Sunday, August 31, 2014

Burn, Baby, Burn!!!!

When we moved back to Tampa in the summer of 2007 we did so under duress. Due to my legal circumstances at the time we were limited in the places we could live and we were pretty much broke. Marilyn and my Mom scouted Tampa Bay for homes that worked, and found a beautiful house for rent in a great neighborhood- and perhaps most importantly, a man who was willing to rent to someone with my "baggage." We have been here ever since, and our landlord has been nothing but good to us, up to and including the fact that he has not raised the rent the entire time we have lived here. So keep all of that in mind today- as I complain!

On Thursday our air conditioning began to act up, not cooling the house like it should. I reported this to the man who acts as our landlord's trouble shooter. They use a repairman named Mac- seriously, that is his actual name. Mac has been out several times and does good work, but he is a one-man operation and lives (and works, for the most part) in St. Pete. We sweltered Thursday night, awaiting repairs on Friday. But Mac never showed up. Marilyn and Will went to a motel for the night while the dog and I stuck it out, expecting we would get relief on Saturday. When Mac finally arrived in mid-afternoon, he discovered that the entire unit needs to be replaced (while also leaving the AC fan on when he left, so MORE hot air was pumped in until I discovered the mistake). He called the middle man, who tried to reach the landlord for permission to spend the money and buy the the new AC unit. By the time people returned all the missed calls and got the facts straight it was too late to purchase anything on Saturday. Today is Sunday. Tomorrow is Labor Day. We are not going to have A/C until Tuesday at the earliest. It's Florida in August. This is not acceptable. And our house feels like this...

Slight exaggeration-  I'm a bit delirious from the flames!  LOL

We all stayed here last night, using two big fans to survive, and actually slept fairly well. Will has to work today at Olive Garden, but once he is done we plan on finding new accommodations for a couple of days, the cost of which we fully intend to deduct from September's rent.

So that is my Sunday lament. We are thankful for the prayers and concerns of friends and thankful for the roof over our heads. We know we are a bit whiny about this. But it's just so freakin' hot! We may be practicing for the next ice bucket challenge this afternoon...just for fun!  I hope you all have a blessed (and COLD!) Sunday!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Happy 28th Anniversary to Us!

It's difficult to believe that Marilyn and I have been married for 28 years. We were married at Marilyn's home church, Poplar Springs Baptist, just outside of Elkin, NC. Our wedding was a special day, as we were surrounded by extended family, the best friends anyone ever had (see picture) and two ministers for which we had great love and respect. The actual wedding day was the end of a great week of events. It was also a week filled with stress, trying to sort out where we might live when the honeymoon was over, and what I was going to do about resigning my position in New England and when we might actually start at Springfield. It was emotionally exhausting, and by the end somewhat of a blur. But there were some things that I will never forget...
  • My  Mom's sisters- Kathleen, Marie and Sue- threw us a pool party at a country club in Greensboro a few days before the big day. We had worried all along about how hot it would be in NC in late August, so imagine our surprise when the temperature didn't get out of the low 70's for our outdoor pool party. It was a great night, but not a whole lot of swimming going on...
  • Pastor Mike Lane, one of the two officiating ministers, had been Marilyn's pastor at Poplar Springs. His wife, Judy, had shared a little concern about the entire process. At one point, several weeks before the wedding, she asked me the following question: "Quakers are just like Mormons, right?" It was not the last time I would be mistaken for a Mormon...
  • One of Marilyn's co-workers had a house for rent in Greensboro that she said we could have without a lease until the house at Springfield was ready for us. God was working amidst the confusion...
  • The rehearsal featured Alan Brown (see The Asheboro Flash) threatening to dangle his feet in the baptismal pool at the church while he sang.  We were planning a period of open worship during the service, which was quite confusing to the non-Quakers involved.  Marilyn's Dad, the late Posey Steele, gave us all a good laugh when answering the question "Who gives this woman in marriage?" His response?  "MY mother and I..."
  • The rehearsal dinner at the Jonesville Holiday Inn was a blast, highlighted by great champagne toasts and the now infamous David Bills spoon on the nose trick...
  • The groomsmen (see picture below) and I played football outside our little motel the morning of the big day...or was it wiffle ball?  It's all a blur...
  • I had been so worried about my tux jacket, shirt and shoes fitting that I failed to notice that my pants were actually too short. I noticed while getting dressed at the church...
  • The period of open worship, meant to be about 10 minutes, lasted about 3- I was ready to get on to the vows and jumped the gun...
  • The late Hank Semmler, Steve and Carl's father and an English teacher, read our Quaker Wedding Certificate.  Every time he had to read the words "Marilyn Marie Steele" he would almost say "Marilyn Monroe Steele."  There were giggles...
  • One of Marilyn's male friends showed up in a white tux...just in case I got cold feet, I suppose...
  • We rode a few hundred yards to the reception in a horse drawn carriage. It was an awesome entrance...
  • There was a ton of food at the reception, but I don't think Marilyn and I got any of it!  It was great to see so many friends, but after about an hour my face hurt from smiling...
It was indeed an amazing day. The thing I will remember most, however, is that somehow, despite all odds, I was marrying the most beautiful bride I had ever seen. We were going to cruise to the Bahamas on the Big Red Boat (thanks, Beth!), spend a few days at Walt Disney World, and then figure out where life would go from there.  Wherever it went, we were going together, and we were going with Jesus. Let the adventure begin!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, August 29, 2014

30/30: Favorite Vacation Memory

I write this under protest this morning, as my house has no AC and I await the repairman. It's August and I live in Florida. May I please get an "UGH!" from the audience? Here's #29 on the 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge. And I'm cheating...

My family never took exotic vacations when I was growing up, but we did always take a vacation. Me camped a lot, went to Myrtle Beach a lot, and often visited national historic sites in Virginia. I saw Williamsburg, Monticello, Jamestown, Washington's birthplace. Birthington's washplace and many civil and revolutionary war battlefields. And I loved them all- those trips made the history buff I am today. We traveled to Atlanta once a summer so I could see the Braves play, and one summer we even camped our way through Ohio and visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. We also made it to Canada on that trip. I have no idea what my favorite memory of family vacations would be. But the most memorable trip we ever made was the last one before I went to college. And that is the tale I will share with you today.

