LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS LEVEL

October 8, 2014

Last week I finished another section on the Appalachian Trail, this time walking the section from Fontana Dam, NC, all the way through Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Davenport Gap (and beyond.) One of the things I have learned about the Trail is that it is not always level; sometimes the terrain has you walking a mostly level trail, but more often than not, you are walking downhill (to valleys, which are called “gaps”), and sometimes you are walking uphill (to mountaintops, which are often called “views.”

The Trail, while being well marked with white blazes spaced about every quarter mile or so apart, is still very much in wilderness, remote areas. What that translates into is few signs, which are not necessarily precise in terms of mileage.

One would think that walking uphill, with a 30-35 pound pack on your back, is hard, And it is. Breathing gets labored, your heart rate accelerates (you hear it in your ears!), your skin begins to leak, and it just gets difficult—especially when the terrain grows steep (as in the section called “Jacob’s Ladder” in North Carolina.)

And it stands to reason that if walking uphill is hard, then walking downhill is easy. Au contraire, mon chere. Last Thursday, after walking about ten miles, we hit a downhill section that was dropping like a rock in a bottle. After two miles of steep downhill, a solid hour of pounding, my ankles, calves, and quads were screaming for relief. It is as if with each step, you’re hitting the brakes, and trust me, the brake pads were begging for relief. By the grace of God, we hit a relatively flat section, and amazingly after about 100 yards, I was already feeling some recovery.

But even when the trail is level, it’s not always easy. While sometimes it is—as here:23 a Good Trail

It isn’t always easy. It may be level, but the surface is fraught with potholes, ankle-biters, and traps; like this boulder field I crossed last year: 28 Boulder field trail

But it takes effort, whether up or down or level, to reach some spectacular views. And reaching some of those high points on a clear day, when it seems you can truly see forever, is worth the effort. You forget about the pain, and are often stopped dead in your tracks, in slack-jawed, forget-myself wonder at the beauty of creation the Lord made. 33 Cheoah Bald view 2

So the next time you are feeling down and low, like you’ve stumbled your way to the bottom of life; and/or are slogging your way up through problems and people, remember that the views are at the top—not along the way—and once you get there, it’s well worth a break to soak it all in.

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OK, so this is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination; but in light of the fact that I have been (blissfully) happily married to the former Lib Upchurch 31 years as of today, I thought a moment to enumerate a few lessons would be appropriate. For a brief second I thought about coming up with 31 lessons, but then figured it would tax my brain and bore people. So, in no particular order, here are the top five things that came to my mind today:

1. She polishes my rough edges. Let’s face reality; I had a great childhood and youth, a pretty good experience growing up and getting through college and grad school, even landed my first “grown up” job before we married. But good grief, Lib took this sow’s ear and has excelled in making a silk purse out of me. She has taught me the right fork to use, what tie to wear with what suit (and which one NOT to wear), not to leave the house wrinkled, and that at the end of the day, social etiquette really does matter. Social etiquette is simply a way of telling other people that they matter, that they are important. And for the record, No, she is not through polishing me. I still have (and continue to add!) plenty of rough edges!
2. I’m not worthy. I don’t think I was when I popped the question 31+ years ago (of course, then I thought I was!), and I don’t believe I am worthy of this amazing woman today. She is one of the hardest working, most devoted teachers (in the thankless world of public education) there is, and comes home to keep a house straight, make sure healthy dinners are planned, prepared, and served (and cleaned up!), and does it all with a smile on her face. Me, I’m a preacher; I only work one day a week, and that’s only in the morning! But Lib is unquestionably the consummate Southern Lady. Grace, charm, looks, a deep faith in Jesus, and a devotion to her husband and family that does not end.
3. We weren’t ready. We reflected on this some years ago, and I still believe it. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we got engaged, and when we got married. We did have a solid foundation, in that both of us had parents who were married to one another. My parents were married 58 years before they died, and hers celebrated their 59th anniversary this year. We were both 24 when we married, were young, naive, idealistic, broke, but very much in love with one another. And somehow, by the grace of God, we made it work.
4. Marriage is an adventure. In 31 years we have lived in 4 cities in three different states. In another week, we will have lived in the home we live in now longer than any other home we have owned. We’ve made mistakes (the Pontiac Sunbird comes to mind), had amazingly few fights, disagreed on few things, most of which were simple, silly, and petty, have had seasons when we had to live on hot dogs and generic chips, but have raised two incredible daughters, pursued three advanced degrees between the two of us (four if we add Anne’s Master’s in there!), loved three faithful dogs for 14+ years each, taught each other more that I at least will talk about here, and started and ended every day with the assurance of our love for each other—even when we were mad at each other for whatever silly reason.
5. Marriage is the hardest—and best—job I’ll ever have. When you make the move from living by yourself—and sleeping by yourself—to sharing space with another person, there are adjustments to be made. Holidays, those most sacred and sacrosanct of institutions in family life, are celebrated differently. When you get irritated with the other person, if you are committed to them and the institution of marriage, you can’t run away. Maybe never living in the same town as any family was a good thing; it forced us to look each other in the eye, face our differences, and work them out. Making the move from “yours” and “mine” to “ours” is not a simple thing—there are no neat, easy, simple steps, and the path is fraught with landmines. Fortunately for us, none of them blew up on us, and we have found that when we had hard things to deal with, it just made celebrating the accomplishments that much better.

