Thursday, December 31, 2015

December 31 – “Question of the year”

So … Noa and Luke are our youngest.  Sweet little two year olds who capture your heart just by being in the same room.  And speaking of being in the same room, I have to share an end of the year “in-room” story that Christi told us yesterday. 

She was in the bathroom, apparently doing some last-minute preparation for whatever exciting family circus event we had planned (Hey, we slept a little last night.  You can’t expect me to remember everything).  Luke was with her.  Before long young Noa arrived, just to check on things, I’m sure.  Being the consummate super aunt, Christi dutifully asked Noa, “Do you have to go potty?”  Noa, being the incredibly vocal child that she is, replied, “No.”  A long, awkward silence followed, until finally Christi realized that her rapt attention was no longer required - or desired.  So she forced herself to look away, maintaining an ever-present listening ear.  Perhaps she should have exited the room instead.

Once it was established that the adult in the room was no longer paying attention, Noa turned her focus to her younger cousin.  Getting his attention she asked that question of the year that burns in the minds of two-year-old girls with three older brothers across the galaxy, “Do you have a penis?”  OK, now that you have all collectively gasped or guffawed or stifled a chuckle or felt some inward sense of “How could he possibly have written that down?” …

Luke took it all in the stride of a totally cool kid.  Without missing a beat, he responded, “Yeah.  I a boy.”  Perfect answer.  Grammar will come later (or not), but concise, to the point.  Answered the question.  Added the scientific rationale.  No frills.  Can’t get any better than that.

And Noa’s reply?  “I thought so.”  Well there you go.  See?  She was just verifying a scientific hypothesis of her own.  So far it had proven to be the case three times in a row in regard to brothers.  It was simply time to expand the parameters to include cousins. 

And finally, her Mom’s weary word of wondering upon hearing the tale … “I just hope she doesn’t still ask that when she’s like fourteen.”

1 Peter 3:13 says, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?”

Father, thank you for those two two-year-olds we have the opportunity to learn from.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

December 30 – “Not a dinosaur”

Could there possibly be anything worse than getting called into the principal’s office?  I think maybe Chris discovered that there indeed is.  What could possibly rank so high in the realm of horrifying fates?  Wait for it … she got a call from the dentist.  They had an opening and her future appointment could be moved up should she so desire.  Now who in their right mind would “so desire”?  That would be my lovely wife.  The opening was for 10 a.m.  She received the call at 9:35.  And she made it with moments to spare.  As it turned out, all they did was a cleaning.  At some point she is destined to suffer though a crown and all that entails, but for now at least she is in the clear, dentally.

While waiting for time to leave for our rendezvous with grandchildren, I began the arduous process of ending our records year and opening up a new one.  Not that I am a world-class financial genius.  I just mean I had to empty out all the file folders where we put our monthly bill statements, and get those innards ready for the income tax sweep sometime next month.  Whoppee.

Around noon we headed to the LaMarque Vaughans’ house for lunch.  Pizza, of course, which was inhaled as quickly as possible so they could get on to more important things.  It was an opportunity for the Waco bunch to get in some serious cousin play time in the domain of the LaMarque crowd.  That meant serious video games on the one hand and breaking in the new climbing toy outside on the other.  It was a little chilly, though, so inside activities were clearly the more popular option. 

Last night we finally got a chance to see the movie Jurassic World, thanks to Zak and Caleb.  They brought it along in hopes they could watch it – again.  They had no idea they would have the joy of introducing it to Nani and DadDad for the very first time.  And it wasn’t an easy position for them to be in.  See, they knew what was about to happen.  And on the one hand they didn’t want us to be frightened.  On the other hand they didn’t want us to dare miss what was coming next.  That notable combination of fear and adventure.  Perfect recipe for a movie.  My favorite line in the movie?  “That thing in there is not a dinosaur.”  Even though it looks like a dinosaur, roars like a dinosaur, eats like a dinosaur, consists of the combined DNA of six or eight different dinosaurs, and frightens people almost (but not quite) as much as a dentist.  Nope.  Not a dinosaur. 

1 Peter 3:9 says, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

Father, thank you for the chance to share something dinosaur-ifically special with our grandkids.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

December 29 – “App-lication”

Well, our overly tech-savvy oldest son Kel introduced us to yet another miracle of modern photo-salvation.  It’s called Google photos.  Not much to it, really.  Download the free app to your phone and tell it to go get your photos.  It saves them for free to that mysterious cloud-thingy in the sky.  My pictures took the better part of two days to complete, and things were showing up that were not on my camera.  I mean things from a long time ago.  Even some of our 2008 Hurricane Ike pictures were on there.  Oh, and the photos from Mom’s 80th birthday party.  That was held in 2000.  Only thing I can figure is that I must have had some kind of iCloud account at one time and forgot about it.  Chris’ backup is still going after three days.  She’s on number 1200 or something like that. 

The program even does weird things with the pictures you load into it.  It creates collages to see if you like them and want to save them.  My favorite thing, though, is when it takes several pictures that look very similar and combines them into an animation.  That has resulted in some really funny combinations so far.  I guess it has also served the whole purpose of the app download, though.  We need to clear out the photos on Chris’ camera so she has more room to take more. 

Well, the app commercial probably gave you the impression that yesterday was a slow news day.  Your impression is correct.  We finished our marathon watching of Star Wars I-VI in chronological order (not recommended, but then nothing in the first two movies is worth watching anyway.  I would have included the third one as well, but the creation of Darth Vader is pretty intense).  We found out that our copy of Return of the Jedi is pretty scarred up.  Not sure why.  Maybe Hurricane Ike had something to do with it.  We even watched some Monday Night Football (only because the Broncos were playing and Kel told me if they lose the Texans automatically get a playoff spot.  The Broncos won.  Not sure what that means for the Texans now). 

