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October 27, 2017

Anyone who has taken an animal into their home as a pet knows the vulnerability that goes with the territory.  Unless the little creature is a bird or a reptile of some sort, it is almost inevitable that you will one day say a final farewell to the furry little thing and lay it to rest.

A little over eight years ago, we took in a cute little terrier of some variety.  He name was Penny.  She belonged to a elderly couple in our church who lived in a small rental home in a tight little neighborhood.  Penny lived in their home, but for most of the day, she was on a twelve foot tether secured to the corner post of a chain link fence.  Her outdoor world was a 90 degree arc with a 12 foot radius, paved with the red clay of South Carolina.


Due to some unfortunate circumstances, her owners received an ultimatum to find a new home for Penny or take her to the pound. In desperation, they turned to our church congregation for someone to take her off their hands. That’s where we came in.  We live on seven acres at the end of a long driveway. It had been a few years since we had owned a dog, and we decided to step up to the call. She would run free on our property for the rest of her days. When she jumped out of the car that first day with us, she never made any attempt at running away.  She somehow knew that this was where she belonged.

She was always a cheerful little dog for us, but she was often a stinker when it came to visitors – particularly children who would reach out to touch her before she was ready.  While she rarely  nipped anyone, she would snap and bark to scare them away.  This was a problem we worried about in anticipation of grandchildren.  We knew that in an existential struggle between Penny and our grandkids, she would be the one to go.  It made us heartsick to think about that, but when the grandchildren arrived, she seemed to understand that they were just another member of the pack.  She still snapped once or twice, and stole a sugary sucker a time or two, but generally, she tolerated the grandkids pretty well.

She loved to play with us.  She had one of the kids’ old teddy bears for a play toy.  I would throw the bear across the room; she would tear after it, seize it, shake it, growl at it, chew on it, and then bring it back to me for a game of tug-of-war.  She hated baths and haircuts.  She loved tortilla chips.  She hated rain.  She loved to bark at anything that would move in the woods. She hated closed doors. She loved other small animals – particularly baby chicks.  We got a small batch of chicks one time and kept them for a while in the frame of a raised garden bed that we have.  Penny quietly climbed in with them and would sit for hours to watch and guard them.

Little Girl with Her Dog in an Autumn WoodsAs I mentioned, she ran free on our property and came in and out of the house as she pleased.  She would sit with sad eyes when we piled in the car and left, and she would cheerfully greet us when we returned.  She patrolled the property and warned us of any intruders.  More than with anything else, she was passionate about chasing squirrels.  She would notice one in the yard and stand completely still to observe it for about five seconds before tearing out after it.  She could close the gap with raw speed, but she was never able to climb the tree.  To my knowledge, she never caught one. And I’m not sure that she would have known what to do if she had.

In the end, chasing a squirrel became her undoing.  One morning just a couple of weeks ago I received a distraught call from Terrie.  I could tell from her voice that she was pretty broken up.  Just as she was driving out to run an errand, Penny was chasing a sassy little squirrel that darted under the car to cross driveway.  Penny, intent on capturing the furry little varmint, chased it right under the car, but was caught and overrun by one of the tires.  Terrie felt the bump and saw Penny in the rear-view mirror.  Her broken body trembled for a few moments and went still.

That evening, we buried her and her teddy bear in the woods that she loved to explore.  Terrie and I have often reflected on the pleasure that we took in rescuing her from that confined little corner of red dirt and giving her acres of pasture and woodland to run and enjoy.  It gives us a little comfort to know that she died with her boots on, chasing one of the little squirrels that were so fond of teasing her.  We’ve not yet been able to pull into the yard without looking for that happy little ball of fur to come running off the porch to meet us.  We will miss you, Penny.  Good girl.



The Attic Stairs

November 17, 2012

We moved into our home in 1993, just a few months before our daughter Anna was born.  At the time, I had been working on the house for over 4 years, and we were anxious to get moved in. So we sorta rushed a few things and cut a few corners – like flooring for the kitchen, a few doorknobs here or there, and trim around the pull-down attic stairway.

