Category: Allan’s Journey (page 1 of 20)

Back to Chicago

I feel the tears well up inside my eyes when I walk into my room after dinner. It’s Sunday night. The evening meal is over. The introductions have concluded. And it’s about to get real. I know my duplicitous life and my sins and I’m going to have to say out loud to our God why I’m here.

I had the same feeling during the evening prayers with the larger group. I can’t read the first couple of prayers through the tears. The candle. The liturgy. The knowledge that I must face our Lord. Will he receive me? Does he still want me? Will he accept me and work on me?

I’ve been made to acknowledge the burdens I carry. I’ve also been made to recognize my fears heading into this retreat and this two-year commitment. Out loud. I’ve named them. Here we go.

So I pour myself into the process. I give it my all. I’m journaling in my room, but realizing ten minutes into the exercise that I’m writing only about the things my three companions and I have experienced together on the trip. Lunch at the Lucky Monk. Something funny Mike said. Something weird on the plane. I’m probably stalling, avoiding the hard work God would rather be doing in me. I’m praying Psalm 32 and Psalm 100. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. But I can’t get still.

Until Monday afternoon in the chapel. Thank you, Lord.

A little over an hour by myself in that beautiful chapel and God revealed to me why I’m here. He gave me a peace, he washed me in a comfort, he blessed me by reminding me that I belong to him and he loves me deeply and he wants to change me. He wants me to live in him and rely on him alone.

Heal me. Fix me, Father. Give me peace in my ministry. Give me peace with myself as a minister of the Gospel. Reconcile all the spiritual and existential issues between my head and my heart. Heal me, Lord. Fix me.

Unsurprisingly, since my first Transforming Community retreat in Chicago, my life with Christ has been up-and-down. I’ve engaged / revived a couple of new practices and begun a couple of new rhythms to help me maintain some semblance of what I experienced in Chicago. Those exercises are keeping me aware of the presence of God throughout the day. And it’s good. But I feel I have a long way to go. I always have.

I know that I need continual transformation in my life. I know I need to pay constant attention to it. I also know that I cannot transform myself. Only God by his grace and the power of his Spirit can make me into the man of the Lord he wants me to be. And I welcome it. I’m committed to making space for it.

I’m reading all the books, I’m making the retreats, I’m writing the papers, and doing all the assignments with the view that God is hard at work on me. Some of this is going to stretch me, some of this will make me uncomfortable, but I’m convinced that God has been preparing me for years for this experience.

He’ll talk to me if I’ll just listen. He’ll heal me if I’ll just sit still. He’ll transform me if I’ll just trust.

See you Wednesday.



Since Thursday

We gut-laughed until we were both crying. We laughed so hard we were hoarse the rest of the night and into the next morning. Jerry Seinfeld went an hour-and-fifteen-minutes Thursday evening in Midland/Odessa breaking our common everyday lives down to the finest hilarious details as only he can. The only way it could have been any better is if he had gone longer. Bathroom stalls, marriage as a game show, texting abbreviations, Swanson Hungry Man TV dinners, bucket lists, the U.S. Postal Service, buffet restaurants — he’s a genius! We were dead center, 50-yard-line, on the twelfth row; they were the best seats in the house! What a wonderful Christmas present from my fabulous wife!


I was honored to speak at Oklahoma Christian University’s chapel yesterday, the most excruciatingly nervous 15-minutes of my year. I love public speaking — you know I do. I like speaking to small groups of a dozen or so in intimate settings, I like speaking in front of a couple thousand in a conference atmosphere, I enjoy speaking every Sunday at Central. I love speaking to little kids and older adults and people my own age. Speaking to a roomful of preachers, to the homeless people at Loaves and Fishes, to business professionals at a Rotary lunch, or to a ladies Bible class never gives me a problem. But talking to college aged young people in the middle of their school day is brutal. They let you know in no uncertain terms exactly how they’re receiving the message. They don’t hide anything. There’s no pretending.

It felt a little better this time than in previous years. I kept it much shorter than normal and I specifically mentioned some key buzz words that spoke to particular hot-button issues in society and tied my message as directly to those issues as possible. Valerie gave me some good advice. It looked like they were paying attention.

I was blessed to get caught up with my sister Rhonda and her husband Geoff. I was privileged to eat dinner Sunday night at Ted’s (!) with our middle daughter Valerie, her friend Paige, and my nephew Asa. And then yesterday it was lunch at The Garage with Rhonda, Valerie, and Delta Gamma Sigma sponsor Chris Adair, who sent me home with OC and Delta gear for the whole family.

