my family before the ministry.
I beg to differ.
I didn’t work at those churches for long.
You know what, I don’t regret that.
God calls Himself our Father, not our CEO, boss, supervisor, or even pastor.
He seems to be a Family Man.
I want to be like Him.

Father – Daughter Dance.

Posted: April 17, 2018 in Uncategorized

A few years back I had one of the sweetest moments of my life.

It was our only daughter’s wedding day.
It was a beautiful May Day in North Carolina. There was an amazing group of family and friends from all over there to celebrate with us.
It was a good day.
The wedding happened right outside of a really cool old barn.
I walked my daughter down the aisle…actually I walked her around a field down to the designated space.
I sat by my best friend and we watched our daughter, suddenly a grownup, pledge her love to a tall bass player.
After the ceremony we gathered in the barn and ate some chicken. We laughed and remembered with dear friends.
And then we danced…
Delanie and Jordan danced and spun and giggled like newlyweds.
Then it was my turn…
It was time for the father – daughter dance, it was nothing choreographed, more freestyle than fancy. I took my daughter by the hand and all I could see was the 5 year that I had walked to kindergarten.
My friend, Adam, who also performed the wedding ceremony had helped me put together a 4 minute mix of significant songs in our parent-child life: it included “Baby Likes to Rock it” by the tractors (which was Del’s jam as a baby), “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns and Roses (which has been my nickname for her for a long time), and “Shattered Glass” by Brad Paisley (which is a ridiculously sweet song about girls being strong and busting barriers).
“Butterfly Kisses” isn’t really our style!!
We danced to our story.
We danced.
I cried big sloppy tears.
My tears were full of memories.
The memories ran down my face.
Then we were joined by Diana, and Jordan, and the rest of the family. We all danced in a little awkward clump.
It wasn’t graceful.
It WAS full of grace!
It was full of song and story.
I’m drawn out of the land of remembering by the chords of another timeless medley…
I’m invited onto another dance floor.
It turns out my Dad wants to dance with me.
My relationship with God is a dance with my Father.
He invites me to participate, he takes me by the hand and leads me into the story.
That changes everything.
It’s a dance of love, belonging, and purpose.
The Creator dances over all that He made.
And He invites me to join in.
Because He is my Father.
He is the Father who waits on the front porch for me to come home so he can throw a party.
It has taken me a while to grasp this.
Many times we think that once we become a Christ follower our worth depends on what we do for the cause. We need to get to work. God expects us to earn our keep. Right?
There’s something ’bout that work, work, work.
That’s pretty messed up.
I’m not a tool in his hand.
I’m a hand grasping His hand.
I’m not an employee.
I’m a child.
We DO get to participate in what God is doing.
BUT…it is meant to be dance instead of duty.
It’s a series of sweet moments.
It’s more freedom than fancy.
On the darkest days, when I can barely hear the music, he pulls me into his enveloping embrace.
Sometimes I just need a divine Dad hug.
He helps me find my groove.
I let him lead (THAT is very important!). We move around the floor to the sweet beat of songs that are deeply significant.
I’m learning the dance steps. Sometimes it’s awkward, I’m pretty sure that I’ve stepped on his feet once or twice.
Still He loves me.
Simply
Because
I’m
His
Kid.

Tetherball is Evil.

Posted: April 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

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I suck at sports.

That’s really no secret.
I have no motor skills, no depth perception, and no eye-hand coordination.
Those are all fairly important in any athletic endeavor.
I’ve tried most organized sports.
I’ve tried a lot of unorganized sports too.
I tried soccer and the shin guards came up to my chest. I tried miniature golf and I killed an innocent windmill. I tried waterskiing and I bopped around the lake like a slightly intoxicated turtle for 45 minutes without even be able to put on the skis. I tried indoor rock climbing and ended up being mistaken for a piñata.
I’m bad.
But, the sport that I suck at the loudest is a harmless playground activity loved by school children everywhere…
It’s TETHERBALL!!
(This would be a totally appropriate place to shout “GASP!” and act completely shocked…thank you!)
Actually, I don’t think that tetherball is really recognized as an official sport.
It’s an “almost” sport.
So sports fans, if you are keeping score…
I even suck at “almost” sports.
Growing up we had tetherball at school, and church, and camp. It was very popular.
I hated it.
It was pure humiliation on a rope.
I would agree to play (usually with kids who were at least 10 years younger than me) and we would square off around the used tire of battle.
I would desperately wail at the tetherball with my chubby clinched fists. My opponent, the 5 year old, would nail it with one swift punch. The tetherball would slam into my face and quickly wrap all around the pole. Out of blind frustration, I would kick the bald rubber tire that was the base. This usually resulted in me hurting my foot.
My games usually lasted about 37 seconds.
The embarrassment has lasted a lifetime.
There is no other activity that has caused me to punch myself in the face with a rubber ball whilst tying myself to a metal pole with a rope.
It was like playing dodgeball against myself.
I even practiced a few times when no one was watching. I managed to hit myself in the spleen with the tetherball.
It’s cool to have certain sports injuries, lose a tooth in hockey or get tackled in football and you have a story for life!
Nobody wants to hear about tetherball injuries…
“You did WHAT?!”
I’ve come to grips with my suckiness.
I’m okay with it, because there are other things that I don’t suck at.
And so…
I have banished tetherball from my life like a Russian curler caught doping.
It is gone.
I will NOT see you at the pole.
I LIVE UNTETHERED!!

