Dropping the coffee cup got my attention. What happened next got my respect.
“She looks just like you!”
I said that to someone I had recently started working with, about her daughter. Then she told me their daughter was adopted.
My sister was adopted. It was public and well known. Most adoptions are not that way, but this was different.
- They adopted when I was 10, my brothers were 13 and 12.
- When you show up for church one Sunday with a baby, it gets noticed.
- Everyone knew my parents didn’t have a baby girl.
- And she didn’t resemble either parent.
- She was from Viet Nam.
No, she obviously didn’t favor either parent. But when she learned to talk, she talked like us. Her mannerisms reflected those of our family. She ate what we ate, did what we did, and went where we went. She was ours and we were hers. We belonged to each another. We were the same, we were family.
How That Happened?
Here are some things that made her one of us:
- She had our name.
- She had our values.
- She was believed as we believed.
- She was loved equally and in the same way as her brothers.
- She was a Fyffe, through and through.
A Spiritual Adoption
Paul wrote in Ephesians that God adopted us into his family, 1:5. That we are the Father’s workmanship, the result of his divine will, 2:10. That we were given his name, 3:14. And that we grow to become like him, 5:1-2.
We were created in the image of God, but that wasn’t about appearance. My sister didn’t look like my parents, but they were her parents, she was our sister, and we were one.
Our spiritual identity comes from God. We wear his name, reflect his values, and share his purpose. We became one with him.
It all came from him, it all points to him.
We look different, but we were adopted and fitted into God’s family. It’s not about who you look like, but who you belong to.
I said to my friend, “She looks just like you!” Spiritually, we all look like the Father.
Camp United is our annual retreat for young families. Young means parents with children of all ages. We use the Trinity Pines Christian Conference Center just a few miles outside of Trinity, Texas. It’s camp! But it’s a fun camp.
There’s paddle boating, fishing, swimming, kid’s games, a ropes course, a fabulous playground, hiking trails and so much more. We have a massively chaotic color war and a hilarious finger rocket battle. We worship and praise and we learn and we grow. We become a little better equipped as parents.
THINGS I NOTICED THIS YEAR
Parents holding hands with their kids while they walked around the camp. With one family the kids were fourteen and twelve.
Watching single moms with their children. Single moms are all in because they have to be. Everything is up to them. Some of the sweetest and most impressive kids at camp were one parent kids.
I watched young mothers caring for their babies and toddlers. They were loving, patient and nurturing. I got to hold a few of them. They still wiggle and squirm and want down!
I saw young fathers spending time with their young children. They played games and walked along the lake and hung out together. Nothing touches my heart like watching a young father be a good dad.
The campfire Saturday night was special. We were sitting in circles around the campfire, kids, teens, parents and adults, worshiping and singing praises. Then, it was Smores. It was so on.
At the pool I laughed and laughed watching some dads compete to make the biggest splash off the diving board. It was comedy gold.
In our Sunday worship we took time for each family to find some space on the floor or to circle their chairs. They were to share the Lord’s Supper as a family. They huddled close to read scripture, to talk and to learn about the bread and the cup. Parents were teaching their children. Fathers were leading their families. It was a beautiful thing.
Saturday was my birthday. I spent my birthday at camp; at my age you don’t really care where you celebrate your birthday. But being there, and turning sixty-three, reminded me that there are far more days behind than there are ahead. I will be long gone when those parents reach my age.
So, I have to tell you, I like how the future looks.
A HARD DAY
Someone said there would be days like this. Someone was right. We all know tough times and discouraging days, certainly I do. But not like today.
Today, there is a funeral at my church. Actually, it’s a Celebration of Life Service. That’s what we call them now, a Celebration of Life. Mostly it means there won’t be a long-winded preacher preaching something nobody wants to hear.
The celebration allows for laughter, joyful memories and sweet stories. It’s not to prevent tears but to embrace other emotions and expressions. It’s surrounding those we care about to help them celebrate the life of the one they’ve lost. Sometimes, the one they’ve lost is a child.
Today’s service is for a little boy who died a few days ago.
There are levels of grief. One is when a distant relative, whom we barely know, passes away in their sleep at the age of 89. Another level is when a young child tragically succumbs to illness or is struck down by a senseless accident.
All the deaths of children are tragic and senseless.
Arguably, the only grief that is harder than losing a child is losing more than one. Today, many will gather to support a family who has lost four children in just a few years. It is beyond words, beyond explanation, beyond answers.
The things we say at times like this can seem trite or useless. Sometimes, all we can do is hug the grieving, weep with the hurting, and hope they can hear our hearts because our words have stuck in our throats.
YET, WE PRAY
We pray to Him who seemingly turned a deaf ear to the calling, ignored the praying and abandoned the grieving. We pray because prayer is what we have, along with our faith.
