Wednesday, December 31, 2008

December 31 – “Joy Dance”

In our boring world of demo, we finished scraping the tar off our bedroom floor at the house.  It didn't take me long to remember this back-breaking chore.  I didn't think we would ever get to the end.  In fact, I'm not really sure we did get to the end, but we were sure finished, if you know what I mean.  Now we have to scrape off tile in the family room and one bathroom, and chip out the tile floor in the other bathroom.  We still don't have electricity, though.  The framers are supposed to start as soon as Monday … if we have electricity.


I thought a lot about my grandsons today.  Zak is in Mansfield waiting for the birth of his little brother, Caleb.  Jachin and Micah live in Galveston, and we are used to seeing them at least several times a week.  But they have been visiting their other Grandmother out in California.  They got back last night, and we went over to see them this morning.


Remember the tree we cut down yesterday?  Well, these were the two guys I was thinking of when I decided to leave a huge hunk of tree all over our front yard.  In fact, I did some extra trimming of some of the more dangerous parts just so they could climb on it.  When I was doing it Nathan made an interesting, only-an-uncle-can-say-that comment.  "You can't eliminate all the danger, Dad.  Where's the fun, then?"  I'm still processing that one.  I'm sure there's a lesson somewhere in there.  I just haven't grasped it yet.


Anyway, we went to their house this morning. We couldn't wait to see them.  Jachin, the five-year-old, had just started a video game when we arrived, so he was out of pocket until his allotted time ran out.  He did say it would be OK with him if Nana and DadDad came back and saw what he was doing.  Micah, the two-year-old, heard Chris say hello to Kel, and we heard an explosion from the next room, "It's Nana!"  He came running into the room where we were and started running around in very tight circles.  He marched in place, kicking his feet as high as he could.  He threw his hands over his head and squealed.  He danced a wild and wacky dance of joy that lasted a good five minutes before he ran out of steam.  I joined him for awhile, and it was great fun.  But I just couldn't keep up the pace.  I wish I could express that kind of joy all the time.  It reminded me of 2 Samuel 6:14: "David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might."


Psalms 45:7 says, "You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy."


Father, I want that anointing.  Help me to daily fall in love with righteousness and turn away from wickedness.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

December 30 – “Return of the Claw”

Today I "cleaned house."  Chris went to Bay City to take her Mom to a surgery appointment, so I decided to sweep.  Now "sweep" didn't mean just a quick once-over and done.  The floor was still covered in places with the dreaded insulation, so the sweep promised to be a chore.  I wasn't disappointed.  It took all morning to get the floors all swept.  I don't know how many times I had to go back over an area I had already done.  Insulation has quite a sense of humor.  Ha. Ha. 


Once I got the place swept I spent a few minutes "decorating."  I put all the tools in the garage.  I set up the table and chairs in my "office."  (come visit me sometime).  There is still some salvage stuff in the family room.  I'll have to move that, too, though, before I can make my attempt to scrape that tile up.  Maybe when the real work kicks in that chore will kind of disappear in the mayhem of construction.  Speaking of scraping, I got started on scraping the tar off the floor of our bedroom – the last one.  Gonna take awhile.


While I was sweeping the garage the Claw drove up.  I was really surprised to see it, since we just piled up what was left of the tree yesterday.  But there it was in all its Claw-ness, eating up the piles of limbs.  You know, it was strange how drastically different I felt from the last time I leaned against my garage door and watched the Claw at work.  Back then I was watching it devour Chris' piano, my books, our clothes, our Christmas tree, our … collection of life memories.  Now it was just a huge pile of firewood.  Then I was stricken with all kinds of conflicting emotions.  Today there was just a simple wonder at the hugeness of the machine and the intricacy of the internal mechanism that controls its movements.  Then I couldn't take my eyes off the stuff being loaded.  Today I noticed the driver who was also the Claw operator.  And the guy on the ground with a pitchfork who makes the piles easier for the Claw to reach. 


