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Wanderings: Reflections on a Life, pt 3

I have decided that for my 50th birthday I am going to write 50 articles this summer reflecting on my wanderings. These are not “pearls of wisdom” by any stretch of the imagination. Truthfully I have accumulated very little wisdom in all of my days. I simply want to reflect “out loud” as an active bystander of this life. I am grateful to share it with you.   Mentors, Pastors, Coaches and other Companions Along the Road   I am learning – and it has taken me 50 years and counting – that you cannot make it through this world alone. The notion of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” is misleading at best, a lie at worst. Everyone needs someone to guide them along the way.   For me, it has taken a long time for me to acknowledge that I need help.   When I was a teenager and well into my adult years I had too much pride and rarely asked for help. Maybe I did not want to appear weak, or ignorant, or helpless. I wanted to demonstrate that I was smart enough and what I did not know I could figure out.   Well that is just dumb thinking.   I am slowly learning the truth than I cannot do anything, really, all by myself. As my hair continues to grey (and retreat) I am recovering the importance of connecting with those who have gone before me and who will help show me a better way.   For eight years I played football. Throughout that time I worked with coaches who inspired me, cajoled me,...

Wanderings: Reflections on a Life, pt 2.

June 21, 2016   Every moment and every event of everyman’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. – Thomas Merton, “New Seeds of Contemplation”   Meaningful work. I count it a grace that most of my life has been filled with meaningful work to do. I am grateful for health that allows me to sweat over tilling a garden, or splitting a pile of firewood, or sprinting down a corridor in a hospital to visit a loved one. I am grateful for a mind still sharp enough (but not that sharp) to articulate a thought into action and a dream into a plan.   Work that means something is meaningful work whether it is repairing a car, stitching up a patient, or cleaning a house, or helping feed a friend.   In my teens I remember many days standing on the wet, concrete floor of the dairy barn looking out to the pastures as the morning sun began to warm the sky with color and light. I gazed longingly and hopefully for something more.   Growing up on a dairy farm there was always work to do, and to be candid, I rarely appreciated it. Everyone knows that cows have to be milked twice a day, every day, but there are so many other chores. There were endless miles of barbwire fences that needed to be repaired or replaced, leaving hands and arms nicked and...

Wanderings: Reflections on a Life

June 20, 2016   I have decided that for my 50th birthday I am going to write 50 articles reflection on my wanderings. These are not “pearls of wisdom” by any stretch of the imagination. Truthfully I have accumulated very little wisdom in all of my days. I simply want to reflect “out loud” as an active bystander of this life. I am grateful to share it with you.   Today is my birthday. I am 50. On the one hand, it is just a number. Nothing happened this morning that was particularly different. My alarm rang at 4:59 AM; I shuffled downstairs and groggily made a cup of coffee; I read for a while; and left for my morning commute to the office. But today I am 50, and it feels as though it should mean something.   It does mean that I have traversed this good earth for half of a century. It does mean that I do not have the body, looks, reflexes or mental acuity of a teenager. It does mean, according to actuarial tables, that I have lived over half of my life. Someone asked me over lunch if I felt different. Well, not really. I feel like I should be twenty-five, but the mirror and my driver’s license does not lie.   For my birthday I want to share with you about a hike I made a couple of weeks ago.   I had just wrapped up a 14 mile trek that began near the top of Newfound Gap and descended to Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Although the...

The Big 50!

