Abundant Living Vol. XX, Issue 26

“Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!  Should not shepherds take care of the flock?” – Ezekiel 34:2 

It was to the “Me” generation of his own time that the Prophet Ezekiel was sent to address, warning the Israelites that their self-centeredness and lack of concern for others was going to bring them down, leading specifically to seventy long years of captivity in Babylonia, until such time that eventually “I will cleanse you from all your impurities and . . . I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.”  (Ezekiel 36:24,26)

Somehow the message of Ezekiel did not sink in with me when I was eighteen years old.  At that point I was convinced my one marching order in adult life was to become successful; successful, that is, by the world’s definition of success – professional career, money, influence, all those sorts of things that offer status, bragging rights, and a big ego.  Success was all about me, I thought, about my accomplishments and all the rewards that were attached, so typical of the “Me” generation mindset of own time.

Imagine my dismay when success didn’t come like I believed it should.  Oh, it did eventually, but not before suffering some years in exile, struggling, wondering what I was doing wrong, failing (it felt like) rather than succeeding.  Had I misread the memo on success, I wondered, skimming over something essential?  Ezekiel’s message perhaps? “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!  Should not shepherds take care of the flock?”  Only then did I begin to be cleansed of impurities and gain a new heart and a new spirit.  Soon, almost miraculously, success began to happen.

No one has ever expressed this better than Dr. Viktor Frankl, author of the classic Man’s Search for Meaning.  “Don’t aim at success,” he says, “The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it.  For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.  Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success; you have to let it happen by not caring about it.” . . . . Woe to those who only take care of themselves!  But to those whose deepest desire is the well-being of others, success – not the world’s version, but the truest forms of it – may well catch you by surprise.  It did me.

Abundant Living Vol. XX, Issue 25

“Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior . . . Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” – Psalm 127:3-4 

When it comes to fatherhood, I consider myself one of the lucky ones, having been raised in a two-parent home in which my dad was a devoted, loving, honest and hardworking man who was similarly raised by his parents.  As far back as I know generationally, in fact, that has been the case in my family – on both sides.  While not always a perfect father myself, nor was my father before me, it seems I have nonetheless remained true to the family tradition as evidenced by the rewards I now reap in observing my two sons being devoted, loving fathers themselves to our five grandchildren.

I am indeed one of the lucky ones!  For, according to 2022 Census Bureau data, approximately one in three children in America under age 18 lives with a single parent, 80% of whom are mothers, a disturbing statistic.  But before heaping scorn upon those (mostly) dads out there for being derelict in their responsibilities as fathers, we should probably consider that each party in that statistic represents a unique story, not all of which are contemptable.  In many cases, for instance, the parents may not live together, but both are involved in their children’s lives.  We all know couples who are divorced yet work together to provide for and be wonderful parents to their children.  In other cases the father (or mother) may be deceased.  But sadly, there are those situations, too many I am afraid, where fathers (mostly) have abandoned their duties, and that is a tragedy.

It is a tragedy for the children for sure.  But equally so it is a tragedy for the neglectful fathers who deprive themselves of the indescribable joys of fatherhood and the life-long relationships that result with children and grandchildren.  It is not unlike faith, which for those of us who have it, long that everyone could enjoy the same peace, joy, comfort, and hope we experience through having a relationship with God; so it is with the fatherless and the neglectful fathers, as those of us who know the joys and blessings of fatherhood long that every father and fatherless child could experience what we have.

“Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior . . . Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”  O that every father’s quiver could be as full as mine!

Abundant Living Vol. XX, Issue 24

“But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands, so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” – Jeremiah 18:4 

My dad was a painter, a hobby he enjoyed off and on his entire life since early childhood.  He was quite good actually, yet few people I suspect knew except for his own inner circle.  Even though Daddy was not an overly private man, for whatever reason he was guarded when it came to his art; not that he hid it, but neither did he talk about it a great deal, certainly in a boastful way, nor was he flamboyant in the ways he displayed it.

It occurred to me recently that in all the years I knew him I never one time observed my dad painting.  I do recall seeing a few of his works-in-progress resting on an easel, but I never saw him with brush in hand.  That was something he seemed to do by himself.  Out of curiosity I did once ask what he did when he made a mistake.  I’ll never forget his quick response.  “Oh, that’s easy,” he said, “you just paint over it.”  The answer slid off his tongue so smoothly, in fact, I suspected he must have done it a million times, and maybe that’s the reason he didn’t want anyone watching.