I think there was a perspective issue involved.  Back then I was mired in the midst of circumstances that had stripped every semblance of control over my life that I thought I had.  Those circumstances were controlling what I saw and what I felt.  My emotions had taken over.  Today, though, I was able to see with a different perspective.  Today I know that my house will eventually be rebuilt.  I have accepted the loss of all the "stuff" we used to have, and I even look forward a little bit to getting some new stuff. 


 Kind of like where we all stand spiritually.  As believers we have the access to look at circumstances using God's perspective.  Changes everything.


Ephesians 2:6 says, "And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus."  Quite a perspective.


Father, please keep your perspective in front of us.  We keep slipping. Amen.

Monday, December 29, 2008

December 29 – “Landscaping”

Today we felled a tree.  Not just any tree.  The huge tree in front of our house is down.  And I have to say that the landscape around 7005 Sycamore will never look the same again.  We discovered last week that the big tree was on its way down.  It was beginning to rot from the inside out, and several cracks were forming in the front porch where the roots were pulling up as it leaned more and more toward the street.  Chris made me promise not to tackle the project alone, and today was the first day Nathan had off work. 


We started out by learning the ins and outs of the new chain saw.  Didn't take Mr. Fireman long, though.  April kept asking if he wanted to look at the directions, and he kept chuckling and responding, "No."  Mixing oil and gas. Deciding where to begin.  Seemed like forever before we actually cranked the saw up and started cutting.  But when we did, it was great.  The big limb that stretched clear out to the street was our first target.  Everything went smoothly until we got down to the really thick part of the limb.  It was as big around as many tree trunks.  Nathan climbed up on the ladder with the saw and started cutting.  At one point he paused and looked back at me.  "Think it'll get me from here?" he asked.  He no sooner asked than the limb cracked, and fell right into the ladder.  The legs bent easily under the heavy weight, and in slow motion it began to fall with Nathan riding it the whole way do the ground.  Oh, and he still held on to the chain saw with one hand.  He was fine, but the ladder joined the trash heap.


After a lot of cutting and dragging, we finally got to the part we had both been waiting for – cutting the main trunk so the biggest part of the tree could fall.  Nathan walked around the tree three or four times, looking for just the right spot to cut.  April let us know that the instruction book had a section on how to cut down big trees.  Nathan scoffed again, but this time I snuck a peek.  He knew what to do, though. He started a big angle cut on the street side, and followed that up with a cut from the bottom – just like you see in the movies.  And also, by the way, just like I saw in the instruction book.  April by this time had taken a spot across the street a safe distance from danger.  She was taking pictures and talking to the neighbor who had come over to watch as well.  When the time came for the final cut to the back of the tree, I climbed on the roof.  Why?  So I could – at just the right moment – push the tree to the ground with my bare hands, of course.  And I did.  Nathan jumped back out of the way at the last possible second.  And just as I gave the final shove, our other neighbor turned the corner in her little VW.  I saw her face as she casually glanced over her shoulder to see what everyone was looking at.  Her mouth dropped open.  She shouted something I – thankfully – couldn't hear.  She swerved away to avoid being crushed under the towering tree that was headed right at her.  Actually, the tree landed in our driveway.  It wasn't really close to hitting her, but it sure must have seemed like it to her.  Nathan and I cheered and basked in our glory for awhile.  But then we had to face the daunting task of cutting the fallen tree into manageable pieces and drag them to the curb.  It was tough work, and we got pretty tired.  Nathan finally shared his take on the day's adventure.  He said, "It's for sure now.  Kel and Josh have you and Mom when y'all get all old and senile.  I've done my part."


I think Nathan felt like he had a handle on at least the first part of 2Timothy 4:7: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.  I have kept the faith."


Father, help Nathan, and me, keep the faith while we fight our fights and run our races.  Amen.


December 28 – “Better than the movie”

Today was one of those days that I vaguely recall from way back before the storm.  It was Sunday.  We went to church.  We stopped at McAlister's for a quiet lunch – just the two of us.  We headed back to Omega, anticipating a quiet afternoon.  And it was, much to my surprise.  The Texans won.  The Cowboys lost.  I didn't watch more than a minute or two of either game.  Actually, I started typing my blog entry for the day before and "fell asleep at the wheel."  Well, the wheel was the computer.  But I really did fall asleep while typing.  I guess my day was pretty boring. 