Grandchildren return later today, so we are getting prepared for the onslaught.  I understand we have a submarine excursion in our near future …

1 Peter 3:8 says, “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”

Father, please keep our travelers warm and safe on the roads today.  Amen.

Monday, December 28, 2015

December 28 - “Our Christmas”

Chris and I went out clubbing Saturday night.  Well, to be fair, we went to one club.  OK, to be completely honest, we went to MOD Coffeehouse to listen to Jim (one of our praise team guys) sing outside.  It was pretty nice.  The weather was great in spite of the weatherman’s predicted rainfall that never materialized.  We just sat outdoors and drank cold hot chocolate (my only complaint about the evening) and talked to Charlotte (Jim’s wife).  He did a great job, by the way.  He had a good rapport with the crowd, and I just like the way he sounds.  Nice job, Jim.

Yesterday was our actual family Christmas.  It was the first time everyone could be together in the same place.  Josh and Christi and their boys got here first, so they had to experience the anguish of patience – waiting on their belated cousins to arrive.  Problem was, Noa was taking a nap (read here, Kel was watching the Texans football game), so I didn’t expect them until the game was over.  Nathan and April were driving in from their Christmas in Corpus Christi, and they ran into a patch of the nasty weather that kept threatening in Galveston (It held off here, though, until everyone arrived). 

Once everyone was here and I had my Galveston Santa suit on (that would be a Santa hat and the coat with the sleeves rolled up and the front collar rolled under), we begin the festivities.  And of course that meant reading the Christmas story first.  Kel found the version he had read Christmas Day on his phone, so I read it off of Kindle (whatever that means).  Next came … no not presents.  Next was Nani’s picture of all the grandkids holding their stockings but not looking inside yet (Quite the feat, I might add).  I think amid the 700 or so that we took we might be able to find one or two that will be usable for a Christmas letter.  And finally it was time. 

First the kiddos checked out their stockings.  Fun stuff there, and yes, Josiah, they each had an apple.  Then they were all set to get after the presents.  But wait.  Nani pointed out that the adults hadn’t even received their stockings yet.  Well, taking care of that minor oversight took all of two seconds.  Come on, Nani.  Finally the time had arrived.  We decided this year that whoever had come from farthest away could give out their presents first.  Caleb leapt at the chance to represent Waco.  I suppose Cailyn could have made a case, since they had indeed driven in from Corpus Christi.  But they live in Galveston.  Caleb and Zak were on for distribution.  They were followed by the LaMarque cousins and then the Galveston cousin.  And finally Nani and DadDad had our turn to hand out Christmas joy.  I kind of liked this approach.  It emphasized giving, but everyone received every round as well. 

Tacos were the cuisine for the day, and the Dad gifts were distributed while around the table (those would be the special gifts I select for each of the adults to show them that someone really did think about them enough during the past year to give them an “appropriate” present).  They are usually little commemorative things.  Two tiny rhinos for April since she enjoyed watching them so much when we all went to the zoo.  A giant blow-up of the picture Christi had taken of her and Chip Gaines, the Waco TV celebrity.  A Rapunzel wig for Nathan so he can continue his exploits as Aquaman indefinitely.  A Texans #1 fan finger with every quarterback who has ever played for the Texans inserted on it (I had to unwrap that gift six or seven times.  The Texans just couldn’t keep a healthy quarterback).  A little minion to let Chris know that she is cared for during the allergy season (Sorry, that story would require way too much time).  Some DC Comics world “wallpaper” for Christina’s downstairs superheroes-themed bathroom.  And for Josh, some “inspirational” reading material inspired by certain issues they have had in one particularly crucial room of their house.  Great fun for all, and hopefully memorable.

Acts 16:34 says, “The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God — he and his whole family.”

Father, thank you again for the family you blessed us with.  We have been given the gift of quite a quiver.  We love ‘em.  Amen.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

December 27 – “Mobile Christmas”

Well, I guess I’m finally down to Christmas Day in  my review of events in the life of the Vaughans.  Oh.  And speaking of Vaughan events reviews, Chris has been working hard on our Christmas newsletter to send out.  Shouldn’t be too much longer.  Just wait until after the kids all come in this week.  That might take a tad of her time.  But we’ll get to it.  So, what happened around here on Christmas Day?  For much of the day you would have to check with Fritz and Heidi and Fred.  They were holding down the fort for us as we went mobile. 

First off, we went over to Kel and Christina’s.  Early.  Their kids had been told that they couldn’t come down the stairs until after 7 a.m.  So we had to be there before then.  The plan was for us to come on in the house (we have a spare key) and wait quietly on the couch until someone shows up from upstairs.  I guess that would let the adults sleep in.  Plane didn’t work so well.  We forgot our key so Christina had to get up and let us in.  Now we knew she had already been awake, because she texted us around 5:30 to ask to borrow some salt when we came.  But sadly, she had managed to fall asleep.  What do I have to say to that?  Wake up Mom!  It’s Christmas!  And get Dad out of the bed, too, because you won’t let us start without him. 