But isn’t that the story of our lives, all of us?  We make mistake after mistake, blunder after blunder, mess after mess, only to go back and try to clean it up, redo it, start over – paint over it, so to speak – whatever it takes to transform our blunders into something better.  The Book of Jeremiah offers a great illustration when the Lord instructed Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house and observe the potter.  “So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel.  But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”  Just like my dad’s paint-overs!

God does that with us, too, doesn’t he?  Sometimes we don’t turn out right – our fault, not His – and God will put us back on the wheel and reshape us as seems best for him.  Or he paints over our mistakes and blunders giving us a fresh start.  It’s called grace.  I sometimes wonder if that is the real reason my dad was so private about his painting, they were his moments with God when he was able to make mistakes and paint over them, and God was able to paint over the mistakes with him.  It was a place where they worked things out, shaping them as seemed best.  Don’t we all need that private time?

Abundant Living Vol. XX, Issue 23

“. . . she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”  – Mark 12:44 

According to my uncle, Glenn Terrell, the youngest among my mother’s siblings, when he was leaving for college (thanks to an ROTC scholarship) in the late 1930’s his father, my maternal grandfather, took out his wallet and handed him twenty-five dollars.  It was, as my uncle described it, “all he had.”  And as my grandparents were far from being well off, plus it being the Great Depression, I’m pretty sure that twenty-five dollars was no mere pocket change, but most likely literally every penny he had to his name.

Now I must confess to being a bit of a tight-wad, and Tee would be quick to admit the same about herself.  So, between the two of us we have always been pretty frugal about our finances.  That is not to say we have denied ourselves in terms of living a comfortable lifestyle, nor have we held back in providing for our children.  And in terms of philanthropy, we have mostly followed the principle of tithing, that is giving ten percent of our income.  Generous folks, so we would like to think . . . except, every time I get a little smug about that, my uncle’s story about my grandfather resurfaces, reminding me that there is a huge gap between giving ten percent and everything you have.

I love the story where Jesus is hanging out with his disciples near the entrance to the temple.  They’re watching people file in and drop their donations into the collection basket, and some of them have written some big checks.  About that time Jesus points toward a poor widow waiting her turn to enter.  “Watch this,” I can imagine him whispering to his disciples, as she takes two tiny copper coins from her purse and deposits them in the treasury basket.  “I tell you the truth,” he says, “this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.” 

There are probably a thousand lessons to be learned from this little incident, but one that jumps out at me is how it redefines generosity from the substance of the gift to love in the heart of the giver.  And I would like to think – although I have no way of knowing for sure – that my grandfather was demonstrating exactly that when he gave away his last dime so his youngest child might get a decent start in life.  “For where your treasure is, there your heart is also.” (Luke 12:34)

Abundant Living Vol. XX, Issue 22

“Let us not become weary in doing good . . .”  – Galatians 6:9 

Sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest.  Or is it, we can’t see the forest for the trees?  Both, actually; for while at times we get so focused on individual trees that we lose sight of the big picture of what is going on – the “forest,” that is.  Other times, though, we stare at the forest and fail to recognize those gorgeous individual trees that without them there would be no forest.  Unfortunately, most of the in-your-face media we are subjected to these days draws our attention to the forest, which appears to be on fire with all the political and cultural divides and nations on the brink of war.  Get too absorbed in that, as most of us do, and we are apt to overlook those magnificent trees.

I became keenly aware of this – the trees, that is – after a bicycle accident this past week landed me in the hospital for two very long days and nights.  Credit that I am now on the mend with no long-term damage goes not to some dark forest where one gets lost, rather those individual magnificent trees who one after another came to my rescue, aid and comfort, medical care, and most importantly love, support, and prayers.  How often, I was reminded, we place our hope in the likes of politicians and world leaders, systems and policies – the forests – when our real hope is simply in one person helping another.

Karla, with a K she said when she introduced herself, a stranger, was the first to witness my accident and render aid.  I will never forget her.  Tee, of course, for her selflessness and constant care.  The amazing medical staff, doctors, nurses, and other helpers at Baylor Hospital McKinney.  All the many concerned neighbors, friends, and family members calling, texting, dropping by to offer prayers and support.  Dear friends bringing us dinner.  And then there was Ronaldo, the produce guy at our local grocery where Tee had stopped to pick up a few items.  When Ronaldo saw her alone he asked, “Where your husband?” in his broken Latino accent.  “He’s in the hospital,” she responded.  Startled at first, then dropping everything Ronaldo ran and threw his arms around her, as if Jesus himself was right there in the produce department at Kroger!  A magnificent tree!

Big, magnificent trees, each one of them.  The forest can be a dark scary place, but when we stop and look up at a single tree, that’s when we can see the light shining through.  So, may we never, ever “become weary in doing good,” for that is where our real hope lies.