We ate some leftovers for supper, and then we watched two movies.  Now, we haven't done that in four months or more, I know.  The last one was the TV, cleaned-up version of Dodgeball.  Very goofy movie.  Grown men and women playing in a national championship game of dodgeball in Las Vegas.  Complete with "ESPN 8" announcers, huge crowds and all.  Loved the cameo appearances by Lance Armstrong and David Hasselhoff. 


The other movie was called The Client.  It was based on a book by John Grisham.  The plot premise had to do with two young boys who witness a suicide and get evidence that will put a mob-connected thug in prison for murder.  Will the mob kill them before they can testify?  Will the struggling, recovering alcoholic lawyer help or hurt the case?  Will Tommy Lee Jones get elected governor of Louisiana?  That's the Hollywood version.


I remember the book.  We used to have the book.  We had all of John Grisham books.  Now Ike has them.  Like every book I have ever read that was made into a movie, I liked the book way better than the movie.  The original is always better than the copy, even with all the bells and whistles of Hollywood.  Part of it is that you have to make a real investment of time to read an entire book.  You can't just run over to the theater and sit for a few hours and be done with it.  It's because you get all the nuances of character development in a book that you can't get in movies.  And that's because the Author - the Creator knows the characters better than anybody.  That's what made doing book reports in high school so difficult for me.  How should I know why the main character did what he did?  And the worst one – how should I know what the author meant when he said … whatever?  It would be so much easier if we could just ask the author instead of speculating and guessing. 


Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God - Hebrews 12:2


Father, help me to trust you for answers I can't seem to scrounge up on my own.  You are Creator.  You are Author.  You know.  And sometimes it's better that I don't.  Amen.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

December 27 – “Camping Santa”

Today was our Vaughan Family Christmas Party.  This year it was hosted by my younger brother and his wife up in Houston.  When I was growing up the party location kind of rotated between our house and that of my cousins, the Castiglioni's (they lived over behind what is now the new convention center), with an occasional trip out to Spanish Grant to Uncle Jerry's.  The last few years the "next generation" has taken the reins, and we have been traveling to Houston for the big occasion.  We used to draw names for gifts (at Thanksgiving) and exchange the presents at the party.  That's always a tough situation, especially when you don't really know the person you draw.  I remember one year one of my guy cousins drew his young girl cousin's name.  He had no idea what to get her, so he went for one of the "girl defaults" – a doll.  Well, that didn't turn out so well.  See, she was a tomboy and didn't want anything to do with that (turn up your nose and sneer and say it as if it was turning your stomach) "doll."  The last few years we have switched to a White Elephant style ornament exchange.   That way everybody just brings a wrapped ornament and everybody goes home with one. 


The ornaments this year were interesting.  One was actually a set of Christmas tree lights, but each light was a model of that leg lamp from the movie A Christmas Story.  Chris got one of those little Russian dolls within a doll within a doll things.  Several people got photo frames – a cat, a rocking horse, a heart.  There was a little replica of a griffin.  I asked my brother Jay what the animal's name was.  I thought he's say something like "Archie," since he is a USC alum.  But to my delight, he said, "Buckbeak," from the Harry Potter series. 


Several of us opened ornaments that showed Santa Claus in various extracurricular activities.  In one he was riding a mountain bike, all dressed in the outfit he would need.  In another he was frying up a fish he caught during what was obviously a camping trip with his little Teddy bear friend (that's the one I got).  They made me think about the Santa in the fireman suit someone gave us earlier.  And the Santa dressed for a basketball game.  And the one in a bathing suit and shades – must be heading to Galveston, right?  Chris' favorite Santa statue of all time is the one where he has hat in hand and is kneeling before the baby Jesus in the manger.  All those Santas made me think about how believers come in all shapes and sizes – all occupations and interests – but they … we … all have one thing in common.  We all kneel before the same Savior. 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:9-11)


Father, receive our worship, whether it be from a Santa fireman or a Santa preacher or Santa nurse or a Santa kid.  Amen.