Chris and Christina soon disappeared into the kitchen to make some breakfast tacos.  But it wasn’t long before we heard the long-expected cry of “Can we come downstairs yet?”  Ah, music to a parent’s ears.  We all gathered around the tree and listened as Kel read the Christmas story from a children’s Bible.  Pretty exciting stuff.  And then came “The First Gift.”  Christina did this one.  She picked up a tiny little unwrapped box.  She told us that inside that box was the absolute greatest gift ever.  I gotta tell you.  I was excited.  She handed it to little two-year-old Noa to open.  The tension was intense.  Her little fingers managed to get the top off the box and she squealed with delight, “It’s Baby Jesus in a manger.”  Perfect.  But my favorite part of the LaMarque Vaughan Christmas morning experience (well, aside from having Noa snuggle up with me during the story)?  When Josiah excitedly approached with that mixture of wonder and hope that only a  child can really perfect, “DadDad, Santa put an apple in my stocking last year.  I wonder if he will put one this year.”  That was it.  Before opening any other present.  He wasn’t talking about video games or Star Wars paraphernalia.  Just an apple in his stocking.  You did it, Santa.  Christmas spirit prevails.

After watching the rest of the present opening festivities, we finally headed for a brief stop at home before our next Christmas Day appointment.  During the interval Chris and I shared the gifts we had for each other.  I was excited to get a wide-bodied seat for my new bicycle, along with some other accessories, not the least of which was the one I truly longed for … a horn.  I have a horn on my bike.  Watch out when I hit the streets, folks.  You WILL hear me coming.  I think Chris was pleased with the carving.  It was a strange one, a real “Sculpt on the shelf.”  It goes along with parable I wrote for the Christmas Eve service.  Maybe you’ll get to read it someday when my children publish all my wacky writings. 

For lunch we headed over to Nathan and April’s to see what Christmas wonders six-year-old Cailyn was beholding.  And first off?  She now has her very own scooter, just like Mom and Dad’s.  Well, maybe not JUST like theirs.  Hers only gets up to around 15 miles per hour, but believe me, that is plenty fast enough.  She raced out of the driveway and into the street whooping all the way.  She even put a foot to the pavement when she turned just like the motorcycle girls do.  Which, by the way is a no-no in the scooter world.  They have to do a little work on protocol.  She did have a helmet on, though.  But it kind of flopped to the rear on her way back.  Enough that Nani and Mommy noticed.  That’s when we learned another rule of thumb for joyriding scooters.  Your hair has to be in a ponytail.  Wonder if I need to add that to my bicycle safety list?  Lunch was great.  Roast and gravy and rice.  I even managed to get a helping of rice, too.  That’s never a done deal when Cailyn and Nathan are around.  They can eat a pound each. 

Once we returned home and got all settled in with Freddy at our side on the couch, we had a FaceTime call with Josh and Christi and their boys.  Well, actually, Josh held the iPad so we could see Christi in her yellow Christmas sweats hard at work in the kitchen and Luke rolling down his choo choo train roller coaster over and over … and over and over.  I think the little guy likes that one.  The older two even took a turn on it, so the thing must be pretty sturdy.  Speaking of the older two, I think their favorite Christmas surprise had something to do with one box they opened with a letter X on the outside.  And inside was the actual X-Box 360 they have been wanting.  Watch out, gaming world.  Two more Vaughans have been released into the fray.

Since then our Christmas experience has been relatively quiet.  I have tried to get a little ahead on sermon preparation.  Chris has finished sewing projects.  We both watched some movies (After seeing the new Star Wars movie, we – OK, read here “I” – were inspired to watch the others again.  I’m sure no one else in the world thought the do the same).  I think we have sufficiently recharged the batteries for what is to come this week, today in fact.  Everyone is coming here for our family Christmas.  Can’t wait …

Luke 2:28-32 says, “Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’”

Father, thank you yet again for brand new Christmas memories.  Keep ‘em coming.  Amen.  

Saturday, December 26, 2015

December 26 – “On A-n-g-l-e-s and family Christmas Eve lore”

I got to experience one of those little fun memory moments at our Christmas Eve service.  It was a great service, by the way.  We had 55 people there, and a good mixture of Seaside regulars and out of town guests.  The theme was A Galveston Island Christmas, with poetic testimonies from Island residents.  Now wait a minute before you tune out.  The residents were pretty special.  A sand dollar.  A sea gull.  A star fish.  A catfish.  Now how’s that for Island-y?  Six-year-old Korty volunteered to hand out the gift bags we gave everyone who came, and after a while he came up to  me and said, in the most business-like voice he could muster, “Pastor Kelley, I’m finished with my job.”  I thanked him heartily and he rushed away to check in with Mom and Dad to see what mischief he could discover next.

The folks who came were all in a festive, jolly mood from the moment they arrived.  It made for a really fun service.  Like when we all caught a mistake at the same time in the words to the music video of Angels We Have Heard on High.  Whoever put it together misspelled the word “angel.”  For them it had become A-N-G-L-E.  Angle … as in “right” or “acute” or all those other geometry-kind of words.  One girl on particular got tickled with the mistake, and when we made eye contact and I was already grinning from ear to ear, she pretty much lost it.  Then every time the word appeared again on the screen, we instantly made eye contact again, and fought to restrain a guffaw again.  That was the funniest song I have sung all year. 

