This Is How You Say “Howdy” In California

We were sitting in Coffee Underground, downtown Greenville, South Carolina. Tristen was about six-years-old. Sarah was our host; she also attended our church. We love Sarah.

While we were chatting up our church friend, Tristen was thinking about the remake of the old Beverly Hillbillies show. (They made a movie in the mid-90s to bless those who were not familiar with the show from the sixties.)

At one point during the movie, the part where the hillbilly Clampett family had piled all their rustic belongings on their jelopy automobile and were entering Beverly Hills, California, there were a lot of open-border Californians upset about what they were seeing.

Rednecks. Old car. And a pile of junk. It was the worst version of the Antique Roadshow.

In a traditional and welcoming style, the Californians were “flipping off” the Clampetts. (Giving them the bird.) Perplexed, Granny (I think) asked what their sign language meant. And Jethro, the smart one in the bunch because he finished the eighth grade said,

Well, that’s how you say howdy in California.

It was an innocuous line, and since Tristen was not familiar with that kind of sign language, we let it pass when we were watching the movie.

Back To Coffee Underground

So, we’re sitting at the Coffee Underground, and Miss Sarah is serving us. As we’re pondering what we want to drink, we made small talk. Tristen, always wanting to add her two-cents, said,

Hey, Miss Sarah, this is how you say hello in California.

As my lovely daughter was saying these words, she had both her arms fully extended toward Miss Sarah. She wrapped all her little fingers in a tight fist, except her two middle fingers, which were sticking straight up so Miss Sarah would not miss this unique way of saying, “Howdy.”

Miss Sarah’s eyes widened. She leaned slightly backward in her stance, and her mouth opened, but no words came out. It was a moment frozen in time.

We ordered coffee.

Miss Sarah moved to New York City.

Tristen learned another way to say, “Hello.”


Ansa Is Struggling With Not Serving Enough

Two nights ago as Lucia was tucking in my 12-year old to bed, they had a conversation that Ansa initiated. She was struggling with Haydn doing most of the serving around the house, according to her perspective.

She believed that Haydn was serving too much and that he would not let her serve. Let’s just say that Ansa’s angst is one of those struggles every parent wants their children to have.

Two Acceptable Conflicts

I wrote an article a while back about two acceptable and unresolvable conflicts in your home. One of those “acceptable conflicts” is who is the biggest sinner in our home.

Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15 that he was the foremost sinner. Then he died, which left a vacancy in the “chief sinner seat.” And as we follow the advice of the Lord by acknowledging the “log in my eye,” it’s apparent that the biggest sinner is me.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:3-5

Of course, the way that works out in our home is five people are vying for the chief sinner seat, which is a pleasant problem because if you’re more aware of the log in your eye rather than the other family member’s speck, you minimize familial conflict.

The other “acceptable conflict” is that no one is permitted to “out-serve” another, which is why Ansa has a troubled soul; her brother, from her perspective, is “out-serving” her.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Mark 10:45

I chatted with her about this yesterday, and then we had a family discussion during dinner. My initial thought was that many kids struggle with who got the most ice cream, or played outside more, or got more device time. It is rare for a child to be struggling because her sibling is out-serving her.

Different Strokes

As we talked, two things came to light. One is that Ansa does often serve, though she serves differently than her brother. Haydn is bigger and stronger, and he does different things that Ansa cannot do, e.g., carrying our Panera bread bins to and from the car or mowing the lawn.

But Ansa has been doing the laundry for over a year now! She took it upon herself, without our suggesting it, to do all the laundry while Lucia was going through cancer surgery. Even after Lucia had recovered, Ansa never stopped doing the laundry.

The second thing we discussed is that it would be good to broaden our definition of serving. Not only does Ansa serve differently but she serves in ways that only she can do.

For example, Ansa brings a unique kind of joy to our home. She is a happy child who talks all the time. I can’t imagine life without her joy-filled words. Her happiness does a daddy good. Haydn is a quiet child.

Every night and each morning Ansa comes to me with a hug and four of the most amazing words a dad could ever hear: “I love you, Daddy.” On the rare day that we don’t see each other at the start of our morning, it’s not the same. Ansa is my pep-pill.