Friday, December 26, 2008

December 26 – “A Set of Knives”

We started our day today by going shopping.  Yep.  I can't believe it either.  The day after Christmas and I'm going to a mall.  On Purpose.  Actually we started with the daily WalMart stop.  This time we were getting in on the after Christmas Christmas stuff sale.  We couldn't get too much since we don't have much storage space.  But now we're all set for wrapping stuff next year, barring another flood, of course.


Then we went to get in on some specific sales Chris had located in the paper.  We were on a mission to replace some of the things we lost in the flood.  The two prime targets were a set of silverware and a set of knives.  We also planned to check out some garage door openers that were on sale at Sears.  Now, you have to understand that the garage door openers were located in the same department as the tools.  All the tools.  Even the power tools.  Especially the power tools. 


It's also important that you know about the big tree in our front yard.  The one closest to the house with the huge limb pointing straight out toward the street.  We noticed the other day some new cracks in the slab that is our front porch.  Then we noticed that the old tree was looking worse than usual.  Quite a bit worse.  It looks like it's finally ready to fall over.  Now that wouldn't be all that bad a thing, except that those roots would for sure rip up the porch, and there's a good chance part of the foundation would be ruined as well.  Now if that had happened during the storm, we wouldn't have had to go through all the grief of worrying about being in the yellow zone.  We would have just drilled our post holes and built right on up there with our back deck.  But not now.  Not after all that work we've done.  Not after the two and a half hour meeting we had with our contractor friend this afternoon to finalize framing plans so he could get some things rolling.  Not now.


Which brings me back to the power tools at Sears.  We decided to add a purchase to our list of expenditures to come out of our contents money.  We bought a chain saw.  Aaar.  Aar.  Aar.  And Monday Nathan is coming over to "show me how to use it."  I can't wait.


As exciting as getting the chain saw was, my God moment actually came earlier in the day when we bought the knives.  We picked the set up at Macy's without paying too much attention.  We left the ad in the car, but the price seemed to be the same, and it looked familiar to Chris.  We handed over the coupons and the gift card and headed out to the car.  Where Chris checked the ad and announced, "I'm taking it back.  It's not the right one."  Sure enough, the ad was for a 22 piece set, not the 15 piece one we bought.  And the sale price was even cheaper for the bigger set.  Needless to say, we took it back.  We had to go to a different Macy's and get some special attention from a very kind salesman, but we did finally find just the set she wanted.


Now about that God moment.  Have you ever expected one thing and been surprised to open up something totally different?  Maybe it was an experience like ours.  Maybe it was the biggest Christmas gift you ever saw, but inside was just progressively smaller wrapped box after wrapped box, until finally you open the last one and it's just a penny.  Sometimes things aren't what they seem to be on the outside.  Remember what the angels told the shepherds on Christmas?  "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).  Great expectations.  "This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."  Unexpected packaging.


Father, thank you for the surprises you throw our way.   Thanks most of all for your Christmas surprise.  Amen.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

December 25 – “The Poster”

Boy, was today ever different.  I don't think Chris and I have had a day like this in thirty years.  It was Christmas morning.  But there was something strange right from the start.  That was just it.  It didn't start - until after 8 a.m.  See, it was just the two of us.  Mom was in Houston at Jay's.  Kel and Christina and their boys were in California.  Josh and Christi and Zak were in Mansfield.  Nathan was at work, and April was house-sitting.  Quiet had set in.  Very strange experience.  Not sure I particularly like it.  Oh, I loved the part about being alone with Chris.  I just like to be surrounded with activity as well. 


We exchanged gifts while sitting on the floor near Nathan and April's tree.  Our gifts were pretty simple.  I got a movie and a book on apologetics I had been wanting to replace.  The other one got wet.  I also got a start on a new collection of fiction with the final book in the Eragon series (it's about a dragon) and the Harry Potter book, Tales of the Bard.  Chris got a calendar (a traditional gift from me), some slippers, and one of those picture frames you can load like a computer.  Now I have to figure out how it works.  I did hastily carve her out a tribute to the year with my new carving tools.  Very simple.  It's kind of a tree ornament that says "Ike 2008." 