After the service an entire family approached me.  Mom and Dad and four lovely young teenagers, one of whom was my cohort in hilarity regarding the holy “angles.”  Seems they had a story to tell.  The Dad started the contact by asking how long I had been at the church.  I replied “20 years.”  He smiled a knowing grin and mummered, “Yep, I thought so.”  The Mom continued, “We have been here several times before on Christmas Eve.  Whenever we find ourselves in Galveston.”  And then one of the daughters couldn’t hold it in any longer, “And we have a story about something SHE did,” pointing to one of the other sisters.  And the pointee immediately turned red as a beet and cried, “You’re not,” which of course was like tossing fuel on a flame for the other sisters.  They began the story, and between the three of them, managed to get it all out, despite the objections and abject humiliation of little sis.  Seems that ten years before, when said little sis was but a six-year-old youngling, we were following our Seaside Christmas Eve tradition of taking goodies to people who have to work on the holiday.  Back then it just happened to be during our homemade cookies phase (we have graduated to donuts now, and this year we even added individual Christmas ornaments to the mix).  So our little sister could hardly wait for the service to end so she could race to the table and grab a bagful of cookies.  Which she promptly ate.  Nine of the dozen, so their family lore tells.  Needless to say, the star of the show was mortified.  In an effort to calm her spirits, I placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and leaned in close to whisper, “That’s OK.  I have just the thing to make it all better.  And entire box of donuts just for you.  And you eat every one of them.”  Somehow, however, the rest of the family managed to hear my efforts at consolation.  And their laughter almost drowned out young sister’s curt, yet polite, reply, “No thank you.  I’m good.”  Ah.  You gotta love the creation of family Christmas Eve lore.

Luke 2:20 says, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

Father, thank you for close-knit families and special Christmas traditions.  Amen.

Friday, December 25, 2015

December 25 – “Merry Christmas Mr. Plumber”

Yep.  We had some plumbing issues.  One has been with us for some time now.  The diverter on the shower is stuck in the shower position.  That means when you turn on the water it automatically comes out of the showerhead instead of the bathtub faucet.   Not a problem, really.  We can still get water and take showers and fill up the bathtub, but it is frustrating not to have it working properly.  So, when the kitchen sink backed up and we had to call Mr. Plumber anyway, we asked him to fix it.  Not such an easy option.  First off, he couldn’t get the part off.  And since he figured we would have to break it off, he called the company and they agreed to send a new part ... for free. 

Several days later when the part came in, Mr. Plumber came back.  Wrong part.  Of course.  He called them back, and they agreed to send the correct one - with a cryptic comment about how “we changed that part back in 2011.”  That would be two years after the one we had.  Something about problems it had caused. 

The new part came in the other day, so back to Mr. P.  Good thing he was available, because by that time the other bathroom’s sink had stopped up.  Mr. P brought in all his heavy tools and attacked the diverter first.  He finally got all the plastic broken off, but just couldn’t get the brass piece to budge.  He had never seen anything quite like this problem.  Of course.  With a heavy heart Mr. P admitted defeat and started recommending new faucet manufacturers.  He put it all back together and sealed it off so we can still use it like we always have until we can choose a new one and call him again.  As he trudged out of the room he noticed the new part the company had dutifully sent.  He picked it up, turned it over in his hands and asked, “Do you have a fireplace?  I recommend throwing this in it and letting it burn.” 

Ah, but the story does not end there.  Then he went to the other bathroom to deal with the stoppage there.  Now this sink is where the plumbing crew (after Hurricane Ike) tied in a line from the AC exhaust so it would pump and drain more easily.  That wasn’t the problem It was still pumping and sending the water right where it was supposed to … into this drain.  The clogged one.  And the clog was in the line inside the walls somewhere.  Of course.  But those earlier plumbers hadn’t installed a way to get a roto-rooter tool into the pipe system (there is a name for that process, but I have no idea what it is).  So our guy had to cut the pipe off, run the roto rooter, and then install a tube connector for easy access in the future.  Everything was going really well.  So well, in fact that he hadn’t even gotten his towel wet.  He leaned in close to get a better grip on his auger line, when all of a sudden the AC pump chose that moment to kick into action.  It vomited excess water all over his nice clean towel and arm and maybe a little into his face.  He was, to say the least, startled.  He cried out, “Tell her to turn off the sink.”  But alas, there was no sink to turn off.  He had to receive the generous outpouring until it ran its course.  So much for a nice, clean, easy job. 

The rest of his time with us Mr. P told stories of other houses that appeared to have it out for him.  I guess ours has officially made his list.  Merry Christmas, Mr. Plumber.

Luke 2:4-7 says, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Father, thank you for our plumber.  He is good at what he does.  And he loves Jesus.  Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

December 24 – “The Final Update”

Let me do a quick whale update.  First reports had the whale as a pygmy sperm.  Apparently after getting closer, that was changed.  They are still waiting for DNA results to confirm, but it looks now like it was actually a Sei Whale, a member of the blue whale family that is on the endangered species list. 

Yesterday the necropsy was performed to get tissue and body part samples (teeth and a vertebra) for study.  Oh, I looked up the difference between an autopsy and a necropsy.  Seems they are the exact same thing – an examination of a body after death – but autopsies are only for humans and necropsies cover everything else.  The definitions read like this: “Autopsy: a necropsy on human beings.  Necropsy: an autopsy on animals.”  That clears that up. 

They buried the remains on the beach not far from where it was brought ashore.  Ordinarily they would haul it to an undisclosed location, but Galveston didn’t have any machinery heavy enough to handle the load.  So, rest in peace, Sei.

Luke 2:16-20 says, “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

Father, thank you again for the time and effort put in by all the people involved in the efforts to deal with this really rare event.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

December 23 – “Whale aground”

We had more than our share of excitement in Galveston yesterday.  A 45 foot long Sei Whale (in the Blue Whale family) beached itself on the shore of the island.  It was discovered by an early morning jogger who thought it was a log at first.  Then he saw the tail and a fin rise from the water. 

