Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Feels Like The First Time

It's been so long since I posted a new thought that I feel like a noob here. I've moved to a new church and have been so involved that I haven't taken time for much else. That's about to change.
We've gotten the new parsonage (I say 'we' loosely since it really was my wife's doing) all arranged and decorated for the event of daily life here in Marlin, Tx. And life here in Marlin is quite interesting. First off, the town of nearly 7000 is an old mineral water mecca, thriving during the first half of the last century. However, new advances in medicine brought about a decline and subsequent downturn. All the big and beautiful homes here, the hayday activities, and the bustling businesses are either moving away or rotting away. Some, however, are staying the course and praying for change. The only thing that is constant is the mineral water flowing out of the old downtown fountain by the Chamber of Commerce building. The mineral water still works too...just drink a full glass of it and get ready to rock. Be close by a toilet also.
The old families who were around during the good times still recall, with relish, the glory of better times.
But there is an undercurrent here that is slowly emerging. I haven't grasped it's full meaning yet, but in time I will. In part it is the decisions of past generations that have helped this demise along. Perhaps it will be the decisions of present generations to pull this town, and community, up from the well.
Since I am the eternal optimist, the romantic dreamer, the bull-headed progressive, I believe that there are possibilities ahead that will help our little town, once again, be vital in a new age of medical and technical marvels...with a traditional slant and tip-o-the-hat to the best of what once was. But putting new wine into old wine skins is a dangerous proposition. So, how best to proceed depends on the efforts to future generations...our children. We are old and tired (hey! watch that 'old guy' wisecrack, fella!). They aren't.
One of the challenges is simply black and white. North side and South side, if you get my drift. It has always been here since the civil war. This integrated community, besides its tensions, has existed in a sort of harmonious uneasiness. Yeah, I know there is something that isn't right about that phrase, but one gets the sense of it on the streets also. Everyone is congenial enough toward one another, but the younger generations have noticed it and accepted it begrudgingly. Many have simply flown away like migrating birds of a feather, revisiting yearly, the place of their ancestry. Perhaps they are dreaming too. The rest are caught and can only hope to accomplish a feat of revitalization that will breathe new life into a place with a rich history and short of breath.
My new post. My new thought. My new hope.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

One of my favorite places to travel to is a place in Oklahoma, close to the Arkansas border, on Winding Stair Mountain. The place I visit is called Winding Stair Campground. It is also where the Ouachita Trail crosses Hwy 1 on the way to Talimena State Park, about 4 miles from Hwy 259 on the west side. Having read about this infamous spot in old news clippings, I decided to write this story. If you're familiar with the event you'll appreciate the historical accuracy; if you are unfamiliar with it, well, you have a bit of research to do. If I am amiss in any details, forgive me, I'm not perfect. I hope you enjoy it. - Jeff

A few years back an older couple was enjoying a camping trip, one of 25 they went on yearly. The year was 2003. The peace and solitude they sought was just a couple hours away on a mountain they had grown to love dearly. Their marriage had grown stronger every year because they loved the same things: nature, the sounds of God's creation, the sharing. They loved even more the simplicity of such times to retreat away from the rush and noise of Fort Worth. Their love of God was also precious to them. He had answered many prayers and pleas to provide for them and soothe them with the 'time off' that kept them in touch with Him and others.
This time was no different...but it was.
One of their best destinations was a small campground on a northern ridge in the Winding Stair Mountains. Hardly anyone went there, much. Usually the water supply was non-existent though there were showers and toilets. Perhaps that is why it was so desolate much of the time. So they went...again. Happy. Seeking.
Another had the same destination in mind. He was a prison guard. He stored up in his person the many instances of hate, greed, violence, and hopelessness that he witnessed daily in his work. In such an environment it was hard to forget and to deal with. Perhaps he thought of peace often...and furiously. So he went out alone many times to distance himself from others. It was a practice that took a very wrong turn. Why need another at all if the outcome was housed behind brick walls and steel, a constant reminder of relationships that play out and die. So out he went, to a place he heard of on a northern ridge on some remote mountain range. Maybe he looked up to the hills one day and saw it - who would really know? His traveling companions were odd: pieces of burlap, a guille suit, a .22 rifle.
The day was peaceful for the couple. They just wandered Highway 1 to Talihina and back. A nice, easy drive. They sat in their car at the campground and talked and listened to the wind in the trees and the birds chuckling in the shrubs. The evening was approaching like a blanket being pulled over a sleeping baby. Their love was spoken to one another in many ways. Their God was blessing them with peace and joy all rolled into one in this one, perfect evening...to be as one with God and each other. The cracks were heard only by the creatures of the mountain; and one startled pair of ears that were a moment later silenced.
Hope and hopelessness had met. Two at peace with God and man; the other never knew such peace.
It was a motorcyclist who found the couple a day later. Their love had brought them to God's bosom in a remote campground on a northern ridge in the Winding Stair Mountains.