She also serves by cooking, confessing her sins, respecting her parents, and making me the best presents for my birthdays and Christmases. The way she serves is a long list, though it’s a different list from Haydn.

My big takeaway from this discussion is that I need to acknowledge more how she serves. I’m so glad she shared her struggle. She served us well by being honest and transparent with her family. She’s helping me to be a better dad.

Eight Days In Mexico

We had the privilege of going to Mexico to serve Bethel Baptist Church in Alhuey, Sinaloa for eight days. I taught eight times during a four-day conference in the church led by Tappan Hornor.

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Eight Times In Four Days

The conference began on Thursday and ran through Sunday morning. I spoke one time on Thursday and Friday nights. Saturday morning I talked to the men in a special meeting. That afternoon I led the youth meeting, as I encouraged them about life decisions.

Sunday morning I taught the men and Lucia led the ladies in a time of instruction. I then spoke at the preaching service. Sunday night we went with Tap and Denise to the church he will be leading soon, and taught at their Sunday night church meeting.

Mexico was like all of our conferences in that I ask the folks to “use me up” during the week because I want to be exhausted for the sake of the gospel. Tap took me up on that. I was whooped by the time I lay down Sunday night in our hotel room in Culiacan, Mexico.

The children said I went to sleep immediately. Hayden asked Tristen, “Is that dad?” He was referring to my snoring in the other room of the hotel. They weren’t sure if a plane was landing or a concrete mixer was running in my bedroom.


Creature Comforts

Mexico has a subtle way of reminding me how mighty my sins of grumbling and complaining are. For example, there is no water pressure when you take a shower. The water just “falls out” the showerhead. And it does not matter which handle you turn since both of them give you cold water.

There is a device on the showerhead that allows you to “warm up” the water. The process is (1) turn the water on, (2) turn on the switch that is on the showerhead, (3) take a shower, (4) turn the water off, and (5) turn off power switch on the showerhead. If you get steps #4 and #5 backward, you may get electrocuted.

You can’t put your toilet paper in the toilet; it goes in the trashcan that is beside the toilet. Water pressure is a beautiful thing. Denise said that when she visited the states, she nearly jumped out of her skin when she flushed the toilet: it was loud.

You brush your teeth by using bottled water rather than using the sink water. You put a mouthful in your mouth while brushing your teeth. Spit. Repeat.

Then there are the roosters.

All day.

And there are the Mexican entrepreneurs who drive slowly down the streets in the mornings, shouting through a loudspeaker, selling anything from watermelons to petroleum. And everything else. It’s kind of like Amazon; you run out of your home to stop one of them so you can buy what you need.

We have “noise rules” against such things in the states. Mexico does not have as many rules. E.g., we did not wear our seatbelts all week. I did enjoy not buckling up.

The thing that was the most rebuking was the happiness of the Christians in Mexico, including the children. The kids between the ages of three and seven were noticeably content, even though they had so much less than the kids in the States. The adults were similar. They love God, which practically transcends creature comforts.

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Mexican Food

The food was fabulous. I gained two pounds during the week. Not bad. They don’t eat cereal. They eat real food, morning, noon, and night. Of course, the Mexican clock is different from the Amercian clock.

They eat later in the morning. We had lunch around 2 PM most days, and we ate after the church meetings, which was eight o’clock or later. A couple of nights it was difficult to sleep because I was still digesting dinner.

Hispanic is my favorite food, and I think I could eat myself into oblivion. It is excellent and Mexican people know how to prepare their meals. Let’s just say, “It ain’t Taco Bell.”

Teaching Time

Tap had all the lessons translated, which means a typical hour of teaching is about thirty minutes because each statement needs translation into Spanish. It went mostly well, though there were a few funny moments.

The funniest was when Tap leaned over to a hard-to-hear Mexican and asked him, “Can you hear me?” He said it in English. The guy stared at him. Then Tap realized he was asking him in English, not Spanish. We all laughed.

