Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Black Creek

As we all grew into our mid-teens, we experienced new and exciting things. Every day was a new adventure for us, especially in the summer. During the carefree days of summer, we created some of the greatest memories of all times. This is one of those memories.

It was extremely hot that year, hotter than it had ever been before. That summer was one of the hottest on record. Because the lake was shallow, it felt like a warm tub. We couldn't escape the heat that summer, so we headed down to Bella Coola. 

Bella Coola was the name of the road that took us to the back side of the lake where there were creeks that flowed into the lake. The creeks never seemed to move; the water just stood still.

The water was so dark, and the unknowns were real. It's funny looking back now; the snakes and alligators never seemed to bother us. We just tried to make sure they knew we were there. 

Black Creek was our destination. The water was cool, black, and deep. There was just enough room to pull our cars over in the tall grass before arriving at the bridge. The silver guardrail on the bridge was flattened by people who had been there before us, and their names were carved into the thick, painted surface. Ours were too by then. We had earned our right to put our names on that rail. Anyone who would swim there deserved the honor. 

At any time, there were two or twenty of us swimming at that hole. One thing was for sure; if we were first on the scene, we always picked up a large rock and threw it in. This was to announce our arrival to the snakes and alligators. The first one in was a dare thing, "You go first, no you go, no you go." Once we saw that person make it to shore with all their limbs, we figured it was clear. 

One game we loved to play was underwater tag. The water was so dark you couldn't see anything once you went under a foot or two. To get tagged, you had to be under water; the rules were the name of the game. I would always shoot for the bottom, grabbing a log or something that was sticking up from the bottom. I would sit there in the dark water, wondering what was near me. Every now and then, something would tickle my leg or back, and I would swim to the top of the water. Then I would run up the shore to the top of the bridge, screaming, “Snake! Alligator!” We all would clear out and jump in again, laughing so hard we would almost lose our breath.

One thing about Black Creek, it brought out the best in us. Want to know why? Even though it may seem stupid to swim where you know the snakes and alligators live and where you can’t see through the murky darkness of the water, this journey represents our life.

We live with the snakes and alligators of life every day. We live in the unknown of what's next, and if you know Jesus Christ, there is never darkness. As with Black Creek, there may be dark times, but someday you will surface to the top victorious. You will surface screaming, “I made it! I made it! I made it!” You will live to tell others your story of the Black Creek you swam through. 

One more thing about Black Creek I need to mention—it's quiet and lonely in the darkness. When you're under the water about ten feet down, there is nothing but stillness. No sound, no light, and no hope of being found. So, the question to you is, “Are you in Black Creek?” 

If you are, there is always hope! Hope in Jesus Christ. Don't let Satan keep you under that deep, dark water. It will kill you, and that is what he wants to do! 

1 Timothy 1:15-19 (MSG) “Here's a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I'm proof—Public Sinner Number One—of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off—evidence of his endless patience—to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever.”

Fight to swim to the top. Fight to get up that hill. Fight to get back on that bridge and jump for joy when you reach the top. Thank God for His mercy, and by His grace, we will make it. By His mercy, we will stand and prepare for another amazing adventure.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Not My Plan

Psalm 31: 8, 24 (NIV)

8 You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.

24 Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.

Most of my fondest memories took place in the summer months. The summers of my teen years were full of fun and what I call life lessons. I remember all my summers being extremely hot summers. Maybe it’s because I lived near the lake and could go and cool off. It seemed like every summer was different, and to this day, they continue to be that way. No summer has ever been the same and has always had one or two of those life lessons tucked away, waiting for me. 

In my later teen years, we all wanted to be our own people; we were developing into what our environments had programed us to be. We were products of our surroundings. If you think about it, we all are. We do and think like those that are around us. There were few exceptions to this rule. 

At our high school, we were known as the boy’s home boys. You could spot one of us a mile away. We tried hard to blend in
, and some of us were successful in doing this. One of my best friends had helped me to make this transition from the smoking area group to the A-B group. Although I would go between groups, Amy had taken an interest in me. She said it was my curls. We never dated or fell in love; we were the best of friends and still are to this day. Amy had some friends who were really pretty. Paula was one of them. Paula had long blonde hair, the prettiest eyes I had ever seen, and was chiseled out of a mold that would melt any teenager’s heart.