The fact that it was only about 30 yards from shore meant that it was probably already really sick.  One of the young ladies from Seaside, Lauren, is a member of the Texas sea mammal rescue group, so she was right in the thick of things as they tried to orchestrate a rescue attempt.  All their efforts proved to be to no avail, however.  The whale died around noon.  The word I heard was that it drowned.  I know that sounds strange, but the whale is a mammal, after all. 

After the death the arduous process began of hauling the body onto the shore so that the whale version of an autopsy could be performed.  Lauren helped with that effort as well.  She was one of the three ladies who fought the waves to get a tow strap around the whale’s tail, so that it in turn could be dragged from the water by huge construction machinery.  And that was no easy task.  The chain broke twice as they struggled to get the creature to shore.  They were ultimately successful, however.  Police officers were then assigned to guard the carcass overnight to protect it for the autopsy today.  After that is performed, I read that plans are to bury it on the beach right there where it was found.

Hundreds of people were there to see the very rare phenomenon, especially for Galveston.  Lauren told us that she has been working with mammal rescue for fifteen years, and she has only seen five whales along the Texas coast.  There were cameras with massive zoom lenses and simple cell phone cameras joining the television news crews – all recording the event for posterity.  Some videos and stills would fall into family archives.  Others would grace the airways through TV news or FaceBook.

Many were very sad to find that the whale finally died, even grieving.  Others reacted … well … differently, though.  For instance, a couple of guys walked past us and spoke Spanish to the fellow next to me.  He laughed heartily.  And as they walked away he translated, “They said they just came down here for their share of the free whale taco meat.”  One FaceBook post I read listed whale tacos, whale steaks, whale burgers, whale stew, whale sausage … and on and on and on.  Another mentioned switching the island to whale blubber fuel for a month or so.  I have to admit, the joking around was pretty funny.  That’s how many people handle death in any form.  The creature itself, however, was amazing.  I for one have never seen a whale up close.  Never even been on one of those Alaska cruises where you watch them play.  It was a massive, actually quite beautiful creature, even at its death.  A real display of the awesomeness of its Creator.

Ps 148:7-12 says, “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and maidens, old men and children.”

Father, you continue to prove how utterly awesome you are.  Please bless Lauren and her team for their hard work yesterday.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

December 22 – “Eerie Exploration”

I got to have one of those special “DadDad” moments one-on-one with one of my grandchildren yesterday.  We drove up to Willis to attend a funeral.  As it happened, Josh and his family were there as well.  The service got started and almost immediately Luke got antsy.  Not out of control, mind you.  Just wiggly.  Josh finally got up to carry him out, so I volunteered to receive the Luke hand-off so Josh could stay in the service.  We both thought Luke would drift off fairly quickly since it was his nap time anyway.  Well …

He did stay in my arms for a good five minutes, but I think it suddenly hit him that he was about to fall asleep and there were all sorts of new surrounding that he had yet to explore and conquer.  He jerked himself awake and the nap was ancient history.  We walked around the funeral home for a long time, but that soon lost out in its allure.  The fountain he could see outside was beckoning.  So I did what any self-respecting grandfather would have done.  I took him outside. 

The fountain was fun … for all of fifteen or twenty seconds.  But sensory overload got the best of him.  We needed to take a walk.  And what better place to take a two-year-old for a walk than a cemetery?  Now Luke is a very kind child.  And helpful.  We straightened vases of flowers that had fallen over.  We played respectfully with a hot wheels car that someone had left on a gravestone.  We put it back exactly where we found it.  We did not pick up the pretty rocks or the St. Christopher medal on another gravestone.  Those were just too special to disturb.  Oh, but we saw a lot of “Ho, Ho, Ho.”  That would be translated “images of Santa Claus on tiny little grave-sized Christmas trees.”  There are some elaborate decorations for tiny little Christmas trees.  I had no idea. 

As we reached the “back forty” just beyond the cemetery proper, Luke desperately wanted to play in the mud.  And there was a lot of it.  Problem was, ever little pile of mud was actually a heavily disguised ant bed.  Not a scenario I cared to be a part of.  But he finally found a Luke-sized Moses stick to carry around.  Man after my own heart. 

The funeral finally ended and we began to see folks filing out of the building, so we made our way back.  Luke never slowed down until he was strapped into his car seat.  We stopped at Chick-Fil-A for a quick supper before heading home.  It was just about two minutes away from the funeral home.  Josh and his crew stopped there as well.  And in that two minute drive Luke had fallen sound asleep.  Ah, to be two again.  It took me at least twenty minutes to fall asleep …

1 Peter 3:3-4 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.”

Father, walk with the family as they work through their grief.  Thank you that Johnny knew you well.  Welcome him into your presence.  Amen.

Monday, December 21, 2015

December 21 – “Santa Claus loves Jesus”

Yesterday I was invited to my very first non-grandfatherly gig as none other than Santa Claus.  The historical Reedy Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was having their annual Christmas choir program led by the Galveston Heritage Choir.  The church itself is home to one of the two existing pipe organs of its type in the world (Don’t ask me for any more specifics.  I was sufficiently awed at that, so the make and model certainly escape me now).  The other one is at the Smithsonian museum, so it must be a big deal.

How did I get involved in a place like that?  The lady who was in charge of the choir and who put the whole thing on, Izola Collins, is in our water exercise class.  The instructor was teasing me about my “Santa beard” at one of the sessions.  She said it was OK to grow the beard to play Santa, but I didn’t have her permission to grow the belly.  Izola heard the interchange and invited me, jokingly, to come be Santa at the production.  She was quite surprised when I agreed right on the spot. 

