Baseball, Bikes, and One Warning From My Mother

(Growing Up in Dallas)

I grew up in Southeast Dallas, the old Pleasant Grove area.  During those years (1960’s), most of my memories of living in our neighborhood are good.  I don’t remember my parents being concerned about crime in our neighborhood.  Things were relatively calm in that neighborhood.

In my memory, life was full.  Baseball in the summer and touch/tackle football the rest of the year. We had a field behind us that belonged to a nearby Baptist church where we played both sports.  It was the gathering place on hot summer evenings.

In the summers, when we were out of school, I would get on my bike in the morning (often with my friends Kip and his brother Dale) and stay gone most of the day.  I rode with friends to stores, to the park, to nearby streets, and to the community swimming pool.  These were different times. In fact, the one warning that I got from my mother (who would be working at a bookstore all day) was “Don’t be late for supper.”

What I Wish I Had Known When Our Children Were Born


SullyCharlotte and I have two daughters and a son-in-law.  We now have three grandchildren! Little Sully was born to Jamie and Cal just the other day.  As I drove home from Oklahoma City yesterday, I thought about what I wish I had known when our children were born.  Like others, Charlotte and I were trying to figure out what we needed to do as parents.  In spite of the way it may appear at times, no parent has this figured out.  Good parents are constantly learning.

What I wish I had known when our children were born:

The best gift two parents can give their child is for them to love each other.  If a husband and wife love, care for, and cherish one another, they have given their children a precious gift.  Children watch their parents closely.  Often parents think their kids do not overhear unkind words or see the menacing looks. Typically, children don’t miss very much.  They see the way their daddy treats their mother and the way their mother treats their daddy.  You cannot talk your way out of problems that you have created.  You can’t explain away the contempt you have for one another.

On the other hand, when children see that their mom and dad are tender toward one another and that they cherish each other, they experience a special kind of security.  When they see that their daddy adores and treasures their mother (and vice versa), they are witnessing something that can positively impact them for a long time.

Some of the very best parents I’ve known were single parents.  Some became single because of the death of their spouse. Others experienced divorce.  At almost every church we have served, there were single parents who gave their all for their children.  It is tough to be a single parent and yet so many raise their children in homes of joy and contentment.

Why This Picture Makes Me Melt

BrodyPrayerYesterday, I spoke in chapel at Harding University (Searcy, Arkansas).

My daughter, Christine, told her son that his “Poppy” was going to speak in chapel and they could watch the live streaming.  She set up her iPad and set the link to the live streaming of chapel.  She left the room.  When she returned, someone was leading prayer on the screen and four year old Brody had his head bowed and eyes closed.

I look at this picture and I melt.

Why?  I think part of the reason lies in who we are.  That picture reminds me that we are God’s children in desperate need of our Father.  We may act as if we are self-sufficient.  We may speak with confidence.  We may even believe we are smarter and brighter than others.  We can become quite cocky and self-assured.

Yet, the truth is that are children in desperate need of our Father.

Maybe this picture moves me because this four year old, with his head bowed and eyes closed, reminds me of how vulnerable and fragile we all are.

Maybe the best we can do today is to simply say, “Our Father who art in Heaven. . . .”



“Poppy, Can We do Something Fun?”

Brody:RalphI am on the campus of Harding University (Searcy, Arkansas) this week.  This is their annual Lectureship. Christians from across the country have gathered. There are a variety of classes, keynote presentations, etc. I spoke yesterday and tomorrow will gather with others at the Harding School of Theology luncheon.

Monday morning, Christine (our oldest daughter)and her two sons, Brody (four years old) and Lincoln (four months old) were walking across the campus.  At one point, Brody said to me “Poppy, can we do something fun?”

Just as he said this, four students walked by. They appeared to be on their way to the library. They smiled when they heard his words. I said to them, “That does sound like a good idea doesn’t it?” They were still smiling but said nothing. However I sensed they were thinking, “I too would love to something fun right now!”

Do You Have Time to Be Present?

BrodyTractor2Time is so strange.

How can you graduate from high school one year and then what seems like just a few years later be holding a grandchild?  Why do some days seem to last forever (especially when you are sick or a toddler is crying) and then entire years seem to breeze by?

The other day our grandson Brody was at our house.  He and I rode our riding lawnmower (without the blade) around and around our yard most every day.  He sat in my lap and “drove.”  Guess what?  I was in no hurry.

My phone was in the house.  My iPad was turned off.  My computer was in my briefcase.

The last thing I want Brody to remember is that I starred at a screen instead of being fully present with him.

Being fully present meant that I was with him and not thinking about a post, a tweet, a call or anyone else.

Being fully present meant that I wanted to be with him completely.  Yes, even at two and a half years old.

Being fully present meant that I wanted to live an unhurried life with him.

He is home now.  I look forward to seeing him again.  In the meantime, I want to remember that life is not about living in regret at what might have been.  Nor is life about constantly saying “If only.”

Life is about being fully present in the one life that I am living — to the honor of God.



What are your greatest challenges to being fully present with others?


Ministry Inside.99

mask_photography4But what will people think?

Years ago, Charlotte and I were walking across a parking lot of a large church building in Kansas City.  We had an appointment with a marriage therapist.  This was our first visit with him.

I was nervous.

I was nervous that someone who I knew might see me.   I was nervous they would find out that we were going to a counselor to talk about our marriage.

The truth is that I was more concerned about how we looked, than the reality of our our lives.