My Dad was an adventurous soul, forever taking up new hobbies and getting new obsessions. One of the best ones was whitewater canoeing. We bout a canoe. He also actually BUILT his own canoe (Old Ragbottom) from a kit. We often took weekend trips on the New River. He subscribed to magazines and plotted trips to some of the more famous whitewater rivers in the country. He and his buddy Cleo Denny decided on a trip with both families to the scenic Buffalo River, which according to some magazine was one of the most scenic whitewater rivers in the nation. I had 3 major problems with this idea. One, I didn't like the Denny's very much. Two, I would have much preferred to spend another week volunteering at Quaker Lake Camp. And finally- and I cannot stress this enough- I had zero desire to go to Arkansas, home of the Buffalo River. But off we went.

To tell you the full story of this adventure would take hours and make me sick to my stomach all over again, so I will just give you some of the "highlights." On the way from NC to Arkansas my Dad saw a sign for Sam Houston's Schoolhouse, a national historic landmark. So we drove 3 hours out of our way to see a one room building that you were not allowed to go in. Strike one. We spent one night on the west bank of the Mississippi River, just across the Arkansas state line from Memphis. It was there that we encountered the largest mosquitoes I have ever seen in my life, killing dozens of them on the blood splattered walls of our little camper until we had to give up in the middle of the night and check into a motel. Strike Two. All of my fears about the Dennys were coming to fruition; they were obnoxious and whiny. But that was about to get worse. You see, the Buffalo River may be known for it's scenic beauty and exciting rapids, and I am sure in the best of times those things are true. But on this particular occasion, Arkansas was in the midst of a severe drought. And the Buffalo River had no water in it. We carried our boats more than we paddled. I had many talks with God about why I was being punished. There is more whitewater in your average water fountain than we saw on that trip. I wound up taking Russell Denny's one-man kayak  so he could ride with my Dad and not have to paddle after his whining reached a point of no return.  Walking a whitewater river carrying our canoes as a big old Strike Three. This trip was toast. I remember almost nothing about the trip home, except the happy moment when we got separated from the Dennys and there was GREAT rejoicing.

They say that without the bad we often don't recognize the good, and I guess that is true. A few years ago, after my Dad had passed, my Mom suddenly began to apologize to me that we never took fancy vacations when I was young (Footnote: The went to Italy and Ireland after I moved out. Go figure!). I told her that I loved those trips, loved the beach and the historic sites and the camping. The only apology I needed was for dragging a 16 year old to Arkansas for summer vacation. Which I am pretty sure is now against the law. Have a great weekend!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Even Better Than Before" - An Excerpt

For the past month or so one question has dominated my conversations with old friends. It's not "What does it feel like to be free to travel?" or "Are you still pissed at Disney World?" It's not even "How's life with just 7 toes?" The question that seems to be on the minds of everyone I chat with these days is this - "How's that novel coming along?"

The answer is not simple. I have written over 50,000 words, which is enough for a complete novel. but most of that poured out of me in June. I have rewritten probably 20,000 of those words as ideas have changed and characters and details are tweaked and refined. The ending has been a challenge, deciding if there will be great reality and some pain or a total Disney-like happy ending for the main characters to reflect a preferred future of my own. But the bottom line is the novel is coming along nicely. I don't really expect it to ever be published, but I do hope to share it with anyone who wants to read it. Someday.

Although it is saved under the code name MGB, the working title of the book is Even Better Than Before.The storyline centers around a group of old friends reuniting for the first time in a number of years in their old stomping ground of North Myrtle Beach. Many of the characters are based on the friends with whom I shared so many marvelous adventures and relationships in the days of my youth. Though none of the characters are based totally on any one person and many of the circumstances, personality traits (and flaws) and details are radically different, some (like the one in the excerpt below) will be easily recognized by my old friends. Others had to be a mixture of various people or the novel would have far too many characters to remember. It is a tale of friendship, conflict, music, grace, redemption and romance. My hope is that it is a reminder of how much impact a small group of friends can have on each others' lives. And it is also a story of "What if?" With a little different timing and a few twists of fate, all of our lives could be different. What if life came with do-overs? Writing fiction lets me explore that in ways reality won't allow. 

So here's an excerpt to prove to you I have indeed been up to something these past few months! It is not the very beginning of the novel, but it comes very early on before everyone arrives at the beach. I hope this will wet your appetite for more. Let me know what you think. 


The calendar said late May, and it was a perfect day to be driving a ragtop to North Myrtle Beach. Craig Stevens was cruising down Highway 9, his 6’3” frame packed into his classic forest green MGB, top down and the Beach Boys blasting from the stereo. His thinning blonde hair was covered by a baseball cap to prevent sunburn, and those blue eyes that had caused many a young lady to swoon back in the day were covered by a new pair of Oakley’s his sister had given him for his birthday. As he cruised along his mind was spinning. This was all very familiar to him - Memorial Day weekend at Myrtle Beach with his favorite people. It was a trip they had taken so many times before, but this was the first time in nearly 15 years. A lifetime seemed to have passed in the interim. Craig and his wife Nancy had 3 children and 2 dogs. He had spent nearly 20 years as a financial planner and in the process had built quite a comfortable life for his family by being safe, practical and quite often, he admitted to himself, boring. As Do It Again began blaring from the speakers and he felt his foot give the accelerator a tap, he smiled at that thought. This weekend might be many things for many people, but it was hard to see how boring could possibly be among them. It certainly wouldn’t be for him. Craig needed this weekend. He had instigated the planning and was arriving early to be the welcoming committee. Nancy was coming later with his sister and brother-in-law, Allyson and Zach Hinkley. Time with old friends was very important to Craig. The old gang was reuniting and renting the big beach house that had been home to so many memorable moments. It was time to get on with the business of making new memories. The sun, the surf, the sand and some cold beers would help. Old friends would help more. But the thing that had Craig most excited was that at long last he would be there. His best friend. It had been 8 years since they were together, and it felt like an eternity. The Beach Boys sang his feelings. "Well I've been thinking 'bout all the places we surfed and danced and all the faces we've missed so let's get back together and do it again!" He gunned the gas, patted his MG on the dashboard and let out an extremely unsophisticated whoop. “Take me to the Betsy B, Moneypenny” he shouted at his car as they entered Horry County, South Carolina. Funny how at age 45 the word 'Horry" still made him giggle…

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

We're Mutts!

In honor of National Dog Day yesterday...

