The Last Round Up

My alarm sounded at 5:15am. I turned over and silenced it with a determined push of my finger. This day seemed in the distant future a month ago and had arrived much too quickly.   I lay in bed for a few minutes dreading putting my feet on the floor.  I knew that my feet touching the floor would set into motion the heart-wrenching plan that had been carefully thought through and about, down to every detail in previous weeks.

 

My dad, Morris Oliver, aka Papaw to our family, celebrated his 79th birthday last month. He has owned a cattle operation for forty years. Daddy built his herd over time while working as a heavy equipment operator.   My mother, Beverly was in banking and was very good at helping Dad keep up with the accounting side of the business.   Together, through trial and error, they learned the ins and outs of ranching.   As the years clipped by, we all knew an end would be reached one day…maybe, some day… the cattle would have to be sold. None of us liked to think about this chapter of our lives coming to a close. My siblings and my time with Dad at “The Pasture” has been a huge part of our upbringing as well as our own children’s upbringing. We have many precious memories that are centered on the 500+ acres of grazing land, which doubled as our playground.

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Several years ago, new development moved to Katy. As we witnessed many of the larger tracts being sold, our family became aware that the pasture would one day be developed as well, but seldom dwelled on that fact.   Within the past year, the thought has come to the forefront of our attention. Cane Island Parkway will open soon. The parkway is routed down the middle of the flat land that we fondly call The Pasture, to make way for more progress in and around Katy and the outlying towns. It was because of future progress that I dreaded getting out of bed.   I knew that by early afternoon, our lives would never be the same.

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I slowly put one leg and then the other into my jeans. Making my way to the kitchen, I poured myself a cup of hot coffee hoping that this would snap my sad self out of the funk in which I awoke. The aroma of the coffee brought the distant childhood memory of Daddy coming home from a hard day of construction labor, pouring his cup of coffee and heading to the pasture to check on the herd. Fighting tears at the thought, I quickly gathered my things, got in my car, and headed to Katy where I knew he would be waiting for me as he had been many times.  In the past, together we would count the cows, count baby calves, pick dew berries, hunt for deer, trap hogs, pick persimmons, check the pond, check the fences, shoot at coyotes, or hunt for antique bottles in the woods. At other times, we would just simply be.  Unlike past times, this day was strictly business. 

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For the first twenty years, my dad along with my brother, Sidney was able to manage a round up together. As Dad aged and the herd expanded, he hired a cowboy, Craig Zwahar along with several cowboys that work with Craig, to round up, work, and ship calves to the sale barn for him. Over the past twenty years, Craig has become a trusted friend to our family. Today, just as many, many times over the past twenty years, Craig and his men were at the pasture before sun up, with their saddled horses, cow dogs, and trailers, ready to ride. However, this day was going to be different.  The cows would not be worked and then turned back out to pasture. This would be the last round up as every animal was loaded and shipped leaving the pasture vacant for future progress.

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After the last animal was loaded onto the trailer, Craig put his hand on Daddy’s shoulder and gave him a sturdy squeeze and handshake.  He thanked my dad for his friendship and the years of fond memories that they had made working cattle together.  This chapter of life had indeed come to a close.  The trucks and trailers pulled away and we followed behind in their cloud of dust.  Daddy and I sat in silence on our way back to town.  I pulled into the small Midway grocery and bought each of us a cold, bottled, orange Fanta.  Back on the road that led home, we sipped in silence as 40 years of sweet memories were seen in the rearview mirror.

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Linear Verses Circular

I grew up in rural Katy, Texas.  My parents have lived in the same house for forty-eight years where they raised my sister, brother and me.  Just a mile down the street is the old VFW Park.  During my glorious days of childhood, most major events were held in the park with its mighty oaks, long picnic tables where three or four generations of family members held reunions and pitched washers and horseshoes.  A small merry-go-round sits among a set of swings that hang on long chains and can be pushed to the clouds as well as a very tall slide that only the bravest of children conquer.  Cane Island Creek runs along the border of the park.  I have listened to my dad many times, tell the story of digging a cave in the bank of the creek with his childhood buddies.  My own children and grandchildren have spent hour upon hour playing on this beautiful piece of our history. 

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In this same park, there is a metal building known as the “VFW Hall”.  The building was the meeting place during my elementary years for my Brownie troop where I earned my first service badge; it was also the office of the Department of Public Safety where at age sixteen, I nervously passed my driving test after parallel parking successfully.   The old VFW building also holds the memory of my first dance that I was only able to attend after laboriously begging my parents and convincing them that I would return home alive and unscathed.  After all, it’s what kids in small town America did on Saturday night.  The VFW Hall and park are probably most well known for the annual community sponsored Fourth of July picnic, beauty pageant, and fireworks until the population of Katy outgrew this old venue and had to move to a larger space in the name of progress.

