Praying in the Back of My Van

Back in high school I drove a van. Yeah… I was a longhair with a hippie van. But, I was also a Christian. My Ford van was more known for prayer meetings than any kind of… well… ‘other’ type activities.

My buddy Jimmy (Union County’s own Billy Graham Wannnabe) was preaching at this country Baptist church. My buddy Bruce (now a Methodist minister) and I went to support him in his revival services.

Before the service, Bruce and I went in the back of the van to pray for Jimmy. As we knelt down on my dark brown short shag carpet (remember, it was the ’70s) my bluejeans ripped bigger than Dallas! Ooops!

We finished lifting Jimmy up in prayer and went on into the church, sitting on the back row. As always, Jimmy preached his heart out. And as all good Baptists, the end of the service meant it was time for the “invitation”. Jimmy called for folks to come down front to make decisions for Christ.

As a few folks came forward for prayer Jimmy called for “Brother Todd, Brother Bruce, come down front and pray with these folks wanting to make decisions for Jesus this night!”

“Oh no! I’ll look like a whitetail deer going down the center aisle of the church!” I thought.

Hoping that every head was still bowed and every eye still closed, I walked down to the front of the church with very short steps. I probably looked like an Asian lady in a tight dress… my steps were so short!

Down front, I was able to turn around and flash the empty choir loft with my white Fruit of the Looms.

Hitting the Bottle with My Old Man

Originally written January 29, 2007.

A few months ago I did a work project down on the Gulf near Grand Isle. One day I had to wait on a draw bridge as I headed back up to my motel in Cut Off, Louisiana. It reminded me of a story from my elementary school days.

I started school in Belle Chasse back in the ’60s. In the third grade we went to a private school in Algiers. The drive to school involved a draw bridge over the Intercoastal Canal. Every once in a while the bridge would be up and we’d be late.

Dad was driving me to school one day and the drawbridge was up. “Oh no, I’m gonna be late. Daddy, what am I gonna do? I’m gonna be late! I’m gonna be late!”

“Not a problem. Here, hit this” Dad said. Being in the oilfield treatment chemical business Dad always had some medicine bottles of crude oil. He handed me a bottle and told me to hit it.

“What?” Dad told me to hit it a few times with my knuckles. He hit the bottle as well.

“So, you know you’re going to be late. Just saunder in and say ‘hey Teach! Sorry I’m late, I was out hittin’ the bottle with my old man.”

At eight years old, I had no idea what ‘hitting the bottle’ meant but had a feeling it would get me in trouble. “That means something, doesn’t it Daddy?”

I knew not to trust him….

Now What?

Every once in a while, I’ll search Facebook for lost friends from my childhood. This morning, I looked for a couple of brothers from our Hugh Goodwin days. To say they were wild is about like saying the Pope doesn’t date much.

I found one brother, now retired. He looks as hardened as I’d have expected. Rough. Mean. I called a childhood friend to ask about the other brother. Suicide years ago.

I did find a son of the deceased brother. Upper middle class, a friend described his new family. It looks like he’s made something of himself! I’m truly glad. I can only imagine his upbringing but he appears to have made some healthy decisions along the way.

That brings me to two words that have been running around in my head these past few days: Now what?

It’s something I find folks asking at different points in life. When my grandfather’s dime store was going under and my aunt was just entering high school, my grandmother started a new career at the age of 55. The business was failing and they had bills to pay. Pauline surely asked “Now what?” About a decade later, Dad’s boss came in and told him his paycheck wasn’t any good and the business was closing, Dad went home and asked “Now what?”

I have friends who have lost it all through addiction. At some point, some of them asked “Now what?” They didn’t like the picture they were seeing and made decisions to change that scene.

The “Now what?” moment usually comes after something big in life: recovering from a failure, tragedy or change in life. But, we all face the “Now what?” moments throughout our lives. I’ve been there and once again find myself at one of those “Now what?” points in life.