We're Americans, with a capital 'A', huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We're the underdog. We're mutts! Here's proof: his nose is cold! But there's no animal that's more faithful, that's more loyal, more lovable than the mutt.   - John Winger  (Bill Murray in Stripes) 

The above quote is part of a hilarious scene from the great 1981 comedy, Stripes. But there is also a great deal of truth in the speech. And, I'm afraid, it is a truth we have forgotten. It seems to me that far too many of us here in the good ol' US of A have become elitists. Instead of mutts, we see ourselves as the pure breeds. Not only do we no longer embrace the role of underdogs, we are dismissive and often afraid of those who do. We worry about who we let live in our country. We worry about who we might have to sit next to on the bus or in a restaurant. And worst of all, we worry about keeping the riff-raff out of our churches.  

I read a story recently of a man who was thrown out of a church service on a Sunday morning when someone in the congregation recognized him as one of the local panhandlers. The pastor told the ushers to ask this homeless man to leave. He didn't belong there because his presence was upsetting the "good people" who were members of that church. I hate to break it to that pastor and his flock, but when that man left that building, Jesus went with him. Read the gospels and you will be overwhelmed with the number of people Jesus hung out with who would be banned from our churches today. We often claim it's a safety issue. More often than not it's a love issue. We love the people who are like us, forgetting that Jesus came for the sick, the lost, the lame, the sinners and the homeless. He came for the felons, the illegal immigrants, the unwashed and the ugly. Jesus came for the mutts. And the sooner we in the church remember that Jesus loves the "least of these" every bit as much as he loves the saints, the sooner we can actually show the world what a Jesus Revolution looks like.  Everyone matters.

I see commercials all the time inviting us to adopt stray dogs and give them the love and attention they need. That's a great idea- for the church. Let's start adopting mutts. You can start with me. My name is Carl, and I am part of "the least of these." I have been a "notorious sinner." My nose is cold, and my heart is faithful.  Jesus loves me.  How about you?

Because of Jesus,

Five Years Old

Today's post will be unlike most of my ramblings- it's short, sweet and to the point! Today marks the 5th birthday of this blog. Five years of rants, insights, laughter and telling you more about me than you ever wanted to know! Five years of of anew ministry in my life. Five years of reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. I have poured a lot into this blog- but it has given so much more back to me. 

So today we celebrate, and look forward to another year together. Thanks so much to all of you for being along for the ride. Happy Birthday, Blog! I never thought you'd make it to 5...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, August 25, 2014

Our ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

This weekend my wife Marilyn and I were finally nominated to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The challenge came from my old buddy Todd Willis. Wanting to be a part of something larger than ourselves, to give to a worthy cause and to cool off on a hot Sunday afternoon in Tampa, we completed the challenge yesterday. The video was shot by our son Will, and you can see our dog Conner wandering around throughout the brief film. It was a true family event. 

Like any great movie, the film was not without bloopers and controversy. You will see Marilyn crack up just before I pour the ice water on my head; that is because Conner had just taken a big poop right in the driveway. The fact that we completed the shoot in one take while laughing that hard is a tribute to the cast and crew. Immediately upon conclusion of the film, Will and I both questioned whether Marilyn had actually poured the ice water on her head or not. She denied wimping out, but friends on her Facebook also challenged her. She was accused of only getting one ear wet and using a "sideways, glancing" bucket pour. Our friend Lisa (whom I nominated) says that when she completes the challenge she thinks Marilyn should have to do it again and do it right. There is more of this story still to be written. I am expecting the paparazzi to arrive most any time now...

The key to any fundraising effort is to draw attention to your cause. By that standard, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is one of the best success stories in recent memory. It's raising money, drawing people together, and drawing attention to a terrible disease that affects so many. We were particularly glad to answer Todd's challenge as his father-in-law is one of those who needs our help. So if you haven't done so yet,make a donation to the ALS Association. Pour some ice water on your head. And become a part of a real movement. How many opportunities do we get to do that? Here's our video!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Embracing the Wilderness

1 Peter 4:12- Friends, when life gets really difficult, don't jump to the conclusion that God isn't on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.

Bad theology is everywhere. It can be found in books, speakers and songs. It can be found each and every day in posts on Twitter and Facebook. And it can be found most every Sunday morning in churches all across USAmerica.

One of the worst manifestations of bad theology (pardon my judgement) says that once you have accepted Jesus as your LORD and Savior, life will be a piece of cake. Once God has control of your life every day will be a festival of fun. Wealth, fame, power and glory will be yours. No more rain. No more misery. No more temptation. With Jesus by our side we will experience heaven here on earth. Now don't get me wrong, life with Jesus in it is far superior to facing life on our own. But all of that stuff about life being easy? That's a load of crap...

You see, the Garden of Eden was perfect, until Adam & Eve ate the apple.  When Jesus comes back to claim his throne, life will be perfect again. We are in the "YES- but not yet!" world in-between, and life can be hard. Jesus himself said, "In this world you will face many trials." It is a scripture we can all understand. We also learn from the life of Paul, who faced more than one or two of those trials, that they help build our faith and make us stronger. In fact, if you look at most of the great men and women of scripture you will notice that many of them spent some time in the "wilderness"- AFTER God got a hold of their lives!

The great preacher Dwight L. Moody was quoted as saying that "Moses spent 40 years in Pharaoh's court thinking he was somebody, 40 years in the desert learning he was nobody and 40 years showing what God can do with a somebody who thought he was a nobody!" I can totally relate. I spent 28 years in ministry thinking I was important. I spent a few years in the wilderness, wondering if God was done with me. Like Peter, I denied my Jesus. Also like Peter, my sin did not mean I loved Him any less. But it did leave me wandering in the wilderness. I am only now beginning to understand just how wild the wilderness can be, as well as just how amazing grace is. God is opening doors for me to do greater things than I had ever imagined.

Being in the wilderness is something we will all experience at some point on our spiritual journeys. This doesn't mean we have done something terrible, that we are not "real Christians" (if I see that phrase one more time on Twitter I may ask God to send frogs again!) or that God is mad at us. It most likely means for us, as it did for Moses, Peter, Paul and so many others, that God has something to teach us. Life gets hard in the wilderness. But don't be afraid of it- embrace it! Remember Paul's instruction to "Count it all joy." Know that while you are in the wilderness, God is getting ready to show you just what He can do with a somebody who thinks they are a nobody. "Humble thyself in the sight of the LORD, and He will lift you up, higher and higher!" 