My favorite gift of the whole day, though, was one that I gave Chris.  One of the things we salvaged was an old poster that we bought back in our hippie days right after we were married.  With Nathan and April's help, I had the old poster framed in a very nice frame.


The poster says, "Let there be such oneness between you that when one cries, the other will taste salt."  It was frayed on the edges, ripped in a few places, and generally pretty wrinkled up.  But it immediately became a symbol of our love and our relationship.  It lasted (as did our relationship!) over thirty-three years - through hot summers in Houston, ice storms in Mansfield, and blizzards in Denver.  It held up through college, seminary, kids, and grandkids.  It's been sticky-tac'ed in the living room, thumbtacked in the garage, and rolled up in the pantry.  It has survived apartment fires and island-wide floods.  As have we.  I love you, Chris.


"Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.  If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned." - Song of Solomon 8:7


Father, I love you, too.  My life together with Chris is but a dim reflection of the gift – the life – you have given both of us with you.  Thank you.  Amen.


December 24 – “Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve.  How "normal" would today be?  We have the usual last minute errands to get done for the Christmas Eve service.  That begins with picking up the ten dozen donuts by 11:00.  They close at noon.  When they found out what they were for, they even gave us a ten percent discount.  Every year we give away donuts on Christmas Eve to people who have to work.  Firemen, Policemen, convenience store workers, bars, ferry operators, contractors, Centerpoint energy guys – all have been the recipients of a box of donuts from a Seasider.  It's one of my favorite times of the service – to see who grabs a box and hear where they plan to share it.


We had lunch with Nathan and April at Shrimp n Stuff.  It's one of those "secret" places that locals know about – very little ambiance, but really good seafood.  Then we had to make a quick trip to WalMart.  Now that has always been one of my personal Christmas Eve traditions.  Go to WalMart and walk around watching people do last minute Christmas shopping.  Chris has never been with me before.  She never wanted to deal with the crowds.  But this time we needed to pick up an iron.  Yep.  That thing you use to get the wrinkles out of stuff.  We used to have one, but it got wet.  So she got an iron and I got to watch people.  Everybody's happy.  We even found some icicle lights on sale for a dollar fifty.  We snatched them up, but we don't have anyplace to hang them right now.  And if we did, we don't have any electricity to plug them in.  But we will.


The Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion service went pretty well.  We had a lot of visitors and not very many Seasiders.  I wore my new black Ike dress shoes.  Boy, did I ever think I was dressed up.  Until Hutch got there in a full on suit.  At least he was still wearing sandals.  Then the little guys, Matt and Will (age 3 and 4), came in dressed … up.  They had suits and little ties and vests.  Talk about showpieces for the evening.  There were Methodists from Katy and Catholics from Pirates Beach and Baptists from Galveston all gathered together to say Happy Birthday to Jesus in our Seaside way.  All the donuts got new homes, and one couple even bought six dozen more of their own to give away.  We caroled and shared held our candles high in honor of the little baby who grew up to die … and not stay dead. 


After the service we went out to the Stone's house in Santa Fe.  Every year they have a big Christmas Eve party and Jim cooks up a storm.  This year I got some of his pasta and a few hunks of dead chicken (they raise them now).  But my favorite every year is a crab dip they make that is great.  Took me awhile to find it, though.  I was really hungry, too.  But when I did uncover it I dug in.  I told the people around me that I could go home now.  I had found the mother lode, and it was time to feast.  Now that I think about it, though, the true "mother lode" actually found me back when I was eighteen and depressed and without a plan in my life.  Romans 10:20 quotes Isaiah talking about the Lord, "I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me."  I don't think I so much chased God, as he very calmly and gently sought me. 


Father, thank you for the kind and gentle spirit you have with your rambunctious children.  That would be  … me.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

December 23 – “The Drill”

I spent the better part of today by myself.  Chris went to Bay City to take her Mom to a doctor's appointment.  I had a few "assignments" to take care of.  The proverbial trip to WalMart.  A stop by the Post Office to mail the first round of our Christmas letters and a package.  A quick trip to Target to get some packing tape for the package.  Back to the post office.  A haircut.  Office Depot for an ink cartridge.  We used up all our ink on the Christmas letters. 