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Directly across the street from the VFW Hall was a piece of wooded land.  Until a couple of years ago, this property was simply part of the green space that silently sat unnoticed by most.  It was the backdrop to the pocket of life that often churned in the park.  This green space is now given over to an assisted living complex called Heritage Park that houses many of Katy’s citizens who also once happily romped with their families in the park.  My mother became a temporary resident this week at this facility.  Her room has a nice view of the park.   Yesterday, as I sat with her, I allowed myself to briefly reminisce staring out of her window, across the street to the memorable childhood playground.    

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Since early childhood, I have heard the old cliché, “life has a way of coming full circle”.   But, as I have lived out my fifty years on earth, I always felt that life was a linear, infinite motion and the idea of a circle was puzzling to me.  It wasn’t until yesterday that I came to the realization of this elusive saying.  After trying hard to suppress the thought that kept pressing in the back of my mind, I finally gave way to the idea of linear verses circular, coming to the realization that life is not linear and certainly does not go on forever.  I pondered the brevity of life and thought that I too would one day too soon cross the street from my youthful VFW Park life to the need of elderly care.   At some point, we will all grasp that this life in the body is indeed circular with a beginning that meets an end.  Ecclesiastes 3:20 – All go to one place.  All are from the dust, and to dust all return.  The circle completed.

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Chick-en-a-Box

This week, our daughter, Lauren sent a photo via text message.  The caption read:  “Just found this.  No telling what’s inside.  We are now carrying a mason jar full of cash, which is in the car for the homeless men at the stoplights.”   I had to zoom in on the photo to read fully the message written on the side of a white 5-gallon bucket with a sealed lid, in purple marker.  Our now, seven-year-old granddaughter, Kiersten, had obviously written it with great care, “for the orphans”.   Kiersten has felt the need to give to orphans and the hungry ever since a baby chick entered her life on a beautiful Easter Sunday when I stepped out on a limb as a grandparent.   On a whim, I decided to give our two grandchildren baby chicks for a fun Easter surprise.

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Lauren and her husband, Neil along with our grandchildren, Kiersten and Gatlin lived in an urban subdivision where farm animals are not allowed.  Being found out by one of the rule-abiding neighbors would surely mean a ticket from animal control and probably an appearance in the city court before the judge.  However, worse than my fear of those particular consequences, was the fear of my son-in-law who was raised in the same type neighborhood environment and did not fully understand or appreciate the connection that our family has with farm animals.  He was surely going to be less than tolerant of my decision to present two live chicks to his children without his consent.

As severe as the possible outcome could be, I made the decision to go forward without the prior knowledge of Neil or Lauren.  I decided I would simply ask for forgiveness after the camera caught both of my precious grandchildren’s smiles of delight when they opened the Chinese take-out boxes containing colored plastic grass and peeping, yellow, fuzzy balls of wonder.  There is nothing more joyful to me than watching their faces light up over something that I do for them.  Kiersten was 5 at the time and Gatlin was 2.  This could be the perfect plan or the perfect storm and only after giving them their gifts would the plan or storm be revealed.

I handed the children each, a small box and made sure that the talented photographer, Pappy was ready to capture the moment – a joyous occasion, or “Murder on Tenth Street”.  As Kiersten and Gatlin opened the white folded boxes, little did any of us know what would be in store in the future.  After all, I was only giving them chicks to bring myself pleasure at the sight of their excitement but God had a plan to use this moment in a way that none of us could have ever imagined.

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Neil embraced the Easter chicks with skepticism but jumped right in to support his children by building a chicken coop decked out with laying boxes, warmer lights and heavy duty lumber for protection from neighborhood dogs and cats.  The chicks grew, as did my chicks, Kiersten and Gat.  With all of the growth taking place, Lauren and Neil decided to move to a larger house with acreage where the chicken operation continued to expand from two chicks to ten fat, fluffy laying hens.

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The job of feeding, watering, and gathering eggs is the responsibility of Kiersten and Gat.  They take their chicken care very seriously.  Kiersten believes that her chickens are “the happiest chickens in the world” and that her chicken’s eggs are “better than medicine”.  The hens produce four to five eggs per day.  The egg production has developed into many cash paying customers who enjoy the range-free, golden yolked eggs that are hand delivered to their door with love.  Having exposure to orphan care and the homeless due to their Pappy’s work with orphans in Bogota, Colombia, and their parent’s instruction of scripture, Kiersten’s and Gatlin’s hearts grow daily with the love of Christ and His love for orphaned children and others in need.  As they receive payment for their deliveries, Kiersten and Gatlin give all but the amount that it takes to buy replacement chicken feed to orphan care and feeding the homeless.