Over several years after we moved in, we incrementally finished things up in bits and pieces – doors on cabinets, window trim and drapery, ceiling and trim all around our porch. One glaring exception, however, was trim around the pull-down attic stairway.

Terrie never complained about it. She really didn’t need to. The trimless door in the ceiling taunted me on a regular basis. Most often I merely walk by and give it little thought, but at least once a week for the last 17 years, it has caught my attention and whispered out “Slacker!”

Earlier this year the spring-loaded power arms that lower and raise the ladder began to show some excessive wear, and one actually bent sideways and broke. For a short while I propped the door up with a two-by-four. This gave me a week or two to mend the broken arm. When I put it back into service, however, it never did pull the door up tightly. There always remained about one-inch gap between the door and the ceiling.

It is amazing what you can find for sale on-line. With just minimal searching, I found a ladder company that sold parts for pull-down attic stairs. For about $50 I got both left and right power arms.

So just this weekend while Terrie was out running errands, I replaced both power arms and adjusted the springs to fully close the door. Since I was on a roll, I decided to go ahead and finish the trim around the door and paint the whole kit & kaboodle.

Terrie arrived home and put away the groceries that she had purchased this morning. Then she went upstairs where she noticed the new trim and neatly closed attic door. She stared at it for just a few seconds before emitting a little shriek and dashing outside. I found her standing in the front yard, looking around in a bit of a daze. “Honey, what’s wrong.”

“It’s the strangest thing.” She paused with a confused look on her face. “I could have sworn that I walked into someone else’s home by mistake. The attic door in there is all trimmed out, tucked up neatly, and nicely painted. This can’t be our place, but this yard looks so familiar!”

I smiled and assured her that I had just finished repairing and trimming out the attic stairway door. She looked at me in amazement for a few moments, and then her jaw tightened and her eyes narrowed. “Who are you? Where am I? And what have you done with my husband?” she growled.

It took some time to convince her of my story.  I had to answer a whole battery of questions like “What was the name of our first cat?” and “Which of our sons has a birthmark on his side?   And which side is it on?”  I was able to name the cat and the son, and thankfully I guessed which side correctly.  Finally, she began to come around and admit that I was for real. She went back upstairs and stared at the attic door in a mixture of wonder and disbelief.

A little while later, Terrie mentioned that if I were to put a knob on our bedroom closet door, we could finally declare the house to be finished.

I dunno. I think I will leave the closet door like it is. I sort of always like having a project in the works.

Anna and the Snake

June 20, 2012

The text messages hit a couple of minutes apart in the wee early hours of Sunday morning.  Terrie and I had stayed up later than normal on Saturday night, so we were already a little short of sleep and trying frantically to catch up.


My iPhone stirred me to a semi-conscious state of confusion.  I remember a vague thought about finding my glasses and seeing what the commotion was all about, but better sense closed my eyelids and sent me drifting off again.


Anyone with an iPhone knows that you get two little alarms per message before it gives up on you.  This second one moved me from confusion to irritation.  This feeling was not unlike  what you get from a pesky fly.  All you know is you want it to go away, but you know it won’t until you wake yourself up, find it and kill it.  But then I remembered that you only get two little alarms.  Ahh… blissful rest was again within reach.


Two text messages?  I was now beyond irritation and well into curiosity.  I fumbled around for my glasses and phone and hit the little home button.  Two messages showed on the unlock screen: “i got bit by a snake” followed by “like a poisonous one so call if you’re awake.”  Curiosity was giving way to a frantic struggle to make sense of all of this.  Terrie was not amused by all the ruckus and rolled over to see what was going on.

“A snake ?!?” I said.


“It was from Anna.  She got…”

“Blunk-blunk-blunk blunk-blunk-ka-blunk-ka-blunk-ka”

Now I was interrupted by the Xylophone ringtone.  I will have to admit that this sent me back to a state of irritation, but just for a moment.  I recovered OK and quickly moved on to curiously alarmed.