I appreciate Jeff McMillon’s kind words of encouragement and affirmation; if I were an OC recruiter, I’d make sure every high school senior spent an hour with Jeff. And I’m blown away by our Lord who thinks it’s a good idea for me to speak at OC chapel. His grace reaches even me!



Prayer to Begin the Process

Gracious and loving God, you know the deep inner patterns of my life that keep me from being totally yours. You know the misinformed structures of my being that hold me in bondage to something less than your high purpose for my life. You also know my reluctance to let you have your way with me in these areas. Hear the deeper cry of my heart for wholeness and by your grace enable me to be open to your transforming presence through these sessions in Chicago.

Lord, have mercy.

Transforming Community

I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon to participate in a two-year spiritual formation community supervised by Ruth Haley Barton at her Transforming Center in Chicago. Once every three months — nine times overall — I’ll spend Sunday evening through Tuesday afternoon with a group of about 70 other church leaders in a directed time of spiritual development, self-reflection, and training. I’ll be equipped to engage the Scriptures on a deeper level, to enrich my personal relationship to our God in prayer and presence, and to pay better attention to my own spiritual growth. The main idea is to learn how to make myself more available to the Lord for the sanctification work he wants to do in me and through me.

Some of the people in my life I admire the most have gone through the Transforming Community and have been recommending it to me for some time: Jim Martin, Eddie Sharp, Greg Dowell, and Steve and Judy Rogers.

There’s a lot of required reading — I’ve already read the assigned Invitation to a Journey by Robert Mulholland and Thirsty for God by Bradley Holt. I’ll be writing a few reflection papers, seeing a spiritual director, and participating with a smaller community of five or six lay leaders and clergy over the course of these two years.

My aim is to deepen my relationship to Christ for the sake of being a more complete and godly man, husband, father, and preacher. I’m going to intentionally stay away from taking notes in order to bring something back for the church. I’m not going to listen to the speakers and read the books looking for sermon series or teaching ideas or anecdotes. The worship, the prayer, the readings, the Scripture, the small groups, the silence and solitude, the spiritual disciplines — this is for me. I might experience some things I’ve not encountered before, I may be asked to join in activities that will seem questionable, and I’ll be stretched in a few areas that might make me uncomfortable. But I’m going into this like I attempt to enter most things: to fully participate, to give myself wholly to the experience, to make myself completely available to God and whatever he wants to do with me at that time.

I’m leaving my laptop at home so I won’t be able to check email and I’m turning my phone off at 4p Sunday and won’t turn it on again until 2p Tuesday so I won’t be interrupted.

I’m deeply grateful to the shepherds at Central who enthusiastically support any of my efforts to better myself spiritually. They encourage it, they demand it. I’m so thankful. They are giving me the time off, they are paying for the experience, and they are personally interested in my progress.

Please pray for me as I enter this two-year commitment to better spiritual health and practices. Pray for the three others from Central who will be experiencing this with me: Hannah McNeill, Mary McNeill, and Mike Robertson. Pray that winter storm “Hunter” won’t dump too much snow on the Chicago area tonight and tomorrow. And pray for my family while I am away.



I Miss Tom Petty

I had just turned thirteen-years-old in the fall of 1979 when I heard Tom Petty for the very first time. It was either “Refugee” or “Don’t Do Me Like That,” I’m not entirely sure. I know it was on The Zoo, 98FM in Dallas, and I know it was on my almost brand new stereo / turn-table / receiver with the smoky gray dust cover. But I don’t remember which song it was because the radio was rotating several cuts from Petty’s third studio album, “Damn the Torpedoes.” I wanted to buy the album. My parents wouldn’t allow it because of the profane title. So I bought all the singles. “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Refugee,” “Here Comes My Girl,” and “Even the Losers.” All on 45s. I’ve still got ’em.

Van Halen and Aerosmith take me back to high school. It’s nostalgic. Listening to those two bands reminds me of all the stuff most people like to be reminded of: their carefree youth and all those firsts. I love listening to Van Halen and Aerosmith. But it’s only relevant to the 80s. It’s a little silly, actually.