I plan on looking deeper into the “Now what?” of life first in scripture and second through stories of family and friends. I firmly believe I serve the God of second chances. And third chances. He’s also the God of four hundred and sixty seventh chances. One of my favorite sayings is “If I’m going to trust God for eternity, I need to learn how to trust Him for Tuesday.”

I’ve been following Jesus forty six years. That’s over three quarters of my life. And I still have much to learn about this thing we call “walking by faith”.

The best part of being a Christian and facing the “Now what?” is we have Someone who not only hears our cry but will also reply to our question. Time to work on my hearing.

Four-Foot Vinyl Jesus

Originally Posted: Jan 29, 2007

I visited a friend’s apartment- your typical one bedroom apartment. It has wall to wall carpeting in all areas except for the kitchen, bathroom and an “entry area” by the front door. Just inside the front door is a 4′ x 4′ patch of vinyl flooring. It got me to thinking about Rev. 3:20: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man will hear my voice, I will come in and dine with him.”

Jesus is a gentleman and I feel He only moves into areas where He is first invited. So, we hear a knock. And we open the door. But how far do we let Him into our homes?

Do we treat Him like the door to door salesman? We may hear him on the front porch so frequently that we think we have invited him into our homes. But, have we? Has he crossed the threshold into our home?

For others, we may truly invite Jesus into our lives but never let him get beyond that little vinyl patch. Is he technically in our lives? Yes. Does he have free reign? No. Is he really welcome? Yes, but with limitations. Our limitations. Our locked doors.

Let’s go to the next level of inviting someone into our homes. Say we get a visit from an acquaintance from church. Not a really good buddy but somewhat of a friend. Maybe even a new friend. In this case, we invite them into the living room. Look around. Everything in this room stays nice and tidy. There may be a newspaper on the floor plus a few things out of place, but it’s generally presentable. We’ve got the Bible on the coffee table (though probably dusty) right under the remote controls for the TV, VCR, DVD and cable box. Generally, everything in this room stays nice and “appropriate.” Granted, you can have some good visits, maybe even share a laugh or two. But, we generally keep on our best behavior in this setting. We may get to know somebody on the surface but it’s not at any sort of level of intimacy.

What is the next level of intimacy? How about being invited into the dining room for a home cooked meal? Think of it as a natural extension of the preliminary living room experience. There seems to be enough substance for a relationship to move beyond nice, polite talk to move toward a sharing a meal together. At first, a meal with a new friend is limited to remembering our manners and generally behaving ourselves.

Before long, the walls start coming down. We relax enough to put our elbows on the table. We start to enjoy the company.

OK, so we shared a meal or two. No disasters yet. Generally acceptable behavior. Nothing weird. After a few times together we may even ask our new friend to help out in the kitchen. Now we are getting into “real relationship” territory… we feel close enough to ask for them to help. Granted, the ‘help’ may be getting something out of the oven or setting the table. But, it is still growth for the relationship.

And, our meals may not be quite as fancy as the first ones. We are enjoying the company enough to not need to impress with our culinary skills. Take out pizza is enough as we move to a new level of intimacy. We even let them help out with the dishes. Hanging out together is the point, not the display on the table. Fellowship is getting sweet.

As a friendship grows, we will even ask them to help on special projects like building a deck or doing some remodeling. There is something special about sharing a work experience with a friend… a special type of bonding. But, this is a real test of friendship. Are you going to ask anyone but a real friend to help you doing something that involves sweating in the summer sun? Not likely. Sometimes it is easier to just hire help to do something tough like moving or heavy landscaping. Only the tightest of friends would feel free to ask some one to work that hard for no pay. But to share an experience like this takes friendships to a decidedly deeper level.

Do we invite our new friends into all the rooms in our home? While they may get more and more free reign, there are usually a few areas where the doors stay shut. For some, it may be a spare room that acts as a “catch-all” for everything that doesn’t seem to fit elsewhere. For others, it may be a closet where we hide things that aren’t acceptable for everyone to see.