On June 20 I will mark a half-century traversing this good earth, and I want you to celebrate with me. I know this may sound self-serving, but hear me out.   Instead of the usual cards, well-wishes, and so on, I would like for you to give me a gift. That’s right; I am brash enough to ask directly for a gift, but not just any gift. I am asking for all of my friends to make a donation to an organization that I care deeply about because it serves people I care deeply about: Developmental Disabilities Ministries (DDM).   According to Facebook I have more than 2100 friends (and I hope many more that are not on Facebook). If each of my friends gave as little as $25, together we could raise over $50,000 that will go directly to serving persons with developmental disabilities. I know that for some $25 is too much – then all I ask is make a donation you can afford. For others $25 is not much at all – I ask that you choose to give generously.   Serving persons with developmental disabilities is a privilege because it allows me to be with people who are often ignored, neglected, or, worse, forgotten.   Not only would help me celebrate my birthday, but your generosity would allow us to celebrate with others. No one wants to celebrate a birthday alone!   A half-century is not nearly enough time to celebrate life. It would honor me greatly if you would help me celebrate my 50th by raising $50,000. Together we can do this!   You...

Send Me a Text…

According to my extensive and laborious research on the internet (and if it is on the internet, it must be true, right?) texting has been around for 24 years. For the DeLoaches, it has only been around for ten or so years – not exactly early adopters. Love it or loathe it, texting is here to stay. It seems everybody is texting these days and they are texting everywhere: in church, in cars, in meetings, in the check-out line, and even in funerals (yep, I have witnessed this more than once).   For my children, it is the primary form of communication. For me, it often substitutes for an email. For my marriage, we will use texts as reminders, and every-so-often as a “love note.”   Whenever I receive a text “out of thin air” if you will, I am most often warmed with gratitude that someone, somewhere, thought of me. It may be something silly, or provocative, or somber, but to know I was remembered and “texted” is in itself a gift.   To be thought of, to be remembered, to call to mind…it means that we matter. Our existence matters. Our place in the world matters. What we do, or not do, matters. You matter.   “What are human beings that you are mindful of them? Yet you have made them a little lower than the angels.” (Psalm 8:4,5) God calls us to mind because we matter to God. We are in a real and tangible way an idea of God.   Maybe, just maybe our very purpose in life is to remember one another. We are...

This is Not What I Ordered

Some like it hot…But not that hot. It all started when my son, his girlfriend, my wife and I sat down at a table in a half-full (or half-empty depending on your perspective) restaurant. I have eaten here before and was looking forward to my usual order of chicken wings, specifically the ones on the menu listed as “Hot Buffalo Wings.” For the uninformed, no buffalos are harmed or used in this product. As for the chickens, well, that is another matter entirely. While the wings I ordered on the menu are described as hot, there are four other categories of wings that are spicier; much spicier; as in “melt your lips off and leave you hallucinating” spicier. Surely you can guess where I am going in this story. After not one, or two, but five of the ten wings I ordered, my lips were melting and my nose was running and my eyes were blurring from the heat. I could take it no more. Pushing aside the remaining basket of hellish poultry parts, I asked our server, “Um, maybe my order was mixed up.” She looked at it, and said, “Yeah, I just found out in the kitchen that your order was accidentally replaced with “Slow Burn.” For the record, there was nothing slow about the burn I was feeling. It is the restaurant’s hottest and spiciest wing offering made with the demonic-sounding “Trinidad scorpion peppers.” I think the good folks of Trinidad grow those peppers as a joke for their neighbors across the hemisphere. This is not what I ordered. I get the feeling I was set...

What Are You Worth?

Everything, and I mean everything, has a price or a value. Today, as of this writing, a barrel of oil is just under $37; gasoline is worth about $2.09 a gallon; milk is $3.52 a gallon; and the average sale price of a home in Atlanta is just under $290,000. What are you worth? What price do you place on your family, your friends, or your spouse? I suppose that is not particularly fair, since it is impossible to put a monetary value on a relationship. Still, you can appreciate that everything has a worth. One of the core values at the organization I serve – Developmental Disabilities of Georgia – is dignity. It means self-respect; pride; and worthiness. Deep down we all want dignity, that is, to be treated with respect, to be valued, to feel as though we have worth in this world. It is also a value to be shared, because everyone needs to be reminded of their sacred inheritance. Dignity is sharing a smile with another, instead of avoiding eye contact or pretending someone is not there. Dignity is laughing with someone, instead of laughing at them, or worse, sarcasm. Dignity is offering words of encouragement, especially when someone is discouraged, instead of quickly pointing out their faults or short-comings. Dignity is recognizing that everyone wants deep down to be loved, instead of labeling others with words that stereotype or belittle. Dignity is forgiving someone for their wrongs, instead of keeping scoring and holding grudges. Dignity is taking time to look, listen, and care when someone needs to be heard, instead of being in a hurry...

