Tangible Stuff

I bought a newspaper last Friday for ten dollars. It was worth a hundred.

Last year Reed Books relocated to 2021 3rd Avenue North in downtown Birmingham from an obscure upstairs location on 20th Street South it occupied for years. This is easily my favorite nostalgia hangout. The posters and memorabilia from past decades covering the wall can occupy a person for an hour. I could spend the day in this place and never spend a dime.

Sometimes I just browse, usually I comb the World War II book section, but Friday, I asked to see old newspapers. “Anything in particular?” the gentleman whom I assume to be Jim Reed, proprietor, asked. I said, “World War II era.”

He said, “We have an incredible amount of stuff categorized in the warehouse. If you ever have a specific date in mind, let me know.” Otherwise, I could sort through several stacks of yellowing newspapers in the back of the store. No problem.

I’m in heaven. Man, I love doing this.

In the stacks, there were papers from around the country from the day of Elvis’ death, several from JFK’s assassination, and likewise for days such as the Challenger explosion. But I was going back farther than that. I was looking for the late 1930s and early-to-mid 1940s.

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My People

…the children and me.

When my friend Nikki of Double Springs, Alabama, invited me to be camp pastor for her church’s annual children’s retreat this summer, I quickly said ‘yes.’ Only later did I think to ask, “What ages are these children?” Mostly older elementary children, she said. But not all. A few younger ones, including a couple of 5 year olds.

Talk about a challenge for Grandpa!

The camp was this weekend on the grounds of Camp Lee, near Anniston, Alabama. A great place with super food and the nicest people on the planet (in case you’re looking for a location for your retreat; we recommend them highly). The fifty children and perhaps 20 adults from Double Springs–one of my four hometowns!–were wonderful in every way.

As usual, as soon as the event went on my calendar, I began praying that the Lord would prepare me and the people who would attend.

And then I began worrying.

“How long has it been since I’ve done such a retreat for children? (Answer: many years) Can I even connect with them on their level any more? They’ll see this grandpa up there and wish they were anywhere else but at this camp!”

Then one day, it hit me: these children are the same ages as most of my grandchildren. So, I’ll just imagine Jack and Abby and Erin and Darilyn and JoAnne are the audience. I’d have no trouble with that group. They’re wonderful and we all adore each other.

So, that’s what I did. And it worked just fine (well, it did from my end; I’ll let the Double Springs folks speak for themselves). I sketched everyone over the 48 hours and spoke at four services, and loved every minute of it.

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My Calendar for July 2009

(We print my schedule of preaching and other activities for two reasons: –we’d appreciate your prayers that God would use me –pastors/leaders interested in inviting us for some event in your church can see if the date is open)

July 2-3 (Thursday/Friday) Wedding: Laci Roth & Stephen Jones, in Slidell, LA

July 10 (Friday night) Drawing children for Lakeside Baptist Church, Metairie’s Vacation Bible School parents’ night.

July 11 (Saturday) Dedication of Delacroix-Hope Baptist Church in St. Bernard Parish (James “Boogie” Melerine, pastor)

July 13-14 (Monday/Tuesday) On campus of NOBTS with local leaders, working with Lifeway’s people on Sunday School lessons.

July 19 (Sunday) Preaching at Central Baptist Church-Bearden in Knoxville, Tennessee both morning services. Filling in for Pastor Larry Fields.

July 27 (Monday night) Preaching for Temple Baptist Church, Ruston, LA. “Marvelous Mondays Emphasis.” Pastor Rick Byargeon.

(In between, I’m working out of the “new” office at First Baptist Church of Kenner, LA, trying to put together various articles into a book on prayer. Sure will appreciate your prayers that God will lead me to produce something of genuine help to His people.)

My phone is 504/615-2190.

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Vicarious Thrills

This morning I wrote on my Facebook page: “Now, I know them Texas Longhorns are good people, but I enjoyed watching the LSU rout over them so much last night (for the collegiate baseball championship) you’d have thought my sons and my brothers and I had just whupped up on the Ayatollah, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban all combined!”

Watching me root for the LSU baseball team over the past couple of weeks–through the regional playoffs and then this week in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska–you would have thought I was a longtime alumnus of that university or knew half the players on the team.

Neither is true. I’m a native Alabamian, went to college at Birmingham-Southern (we rooted for Alabama or Auburn since we had no football team), and have lived in Louisiana only since 1990. I don’t know a single player or coach at LSU.

Still. They’re a fun team to root for. Many of our church members sent their kids to school there, and the university is only 70 miles up the interstate, and perhaps, most of all….

They’re winners.

Let’s face it: it’s easy to pull for a winner.

