“Guess what it is!”
Nelda walked right up to me in the hallway leading out of the worship center into the main foyer of the Benton Church of Christ. We had reached the point of visiting after church at which deacons flip the light switches to hurry us to our cars. Nelda is one of these really nice older ladies at church who’s been there forever. And she was carrying a plastic Wal-Mart bag.
“I have no idea what it is, Nelda,” I answered. “How could I possibly know?”
I felt it. It was cold. And lumpy. I had no clue.
So she showed it to me. A skinned squirrel. Head and all. Skinned and ready for cooking. Nelda had been keeping it cool in the church refrigerator and was now taking it home for lunch. She told me all about frying it up, what parts of the squirrel were best, how long she’s been eating squirrel, and how silly I am for thinking it is really, really gross.
I said it out loud before I mentally evaluated the whole situation to see if it would be okay to say: “We must be in Arkansas!”
For nearly a month I had been almost dreading my four day speaking engagement in Arkansas. I love that church there. I dearly love Jim & Mandy and Jimmy & Elizabeth and their precious kids. I’m always encouraged when I go there. And I never laugh more than when I’m hanging out with Jim and Jimmy. But the timing was bad. I’m in the middle of changing churches. We’re in the middle of trying to both sell a house here in North Richland Hills and look for a house in Amarillo. We’re flying up there twice in the next three weeks. I’ve got a last sermon to write. You can’t believe all the phone calls and emails and letters and texts. Meeting brand new people. Processing “good-byes” with our best friends. I don’t have time to spend four days in Arkansas.
I arrived Saturday night to find Trae’s back bedroom ready for me. Yellow walls and zebra-striped sheets and books about horses. A 24-pack of Diet Dr Pepper in the fridge. Hugs and prayers. Words of encouragement and comfort from a great friend who’s been exactly where I am.
Then Nelda’s squirrel Sunday morning. Jimmy in a giant panda suit that I think he enjoyed a little too much. Eric providing a running commentary of singing and humming and synonyms and thoughts throughout each of my eleven sermons from his seat on the left side of the third row. Clyde and Linda were there. Breakfast at Wilma’s house with biscuits and chocolate gravy. (Chocolate gravy?!? Again, we must be in Arkansas.) Lunch at the Benton Kiwanis club with Freddy from church, Will the new fire chief, Julia the warm and crazy club president, and Bill the county coroner. (His stories about the man who literally ate himself to death at the local Sonic last week and the lady who died in front of the TV in her recliner last month but was just thought to be asleep by her husband and daughter for nearly two days reminded me of a Seinfeld episode in which Kramer tells the boys, “If you meet a proctologist at a party, stay right by his side; you’ll hear the funniest stories.”)
Watching Jim minister to people, comfort and encourage people, love on people in the church where he was born and raised. Praying with the Northside shepherds over the needs of their congregation and the world. Being encouraged and comforted and loved by so many wonderful people I barely know.
The Arkansas Oasis was exactly what I needed. Quiet time — lots of quiet alone time with just God and me — among all the hairclips and Legos in Trae’s room. Prayer time. Reflection time. Thinking time. I’m telling you, it did me so much good to have that quiet time away from the immediate pressures of Legacy and Central, to be away from all the things that absolutely have to be done right this second. Yeah, there were still phone calls and emails. But I was removed. I was far enough away to reflect with my Lord and his Word on where God has taken me and where he’s leading me now. I had time to wrestle with and pray through some of the things that confront me in Wade Hodges’ book, Before You Go. Working through my Running the Race series with Northside also gave me ample opportunity to think about my own race, the course in front of me, the endurance and perseverance it will take to complete the race, and the unsurpassed power of my God that will get me across the finish line.
I want to write more about Wade’s book. I want to write much more about these amazing gifts from God at Legacy, these wonderful people at this church where I’ve been so blessed to minister for the past four years. I also want to honor Central in this space and express the excitement and enthusiasm that’s building up inside me for what our God’s going to do with me and through me in Amarillo. I want to write about my church secretaries past and present and future. I want to share with you my thoughts about leaving and arriving. I want to express in this blog my love for Quincy and Paul and Sherry, Dana and Jennifer and Jerry, and others here at Legacy who have been so vital to me and my work here. I want to write down every single one of the very strong and very mixed feelings I have swirling around in my brain right now without it reading like a whole bunch of disjointed ramblings.
But that may have to wait. I’m still working on that last sermon that I’m delivering here Sunday. We have another open house this weekend at Stanglin Manor. We’re flying to Amarillo Monday morning to look at houses. We’ve scheduled a last trip to Tyler to see Jason & Tiersa and I’ve got a final lunch with my preaching brothers here in Tarrant County and a last meal with the Four Horsemen. All of that in the next seven days.
God knew I needed that time in Arkansas.
I’m ready now for the tasks ahead. I’m prepared to do all the very difficult things that are in front of me. All of them. To the eternal praise and glory of God.