I had three translators: Tap, Brian, and Arno. Arno leads a seminary in Rosarito, Mexico, which is near the American border, many hours away from Sinaloa.

Arno brought a team of students down who served the church all week. They were a huge blessing because of all the cleaning, prep, cooking, childcare, and other church needs during the week. The students were heroes.

The church received my teaching well. There were at least five other churches that joined us for different teaching times. I got to meet several pastors and other church leaders during the week.

Read the entire overview here

My Boss Said I Was Going To Hell

RMlogo Four People Types Who Get Stuck In a Rut

The year was 1984. I was working at a place called TransAmerica Delaval. This plant was in Monroe, North Carolina, my hometown. Today, the plant is called something else. Delaval was a subsidiary of the TransAmerica Corporation in San Francisco–the tall “triangle-looking” building.

I came to Delaval in 1981 from Prince Electric Company, a mom-and-pop residential wiring company in New Salem, NC, which is outside of Monroe. (Don’t tell anyone that I know how to wire a house because they will ask me to do something for them; it happens all the time. As they say, “A man with a truck has many friends.”)

New Salem seemed so far away when I was a kid. I had heard of that community but never been there. Ironically, it was about 8 miles from my home. The world was much bigger back then.

I worked at Prince Electric for two years. It was hard work–too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. And it was shocking, electrically speaking. Delaval was a welcome relief because I was working inside a building with higher pay and better benefits. I was a machine operator working for Ricky Price, my shift supervisor.

He used to be a machine operator like me. They later promoted him to a supervisor. Ricky was the one who told me that I was “going to hell,” which were the “magic words” that put me on a path to become a Christian.

My peers were David Russain, Joe Mullis, Joe Barrett, Greg Smith, Cal Pearson, Liston Darby and a few others. Cal and Liston moved to NC from NJ when the plant moved. It was about 1980. I liked these men. A lot. Liston was personable. Cal was an angry man, though his attitude was a façade that you could work through if you dared. I dared. Eventually, we became friends and bike riding buddies.

I worked third shift for a short while but was mostly on first shift. I worked in the milling department. We made rotors (large metal screw-looking things) that went into “pumps” to pump oil, grain, and other materials off ships. We did a lot of work for the Navy. It was not a hard job though it did require skill.

I assumed that I would be working at Delaval all my life. And why not? The money was good. The benefits were great. The building was heated and air conditioned. The company seemed stable, and there was a possibility for advancement.

And I had a wife, two children, a dog, and a John Deere riding mower. What more could a man want out of life?

Then one day Ricky Price told me that I was going to hell. Two years later I would be sitting in a Bible college in Greenville, South Carolina. Be careful what you say to people. It could change their lives.

Why You Should Write Your Story

RMlogo Alton Sterling, reproductive justice, and the value of life

During lunch the other day a friend asked me about the process of journaling and the benefits of writing. Today, I was thinking about our conversation and how it reminded me about the “why” of putting your life stories on paper (or a weblog).

I enjoy journaling and have been doing it since 1994. It’s not for everyone because God did not wire everybody that way. It’s “a” way of maturing you in your sanctification but it’s not “the” way, and therein lies the distinction: what works for me may not work for you.

Be free, my friend, to explore these secondary matters that mature you in Christ. Whatever those ways are, after you find them, they will change your life.

Writing’s Reward

The reward of writing is restorative to my soul (Psalm 23:3). The process of taking “wild words” and thoughts that swirl around my brain and bringing them through the arm, into the hand, out the pen, and onto the paper is not a natural discipline.

But with practice, the words you put on paper are no longer “wild words” but sentences refined by the Spirit’s illumination. This refining process streamlines your thoughts while casting off the excess. You have succinct words and phrases from the “muse chamber” that communicates with clarity what you want to say.

This sharpening process not only stimulates the mind but it trains your brain to think in “brief and amazing” ways, as long as you continue the mental subjugation to the Spirit’s tinkering of the noodle.

Writing’s Reason

I was sitting in a family reunion in 1994 with Lucia. The patriarch for one of the family lines was reading a journal excerpt from a Civil War relative. He was either a prisoner of war or a guard. Knowing my family, I’m sure he was in jail, but that’s another story.