Tom Petty, however, has been my constant musical companion from my junior high “Zoo Freak” days to right now on this sad first day without him. Tom Petty kept writing and recording the songs and the songs kept maturing along with me. His music kept speaking to me, reflecting me, giving voice to my heart and my thoughts in our current context. His songs never hearkened back to the good ol’ days. “Wildflowers” and “Learning to Fly” would never have contained songs like “Anything That’s Rock n Roll” or “Rockin’ Around (With You).” His past four or five albums have been packed with wistful and reflective songs, lyrics that speak to past regret, mistakes made, broken promises, a realistic (some might say cynical) view of the present, and a very hopeful look to the future.

These lines from “Anything That’s Rock n Roll,” from Petty’s first album:

“Some friends of mine and me stayed up all through the night / rockin’ pretty steady ’til the sky went light / didn’t go to bed, didn’t go to work / I picked up the telephone, told the boss he was a jerk / Your mama don’t like it when you run around with me / but we got to hip your mama that you got to live free / don’t need her, don’t need school / you don’t like your daddy and you don’t like rules…”

are a whole lot different from these lines from “All You Can Carry” on his last album:

“I saw a ghost by the road tonight / and then my mind ran away with me / I had a vision in the changing light / something saying that it’s time to leave / Take what you can, all you can carry / take what you can and leave the past behind / take what you can, all you can carry / take what you can and leave the past behind / we gotta run / There’s something moving in the dark outside / I gotta face it when it hits the light / no one can say I didn’t have your side / no one can say I left without a fight / Take what you can, all you can carry / take what you can and leave the past behind.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. Every one of his albums contains a whole lot of what every one of his albums contains. You’re going to find some rebellion and some hard rock guitar riffs. And, yeah, there’s plenty of cynicism or realism in those early records, too. The first lines of “American Girl” from their debut album in 1976 tell you right away that Tom Petty’s going to call ’em like he sees ’em.

But his latest works over the past quarter century have grown up with me. Or I’ve grown up with them. Both.

He always communicated a realistic look at the problems all around us. But he underscored most of his songs with hope. I wouldn’t carry this too far, but Petty’s work is like the Psalms in that sense. Here’s what’s going on in my life / the world / this country / my relationships that feels bad and wrong. But we all know there’s something better waiting for us around the corner.

His latest, and now last, studio album, 2014’s “Hypnotic Eye” is unapologetic when it comes to pointing out the problems with the power structures in the United States, the political corruption and polarization that’s dividing the country, the senseless violence, and the unfulfilled promises. Check out these lyrics from the album’s first offering, “American Dream Plan B”:

“My mama’s so sad / daddy’s just mad / ’cause I ain’t gonna have the chance he had / my success is anybody’s guess / but like a fool I’m bettin’ on happiness.”

“Burnt Out Town,” “Power Drunk,” and “Shadow People” are blistering declarations of the problems in today’s society. But mixed into the middle of all that are cuts like “Full Grown Boy,” “Sins of My Youth,” and “Fault Lines.”

“See these fault lines laid out like land mines / it’s hard to relax / a promise broken, the ground breaks open / love falls through the cracks / and I’ve got a few of my own / I’ve got a few of my own fault lines / running under my life.”

There’s baptismal imagery in “Red River” and so much self-reflection and regret — an acknowledgment of past mistakes and current weaknesses — in “Full Grown Boy” and “Fault Lines,” that it sounds like the heart of an honest man nearing the last laps of his race.

And he was.

Tom Petty had just completed his 40th anniversary tour with three shows at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. and was telling reporters that he was done with long tours. He’s got a granddaughter now and he can’t be a good grandpa if he’s on the road all the time. He wanted to quit touring and start this last part of his life with his family and, especially, his granddaughter.

That stinks.

And I miss him already.

I always bought every Tom Petty album the moment it was released. I’ve got ’em all. And I’ve been listening to them back-to-back-to-back since last evening. When the news broke, I was on the Oklahoma Christian University campus in OKC for their annual lectures. My sister Rhonda had texted me the news, forwarding a text from her husband Geoff, because he knew I would want to know. As soon as I verified it, I called Carley.

That phone conversation did not go well. Carley shares my love for Tom Petty’s music. It’s her soundtrack, too. She and I saw him perform from really great floor seats at American Airlines Center for her 16th birthday two years ago. We were planning to see him together in Dallas and / or Oklahoma City every single time he played until the day he died.

The last lines Tom Petty sings on that last album come at the very end of the most brutally honest and brilliant song he ever recorded on the state of things in this country. The song is “Shadow People” and it’s tough. It’s about our political and social divisions. It’s about how nobody thinks anymore, nobody talks anymore — we just react. And we stockpile water and canned goods and guns. And everybody’s afraid. We’re all hiding our true selves behind our political positions. And you can’t tell who’s who because nobody seems interested in real conversation. But, in true Tom Petty fashion, he ends the song and the album and, now, his life catalogue by expressing and renewing our hope.