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Shouts Outs!

Summer is coming to an end, with many schools back in session and a big heatwave frying us here in Tampa. It's hard to believe September, football and autumn are lurking just around the corner- but they are. While we were disappointed we didn't get to do our Springfield Friends Reunion due to the death of Marilyn's father, we have great hopes of rescheduling that soon. And so with those happy thoughts in mind I present another edition of the Saturday Shout Outs! I'm feeling pretty random today, so look out! Let's get started...

* Many of my friends- in Florida, NC and various other places- are school teachers. We need to continue to pray for all of our teachers as they seek to give their very best to students in a world where red tape and bureaucracy far too often rule. There are way too many to list them all, but I have been thinking and praying for each of you. Have a great year, teachers, and never forget that what you do is one of the most important jobs in the world!

* Speaking of teachers we know, our dear friend Lisa Jewett (Wesley Memorial Tampa) became a grandma for the 4th time this week! That's Lisa on the right, with Marilyn. Baby Abram is doing well, as are momma Joy and daddy Ken. We also need to pray for Lisa, whose older grandkids Lilly and London head back north to their mom's this week for the school year. Lisa will miss them so much.

* I rag on Facebook a lot, and often it deserves it. For instance, the new messenger app invades your privacy in a way George Orwell would have said was preposterous while writing 1984. But it does serve a great purpose in my life. Marilyn's FB serves as a daily prayer list for me. I can read the joys, pains and concerns of so many old friends, and see what their families are up to. And then I can pray for them. Or should I say, YOU. To pray for God's people is indeed a great privilege. 

* It's not too late to make a donation and help Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-Kissimmee) get her novel published! It's a great book and I know you will all want a copy, so join her Dream Team and be part of the fun! Only a couple of days left to contribute, so click here and let's do this!!!

* Another great thing about both FB and Twitter is keeping up with friends who are in ministry and seeing what amazing things they are up to. David Mercadante (Springfield Friends Meeting) was very young (that's him and his cousin Stacy around 1992) when I knew him, but he has grown into a wonderful husband & father and an outstanding pastor at Poplar Ridge Friends in NC. I love reading the stories of their ministries and his family. But I have to admit that it makes me laugh when I think that little Dave is the lead pastor for my old partner in youth ministry crimes, Tim Vestal. Life sure throws curve balls sometimes! 

* For those who have asked, my own novel is still coming along, just much more slowly than at first. I am struggling with how I want it to end, as the characters are very important to me and sometimes fiction is a great make things right. Since it takes place in the present-day Myrtle Beach area, I have some rewriting to do to get the details correct after my visit last week. But I am still writing

* While at the beach last week I got a chance to hangout with one of most special people I have ever known, Beth Vestal McGalliard from my youth group days at New Garden Friends Meeting. We had not seen each other in 7 years, but as soon as we started talking it felt like it had been 7 minutes. It was the same when I saw Tammy Doggett Foster a couple of weeks ago in Orlando, and when Steve & Carl Semmler were here in March. I say it here often, but it is true that some people leave footprints on your heart and you are never the same again. And that will never change. Now I just look forward to seeing some more of the old gang (I'm looking at you Denise, Donna, Alan, Susan, Neal & the rest!) in NC from those days, college days and my Quaker Lake days.

* Darren Rovell, the top business reporter for ESPN, tweeted this yesterday: Another record donation day for the and its chapters. $11.5 million donated YESTERDAY  I know it may seem a little silly, but it's working and doing great things. To those of you who have participated, we salute you!!!

* Cindy Martin (FUMC-Kissimmee) has put forth a brilliant idea. In early September you can get half price seats at Broadway shows in NYC, so she is suggesting we plan a reunion for September 2015! It could be for not only Kissimmee alumni (that's them, 1995 edition), but anyone else from the old days who has the urge to do New York with me one more time. The idea has merit- and I think I may have the energy to plan one more big adventure in this beat up old body. So what do you think? Anyone interested?

I'll stop there for today. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. Stay cool, stay in touch, and know that our prayers are with you where ever you may be! I'd love to hear from you, so leave a comment, email, or text me at 813-919-3755. Many blessings to you all, and thanks for reading!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, August 22, 2014

30/30: Immeasurable Impact

Youth group beach trip, circa 1974. Steve is 2nd from left; I am far right.

Today the 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge offers the following prompt: Write about one person (NOT a family member) who has had an influence on your life. There are so many people, so many influences, so many possibilities. But after a few minutes of just sitting and thinking, the choice was easy. And it goes back a long, long time...

For about as long as I can remember I knew about this guy named Steve Semmler. We began going to school together in 1st grade, and even though we were never in the same class I knew of him. In the 4th grade I had his mom as a reading teacher and I heard stories about him quite often, but I still didn't really know him. In 6th grade we began having some classes together and we got along well. In 7th grade he ran for student body president and I ran for VP, and we talked about how cool it would be to run the school together. He won; I lost. But a friendship was born. In the 8th grade we had most all of our classes together, and along with Darryl Richards (Pee-Wee) really had our run of Guilford Middle School. Just as a quick example, the principal (Howard Cross) once pulled the 3 of us out of classes for an entire day so we could was the school activity bus. Things like that happened all the time. We began to hang out outside of school and discovered a shared love of "different" music (such as Hurricane Smith, Neil Diamond, Gilbert O'Sullivan and the Beach Boys) and mutual tastes in many things. As time went by his home became my second home and his family my second family. We shared dreams and struggles. I helped him sort through the plethora of females trying to gain his attention. Our families went to the beach together in later years. We were often inseparable. But there were 2 things he did in those earliest days- 2 very important things- that set Steve apart from the other great influences in my life. 

Sometime early in our 8th grade year (1972-73) Steve invited me to a roller skating night with his youth group at New Garden Friends Meeting. My family had quit going to church a number of years before and I had no real connection to any group. He told me lots of great things about the leaders and the people, but there was only one selling point needed. You see, there was this girl...  She would be there, and so I was going to be as well! That group and that place changed my life forever. They loved and supported me through high school and beyond and are still doing it today. My spiritual foundation was built there. My love of that group led directly to my own career in youth ministry. That invitation was the beginning of a new life for me that might otherwise have never happened. That invitation and that girl. We never dated, by the way...