As I listened to that old patriarch read that short journal entry, I thought how satisfying it would be to have a journal from my daddy. All I remember from him were the beatings, verbal abuse, forced back rubs, smelly beer breath, and slumped over TV watching.

To know another side of him would be something special, as I reflect back on his life from my old age. And it was there, in that reunion, when I made a promise to start writing so my children would have my life stories.

There are stacks upon stacks of journals in our attic for my children. I told them that they couldn’t read them while I’m alive. There may or may not be a few curse words in them.

Writing In the Raw

I write raw. I want my kids to know the real me, not my representative; that person we trot out in the public domain, hoping others will find him more appealing to the real thing. After I’m dead, I won’t care that they get the inside scoop on my most internal thoughts.

Raw writing is what I like the most about the Bible. God does not hold back. There is too much at stake. And it’s encouraging to know David was not a perfect man, as well as all the other folks who stumbled through the Bible.

God gives us His characters in His story just as they were, and that is how I want to live my life. I’m not asking you to like me or even accept me, but at least you will know me, not my representative who wraps himself in fig leaves (Genesis 3:7).

It’s For the Children

Most folks don’t know why I started writing, first in journals and later in cyberspace, but this weblog and my ministry website are for my children first of all. On this site, I collect stories about our family and other things, so they will know “what daddy thinks about this and that.” On our ministry website, I gather other thoughts that deal specifically with personal and relational sanctification.

I want our children to know what daddy thinks about “life and godliness.” Now you know why I write. Not knowing when the Lord may decide to bring me home, I want my children to know me, the good and the not so good.

What I did not know in 1994 is that I would be journaling for 2.5 decades (and counting) and that it would turn into a vocation.

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. – Proverbs 16:9


In Loving Memory of Lil’ Rick

RMlogo All you need to know for camping out on Black Friday

I was at our local Bilo grocery store on Friday and saw a black lady wearing a T-shirt that said, “In Loving Memory Of Lil’ Rick.” Underneath, it said that he died on April 9, 2002. He would be 34-years old today. He died in a car accident when he was eighteen. He ran into a tree.

The lady wearing the T-shirt was his sister. We chatted for a while. I saw her shopping earlier and noticed the sad note written on her shirt. Being that my name is the same as her brothers, I had to talk to her. While Lucia was checking out, this lady was in the other line. I walked over and asked her what it meant.

She gladly shared her story–Lil’ Rick’s story. It was a teary time for both of us. I shared with her the untimely loss of my two brothers and how sad it is when you lose someone you love. I gave her my ministry card and asked her to check me out.

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. – Genesis 50:20

I let her know that part of the reason that I do what I do today is because of the deaths of my two brothers. And how the Lord flipped the narrative in my life to where what others meant for evil, the Lord intended for good, so many people would be helped and encouraged (Genesis 50:20).

The Reason For Shopping

After leaving my new friend, the Lord reminded me of something that we teach our children. In Matthew 6:33, the Lord taught us to seek the kingdom of God first, and all “these things” will be added to you.

The “these things” the Lord was talking about were clothes, food, and shelter. He meant that your primary objective is to discern what God is up to in your world and seek that most of all. And not to get caught up with sublunary things like, “where shall we live,” or “what shall we eat,” or “what shall I wear?”

He went on to teach that pagan people spend their time thinking about such earthly matters. But God’s people have higher motives, agendas, and practices. The way we practicalize this idea into our lives is that while we are going about our “daily affairs,” our more critical hope is to anticipate God waiting for us wherever we may be going. And our job is to discern His desires after we arrive.

Why Do You Shop?

The way I illustrate this idea is with the following question. “When your wife asks you to go to the store to buy a gallon of milk, what is your primary reason for going to the store?” It’s not to buy milk, but to seek the kingdom of God. As you’re looking for your milk, you’re seeking “kingdom opportunities.”

You start looking for what God may be up to in His world. You know He is up to something because He is always up to something. You don’t know what it is while you’re getting your milk, but you’re confident the Lord has something cool in store for you.