“Hey Sweetie.  What’s going on?”

“They said I had to call you.  I got bit by a sidewinder.  But it was just a baby.”

“You what?”

Terrie now sensed something of significance and was awake. I was trying to concentrate on what Anna was telling me, but there was so much noise and talking in the background that I could not be sure of what I was hearing.

“I gotta go now.  They are gonna take me to a hospital. I will try to call you later.”  <click>

Try that in the middle of the night.  We had seen Anna off to Camp Ironwood just two weeks previously.  She was attending their six-week Leadership Live camp.  This program was part camp and part camp work.  She would be assigned to a work detail and participate as both camper and staff helper.

We were already worried about her.  Anna is one of those “size-zero” girls and has this propensity to neglect her own basic health, forgetting things like… you know… drinking water and staying hydrated.  And now here she was flying off to California to spend six weeks in the Mojave Desert.  She had her first kidney stone at age 14, and all we could picture was another kidney stone the size of Poughkeepsie.

And now here we were at 1:00 am. wondering if our little girl would survive a rattlesnake bite.  It’s times like that when you are keenly aware that you have no option but to trust the Lord.  So we prayed for her and tried to get some more sleep.  About an hour later, the phone rang as Anna arrived at the community hospital in Barstow, California where she received her first injection of anti-venom.  Then it rang again an hour or two later after she was transported by ambulance to Loma Linda University Medical Center near San Bernardino.

As it turns out, Loma Linda is world renown for its research into and treatment of envenomation trauma.  Anna was getting the best care available.  There was some possibility that she would lose some use of her thumb, but it looks like she will fully recover.

“So how did this happen?” you may wonder.  Glad you should ask.  As it turns out, Anna has this certain affinity for certain reptiles that pass certain criteria for basic cuteness.  All she has ever asked for Christmas is a gecko.  (So far, she has struck out on that count.)  She likes the little green and black snakes that occasionally show up around our yard.  She recently kept a little chameleon-like lizard in a terrarium in our upstairs hallway for a few weeks.

So when she and some friends were walking along somewhere around the camp on Saturday night and a cute little baby snake crossed their path, she just had to try to catch it.  No kidding.  Look at the picture of the baby sidewinder – the one in the heavily-gloved hand.  It’s got horns above its eyes and a diamond shaped head.  I was thinking, “For crying out loud, sweetheart.  God even made it look dangerous just to keep you away.”  As she made an attempt to catch the cute little baby snake, it tried to kill her by striking her thumb and injecting venom.

Her hand and arm swelled up and her thumb turned black.  After treating her with more anti-venom, they kept her in a small observation room just off the ER.  We were very grateful that she had been accompanied by one of the Ironwood healthcare staff named Amber.  She  looked after Anna during their entire stay of 36 to 40 hours there at Loma Linda.

The swelling finally ebbed, and her blood work returned to levels within acceptable limits, and they returned to Ironwood.  They gave her a day or two to recover and then sent her back to her duties in the kitchen.

So as they say… all’s well that end’s well.  Terrie, of course, would say that “they” have no idea of what they are talking about.  But Anna now has a new badge of courage and a great story to tell her new nephew some day.

Snowflakes for Christmas

November 29, 2011

Terrie and I got married just after our senior year at BJU.  She was finished, and I had one semester left to go.  We moved into a tiny little house in the Kampus Kourt trailer park back up behind The Gospel Hour ministry building off of Pleasantburg Drive.  Our friends Bill and Carol Ford lived just a short walk away.

Terrie started teaching sixth grade at Southside Christian School that fall, making about $600 a month – before taxes.  I went back to school to finish up my final semester student teaching at a Christian school down in Easley, but I was working part time at a Poole’s Catalog Showroom on Haywood Road.  To say things were financially tight would be like saying the Titanic had a minor leak.  I am blessed with a wife who can find ways to stretch a dollar a long way, and she certainly did her part in keeping us together that first year.

