Trees with Roots

Grief is a funny thing, except that it’s not funny at all. Within the last three days our little family has taken on two losses, both having a unique impact. And even if death is not altogether surprising, it doesn’t mean that we were altogether prepared. 

On Thursday afternoon, my sons lost their granddad in this life. The stepfather of their mother, he had come back to life more times than most people embrace it. Titles and descriptions are funny things too, especially as other people want to know who he was. A divorce doesn’t necessarily change who is in your life, even if it does change how they are. 

To my sons, he was “Paw-Paw,” sometimes he was, “Papa Earl,” and not all that long ago he was, “Big-Belly Paw-Paw.” To my sons’ mother, he was, “Earl,” but he became, “Dad.”  He married into their family when she was 11, and he changed in many ways over the next two-and-a-half decades. All of the changes were for the better, all of them except for his health. 

Earl had poor liver health, partially due to life choices and partially due to genetics. He was on oxygen almost always over the past few years, and two years ago he began to scare us all by having to be resuscitated on several ocassions. He fought off death not out of fear, but for the love of life and family. 

He loved his wife, his kids, and his grandkids. We heard on Thursday that he had pictures of my sons close to him. He told those attending, “Those are my guys.” There are moments in our lives that stick. We will always remember where we were for certain events, and Thursday night became one of those. 

By request I held on to the news so that my sons could hear about it from their mom, and to have her present.  Before they even heard the news, people were praying. It reminded me a little bit of the childhood game of “Red Rover.” We aren’t meant to endure the blows of life alone. 

And yet, at the same time, it’s a uniquely personal journey. It might mean that you go to the park and lie in the sun for hours. It might mean sleeping in and not going to school. It might mean going with friends to the beach, or having friends over to sit on piles of unfolded laundry while they play Nintendo. The loss of a loved one has a certain finality to it, and yet, here we are, looking for a way forward.

The second loss in our family is my Aunt Anne.  Death has been oddly orderly within my extended family. We have been blessed to prepare for it time and time again, and Anne was the same. Her health had weakened steadily, and she was receiving around-the-clock care in a nearby hospital. 

I was able to see her on Friday morning, and I visited with her son, her daughter, and her son-in-law. It seemed quite evident that her time still here was short. She was resting, made as comfortable as possible, and waiting. She passed away later that afternoon. 

Following the laughter and tears on Thursday night, we assured our sons that we were available to them in any way they needed. We also told them that there were no expectations on how they should move forward. No one went to school right away on Friday. Caleb was awake but wanted to be distracted and go to ArtPrize later on. Jonathan wanted to sleep in. Joshua was the tricky one. I felt compelled to tell him that by no means would anyone be disappointed if he missed school and couldn’t suit up for football that night. There will be more games. He waited a few hours before going to school, and I believe that was good for him. A team is very often another support system. 

Because they stayed home, I did as well. After bringing Josh to school I had the opportunity to visit with Anne and her family. Anne was present, able to hear us, and that was enough. But grief is funny, except that it’s not funny at all. 

I found myself grumpy and irritated that I still had to answer work questions. Calling relative strangers to tell them that their service will be rescheduled due to a death in the family is just one more reminder that we try to fit grieving into the rest of our schedule. We are not designed to be that way. 

Tomorrow will be another day of sorting out what is best for each and for all, and then Monday and back to life. But the wave of grief will hit again. There will be visitation and funerals. I truly believe that we will hear words of hope and comfort this week, but it’s still heavy. Holidays are around the corner and there will be faces that aren’t at the table. 

As followers of Christ and believers in the Good News, we have the ultimate hope. And yet, at the same time, as one good friend texted me, “That sucks, man. I’m sorry.” Yep. It still sucks. And that’s why we cherish our roots and cling to the Rock. On Friday, Anne’s daughter commented, “You sure have seen some messy stories. Doesn’t it make you grateful for how you were raised?”


It’s not because of death alone that we should share the Good News. It’s the hope we share in Christ that should compel us to share words of truth in love.” There are moments in life that remind us how important that is to do. For me, this is one of them. I am incredibly grateful that I heard the Word in the womb, was grafted into family trees with deep roots, and can bear fruit while finding solace on a Rock. It’s the only way to withstand the storms. 

Normally I like to go back through and check for errors, but it’s nearly 1:30am and I trust that any rough edges won’t take away from the idea that I hoped to express. Sometimes we do odd things like write late at night before falling asleep on a couch after a 93 degree day in Autumn. After all, grief is a funny thing, except that it’s not. 

Why Is This Tree Like That?