In Memory of Charles and Shirley Chick, who loved and went to God.

Jeff Stull, 2008

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Garden

I love a garden. Lots of green and pinks, reds, blues; shades of color to delight the eyes, prompt thoughts and entertain the mind. But most of all I love a garden in the early morning when the world is waking up from the slumber of laborious visions and strange memories of far-off places long forgotten. What better way to heal the dark night than with the coming light of dawn. The gentle breezes and waving leaves greeting me gently as I descend from the back porch, entering into the eden like a wayward child returning home from a long, dark journey.
There's a quietness there, sung by the creatures of air and earth. Their song gentle and deep like an ocean of ethereal vapors telling of another place more real than the ghost-like mirror that dimly reflects this reality.
Rain. It counts my steps but erases them a moment later. Yet, the garden remembers my visit. I have left reminders there. A clip here, a snip there. Arrangements arranged yet again. Yes, the garden remembers...and rejoices. I rejoice also. The words of this colored plot are timeless. They enter the eye-gate and live higher than the clouds. They fly up like sparks from a great conflagration. Yet, the garden remains bound, tied, rooted.
There is a guardian here in the garden. Gliding like a black ghost, silently prowling and watching,
she moves gracefully with green eyes. Curiously the guardian inspects and searches out what is hidden, like an ancient monarch searching for truth. She appears and reminds me that I have come back from my journey and am, once again, in a garden.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Transparency, Vulnerability, and Risk

There are a few things in our world that cause us unneeded pain and suffering. Climbing a tree and voluntarily falling out of it is one I can think of. Riding a behemoth called "Raging Bevo" to win an 8 second bell would be another.
But, how can these compare to the, almost inexcusable, act of freely allowing yourself to undergo humiliation, contradiction, misunderstanding, and public scrutiny?
Well, first you have to have "...a backbone a man cannot pass his hand through" as someone once said. Secondly, you have to be really (I mean 'really') secure in the truth of your faith in the Almighty. Read Psalm 130 then continue here.
Now, granted, some of us are such knuckleheads that we don't really 'give a rat's rearend', as my son would say, about how the world would scrutinize our passions. Perhaps such bullishness is a precursor to worthwhile activity. Perhaps it's just nonsense. Whatever, or however it may be, the risks of making inroads into others lives with the gospel of Christ produces uncomfortable situations for those of us who desire to do so. And, to desire to do so opens a door to wisdom that cannot be closed again. Oh, it may squeak and bang about a bit, but it will always allow access.
So, allowing such passion into our lives requires us to be transparent about who we are and what we're about. This is simply an ability to accept humiliation about our weaknesses and inabilities. If we think we can 'do all things', we'll find this out in short order. I we believe we can 'do all things through Christ...' the rough paths of ministry are made smoother, both mentally and emotionally.
The places we go to seek out folks will make us vulnerable to the elements and missional obstacles of those places. Remember how it was said of Jesus "...he eats and drinks with gluttons and drunks." The mere impressions of those who misunderstand can blanket us with the barbs of ridicule. But anywhere in life, at every corner this can be, and is, true. It is a lust engaged in excessively at all times and in all places. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in mission can also open up hearts to the passions we feel about others and allow a freedom of spirit, not only personally, but in others whom we are trying to reach out to. Folks who cannot allow themselves to be vulnerable will allow it somewhat if they realize that it is a two-way street. "Ask, and it shall be given...seek and you shall find." Be always ready to be uncomfortable.
This all sounds really risky, doesn't it? Well, what do you think? Would it be better to lay in wait, or run across the landscape? I prefer to run. So, if your heart desires what God's heart desires, allow the world to fall upon you, for in doing so the world just might meet Christ..........in you.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A day without sunshine...

Yeah, it's cloudy. Thank God for clouds. I imagine the Hebrews felt the same way as they wandered about in the wilderness.
Down on the farm in Thorndale it is dry as a cracker and not a chance of relief.....yet. But, here at home in Daingerfield, it rains regularly and keeps things growing. Rain has that affect on things that grow.
It's akin to life's cloudy days, or daze, however you perceive them to be. Some are sunny day folks, some cloudy day folks. I prefer both in equal amounts. It's the rhythm of life, like rhythms of rest and work. In equal amounts the world spins in greased grooves; unbalanced, and things get 'interesting' (you can translate this in several ways based on personal experience).
However, there are some select people who live out their days lurking under a storm cell. If you get to close to them you can feel the electricity........and wonder when and where it will strike next. Sad situation. This is a concern for those of us who find both sunny and cloudy to be a source of joy and renewal. The big difference is that those of us who enjoy all have discovered (or rather, have been discovered) the true reason that life is both and in measure. It is because when there are excesses of dark, cloudy days, there remains a light that still infuses the darkness; the proverbial "cloud with the silver lining". So what is it? How is a cloudy day, without sunshine, celebrated as both a storm and a calm? The answer relies on presence of mind to accept and hope. We should be ready to accept every day as it comes with the hope of light growing out of darkness.....the sun breaking through the clouds and drenching the world with warmth and light.
What kind of day are you having? Accept hope. The clouds don't last forever. There is an answer. He is the Light of the world. His name is Jesus, and in Him we 'live and have our being'....or, should have if our 'day without sunshine' is to pass.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Just a few thoughts...