Giving Away My Pulpit

My parish has changed, which means I have traded pulpits so to speak, and now walk alongside persons with developmental disabilities and their families. On a recent visit to a home where four men and staff members live, I was joined with my wife and a friend of ours. I wanted to show off this house filled with men full of smiles and love and hope.   To be greeted with uninhibited enthusiasm and embraces of welcome is a beautiful gift of hospitality that is good for both the heart and soul. One of the residents, Al (not his real name), was eager to show us around his house and especially his room. For the most part Al’s room is just like any other bedroom among the many houses our organization supports: the wall was decorated with snapshots of visits to parks, sporting events, and family and friends; there were posters of athletes and teams that were his favorites; and on his bulletin board he had proudly tacked up and displayed medals from his years of participating with Special Olympics. Lined up along Al’s bureau were several bird houses he had painted. As he was proudly showing off the bird houses, and we were remarking how beautiful they all were, Al picked one up, thrusted into the hands of my friend and said, “Here, this is yours.” Of course my friend was overwhelmed at the gesture, but tried to say, “No, that is not necessary, this is too generous”, etc. But he was insistent. We all made quick glances at the residential host, who nodded that it was okay,...

The Beloved Belonging

Not so long ago Amy and I slipped away for a few days to go camping in the Smoky Mountains. The trees were still stark and bare, which hold their own kind of beauty. Although we had intermittent rain, we also tromped around in some snow while hiking. We love the mountains even though we did not grow up in the mountains. We both hail from Middle Georgia environs surrounded by gentle, rolling hills where the closest thing to a mountain was a fire-ant mound. Yet each time we return and lose ourselves “up there in the hills” huddling around a campfire we feel a certain re-connection with our past. Many of Amy’s best childhood memories are of family camping trips. My grandparents rarely left the dairy, but the two or so times I remember them traveling away from cows and kin, it was to head to the mountains. One time it included taking my brothers, sister and me to see those mountains for the first time. Every time we are up in mountain territory – in a tent, on a trail, a hotel room, or just riding along the winding highway – we feel a reconnection, a belonging as if we have always been there. Deep within every one of us is the need to belong. Young children take pride in belonging to their parents; adolescents carve out new identities and belong to their friends; emerging into adulthood there is the need to belong to independent ideas and convictions; and it is not uncommon that as we grow older and age we seek out our past recovering what...

Broken Down and Rusted Out

First Week of Lent 2016 Out hiking on a trail, I have encountered a few surprises over the years. Deer, snakes, skunks and elk live in the woods, so I do not know why I should be surprised whenever I see them in their home. Several years ago I was quite a few miles into a day hike on a mountain trail when I became disconcerted and not a little bit disturbed by an unpleasant odor of what I assumed was a bear. As I was running through my mental list of “what to do when you encounter a bear in the woods,” I realized that the bear smell was me! Recently, I was out hiking with a friend (if you are going to encounter a bear it is good to have a friend, preferably one who is slower than you). We were deep in conversation when we rounded a wooded corner, and there to the side of the trail was a beat-up, rusted out old car. Trees were growing around it, indicating it had been there for quite a few years. In fact, outside of the narrow walking trail, there was no other sign of a road. It was as if the heavens opened and placed this old car alongside the trail. I suppose someone decades ago ran out of gas, or maybe had a flat, or simply blew the motor, and just parked it. Broken down, rusted out, and discarded. This happens to people too. Someone ceases to be useful and gets “parked” or discarded or forgotten. It happens to the elderly, to the disabled, to the...