No, we were not in a crisis.  We were not dealing with any sort of trauma or disaster within our marriage.  But, we were dealing with an important issue.

We were stuck.

We knew we needed to make some real adjustments but we were unsure what to do.

Yet, I was not as concerned at that moment about addressing those realities as I was the appearance.  I was more concerned about the possibility of another’s perception than the reality of our relationship.

This is not a good place to be.  In fact, it is embarrassing to think about this now.  Yet, sometimes church leaders can find themselves worrying more about a possible perception instead of addressing the reality of their lives.

Unfortunately, this can get even worse.  Church leaders can attempt to control and shut down what their family members are actually experiencing.

Church leaders can communicate to their families that they need to act like everything is ok, even when it isn’t. There are some real consequences to this behavior. 

When the Encourager is Missing

At some point, by the grace of God, many of us have the opportunity to be influenced by an encourager. Very often, encouragers challenge us to imagine a future. They present possibilities. They inspire confidence.

I once heard the following story about my grandfather and have since thought about it many times.


My grandfather, John Martin, grew up in Oklahoma. His father had the reputation of being a very hard man. Meanwhile, his mother was a godly woman who was a part of a nearby church. They had two sons.

His mother had a reputation throughout the community for helping people when they were sick. She would often stay with a sick family and care for them until they got well. Her husband, however, could be cruel. He would often speak of his son Leonard, complimenting him for all that he could do to help around the farm. Yet, he rarely had a kind word to say regarding his other son, John (my grandfather).

John graduated first in his high school class. Then, with the encouragement of his mother, he enrolled at the University of Oklahoma. He wanted to become a medical doctor. He earned 110 hours of credit but then his senior year in school, his mother died. His father told the townspeople: “John doesn’t have enough sense to make a doctor.” His father cut off the tuition forcing his son to quit his studies.

John had not only lost his encourager but his tuition as well.

John went back home and began working on the farm. He later drove a truck. Then, during World War II, John worked on an assembly line in a munitions plant in Oklahoma City. He loved math and would often work trigonometry and calculus problems on his break, just for the challenge. One day, while on the assembly line, he was calculating some mathematical problems, when a friend asked, ”John, why aren’t you up there (pointing to the manager’s office)?”  

He married a young schoolteacher by the name of Iris and they moved to Searcy, Arkansas, where he worked at the Harding Dry Cleaners (on the campus of Harding University) until retirement. At the laundry, he once again worked math problems during his lunch break. He worked at this laundry until he retired.

He had dreamed of becoming a medical doctor. However, he had long ago lost his encourager.

Many years later, when my grandfather was in his 90s and living in a nursing home, he reflected on this story. My dad asked him about his years at the university, the death of his mother, and his dream of becoming a doctor.

He finally said, “I know I could have done it. I know I could have.”

This chapter in my grandfather’s life is a significant part of my own story. Because of this story, I have learned to value the contribution that certain encouragers have made in my life. I have realized that were it not for some significant encouragers, I could easily have given up and taken the path of least resistance.


Is there a family story that has been significant in shaping your life? Do you think about this often?

When Baby and “Poppie” Came Without Clothes

I got back from Nashville this morning at 2:00 AM.

Charlotte and I were there for the birth of our first grandchild.

Brody was born on Thursday at 5:03 PM.

Of course he was born without clothes.

A nurse wrapped Brody in a swaddling blanket. For several days in the hospital, he was wrapped in an assortment of these baby blankets.

Now of course, the grandparents are supposed to have clothes. Only this grandparent didn’t.

Yep, I forgot to take my clothes to Tennessee.

Now that’s embarrassing to admit.

I’m not sure what happened. Early Wednesday morning, Charlotte and I were getting ready to leave our home in Central Texas and travel to Nashville. Charlotte had her suitcase packed. She also had clothes to hang up in our car. I packed another suitcase. I also brought pants and shirts to hang up in our car. There were enough clothes to wear for four days.

I put everything in the car. Well, almost everything.

That night we got to Nashville. We were unloading our car and bringing our clothes into the house. As I hung Charlotte’s clothes in the guest bedroom closet, I had a sick feeling.

I forgot my clothes.

No shirts.

No pants.

I only had shoes, underclothes and what I arrived wearing, a shirt and a pair of shorts.

I could not believe this.

So the next day, I bought a pair of pants and for four days borrowed Phillip’s (my son-in-law) shirts.

Somehow, in the middle of this wonderful birth, I forgot about the inconvenience of not bringing my own clothes. I was totally absorbed in the birth of this little boy and condition of my daughter. Sometime soon, I want to reflect on what it means for me to be a grandfather (thanks Monica T. for suggesting this in a comment on Facebook). I have so much to learn though I am excited about the opportunity.

(By the way “Poppie” is the name at this point at least until this child changes it.)


What did your grandparents do right? What would you like to duplicate when you have grandchildren?



What Will This Child Call You?

Our first grandchild (a boy) is due on September 1.noname.jpg

This past weekend, Christine and Phillip were here for their first baby shower. Jamie was here as well and so we all had a very enjoyable weekend.

They asked me a question, however, that is very difficult. In fact, I don’t have an answer yet.

“What do you want this child to call you?”

“Jim?” (Ok, I wasn’t serious.).

I still have no idea.

What are the options? Grandpa, granddad, grandfather, pop, papa, pappy, big papa, big daddy, pop-pop, paw-paw, pa, pa-paw and poppy. Are there more?

What did you call your grandfather?