Few people are really good at housekeeping. As we go through the workweek, it is easy to let a few things slip. But, most of us can kick in and do some quick cleaning to keep the house presentable. For some, though, it goes beyond being a little messy. For some, it is a real challenge. Sure, they can keep the front rooms pretty clean but no one is allowed to go through their rooms past a certain point. It may be their bedroom, a spare bedroom or “that” closet. Keeping the front of the house clean takes just about all the strength they have. The back of the house is neglected with a promise to get more organized “someday.” But that someday never comes. It becomes more and more of a mess until cleaning it is well beyond our reach.

I know folks that have a true dysfunction regarding house cleaning. Over the years, their bedrooms have become so cluttered and dirty that they wouldn’t think of allowing even close friends into that room. They wouldn’t even allow a close friend to help them clean it up. It’s too shameful for them to even hire somebody to help them do. They are simply embarrassed that things have gotten that far out of control. Before long, it becomes a deep bondage without anybody to help. In time, the clutter can creep into more and more rooms until finally, no one is allowed inside. These people have become prisoners in their own homes. Maybe it is a defense mechanism. Maybe it is a sickness. Maybe they have been told they weren’t any good at housekeeping. Whatever the case, they need help.

We can have lives like that as well. A little mess gets bigger and bigger until we turn around one day to realize we are all alone and ashamed to ask a friend for help. But, that is precisely the point where Jesus rolls up his sleeves and offers to dive in and help in the really tough stuff. We have to ask but he is ready and eager to help.

One of the neat things about Jesus’ help is there is no shame. He took all that on the Cross. There is love and acceptance as we work with him toward health and restoration.

Granted, it may take some time. The house didn’t get cluttered overnight. It may take a while to get it back in order. But, we have a Lord who is patient and will work with us a lifetime if that is what it takes. He has a purpose and that purpose is restoration, peace, and health.

OK, so the house is all nice and tidy. Friends are welcome throughout. Sometimes there are problems in the house that aren’t a result of willful neglect. It may be something completely out of our control such as bad soil, termites or a limb falling through the roof. Granted, there is usually some room for personal responsibility but by and large, we are pretty much victims.

Take the foundation for instance. What if you set your foundation before you knew Jesus? You didn’t know that sand and pine straw wouldn’t provide a solid basis for a life. But, now you do. Our Lord wants to go down and shore up your weak foundation with a sturdy one. Better yet, he wants to create a new foundation. For some, it may mean getting into the crawl space and shoring up some areas. For others, it may mean drilling new pilings to jack up a slab. In either case, Jesus wants to do some real construction work.

Have you ever crawled beneath a house? It is typically dark, damp and musty smelling. Who knows what you may find down there from skeletons of long-deceased animals to various nests. Few houses in this area have enough room to stand up. It is usually just enough to crawl around, maybe on your hands and knees. Usually, there will be some areas where you’ll have to crawl on your belly like an alligator. Bottom line: it’s not fun work. But, Jesus wants to get dirty right there next to us.

Repairing foundations is tricky business. Few handymen are competent to get into a project like this. Ask the wrong workers to tackle a foundation problem and you may not be able to open up all the doors. A moderate problem can quickly become a major disaster. How nice it is to have a Lord who truly knows foundations. We can trust him to do it right, showing us how much to lift this joist, where to place extra supports and when we need to remove rotten piers. He’s a master carpenter.

Did we maintain our termite treatment policy? Or did we neglect preventive maintenance? Now, termites have eaten away some of the walls. Some family members in Houston noticed a bit of bubbling paint on a window sill. They picked at it to see why the paint was coming loose. It turns out the paint was all that was intact. The entire wall had been eaten away by termites. The window was about to fall out into the yard. That would allow all kinds of critters into the house.

How many termites do we have right outside in the yard wanting to eat at our houses? Keep the treatment in effect and you have nothing to worry about. That means regular inspections and ongoing treatment. In our spiritual comparison, that could be staying in the Word and prayer. But, what if you have neglected important things and let the termites get a foothold. Again, the good news is Jesus still wants to repair the damage, even if we opened the door to it. It just takes a lot of time to do these repairs. But remember, in Him, there is no shame. Just ask His forgiveness and have a true desire not to do it again. That is all He needs. Now, it will still take some work. But, Jesus can fix it.