“Waiting for the sun to be straight overhead, ’til we ain’t got no shadow at all.”



The Day the Fire Came

I want to draw your attention to a fantastic piece of writing in the current issue of Texas Monthly. Skip Hollandsworth has outdone himself in the way he tells the story of the wildfires that ravaged the Panhandle this past March. The piece is titled, “The Day the Fire Came: A Tale of Love and Loss on the Panhandle Plains.” You can read the whole story, view the outstanding photographs, and see the beautiful videos by clicking here.

Thirty-two different wildfires raged across the Panhandle on March 6, scorching 1.2-million acres, burning to death more than two-thousand cows, and doing tens of millions of dollars in damages. The fires also claimed the lives of four young Texans: 20-year-old Cody Crockett, a cowboy on the historic Franklin Ranch near Lefors; Cody’s girlfriend, 23-year-old Sydney Wallace, a nurse at Amarillo’s BSA Hospital; 35-year-old Sloan Everett, Cody’s boss; and 25-year-old Cade Koch who got caught in the smoke and the fires while driving from Canadian to Lipscomb to check on his pregnant wife.

It was a tragic day. The three main fires that did the most damage each measured up to three miles wide, with flames more than 20-feet high, moving across the plains at upwards of seven-miles-per-hour. It was devastating.

Hollandsworth tells the story through the eyes of those at Franklin Ranch who knew and loved Cody, Sydney, and Sloan — their parents, best friends, church friends, co-workers, classmates. The families gave Skip unlimited access to every facet of the stories. And he writes it with compassion and heart, capturing the grit and the glory, conveying the pride and the pain.

You’ve got to read this story.

We didn’t see any flames that day here in Amarillo, but we saw and felt the smoke. For a couple of days we experienced the smoke and felt the anguish of what had happened just a few miles away. And for the next several weeks, all of us were inspired by the outpouring of love and support from seemingly every rancher in all 26 Panhandle counties. The Canyon E-Way and I-40 were jammed with massive trucks bringing bales of hay and even, in a few cases, some head of cattle to the affected ranchers. It just kept coming. We shared Bell Avenue and Coulter Street red lights and intersections with these ranchers who drove two or three hours to donate their own goods and supplies to help those who had been harmed by the fires. And I was moved.

I was also moved by Hollandsworth’s story.

You know, I’m not a cowboy. I’m a city Texan. I’m as urban as they come. The last time I rode a horse was when I was nine or ten-years-old, on my granddad’s farm in Canton. He would walk along as my sister and I rode his old nags, Dollie and Sookah, around in a slow circle. I’ve only owned one pair of cowboy boots in my life — a pair I received for free as part of a promotion from a Dallas tire dealer when I bought a set of tires for my 1974 Monte Carlo. The boots were uncomfortable. I only wore them once or twice a year as part of a costume or special dress-up day at school. I threw them out when I went to college and can’t imagine any circumstance where I’d ever own another pair. I’ve never roped a calf, I have no appetite for country music, and I think I would absolutely freak if I ever saw a rattlesnake in the wild.

I feel like an outsider in the Texas Panhandle. I have for the past six years.

But let me tell you this. There is something romantic, something transcendent, something unique and extraordinary about the rugged beauty of this place and these people. I appreciate it, and them, more and more every day. Hollandsworth’s story about those fires and the men and women who survived and the four who didn’t brought out of me some strong and surprising emotions.

I first read the story online — I check Texas Monthly’s website at least once a week. Then I read it again last week when my issue arrived in the mail. And I was blessed by a bonus that only subscriber’s to the magazine get. Jeff Salamon gives us five paragraphs, in Hollandsworth’s own words about Hollandsworth’s experience while interviewing real Panhandle cowboys for the story. Here are his last lines:

“It’s easy to buy into the myth that the cowboy life is gone. But in fact, it’s thriving in the Panhandle. There are so many kids whose lives are devoted to becoming a cowboy. Texas has become such an urban and suburban state. But no matter how interesting people are in our cities, there’s nothing like a Panhandle cowboy. They are real and unyielding, and as the story points out, they are honorable. The question I had going into this piece was, ‘Why would these three young people run toward the fire to save those cattle?’ And the answer to that question is what this story is about: the love of, and devotion to, the cowboy way.”

It’s a good story. You should read it.




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