Getting Ready

This has been a week of pretty intense preparations to be gone next week. I have a list of all the things I need to do and it’s impressive! Not that I’m through with them. As the day wore on today I was feeling pretty weary and probably not as chirpy as I like to be at the Wednesday night gathering. More on what I’m working on below… 

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. – Ecclesiastes 12:12

I’m thankful that I have a break this quarter. Gary Kirkendall is doing a thought-provoking series of lessons called “How We Got Here”… a look at the history of the churches of Christ in America. I have found it fascinating and Gary is a great teacher. Tonight we finished discussing the Declaration and Address and worked through Alexander Campbell’s death. I’ll miss next week, and it looks like it is going to be a great one as the church deals with the outbreak of the Civil War. 

Ok, so I’m trying to get my studies ready for sermons and classes the next few weeks. I also have a pretty big assignment due for my class at Amridge University. I’m taking Dr. Tim Gunnells’ course Contemporary Issues in Ministry.  I’ll share the books we’re reading in another post sometime.

I need to compose a post for the Fall Blog Tour… more on that soon.

In addition, I’m preparing four lessons for the Harding University Bible LectureshipThis is my second time to speak at Harding Lectures (Thanks Dan Williams!). This time I’ll be doing four presentations on grief and grief recovery. All of them are on Wednesday, the last day of lectures… I’m sure that lecture sensory overload will be in full effect. I believe the audio will be available for those who can’t make it. So one week from today will be a pretty heavy duty day for me… it takes a lot out of you to speak four times in a day. I’m not complaining, just recognizing! I am a little out of place on a University campus among all the smart folks. But we’ve been through some tough lessons when it comes to grief and I think it is the right thing to do to share what we’ve learned. I’m grateful for the opportunity. But over the next few days, I really need to revise what I have prepared and make sure it is quality for those who choose to come to my classes. I notice friends Willie Nettle (fellow MBC alumnus), Tim Archer, Kent Jobe, Don Delukie (Go Monroe!), Jim Martin and I’m sure others are on the program in the long list of presenters. And the pressure is off, during the times I’m speaking because Jim McGuiggan is teaching down the hall. ha! Oh my word, I may have to skip my own class!

Sunday the Narrative Lectionary has me preaching from the edge of the Red Sea. That’s already prepared and ready to go. It is hard to get a really fresh look at something so familiar. But I think we have a word here that speaks to our hearts today. Looking forward to that lesson. In September the theme has been the Faithfulness of God. In October we will study Being Faithful to Our Faithful God!

So, I’m getting ready. For what are you getting ready? Thanks for reading.

 

Dear Blog, I Miss You

Yes, I admit that’s weird. I also admit that you really can’t go back to ‘the good old days’. So this is probably of very little interest and if you want to move on along right now I wouldn’t blame you.

Photo by Alvimann at Morguefile.com

Out Here Hope Remains has gone through several revolutions since the time that Steve Martin, Joel Jordan and I sat in my office at Central Church of Christ in Pascagoula, MS and thought up the idea. We were reading other people’s blogs and wanted to get in on the cool way people were sharing ideas and thoughts. For you youngsters, this is before Facebook and maybe before everybody had a cell phone, I’m not sure. I think it was Joel who pulled the title from a lyric by Caedmon’s Call. We were each going to take turns writing. That didn’t happen, though. I did keep writing most days. And people read and responded. Which made me want to write more.

Though I enjoyed the interaction it provided, I didn’t know at that time that there would be two times (at least) in the future when this blog would play an important role in my ministry and life. The first was in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina roared ashore on the Mississippi Coast.  The other was our own personal storm when John Robert Dobbs died in 2008. During both of those really difficult times, friends and family were able to keep in touch with us through the blog. Later, through Facebook, yes. But the blog seems much more personal than the instant like and forget flow of Facebook or Twitter.