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. John 9:1

PREFACE: I really do not want to write this piece. I have been saying that a lot lately, but it’s true. I enjoy writing when it encourages someone else. It is difficult to write to encourage myself. Almost always, as I write, I end up putting a positive spin on the end. That’s the hope of the good news, and it’s very therapeutic for me to write in that way. But truthfully, I’m not even sure that this piece will do that for me.
It never dawned on me when I was a ten-year old starting to journal that writing was helping me to put a bow on my day. Even now, having ADHD, writing is the best way for me to put my thoughts together. I can talk about anything once I have written it. But, until I write to completion, my thoughts on the matter are always all over the place. Combine my ADHD with anxiety and occasional symptoms of depression, and sometimes it can feel as if I have no control over my thoughts. But that’s why I write. It helps me to put the pieces together.
The reason that I do not want to write this piece is because I do not know what the positive spin will be. I’m very good at believing God will work things out when I see the possibility of it. You know that prayer, “Thank you, God, for working things out the way that I wanted you to do it.” But that’s not where I am.
It is very difficult for me to operate blindly, and that’s how I feel right now. I cannot swim, and yet I feel as if I have been walking on water for over four years. I know for certain that Jesus has been with me, but out at sea is an exhausting place. Not only do I not know what the positive spin will be for this piece, the questions I will write about are the ones that I wrestle with the most. They are very personal to me.
Over the past two weeks, as I have sensed a season changing, I have noticed my highs going higher and my lows going lower. I don’t mean my mental health or even my emotions, but spiritually. The waves of the storm are stronger than they were before. God has revealed himself in ways that make me laugh out loud and cry salty tears. But what about when I’m not laughing? Is He still there?
I don’t like waves nor rollercoasters for the same reason – I have no control. I like my feet on the ground. I am doing my very best to believe that God is using the waves to bring me off from the water and on to a Rock that is higher than I, but it’s hard. With that said, let’s look at John 9.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. John 9:1

This is Jesus walking along. He had just slipped away from people who wanted to kill him after he declared truth to their power, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, ‘I am!'” The Jews had been questioning the power and authority of Jesus. He had become a threat to their way of living. Jesus did nothing to make them think that he wasn’t. He told them that their “Father Abraham” had longed to see his day. Jesus was pounding on the foundation of power they had established for themselves. The Jews who had become so angry had been doing everything right – how could Jesus possibly have any authority if he wasn’t like them? They didn’t like that threat, so they tried to kill him. Jesus left there with his disciples, and soon after that they came across this man who was blind from birth.
It would be safe to believe that this man had experienced a lifetime of dependence. That doesn’t mean he was without ability, but it does mean that many who were blind or lame became relegated to begging for food or money. It would not be completely out of line to imagine this man as someone standing with a sign at the off-ramp of our highway. You might see him often, and on a good day you offer him a dollar. Or, because you are clever and don’t want him to use the money for alcohol or drugs, you offer to buy him a sandwich.
And, when you see him, if you aren’t too busy ignoring him, you ask yourself a mental question, “What happened?” You want to make sense of it, and, if you’re like me, the easiest way to make sense of it is to assume that they did something wrong. Or, maybe they didn’t do something wrong, but they definitely didn’t do something right. They probably didn’t pay attention in school. Maybe he drank too much or has a mental health issue.  I mean, after all, just look at him. There’s a reason that we say someone is “dressed like a bum,” right? Maybe the poor guy has no family. But I guess I will never know, because when the light turns green I can drive away and say a brief prayer of gratitude, “God, thank you that I am not like him.”
Oh boy.
If those words have a little bite, I understand. I assure you that I have thought all of that and more. How easily I have let myself off the hook time and time again, all while wondering the same thing that the disciples asked next.

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” John 9:1,2

This is a pretty common Scripture passage for sermons. I’m not sure if we are allowed to have favorite books in the Bible, but John is one of them for me. I have used a good deal of the book for messages before. It’s very rich and relatable. Most sermons that I have heard on this passage remind us that something such as blindness or being crippled was often associated with sin at that time in history. But, do we really think about it much differently now? Sure, with blindness or a genetic disease, we better understand the physiological workings in play behind the scenes. We won’t necessarily blame someone for being blind, but what about when we see someone struggling? What about when someone is in an extended period of dependence? What do we think then? If you’re uncomfortable with the word “blaming,” maybe a better way to think about it is that we have questions. We wonder, “What happened?” That is a perfectly fine thing to wonder. After all, each person has a story. But what do we do with our question?
At some point in his life, someone must have pointed out to the blind man in John 9 that his world was different than most. He was blind from birth, how would he have known? He could speak, hear, feel, and taste, so how would he have known that other people could see while he could not? We all think our experience is normal until we start to see other people’s experiences. And then, at some point, it begs the question, “Why are they like that? Why do they live differently?”
If you know anything about where I grew up, you know that it is very homogeneous. Nearly everyone in the community is white. Most of the people who I encountered in my youth were Dutch, or at least it seemed like it. Almost all of my circle of people went to a Christian Reformed Church, it was just a matter of which one they attended. And you either went to “Christian” or you went to “Public,” but even then we rode the same school bus and often went to the same church. You obeyed the rules, you honored your family, you did well in school, played sports, went to church twice on Sunday, and had fun but not too much fun. There was very little about my life that was different from those around me. I saw other American families on TV living (more or less) like I was. This was the script, and I was following it.
Our church had a few missionaries over the years, and every once in a while we would get updates on their work. Our church and others supported them financially because they were doing a noble and good work that, frankly, most of us couldn’t imagine doing. Most of the time the missionaries were somewhere far away helping poor black and brown people. We might get something in the mail from World Missions and it would have a picture of little brown child who was in need of help. At some point the question started to form, “Why are they like that?” Underneath that question a viewpoint began to form for me, and it became a dangerous one.
It was never really spoken about, but the images and ideas started to crystallize. I was beginning to get the impression that if people didn’t look like me or talk like me, maybe they were doing something wrong. After all, I was doing everything right. Right?