Do You Ever See a Jogger Smile?

There is a park alongside the river that is a convenient place for me to stop on the way home from work. While traffic hums by, there are trails winding through patches of woods, greenspace and the river itself that makes it ideal for jogging (or in my case lumbering). Just the other day as I was huffing and puffing and wondering if I was burning enough calories for a well-deserved desert, I noticed that most everyone I met along the trail was smiling at me. Some smiles are suspicious; other smiles have a hint of ridicule. But these smiles seemed genuine, happy. “Gee, there sure are a lot of nice people around here.” Everyone knows that joggers usually do not smile. And then it occurred to me: I was wearing my “smiley” shirt, but not just any smiley shirt. This shirt had the mud-splattered smiley face inspired by the fictionalized account from the movie “Forrest Gump.” They are smiling at me, but more specifically they are smiling at my shirt. I attempted to live up to my good natured shirt and smile back! Living up to the smile. Sometimes smiles are fake, and most of us know one when we see one. Sometimes smiles are just a feeble attempt to cover up melancholy. I never like it when someone tells me, “Smile!” especially when I just do not feel like smiling. Yet there are times when I think we are far too guarded with our smiles, as if a smile makes us vulnerable or appear weak or indolent. It is true that I sometimes smile a bit too...

A Place to Call Home

That’s what has occupied most of my thoughts of late … a place to call home. Over the years Amy and I have been pretty good at nesting for ourselves places to call home – even when we knew our stay would be temporary. Our first “home” was a tiny garage apartment in Rome, Georgia. Whenever our landlady would crank her ’72 Buick, the roar of the motor would shake books off of our shelves. Our next home was our seminary apartment. It was an efficiency unit which meant that you could place your hand in every room in the apartment while seated at the kitchen table. We loved our apartments, even though through youthful eyes we longed for something more, something better. Since seminary we have lived in two very fine parsonages that we have called home. We have lived in temporary homes (indeed, aren’t all homes temporary?) for months at a time until we could find something more permanent. Last week, after living for three months out of suitcases, we moved to Roswell, Georgia and into a place we call home. Now I work alongside others who, in part, seek to provide a home for those who are often most vulnerable at not finding a place. The work of Developmental Disabilities Ministries can be summed up in its byline: Hope Lives Here. Everyone should have a place that they can call home. Each time I hug a neck or share a few words with these special friends I am so grateful they too feel the welcome and the hope of home. Home is much more than a...

An Uncertain Life

Entering into the infancy of this new year, I am reflecting over all the changes I have experienced in the span of just a few short months. Through a period of prayerful discernment and many miles walked with my wife in the evenings as she patiently listened to me talk it out, I accepted a new position and in many ways a new calling that would involve us relocating. Just as homes were being decorated for the fall, our home of ten years was sold, and soon we were scrambling to pack our things away and live in temporary quarters. As others were packing away Christmas decorations, we were once again zipping up suitcases and moving away from church and children to start a new life and work. We have enjoyed the company and rekindling of old friendships, and have cherished revisiting familiar places, but still everything is so new, so uncertain. I am still learning names and responsibilities of my colleagues at Developmental Disabilities Ministries. I have yet to visit all of the wonderful homes populated by our friends who live there and are loved there. Even now as I write this article I am still not settled. There is a house to close on so that we can claim it as our own (along with the bank that was so kind to loan us the necessary funds); and all our worldly goods are still packed up on the back of a truck waited to be unloaded. It is indeed an uncertain life. And so it is for all of us, even those convinced that what they have...