I was in love. Paula and I would meet up at school and sit under this big oak tree at lunch, talking about everything in life. I was so nervous to be around her; she was so beautiful. Amy would join us from time to time; I think she was making sure I was treating her friend just right. Amy would often coach me on the things women want to hear—what to say, what not to say. 

Amy had arranged for us to meet on Friday and Saturday nights at her house. Amy’s parents were so nice. They were the first and only parents I knew who would allow a boy’s home boy into their house, let alone around their daughter. We would go over and meet up, sitting in the formal area of the house. First, just talking and then making out. Not the kind of making out of today. This was what I would call monitored making out. Amy’s parents weren’t stupid; they kept a close eye on all of us. They were right on the other side of the wall. If I remember correctly, there were no doors
to this formal living room. They had beautiful furniture; Paula and I would take one seat and Amy and her date would take the other. I guess you could call it a double date at the house. 

Amy’s mom was beautiful also; she had a heart that just breathed love. Her eyes could tell you anything. Her dad was always nice and stern in his commands to Amy. This was a model that I would use
later in life. 

I dat
ed one of the most beautiful girls in school. This gave me something that I had never had before—confidence. A confidence that would soon teach me a lesson about life and love. Paula and I were getting along great, loving every minute of our teenage years. Then it happened. This tall, long-legged blonde girl walked by us one day. I had seen this girl before but never really noticed her until now. Her name was Gina. Was it the confidence I had from dating Paula that made me notice her? Was it the fact that she was at the top of the A group, along with her sister? Or was it the fact that I had Paula and couldn’t have Gina? 

I must admit, I was happy in my relationship with Paula and
did not need to date another girl or even look at another girl. Paula was a beauty queen. Gina didn’t even know my name, and maybe that was the problem. I got up the nerve to talk to Gina. She was very shy and quiet. She was not a talker and didn’t seem to be interested in me, so I backed off and continued my relationship with Paula. But there was a problem. A problem that I had not foreseen. 

Amy found out that I
wanted to talk with Gina. I will never forget standing under the walkway at the entrance to the school. Amy told me it wasn’t right to talk to Gina and say I was in love with Paula. After all, Paula was one of Amy’s best friends but so was I. Was she going to turn me in? Would she tell Paula? All I had done was try to talk to the girl, but deep in my heart, I knew if Gina would have said yes, I would have ended the relationship with Paula. I think this is what Amy knew, too. She knew me better than anyone. 

en Paula asked Amy if she should break up with me. Amy, without hesitation, told her to end our relationship. There were no hard feelings at all; we remained friends throughout high school, and I lost contact with her after we all graduated. 

Amy and I
remained best friends. When we get together, it’s always fun bringing up these stories that truly had an impact on our lives. Looking back, you can see God working. A few years later, I would meet the woman of my dreams, Lisa, and I have been married for twenty-three years now. We have raised two wonderful daughters and have been blessed with more than enough. God used all these little things in life to make the big things seem easier. It’s His plan after all.

I believe you can pick out many life lessons in this story. When we have
what we want, we always want more. We always seem to feed on wanting some things that just aren’t meant for us. 

God has a plan for your life. Sure, this was high school and everyone makes mistakes in high school. Some of my best friends made the most life-changing decisions in high school. Some decided to have sex and have babies; some decided to kill people; and some even decided to take their own life. 

This story, as with
all the others, doesn’t seem to end. It’s still ongoing. So, what can I use here to apply to my life? I suppose you can say two things. One, God is in complete control of your life, no matter what you think or where you are at. His plan for you has been set out before the beginning of time. We make poor decisions and do stupid things, but the God who holds the universe on its axis and ushers in billions of stars every night has a plan, and you really can’t mess it up.

The second thing is that every experience in life is placed in your path for a purpose. It may not be a mountain, and it may not be a valley, but these experiences mold us into the people we become. 

In a final word, there is nothing wrong with wanting more, wanting something different
, or wanting something new. But be content with what you have and take nothing that has ever happened to you for granted; there is a reason and a purpose behind everything. God will use it for good, no matter how bad it was or how bad it is.


Monday, June 4, 2007

Hidden Sins

Isaiah 60:22 (MSG) says, "I am God. At the right time I'll make it happen." 

It was a hot summer night at Lake Waccamaw, and there wasn’t much going on, as usual. We could have walked down to Dupree Landing or gone fishing, but this night we did something that would take our summer away and change us all forever.