Back to the performance.  The choir was really good.  Lots of very strong voices.  They sang some familiar Christmas songs as well as some arrangements of Negro spirituals that were powerful.  We noticed right away, though that not a single person in attendance was under ten years old.  In fact the youngest was probably twenty-something.  There were lots of children there though.  Just much older ones.

After the choir part of the program was complete, Izola thanked everyone for coming, and then announced that she had a surprise for them all (she hadn’t even told her pastor that I was coming).  She called for me to come on in.  Now she hadn’t asked me to do anything in particular (“Just do Santa things” was her admonition).  So I brought along a bag full of candy canes taped to copies of the poem about the candy cane that links it to Jesus (Held one way it’s a shepherd staff and the other it’s a “J” for Jesus, etc.).  As I walked down the center aisle to the choir’s rendition of Jingle Bells, I handed out handfuls and asked people to pass them around.  And when I reached the front I did something I have always wanted to see a Santa do in these Santa appearances, I took off my Santa hat and knelt at the altar and prayed.  Then I left the room waving and saying Merry Christmas.  It was a very short appearance, but it was really fun to do.

Chris told me after I left that she introduced me as the fire department chaplain, so I guess I’d better let the chief know.  I try to inform him when I represent the department.  Better to be up front about those sort of things.  I did get one interesting comment from Izola’s son after everything was over.  He said, “That was the most anointed appearance of Santa that I’ve ever experienced.”  I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that, but again I must say, it was really fun.  Thanks for the invitation Mrs. Izola.  Ho, Ho, Ho.

1 Peter 2:17 says, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”

Father, thank you for the opportunity to show that even Santa loves Jesus.  Amen.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

December 20 – “Flat Stanley Adventure Day”

As we get down to the wire for the end of our visit with Flat Stanley, we decided to make a day of it and do some serious sightseeing around Galveston, F.S. in hand.  Cailyn was spending the day with us, so she agreed to accompany us on our little excursion and be a Pal for F.S. 

He got to see the Moody Gardens pyramids first, since they were closest to our house.  Then we headed out to the East End of the Island to show off some of the historic homes there.  We even stopped in front of the Bishop’s Palace on Broadway for a picture.  The hospital district was right around the corner as well, so we stopped off there.  Had to show him the Strand, the center of Galveston’s business district in the late 1800’s when we were the Wall Street of the West.  Both cruise ships were in port as we drove down Harborside.  And we couldn’t be that close to the central fire station without stopping to say hello to the fire fighters on duty.  Especially since one of them was Cailyn’s Daddy.  Lunch was at a local Whataburger, that uniquely Texas establishment started in Corpus Christi.  And finally (we saved the best for last, of course), we headed for the beach.  I know, it sounds kind of funny to talk about going to the beach in December.  But that’s one of the perks of living on a tropical island paradise.  We got some pictures of F.S. there, and Cailyn kicked off her shoes and ran in the sand.  Galveston girl.  The other two children down there with their parents were bundled up from head to toe.  Cailyn also collected some really pretty sea shells.

Today F.S. will join us at church to experience the Seaside style of worship and meet some of our families.  Maybe I can convince him to light the Advent wreath candles …

1 Peter 2:12 says, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Father, come down and join today as we worship you.  Amen.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

December 19 – “Use the Force”

Well, we did it.  Chris and I joined Kel and his boys (Christina stayed home with a sick Noa) for an excursion to the mall.  No, not to go Christmas shopping (which Chris and I did later on in the day).  This trip was actually to the movie theater connected to the mall.  And the movie?  Star Wars.  It’s been a long time since we have been first in line to see such a popular, yea even iconic, opening of a film.  Actually the “official” opening happened the night before.  That’s when the real geeks stood in line for hours waiting to be among the first.  We were among the “family-oriented geeks,” I guess.  You know, the ones with little kids who can no longer stay up until midnight, but have no issues with showing up at 9:30 in the morning to watch a movie with the youngsters who have been awake since before 6 a.m. anyway. 

All three of the boys were really excited, but none more so than Josiah, the six-year-old.  He was dressed to the hilt in his Darth Vader Halloween costume (sans the mask, however).  His grinning little face protruding from that embodiment of evil costume made him irresistibly cute.  We asked him to step back from us so we could take a pictures, and as he did, he put on his absolutely most serious face ever and quietly whispered, “I will eat all your popcorn.”  Frightening.  Finally the time came to open the big gate that separated the movie studio from the rest of the mall.  As it began its slow ascent, Josiah stepped up to the front of the line and stood at attention.  Was that a bit of a glitch in the mechanism?  It certainly seemed to slow ever so slightly.  And just about then, young Vader’s father encouraged him, “Use the Force, Josiah.”  The young Jedi’s arm extended in front of him.   A determined look enveloped him face.  His hand spread wide and … the gate resumed its smooth ascent.  So did the young Jedi get excited?  Not this one, for the Force is strong with him.  He calmly lowered his arm and strode confidently into the far reaches of the movie theater galaxy, his mind on a place long, long ago and far away …

Now here is where I might ordinarily engage in a one-sided review of the movie itself.  You know, tell my personal reactions to the little plot twists that affect the overall scheme of the Star Wars universe in general and the lives of the iconic characters in particular.  But I sort of promised not to do that.  Well, that’s not entirely accurate.  I was threatened that if I did do any revealing, I would be taken on a camping trip where I would be beaten within an inch of my life and then hung by that remaining thread of being over a slow burning outdoor fire pit.  They had me at “camping trip.”  No spoiler alert warnings necessary here.  I will say there were some flying words.  And plenty of battle scenes.  And Luke-cinda.  And Obi wan Ke-Luke-i.  Oh, and there were plenty of unanswered questions.  Just to keep the franchise alive for the next movie release, of course.  Said enough?  Too much?  Just go see it already.