Baptizing Kevin

Kevin’s mom approached me and abruptly said, “I think Kevin is ready for baptism.” It is certainly not uncommon for me to hear from parents of twelve year old boys this type of request. But this request was anything but common.   Kevin is a child with significant developmental disabilities. He was born premature, which plays a role in his disabilities. For the first two years of his life – the most important for development – Kevin was tragically neglected, which only exacerbated his disabilities. By God’s grace and love Kevin was adopted. I still remember when Kevin was brought to church for the first time. He could not talk, walk or even crawl. He whimpered and required near constant care.   “What are we going to do about Kevin?” I heard others ask. All of us – from workers in the nursery to ministers on staff – felt unqualified and helpless against Kevin’s formidable challenges. What we did was love Kevin, just as he was, and in the process discovered how deeply we were loved by him.   Through the years we watched Kevin grow up, so to speak. We watched him learn to crawl and then toddle and before long lumber around the classrooms and church grounds. He went from whimpering to smiling. In time he began to speak a word or two, then phrases, and now he can easily share a sentence with you when something is on his mind – and something is always on his mind! In preschool and later children’s choir we watched him stand alongside his peers while an adult held him...

If There Was One Word…

There are many good and necessary words in my theological vocabulary. The word “love” goes without saying, but goodness knows it needs to be said nowadays. Speaking of goodness, I would add good. Mercy, justice, and steadfast are all important words. Sin too, and with it forgiveness. As I reflect over a theological vocabulary, there are many, many words that come to mind. What words would you add?   If there was only one word to sum up the entirety of my own working theology, it would be this – grace. I am not sure when this word became THE word for me, but somewhere along the path it laid claim to my loyalties. While there is no candle on the Advent wreath dedicated to grace, there ought to be and we ought to light it daily.   Grace means gift. It is a gift freely given that comes without merit or works. All of my life I have been blessed with gifts that I did not deserve, nor ask for. I was born in a part of the world that gave me privileges and opportunities. My father and grandparents loved and provided for me; church nurtured me; and teachers who…well, they tried their best! All of my life I have been blessed with gifts that I did not deserve, but gratefully received.   This is not to say that all of my life has been idyllic or charmed. I grew in a divorced home. Growing up on a farm meant that much of the time we had very little in the way of luxuries compared to my friends....

A Lamp Unto My Desk

At the tender age of 22 I had served the good folks of Unity Baptist for nearly two years. During that time I grew a beard, got engaged, married, finished college, and prepared to move to Louisville, KY to attend seminary. This church loved me through and through, even though I was not much better behind the pulpit than when I started and had lots to learn about being a pastor. Still, they blessed me and bless me still.   My final Sunday with them came on a warm May morning. There was a covered dish luncheon following the service, so the pressure was on to keep my sermon brief. At the luncheon Amy and I were showered with affection, cards, well-wishes, and one very special gift from the church – a brass desk lamp. It was given to me with the hope that it would help me through my studies in seminary, as well as the many years ahead as a pastor.   I have lugged that lamp with me – all the way to Kentucky and back – for the last quarter of a century. As a student it was perched on my desk in the corner of our tiny apartment, illuminating my studies even the Hebrew was still dark and mysterious. It has traveled with me to some great pastorates in Georgia including Mansfield, Chickamauga, Marietta and for the last ten years Augusta. On cold days I place my hands over the brass shade to enjoy a little warmth. When days are short and mornings and evening are dark, it casts a beautiful glow from my...

In-Between Addresses

We are living in-between addresses. I know that sounds odd, but I can find no better way to describe our living situation. Our house is now sold and belongs to another, and a new home waits in another city, so right now for these weeks stretching into the New Year, we are living in-between addresses. Among other things this means most of our worldly goods are packed up and in storage, including eight boxes of Christmas decorations that we have accumulated over the years. Could this be a year of no Christmas? Of course not.   Thanks to online searching, Amy found a recipe for cookie dough ornaments: cinnamon, applesauce, and glue. They smell wonderful, but take my word for it, you do not want to eat one! The irony is that twenty-seven years ago we were doing the same thing, but with a different recipe, for our first Christmas – making cookie dough ornaments for our first Christmas together. You make do, with what you have. This year, along with some ribbon and craft acrylics, we decorated our freshly baked ornaments, strung a couple of strands of lights on a modest tree bought at a grocery store and at a total cost of about $40 Christmas has come to our “in-between address.”   I suppose we all are living in-between addresses. We move from a past that can never be recovered and into a future that is anything but certain. All we have is the in-between times, the meantime, the beautiful and mysterious now. Advent is that cosmic pause in a universe moving rapidly from one space to...