Kingdom Work Practicalized

Friday, I saw a lady pushing a shopping cart. On her T-shirt was a memorial to her brother. Thirty-minutes later I was chatting her up, sympathizing with her loss while offering her the hope of Christ. I also gave her a follow-up opportunity when I asked her to check out my website. Once she learned what I did vocationally, she told me about her friend whose son was shot to death recently; she was grieving badly.

If my sole reason for going to the store were for the milk, I would be like a pagan person. Jesus said not to worry about the milk, but to use those “earthly moments” for kingdom activity.

It is rare not to find those individuals when you’re asking, expecting, and looking for God to be where you’re going.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:33

My First Day In the Crucible Was 04.08.88

RMlogo This is the 28th anniversary of the worst day of my life
Knowing God and experiencing Him can be two radically different things. This autobiographical short story briefly walks through the worst day of my life. The day I met God in the crucible of suffering.

For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21

It was 5:05 PM when I walked into our smallish double-wide mobile home and saw the piano was missing. We were having marriage problems. It never occurred to me that our problems were at that level. I immediately knew my wife and children were gone.

I ran through the house looking for them. If you can momentarily lose your mind, I lost mine.

Beyond Tears

Finally, after exhausting every part of our home in search of my family, I fell in the hallway, heaving. It was beyond tears. I could hardly breathe.

At 9:30 that evening, I fell over on the floor beside my large King James Bible, just after reading the first line of Psalm 51: “God have mercy on me.” That was the last thing I remember.

The next morning I went to work, where there was a floor scale. I stepped on it–a habit I had just ’cause–and saw that I had lost ten pounds in fifteen hours.

Day one was complete, the beginning of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3; Ephesians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 11:1).

I Love You – I Crush You

Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. – Jonah 4:3

  • I would eventually ask the Lord to take my life.
  • I would eventually admit how angry I was at Him for what He allowed.

But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. – Job 23:13-14

  • He eventually completed what He had in His mind for me.
  • He crushed me (Isaiah 53:10).

Four years later, I repented of my anger. Then God let me know, though it was mostly and mysteriously vague, that there was a purpose in His crushing.

Five years after that I began to see a faint glimpse of what I thought He wanted to do with my life.

That I May Know Him

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. – Mark 1:11-12

I went to Bible college for four years to learn about God. I went into the wilderness for nine years to experience Him.

After meeting the Lord in the wilderness, I began to see with a new set of eyes. He was creating and shaping a “theology of suffering worldview” in me (Philippians 2:12-13). God wanted me to know that I could not live well in His world without learning how to suffer well in His world.

The Lord took away everything that was dear to me on April 08. I was single, fatherless, penniless, and homeless with no future hope of restoration on any front, or even a promise of a future that would be any different from my present darkness.

There is a “darkness of the soul,” and there is a darkness of the soul that you can feel (Exodus 10:21). You cannot articulate this latter darkness. It’s deeper than deep (Psalm 42:7), from which there is only one cure. You must die (Matthew 16:24).

But If It Dies

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. – John 12:24

What I could not see, what I was afraid to see, and what I refused to see was the Lord (Job 42:5-6). I did not want to look at Him. To look at God in the crucible of suffering was to stare into my death (Luke 22:42). That is when I had my epiphany.

It is this: He had a Son, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” Isaiah 53:10). I’m one of His sons too (1 John 3:1).

Why should I consider it a strange thing (1 Peter 4:12) for my Father to make me walk in the steps of His beloved Son (1 Peter 2:21). I prayed for His forgiveness of my stubborn, self-righteous anger that was demanding He see things my way.

The Lord forgave me.

But nothing changed.

Except I seemed to perceive a sprinkle of hope coming like a small cloud forming in the sky about the size of a man’s hand (1 Kings 18:43-44).

Eventually, the rain came.

You Are Ready

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6

It was thirty years ago today when the Lord ushered me into His crucible of suffering. I look back now and see His wisdom. And I do rejoice in His glorious and mysterious purposes.

I did not know it then but I know it now; God birthed this ministry thirty years ago today.