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Next week, fifty orphans will receive school supplies in Bogota.  The orphans will be unaware that God used two baby chicks and two small children in Magnolia, Texas who were willing to cast their bread on water by selling eggs door to door to bless them with much needed educational tools.  While the 5-gallon bucket remains sealed, I am certain that the inside contains gifts to orphans from children in America who began to listen to the voice of God when they set their eyes on baby chicks in Chinese take-out boxes on Easter Sunday two years ago.

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Feeding Marva

Excuse me, mam!  Excuse me!  I slowly raised my head out of the cardboard box that I was digging through in my garage hoping that I was only imagining the voice I heard calling.  My whole day was planned.   My schedule was packed and there was no margin for any type of interruption.   I reluctantly turned around to face the street.  Standing at the end of the driveway about 25 yards away was a tall, middle-aged woman holding the handle bars to her bicycle along with two shopping bags.  She was looking directly at me as she continued to motion with her hand wanting me to come closer.

We moved about two months ago from my once small hometown, Katy, Texas to inner city Houston known as The Heights.  Our new neighborhood is located one mile north of Interstate 10, one mile east of the 610 loop, and one mile west of Interstate 45.   In Katy, Bill and I lived in the heart of the city and thought that we lived among diverse people.  However, moving to The Heights has taken my definition of diversity to a whole new level.  The first week in our new home, reality hit as one night, I heard the strange clinking of something rolling down the street.  I ran to the window and passing by our house, illuminated only by the streetlights was a man pushing a grocery cart with what appeared to be his personal belongings.  I have since observed that our street is his regular route from point A to point B and back to point A at night.   He never slows but keeps a steady pace, putting one large foot in front of the other as though he is on mission.  I have also learned that the neighbors refer to him only as  “The Commuter”.   The neighbors are content to leave him be every evening during his commute.   I, on the other hand, wish to learn his real name and his story…

“Mam, my name is Marva.”  The clean, neatly dressed woman continued.  “I have three young children. “ “We haven’t had any gas to heat our house since before Christmas.”  “Rats are biting my children at night and our house is infested with roaches.”  “Will you please help me?”  Marva took and deep breath, hung her head, looking to the ground and said,  “Mam, could you please spare something to eat?”  “I’ll eat anything. “ “Please, Mam, I’m so hungry.”  My mind could not grasp all that she was trying to tell me in her desperation.  I tried to sort out what I was hearing with compassion, thinking of this poor woman begging to feed her children and keep them warm while at the same time, I was fighting the urge to run into my house, lock the door, draw the curtains, and pull the covers over my head!

Matthew 25:35 reads:  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.  I knew in my heart the right thing for me to do at that moment was to invite Marva to park her bicycle on the sidewalk and help her carry her bags up the steps onto the front porch of my house.  I pulled a chair around and asked her to sit down.  Once again, she reminded me that she was hungry so I excused myself and went inside in search of something substantial.  After a few minutes of going in and out of the house visiting with her and cooking, I emerged with a bacon and egg sandwich and a bottle of cold water.  She was delighted!  As she ate, I probed her about her faith in God to which she admitted that where she comes from, in order to survive, she has to have faith in God.  Gnawing on a piece of bacon with her yellowed broken teeth, she gave a half grin and assured me that God does provide.

Marva and I enjoyed our time together as we closed the gap this day on the hungry and the well fed.  Together we held our heads high in diversity as we sat, soaking up the sunshine, both counting our blessings for God’s interruption of schedule and provision of food.

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The Roots of My Raising Run Deep

I find it interesting the different ways that the Lord speaks to us as individuals.  Either through scripture, other people, a song, or circumstance, He finds a way to whisper His greatness into our lives.  The God of the universe waits patiently for a time when our hearts are available and still to sense His wooing, that mysterious tug of the Spirit on our heart. I personally heard His prompting while on my cancer journey.  On another occasion, the face of an orphan in Bogota, Colombia bridled my attention. For some, God’s beckoning is through simple life experiences, and for others, the face of death escorts them to a place where they hear from Him.  For Moses, the voice of God was heard in a burning bush as Moses hid his face from the Almighty.