The joy of going home at the end of the day to someone who loves me, wants the best for me, believes in me, and will accept nothing but the best for me, has made the last 31 years absolutely the best years of my life.
I’m a VERY lucky man.

Lib & Chuck on the Springer Mtn summit

Lib & Chuck on the Springer Mtn summit

The Cross I Wear

July 30, 2014

A number of people have been asking me about the cross I have been wearing in worship and at weddings, and my response has been, “It’s a long story.” I finally decided to put the story and explanation here so folks can understand it, and what it means to me.
There are a couple of starting points to the cross. One is August 1, 1995, when I started work as the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Pascagoula, MS. I decided that I would wear a large cross over my robe (or suit, if I was not robed) whenever I was involved in worship. I bought one, and used it for a few years, before purchasing a larger one, and wearing it for the remainder of my ministry there.
When we moved back to Atlanta and I returned to the Peachtree staff, for whatever reason, I did not wear the cross. The more time passed, the less I thought about it, and it sat in a box in my office.
The other starting point is July 24, 1945. Yes, that’s the correct date; it is the date that my parents were married, six weeks after Dad returned from ten months as a prisoner of the Germans (after being shot in France). Mom and Dad were engaged when he went overseas, and after his liberation Mom kicked plans into action. Like with many couples, they received a good bit of silver as wedding presents. Among those were some silver candlesticks.
Then in February, 1983, Mom and Dad’s home was broken into. The thieves got candlesticks, flatware, and some of Mom’s jewelry. Most all of it was retrieved by the Police, but there were two candlesticks that were in the process of being beaten down and broken up for melting and sale when the thieves were apprehended. Mom never had them repaired, but kept them in a pacific cloth sack.
In the summer of 2003, Dad died suddenly and unexpectedly, and Mom followed him ten weeks later. “She didn’t die of a broken heart,” their Pastor said, “She died of a full heart.” In the sifting, sorting, and selecting of their property, I chose to take the mangled candlesticks; I thought that one day I would have them made into a cross to wear.
So some time after we returned to Atlanta and Peachtree, I took them to H.G. Robertson Fine Silver, and talked with them about my idea. They said that they could do it, but that more silver would be needed. I was encouraged to browse flea markets and estate sales, looking for odd pieces of flatware. Flea markets and estate sales and I don’t see one another much. I left the candlesticks with them, and returned every so often (like every couple of years?) to talk with them about it. The shop even moved, but they kept track of them! “Look into silver” remained on my weekend to-do list for many years.
Segue to Friday, May 2, 2014, and Bald Head Island, NC, where Lib and I had gone so I could officiate at the wedding ceremony of our good friends Glenn Harvin and Kelly Johnson. AT the wedding rehearsal, Glenn said to me, “When we get back to the house, Kelly and I have something to give you.”
We got back to “party central” after the rehearsal, and at some point, someone told me that Glenn wanted me in the house. Lib and I walked in, and Glenn was standing there with Kelly, grinning from ear to ear, holding a white gift sack. As we approached, Glenn’s sister Laura and her boyfriend Grey Campbell started to walk away. Glenn stopped them, saying, “You guys had a role in this.” He handed me the bag.
I took it, thanked him, and lifted the tissue paper from the opening. I looked in, and realized what was in it. I said, “Oh, my word.” I recognized the black box that the cross I’d worn in Mississippi was stored in, and next to it was a white HG Robertson box.
Lifting the white box out, I opened it, and there was the cross that I’d always thought about, that I had dreamed of having made. Glenn asked, “Will you wear that tomorrow for the wedding?”
I replied, “Not only tomorrow, but from here on out, every Sunday.” And so I have—on Sundays, at weddings, and memorial services, and any other service.
It seems that Glenn and Kelly were out to dinner with Laura and Grey one evening, and the wedding came up, and somehow the fact that I was going to officiate surfaced. Grey, who used to be a member at Peachtree, and we’ve known one another for many years, and also does some work at HG Robertson’s, apparently said. “Let me tell you about a project Chuck has at the shop.”
And Glenn—incredible guy, generous soul, great friend that he is—said, “I want to finish that for him.” And so he did.
Shortly before his wedding, I handed it to Glenn, and asked him to place the cross on me. That was the first time it was used, but it’s been used frequently since then. And I intend it to be used for many years, and on many occasions, to come.
And that is the cross that I wear on Sundays. It is a reminder of my parents, a testimony to redemptive grace following tragedy, and the presence of good friends with me. It’s a gift that spans close to 70 years, and is quite likely the greatest gift I have ever received.