My terrific son Marty, the webmaster for this blog, was never the greatest sports fan when he was a child. He lacked the patience Neil and I had to sit in front of a TV or in a crowded stadium for hours, taking in what was happening on the field. Marty would walk into the room where we were yelling at the screen and say, “Who’s winning?” When we answered, he would say, “I’m for them,” and walk out.

There’s a lot of that going on. Ask any college or university sports information officer. When the team is winning, alumni come out of the woodwork to throw money at them. Stores cannot keep their jerseys in stock.

People do love to be identified with a winner.

I see that in churches.

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What’s Up?

Five things.

1. My wonderful mom is about to hit 93 (on July 14) and feels every day of it.

For years, we’ve bragged about her youthfulness and everyone has told her how pretty she is. Every Sunday morning on our phone call, she would tell me, “I don’t feel like going to church today,” but everyone at New Oak Grove Free Will Baptist Church would surround her with love and attention and the tonic would sustain her for another week.

But these days, she has crossed a line. Two weeks ago, she stayed home from church and hasn’t been back since. “I just don’t feel like I can make it any more.” In fact, walking to the mail box takes everything out of her.

She’d love to receive a note from you congratulating her on her 93th birthday. Address the note (it doesn’t have to be a card) to Mrs. Lois McKeever, 191 County Road 101, Nauvoo, Alabama 35578.

I mentioned this on Facebook and a number of friends indicated they’ll be writing her. More than one said, “I’m waiting to mail it so she’ll get it on her day.”

I gently protest, “Mail it now. Mom does not need to get 90 cards on July 14. Better to get one or two a day for a few weeks.”

It’s the opening of the mail that makes her day. Thanks for doing this. I suspect this may well be her last birthday. She’s missing Dad and her “baby” Charles every day, and talks of going to see them.

2. Pray for Iran and what’s going on there. Pray for President Obama and his team. There is no safe path for him to tread, no way that is clearly marked “America,” and no choices that will not erupt in opposition and criticism from some side.

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Go Ahead, Ask

Here’s what happened to me yesterday morning.

I’m in Louisville for the Southern Baptist Convention, except I’m not attending any meetings. I’m sitting in a comfortable chair at the ‘Baptist Press’ booth staring at whoever is sitting in the comfortable chair opposite and trying to sketch them. Yesterday, the first day, I drew from 9 to noon and again for some 3 hours in the late afternoon, for a total of some 125 victims. Oops, excuse me. Subjects they are.

Lots of fun.

Yesterday morning, early, I went out looking for a Kinko’s or something similar. I had drawn and colored two cartoons to hand out to pastors (showing people attending the convention, someone speaking, leaving room for me to write in the name of an individual pastor), and needed color copies. About 25 of each.

No one in our Baptist Press group knew of a color copier available, so I went driving. These businesses are everywhere, right? You would think. But not down any of the thoroughfares I was taking. After 10 minutes, I had a brainstorm.

I would pray about it.

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Asking the Hard Question

I’ve done some dumb things, but this took the cake.

Last night, I rubbed toothpaste over my feet and hands. And not a little either.

I’m in a Louisvlle, Kentucky, hotel. The annual meeting of our denomination takes place at the Expo Convention Center this week, and I’ll be turning out a set of cartoons for the Baptist Press and sketching as many ministers and their families as possible at the BP booth. It’s what I do.

Well, okay, it’s one of the things I do.

Last night, before turning in, I took a tube of what I thought was skin cream from the bathroom counter and sat on the edge of the bed. My feet suffer from dryness these days, and from time to time–when I think of it; I’m not a good steward of this body, I’m afraid–I rub them down with a cream or lotion.

“Hmmm. Sure is thick,” I thought. But I kept squeezing, and massaging the cream onto my poor feet. With the leftover paste, I rubbed the backs of my hands.

A few minutes later, I grew tired of the stickiness on the bedsheets and got up. “This is not right,” I thought. (My wife will read this and get hysterical with laughter, I guarantee.)

But, instead of going back to check labels, I walked into the bathroom, picked up that tube and tossed it in the trash. “This must be old,” I thought.

And then, turning around, I saw it: the tube of skin cream still on the counter.

I dug out the tube I had tossed. Sure enough, the label read “Oxyfresh Toothpaste.” It’s the expensive stuff my orthodontist has me using in my post-cancer existence to reinforce the decay-fighting action of my teeth. (The radiation took out a lot of my saliva glands. Saliva, I found out, protects one’s teeth from decay. In the absence of saliva, one takes other protective steps.)

Realizing what I had done now, I replaced the toothpaste on the counter and washed my feet and hands, and broke into laughter.

Feel foolish? Oh yeah. Big time.

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In the Middle of the Night

As usual, I find myself giving advice that I’m not taking.