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Recently, my younger brother heard from the Lord through a large pile of massive tree roots that he ignited into flames.  He is a heavy equipment operator and part of his job is clearing land.  Pushing dirt, brush, debris and then disposing of the pile is all part of the process of land development, which he has done countless times.  However, I don’t believe that he thought for a second when the match was struck on this pile and the burn began that his life would forever change.

Standing six feet, three inches tall, he carries the presence of someone with whom you would not want to recon should he be incited.  His giant, paws-for-hands are hard and callused from the manual labor that has provided for his family for some 30 years.  He is big and burly and has never been known to pass up a challenging fight.  In his late teen years, his stubbornness to walk away from an afternoon scuffle in a roadside ditch with a DPS trooper landed him jail time in serious trouble with the law.  It was then that my brother took what he refers to as a “hard left” in life and stayed on that path for many years.  He was fearless, afraid of no man.  There were times that I was awakened in the night feeling the need to pray on his behalf.  He recalls these rebellious times as, “memorable fun”.  I call it God’s mercy on him because there were events that should have cost him his life had God not intervened with His grace and mercy to spare him.  In God’s sovereign timing, He saved my brother’s life on earth for a specific evening of root burning when, like Moses, he heard from the Lord.

The sun had set as his tired soul sat alone near the roaring pile of burning roots.  Nothing heard but popping and hissing from smelting dirt and tree sap as the huge pile of roots appeared hotter than Hell itself.  He sat staring into the flames contemplating his soon to be fifty years on this earth and how quickly the years had slipped away.  He was reminded of our aging parents and their recent ailments that come with growing old. He pondered his adventurous childhood – driving the old pickup truck to town without his license while Mom and Dad were at work; turning hundreds of white mice loose in the school; forever being grounded but never giving himself room to turn his life around.  His childhood mischief turned into an angry rebellion as the years clipped by.   My brother was a fighter, having a reputation for this way of existing like our grandfather before him, rebellious living and fighting was a way of life.

The longer he sat studying the hot burn, the clearer the fiery message became.  He needed to turn his weary life around.  He could hear Dad in his mind sternly telling him during those early years that “children are a gift from the Lord”, and “make sure your children are rooted in the word of God”.  Dad told my brother, “plant the seed and grow the roots”.  He said, “the roots of your raisin’ will come back to ya if you get lost”.   These words fell on deaf ears when spoken by Dad decades ago.   However, as the crackling and hissing of the burning roots stole the silence in the darkness and the fierce yellow flames rose higher, the harder it was for him to escape the wise counsel that now so poignantly pierced his thoughts and his heart.  Through the knowledge of God’s word that had been rooted in his childhood, my brother realized that the burning flames before him were just a glimpse of what the true Hell of eternity will be like.  Dad’s words from long ago gave way to an old Merle Haggard song:  the roots of my raising run deep…hope comes no matter how far down I sink, the roots of my raising run deep…In the still darkness, as the flames continued their beckoning, he began to pray, seeking forgiveness from the Lord for all the “memorable fun” he had that he now saw as sin in his life.   My brother’s “hard left” down the road to eternal Hell took a “hard right” that night.   As with all of us, the roots of our raising run deep.

Click here to listen to The Roots of My Raising by Merle Haggard:   http://youtu.be/mOnCFJFeX4g

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The Same Kind of Sufferance As Me

I found myself yesterday for over 12 hours in the emergency room at the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Hospital with my mom who was diagnosed with cancer last spring.  Because of the Christmas holiday season, the hospital was at 103 percent capacity.  Doctors were not following the regular admitting process after seeing their patients.  Instead, they were routing patients through the emergency center with the idea that the patient would receive faster service.   This created a huge backlog of very ill people in a small, concentrated area for many hours.

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Mom and I settled in for the long stay in the back area of the waiting room as we witnessed patient after patient with family members or friends in tow to endure the hours together with the goal of finding at least some momentary relief from the pain and advance of their cancer.  A giant black man sitting in a wheelchair soon flanked me to my immediate right.  He appeared to be his 70’s, accompanied by his two buddies who had delivered him to the emergency room.  To our left was an extremely ill woman whose body was little more than a skeleton with skin.  She was lying on a hospital gurney wheeled against the wall to wait in agony with her vomit bag resting on her caved chest.  Across the isle from us were more cancer patients, all waiting, hoping for their number to come up soon in the computer in order to receive their treatment.