Gut-wrenching grief can leave the shattered with a deep-seated anger at God. We know, we try to understand, but we lack the words, the theology, or the wisdom to comfort them. And yet, we pray. We pray, for our faith reminds us that the God who sacrificed his own son knows something of loss.
So, please pray today. If words fail then trust the Holy Spirit to speak on your behalf. Please forward this to others and allow this day to be a day that God our Father listens to our hearts.
GETTING MY COFFEE
This morning I saw a teenager exhibit some lovely behavior. She was at least 16 because we pulled into the Starbucks parking lot at the same time. I parked, gathered my things, and was headed for the door when I saw her standing there and smiling at me. She was holding the door open. I asked her,
“Are you holding the door open for me?” She said, “Yes Sir I am.”
I thanked her, put my bag on a table and went to order my coffee. By then, another person had come in and the young lady invited us both to go ahead of her in line. I tried to resist, suggesting that she had already been courteous by holding the door for me. But, she politely insisted! I got my coffee, sat down, and then noticed her again.
When she got her drink she saw another coffee that hadn’t been picked up. So, in a loud but sweet voice she asked, “Is this somebody’s coffee?” A hand went up and she walked it over to him. Then she looked to see if anyone else needed anything, flashed her pretty smile, and left. Wow.
Some Thoughts I Had:
1. She’s had fabulous parenting.
2. She was actively practicing her manners.
3. She was a naturally helpful person.
4. She was part of a group committed to demonstrating kindness.
5. She was filled with the fruit of the Spirit.
Could be that it was all the above, who knows? But she made a lasting impression on me. In fact, she became the topic of this blog. My other thing got bumped.
In a fast paced world where most of us are focused on our going and getting, she stood out like a shining star.
Kindness and goodness are fruit of the Spirit. Loving our neighbor means treating them at least as well as we would treat ourselves. And didn’t Jesus command his disciples to love each other as he loved them?
Young lady, whoever you are, you are a beautiful beacon of Christ-like courtesy and kindness. Thank you for blessing my life.
Civility isn’t dead, it’s alive and well and offered by a teenage girl at a Starbucks .
A DEAR FRIEND
A friend of mine was at church yesterday. It’s a friendship that was born through Hope For Haiti’s Children (HFHC), a faith based non-profit serving the needs of Haitian children. My friend, who is now Vice President of HFHC, was in Houston over the weekend and came to visit.
Between the two services she gave a presentation about HFHC and shared some stories that really touched me. She spoke of a chance meeting with a little girl from Cite Soleil, a horribly impoverished slum of Port-au-Prince. As her story unfolded she shared how she was, of course, wearing shoes but the little girl wasn’t. Holding hands, they walked along when suddenly the little girl hurt her foot. It was cut by broken glass.
THE IMPACTFUL PART
She had assumed that since the girl lived in poverty that her little feet would be tough, hardened and immune. They weren’t. She ended her story with this confession.
“I would never have walked barefoot there, but for her, what did it matter?”
Then it hit her: she actually had a lot in common with the girl. In fact, they were very much the same. We all have a lot in common with one another. We all hurt, grieve and struggle. We know loneliness and fear. We know heartache and heartbreak. Poverty doesn’t toughen the heart or callous the soul. The poor aren’t immune.
It was a tough lesson to learn but a beautiful lesson to embrace.
Of the many characteristics of Christ the one I respect the most was his ability to see everyone the same: young or old, healthy or sick, rich or poor. It didn’t matter. He saw everyone and sought everyone, for everyone needed him, and we still do.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Tonya, thanks for helping us look past the differences to see the similarities.
We are all different, but not!
Yesterday was Easter and we, like most churches, do a little extra for Easter Sunday. Here are a few memories I’d like to share, I call them mental snapshots.
PASSOVER MEAL: The Wednesday before Easter we held an authentic Passover Meal, complete with roasted lamb. It was open to everyone, for members and guests, and was a beautiful experience. I especially liked seeing the young families with their kids.
NEW CLOTHES: In both services I saw bunches of children in new clothes. It’s tradition for kids to get new outfits for Easter. Often the moms and dads get new clothes too. It was funny that so many girls came up to show me their new outfits. They were so happy and adorable. They were super-cute. Predictably, not one boy came up to show me his new clothes. Yep.
HEIGHTENED ENTHUSIASM: Special Sundays elevate the energy of the church. The singing gets louder, the worship is sweeter, and the special readings and presentations add a depth of meaning that blesses the experience. Yesterday’s worship was wonderful.
GOOD TO SEE YOU: I’m not sure why but Easter brings people to church like no other Sunday. Maybe Christmas rivals Easter when it falls on a Sunday. But on Easter I know I’ll see people who I haven’t seen in months, and it’s always good to see them!
