Arkansas Pines and Family Roots

We drove across the southeastern part of Arkansas last week on Highway 278. Our guardians were the pine trees on both sides of the road, standing tall and majestic.

My uncle died and my mom and I were traveling to Monticello, Arkansas for the funeral. I love this part of Arkansas. It is a beautiful place and holds good memories of my childhood. Some of these memories were first formed when our family would take the twice yearly trips from Dallas to Monticello. One trip was at Christmas and the other was during the summer. This area around Monticello, Arkansas is where my grandparents lived as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins.

My grandparents died a number of years ago. However, several aunts and numerous cousins remain in the area. For a number of years, I did very little to invest in or maintain the relationships. This was my loss. My six cousins are great people and I like their families as well. On this trip, I came away particularly impressed with my cousins’ children and grandchildren.

Traveling to this part of Arkansas and having conversations with my aunts, cousins, and their families was a reminder to me of how important these people are to my story. Now that I have long moved out of those years, I have grown to really appreciate such an important part of my past.
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Yes, being in Monticello has a way of stirring up old memories. I remember, as a little boy, following my grandpa through the snowy woods around Christmas time (he had worked in the logging industry for many years). He showed me the tracks of a deer. Was I ever impressed!

I remember well going inside that white frame house of my grandparents and hearing that screen door slam behind me. I can still smell purple hull peas on the stove. In the oven was turkey and dressing. Those smells and sights are alive in my memory.

Maybe the memories that mean the most are those which in some way form and shape your own story. I suspect that is why I remember and treasure some of the things I do.

Question:

Do you relate to this? Do you ever go “home” or to a significant place in your childhood and feel as if a part of you has reconnected?

    

College, Confusion, and God’s Faithfulness

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“We do our best when we don’t know what we are doing.” — Bono

Bono spoke these words to Bill Hybels, in an interview taped for Leadership Summit 2009, about working toward making a dent in global poverty and the global AIDS problem.

Can you relate to these words?

I know I can.

When I was in college, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I began as a social work/sociology major. Why? I liked one particular teacher as a freshman at Eastfield College. Now in those days, I did not ask anyone for any input or advice. Furthermore, I had no direction in terms of work or career. I declared a major but really had no idea what kind of work that might entail. Later, after I transferred to the University of North Texas, I majored in business and earned my degree there.

The Eastfield campus was an interesting place. There were lots of Vietnam veterans coming back from the war. (At the same time, with a low draft number, I kept waiting to be called.) There were numerous political discussions in various classes. “Underground” newspapers were sold on campus or passed out in the campus center. Intense conversations took place in the campus center. There was much cynicism toward institutions and much interest in most anything that seemed to be an alternative. Braless girls and guys in old jeans and interesting t-shirts walked throughout campus. In the parking lot were many vehicles with peace symbols and political stickers on the back windows. Meanwhile, in the middle of all of this, a total stranger came up to me one day in the campus center and asked point blank: “Do you love Jesus?”

These were turbulent times in the nation. These were turbulent times in my life. I felt very confused about many, many things. I didn’t understand my feelings and didn’t understand my thinking. I had no idea what to feel, think or believe. There was a sense in which I felt very alone.

I remember bouncing all over the place in my thinking. One day I might listen to a Japanese professor talk about the merits of Buddhism. The next day, I might be volunteering to work for a presidential candidate. One day, I might be reading a book about the mistreatment of American Indians. The next day, I might be reading about some sort of radical lifestyle on the West Coast. My thinking had no center and no direction.   I do not recall in those days knowing a person with whom I could talk about things that really mattered.

I did try on one occasion to visit with a minister who had served our church for a number of years. I wanted to talk with this man about my life. Why him? I have no idea. It took some time to get up the nerve to go see him. One day, I drove to the church building, went around the block, and returned home. Finally, a few days later, I walked into his office. I told him that I had not been living right and felt very guilty. He told me that I was a “good boy” and he knew that I had not done anything that could be that wrong. That was frustrating. I remember thinking, “I get up the nerve to finally talk with someone and he won’t take me seriously.”

Now if you had asked me what I believed, I would have given you some sort of answer. I might have told you that I believed in God, Jesus, the Bible. Or, I might have told you that I believed in my church. In those days, I might have even communicated in some way that I thought my group was the only right group. Yet, I think in my heart I knew something was missing in all of this. I knew there were gaps. I knew there was a gap between God and my life during the week. I could not figure out how God connected with what I was experiencing at school. I heard the preachers say that the gospel was “good news.” I could not figure out why. There wasn’t anything that seemed like good news to me.

Yet, through all of this, God was at work. I am convinced that God was at work shaping and molding me. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. Yet, my confusion did not stop God. If I were to get a “do-over” with this part of my life, I hope I would make some better decisions. I hope I would choose to develop better habits. Yet, through it all, God continued to work. He is faithful.

Question

Can you look back at a chapter of your life that may have been dark or confusing at the time and see now that God was at work? What is one thing you have learned about God because of these experiences?