I still post and share the posts through Twitter and Facebook and anywhere else I think it might be of interest. But what I miss is the personal side of blogging. Now we get hourly updates on all our “friends” and it’s way too much information to process. Or maybe I’m just getting older and the processor doesn’t work at the top speed anymore? Anyway, there are days when I toy with the idea of just disengaging from the social media stratosphere. But I do like the interaction…it’s just … too much. It seems impossible to slow down. 

But back in another technological age, I could send out a post once a day and

Photo by deemac1 at Morguefile.com

if I wanted to share what I had for lunch, or talk about something that’s been on my mind and not have the instant (and /or hostile) feedback of the universe, I could. A few friends would stop by and notice there was a new post. But I’m afraid Facebook and Twitter killed it. I don’t hate them for it. How could I? I’m neck deep in them! I’m not even going to put this post on Facebook.

I don’t even know why I wrote this post … grandpaw on the front porch in his rocking chair ruminating on some bygone memories I guess. I am a grandpaw but I don’t consider myself very old … yet. But when I was 25, people my current age were old. So, there’s that. 

If you are one of the subscribers to this blog and you even occasionally open it up and read it … thank you. There might be some posts coming ahead that aren’t theological reflections (though I hope to post weekly some thoughts on the Narrative Lectionary text). There are still some book reviews ahead (doesn’t everyone love book reviews?).  But there might be some personal reflections on the day. I’ll try to think of some clever title for those so you can just delete when you see those come across. 

Unless you’re super intelligent and like human interest pieces.

I’m a human anyway.

So, yeah, I miss my blog…the way it was…before it had reasons to exist … other than to suggest that Out Here Hope Remains.

Thanks for reading this far! JED

Oh, I want to give some credit to Bill Hooten and his delightful blog Hoot’s Musings. When I read it I feel like I’m on Bill’s front porch with a glass of iced tea and just listening to his delightful reflections. So I recommend you bookmark his blog and subscribe to it. Thanks Bill!

Ten Years … What I’ve Learned

John Robert in Claire on a ride in Dollywood

May 21 is just a date. I’m sure many things happened on this day but only one thing surfaces in my own mind and heart. It’s the day that John Robert Dobbs died.  It’s been ten years and that’s still hard to write. Before that terrible day I regarded grief from a distance. As a minister, I officiated at funerals. I was sincere in my condolences but truthfully I had no idea what the person mourning in front of me was going through. That kind of empathy is not something you can learn in school or from a book.

With some caution I’d like to share some things I’ve learned from ten years of being acquainted with grief. Maybe this post will help someone in a particularly needful time. I use the world “help” loosely, of course.

I’ve learned that grief is a real thing. It hurts physically. I thought the term ‘heavy heart’ was just a metaphor. It leaves us exhausted. It makes sleeping through the night difficult. It causes us to have difficulty concentrating. People sometimes lose their jobs because they can’t function in the same capacity. Sometimes people stop eating, sometimes they can’t stop eating.  Grief is a real experience.

I’ve learned that grief is not a temporary experience. It may vary in intensity. It seems unbearable at first. It eases up at times. It comes back unpredictably. I suppose as long as I love John Robert I will always live with a subtext of grief in my life. Because I know bereaved parents who are much farther away from their loss, I know that grief is not going to go away. I’ve often said that grief was like a stranger who moved into our hearts and just won’t leave.

I’ve learned that the first two years were the hardest. I’m reflecting on my own experience, not telling you what yours will be. Grief in the first two years was intensely and jaggedly painful, disorienting, debilitating. If it remained at that level I doubt I would still be alive. It will always hurt. It will not always hurt like this. I learned that from those who walked before me.

John Robert on a snowy day at Tulsa Workshop.

I’ve learned that there is healing and strength to be found alongside fellow strugglers. My involvement with GriefShare and Compassionate Friends became lifelines for me. Mike and Mignon Riley took us to lunch with their old friends French and Marilyn Smith. I sat at a table and looked another father in the eye as he told me he knew how I felt because his son died too. When I attended their meeting I could sense the pain in that room but I knew that everyone there was walking through the same fire I was. That’s why I still attend those meetings. I also learned a lot from GriefShare and Royce and Carol Ogle. Leading GriefShare seasons has given me an opportunity to give hope. I would not be where I am now without those who were willing to walk with me in support groups. There is healing in helping.