For Everything There is a Season

The afternoon was mild and warmed with welcome fall sunshine. Ten consecutive days of rain had created a muddy mess all around the barn, but none of us gathered there minded the mud so much. I was standing with my two brothers and father on a concrete slab layered in mud and manure, gently pushing Holsteins, Brown Swisses and Jerseys toward the barn for a final milking. After 103 years – over 75,000 consecutive milkings – the DeLoach & Sons Dairy was about to milk its last cow. Even though at the age of 18 I could not leave the farm fast enough, I was not going to miss it. Amy, Clark, a couple of nephews, my sister, and the wives of my daddy and brothers were not going to miss it either.   A switch was thrown and the familiar hum of the compressor that runs the milking machines came to life. It was time to milk the last herd of dairy cows. Outside four cattle trailers waited to load the cows and take them to the auction barn once the milking was complete. A local farmer who just a few years ago sold his herd came by to visit and commiserate. All of us laughed a bit, reminisced, and worked with cows placing the milking machines on their udders, and listening to the cows snort and blow oblivious to their next move. A few brief hours later, as the sun began to cast its setting glow along the pastures out back, the last of the cows came through. Daddy milked her and just like that it was...

Seeing and Saying Thanks

There is so much in life that is not fully appreciated until it is a memory. Relationships come quickly to mind. When Amy and I were newlyweds we lived on a very meager income, rented a garage apartment that smelled of mothballs, and did not have a television for the first six months of marriage. It seems so long ago and as I now recall that first year my heart is warmed with gratitude that Amy and I said “I do.” A few years later children forevermore changed our lives. I remember those early days when our boys were infants and the midnight feedings and diapering as well as long sleepless nights of colic. To be honest, it was just about impossible to notice and be grateful. Yet looking back I am grateful, even for those grueling days of early parenting. Through the years we would gripe about driving all over the state to visit relatives during the holidays and wonder if we should just stay home. Now many of those same relatives are dead and we wish we could just share a sandwich.   We do not always see our gratitude until it is a reflection of the past. And then we are often rushing right past gratitude on the way to something else. Perhaps it is too obvious to point out that Christmas decorations have been out since early fall. I am not Scrooge, but I have a deep problem with our rush to Christmas because in doing so we trample Thanksgiving.   To be grateful is to both see and say our thanks. Alan Culpepper writes...

What Does God Look Like?

Every child wants to know, and many have the courage to ask, “What does God look like?” The adult in all of us wants to quickly answer in a theologically correct way saying, “God cannot be pictured. An image is idolatrous because no one image can ever be complete.” Still, the child in all of us wants to know, “what does God look like?”   When I was in high school my art teacher shocked my juvenile prejudices when he showed me a picture of a mural he painted for his church. The scene included a depiction of Jesus. His Jesus had ebony black skin and wiry afro. This was no Jesus like I had ever seen. Yet it was very much Jesus to my art teacher and his church.   Some see God as a triumphant king or a valiant warrior. Others see God as an ethereal mystery, elusive and distant. There are those that see God as a manifestation of Western values while others picture God only in the Southern Hemisphere.   What does God look like to you?   Look in the mirror. In Genesis are the words: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” God is etched in our faces – young and old, shaded in a variety of pigments, reflected in our wholeness and brokenness. The idea of being created in the image of God is captured in the poetically beautiful phrase Imago Dei.   What is idolatrous is when we attempt to contain God in a singular or exclusive image....

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