Christmas came along as it does every year, and we had very little with which to decorate.  All of our discretionary money was reserved for buying a few gifts for each other and family members, yet we had no tree under which to place them.  Terrie’s dad invited us to come out to his place near Fountain Inn and find a cedar tree to cut down and take home.  We scrounged a string of lights, few glass balls and a bit of garland from somewhere or another, but the tree was still missing something.

We were at an area mall in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and I noticed the large white snowflakes hanging from the ceiling.  I was thinking about how I had used to fold up paper and cut snowflakes for grade school Christmas projects.  Those pitiful snowflakes never looked as nice as the ones hanging there in the mall, and I was pondering the reason.  Then it hit me: all the ones that I had cut out as a child were four-sided while the beautiful ones I was seeing at the mall were six-sided.  Everyone knows a snowflake has six sides, and I began to wonder how difficult it would be to fold a paper six ways.

We had this little pad of paper – stationery really – that was imprinted with Louise Connell’s name.  I can no longer account for how we came into possession of Miss Connell’s pad of stationery, but it was about four inches wide by six tall with bright white crisp paper – just perfect for folding and cutting snowflakes.

It took a bit of trial and error to get the folds just right, but soon I had a knack for folding a piece of paper six ways.  Terrie had a pair of little embroidery scissors that was just perfect for making tiny little cuts necessary for delicate snowflakes.  Before long Terrie and I had created a small handful of six-sided snowflakes and hung them on our tree.

A few weeks later, we were taking the tree down, and I looked around for a book to keep them pressed flat in until next Christmas.  The 1981-1982 BJU class bulletin caught my eye, and in they went for safekeeping. Throughout the book are photographs of teachers and students that I recognize and a few that I know personally.

This is our thirtieth Christmas together, and every year I pull out that old class bulletin and flip through the pages to find our precious snowflakes.  Over the years we have added a few and lost a few, but most of the originals are still there and grace our tree every December.  Our children have never known a Christmas without them.   Each year as I carefully hang them on the boughs of our tree, I am reminded of those snuggly warm evenings with Terrie in the little house in the trailer court, snipping paper memories that would last a lifetime.

Terrie’s New Refrigerator

October 10, 2011

This post will be far more remarkable to our kids than it will be to anyone else. They know how long Mom has been waiting for a new fridge. They also know what a tightwad I am. We have this bad tendency to cheap out every time we have to make a major purchase. We walk into the appliance department, only to wind up over at the scratch and dent area. We browse the new stuff, only to turn to Craig’s list.

We also tend to use up anything we buy. If there is any life left in an appliance, we just keep it limping along. I mean, really… Have you ever looked at the innards of a clothes dryer? There is nothing to one of those things that I could not (and did not) repair as a high school kid. So we just keep fixing and using and fixing and using. Terrie says that our current clothes dryer is at least 100 years old. I think that this is a bit of a stretch, but not by much.

Now the roots of our new refrigerator acquisition go back to a critical design flaw in our house’s architecture. Back when I was drawing up plans for the house, the kitchen area layout got a little crowded, and I finally decided to use the little nook under the stairs to place the refrigerator. This used up an area that might have otherwise made a nice little pantry, but the fridge wouldn’t fit anywhere else.

Now stay with me. You’ll see how this all ties together in a minute. When we put the fridge in the little nook under the stairs, it left a bit of dead space behind. I decided to tuck away a water heater back there behind the fridge. That, my friends was the critical mistake. Because when you buy a budget refrigerator and then keep it forever, you run a high risk of winding up with a 1000 pound appliance setting atop cheap little wheels that will no longer roll. This, in turn, will prevent easy access to the water heater that you will need to get to for occasional repair. Which brings us to last Thursday afternoon.

Anna casually informed me that the hot water was giving way to cold water just a few minutes into her shower. I immediately moaned, knowing that I had some repair work to do behind the refrigerator. You can see where this is going now, can’t you.