It was hard to ignore the multiple conversations in such a tight space.  My ear tuned into the conversation to my right between this big black man and his friends.  While I was entertained by much of what was said about how much he could or could not fill his bucket on a daily basis, I gathered the wheelchair bound man had kidney issues caused by his cancer.  I listened to the men talk about the topic for some time, and I tried to find humor in the subject because the rest of the room was over-shadowed with such pain and, for a few, imminent death.

I found it difficult not to stare or engage with my eyes but this man to my right was such a large person with a deep, gentle voice, I felt wooed by the conversation.  After a while, the triage nurse called this man’s name, Roy.   His friend pushed his wheelchair to the door of the triage room, passing him off to the nurse.  The friend came back and sat in his chair with the other man next to him.  After a few minutes, a hospital advocate walked over to our area and began to explain that Roy was experiencing severe kidney failure and asked the men if one of them had planned to stay with him during his time in the ER.  They both looked at her surprised and each one said “no” that they had things to do and would be leaving him alone.  The advocate sternly expressed to them that Roy seemed to be scared to be left alone but her words failed to change the friend’s decisions to leave Roy alone.  I then began to feel a tug in my heart toward this lone, ill man.

I will confess that I did not want to get involved.  I am like most in that I don’t go around looking for opportunities to interact with the marginalized and oppressed.  I don’t want to experience their shame, get my hands dirty or become entangled in the life of one of these needy people because doing so may cost me some inconvenience or worse, my reputation.  I read a book several years ago that made a huge impact on my life in how I viewed people who are different than me.  The title of the book is The Same Kind of Different As Me.   It’s a true story of how a high society art dealer with my same view of keeping a safe distance from the marginalized actually engaged directly with a dangerous homeless drifter and through his months of involvement realized that the two of them were the same kind with little difference between them.  We are all the same in the eyes of Jesus.  I thought intently about this as I watched Roy’s buddies walk out of the hospital leaving him alone in his fear.  I picked up my phone to send a text to my husband, Bill, to tell him that I was in the middle of  a “same kind of different as me” moment.  Something very unusual happened as I typed the word different, the auto-fill on my phone delivered the text with the word “sufferance”.   I was stunned as I glared at the sent text on phone screen – same kind of sufferance as me.  My thoughts began to stir.   Sufferance is by definition, “patient endurance of pain or distress without interference”.

Jesus calls us to be like him.  He calls us to a life that shares in sufferance.  For many yesterday at MD Anderson, sufferance was through cancer but for me, sufferance was in entering into the life of a needy man, to share in his fear and loneliness.  I began to process more deeply the same kind of sufferance that so many in the room around me were baring.  Myself, a cancer survivor, I can identify a little with some of their sufferance.  However, I didn’t loose my hair like my mom, or my body didn’t shrivel up on a gurney, or I wasn’t abandoned at the hospital by my friends in the emergency room like Roy to fight the cancer fear alone.  I’m extremely grateful that I did not have to endure these types of suffering during my cancer journey.

For six hours, in my safe chair against the wall, I continued to ponder the word sufferance.  I decided to walk across the room from where I sat to check on my mom’s schedule at the nurse’s desk.   The triage nurse had parked Roy in his wheelchair in front of the admitting desk.  He sat patiently holding his wooden cane across his island-sized lap.  My back was turned away from him when I heard him ask the nurse if he could get a cookie from the volunteer snack cart.  It was at that split second that I had to decide if I was going to participate in the same kind of sufferance of Christ or continue to maintain my secure distance filled with worry of loss of reputation.  I turned around to fix my gaze on Roy and bent over with my face in his face.  His big, soulful eyes filled with tears as I asked him if he had eaten today to which he answered, “no ma’am”.

I patted his knee and told him I would return with a hot meal and to save the cookies for dessert.  Handing the cafeteria cashier ten bucks for a stranger’s meal was much easier than engaging with this poor, needy man.  I placed his meal on a table near where my mom and I were sitting.   I then walked across the floor for Roy.   Wrapping my fingers around the handles of Roy’s wheelchair, I took a prayerful breath to surrender my reputation and began the short journey of sufferance across the waiting room.   I began identifying with Roy,  a poor, marginalized, man in need of a friend.  I carried the weight of his burden as I rolled him to the other side of the room and in doing so, I realized that through the sufferance of Christ, Roy is the same kind of different as me.

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The Pasture

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A five hundred acre parcel of land on the west side of our small home town was leased from the local family doctor for a cattle operation, based on a strong, callused hand shake and the binding word of my dad over 40 years ago.  To my family, this land parcel fondly became known as “The Pasture”.  Sandwiched in between Highway 90 and Interstate 10 in Katy, a stranger speeding by would hardly notice the ominous space of berry patches, clumps of prairie grass, mounds of fire ants and stretches of gravel roads that winded through and around the many acres.