But most of my day was spent at our Galveston house.  I've been kind of avoiding actually doing a full day's work there, but I ran out of excuses.  So today was pull out old electrical wire day.  And I'll say up front – no, I didn't finish.  It was a lot bigger job than I thought.  It was kind of scary, too.  As I unscrewed waterlogged outlets and clipped wires and tugged and pulled and coiled, I began to notice quite a few places where the old wire was frayed and bare.  Then there were the places where two different size wires had been spliced together using only electrical tape.  Not to mention all the times one of those big staples had been nailed right through the wire.  That was my first point of revelation for the day.  I finally reached a point where I can wholeheartedly say, "Thank you, God, for Hurricane Ike."  Without the storm, and the damage, and in particular the mold, we never would have reached the point of pulling out wires.  And we never would have realized that we were living in one of the worst fire hazards on Galveston Island. 


I realized something else today.  It has to do with the drill we were given right after we returned to Galveston back in September.  It's one of those rechargeable ones with an extra battery pack.  I remember charging both of them up the night we got it, and being so excited to have my "first" power tool.  And since that next day we have used that drill as our first line of action against anything that needs to be unscrewed.  And that has been a lot.  It works great. 


So what's the big deal?  Well, it hit me during this fine Hanukkah season that we have a Hanukkah drill.  Hanukkah is a big deal to the Jews because oil burned in the temple for eight days instead of the one that it should have lasted.  This drill is a big deal because it hit me today that I have never used the extra battery pack.  I have never recharged the first one, either.  The drill has worked steadily at least several times a week for over three months. OK, now I'm not saying that's a miracle on the level of Hanukkah, but it is a pretty long time without being recharged.  I can't go that long spiritually without recharging.  I get flat out depressed.  Ps 51:10 says, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me."


Father, can I just ditto that verse?  Thanks.  Amen.

Monday, December 22, 2008

December 22 – “Art”

Art.  No, not the Art who is my daughter-in-law's father.  He's a great guy, but not what I mean right now.  I mean art.  That stuff you had to study about in college so you could be considered "cultured."  Sculpture and paint and clay and music.  I had to take a required class in college called Culture and Human Experience.  That was my first real introduction to art.  But at least part of our class was spent on religions and mythology.  I was interested in that.  Our youth pastor is taking a class on art appreciation.  No getting away from it there.  He's getting truly "art-ified."


Today we ventured once again into the world of art.  It's still a secret to her, so don't tell Mom until after Thursday.  We went in with our sons' families to commission a painting for Mom for her Christmas present.  Now does that make us sound like some kind of wealthy patrons of the art, or what?  See, Christina has a good friend (several, actually) who can paint really well.  And Mom has – well, had – a house that has, for want of a better way to put it, seen better days.  She also has paintings of the two main houses she has lived in during her lifetime.  1.  The Old Homestead in Spring.  And, 2.  The house of her days of wedded bliss – the one across the street from Grace Episcopal Church on 36th and L in Galveston – the one she lived in when I was born.  But there was one house missing.  She lived in her house on Sycamore for over fifty years, and it had yet to be immortalized.  So we took on the challenge.  And today Chris and I went to pick it up.


I wondered how I would feel when I saw it.  That was the house we moved into when I was five years old.  I have my own set of memories associated with that place.  I had one of those excruciating boy-girl parties when I turned thirteen in that house.  I recuperated from that "basketball-goal-falling-on-my-head-no-that's-another-story-I-won't-tell-it-now" injury I had when I was a sophomore.  I brought girlfriends home to be grilled by my brothers and cousins there.  And now, since Ike, I'm not sure if we are going to keep it in the family or not. 


OK.  Mixed emotions and all that.  But when I did see it, inwardly I was excited, appalled, amazed, angry, and incredibly grateful all at once.  Outwardly I kicked into art critic mode.  It was really well done.  I couldn't do that well with one those paint by numbers things.  Yet there was a painting of my Mom's house.  Amazing.  But where was Alice's house?  And the Farrell's?  And that little piece of Jones Park you can see through the back fence?  As I picked my way through it, I realized that what made this Mom's house was not what it looked like, but what it was in relation to the rest of the neighborhood.  And I knew right then that what makes me me is who I am in relationship with - first of all - Jesus, then Chris, then my boys, and their wives, and my grandsons, and Seaside.  My family.  Hebrews 2:11 says, "Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers."  That's quite a family I have.  Look at them.