Saturday morning as I set out to fix the water heater, I put in motion the events that led to our trip to Lowes to buy a replacement element for the water heater and ultimately a new refrigerator. I had laid a piece of formica on the floor in front of the fridge to keep it from scratching, and I was heaving and sweating a storm and grumbling something about if I ever get this boat anchor out from under the stairway, I would NEVER push it back in again. So after getting my heart right and back into the Spirit, I casually approached Terrie and asked, “You know that new refrigerator you have been waiting for?” She looked up with an odd sort of surprise. “Let’s go get it.”

It’s not often that you can catch my wife in a state of slack-jawed bewilderment. I wish I’d had a camera handy. You know that slow-motion sensation that you get when you are in a sudden accident or something? She seemed to be frozen there for a few minutes. I was about to go get a defibrillator, when she snapped to and charged for the van.

The rest of the story is trivial. Suffice it to say that they delivered on Sunday afternoon, and Terrie is still pinching herself to see if the dream will vanish. You have never seen a woman with such an aura of contentedness, though I did see her give a sidelong glance toward the dishwasher.


October 9, 2011

In the annals of dog history, there stand out several examples of superb canines.  There is the heartwarming story of Greyfriar’s Bobby, the little terrier who faithfully guarded his master’s grave for 14 years.  Then there is Balto, who was the lead sled dog in a desperate race to deliver diphtheria serum to an epidemic-stricken town in Alaska.  And of course, there is Jake.

We took possession of Jake sort of by default.  Our neighbors had bought him a year or two after we moved to our place not far off of Scuffletown Road.  At first, I considered him a pest and was intent on keeping him out of our yard.  I would chase him off, and he would sneak back to steal shoes and other small possessions that had been left near the house.

Our home has attracted many dogs – mostly strays.  I have often wondered if it were because we lived on a relatively high piece of land with woods and stream to one side and pasture land to the other.  Maybe they were attracted to the aroma of Terrie’s fine cooking.  Most likely, I suspect, the reason was that we always had kids running around outside who were eager to scratch a head that was attached to a waggily tail.  Whatever the reason, Jake started spending so much time at our house that our neighbors finally gave up, brought us his food bowl and said that we could have him.

Jake was a wonderful guard dog for the place.  If the boys were outside playing, Jake was right there with them.  He did not tolerate any stranger coming between any of the kids and Terrie or me.  More than once, he nipped a delivery man or sales guy who did not understand this little unwritten rule.

Jake was a pretty well-mannered dog who could also make you fear for you life.  One time a salesman came down our driveway in hopes of separating Terrie from some of our hard-earned money.  Jake had a way of understanding who was welcome at our house and who was not.  Just as Terrie answered the door, Jake came around the corner and silently eyed the fellow, teeth bared.  Poor guy started sweating and anxiously asked “Does you dog bite?”  Terrie calmly replied, “He does when I tell him to.  What do you want?”

I can’t remember how old Jake was when he died.  Old enough to have a fair bit of arthritis, I guess.  He always saw me off to work each morning, chasing along side my car most of the length of our gravel drive.  As he grew older, I used to tell him to stay behind.  You could tell that it was a struggle for him.

One morning he ran with me for a while and then disappeared.  I thought that he had turned back toward the house.  Not so.  About a hundred feet later my truck lurched as both the front and read tires bounced over what seemed like a massive bump in the road.  I looked in the mirror to see old Jake stagger to his feet and start limping home.  He made it about halfway before collapsing in the grass beside the drive.  I went over to him and knelt down, stroked his head, and talked quietly to him.  He whimpered but offered no anger.  Just a few minutes later he was still.  We buried Jake out by the back fence, and there is seldom a time that, passing by his grave, I don’t think about him.  Good dog.

The Rest of the Speech

September 25, 2011

Our family had the pleasure of attending the wedding of my son Isaac his beautiful new bride Kaitlyn just about a week ago.  We were able to meet Kaitlyn’s family and found them to be wonderful folks with a strong family bond.  We were grateful for the way that they and the other folks at their church made us feel welcome, and we are especially grateful for how they have taken to Isaac.