In the summer after 7th grade Steve had invited me to go to summer camp with him at a place called Quaker Lake. I couldn't go because of baseball commitments, but when he asked again after 8th grade I was in, along with several other members of our youth group. If you have read this blog or know me even a little bit, you know what Quaker Lake means to me. My years a a camper taught me so much about God and about faith; my years as a staff member were the backbone of my student ministry days. It was Steve who got me there; it was Steve who kept me going those first few years. For that I am forever grateful. 

Those two acts of simple invitation literally made me who I am today. Over the past few weeks I have visited with two other members of that old New Garden youth group, and we are all in agreement that it there is no way to overvalue what that group meant to our lives. We have all found ourselves praying as the years past that our own children would encounter a group of friends that are anything like the ones we had. Without Steve I would not have been a part of that family- and I would be much the worse for it. Without Quaker Lake I might have never realized God's call to youth ministry in my life and had 28 wonderful years trying to give back to students the love and support I had felt as a teenager. Two simple invitations. Two life changing experiences. God is so often in the small stuff.

Steve Semmler changed my life forever over 40 years go, and he is still doing it today. That is the very definition of "influence." I am so honored to call him my friend. Long live Hurricane Smith!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, August 21, 2014

7 Things: My Favorite Summer Movies (2014)

Summer is a big season for blockbuster movies, and here in the Jones' household we love going to the theater. I saw 9 films in theaters this summer (for the purposes of this list, the summer movie season began in April with Captain America 2. Will and I both agree on this, so it must be true!) and really enjoyed 7 of them. So here, in order, are my Top 7 Movies of the summer of 2014. As always, dissenting opinions are welcome!

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
  2. Begin Again
  3. Captain America, Winter Soldier
  4. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  5. Jersey Boys
  6. Godzilla
  7. Sex Tape
To be honest, you could put numbers 1-4 in any order and I would still be happy about the list. Those were all tremendous films. If you didn't see Begin Again, see it when it comes out on blu ray. Mark Ruffalo should get (but won't) an Oscar nod for his performance and the music is awesome. Guardians was hilarious and exciting, plus it was just so NEW and featured music from my childhood! I didn't have any idea what was coming next in the plot. Cap 2 may be my favorite of the Avengers series so far, and Days of Future Past was nearly perfect as superhero movie. Jersey Boys had all that great music, Godzilla was a wonderful surprise and Sex Tape was just flat-out funny. So that's my list. I'd love to hear your thoughts- unless you liked Transformers 4. That makes me question your judgement on everything!  Have a great Thursday!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Hump Day #Peacehug

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called Children of God. 
- Jesus (Matthew 5:9)

To pray for peace is to pray not for one nation, one faction or for "our side," but to pray that the whole world may know the grace, love and mercy of God as shown through the life and death of Jesus the Christ. Today, let our prayers ring out for "the other ones." In the Gaza, in Missouri, in Iraq, in the Ukraine and perhaps most importantly in our own communities, LORD- this we pray...

Christians are supposed to be some kind of different, following the radical teachings of the Prince of Peace. We are commanded to share the Savior and his love with everyone n to transform the world. But if we can't do it with a smile on our face and with love in our hearts then we've got no right to do it at all. Let peace begin with ME.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Youth Ministry Artifact

Today's artifact comes from 1981. It's a poster that was distributed with the book, Catching the Rainbow: The Complete Youth Ministries Handbook, Vol. 2. 

Professional student ministry was still in it's "toddler" stage when J. David Stone (see Influences) began touring the country with his team from Creative Youth Ministry Models in the late 70s with ideas from The Complete Youth Ministries Handbook- Vol. 1 (best book name EVER!) and changed my life and my ministry forever. When I first walked into a room as a "youth leader" in 1978 I had absolutely no idea what I needed to be doing. By the time Dave and his gang were finished with me, I had a plan. And that plan was called Wholistic Youth Ministry. Wholistic is not a real word, but it was a great idea, and the grandfather of the purpose driven movement of the 1990s. The concept was very simple. A youth ministry should minister to the whole teenager. You cannot separate the spiritual life of a student from her/his emotional, physical and social life and expect to have any true impact. We were challenged to implement programs and events that would seek to minister in each of these areas. That meant spending time with youth on their turf- home, school and places they hang out. It meant playing games, having fun and taking trips that allowed you to connect with the whole person. It meant celebrating the important days in the lives of your students and being there for the bad times. It meant a whole lot of work for a youth pastor and volunteers- but it was SO worth it! The problem was, far too many of us were still running around throwing random events at these different areas with no real plan. That's where the rainbow came in.

The rainbow offered up a three-track process to help us reach "the pot of gold" which was Koinonia- true Christian community as found in Acts 2:42. The first track was a Leadership Track called "The 4 Phases of Ease" that laid out a basic plan for training students and adult volunteers to help you with this mountain of ministry you were seeking to accomplish. You can read more about the 4 Phases by clicking here. Looking back now, the really cool thing about this process is that it is the way almost everyone does leadership training, but we never even know we are doing it. It was that practical.   

The second band of the rainbow was an Education Process Track. Too many churches (and this is still true today) thought that if you put young people in a room and told them about Jesus you would build a youth group and discover Koinonia. The fact was and still is that community and relationships must be intentionally built. The 4 steps of the track walk you through the process. Teenagers come to your church from so many different cliques, backgrounds and social groups that it is often difficult for them to make new friends at youth. So we allow them the opportunity to tell their stories and build a shared history. Trips, parties, casual get-togethers and even the much hated lock-ins provide such opportunities- as long as we make certain the events are structured in such a way that sharing takes place not only with established friends but with new people as well. It is only after this step that students begin to be willing to risk trust, to set goals and to count on one another- and you. It was my experience that the further along this track you saw students move, the more they became willing to risk following Jesus. And that rocks.

The final track is the Theological Track, contributed to the rainbow by Dr. John Westerhoff, at the time a professor at Duke. It assumes that most students we work with are at various points of a spiritual journey, and that our task is not to give them our faith, but rather to help them take ownership of their own faith. To get there, we must allow students to question, doubt, explore and experience. This is scary. But if we really believe that Christianity is a life we lead and not just a creed we profess, then this track is hugely important.