Father, when I'm gone and they try to paint a picture of me, help them remember to hide me behind you and all those others so it will be realistic.  Amen.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

December 21, 2008 – “Your virtual memory is low”

Today was Sunday.  It sure is good to see those folks.  They are encouraging just to be around.  We only had fifteen or twenty people there today.  A real intimate group.  But among them was a grandmother who decided a few weeks ago that it was time her granddaughter was in church every Sunday.  Also there were some of the students from our Christian school who are also in our youth group.  Great kids.  The teaching was about temptation, and I used the example of kinds of chocolate bars.  I had some samples to show off.  I didn't have one of my favorite, though.  I love Nestle's Crunch, and I haven't been able to find one since the storm.  I did get a bag of Christmas bells made of Crunch chocolate, though.  Anyway, after church the girls went over to the convenience store next door and returned with two Crunch bars and a 3 Musketeers (my second place winner).  Can't wait until after dinner tonight.


We worked on our family Christmas newsletter this afternoon.  Chris usually writes it and I add words of wisdom comments here and there.  This year it's more Chris than me.  But we did put some new pictures in of everybody.  One from Nathan & April's wedding, one of the grandsons in front of the Christmas tree in a rare semi-quiet moment.  I started printing them out, and got about twenty done when all of a sudden one came out with one of the pictures missing.  It wasn't lack of ink.  I just changed the cartridges.  And besides, the print next to it was fine.  The picture was just missing.  I tried again.  Now that picture was back, but a different one was gone.  It was very strange.  It chose a random picture every time to just - forget.  Finally my computer caught up with what was happening in the printer.  It flashed an error message that said something along the lines of "Your virtual memory is low.  I'm working to redistribute it for more effective operation."  OK.  What is virtual memory?  Where are you redistributing it to?  And how come you get to decide what is the most "effective operation"?  Yes, I was talking to my computer.  But it didn't give me any clues for fixing the problem, so I did what any other self-respecting semi-computer-ignorant operator would have done in my place.  I rebooted.  It seemed to work fine for awhile, but the problem did resurface, and I quickly rebooted again.  Then I quit with the letter for the day.  That's enough "virtual memory" confusion for one day.


My virtual memory gets low a lot.  Especially when I'm tired.  I forget, too.  I forget names.  I forget where I put things.  I forget to be selfless.  I forget to look for ways to do things for other people.  I forget … and that seems like a too-convenient excuse to me right now.


Psalms 103:2-5 says, "Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits - who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."


Father, inspire my "virtual memory."  I don't want to forget.  I want to remember – and act – and remind people of you.  Amen.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

December 20 – “Dolphins”

I saw the ultimate sign of hope today.  Well, it was a sign for me.  I guess it might be one of those BOI (Born On Island) kind of things.  But today I saw two dolphins playing in the water off the seawall. 


Now, dolphins are not unusual to the Gulf of Mexico.  We used to see them all the time.  Before Ike.  I haven't seen a single one since the storm.  Until today.  Now it's going to be OK.  I know it's still really bad around here, but it's not over yet.  I saw dolphins.  Everything's going to be OK in the end.  Since it's not OK, it's simply not the end.  And that means there is more to come.  I saw dolphins.


Let me tell you why dolphins mean so much to me.  One day several years ago I was wade fishing out in front of WalMart.  I usually wade out to the first sand bar and fish from there.  It's not hard to get to, but it's still far enough out that you really don't know what you'll catch.  That's what makes it so much fun to wade fish.  Anyway, I got brave and swam a little so I could get out to the second sand bar.  There were hardly any waves, so I cast out in great anticipation.  About then I saw it.  Swimming around about ten yards or so from me was a shark.  I could only see his fin. But that was enough to 1.  Know it was a shark, and 2.  Begin backpedaling toward shore as fast as I could.  He got closer and closer, and I was about to the place where I would have to turn around and swim, taking my eyes off him.  I was not exactly excited about my situation.  Things looked bad.