But the really dangerous part came in to play on the flip side of that idea – I felt like I was earning God’s love by doing things right. And if I could earn God’s love by doing things right, couldn’t I also earn my salvation? After all, if God loves me for doing things right, isn’t that why He saved me? And, if other people were struggling, it probably meant that they weren’t following the script. So did God love them, or did he need me to fix them first?

Help us, Lord.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” John 9:3

It’s quite a leap for Jesus to say that this man’s blindness is all about God’s glory. You sure, Jesus? Glory? He can’t even see!
Jesus was sure, and he was right.
It has been a long and difficult road for me to go from verse 2 to verse 3. I’m not even sure that I have made it to the end of verse 3 in terms of how I understand things. Or, if I understand it, I understand it for others. But it doesn’t make sense for me most of the time.
Mentally, I can find myself stuck in verse 2. I haven’t experienced anything like what Job did, but sometimes I feel like his friends walk with me throughout the day. They ask the same questions that the disciples did, and I don’t have a great answer. I hear, “What did you do wrong, Doug? Why are you struggling, Doug? Didn’t you follow the script?”
I didn’t.
I have had countless times where I wondered why I couldn’t have taken the easy path. I had good grades in school. I went to college. I have a degree. So why, oh why, am I struggling? I’m a white Christian male in the United States of America and I’m one class away from having a Master’s degree. Someone needs to check the equation, because this should be working out great. But it’s not. Maybe I forgot to carry a one. 
This mess and stress is for God’s glory? That can’t be right. Right?

One of the features that I love about the book of John is his repeated use of the phrase, “so that.” He uses it again and again, including in verse 3. By using, “so that,” we are reminded again and again that there is a purpose and there is a plan. But it’s not our purpose, and it’s not our plan. (That phrase is sprinkled all throughout Scripture. If you mark up your Bible like I do, start circling that phrase when you see it.)
Truthfully, sometimes my response to, “So that,” is, “So what?!” If I’m struggling, and all I hear is you saying, “Well, this is for God’s glory,” I will very likely want to say, “So what! If it’s for God’s glory, then DO SOMETHING!”
Thankfully, Jesus did something.  Jesus always does. God always does. The Holy Spirit is always present. But here’s where I’m stuck personally.  I still have mud on my eyes (John 9:6) so I can’t see the purpose yet.
About a month ago I drove past a billboard that I had seen before. But, for some reason, the words on it made me very angry that day. It is a billboard for a homeless shelter, and it has a woman pictured with two young children. The quote that I chose to use is, “We may be homeless, but we still have faith.”
Let me be perfectly clear – I am not upset in the least at the homeless shelter, nor how they constructed their billboard. They do excellent and noble work. They provide very necessary services, and they do make it very clear that they promote the Christian faith. I became very angry that morning because of my question, “Yes, but WHY are they homeless?” I’m not asking what a person did in order to become homeless, I’m asking how we as a body of faith have allowed it to happen.
I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In many ways it is different from my hometown, but it has many similar features. There are churches EVERYWHERE. If I stood on my rooftop right now, I could easily see seven churches. Seven! There are Dutch people, Dutch businesses, and the headquarters of the Christian Reformed Church right here in Grand Rapids. It is a thriving city. Business is booming and the construction of both new homes and new businesses are all over.

Somewhere along the line we bought into the lie behind the American Dream. When the Deceiver whispered to us, “Did God really say that you can’t have that?” we went to Scripture and couldn’t find a good answer. No, God didn’t say how big my house could be. No, God didn’t tell me what kind or how many cars to have. There’s nothing in Scripture against vacations. Jesus would have a smartphone, I think. I bet he would have cable tv and really, really like movie theater popcorn. Right?
I’m guilty of everything I just wrote about and so much more.  And you know what? I’m hurting. If I felt like a bent apple tree before, I am in need of some pruning so that I can bear better fruit. God needs to prune.  This is where it can get tricky.  As we have already established, I’m a white American male with a degree and a fairly sound mind.  For almost anyone reading this, I am likely the last person who should be asking for help.  “God helps those who help themselves,” right?  What verse is that again??  Should I pull myself up by my own bootstraps?  I mean, this is the land of opportunity, after all. That question always demands an answer, “Why is this person like that?” Did I create self-inflicted pain? I don’t believe that, but I wonder that. If I added up what I have given away over the years, it’s more than enough to make me feel a lot more comfortable about my situation. But when did it become necessary for us to know why someone is as they are?  Why can’t we just accept their presentation at that time? 

If you’re inclined to help me, I don’t think that this is a hard concept for you. But not everyone is like that. But let me tell you, those who have been in need of fruit are watching closely. If I can’t ask for help, if I can’t receive help, what hope is there for them? The people who have come to me asking (after years) remind me of Caleb and Joshua scouting the land of milk and honey. They’re testing me out. Do I bear good fruit? Is it worthwhile to them, or should they just stay where they are? And let me tell you, there are WAVES of people behind them if they can taste and see that God is, in fact, good. 