I’ve learned that grief is both a unique and a common experience. It is unique in that every person grieves in their own way. They had a unique relationship with the one who died. Even within families, there are different experiences, remembrances, feelings … your grief is your own. So I do not speak for Maggy, Nicole, Claire, or any other family member or friend. But the truth is that grief is also pretty common. When I started reading books about grief I realized that many of them said the same things, even if they used different words. Ultimately, how many different ways is there to say, “this hurts like hell“? Still, each book and article I read affirmed my own feelings and I didn’t regret reading them.

I’ve learned that guilt is not a grieving parent’s friend. Every bereaved parent I’ve known has that one question that hangs on longer than the rest. What if? I wish I could tell you that the answer to that question will relieve all your anxiety about the death of your loved one. But it won’t. Even if you knew all the answers to all the What If questions the fact would still remain that they are gone. It is natural for a grieving parent to feel guilt, after all, it is our job to protect and raise our children safely. We’re not supposed to out-live our children. But we have a reality to face and nothing is going to change that reality. So let guilt go, there are so many other things to which you can give your attention.

I’ve learned that grief impacts faith in a dramatic way. There is much to say on this, but, grief can either drive us to God or away from God and the choice is yours. For me, I began reading my Bible in a different light, realizing that the first family in the Bible was led by bereaved parents. I’m moved by the grief stories of the Bible. Job at the loss of his children, the heartbreak of David and Bathsheba in the loss of their baby, the surprised widow of Nain who received her son back (but ultimately he died once again at some point), and when Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus – all of these tell us that loss is a part of the faith story. I do believe John Robert is more alive now than he ever was on earth. Because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the empty tomb I have sure hope that this life is not all there is. I don’t know how I could face this loss otherwise. I know others struggle with that, and I acknowledge you in that struggle.

There is more to learn on the grief journey but this is growing much too long. My prayer for you, if you are a newly bereaved parent who is reading this, is that you will know that there are brighter days ahead. They might be far off in the distance. But you are not walking alone. our Gentle Shepherd knows how to walk with us through the darkest of valleys.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4

If you’ve read this far and you are one of those precious friends who has walked with us through this ordeal for a decade now … thank you.  We probably didn’t acknowledge every act of kindness from the visits to the funeral to the food to the calls to the cards … everyone did everything they knew how. But there was still that empty chair at the table. We just had to learn how to live with that. We had no choice. We did, however, have support. So thank you. Truly.

Because of you, Out Here Hope Remains. JED

Some Grief Resources on the internet

Surrendering to Hope book

 

Merry Christmas & A Giveaway

YOU CAN READ THIS ENTIRE POST OR you can skip to the end where there are a giveaway and a free download! Merry Christmas!

Here we are at the end of 2017. How has 2017 been for you? You know how there are certain years that are just marked because of events that happened – whether happy or sad? 

1963 was my mom’s favorite year because I was born. (This could be fake news, not fact checked!)

1987 was the year I married the bright and beautiful Margaret (Maggy, as she likes to be called these days) and became a father figure to the eclectic and engaging Niki (Nicole or Heather, as she likes to be called these days). 

1989 was the year my son John Robert was born. 

2005 was the year that Hurricane Katrina flooded our coastal community and ignited a two+ year recovery mission that still hovers in my mind. 

2008 was the year I’d like to just carve out of my life and remove. It was the year we said goodbye to John Robert and my stepdad Harold. It was the year my mom had breast cancer (but she is a survivor!). 

2017 is the year that my dad began an intense spiral into the devastation of Alzheimer’s Disease. The emotional and physical toll this took on me is still being hammered out in my own mind. 

Then there’s 2018. Who knows? Only God.