The same could even be true of a limb falling through the roof. Have we been faithful to look around at the potential hazards near our house? While it is our responsibility, Jesus never says a repair isn’t covered in the way an insurance company disallows a claim. Jesus is always there ready to work.

Sometimes what looks like a bad thing can become a good thing. Say a car goes out of control and plows through the front door. You couldn’t have prevented that. It isn’t your fault that some bozo was paying more attention to his cell phone conversation than where he was going and ended up in your living room.

But, while you are doing this work anyway, it would be a nice time to do a little more work while the crews are on site. These projects can almost take on a life of their own. I once remodeled my mother’s house. Work on two rooms became four. Two months turned into two years. Before it was all said and done I had put in a new kitchen, completely replaced the wiring, some of the plumbing, painted inside and outside plus added insulation. But, it left a wonderful home that would serve her for years.

Sometimes God allows things into our lives in order to set the stage for some expansion of our homes. It was probably something we wanted to do for a while but kept putting off. Well, that Chevy in the living room became the nudge we needed for a much needed and much appreciated renovation.

All homes need maintenance. And, it isn’t quite as easy as we see on HGTV or the DIY network. The magazines touch on the highlights but for every three-page article topic there are a dozen thick books that deal with the details of the same operation. Maintenance is tough but essential.

What happens if you fail to perform routine maintenance for a long time? For some, it stays out in the nebulous “someday” category and never gets done. Some say they can’t afford it. And, looking at it in the natural they probably don’t have the money for it today. But, maybe they could give up a few other luxuries and invest that money toward the house. Which is better? Short term fun or a sturdy house that will last you through your retirement years?

I have watched one retired woman ignore problems for years. She just wouldn’t go in some parts of her house. The roof over the den started leaking. But, she never went back there to notice. Oh, she saw the damage as the leak ruined some keepsakes. But, money was tight and she just chose to ignore it. After a while, the floor started getting weak. The piers started shifting which threw the roof out and caused some of the doors not to close. Then the window beneath the leak simply rotted out. The leak that could have been fixed with some asphalt patch material has now become a major project costing thousands of dollars. Ouch!

But, when she finally got around to making the repairs, it became a blessing as it gave her a chance to add a door where she had wanted one all along. God does the same thing in our lives. We are the ones who mess it up but somehow in his grace, he causes it all to turn out for his glory. And to our benefit.

Maintenance and renovation go beyond slapping a coat of paint on some dull walls and dusting the throw rug. For some folks, we’re talking about a potential renovation series for “This Old House.” The old house may be functional but it isn’t nearly what it could be.

Jesus wants to roll up his sleeves and get working. On a major project like this think of him as the construction manager. It will take a real team effort but the end result will be a really neat home that will meet the needs of many.

Remember that home remodeling takes a lot of time, creates a lot of dust and typically has plenty of delays. With a kitchen remodel, the refrigerator may be in the dining room and the microwave may be in the den. A bathroom remodel may have you brushing your teeth at the kitchen sink. Time to be flexible! But, when the project wraps up, isn’t it a great feeling to enjoy those new rooms! Our lives are the same way.

My 93 Year Old Cousin’s Top 10 List

Originally posted: Jan 29, 2007

A few years ago I hosted a “RE-Birthday Party” It was the anniversary of my ‘rebirth’ and coming to know Jesus in a personal relationship. My thinking was that on your birthday people throw you a party. But, in thinking about a rebirthday, I have already received the gift of eternal life. So, I decided to throw the party so we could all celebrate what God has done.

The party was great. My loft was filled with dozens of great friends.I placed a couple of those blank “diary” books out. On one, I placed a label that reads: For what are you most thankful today? OK, make it fun. Share a top ten list!