IT’S NOT UNUSUAL: I’m one of millions who celebrates the resurrection daily, who rejoices in the empty tomb and bases their faith on his rising from the dead. It isn’t unusual that I do. In fact, I would say that most believers require no special Sundays to acknowledge his resurrection.
Just the same, I love Easter Sunday.
Maybe I’m sentimental. Maybe. But I love seeing the kids in their new clothes. I like the big crowds. I’m lifted up by the heightened energy and the greater enthusiasm. And I’m richly blessed by the rejoicing on Easter Sunday.
Below are a few thoughts about the hands of Christ.
Seeing The Hands
Mary gave birth to a son, her firstborn, who was quickly absorbed by her love and warmth. She couldn’t stop gazing at his hands, those tiny hands, that curled sweetly around her fingers. She marveled that the hands of her son were also the hands of God’s Messiah. “How could that be,” she wondered? She knew his hands would one day help his father with the wood and stone; becoming rough and calloused. She knew his hands would one day help his Father in his Temple and Kingdom; becoming kind and caring.
Those hands would cradle infants, bless children and touch lepers. They would comfort the grieving and soothe the broken. They were shepherd’s hands that gathered the lost of Israel. They were healer’s hands that gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and strength to the lame. They were strong hands that lifted Peter from the stormy waves. They were righteous hands that shredded the money-changer’s tables. They were gentle hands that wiped the tears of Mary and Martha, and then his own.
His gentle hands lightly pushed the branches aside as he walked among the olive trees. In Gethsemane, were his hands raised in joyous praise or lowered to ease his body to the ground? He three times prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.” On a dark, cold night his sweat dripped like blood, were his hands red from wiping his brow? Did he reach out to the angel who came on his behalf?
Then his hands helped him to his feet to face all that was next.
Perhaps he waved the disciples closer as the soldiers grew nearer. Perhaps he offered Judas a hand when he kissed his rabbi’s cheek? Perhaps he grasped the sword Peter used to attack the enemy?
His hands were bound by the hands of criminals. Could there have been a bigger farce than to bind the hands that built the world? Could the soldiers have known that ropes, shackles and chains were useless? Sure, go ahead, clap him in irons, lock the chains and use all the rope you can get. But, it won’t matter. Could atomic sized power ever be contained by a plastic bag?
How could he surrender to those men? Those lesser men impassioned by hate, immune to truth and lacking humility. But surrender he did, for it served their mission well, their mission of murder. Why did he do it? Because he knew who he was and why he was there and what he came to do. And what he came to do requried their violence.
So, see the hands. Rough and calloused from the wood and stone. Scarred and gnarled from the hammered steel and splintered with shards from the old rugged cross.
See the hands that removed the cloth and rolled away the stone. See the hands of Jesus, and be absorbed by his love and warmth.
I don’t know why but boys between the ages of six and eleven love a good pile of junk. It’s the stuff people set out to be collected or the free treasures found in a town’s garbage heap. I would joyfully take junk home to our garage. Dad understood but not for long.
“Ricky, what are you going to do with all that junk,” Dad would ask? “I don’t know, maybe tear it apart and build something?” ” Throw it away by Friday,” he would say.
Throw it away? I just got it from someone who threw it away.
OUTSIDE OF TOWN
All kinds of things can be found on the edge of towns, outside city limits. There are small town trash heaps, unwanted stuff at the dump, and all manner of dilapidated sheds and crumbling barns filled with rusted but interesting stuff.
You know what else you could find outside of town? Well, if you were in Jerusalem around 33 AD you could find Jesus on a cross. It was Passover and the important people who deeply resented and passionately hated Jesus were busy getting the Romans to kill him. They succeeded.
“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city to make his people holy through his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the city, bearing the disgrace he bore.” Hebrews 13:12-13
He was crucified outside the city so as not to contaminate the Jews with dead bodies and Roman rituals. They wanted to remain undefiled in order to participate in their most holy feast: Passover.
Here is a favorite of mine by George Macleod:
“I simply argue that the cross be raised at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a Cathedral between two candles but on a cross between two thieves; on a town’s garbage heap.
At a crossroad so cosmopolitan they had to write his name in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek; at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died for. And that is what he died about.”
If you read your Old Testament you’ll discover that the Kidron Valley, between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives, was Jerusalem’s garbage dump for idols and all things related to idol worship. It’s where idols were crushed, broken, and burned. It’s where unwanted things were thrown away.
In 2013 and 2014 archaeologists from the Israeli Department of Antiquities did some excavation in the Kidron Valley and discovered a massive rubbish site dating back to the Roman occupation of Israel. The Kidron Valley was Jerusalem’s garbage dump.