So yes, I will be pruned.  And, at the same time, I’m asking God to not let me break in this season.  I’m trusting and hoping. But hope is the thing with feathers, and trusting means that my feet are off the ground.
There are many times when I have wished that hope was a facet of the fruit of the Spirit. If you just go through enough discouraging times, and make it, then you just have always have enough hope.  But hope  is a gift. It is something that God gives and He invites us to receive. The more tightly we try to hold on to it, the less likely we will.
The day after my last post was not a good one, at least not the start. I checked my tiny bank account after dropping off they boys at school. Maybe the bank had forgotten to add some zeroes to my balance. I was right, in a way. I had forgotten about the car insurance payment that automatically withdraws, and I was less than zero. It’s an interesting feeling to go out and help others for the day when you know that you can’t even afford water if you are unprepared. So I made sure that I had something to drink and a few snacks. I set off for work, but my work truck didn’t start. I charged it and tried to get going again. Whump, whump, whump. Perfect. A flat tire on the front passenger side.
As a brief aside, I want to use that to illustrate the importance of mental health care and, as needed, medication. Even five years ago you would not have caught me saying that – not for me. But that situation and that morning could have easily sent me crawling back under the covers, ignoring my phone, and wishing that  everything would magically get better. Please do not treat someone’s mental health with prayers alone.
But I will point out something else that I did not do that day. I didn’t ask for help, not from you all. I wanted to, I really did. Social networking is a powerful thing. I’m sure that, had I asked certain people at that time, that some of my suffering could have been eliminated. The reason that I didn’t was because I didn’t want it to be MY plan. I am too tired of working it out only to not have it work out. And I know that it has been God all along, but I have not done very well at allowing His “so that” to come through. And you know what? God did work it out. People who give without telling me that they will really help me to trust God’s plan and provision.  I think we miss out on that when we ask our Facebook friends. Sometimes I’m helping people who have over 3,000 “friends” on Facebook. 
But yet, I’m a crooked, bent, and (nearly) fruitless apple tree.
Last Friday the power was turned off because I had waited as long as I possibly could before making a payment. I waited a smidge too long. Tomorrow it could be the water. Or the gas. And, being transparent, the house is in danger of foreclosure if I don’t do something fast. I’ll explore my options, but, at the same time, I’m in desperate need of unclenching my fists around the grains of sand that I have called a plan. Your way, Yahweh. And hope is the thing with feathers.
All day long I see people appear to be tall, towering oak trees. They’re impressive. Look at all of the resources that they can provide. But that American Dream is tricky. Those impressive oaks don’t bear any fruit. But they can be a resource.
In shade and dark places, rooted and growing things have to bend to reach the light. I feel like that has happened with me. And this circumstance of having people in my home with no end date, people using the car when I don’t need it, and having pets dropped off here has been a long, long journey.
I cannot say with certainty that God is calling you to invite the person by the highway to stay in your home. What I can say with certainty is that IF you give something of yourself, {Having said this, he (Jesus) spit on the ground, made some mud with saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes,” John 9:6} and offer some instruction {“Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent) John 9:7a}, the person that you help will begin to see the Light {So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. John 9:7b}, and have a testimony {“He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” John 9:15b} to God’s glory {“Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” John 9:32,33}.
If you do not have people asking for your fruit, please start to seek them out. Put yourself in a position to get answers to the question of, “Why are they like that?” If you can be a lifeblood for the body of Christ in this season while I am hands and feet, I will not refuse your gift. PayPal and SquareCash are game-changing resources for us as a body of Christ to meet the needs of others. There is a daily list besides those who have shelter in this home, and it is far, far from only financial need.  People have shared stories of horrific abuse. A young lady found out her pregnancy ended and had to have the baby removed.  Men are struggling in their marriage.  I can’t meet all of those needs, and I was never meant to.  But if they can come to me and find that they’ve reached an edge of a safe oasis, then we can do more for them.  If you have a gift, or time, please let me know.  They need you, and you need them.  But for the immediate financial needs, you can use SquareCash to give by using my phone number, 6162092446. You can use my email to give via paypal, These are fee-free ways for people to share financial fruit. For those of you who have already helped and given, consider with whom you can share this story. And pray.
A week ago when I was struggling, I wondered about how tightly I should hold on to this house. Sometimes when I look at my choices, I feel like we do not deserve this house. Sometimes I think this house  doesn’t deserve us. Maybe you know someone who would buy this house as an investment (in this area, it would be). Maybe someone would buy this and allow us to live here for low rent (or free!) while they invest in improvements to the home.
Truthfully, I really don’t know. The wave is low, but it will rise. And then, only then, will I see where God is helping me to land. It will be on a Rock, and I will bear fruit again. But I don’t want to be only an oasis. I want to be part of an orchard, with you, my fruit-bearing family.

So That.
God’s Glory.
Might Be Displayed.
In My Life.