My cousin Mattie Lou (93 1/2 years old back then) wrote the following:

1. I’m thankful first and foremost for Jesus, who loved me and gave his life that I might have eternal life.
2. I’m thankful for my family- my two loving daughters and for my grandchildren and great grandchildren.
3. I’m thankful for my friends- I cannot imagine life without friends and for my extended family- the many cousins.
4. I’m thankful for the privilege of being born in America and the freedom we enjoy.
5. I’m thankful for the opportunity I have had to travel all over the US and other places in the world- Europe, Mexico and especially the Holy Land.
6. I’m so thankful for my church- First Baptist W. Monroe and my church family.
7. I’m thankful for good health and a good mind.
8. I’m thankful for the ability to still live in my house and take care of myself.
9. I’m thankful for the many memories I have of family and friends through these 93 1/2 years the Lord has let me live on this Earth.
10. I’m thankful for the Hope I have in Jesus.

She is now 97 years old and living in a retirement center. Sadly, one of her daughters has already preceded her in death. But, in visiting with her just a few days ago I can attest that Mattie Lou is still going strong with a heart of thanks.

My Marriage Was Like a Dirty Fuel Filter

Original Date Posted: Jan 29, 2007

Dirty fuel filter as a metaphor for my marriage

I wrote this back in May of 2003, but it still has some truth to it.

This morning, a metaphor hit me. As songwriter David Wilcox would say, I was minding my own business and the darn thing just smacked me between the eyes. As it is a vehicular metaphor, I promise to leave all the testosterone type terminology out so all can relate. I’ll try…

Yesterday would have been our fifth anniversary. It was actually my second marriage, one entered on the rebound. Waited ’til I was 35 to get married and blew through two in a decade! What a loser! This marriage blew up right at two years ago, divorce final a year ago. So, you can imagine my mind was filled with “where did I go wrong… again?”

In both cases, the answer is the same. I enjoyed a wonderful relationship with the Lord before… as a single guy, business owner, world traveler, etc. But, in both cases, I married into stepchildren. Instant family. And in both cases, my industry took a major nosedive, business struggles, family struggles, struggle struggles… and failure.

So, for the metaphor…

In 1988, I bought a motorhome. I had plans of adventures going to work projects and dirt bike races all over North America. It was nice, too… full bathroom in the back, couch up front for good visiting. And this sucker had a BIG engine. Way bigger than anything that would fit into a modern car. Roar, grumble, grunt, grunt on the big block Ford engine. This home on wheels was just the ticket for adventures! Cross country cruising to new places, new vistas…

On my first trip, the motorhome crapped out! It would idle fine but wouldn’t take any gas at all! Everything seemed to run fine for a few minutes but try to get up to cruise speed on the interstate and in about a mile or so, it would cough, sputter and die. Man, it was aggravating! And, summertime in Louisiana is not the time to be stuck on the side of the road. Sweat was pouring and my temper was boiling. Folks didn’t know Baptists knew words like that!

Buying it used (remember, this is a metaphor), it had been sitting up a while. The gas tank had some junk in it and the fuel filter was clogged.

New, clean filter on the left and Old, dirty filter on the right

It wasn’t completely closed off. It would sit there and idle forever. It would probably go 20mph just fine. But, trying to get up to speed on the interstate and the dirty fuel filter just choked it to the point the engine would die due to starvation.

It ran out of gas, with 75 gallons on board! All that gas was useless without a way to get it to the engine!

My dirty fuel and clogged fuel filter was a failure to maintain an intimate relationship with Jesus. Confession, repentance, worship… it keeps the system clean. A full tank of gas is useless without a means to get it to the engine.

The gas in my tank turned sour and the gas tank probably rusted a bit. So, when the challenges of life (big hills, some mountains, lots of people with tons of luggage riding in the back, summertime heat) came my way, I didn’t have the fuel and power to make it.

God still wanted to provide the power. But, I had a clogged filter. Trying to juggle family, business and a bit of depression to boot meant I didn’t feel I had time to get a replacement filter. I couldn’t even think straight to properly diagnose the problem.