Suddenly, two dolphins surfaced about five yards away, between me and the shark.  They were heading east, parallel to the shore, but for some reason they turned directly toward the shark and took off.  It was like they were on a collision course with him, when they split off at the last second.  Then they gathered for a second run.  They were toying with the shark.  I was fascinated.  Not fascinated enough to stay on the second sand bar, but fascinated.  I watched them harass the shark for what seemed like ten minutes before he finally swam away.  As he left heading toward deeper water, the dolphins surfaced a few times where I could see them, then continued on their own journey.


So, do you see why I like dolphins?  And why they are signs of good things to come for me?  No, it's not that God declared them to be a sign unto Galveston like unto the rainbow he set in the sky for Noah.  But, you know what?  If the dolphins are back, things must be looking up.  It's a sign.


Signs were a big thing back when Jesus was born, too.  Luke 2:12 says, "This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."   Seems like the sign of the dolphin would have been more exciting.


Father, thank you for that sign of hope in a little baby.  Thanks for my own personal sign of hope in the two dolphins.  I know you are in control.  Amen.



December 19 – “Books”

I miss books.  The computer is great and I use it pretty much every day.  But there is nothing like a book.  More than once since the storm I have been sitting at the desk in Omega Bay working on a sermon, and I have absent mindedly reached over to where there used to be a shelf full of reference books.  But it's not there any more. 


Chris and I love to read Christian fiction.  The Ted Decker series is like a spider web.  He weaves a plot that not only carries forward into his next volume but also references little tidbits from earlier events in the lives of the characters that make you wonder what their life was like "back then."  Kind of like in Star Wars when Yoda says, "There is one other."  Master story teller.  We have his most recent two – Saint and Sinner – because we were reading them when we evacuated.  But several times we wanted to go back to an earlier book and look up something about a character.  But those books are gone.  The Harry Potter series is gone.  We usually read that whole series again whenever the next movie comes out.  The Chronicles of Narnia.  I know we have both read that series at least fifteen or twenty times.  Lemony Snicket.  Odd, but somehow compelling.  Frank Peretti.  Now there's another master storyteller.  Anybody who can write a story for kids and turn around and write something like Piercing the Darkness is amazing.  Lord of the Rings.  At least our DVD's of this one survived – although there has never been a movie made from a good book that has been better than the book.  Just doesn't happen.


An interesting thing happened today.  We had several visitors from Brownwood, Texas, who were checking out Galveston to see how they could help out down here.  As they toured my "House of Studs" they asked about my books.  I guess that's why I thought about missing them so much.  They even got specific and asked what commentary I used most.  That was easy.  Other than a few I check out from time to time online, the only commentary I use consistently is the New American.  It's pretty simple to understand, but still scholarly enough to answer some of the language and sociological questions I often have about a text.  It's also the one Kel always borrowed. 


The guys left around noon, shortly after a quick visit to Seaside to look around.  We had to rush over to our babysitting assignment.  Kel had a doctor's appointment, and then they were going to do some Christmas shopping.  Anyway, we didn't leave there until around 8:30, and we still had to go by the house to check on the mail.  That's a big deal because not very many people have electricity in our neighborhood yet, so it gets dark when it gets dark.  When we got to the house there were several boxes on the front porch, so we loaded them into the truck and headed for Omega. 


When I finally got them upstairs and settled down to see what they were, I remembered being encouraged by a fellow pastor to make a phone call to Lifeway and tell them I lost books in the storm.  Could this be the result of that call?  I was guardedly excited as I opened up the boxes.  Unbelievable.  They had sent me an entire set of the New American Commentary.  There were some other books included as well, but the only commentary I regularly use.  How specific can you get?  It's almost as if they knew what I needed before I asked.  Hmm.  Wait a minute.  That seems vaguely familiar.


Matthew 6:8 says, " … for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."


Father, it's you again, isn't it?  You know what I need before I can even catch up with you.  Once again, I am stunned.  Amen.