1 Peter 2:10 says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Father, thank you for the wonder in the eyes of little ones as they anticipate entering into the universe of make-believe.  Amen.

Friday, December 18, 2015

December 18 – “Blanket-dropping”

Looks like we have some new neighbors at our old house across the street.  It started night before last.  A truck and a car appeared in the driveway.  The very first thing they unloaded?  A huge Christmas wreath that they hung on the front door.  I think I’m gonna like these people.  They took in a few things and then left for the night.  Next morning, the For Sale sign came down, and an entourage of pick-up trucks and SUV’s unloaded throughout the day.  All of the ones helping to unload were in their twenties, so I guess the median age of the neighborhood will drop just a tad.  We’ll have to go over and introduce ourselves when we can catch them both at home.  Maybe with a loaf of Chris’ famous Amish friendship bread. 

We had a great turnout for our church white elephant party.  Food galore.  Chris made chili.  Someone brought ribs and chicken nuggets and sandwich fixin’s and chips and dips.  I think some of that just may make its way up to the church for dinner on the grounds Sunday.  Not sure about the rib, though.  I do have to eat a few meals between now and then.  They’d probably just go bad anyway, right?

The gifts were wildly varied this year.  Minion puzzles and men’s cologne and kitchen towels and movies (Horton Hears a Who and Ghostbusters and Harry Potter) and a huge box of candies among others.  Oh, and the ever-present framed photo of a certain hot dog girl (Lora Boyer) that has been floating around Seaside parties for numerous years now.  The one I opened and actually got to keep due to a fortunate set of circumstances was really a find.  It was some actual (cancelled) stock certificates from The Cleveland SHORT LINE Railroad, The Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad Company, The PENNSYLVANIA Railroad Company, and The READING Railroad Company.  Did you catch why this was such a cool find?  Make the connection?  Here’s another clue: “Take a ride on the Reading.”  Still nothing?  Come on.  When was the last time you played Monopoly?  These are the railroads that are on the four sides of the playing board.  Now how awesome is that?  Now every time I play I automatically control those four spaces on the board, right? 

We did take a moment to listen to Linus quote the Christmas story from A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Pointed out that at the moment he talks about the angels saying, “Do not fear,” he drops his blanket.  No accident there.  Linus, the one who is terrified to be without his blanket, simply didn’t need it when he talked about the Jesus.  Atta boy, Linus.

Luke 2:10-11 says, “But the angel said to them, "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.”

Father, thank you for giving us blanket-dropping moments.  Amen.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

December 17 – “Missing Marvin”

We went to the funeral yesterday of one of the truly nice guys the world has ever known.  Well, at least my world.  His name is Marvin Raney.  Yes, I said “is” because he was a believer and as such is alive and very well with Jesus right now.  That’s a much better state than the perennial fight with cancer that has been consuming his life for the past few years.

Marvin was Nathan’s first basketball coach, and eventually he became my assistant coach with the varsity.  By his own admission he didn’t know a whole lot about basketball, which made us quite the pair of coaches.  Neither did I, but we learned a thing or two together.  I could really count on him to be an encourager for the guys on the team.  And he was always into the game.  Except for that one time when he was kicked out of the gym.  That was when he was Nathan’s coach.  He always told me that was the defining moment of his coaching career.  It was when he knew that he was not cut out to be the head coach - that he was quite happy and fulfilled being the number two guy.  And I for one was happy he came to that conclusion.  Oh, and there was that one other time.  This one wasn’t his fault.  Someone in the stands (or rumor has it that it might have been from the scorers’ table) began riding the referee pretty hard.  I never heard what was said, but apparently the striped camel’s back couldn’t hold any more.  The ref scanned the bench, pointed right at Marvin and tossed him from the bench.  No one was more surprised that Marvin was.  See, the ref harassing really wasn’t helping matters in the game, so the whole time Marvin had been trying to get the crowd to calm down and stay off the ref’s case.  That’s Marvin.

Marvin came by the house a few years ago.  Once with his son Derek on their way to Moody Gardens and once with his son Cordy when they came to my 60th birthday party.  One thing about Marvin … he lights up a room when he enters.  He has a great smile that rarely leaves his face (except maybe when the call is an especially bad one), and I’m quite sure that smile will be adorning his face for eternity.  And as was spotlighted at his funeral service, he has a ready quip for just about any matter of deep concern … “Well, I don’t know, but I do know God knows, so that’s good enough for me.”  Indeed he does, Marvin.  Indeed he does.  I’ll miss you, my friend.

1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Father, welcome Marvin into your presence with the joy he brought to us while he was here.  Walk with his family as they process life without him for a while.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

December 16 – “Flat Stanley comes to call”

Well, the Flat Stanley bug has finally made it to South Carolina.  At least to the second grade classroom of some friends of ours there.  Seems Hannah Grace’s class read the story of the boy who had a blackboard fall on him and squish him flat as a bug (or something along those lines ... I’ve never read the book).  Now he can slide under doors and travel in mailing envelopes.  And Flat Stanley of Columbia, South Carolina, showed up in our mailbox the other day for an extended visit to Galveston.  We have to be good hosts and show him the sights around town.  You know, the beach, Moody Gardens, the fire station, the Pleasure Pier (well, maybe near the Pleasure Pier).  We’ll figure something out.  I did have to make him some new clothes, though.  Bathing suit.  Island shirt with lots of big flowers on it.  Gotta say, it’s a lot easier to dress someone who is so … flat.  And he doesn’t wiggle much, either.  Oh, and I think we might be related to Stanley.  My grandmother on my father’s side was Olivia Stanley before she married a Vaughan.  Her dad was from somewhere out there in South Carolina, too, I think.  Small world.  TeeHee.  “Small world.”  Get it?  Flat Stanley is only eight inches tall. 

