I know, I’m not a turtle. But many of you know that, if a spirit animal was really a thing, for me it would be a toss up between sloth and a turtle. I’m not particularly quick about stuff… generally speaking.
This picture is really more about how I feel at this point in my life. Several days ago I was able to participate in the graduation exercises of Dallas Theological Seminary. In a couple of months, when a bit more paper work is done and a few more hoops have been jumped through, I will hang my diploma in my study next to this picture.
This picture is in itself a testimony of how I find myself passing such a milestone. It was taken by my dear brother after hearing me speak of the old observation of the turtle on a fence post. It’s a simple observation really.
If you see a turtle on a fence post, there is one thing you can know most surely: he did not get there by himself.
That’s my story. I find myself in a place in my life to which I could never have arrived on my own strength or ability or effort. My amazing wife and this crazy kids of mine (born and otherwise) have endured and supported and allowed me to invest the time and energy needed. Our pals (a.k.a. the Coffee Club) have endured so many groaning sessions and crying spells.
So many of my brothers at arms—my pastor brothers who encouraged and supported and prayed for me along the way—helped me through more than they know. My family—brothers and sisters and parents–did the same.
There were several professors that invested more than just a transmission of information by helping me, encouraging me, and challenging me to genuinely, “Teach truth. Love well.” My mentor for this final year has invested so many hours in listening, encouraging, praying, and teaching.
And then there is the family of faith that motivated this degree in the first place. My CalvaryDuncan family has patiently allowed, endured, and encouraged this process. Their prayers and patience have been so crucial to this journey, but the truth is that I began this journey out of a longing to be the kind of pastor that I believe they deserve.
Along this mountain-climb, several folks have come along at crucial moments and made enormous investments in my life and ministry. Some of those have been in financial ways (including the entirety of my last two semesters’ tuition), some with a particular conversation or prayer, and some with a kindness or gift or gesture. All of these moments and helps have helped me carry on.
All of these folks have figuratively lent a hand to lift a middle-aged turtle to a place that he could never have managed to reach on his own. So I guess the question is obvious: why?
I can only believe that all of these amazing people were a part of a extraordinarily beautiful example of what Paul taught us so plainly:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all time, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
They were and are, each and every one, vehicles of the amazing grace of God through which He has provided for me everything I need to follow His plan for my life and ministry.
As I pause here atop this utterly unlikely fence post, I can only say to them all, “Thanks for the lift!”
There were a few hours on the road. There were a few hours in waiting rooms. There were a couple of meals shared with family. There were painful phone calls and some heavy wrestling with reality.
We had breakfast with son #3 and our soon-to-be daughter-in-law to celebrate her birthday this weekend. It was an early but sweet time of talking with them as they wade through what promises to be a heavy semester as they both approach the end of their college journey in the next year and a half. We’re blessed by the way they love and look after one another and we eagerly await their marriage in just a few months. That’s the plan. But nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.
My mom had a fourth neck surgery to re-do a previous one that just didn’t take. We were there to cut up with the various surgical folks before they took her in and got the usual strange looks in the waiting room as we dealt with things the way we usually do in stressful time – through random absurdities and oddball memories.
The surgery was smooth and successful… but that’s never a guarantee, is it?
We enjoyed a late lunch with my dad and my sister before we got to see mom back in her room. She did seem to come through with both her sense of humor and ability to roll her eyes well preserved—both of which are naturally put to the test when we are together.
We left mom in good hands and went on to see Tori’s grandfather in the Veteran’s Center. He volunteered to join the Navy late in World War II and received a Medal of Victory. This dear man, despite his flaws and mistakes and deep regrets, has been yet another example of God’s grace to use broken tools. Even in his frailty and waning health, he was an encouragement to me to press on—asking about my ministry, my education, my family. It would not be any surprise if that were the last time we were to see him.
As we turned back toward home, we soon received word that my most memorable and earliest childhood playmate, my cousin Molly, had passed away after a long, miserable struggle. She was 48 years old—just two months younger than me. She left a loving husband and four kids behind and big extended family as well.
Molly and I were the first of Grandma’s brood of grandkids. I was the oldest by just a bit (and, of course, always Grandma’s favorite—there’s really not anything to debate there).Our biggest feuds back in the day came when I found her perched in my spot on the right arm of Grandaddy’s chair. The audacity of this usurper knew no bounds!
There on the wooden arms of that red, rough-upholstered rocking chair, Grandaddy would read to us from the “smoke-a-pipe book” until Grandma’s “bowl-a-soup” was ready to eat. And we’d race for the stool at the corner of the dinner table. “That’s my seat, Chichael!” Molly would point out to me. (For some reason Michael came out of her mouth with a k sound as small children sometimes do.)
Last night I called and talked our Grandma, now 96 years of age, who is so heartbroken to hear of the passing of her oldest granddaughter, the one named after her. My heart hurts.
In the midst of all of these family ties, I realize something of great importance. I am so very rich to have family. And the thing that makes them so much richer is the fact that our ties are not just genetic—they’re spiritual. My cousin Molly, flawed and broken as all of us are, had placed her trust and hope and confidence in Jesus Christ who transformed the grave into a dark doorway to something far greater. Death is no longer a dead end.
I am forever grateful for family ties that go beyond this world.
While we do not know what will happen today or tomorrow, we have our family meeting place appointed. What a great family reunion awaits all of us who have simply believed.