It wasn’t long before the new owner (wife 2) wanted to take this sucker back to the dealer! I mean, she didn’t get into a deal to own a big monster motorhome just to cruise around a WalMart parking lot at 20mph. She was promised adventure and seeing new places she had heard about from others.

Besides, she had lots of luggage. She needed a big vehicle. No import would do… She wanted to sue for misrepresentation! Fraud!!!

But, it wasn’t misrepresentation. The big Ford engine was still there. And, the motorhome was surely capable of adventures. It still had all that room in the back for the luggage as well as the trailer hitch for stuff out back. It just took replacing a little filter… smaller than a 12-ounce diet Coke can.

I realized what was wrong about six months before the marriage was over. And, I got a clean filter put in. But, by this time, the new “owner” had all sorts of memories of sitting in the sweltering heat on the side of the road, my frustration and temper flaring over not knowing what to do.

No, to her this motorhome was a lemon. A dud. Ran fine but wouldn’t go anywhere! Couldn’t carry a load.

By the time I got a new fuel filter, she was pretty turned off with the whole idea of motorhome travel. “Forget this! I’ll just rent a car and stay in motels. No maintenance required. If it breaks, just call Hertz and get them to send help. Dirty sheets, no problem. Call the front desk.”

But, I’m the kind who keeps vehicles for the long haul. I still have the Ford van I bought in high school back in ’74. Lots of memories in that thing. Plus over 300,000 miles. One truck of mine has 350,000 miles. Sure they take maintenance. But, they are still good vehicles. My new truck is a 3/4 ton diesel… bought with the intention of putting on half a million miles. Sure, it is a little stiff on the suspension but it runs strong and has a great stereo (no, wait, different metaphor…)

And, yes, anyone who has owned a motorhome can attest that they are fun but they maintenance hogs. One older cousin once said getting a motorhome means you’ll never have to wonder what to do with your free time. There is always something to be repairing on that home on wheels!

Am I high maintenance? Yeah. But, I’m still made for adventure. I am still made for camping trips in Colorado, dirt bike races in Arkansas, work trips in Georgia. Someday… the great Northwest! But, now I know the importance of keeping the fuel fresh and the filter cleaned.

Now, though, I’m kind of excited about solo adventure. Maybe someday I’ll have someone to share the memories of new vistas. But, for now, I have a Lord who likes travel. And an intimacy with Him that frankly surpasses what I have experienced with most people.

And, I have not one but TWO spare filters on board!

New Experience on MySpace

Originally Written: Jan 28, 2007

As a means of introduction, let me share with you my passions. Bottom line for me is I love people. Short, fan, tall, skinny, talkative, quiet, Christian, non-Christian, liberal, conservative. Heck… I even have Yankee friends.

OK, this is my first blog entry. I have lots of friends who are regular bloggers and they have encouraged me to join in with the fun. So, please be patient with this older guy as he works to learn a few new tricks.

Right now I’m in a state of change… and its good change. For the past quarter century I’ve lived in Monroe, Louisiana and for the most part have truly enjoyed it. Again… its about the people. I love the people in Monroe.

But, after twenty five years in Monroe I’m moving home… home to El Dorado. To me, its a God-thing. My business has struggled in Monroe and the bottom line is I’m losing my building downtown… my office and home. Meanwhile, Mother needs me in El Dorado. We had a bit of a scare with her health a few months ago but she’s doing much better. Still, she needs a son nearby. And I need her as well.

So, at 48 years old I’m moving back home with dear mama! Will it be tough? Sure… but its what you do.

I’m loving my new-again life in El Do. I’ve rejoined First Methodist where I was raised. That church has always been filled with great folks and its great to worship with some of these wonderful people again. I sense God is doing something very special at First Methodist and am excited to be part of it.

And I’ve rented my father’s old warehouse and lab just a few blocks from the house. Its great to see old friends around town, to catch up with each other after years.

While I’ll miss my friends in Monroe I have a true sense that El Do is home again. It fits.