God Makes Applesauce

“Hey Doug, what did you do yesterday?”
I’m glad you asked. I watched God make applesauce.
If you read my last post, you heard me say that I let the apple drop. That doesn’t mean God is finished. Just ask my mother. Even with a broken bone or two and a little help, an apple that drops can still be turned into applesauce.
The short version of my last post is that I have been giving of my fruit, and I feel like I have given all that I have for this season. I had seen it coming, and God validated me. Before the night was over on Monday, someone very dear to me sent me money. It was sent without strings, and I believe it is right on time. It will, in part, be used to purchase my prescription for antidepressants tomorrow. I have been diagnosed with dysthymia, which, in brief, means that my emotional floor operates at a slightly lower level than most people. Taking the antidepressant (an SSRI) helps to elevate and strengthen my emotional floor. I don’t operate with a depressive episode – I operate with a mildly depressed emotional state. Taking the medication allows me to function at the place where I should. Because of her, I will be able to do that for the next month. Applesauce.
Now let’s look at yesterday and what I mean by applesauce.
It was back to school for the boys, so a little before 6:00am I was awake and making blueberry pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs. They have trained me well. We made it school a few minutes late; everyone feels the effect of a holiday weekend. On my way back home I turned up the radio and heard the song, “Broken Things.” I really like that song. It’s by Matthew West and you should definitely check it out. I was scheduled to work, but there was no work scheduled for me. What that means is that I had not asked for the day off, but essentially I was on-call for services if the need came up. I do not like those days – at all – and today is another one of those. If I had the freedom to just block off my day for work and had nothing else to do, it would be better. That’s not my life. I’m lucky if I know who is going to be sleeping on a couch any given day, and that’s a really hard thing to explain to a supervisor who wants 100% of your 100%. By the way, if you’re hiring for ministry, let’s talk.
I was tired, so I decided to take a nap while I could. My job operates in two-hour time frames, so I set an alarm for 10am and trusted God to grant me peace. It was a great nap. I woke up and checked my work phone. Nothing. I asked a good friend if he could send me $20 by Square Cash so that I could cover the needs of the day. He did, and that’s how I found out that my debit card doesn’t support immediate deposits. Applesauce takes time. Being alone in the house is such a rare luxury that I thought I would try nap number two. I tried, but something – the Holy Spirit – told me to check my phone. A young lady asked if I could give her and her son a ride to someone who could babysit. The boy’s father had not come to pick him up, and she was going to miss work if someone couldn’t watch it. Sure, I’m game. For about a month this summer I gave her a ride to a different job that she had. Her car’s transmission had gone out, and it helped me wake up and get going when I really would rather sleep. Her son has autism and goes to school, but he didn’t have school yesterday. I share those details because of how I was blessed on the trip. While she was trying to call and make arrangements, she noticed that he was starting to say his numbers in the back. Without missing a beat, she said the next number for him to repeat. When he got to 10, he said, “Tennnnnnnn!” and I started laughing. It sounded just like how his mother would say it to him. She explained that she found that she had to make it fun for him, and clearly she has.
She was kind enough to pay for gas because, frankly, I couldn’t have made the trip if she didn’t. My gas light indicator went on right as I pulled up to pick her up. She dropped off her son, I added gas, and she was back before her shift at 11:30am. Applesauce. As I turned the corner to head back home, the alarm on my phone went off. I cracked up. I had set my alarm for 11:30. If the Spirit had not prompted me, or if I had not been obedient, there would have been no applesauce.
I came home and took my big dog for a jog. Then I took my girl dog for a jog up to the bank so I could add my little two dollars to the $4.06 already in there. I was really hoping to make sure that I could get the trash picked up today. Then I took the little guest dog for a walk. I was just down the block when my friend, the dog’s owner, pulled up, and we started to talk. After a few minutes, a young man interrupted us and said, “Excuse me, I’m really sorry, but could I bum a cigarette from you, Miss? It has been a really stressful morning.” Smoky applesauce.
When I walked in the house, I checked my mail and found a citation from the city for a code violation. It was very frustrating because it was very deceptive. But that’s not important right now. I tried to stay busy so that I did not dwell on my bare branches. I started singing a song that I really like. “You did not create me to worry, you did not create me to fear.” I was washing dishes and decided that I would add some music to the mix. I went to play Pandora on my work phone. If you don’t know how Pandora works, you can create a station based on a song or an artist. Based on your feedback, it will give you similar songs to the ones that you like. It’s a bit random, except for yesterday. The very first song that began to play was the song that I had been singing only seconds before. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I dropped my phone.
I have made the comment before that, “God is my DJ.” I have noticed, especially in these bare branch times, that the songs playing are precisely what I need to hear, but I have never had that before. God had my attention. Songs kept playing. I must have signed up for some commercial-free trial because there were no interruptions. That wasn’t the only thing that I noticed. God was doing something. I started to look at the titles of the songs. It was almost as if, God was writing a prayer for me. Now, if that sounds a little strange to you, allow me to help.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirt right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. Romans 8:22-27, NIV, emphases mine.
As each song began to play, I kept looking at the titles. As I looked at the titles, I added the songs in order on a YouTube playlist. This went on for about three hours. Let me walk you through what happened. The titles of the songs will be in bold, supplemented with lyrics from the songs. And as you read this, imagine the Holy Spirit going before me to speak to God, while also speaking to me about my Savior who stood with me. Prayer is, after all, a conversation. Remember the first song that I heard? That matters.