I think the technical term for that is hypocrite.

On Facebook, a friend will say, “I couldn’t sleep last night. Woke up at 2 a.m. and tossed and turned for an hour.”

My usual reply–if I give one; I don’t always–is something like: “Try reciting scripture. The devil doesn’t like it when we do that and will put you right to sleep.”

That’s a tiny bit tongue in cheek–I’m not convinced at all that the devil has much to do with how much God’s children sleep–and a good deal of truth. There’s something about repetition, whether it’s of scripture or lists of anything, that sedates the human mind and lulls us back into the unconscious state.

What scripture, someone asks. Any of it. Clearly, it has to be verses or chapters one knows. In my case, the entire repertoire comes down to Psalms 1, 20, 23, and 103, and Romans 8. In most cases, by the time I get to Romans, I’m out.

More than once I have lain there in the bed trying to think of hymns that start with each letter of the alphabet. A = “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” B = “Beneath the Cross of Jesus,” C = hmmm…can’t think of a one, how do you like that? Tomorrow I’ll think of a dozen.

Call…cast…Christ…celebrate…. Nope, nothing comes to mind.

This works better if you have a hymnal handy, but that defeats the point.

It’s always good to have a novel handy by the bedside, but only if turning on the light does not wake up the person on the other side of the bed. Of course, you can get up and go into another room and read. Do that, and pretty soon, you’re remembering the cookies or ice cream and you start to make real trouble for yourself.

Been there, done that.

So, we do what we do, each to his own devices.

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Looking In

Watching the College World Series the other night, I commented on something to my son Neil. LSU’s centerfielder Mikie Mahtook had hit a home run, changing the game. As he stormed down the third base line toward home, the team flowed out of the dugout to meet him. Mikie flung himself into the throng which erupted into a slapping, hollering, hugging riot. It was great to see.

I said to Neil, “Look at that. The spectators and fans watch this and are on the outside, looking in. This is something only the team experience and can share.”

Neil said, “Even the coaches are on the outside of that, Dad. This is something experienced only by the players.”

Several times over the next couple of days, as other teams in the same tournament did similar feats, the feeling only reinforced itself.

There’s something special about being a member of the team which others can watch but cannot experience.

Last night, as I write, my two sons and I were having our final night in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. We had done the tours and heard the lectures and climbed the hills and read the markers and bought the books. Neil said, “I’m taking the car, Dad, for one last drive-through.”

Two hours later he returned and this is his story.

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Fatherhood: Heaven’s Gift

Paul Brooks took up golf so he would have something to share with his boys when they became teenagers. Smart man. Fathers find fewer and fewer activities in common with their sons as they grow up and mature.

When my sons were small, we connected on every level. I helped them learn to swim, taught them to ride bikes, and every night, told them bedtime stories (with one lying enfolded in each arm). We flew kites and dug for sharks teeth and collected rocks. We made up silly songs in the car and they sang out as loudly as I did. We visited the zoo and played ball and worked in the yard. We visited grandparents and they slept over with cousins.

Then they got to be teenagers. Sing in the car? Dad, you’re kidding, right? Be seen in the mall with you, Dad–do I have to? Oh, and drop me off a block before we get to school so my friends won’t see me getting out of the family car. Family reunion? Boring!

They did let me teach them to drive the car. Usually, it was a Sunday afternoon in an empty parking lot, or down some deserted road. But as soon as they received their license, they preferred to be left alone with their friends.

Life had changed.

I still knew all these great children’s stories, all of which I had made up. I enjoyed the zoo and children’s ball games and everything we had done together. But suddenly, it had all halted.

I went into depression. Not the clinical, see-a-psychiatrist kind of depression, but more of a gentle sadness that washed over my soul. More than once, I said to Margaret, “I was an adult when these children were small and we did those fun things. I’m still an adult, but they don’t want to do them any more.”

It felt like life was passing me by and I didn’t know how to get back on. When the children went off to college, I sometimes drove to visit them there, but felt like a visitor from another planet. I was offended by the clutter of the dorm rooms, didn’t care much for their wild friends, and could not connect with anything they were doing.

After that, matters only got worse. Electronic games and gadgets came along and I was even more the outsider. (To this day, I walk into a cell phone store and feel like Jed Clampett guest-starring on Star Trek. Out of place, geezer, old-timer. Has been.)

Then, gradually, something happened. My children grew up, got married, and started having babies.

And lo and behold, the babies thought I was wonderful. I sang them songs and told them stories and we laughed and giggled. I drew pictures and showed them how to draw. We hung a swing from the tree in the front yard and it became Grandpa’s place with the little ones.

“Grandpa, tell me a story about when you were a little boy.”

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