Jesus died outside the city and it was possibly in or near the Kidron Valley. It would make sense because his enemies thought him a false teacher, false messiah and a blasphemer.
To them, Jesus was a piece of unwanted trash to be thrown out with the garbage.
Here is the text I received from my daughter.
“Congratulate us Dad, we own a house!”
They do indeed. My daughter and Son-in-Law have been looking for some time. As it often happens, they fell in love with the first house they found but waited too long to make an offer. They lost it. Lesson learned.
Then they couldn’t find another house that measured up to the first one. I think they got discouraged. She texted me:
“We will never find another house we like as much as the first house.”
But they did.
In fact, they liked it better. They moved forward quickly, their agent made an offer and it was accepted. She texted me:
“Dad, I’m so excited but starting to feel a lot of anxiety, is that normal?”
She asked if we could have lunch. “Of course we can,” I replied. They live in Houston, as we do, at least we have a Houston address. They live in an area known as the Heights and their new home is in the Heights. She had questions about house inspectors, closing procedures, and so forth. I like it that my daughter still looks to her dad for such things.
They’ve been married for a few years and I got to officiate their wedding. They are happy but in no hurry to start a family. It’s surprising that she isn’t at all receptive to my comments regarding their child bearing rate of speed.
She is a therapist with a successful practice and he is in commercial construction management. Their house is newer and nicer than our house and costs twice as much. She has already declared that this year’s Christmas will be at their house. I texted her:
Maybe we will sell our house and move in with you.
I haven’t heard back.
Like all good fathers I love my kids beyond human communication. To see the depth of my love you would need to listen to my heart. I’m am so proud of my kids.
Today, I congratulate my daughter for reaching this milestone. Way to go kid, nice job.
“Congratulate us Dad, we own a house!”
I’ve got to tell you about last night.
It was our preschool’s annual Spring Sing and Fund Raiser. Melissa McAdams, Director of “The Vine Preschool,” and our Preschool Minister, did her usual amazing job of producing a great event.
The silent auction was so much fun, the bidding intense and the competition fierce. I saw my name on several bid sheets which I thought was odd since I didn’t put my name on them. Someone was having some fun I think!
There was cake, pie, cupcakes and ice coffee and it was all so delicious. The gym walls were covered up with art work from each class of children. It was beautiful.
The kids gave a fabulous presentation in the worship center! Their songs were full of God’s love. The students who said prayers, quoted verses and helped lead the songs were well prepared. I wondered how long they had rehearsed.
The worship center had hundreds of parents, grandparents, and friends in support of their favorite little one. Seeing 60 or 70 two, three and four year olds on stage filled my heart with hope.
THE BIG AUCTION
For the third year I was asked to be the auctioneer. There are two kinds:
- Those who have completed professional auctioneering training programs
- Those who haven’t
I’m in the, “Haven’t” group but I do the best I can and it ends up being fun and funny and profitable. Actually, it’s an honor to help.
As I watched the super cute “Year in Review” video, which took about a year to finish, I felt a few tears forming. As Senior Minister it gives me such joy knowing we are investing in the spiritual future of young minds and hearts.
What’s the value of filling a young child’s heart with Jesus?
It was a great night and I salute Melissa and her fabulous staff for another successful year and a highly entertaining program.
Good job everybody and thank you!
Good morning and welcome to a new week and a fresh Monday morning. There are things to do, places to go, and kids to get to school. It’s a new week but I’m not sure I’m finished with last week.
Here are some things that were going on:
- Chemical storage tanks were on fire in the Houston Ship Channel and air quality warnings were issued for several communities.
“Oil byproducts from a damaged storage facility contaminated the Houston Ship Channel and created a cloud of cancer-causing benzene over the waterway, the latest mutation of one the worst Gulf Coast chemical disasters in more than a decade.”
2. Yesterday morning, Sunday, we all came in for church to find that the A/V system was down and was not going to be up. We used a portable sound system and sang from something called a song book. Wow, I’ve seen them in museums.
3. I got to take a friend to lunch, a precious 10 year old who I’ve known since she was a baby. I have a picture of her sitting in my lap in church when she was a year old. She is one of my favorites. We went to Outback Steak House and shared ribs, fries and a brownie covered in fudge and ice cream. I love kids.
4. I got to see a movie with one of my kids. He is 34 and we like going to movies together, always have. I’m never happier than when I’m doing something with one or both of my kids.
Last week was scary, dangerous, frustrating, sweet and fun. I’m guessing this week will have its own ups and downs, its own heart beat. There will be people to spend time with and the likelihood of something unforeseen, a surprise that may or may not be welcome.
However, I love life. I love my family and I love my church family. On this fresh Monday morning of a brand new week I am feeling especially blessed. God be with you!