The Cross made from my parent's candlesticks

The Cross made from my parent’s candlesticks

Well; we’re back home now (with the exception of Fitz, who had to fly from Guayaquil through Quito to get to a business meeting in England, but he will be home tomorrow), we have begun the process of recovering from a long, hard week, laundry should be clean by now, and we have enjoyed a couple of non-submarine showers.
For the uninitiated, a “submarine shower” is when you get in the shower, get wet, and turn the water off. Soap up, turn the water on and rinse off. Repeat if needed (trust me, in Ecuador, we needed it!)
We’ve had something other than stale bread and peanut butter, along with sliced fruit, for breakfast. And that night’s sleep in our own bed . . .
But for we who were in Ecuador as a part of the mission trip this year, many images remain, and will so, for a long time.
The last day we went out to build, we were just down the street from one another. Gato’s back was still bugging him, so Pepe was back with us again. Team Gato built for Angela, a 39-year old single Mom, her 22 year-old daughter Sara (and her baby), and Angela’s two other children, Matthias (4) and Rumina (2). They were living in an 8-year old Hogar de Cristo home that had not been cared for, and was in great disrepair. Angela with stained glass window The children lived in the space beneath the home—mattresses on the ground. Their new home went in, about six inches separating it from the old home. Fortunately, we did not have to worry about setbacks or zoning variances. Digging through the drain field of their latrine to put two of the posts in the ground, however, was a different story. (The week’s best quote, thanks to Eric Edee, “Don’t eat the dirt,” was oft used.)
Team Ivan built for Maritza (49) and her children Kevin (7) and Christo (17). Maritza works about four days a week as a maid. Christo looks so small for a 17-year old due to malnutrition. But to show what character this young man has, Scott MacKenzie gave him a Powerbar, and he went down the street where some little girls were, and carefully divided it so that they all shared it—he did not eat it all himself.
Maritza family with Team