So why is this artifact still meaningful? I believe it can serve as a reminder to youth pastors and churches everywhere. We live in a time of specialization. Churches are no different. Worship leaders are defined by the style of music they prefer. Pastors have particular preaching styles. Worship is emergent, traditional, contemporary or primitive, with seldom any crossover. And student ministry is going down that same road.  Ministries are specializing. Some groups are all about service and worship. Others focus on bible study and theology. Some have abandoned "youth group" all-together in favor of a youth-only worship service (don't get me started- that's a whole different post). I just hope we remember our example- Jesus the Christ. He was seriously into Wholistic Ministry. He healed the sick (physical). He loved the unwanted (emotional). He ate dinner with those with whom he wished to connect (social). He taught us a new way to live and to love (theological). And he died for us (service). So- youth pastors and those who love the church, hear me well- your students, first and foremost, need Jesus. They need to study scripture and pray for one another. They also need to laugh and play together. They need to sit with you and hear your stories and see how much you love your spouse. They need to share history together through trips and events that will stay in their minds for a lifetime. They need to learn to serve "the least of these." They need to grow into a community that will love and support one another like an Acts 2:42 church should. And these things will only happen if you are intentional about seeing them happen. There is nothing- NOTHING- better to me than seeing a youth group reach Koinonia and watching them love Jesus, each other than the world. 

So check yourselves. Are you being wholistic, or are you becoming a specialist? Is your ministry taking steps towards reaching the "pot of gold" that is true Christian community? I pray you are, and that these warnings are not needed. Don't make me write The Complete Youth Ministries Handbook, Vol. 3.  I'd do a whole chapter on why churches should make lock-ins and beach trips mandatory...   :)

Because of Jesus,

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Bump with Greatness

In May of 1979 I joined my good friends Carl Semmler and Alan Brown on a month long cross-country trip that took us from North Carolina to California. Part of our "excuse" for planning this epic journey was to see my Uncle Dick and his family in Las Vegas. Even thought I was only 19 (they were both 21) at the time and therefore in the casinos illegally, we did a little gambling. We had no money we could afford to lose, so our gambling consisted of playing penny slot machines- primarily so we could get rid our our pennies! The night we went to see Don Rickles perform, we wandered a couple of the big casinos and watched other people play the big games. We understood Black Jack, but watching Craps was like listening to someone speak Klingon- we just didn't catch on. At some point late that evening we came across a Craps table where there was quite a commotion. The best we could make out, some young celebrity was in the midst of losing a LOT of money, and the crowd had gathered to gawk. After one (what I can only assume) particularly bad roll of the dice there was yelling, laughter and then a parting of the crowd as the celebrity and his entourage plowed through the masses. The 3 of us were petty much run over by them as they came out. We were surprised to see that we had just been run over by Robin Williams.

Robin was, at that time, flush with new fame from his work as Mork. He was also, we would learn as the years passed, addicted to cocaine. As his group bumped into us, there was no remorse, no apology and no recognition of the rudeness. We were more than a little disgusted with their behavior. If you had asked us that night if we had seen the funniest man in the world, we would have assumed you meant Don Rickles. I was certain Robin Williams would be a one-hit wonder. The next year he released his first movie, Popeye- a truly awful film. For sure he was funny, but he would be forever remembered as Mork. Of that I was certain.

His death last week has spawned so many stories of what a kind, wonderful and passionate man Robin Williams turned into, despite the demons in his head. He became not only a great comic, but a brilliant actor. He left behind a legacy of film and TV appearances that will never be forgotten, and over these 35 years I became a huge fan. That ugly episode in a Vegas casino has transformed in my mind into a bump with greatness. I will leave it to others to list movies and talk about amazing performances, but I do want to share one of my favorite Robin Williams moments. A number of years ago he appeared on the old Whose Line Is It Anyway? hosted by Drew Carry. It was 22 minutes of total, manic, insane and hilariously unfiltered Robin. He cracked up not only the audience but the cast as well. One of my first thoughts upon hearing of his death last week was great gratitude that I have that episode saved on our DVR. Which is exactly where it will remain, never to be deleted. Hearing Robin and Wayne Brady sing a gospel song about landing an airplane was total. absolute brilliance.

I rarely get sentimental about celebrities. But we are all going to miss that strange little hairy man who tried to run me over all those years ago. I was so wrong. He will be remembered for so much more than Mork. 

Na-noo, Na-noo.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ch-ch-ch-Changes (Myrtle Beach Edition)

Ocean Drive Beach, 7:30 am
The Grand Strand of South Carolina (Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, and beyond) has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember, and I can remember getting pre-school age gifts from the Easter Bunny gifts while camping there. For years I went with my parents, then later with friends, youth groups (that I was in and that I led) and then with my own family. It is safe to say that I have as many cherished memories of the beach (when I grew up all you needed to say was "THE beach." Nothing else was needed. There was only one beach that mattered- Myrtle Beach!) as of any place on earth. And I have been so excited to return there after so many years of being away.

So I arrived at THE beach last Monday after a 10 year absence to find that a great deal has changed since my last visit. While this was not a surprise, it was still a shock. Since I had a great deal of time to kill before Marilyn and her family arrived from NC and we could check in to our resort, I decided to take myself on a little tour of some of my favorite memories. My first stop was the former site of the Myrtle Beach Pavilion, home to so many great nights of my youth and my ministry. I knew the Pavilion had been closed and demolished in 2006, reportedly to be replaced with condos. So I was stunned to arrive downtown and discover what you see pictured here- NOTHING! Thinking they had demolished my memories to put up condos was one thing- I understand that money rules. But to tear down so many happy thoughts built over so many years for no apparent reason left me standing by the newly remodeled Boardwalk with my jaw on the ground. The arcades were gone. Many of the t-shirt shops were gone. The whole area seemed depressed. This was not a good start.

As I continued my tour- first down Ocean Blvd. and later on King's Highway- I was overwhelmed by memories of things that simply were not there anymore. Favorite motels, favorite restaurants and favorite night spots were simply no longer there. Myrtle Square Mall is no longer there, and just like the Pavilion it has been replaced by nothing. The site is a concrete field. The more I drove and the more sites I visited, the older I felt. The little motel where I once spent a few days alone to rest and recover from a wild youth ministry summer was now a parking lot for public beach access. The movie theaters where I once saw Stripes and History of the World Part 1 on the same day have been torn down. Some of these things happened a long time ago, but all of the change had never really hit me until this trip. My mind was picturing much further back than the 10 years I had been away, and to be honest it was a bit depressing.