With one handshake, Dad had no way of realizing the positive impact his decision would have on our family over the course of four decades.  Times were simpler then.  It was an era when a man’s handshake and his word could be counted on, just as the land could be counted on to give life and meaning to kids growing up.  It was a time when the only trouble that could be borrowed was in an inviting mud hole where my younger brother would run Dad’s truck so that he could study the tire traction and mud velocity at differing rates of speed.  And trouble for me when I drove the truck too fast down the muddy, slick road and felt the slow, helpless slide into the ditch as my younger brother strongly encouraged me to “gas it!” only to find us a few minutes later, as water flowed into the floorboard, hitch hiking a ride back to town in the rain.

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How would Dad have ever known that a strong, callused handshake and his word would result in lessons of shooting clay pigeons with a sling-shot, learning to pen and work cattle, ride and sometimes get thrown from horses.  Along with lessons of roping, bottle-feeding baby goats, calves, killing snakes, picking dewberries, as well as, lessons of pain from the sting of a wasp, or a scraped knee.  We learned to dove hunt, run a trotline, kill and skin deer, and hog hunt under the moon light with Kerr dogs.

A strong, callused handshake and a man’s word gave the kids in our family a safe place to play while learning some of the basics in life.  It was a place where the boys in our family learned to be brave hunters, cowboys, and men while the girls learned to be their cheerleaders.  How would Dad have known that the teenaged boy becoming a man, stuck in a muddy bog hole in the middle of The Pasture in his Jeep would some day be his son-in-law shaping relationships for future generations?

Times are not as simple forty years after that first handshake.  However, I am grateful for The Pasture and the life giving lessons that it bred.  I am even more grateful for my dad who, with a strong callused hand shake and an honest word allowed me the experience of life lessons that will never be replaced as, with all progress, The Pasture is turned over to commercial development and a new meaning of a handshake.

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His Sparrow

Luke 12:6-7Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

 

After six months of discomfort, and awkwardness, from having breast expanders implanted in my chest; the day that drives the “I am finished” stake of defeating breast cancer into the ground arrived.  This would be the day of the great “exchange”.  Exchanging the breast expanders for permanent implants would be a hallelujah day for me.   This morning, September 12, 2012, with much excited anticipation, Bill and I gathered our things to make the final trip to MD Anderson Cancer Center.  I only carried the clothes on my back and my driver’s license while Bill on the other hand looked like a pack mule to deliver a month of supplies to a lost city in the mountains, as he loaded the car with two computers, Ipad, cell phone and several power cords.  I could tell he was anticipating long hours in the waiting area and wanted to take full advantage of the quiet work time.

The plan for the day was for me to drive to the hospital so that he could begin his workday on the phone.  It became apparent as I pulled onto Interstate 10 that there wasn’t a soul on the road that knew and understood my need and anxiousness to arrive at the hospital on time.  Therefore, no driver offered to move out of the way to clear a way.  We quickly pulled into the HOV lane, which was a little faster but at times slowed to a snail’s pace.  I had not eaten or drank anything since the night before, coupled with the fact that I missed my morning coffee addiction, so my body began to complain and whine.  I could feel the tension in my neck as the headache silently traveled up the back of my neck to the crown of my head.  My appointment for check in was at 9:30am, which is when I pulled into the parking garage.   Bill suggested that I get out at patient drop off and he would park the car and I gladly took his offer.  I stood at the elevator bank for 5-6 minutes before a crew of elevator servicemen stepped off in front of me.  They had several of the elevators shut down for repair, which added unwanted delay to my time line.  I thought to myself, “That does it.  I am officially late and they will probably cancel my surgery”.

I scurried off the elevator onto the fifth floor and began trying to navigate my way through the alphabet of elevator banks.  I was looking for “Elevator F”.  I began at Elevator “A”.  The distance between each elevator bank was a minimum length of a football field winding around like a rat maze.  Stopping to ask for directions two times along the way and watching the clock, my head began to further pound.  Arriving ten minutes late at surgery check-in, the two women stood as I opened the door and began quickly shuffling papers for signature.  They were very polite but I felt tension which I am sure was self-induced.  Once the paperwork was complete, I was ushered back to the surgical prep area where I found my lovely, bed, gown, hair cap, and the very obtrusive vitals machine.