Showered and well-fed, we packed up and loaded up, and headed for the airport. The trip home was uneventful (if only the trip down had been so!), just mostly sleepless, so we all arrived home pretty tired. But we are home, in spacious, clean, air-conditioned homes, where we have more food than we need, and most anything we want, we can get without trouble. We have great transportation, well-stocked stores, and amazing support systems. All that is more than can be said for the families for whom we built, and there are thousands more—THOUSANDS—that need help.
We did not get to meet with the leadership of Hogar de Cristo this year; we do not know what happened, but the meeting simply did not take place. We heard that the Vice Minister of Housing for Ecuador met with them right before our arrival, and was allowing Hogar to continue their ministry of providing homes for the poorest of the poor, recognizing that Hogar is meeting a need that the government is not able to meet. So keep them in your prayers!
Sitting in the airport Tuesday night waiting to board the plane, Tim Adams commented well: “There were more than nine families whose lives were changed this week.” I looked at him, and he looked around at the group of guys who had just spent a week of their lives and cherished vacation on the trip. Well said. All of us who were there have had our lives changed, as well. May God continue to work in our lives!

Most of us live in a world in which a nice, sunny day, is a good thing. But when you are two degrees south of the equator, and you are working outside in the heat (and the A/C in the van you’re riding in has died), a sunny day is not a good thing.
Despite our best prayers for cloud cover, and a weather forecast for a pretty good chance of rain, we had a very sunny day today. Did I say very? I meant VERY sunny day. We also switched venues, from building homes in the area around the city of Daule (about 45 minutes north of Guayaquil), back to the community of Mt Sinai, an area that the city of Guayaquil annexed a few years ago, and which is rather close to the offices and compound of Hogar de Cristo, our ministry partner. We drove to HdC and met our maestros, with an added surprise of an old friend and maestro Pepe; he was coming along to help out team Gato, as Gato is still hurting from the back he hurt on Saturday—but not enough to hold him back from being with us.
One treat we enjoyed while we were at the Hogar compound was their flavored soy milk. Several years ago, Hogar started a side business making soy milk, after some visiting nurses from Brigham Young University found alarming rates of anemia in schoolchildren. It turns out that many children only eat when they are at school, and when the kids come to school on Monday mornings, they are famished and fainting. By adding soy milk to the school offering, not only are children getting added nutrition, they are also finding a way to decrease the anemia that is so rampant. We all grabbed a bottle and guzzled it down (we are getting virtually no protein at breakfast, and desperately need it—this helped, just a little.)
Then we headed to the build sites, dropping Team Ivan first, to build for an incredibly grateful and affectionate family (most of the guys got “double-cheek-kisses” from everyone in the family when the build was finished. Maria a single mom, has three children (18, 12, and 11), and helps to care for her 76 year old mother, with some help from her brothers (they are all in this picture). They survive—barely—on the $50 a month stipend from the government, and the occasional $15 that her son can bring in from sporadic work. Maria del Rose family & home
It took about another 45 minutes to get Team Gato to their site, after several twisty turny roads, washouts, and virtual rivers deterred the truck. Here they built for Julia, another single mom and her for children (15, 14, 10, and 4), but Julia has a bit better chance of “making it,” as her father, Rodolfo, is in the picture, and when he can find work as a plumber, can bring in up to $300 a month. When that does not happen, they “survive” on the $50 a month from the government. Julia and her family
Hard to believe, but we will head out tomorrow to build two more homes for two more families, then we will pack up and catch flights that will bring us back home. We ended this evening with a long-anticipated dinner at the Steak House, where we dined and laughed, and celebrated. Five men were inducted into the “Order of the Clavo Pequeno,” (the Little Nail—these were the Rookies on the trip); five others, who have been before, were inducted into the “Order of the Clavo Grande” (Big Nail); and Chris Southerland and Bill Schaeffer were inducted into the newly formed (as all these are) “Order of the Clavo Grande de Oro” (Big Gold Nail)—as they have participated in so many trips, blessing so many families. Boli Alfaro was presented an award with a Gold Nail, for Exemplary Service, for his vision, prayers, tireless work, and passion for the poor of this country.
The real end of the evening came when we returned to Schoenstaat Retreat Center, and celebrated the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, remembering the ultimate sacrifice made for us all.
“One day more,” as the song From Les Miserables goes—but two more homes to build. Keep us in your prayers as we seek to serve, in Jesus’ name!