There were about ten of us, all in our early teens. We weren’t looking for trouble, just some fun on a hot summer’s night. There were several suggestions thrown out, but none seem to satisfy our inner craving to have fun. So, we took the last request and decided to go with that. We decided we were going to egg the first car that came around the corner on Lake Shore Drive. We first needed the key ingredient, and that was eggs. So, we raided the pantry at the cottage, got several dozen, and headed for the lake. 

We had our plan mapped out. We were going to hit the car hard and dive into the lake. Then we planned to split up and meet back at the cottage later for the laugh. That poor car came around the corner on Lake Shore Drive, and it sounded like hail was hitting it. We tore that thing up, laughing and running at the same time.

We all hit the lake wide open, and the car didn’t stop. You could hear the engine’s four barrel kick in; they were out of there and so were we. As we all went our separate ways, Rick and I found ourselves at an old boathouse. We climbed out of the water and made our way back to the cottage. Then, little by little, the rest of the crew showed up.

We were laughing our heads off, carrying on like only wild teenagers could do. We all retired for the evening and had a peaceful night’s sleep. We knew we had done something big and gotten away with it. 

The next evening, Jim called a meeting with all the guys in the cottage; there were about fifteen of us. He told us that a car had been egged at the lake the night before and wanted to know if any of us were involved with that terrible act. Of course, we all said "NO." He gave us several chances to confess, but we all held our ground. Then something crazy happened. He called each of us by name who had been involved with the terrible act. We asked who would have done such a terrible thing. As he lined us all up in front of the other guys, we were still denying what we had done. This didn’t seem to sway Jim at all. He had already decided our punishment. He said, "Meet me at the tool shed tomorrow night and every night after that until I say different.” 

We all hung our head low and went to bed that night. Knowing that we had to pay the price for that few minutes of fun. We all were in disbelief that we got caught, wondering how he knew. Did someone tell? If so, that would have been grounds for out-casting. You never told on anyone! 

The next evening, we all met at the tool shed and lined up. He was handing out sling blades and chop axes. He pointed toward the railroad tracks and said, "Start over there and work your way to the east." The tracks went all the way to Wilmington. Well, that summer we chopped grass from six o’clock until dark and then ran a mile. Jim was with us the whole way, telling us we had way too much energy. I remember how hot it was and how thirsty we would get. We could see all the other guys playing on the field, going to the gym, or just sitting around. We were in a place that didn’t have bars or a fence but was unescapable. 

There was a great deal of talk that summer of running away, but no one ever did. Our hands were full of blisters, our backs were hurting, and we complained to deaf ears. There was an excellent life lesson being taught to all of us and the ones to come behind us. I think this story has made it to the book of legends. I can see the boys talking now. "Let’s egg a car," and then silence comes around the circle of guys and one speaks up, "You remember the story of those guys back in the day?” There are many of these stories in the book of legends. I had heard most of them from my years at the home. 

I heard that one of the guys who was with us that night became rich and had those train tracks removed from Lake Waccamaw to Wilmington. I visit the lake from time to time, driving right past the place where we worked so hard to learn a lesson that none of us would ever forget. I can still see us out there. While we worked hard for our mistake, we walked away that summer with a different view of life. If you do something that you shouldn’t be doing, there will be a price to pay. It’s the law of the land; it’s God’s law. You reap what you sow, or better put, there are always consequences to your sins. 

In the act of doing a bad thing, it was fun, but just for the moment. Later we paid the price! How did Jim know? Only he knows, and to this day, he has not revealed to us who told. 

Well, as you can guess, we never even thought about egging another car. We learned a great deal about respecting those who knew more than we did. We learned that if we did something wrong, discipline was sure to follow, striping us of our pride and bad attitudes. We learned that there are some things in life we will never know. No matter what you are doing, someone knows about it. This is a great picture of God. He is all knowing.

I think the most important message in this story is when we are in sin, we either deny it or confess it. To deny it means we are too prideful to omit we are wrong. To confess it means we know we are wrong and are willing to correct it. Pride will either take control of your life or you can control it; we all have it to some degree. When it is put into check, God can do more than you could ever imagine. That is a great picture of Jesus on the cross, who died for our sins! 

I have thought for days about how I could end this story. There is no right way to end it because it never ended. Most of us involved that night are still alive today and are still living out this story. There were many stories after this one. We just got smarter and wiser, or so we thought!


Still Running

Still Running I recently turn sixty-two. There is something about getting older that makes you think about your life. Some days, I wake up...