1 Peter 2:5 says, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Father, thank you for fun tools like the Flat Stanley craze to encourage kids to learn about their world.  Amen. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

December 15 – “Strike three”

After hours upon hours of online research, and with the generous help of Seaside, I finally made the fateful phone call yesterday.  Health insurance.  The policy I had was being discontinued, and Blue Cross Blue Shield would no longer be offering PPO type insurance.  But as I said, I had done extensive research.  And I even had a good friend who is also an agent trying to track done something for me.  What I found was a PPO policy offered by none other than Guidestone, the agency of the Southern Baptist Convention that provides retirement accounts and insurance for pastors and church staff members.  It was pretty expensive, but Seaside assured me they wanted me to go ahead and get it.  It was the only way I could be guaranteed to keep my existing doctors. 

After a fairly short wait I was connected to a nice young man who asked me a few questions.  Not many, actually.  Apparently it didn’t take him long to be able to say I was ineligible for any kind of insurance they offered unless I met one of three criteria. 
1. I was new to my church (just starting there).  Well, I’ve been at Seaside for 20 years.  Strike one.
2. I was married or planning to get married, pregnant or planning to become pregnant, or had a new dependent of some kind and needed coverage for them.  Not gonna happen any time soon, that’s for sure.  Strike two.
3. I had experienced loss of coverage due to ineligibility of some kind. 

Now I figured I would easily be covered under that last one.  But no.  See, the insurance companies figured that one out.  Discontinuing the entire policy was not the same as being declared ineligible.  I was still eligible.  There just wasn’t a policy that they offered that matched me anymore.  Which meant I didn’t match Guidestone’s qualifications either.  Strike three.  And so the arm of the Southern Baptist Convention that was established to assist pastors was useless when it came down to actually assisting this particular pastor.  Unless, of course, I quit Seaside and go to another church.  Sigh.  Thanks for … well, nothing. 

On the positive side, at least I will have health coverage of some kind.  I was automatically transferred to an HMO by Blue Cross Blue Shield.  That means we get to go through the joy of establishing with a Personal Care Physician who must then be involved in every decision there is regarding our care.  I will probably have to find another rheumatologist and neurologist within the system who will agree to work with the hefty chart I have accumulated over the years.  Either that or it will be back to page one again, trying new medications until I work my way back up to what I am on now that appears to be working well.  Strangely enough we found Chris’ doctor on their list, so I jumped in and signed us both up under her name.  She operates out of the UTMB clinic right around the corner from our house, so that’s another win.  And it is a lot cheaper that the PPO would have been.  So, hear me sighing a great sigh of resignation.  Guess we will officially be UTMB bound for the rest of our lives.  But is that such a bad thing?  At least we won’t have to leave the Island as much.

1 Peter 2:2-3 says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Father, thank you for being the Great Physician.  These insurance companies could sure use you to be the Great Administrator, though.  Amen.

Monday, December 14, 2015

December 14 – “Torrents”

Well, hats off and kudos to the brave souls who made their way to church yesterday.  We managed to navigate through the driving rain … and then it got bad.  Torrential.  It was impossible to walk from the car to the front door without wading through some serious puddles in the parking lot.  Umbrellas did some good, but only for the top third of your body, since the rain found a way to blow side to side and up under any attempt at covering yourself.  And then it got really cold.  Way down into the 50’s.  Dead of winter cold.  Neither of us had so much as a sweater, either. 

We thought for a while that it would just be me and Chris and Wes (we picked him up on our way).  We got everything ready and then sat around with Wes at the piano and sang some songs.  Some were Christmas carols.  Some were old show tunes or old songs he used to play at some of the piano bar gigs he had in the past.  Finally, about ten minutes after our posted start time and during somewhat of a lull in the weather, Jennifer and her three kids arrived.  Wes immediately got the two younger boys to gather around the piano so they could accompany him with tambourines.  They were pretty good, too.  While we jammed with them, Dan and Wendy arrived, so I went ahead with the teaching (which involved kids, which God had provided in Adrian and Andrew).  Sam finally got there, so we managed to break into double digits.  Ten for church.  Hey, it was fun. 

Afterwards we drove by to see if the Santa and reindeer Nathan had strapped to his roof had made it through the storm intact.  They all seemed to be hanging in there.  Nathan and April and Cailyn were actually crawling into their car at that moment to head to Saltgrass for some lunch.  They invited us to join them.  Who am I to turn down such a generous invitation?  My chicken fried steak was really good.  By the time we got back home we were full and tired and apparently Chris was very sleepy.  She actually  crashed out on the couch for an hour or so.  Of course I stayed awake the whole time, watching over her.  Well, maybe not the whole time.  After all, we had Freddy watching out for the both of us.  And we all know what feelings of safety and comfort are inspired by her intimidating presence. 

1 Peter 2:1 says, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”

Father, thank you for those eight other folks who braved the rain  to gather together and do some worshipping yesterday.  Bless them for that.  Amen.