Heading into what is now the incorporated city of North Myrtle Beach- there was a time when Windy Hill, Crescent Beach, Atlantic Beach, Ocean Drive and Cherry Grove all had very distinct personalities, but for the most part those days are LONG gone- I was suddenly very aware of all of the changes I had witnessed to that area in my lifetime. The campgrounds of my childhood- The Ponderosa, Lake Arrowhead and Sherwood Forest- which were in the Windy Hill section of the beach, have been gone for years. Camp Pla-Mor, where we had some amazing youth group adventures when I was a teenager, is still there but under a different name and was barely recognizable. The Jungle Golf where Steve Semmler and I (along with countless other friends) played hundreds of rounds of miniature golf over the years was leveled in favor of a CVS a long time ago. The Cherokee Trading Post (or something like that) next door where we used to go cool off and stare at hermit crabs and tacky t-shirts is history as well. Meanwhile, across Hwy. 17 is a monstrous shopping area called Barefoot Landing. Outlet stores, major restaurants, the Alabama Theater and a House of Blues are just a few of the attractions there. That is today. In my mind, it is still the Village of the Barefoot Traders, with around 6 stores that all sold trinkets or used books. 35 years ago we used to walk over from The Ponderosa. Now you would be risking your life to cross that highway on foot. Most of these changes are not necessarily for the worse (except losing The Ponderosa and the Pavilion)- they are just so very different. And on this day I was having a hard time with different.

As a last resort I turned to three very special and familiar sites to restore my faith in the section of North Myrtle Beach known as Ocean Drive. The first was the beach itself. Still so wide, so smooth and so busy with happy people having the time of their lives. The pier is long since gone, but the OD Pavilion has been re-opened at the intersection of Main & Ocean Blvd. and classic night spots like Fat Harold's and The Spanish Galleon are still open for business. The second was the Betsy B (at right), the past home of many adventures over a 20 year period and future home (in my dreams) of my Hall of Fame. It has been remodeled and is missing the famous outside shower stalls, but it's still there and it is still called the Betsy B. Maybe I was not so old that everything had changed. There was still one final test. I headed back up to Kings Hwy. and drove a little south, past the Kroger store that had provided so many Big K sodas, past the Krispy Kreme that had served us so many "hot doughnuts
NOW!" and up to the site of Painter's Original Homemade Ice Cream. Still operating out of an old, dilapidated white building, the place famous for the best ice cream anywhere since 1952 was still alive and kickin! The sign was new but everything else was exactly as I remembered it from when I was 10 years old and their maple nut ice cream was the best stuff I had ever tasted. Some things had not changed. My spirits were lifted. The following day I would return to Calabash (see previous post) and discover another favorite place that was still keeping my memories alive. And all-in-all I had another great vacation at THE beach.

So my point? I'm not really sure there is one. It may be that I'm getting old, ready for dinner at 4 and yelling at kids to "Get off my lawn!" It may be that it's true that "change changes things-and we don't like it!" Or it may be that despite the truth of those 2 things, it is important to let the past remind of what was rather than remind us of what is NOT now. Memories are great, but NOW is for new adventures, new lessons and new blessings. That's a lesson I am very slow to learn- but I would learn a lot faster if people would quit changing my memories! Spoken like a true geezer, huh?  Be well, my friends!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Return to Calabash!

Last night, after a 10 year absence, I returned to Calabash. For the uninitiated, Calabash is a little fishing town about 30 minutes north of North Myrtle Beach that is comprised of a few shops and a LOT of seafood restaurants. They specialize in fried seafood. A trip to Calabash has been a part of my beach routine for has long as I can remember, and last night was long awaited and often dreamed about. Marilyn, her mom, her 2 sisters and one brother-in-law joined me at Captain John's, my personal favorite since it opened in 1976. My expectations were unreasonable. And every one of them were met or surpassed!

First came the hushpuppies. If you don't know what a hushpuppy is I can't really explain it- except to say they are a delicious gift from the heavens! You can see Marilyn preparing to devour one in the picture above. A basket of hushpuppies would be a wonderful start to any meal. But as the prelude to my first Calabash seafood platter in 10 years, those little pieces of fried dough were like manna. And they led me to this...

The Captain John's Deluxe Seafood Platter. Fried oysters, clams, flounder, and deviled crab- because real men eat deviled crab. And loads of those tiny fried shrimp that most of the wold know as popcorn shrimp, but that true believers know as Calabash shrimp...because it is their home. It was all amazing. And to answer the obvious question, YES. I ate every bite. But not the french fries.

So my return to Calabash was everything I dreamed it would be and more. And I'm already pushing for trip #2! Have a blessed day!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

That Where I Am There You May Also Be

Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."  -John 14:1-3

This past Wednesday we buried my father-n-law. Needless to say there was much sadness and grief as he was laid to rest. It is natural to miss loved ones when they are gone. We all wish that we could remain with those we love for more years than we are given here on earth. And yet, when we say farewell to friends who have lived their lives trusting in the saving grace Jesus, we KNOW that such passings are actually a cause for celebration. My senior pastor at Springfield Friends Meeting, the late Max Rees, once told me that it is expected that we will miss those who go before us. But for believers, mourning them is a selfish act. Would we really want them to come back from walking hand in hand with their Savior? Would we want them to continue to feel pain instead of experiencing the ultimate healing? Of course not. We grieve for our own loss. And it does hurt.

Rich Mullins talked a lot about death. When I met him in 1990, the song that he had written of which he was the proudest was Elijah, which deals with death. At Springfield Friends in the early 90's many of the youth wore t-shirts that came from Rich which said, "Live like you will die tomorrow; Die knowing you will live forever." Rich believed that dying meant seeing Jesus in person. He was not afraid of it. He believed the scripture from John that you can read at the top of this page, the same scripture preached at Posey's funeral. Like Rich, he knew that one day he would be with God. That day arrived last Saturday .

One of Rich's final songs was based on that scripture. That Where I Am You May Also Be appeared on the Jesus record, which was recorded and released by the Ragamuffin Band after his death. If you purchase the CD you get two disks. One is a demo. Rich is in an old church recording some songs on a hand-held tape recorder. The other is the finished product of the Ragamuffins recording those songs, featuring many guest artists as well. The finished version of That Where I Am You May Also Be (you can listen at bottom) mixes both. Rich is singing as it opens; it is raw and unpolished. It then swells to a glorious chorus (featuring the voices of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant) that seeks to remind us that if we trust Jesus, we will be together again in our Father's house. Rich sings the words of Christ to us when he says, "in this world you may find trouble, but I leave you my peace, that where I am you may also be." Death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54). We can die knowing we will live forever!