Some Days . . .

June 8, 2014

Some days just don’t turn out the way you hope they will. But then again, maybe they do.

Our day began today as it did yesterday, with a simple breakfast, then piling into the van for the 45 +/- drive to the town of Daule, where we have been working this week. While yesterday we were working next door to one another, today turned out differently. We arrived at a build site, where one of the men we work with, Gato, waved “his team” over. We piled out of the van, as the other team (Ivan’s team) headed somewhere else. We’d enjoyed being together yesterday, and separation today was a disappointment.
Team Ivan built in an incredibly tight spot, but as the family they were building for—really only a couple, Guillermo (80) and Maria Teresa (78) are old enough, their build was only about three feet off the ground. The site was so tight, sandwiched between walls, and so gravelly and rocky, however, the augers were unusable. But this team prevailed for this couple who survive—if you can call it that, with no income, and only one meal a day, either provided by or made and delivered by their daughter who lives nearby. No job, Guillermo is unable to work (at 80, one would think SHOULD he?!), survive is the best they can do.
Team Gato had a seemingly nicer build site, next to a pond and marsh, but the site was terribly rock-filled, making sinking the nine posts that must go into the ground to support every home very difficult. Matters were made worse, when Gato turned funny to grab a piece of lumber, and blew out his back. The team was sidelined for the better part of an hour until he was able to operate again, and it took some time before he was moving with any ease. Clemente (75) and Anna (38, believe it or not!), similar to the other couple, have no work, but they have a $50 government stipend they receive every month, and have a sister-in-law nearby who looks in on them.Guillermo and Maria family
The team had to leave the site unfinished (but with Gato and Ivan and two Hogar de Cristo interns there) putting finishing touches on the stairs, as the delay was allowing dusk to move in, and we have been warned by Anna that there was a dengue fever risk from mosquitos in the pond. We parted, with stern words to Gato to rest tomorrow so he can join us again on Monday.
Chuck with Anna & Clemente  family
We wrapped the night up with a trip to Sports Planet, a restaurant we found about four years ago that we frequent every year. But even that experience, as similar as it is to one we would have in the States, is in sharp contrast to the experiences we have had building the last two days. We have been hungry, but we get more than one meal a day, and often we leave food on our plates, when others wish for another spoonful (or more). We have worked to the point of exhaustion, but we rest behind solid, secure walls, in the comfort of air conditioning. We shower daily, while those we build for may have a sponge bath now and then.
We debriefed last night, and talked some about the call of Abraham (Genesis 12.1-9), and were reminded that we are blessed—not by God so we can feel secure and comfortable, but we are blessed to be a blessing. We hope to be able to do that for the families we build for this week.
Tomorrow will be a day off to let our bodies recover to be ready for two more days of building. We’ll play tourist, and take it easy, but only so others can be further blessed.

There is an African proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child” (sorry, but Hillary Clinton did not coin it, nor her ghostwriter; they merely capitalized on it.) Today, the men on our mission trip proved that it takes a team to build a community.
We returned today to the exact same build site where we were yesterday. Team Gato (Steve Ike, Ed Easterlin, Will Thomason, Doug Grady and Fitz Wickham—oh, yeah, and me) built for a small family, Katarina and Hamilton, and their three children (6, 3, and 2.) Katarina is actually the older daughter of Vincento, for whom we built yesterday. Here is a picture of the structure where they have been living.Katarina's home