Broken Things, Trust in You – What a Beautiful Name it is, the name of Jesus Christ my King. It is Well with my soul. This is Amazing Grace – You Waited for me. I’m a Free Worshipper. Indescribable, uncontainable…you are amazing God. You’re Everything to me. I Am Not Alone, you will go before me, you will never leave me. You are My Revival, Jesus on you I will wait, and I’ll lean on your promise, you will renew my strength. I Can Feel You, Jesus all around. Though the storm it rages, I won’t be moved, I won’t be shaken. I am anchored in You, I can feel You, Jesus all around. In Oceans deep my faith will stand. Let it Rain. Here I am to Worship. I am Grateful for the things that you have done. He Wants it All today. Lord, just one thought of you and I know it’s gonna be a Lovely Day. I could play the Background…and you could take the lead. My God is Awesome, heals me when I’m broken, strength where I’ve been weakened, forever he will reign. You Are My Strength. On The Hill there’s a cross, on the cross there is blood for me, for me. {Those words JUST played right now} You’re Bigger than the things that can tear me apart. My Heart Sings. I’ve been through too much not to worship Him. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. My Worship is for Real. Your love is Loyal. But you have Called Me Higher, you have called me deeper, and I’ll go where you lead me, Lord. Made a Way – don’t know how but you did it. My hallelujah belongs to You, You Deserve It. Gonna Love You Forever. Alleluia (Agnus Dei), Amen. I Am Yours. I run to the Throne Room and I fall on my face. Your praise will Ever Be on my lips. Thank You Jesus. I Believe, My Life is in Your Hands. He Has His Hands on You. You Are the Living Word.

Just a few things before I fast forward through the rest of yesterday. All of my other playlists are 25 songs. No particular reason, that’s just how I do it. Caleb and Jonathan came home at around song 22 and I told Jonathan that if three songs from that moment was titled, “Amen,” I wouldn’t even know what to do. God does more than we expect. When Agnus Dei was coming to a close, and they started with the “Amen,” I recorded it and ran upstairs to tell Jonathan. Yep, that was the Spirit. And then it kept going! Why? Because the Spirit is always interceding for us. I have made the songs into a playlist, and I will share the link on facebook. I normally listen to my playlists on shuffle, but I won’t with this one. It’s titled, “God was my DJ and this happened.” It is 40 songs. That’s when I had to stop and take Caleb to his art lesson (which was covered in applesauce). God likes the number 40. I do too. I’m 40 years old. God made it rain for 40 days and nights and entrusted Noah and his family (including three sons) to be obedient. It started raining on the 17th day of the second month. That’s my birthday. I talk about being out on the water often. I feel like I’m rowing in a lifeboat and God wants an ark. Okay, God, just show me how to build it. I don’t have gopher wood, but I have you. Yesterday the young lady staying here paid for the trash pickup for today. Applesauce. Someone said that they would begin to include me in their tithe. APPLESAUCE!

Okay, so what it is applesauce, really? When you have let all of your fruit drop, someone can pick it up. And they can add to it, turn it into something completely different and even more delicious. I can’t ask you to start putting people on your couch, giving out your car, living with pennies in your bank account sometimes. All you have to do is pray, “God, help me to love more deeply,” and God will begin the process, whatever that is. The people I have been helping are people that I have known for years. Applesauce takes time. But it’s worth it, I promise. And if you have extra apples, I know people who can put them to use.

Two more details worth noting. After I dropped Caleb off to his lesson, I debated which way to go in order to pick up Joshua from football practice. There was construction and rush-hour traffic, but I had more than enough time. I picked a way. I was stopped in traffic, window down, singing along with the radio, “Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me. I glanced over to the left and for the third time yesterday, I absolutely cracked up laughing. Heading in the opposite direction was a man riding his bike home. That man is the current CEO of the agency that fired me for helping the young lady who is again staying with me. Four years and 23 days before (but who is counting), was the last time I spoke to him. He talked to me on the phone. I was in the very room where I am right now as I write this. He asked me to come back to the agency. He wanted me to turn myself in. I might never know for sure, but I am willing to bet that he would have had police officers waiting for me. I told him I would not be coming back. I have no hard feelings toward him. He is overseeing an oasis. I am too. They just look different.

Since I included the detail, I’ll add the other piece. Because I added the two dollars in to my account, I was able to purchase laundry soap. It seems small, and it is. But even a little bit of applesauce is good. And now I can go pick up breakfast for tomorrow because of my friend helping me through Square Cash. Not for me, but for the boys. I still have applesauce.

Let the Apple Drop

I am the last person who wants this written. Many of you know some of this. A few of you know most of this. I am certain that no one knows all of this. My sons would know the most of this material, and that’s why I am writing this.
I am Pastor Doug.
I am not perfect.
I am kind of a mess.
And that’s okay.