I stood silently overlooking the bed trying to collect my thoughts when in popped Joyce.  I can call her Joyce instead of Mrs. Williams or Nurse Williams because Joyce and I made an instant connection.  She had a smile that lit up the room and a twinkle in her eye that told me this is a woman of great faith.  We exchanged salutations and then proceeded to get down to business.  Joyce hooked me up to the blood pressure machine and quickly learned that my blood pressure was in the “red” and would need to lower before I could have surgery.  Thus the explanation for the pounding head- ache was understood.  Joyce told Bill, who had arrived later behind us, to pull up a chair and get comfortable because we would be there longer as we needed to wait for the blood pressure to lower into a safe zone.  Joyce was there to prep me for surgery but that wasn’t the business that we attended to over the next two hours.

She and Bill also found a kindred spirit at they joked and laughed about the fact that her real job was janitor, pushing a broom.  This thirty-year nurse veteran told us how she told her patients that she was actually a promoted janitor.  She explained that inserting an IV needle is the same motion used when pushing a broom.  Demonstrated to us by pulling her arms back and pushing forward, she laughed recalling some of the expressions on patience faces when she shared this with them.  One thing led to another when quietly she asked me what is my favorite hymn.  I told her that Amazing Grace would certainly take a top spot as I thought of others that I dearly love.  Joyce took a seat beside my bed as the blood pressure machine made its occasional hiss, she began to quietly sing in a mellow tenor voice,  Amazing Grace, directly to me.  When the last verse was finished, she picked up in our conversation sharing her personal story of breast cancer.  She too is a survivor at MD Anderson having one breast removed, without reconstruction.

Joyce spoke of the importance of having the breast cancer gene screen (BRCA) performed for our daughters.  Also, Joyce shared how she hesitated to have the test because she didn’t want her daughters to be burdened by the news of an almost certain diagnosis for them if her test came back positive.  She contemplated the pull of a mother’s love and concern for not wanting to burden her daughters with a positive report vs. feeling selfish for not having the test and being able to allow them to make a decision to have their breasts removed.Breast Cancer is a terrible disease.  However, Joyce spoke with such joy about all that she had been through.  I listened intently and thought of all that I had been through as well.  I began to thank God for placing me there at that moment with Joyce and Bill.  I felt the presence of the Lord ministering to me through Joyce as Bill asked her to sing her favorite hymn.  The words are so beautiful and the message of this song solidified in truth, my heart wants to share:

HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Chorus:
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Chorus

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Joyce’s job was complete with me.  Tears rolled down my cheeks, knowing that God sent her to deliver his word of truth to me, His Sparrow.   The hissing machine indicated my blood pressure moving closer and closer to the safety zone.  Joyce began to gather her things to leave.  I asked if I would see her again after surgery and her answer was “likely not”.  God places people in our paths every day to minister His truth and love.  Today, that person was my new found sister in Christ, Joyce.  The “I am Finished” stake was about to be driven in my fight against Cancer as the anesthesiologist wheeled His Sparrow down the hallway to surgery.  His eye is on the sparrow, and He graciously watches over you and me.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”  John 14:1

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Count Down to Colombia

In two days, on June 23, a group of twenty will embark on a trip to Medellin, Colombia where we will minister to street children as well as families in a particular neighborhood of the city.   Of the twenty people that will be traveling together, nine are members of Grace Fellowship, three are from Colombia, and the remaining eight are from around the Houston area with the exception of one being from Minnesota.  We will introduce the team to you in upcoming posts.

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Medellin is a city with a close proximity to the equator at an altitude of 5,000 feet sitting in a valley in the Andes Mountains.  It is home to more than three million people.  Medellin is the center of the textile industry in South America and is today, a modern, vibrant city.  However, scattered along the hillsides surrounding the city are many makeshift communities that are home to the poor and displaced people of Colombia.  It will be in these out lying areas of Medellin that our team of twenty will converge to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need.  While there, we will post to the Grace blog as often as we have Internet service, hopefully once a day.

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Isaiah 1:17, encourages us with these words: “Learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow.”  Over the next week, it is our group’s desire to be obedient to the call of Christ as His instruments of love and grace among the lost, oppressed, fatherless and window in Colombia.  Also while in Colombia, we will share with our new friends about the unreached people groups (UPG’s) in the 10/40 window around the world.  As our team ministers, we will incorporate the Grace Fellowship adopted UPG’s into our games and activities in order that by the end of the week, we will be able to conduct a concert of prayer with our new Colombian friends, having made aware to them the Grace mission focus of the Bonjar, Makassar and the Bugis people.  We will also be playing games with new sports equipment we will take to leave behind as well as craft activities with string and yarn.