Hamilton works as a furniture refinisher, but only when he can find work, which is not that often. Katarina told us that she does not know how much money he makes, or what they have, she merely asks him for money to buy food. When they have no money, they eat one of the chickens they own. Let’s hope the chickens keep replicating—but even more, that their income stream increases. Their home is literally right behind Vincento’s home, and we saw him a good bit today as we built.
Team Ivan (Chris Southerland, Bill Schaeffer, Jamie Bardin, Scott MacKenzie, Eric Edee, and Tim Adams) built for Norma Moran, a 70-year old woman, her son Danny (whom we met yesterday, and who is missing his left arm), and Danny’s daughter (I think) Iliana, a pretty 13-year old girl. This home is right next to Hamilton and Katarina’s home, so the teams worked next to one another all day, teasing and goading one another as the day went on. Norma told us that the only income they have comes from Danny’s sporadic work as a “recycler;” in Ecuador this means that he prowls the streets and collects trash that can be recycled, taking it to a recycling center, and on a good day he makes about $2.00 a day. And there are not many good days.
One of the humbling realities comes at the end of the builds, when we have finished, and we “present” the homes to the families. We give them a small replica of the stained glass Ascension Window at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, and remind them that the home is a gift from God, not from us. We thank them for the privilege of serving in the name of Jesus, and along with the home, give them a food basket that provides them with many, many meals. It is fascinating to watch these families, whose faces express not only the joy of having a home, but the humble acceptance of the home and a chance for a better life. Many times, the men (when they are a part of the family—often we build for single moms) cry, a remarkable reality in this culture.

Presentation to Norma and Danny

Presentation to Katarina and Hamilton
Then the toys and gift come out for the children, and joy starts all over again! Tonight we will all sleep well, the guys who missed out on building yesterday got their chance today—we’re all tired, but humbled, and grateful for the chance to serve these people, in Jesus’ name.
And we’ll be back at it tomorrow!
Here is the “village we built today: what you can’t see is Vincento’s home.
The village we built

Wednesday evening, as Boli Alfaro, Chris Southerland (and our driver Samuel) were eating dinner, I received a text that let me know that the team of men–ten guys–headed to Ecuador to join us for our build trip–were delayed in Miami. Long story short, after several delays, they were told to disembark the aircraft, and that they would be spending the night in Miami. There was a mechanical problem with the aircraft (which was never explained), and their departure was moved from 6:55, to 7:30. To 8:00. Then 8:20, then 8:00 Thursday morning.

Thanks to modern communication, we were talking with them, texting, and tracking updates on an app. So the question became what to do, given the expectation that the earliest they would arrive and be ready to head out to work was 12:30/1:00.

Chris and I decided to head out as early as possible, meet our maestros (master carpenters) Ivan and Gatos, whom we have worked with for seven years, and see what we could get done. We left Schoenstaat around 8:00 AM, about the time the team left Miami. Delivered to the build site in Daule, a city some distance from Guayaquil, we met Gato and Ivan, and started work around 9:15. Here is the “before” picture:

Before

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We built for Vincento, an older gentlemen who was with us much of the day. He is 75, and has three children–11, 13, and 15, and his wife has left him, because she was younger and she did not like being with an old man. He works when he can, and makes do with that and government handouts.

Geez. Imagine being 75, and having three (almost) teenagers to raise on your own. The good news is that he has an older daughter who lives next to him, who we will build for tomorrow. She can help him. Hopefully more about that situation tomorrow.  Hut Vincent is a good man, and a faithful Christian, very humble and appreciative of what we have done for him. Here is the “after” picture, Chris and Chuck with Vincent, holding the replica of the stained glass Ascension Window from Peachtree Presbyterian Church, which we give each homeowner. Happy Vincento

It was a hot day, with the sun blazing intermittently, and Chris and I, along with Ivan and Gato, worked nonstop-without a break. Guzzling water and Gatorade (we call it GATO-rade), we finished the home between 2:00 and 2:30. In the meantime, the team had landed, processed through Passport and Customs, dropped bags at Schoenstaat and grabbed a quick lunch there, before heading out to Daule-just in time to find us enjoying an almost-cool Pilsner, relaxing after a long hard day.

But a good day. It was not what we planned, as we’d expected to have the entire team to help with the build, but as Steinbeck said, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” Lord willing, we’ll be back on track tomorrow, building two homes.