Waking early in the morning really helps the day start right. The ageless addage "early to bed, early to rise..." seems to be a bit of wisdom that truly works. Finding anything around these days that works is rare. Another thing that works is my morning cup of coffee; the caffeine that is.
Fueled by the bean and having washed night out of my eyes, my mind dances with delight at the rising sun, the cool, crisp air outside, and the fading darkness.
Recently my stress level got above 'meager' to 'noticable'. My secretary left for greener fields and I was left pondering the complexities of finance. One saving grace was that everything financial was organized within a program called QuickBooks. The stress came from having to learn this and then search out the truths of where everything is, how to extract it or place it, and then to see if what I did really worked at all. The program was a bit forgiving thankfully. You see, my wife does all our finances and I, very contently I might add, totally ignore them except to receive my allowance (which isn't much....but I'm happy with the setup). However, now I've had the opportunity to learn something about cash flow, reports, accounts, sub accounts....etc. Am I the better for it? Probably. Does it add stress to my life? Certainly. I'm most comfortable with the familiar, as we all are. But when the unfamiliar comes it's either fight or flight. I had no choice. And the fight wasn't all that bad either. It's amazing what we are capable of when we 'hunker down' and roll up our sleeves. I feel pretty confident that I could handle matters financial with a bit more training. So that is my learning curve for the month; my 'hilltop' experience. I'm still playing around in QuickBooks, but now my playing is more productivity than discovery.
I found my second dog, Hamlet, also. He was under the garden shed the whole time. Seems that he decided to take off and disappear for several days while my wife and I gossiped incessantly about him behind his back. We had him all but headed for the coast of California in the passengers seat of an 18 wheeler. But, alas, I was stepping out of the garden shed and there he was, tail between his legs. The looks translated in this way: "If you take me back, I'll try to behave more properly......Sir." I gave him a scratch behind his ears and checked his teeth to see if he'd maintained proper dental care. He didn't have any ticks or fleas on him at first glance so I was a bit confused if he had been out in the bigger world, or holed-up under the shed the whole time. Hamlet's a Jack Russel, you see, and is prone to flights (perhaps 'fits' is more fitting) of fanciful mayhem concerning wooden fences and walls that don't quite extend a couple feet underground. The only thing I've found to keep him in check is an electric fence. He doesn't like the electric fence..............neither do I. The other dog 'Ralphie' is sort of like the Christmas Story character and quite innocent of all the hoohah that Hamlet flourishes in. Hamlet is more like Scott Farkus.
Anyway, we are all here now and it's time to walk Ralphie and Scott...er, Hamlet.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Hoein' in the garden

I believe the garden hoe is a useful philosophical tool. While being work, it exhumes moldy thoughts and turns them like rain-packed soil. It is also a great way to let your mind wander and consider 'how this is like that'. Tending a garden is a bit like tending other things in life. If you do it often it remains light work. If you don't do it often enough you're in for a workout. Depending on how much you're willing to exert, you can either find joy or frustration. The garden hoe is the tool for determining which you prefer.
I have found thru countless hours of hoeing that my mind has time to stroll through a virtual cornucopia of ideas, reflections, abysmal recollections, or comical reliefs.
You see, the hoe in question isn't just any hoe. It is my Grandfather's hoe. He has long been planted and produced, but his roots are still active. Kind of like a pepper plant that, from the lifeless stump remaining, puts on a new leaf. Anyway, back to the hoe.
The hoe is old, rusty; the handle shows signs of distress splits and a bit of duct tape around an old crack. Still, the tool has a certain feel that brings to mind glimpses of strong old hands viewed through a child's eyes. I recalls to mind many words of scripture reminding me of generational blessings. Is my hoe one of them? Perhaps. It feels great. It hoes even better.
The philosophical angle of this is that the mind is free to roam at the other end of the business at hand. Brown matter and gray matter. Now there's a juxtaposition for you. Both carbon-based and full of fertilizer (I'm being nice here). But for all it's rusty worth, it is still the most useful tool in the shed. The hoe that is. I wonder how much longer it will last? Perhaps my son will ponder life, some day, at it's leaner end.