We will come back to that, I promise. Let me start by stating the one and only reason I do not want this written – pride. The brokenness of my nature allows me to want to make more of me. That leads to the one and only reason I will write this – to make more of God.
Pastor Doug
It has been just over four years since someone has called me, “Pastor Doug.” It was not an official title, and it was not one that I initially wanted. I interviewed for a position as a Spiritual Care Specialist because, selfishly, I wanted to stop working in direct care at a residential treatment facility. In my first interview for the position, I was asked how how I would answer someone’s question about divorce. For those of you who do not know, I am divorced and there have been several reconciliation attempts. I can tell you that at that time the question hit me square between the eyes. The answer that I wanted to give was, “I believe that it hurts God’s heart.” The answer that I ended up giving was, “I believe that it hurts…sniffle sniffle sob… God’s…okay, I need a Kleenex…or two…this is awkward…heart…” One of the interviewers assured me that she, too, had cried in an interview before. “But did you get the job?” I asked. She said that she did. And they moved me on to the second round. At the end of the second interview, I was asked how I would handle someone calling me, “Pastor Doug.” I put off that possibility like young David shedding armor that did not fit him. I was not qualified, I had not been trained, and that’s really not what I expected from life. Good grief, Charlie Brown, I studied Criminal Justice. Pastor? Ha!
They hired me anyway.
I am not perfect.
If you don’t have a strong-willed person in your life, you should find one. They’re pretty awesome. You just need to know how to work with them. A strong-willed person might take an older brother’s bet for two dollars that they cannot go one month without eating ice cream. I was eight years old. My brother was 18. I took the bet, collected my two dollars, and went another seventeen years before I had ice cream. I was a father by the time I decided that I had proven my ability to be right. You see, strong-willed people don’t break. They bend. If they do, in fact, break, it can be pretty horrific and hard to put back together. Truthfully, part of the reason that I am writing is so that I do not break. The last apple on my limb is heavy, and I have carried it for quite some time.
We will come back to that a little later also.
My supervisor had been right, people did start calling me, “Pastor Doug.” It was awkward. I had worked in social work for ten years and I had been many things, but never that. I did not handle it well. When I would meet someone new, or if we had a guest at our worship services, I would introduce myself as, “Doug.” Oh, those strong wills. In time I became more accepting of the title, but it wasn’t easy. I remember driving to our Sunday worship service one January afternoon and thinking, “I am a pastor. I’m a pastor without a building.” I had no idea how that would play out, but I did tell my supervisor that I could at least accept the title with that qualifier.
God was working through my supervisor, the position, and the youth I was working with to shape me and bend me in ways that I had never imagined. One of the things that I began to consider was the flaws of the system we have developed for youth. Moreover, I began to realize the reality of what it meant to not look beyond the system in place. What happened to them once they were no longer on the oasis (remember that) where I worked?
Many young people whom I had encountered helped me to form the questions that I had, and then one simple, dangerous prayer, made my whole ground shake. There was a young lady, strong-willed like me, who was fighting the system in place. I couldn’t appease her with the simple, social work answers that I had learned on the job. There were things that really did not make sense, and she was right. (I hate when they’re right; I don’t do dissonance well, either). One Friday afternoon, in the role of pastor, I talked to her and listened a lot. She had tested positive for the use of recreational drugs on her last visit, and she knew that it would mean she would not be going on a visit that weekend. I did the best that I could, and as I drove back home (what a nice luxury to have), I simply prayed, “Lord, help me to love more deeply.” Little did I know at that time that before the night was over, I would be chasing after her and another young lady running through the streets, hoping that I could talk them into returning to the oasis. Little did I know, that a few months later I would be following her as she ran away from a court hearing, crossing four-lane highways, and standing with my back three feet away from passing traffic so that I could keep her from running into it. Little did I know that two years after that she would be asking to sleep on our couch rather than to be homeless. Little did I know that my supervisor’s blessing of, “I believe God will honor your trust in Him,” would cover and protect me even when the agency did not.
I became a liability, and I was fired.
I am kind of a mess.
When you’re a single man and you help out a teenage girl who has no blood connection, that’s a problem. Apparently. I understand, and I can in no way advocate that my actions are duplicated, save for one. If you want God to work in you to bear good fruit, pray those dangerous prayers. When you ask to bear better fruit, God will help you grow better roots. One goes with the other. I cannot tell you what God will do, and I am not sure that you would want to know ahead of time. If I had known how these past four years would go, I think I would have bitten my tongue before that prayer left my lips. And yet, four years later, I think that I am ready for God to help me grow deeper. It’s not that I want to duplicate being fired. It’s not that I want to be out of town and have a voicemail from a detective because my former employer is accusing me of misconduct. It’s not that I want to have my attorney friend tell me that the summons I received in the mail is serious business. Nor do I want to go to a court room and not be sure if I am walking out the side door or the back door. But this adventure with God? I would absolutely do it all over again.
The place where I worked was an oasis. It served a purpose for those who landed there. But to be on an oasis is temporary. And, just within the past few days, I began to realize that God knew I was no longer needed where I was. I had come to accept that I was a pastor, because a pastor is something that you do. After the last message that I gave at that agency, my supervisor told me that my voice had changed. I was speaking with authority. She was right, and I want to find that voice back.
But right now, I am kind of a mess. I have slept in my own bed once in the past two months. Why? The young lady, now almost 22, and her boyfriend, are expecting a child in December. Without the use of my home at this point, they would be homeless or stuck in a cycle of paying too much for a hotel room, as they were before they came to me. She has my room, and he has a couch. Even that was a process. He kept insisting on sleeping in their vehicle because he didn’t want to be a bother. I kept assuring him that my life had already been flipped upside-down and there wasn’t anything that he could do to change that. I am terrible at saying, “No,” and God has this funny habit of always allowing me to have the provision that someone else needs when they ask for it. If it was only this young couple, I could probably play it off and hide my mess from the world. But it’s more than that. In the past twelve months, this home has been temporary shelter for six different adults, three babies, and a dog. If I counted up all of the teenagers who have spent the night or the weekend here in that same time, I would run out of toes. I have paid for meals for people in three different cities. I have helped people Uber countless times. Moneygram might be my middle name. If your tire blows out several states away, I am probably the one to ask because God has this tendency to set me up to answer that. If, at 7am you realize that you need a ride to work, apparently that’s for me also.
This is the part where it would be very easy to make much of me. But I cannot, and it would be foolish to even try. Ten days ago I ended the day with 57 cents in my account. This is the part I don’t want to talk about. I am behind on every single bill – a lot. The holiday weekend was a nice reprieve from the possibility that the gas, electricity, or water could be turned off. We will deal with that possibility tomorrow. I am absurdly behind on my mortgage, to the point where I have to talk to God about His plans because I am honestly not sure what they are. I have enough gas in the car to get the boys to school and me back home tomorrow. And, in spite of the need for brake work, air bag repair, new shocks and struts, and a cracked windshield, I believe that God will get us back and forth tomorrow.
And that’s okay.
I never wanted a different family, but there was part of me that always wanted a bigger family. I didn’t know that’s what I wanted, but I knew I wanted to find more people. And, in some ways, I am asking God to make my family bigger. I dream big. I know so many gifted people who can be such a valuable asset to this family. And my last apple is about to drop with this piece. It’s the last thing that I have to give in this season.
My spiritual seasons have always run ahead of the natural seasons. When people are in the dry heat of summer, I am handing out my harvest. When people are enjoying their own harvest, I am going dormant and preparing for the next season. When people are in the cold of a spiritual winter, I begin to sow seeds of hope. And when people begin to grow anew, I am growing in the fullness of summer in order to bear fruit.
There’s an apple tree in front of my childhood home. It makes no sense that it still bears fruit. It is bent at a ridiculous angle. It is exposed to nearly every storm. It has a hole in it that should have taken it out a long time ago. My parents have tried to prop it and brace it over the years. When the support that was supposed to hold it up falls away, the tree stays standing. Roots and the invisible hand of God are working out mysteries.
I feel a lot like that tree. My mom keeps saying, “There’s a sermon in that tree.” She’s absolutely right. I just wish it didn’t feel like I was the sermon. When people stumble upon an oasis, they have exhausted all other options before they ask for the fruit. And when we bear spiritual fruit, I cannot imagine a scenario where we, as believers, are meant to either withhold the fruit or determine who should have it. If God put them in that place, and there is fruit, they should eat.
Do you know how an oasis can form? An oasis can form when water collects on an impermeable rock. Okay, church. God doesn’t waste words. If He is a rock, and a vine, and we are the branches, y’all don’t hear me. This’ll preach. 😉
God took my tears, collected them on an impermeable Rock, and from that an oasis grew. Do you know what kind of tree is very good for an oasis? A date palm tree. I wish I could make this up, but the night of my dangerous prayer, I went out on a date. When the date was over, I checked my phone and saw that two different people had told me the young lady had run away. “God, help me to love more deeply.” I know a date is not a date, but come on.
And check this out – do you know how date palms can spring up into an oasis? Sometimes the seeds are transported to a suitable location by bird droppings. If there was ever a case to cuss in a sermon (of sorts), this is it. Do you see this? So, God can take someone’s