Boots on the Ground

June 4, 2014

Today is Wednesday, June 4; as I type, there are eleven men headed south to Guayaquil, Ecuador, who by the time Wednesday turns into Thursday, will all be settled in their beds in Guayaquil, anticipating the first day of our building with Hogar de Cristo this year, This is the seventh year that IRONMEN will partner with this ministry, building simple bamboo homes for some of the poorest of the poor in this country, maybe even this world.

I arrived here last night with Boli Aviles-Alfaro, a former native of this town, whose great-grandfather was once the President of this grand country. Boli and I have been meeting todayImage to make sure all the kinks are worked out for our endeavors, and were comforted to learn from our friend Patty that our two trusted “maestros” Ivan and Gatos will be able to work with us again this year. We will build one home tomorrow, then sometime before Friday’s breakfast, we’ll be divided into two teams and build two homes on Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday (before catching a red-eye back home Tuesday night.)

We have eyeballed the gas powered augers we will use on each build, assessed the tools we needed, bought tools, copious amounts of water and Gatorade (pronounced GATO-rade for those who work with Gato!) Now it’s time for the men to arrive so we can get to work.

Boli and I did get a chance to have a traditional breakfast this morning at Senora Tere, a long-time Guayaquil eatery, started by and still run by an old family friend of Boli’s. We did not see her today, but did get a visit with Boli’s brother Chom, who lives here and is a great supporter of our work.

Image

Keep us in your prayers–the work will be hard, the weather hot (we’re 2 degrees south of the Equator), but the families deserving and grateful for our contributions. Boli has been fighting a wicked case of sciatica, but by the grace of God it is getting better every day, and he is here, “large and in charge!”

I hope to post updates each evening after our work is done, adding photos of the families we build for. Stay tuned!

Rethinking Greatness

May 14, 2014

“The greatness of a man is seen in the way he treats people he does not need.”

 

I was walking down the hallway of the church with John Croyle, who has to be one of the greatest men I have had the privilege to meet and be in the presence of. John played defensive end at Alabama under the legendary coach Bear Bryant, was an All-American, but after a summer of working at a camp for youths in Mississippi, discovered what he was convinced was his purpose in life—helping the children that no one else wants.

Over the last 40+ years, John and his wife Tee, and now their children (you may recall their son Brody who has his own pretty good football career at Bama and then in the pros) have become the guardians of thousands of children. First at Big Oak Ranch for boys, and now with a second one for girls, and their own Christian school, they have literally shaped the lives of these children.

John had spoken at our annual IRONMEN Big Breakfast, where he challenged the men there to be men, and to raise their sons and daughters to be responsible and contributing people. It was a challenge that we all (especially the teenagers in attendance) needed to hear in this age of entitlement.

As I listened to John speak that morning, and reflected on the dinner I’d had with him and a couple of other guys the night before, I found myself thinking that if I have one tenth the impact over the course of my life that I believe John has had, I can die thinking that I have lived a very effective life.

The breakfast was over, John had signed books (he has several out, and all are well worth reading), and I was navigating him through the labyrinthine hallways of our church to find his car.

As we were walking along, one of our newer sextons, an immigrant from Haiti was walking towards us, and I simply said, “Morning, Junior.” He responded (that is his name, for the record), and John and I continued. That’s when John looked at me and said, “The greatness of a man is seen in the way he treats people he does not need.”

I was speechless. I felt that I’d just been paid a compliment (I really believe that is what John was doing), but to receive praise from someone as great as this man made me squirm.

I reflected on this some more, and realized that John was simply affirming what my general modus operandi is. I learned a long time ago that simply acknowledging someone else is a gift to that person, and one never knows how far that impact may go. Now, it’s not always easy, especially for a card carrying introvert like me (trust me; I function outside my comfort zone about 80% of the time), but I’ve learned that simply making eye contact and a short “Mornin’” can lift the day of someone who is feeling down and unloved.

So later today, and/or tomorrow, look someone you don’t know in the eye, and greet them. Practice that until it becomes second nature. You’ll learn that the people you don’t need, need you. And you will be a gracious person of greatness. You may get to where you are going thirty seconds later—but ultimately, when you get to where you are going in the eternal sense, you will hear that longed for “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master!”