Until that day, I take comfort in these words Rich once wrote about himself:

"Someday I shall be a great saint- like those on the windows of magnificent cathedrals. I know this, not because of any evidence I have produced myself, but because of the witness of His Scriptures, because of the evidence of His grace, and because of the testimony of this sky that washes over me at dusk."

May God's promises contained in this joyous song give us all the hope to carry on. 

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Saturday Shout Outs!

Greetings and salutations, friends and neighbors, and welcome to another edition of the Saturday Shout Outs! It's been a long couple of weeks here at Chez Jones, but we have survived and continue to be thankful for the love and prayers of so many dear friends. I am very sad that I will not be able to see the many old friends in NC that I had been hoping to see in the next few weeks, including the Springfield/TNT reunion lunch we had planned for next Saturday. We will attempt to schedule a trip up there very soon- even if it's just me driving up and staying with YOU.  :)  In any case there is still much to shout about today- so here we go!

  • The service for Marilyn's dad on Wednesday was truly beautiful. An old family friend, Chris Newman (who was also the guy Marilyn was dating when we first met), sang Posey's favorite song- He Touched Me. Both of the pastors involved, Roger & Chad, spoke of Posey's faith and vitality. They also told some great stories that really captured his spirit. The 21 gun salute at the graveside was a fitting tribute to the World War II veteran. All-in-all it was a proper celebration for an 88 year old man who lived life to the fullest.
  • Our prayers and sympathies go out to Marie Allen Duke and Kelly Allen Olmeda (Springfield Friends Meeting) who lost their grandmother this past week. Please know your family has been our hearts.
  • Less than a week after getting to spend part of day with my friend Tammy Foster (New Garden Friends Meeting) in Orlando, she and her hubby Chuck showed up at the funeral home on Tuesday night. Marilyn and I were both very touched that they had traveled from Kernersville to pay respects. Old friends just rock...
  • As we stood in the family receiving line at the funeral home two young women introduced themselves as waitresses from my father-in-law's favorite hangout, John Boy's Restaurant. As one of them shared fond memories of the man she called "my little Posey" I couldn't contain myself, and said to her, "and I'm sure he NEVER flirted with you, did he?" She laughed and responded with a very sarcastic, "Oh NO. Never!" We all had a good laugh. Everyone in the town of Elkin knew Posey Steele.
  • If you haven't given yet, you're just in time to support Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-K) in her continuing efforts to raise funds to get her brilliant novel (trust me, I know!) published and out there for all of you to read! For more info, visit 
  • As with any family gathering for an event like a funeral, the "upside" is getting to see family members you have not seen in a long time. For me, that was pretty much everyone! It was especially good to see Marilyn's niece Spring and her 3 kids- Danielle, Evan and Ryder. It was also wonderful to meet Danielle's roomie Kayla. My only complaint about all of that is that 10 year old Ryder kept beating us all at UNO. I am convinced he was cheating...
  • Another event we had to cancel during all of this was a little mini-reunion at FUMC-Kissimmee to hear our dear friend and their new pastor Wayne Cook preach. We will do that soon, Dr. Jill, Karen Gould and Cindy Martin!!!
  • I will be leaving sometime Sunday to head up to North Myrtle Beach and meet up with Marilyn, her mom, her 2 sisters and one brother-n-law. That's a lot of Steele women in one place for 5 days- pray for me! But before that gets started I hope to have lunch with two of my very favorite people on the planet, Denise Langley and Beth McGalliard, who happen to be leaving the beach the day I arrive. So excited to see them!
  • And finally, please keep Will in your prayers. He and Conner the Dog will be holding down the fort while we are away. This will be his last week working 2 jobs, with Chick-fil-A biting the dust (those are his shouts of extreme joy you hear coming from Tampa!) and Olive Garden taking over on a more permanent basis as his classes resume at St.Pete College next week. Will is going to be fine. It's Conner we're worried about...
That's it for now. I am not sure how much blogging I will do while at the beach- depends on wifi at the resorts and if my my 2001 Dell laptop will function. But look for updates on Twitter. Again, we love you guys and thank you so much for all the support during what had been a very difficult time. Have a great weekend!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, August 8, 2014

30/30: One Surprising Truth About Me

Week number 27 of the 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge is a bit of a toughy for me. I'm supposed to tell you a surprising truth about myself. If you know me or are a regular reader of this blog then you know I keep very little about myself a secret. I have shared my happiest moments, my deepest sorrows and much personal trivia in these posts, and I am very much the same way in person. So what can I tell you that will surprise you? I am just not sure. But here goes...

Most of you know of my love of music and my somewhat eclectic tastes. You also know that I have, for MANY years, loudly proclaimed that I do not care much for country music. This was true when I used to be forced to watch Buck Owens on Hee Haw back in my childhood. I never cared for the classic country artists like Conway Twitty, George Jones and Loretta Young. When the kids in my youth groups began listening to people like Randy Travis and Garth Brooks I made fun of them. On my i-Pod there is no Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill or any of the other current country artists (Exception: I have one song by the Zac Brown Band, but that's as a tribute to a special friend- so you can't hold that against me!). I love bluegrass, folk, pop, rock, Christian, classical and whatever Weird Al is- but country is not my thing. But you already knew most of that. So what's my surprising truth?

I love...LOVE...the music of Willie Nelson. I find him to be a brilliant songwriter and I love to hear him sing. There is such passion and emotion in that scruffy old voice. I love On the Road Again, Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys and so many other classics. And his version of You Were Always On My Mind is one of the best songs ever recorded. As Will and I made the 12 hour drive from Elkin to Tampa on Wednesday night we listened to a LOT of music. At some point when we were pulling out after a bathroom break he began to sing On the Road Again. When I told him I had that on my i-Pod he was surprised but immediately began to search for it. We wound up listening to all of my Willie Nelson songs and my son was impressed by what he heard (Sorry Steve, but Willie was much better than Hurricane Smith in Will's opinion). I do love me some Willie Nelson. And that is my surprising truth.

So tell me...are you surprised?  Have a wonderful Friday and a blessed weekend.

Because of Jesus,