, drop it off in a new location, and grow new life? Come on, church. I’m gonna bring this to a close because I have a son to pick up from football practice, but let me say this. I wanted the easy way out of this season, I did. I wanted to bite the bullet and ask my natural family for a check to make some of this go away. But this isn’t about me. It never was. Some of you reading this need to know what God can do. Some of you reading this should try praying dangerous prayers. It’s a wild adventure. This is my last apple. I’m letting it drop, and I’m expecting nothing short of a miracle – that God will move in mysterious ways to bring about incredible and unexpected, unexplained results. I’m going to feel lighter when I drop this, but I’m also going to feel naked and exposed and crooked and without a support under me. So, if God moves within you to bring some of your harvest over here, I will gladly accept it. It has taken years of being available to people before they have asked if they could have what I have.

One last thing because I am already going to be late. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I recently wondered why Jesus didn’t command us to love our neighbors as our family. The answer is pretty clear. There are far too many people who would feel that they are off the hook if he had said it that way. We know how to self-preserve, so Jesus spoke to that part of our nature.

But I think that there is more. Once we can start to wrap our minds around that, I believe that we are to love our neighbors as our family. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we want them to have the same types of things that we have. But when we go deeper and love our neighbor as our family, we want them to have the same things that we have.

Spiritual family, I’m all out of apples. If you would be willing to share, God will bless you, I promise. He has mouths to feed.

I’m Pastor Doug. I’m not perfect. I’m definitely a mess – and that’s okay.

Love you.

To God be the glory.