Mitch Kupchak has been named president and general manager of the Charlotte Hornets. This stirs up a horribly awkward memory for me…years ago, I was eating lunch with some friends in Los Angeles. Mr. Kupchak was eating at the same place. We asked for a group photo and he agreed, even though at first we called him Jerry West. So we all lined up for our big photo op. Of course, everyone thought it would be pretty hilarious if 5’1” tall me stood next to 6’9” tall him. I took my place and tried to reach around his back (which, no surprise, was out of my reach) instead I grabbed a handful of the man’s butt. He looked shocked and a little disgusted. I just kinda backed away and nervously giggled like a 9 year old.
Welcome to Charlotte Mr. Kupchak!

a waste of grace?

Posted: April 10, 2018 in Uncategorized

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I have an ugly confession to make.
Sometimes I’m a jerk.
For example, when I watch sporting events.
It’s not about what is happening on the field, court, rink, or track…
It’s about what is happening in the first few rows of spectators, in the good seats.
Very often, I will be watching a game with my wife and I will see a little kid sitting on the front row and I shout…
“WHAT A WASTE!!”
I think…
Why is a kid sitting in that sweet seat?
They aren’t even paying attention!!
They are throwing popcorn around and acting like a child!
“WHAT A WASTE!!”
They didn’t EVEN pay for that ticket!!
They don’t even appreciate what they have!!

I know, I’m a jerk.

It makes me so mad that some kid is sitting in seats that I can’t afford.
I didn’t stop and think about the fact that the kid can’t afford those seats either!!
That kid DIDN’T pay for that ticket! They are obviously there BECAUSE of someone else. Someone who cares enough about them to get them a seat. It was a gift.
Why do I have a problem with that?!
I was pondering all this and I realized that my thinking is pretty messed up.
It’s petty jealousy on my part.
I can make comparison a competitive sport.
“Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice that you don’t deserve to sit THERE!”
I don’t recognize the fact that I don’t deserve to sit THERE either.

Here’s the deal that I often lose sight of, the REAL waste is NOT that a 6 year old gets to sit in the nice seats.
The REAL waste is that 2 rows behind the kid there is an EMPTY seat.
The only way that the tickets are wasted is if someone doesn’t use them.

We can apply this same messed up thinking to love, faith and matters of grace too…
We see people who mess up and keep coming back to God to ask for forgiveness.
We think WHAT A WASTE OF GRACE!
When will they get their act together?
We grumble about how that person doesn’t appreciate what they have.
God has forgiven them over and over for the same thing.
WHAT A WASTE OF GRACE!!
Jesus, the originator, practitioner and dispenser of grace said this…
“Why worry about a peck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” (Matt 7:3)
Maybe…
It’s time for me to get the log out of my eye.
It keeps me from seeing the game.
I have to remember some things…
I didn’t pay for my ticket, I’m only in the stadium because God loves me enough to get me a seat.
Sometimes I misuse the seat, sometimes I don’t appreciate it, I’ve fallen out of the seat a few times. The ticket is still mine.
I don’t get to decide who else gets a ticket.
I don’t get to decide who sits where.
None of us deserve the seat we are given.
That doesn’t make it a waste.
That makes it a gift.
Grace is only wasted when it’s unused.
The only way that the tickets are wasted is if someone doesn’t use them.
The only way to waste grace is to never reach for it…
WHAT A WASTE!!
So, go ahead…
Take your completely undeserved seat in the stadium that grace built.
High five your neighbor and share some popcorn with the kid in the front row.