I was given the honor of addressing the bride and groom during their reception.  I had meant to speak to the Master of Ceremonies before the evening began to get a feel for what events were planned before and more importantly after I would speak, but I failed to make the contact.  Consequently, not knowing what or who might follow me, I left off a bit of what I had planned to say, not wanting to go too long or too sentimental for the other parts of the evening’s program.  As soon as I sat down, however, I regretted the decision to do so, and I am still fairly bursting with something to say.   After a little further reflection, I thought that I would jot down the rest of the speech and put it here.  So, Isaac and Kaitlyn, this is for you.

As I said the other night, your mother and I have been pleased and proud of the way that you have given God his rightful place in so many of your life decisions.  No one has ever ultimately regretted a choice made in which God is honored and given His place.  God always gives you light for the next right step.  Walk in the light of His word, and you will walk a path of blessing.

The Bible tells us “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”  When we ponder this verse, we often think in terms of what heaven will be like someday.  But I believe that God is telling us that the earthly path of a life yielded to Him will experience grace and blessing beyond anything you can imagine – perhaps not in terms of material possession, but certainly in terms of joy and peace and contentment and rest.

Now you are stepping out to begin a life together.  We are thrilled for you in so many ways, but perhaps most exciting is our anticipation of how God will shape your life and build a more profound relationship between the two of you and with Himself.

Over the coming months and years, you will experience the very trying process of learning to walk together.  You may be wondering how any part of your life ahead could ever be a trial now that you are finally together.  God never intended it be so.  Adam and Eve lived in blessed harmony as they enjoyed a perfect creation and unveiled fellowship with their creator.  Unfortunately, due to their failure we live in a fallen planet and must now deal with our own corrupt and selfish flesh.

But the way ahead is neither hopeless, nor need it be grim.  As I mentioned before, God will always provide light for the next right step.  God will teach you that surrendering your own way and giving up your right to “make your point” during an argument will bring His grace into your lives together in ways that you have not yet known.  He says that He gives grace to the humble, and as is so often true in our Christian walk, the way up starts with a step down.  If you will let God teach you, you will learn all about your own stubborn pride, and if you will chose the way of your savior, you will learn to forsake that pride and experience God’s wonderful grace in your marriage.

This fallen planet will rarely give you any breaks.  Now that you are stepping out into a life of your own, you will learn that the best laid plans often lay in shambles before the journey is complete.  Your money will run out before your bills do.  Your time will run out before your plans for the evening do.  Your energy will run out before your responsibilities do.  That is just the way life goes in a sin-cursed world.  But there is no lack of hope and grace with God.  He always has light for the next right step.  It is within the crucible of shortened resources that God will teach you to trust Him like never before.  You will find Him to be always faithful in supplying your needs.  When you reach the end of your rope, don’t just “tie a knot and hang on.”  Learn to flee to your God.  You will never find a problem too big for Him.  He can do anything.

Your mom and I look forward to the day, Lord willing, that He gives you a precious new life to raise up for His glory.  There are no words to describe the joy and delight that children will bring to your home.  Nor is it possible to describe the overwhelming sense of responsibility and uncertainty that you will experience the first time you lay that little one down for the night.  But God always provides light for the next right step.  The things that He will teach you will make all the other lessons to pale.  You will learn a whole new meaning to the word Love.  You will learn to deny yourself and give to another in ways that you cannot now imagine.  You will learn that even after a weary, sleepless night, dawn will always come and bring hope.  And you will learn to pray like you never have prayed before.

God is so faithful.  You can trust Him at every turn.  One day by his grace, you will stand where we did so recently and reflect on God’s goodness as one of your own steps out to join heart to another and begin a life journey.  You will look back and see God’s blessing so clearly.  He is such a wonderful God.  Take his path.  It will never bring you regret.  Mom and I love you both, and we will be praying for you every day.