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Our families and friends cheering us on in the USA are as important on this trip as those of us who will actually be in country.  Without your support, a trip like this would be more difficult.  As Paul said in his letter to the church at Phillippi in Phillipians 1:3-6, “I thank my God every time I remember you, in all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

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Our group is comforted by the tremendous amount of prayer support that we will receive from all of our friends and family at Grace Fellowship as well as those who are supporting us from other places.  So just as Paul stated, we too are thankful every time we remember you!   It is our desire and prayer that anyone who has sight of this blog page will prayerfully consider making a short-term mission.  It has been our experience that the Lord wants to do as much ministering to us while we are away as he wants to use us to minister to others in far away places.  Bill and I along with the rest of our mission team invite you to follow this blog and enjoy the experience this next week in Medellin, Colombia.  You really won’t want to miss all that God is going to do in and around us!     Sandy Byrd

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Faith of Our Fathers! Living Still

Between the green hardback cover of my grandmother’s Melodies of Praise hymnal, is a treasure of yellowing pages speaking of God’s goodness to His people, a testimony of His power and, a call to complete surrender.  I hold Melodies of Praise second only to the Holy Scripture as God delivered His message  through inspired words composed to music.  Just as David, the lowly shepherd boy played his harp to soothe King Saul in 1 Samuel 16, the legacy of God’s message lives on in song.

Melodies of Praise

I recall my grandmother whom I called Mamaw, often leading the “song service” in our small, country, church.  The church used  one particular hymnal, titled, Melodies of Praise.  Mamaw kept her own copy and wrote in pen in the back, a list of her favorite songs to lead.   I would be remiss if I didn’t share a portrait of this  woman of faith.  She loved to “put-on-the-dog” in the way that she dressed.   For those of you who grew up in small town America know what I’m talking about when I say “put-on-the-dog”.  I can picture her in an ankle length dress which was usually in a shade of red, accented with matching “ear bobs”, brooch, a pair of pumps that would today make the cover of Cosmo and wag the tongues of many jealous women.  She also adorned her fingers, which were always well manicured, with lots of sparkling diamonds.  Her hair was fixed to perfection, piled high on her head and sprayed stiff so that it would hold in place for a few days.  She could belt a tune, as could most of the women on her side of the family, which is why we were often under her direction for song worship at church.  The more she sang and the Spirit moved, the less she could control her feet.  She would begin skipping around the platform in front of the congregation.  Her hair wouldn’t move but the skirt of her long dress was in full swing.  As a young girl watching this action before me, I couldn’t help but wonder how she kept the whole gig going as she skipped around singing, clapping and keeping her balance in her very high heeled pumps.

Mamaw’s list of favorite Hymns

Faith of Our Fathers! Living Still

If you have never experienced a “song service” in an Assembly of God church on a Sunday evening, life is not in you, friend.  As my Aunt Patty would strike the first chord on the piano and the faithful electric guitarist, Mr. Finch or, my Uncle, Nicky Monigold would pick the string of the same note, Mamaw would raise her right hand out in front of her as if she were leading a choir of a thousand angelic voices.  Her right arm swooped down with power and authority to begin the first note.  As the piano rang and voices raised, the walls and the ceiling in the small wood framed church began to vibrate.   For the next hour, sometimes two, the church shook.   At school on Monday, my friends, who often sat outside the building on their bicycles during the Sunday evening service, made comments about the noise coming from behind the church doors the night before.  However, what they considered noise, was a long legacy of faith delivered in song.

There have been many times throughout my life that I have opened the pages of  Mamaw’s hymnal.  At times, to live again the days of old with a good laugh as I remember the little church vibrating off its foundation,  or to find peace and comfort in a particular song.  There have been other times like today that I pulled the book from the shelf for no particular reason except to be sure the words were still on the pages of this very old friend.  Settling into my comfortable reading chair, I allowed the green cover and aged pages to casually fall open in my lap.  Immediately, I waifed a hint of Este Lauder, Mamaw’s signature perfume.  Looking down at the fading black ink on the yellowing page, 60, was the song titled:  Faith of Our Fathers!  Living Still.

Faith of our fathers, living still in spite of dungeon, fire and sword;

Oh how our hearts beat high with joy, whene’er we hear that glorious word

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!  We will be true to thee till death!

Our fathers chained in prisons dark, were still in heart and conscience free:

How sweet would be their children’s fate, if they, like them, could die for thee!

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!  We will be true to thee till death!

Faith of our fathers we will love, both friend and foe in all our strife;

And preach thee too as love knows how, by kindly words and virtuous life!

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!  We will be true to thee till death!

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