Of course, those are not all the highlights and low places of my life. For every year that we can name something great, there were things that weren’t so great. For every year when it looked like a disaster, God was present to see us through and we can see blessings now we couldn’t see at the time.

Over the years OUT HERE HOPE REMAINS has taken different shapes as the internet and online experiences have changed. Facebook took over the entire internet. The things we used to blog about we now post in five seconds, take a picture, and before an hour passes we have friends (both known and unknown!) liking them. But nowadays personal blogs are mostly passe´, and that’s ok. 

I’m grateful for everyone who takes a few minutes to scan anything I’ve written. Hopefully, it’s a blessing to you and in the coming year I will be able to share some more thoughts that remind us that out here, hope remains.

As a ‘Thank You’ to those who read, I’m going to give away a copy of TimothyKeller’s book of devotional thoughts through the Proverbs. To be entered into the giveaway, simply post a reply on the blog itself (not the Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media postings!). In your reply, indicate if you’d rather have hardback or kindle edition. That’s easy, right? Deadline to enter is midnight, December 27th. 

Oh, and I promised a free download! For the past five years, I have participated in a summer blog tour. Those blog posts are written by an assortment of excellent thinkers. I can hardly believe they let me in the group! All five sets of those posts are available in ebooks in .pdf format for download at my friend Peter Horne’s blog HERE. This past summer’s theme was Faith Unshackled. With a .pdf you can read it on your computer, phone, or send it to your Kindle address and read it on any device with a free Kindle app. Hope you enjoy those! I do!

I appreciate you and hope you’ll have a great Christmas. Pray for those who are facing the first Christmas without a loved one, suffer from the pangs of depression and loneliness, or who have no one with them on special days. And whatever 2018 brings, I pray it will be one of those years marked by a joy that you can remember for the rest of your days.

Out Here Hope Remains, JD

 

 

 

 

Terry Rush Retires Today

Terry Rush and Me in November 2015

The news is that Terry Rush is retiring after 40 years as Senior Minister at the Memorial Drive Church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma today. Like thousands of others, I mostly knew Terry via the International Soul Winning Workshop as I attended over the past three decades. Terry came to town to tell us about Jesus and he did so with such passion and energy!

How many years did we go dragging to Tulsa Workshop wondering if we should continue in ministry and return home with the flame reignited! Terry Rush is one of those who continued to keep us aflame with the love for Christ and his mission to love and save humanity.

I’ve always admired Terry for his easy way of talking to strangers, reaching out to celebrities, and being a sports icon at St. Louis Cardinals. Surely you are already reading his blog regularly (LINK).  His books and film series have been a gift to the brotherhood of Christians who follow him.

Surely this is a bittersweet day for our brother, but I know he will receive many well-deserved accolades. His heart for ministry is so vivid in something he wrote on his Facebook page a few days ago:

Great days are ahead. Provision from God will be over the top. But today…and a few days ahead I will continue to cry. It’s within these tears of loving NOW that I will use them as telescopes to see the future wonder. I’m not thinking the fun stuff is over. I never have. So if you wouldn’t mind, I will cry just a bit….no….quite a bit. I’m the luckiest man I ever met…really.

This is the last Sunday of his ministry on staff at Memorial, but certainly not the last day of his influence for Christ. I’ve been blessed with many mentors and influencers in ministry and Terry shines brightly on that list. I just want to say to Terry, I love and appreciate you. You can’t know how much your outreach to me has meant … after Katrina… after the death of our son… after all.

I asked a few friends if they might want to join in with the RushFest today. Here’s what they had to say to Terry:

I have learned much from Terry, most of all that God can work in special ways with those who open themselves for His use. – Carl Ferril, St. John, Kansas

Thank you for the blessing you have been to the brotherhood! – Danny Dodd, North Little Rock, Arkansas

When I was putting my book, A Common Bond, together, Terry was one of the preachers I reached out to. I knew his wisdom and encouragement would be a blessing for others desiring to proclaim the Good News. I’ll never forget how he told me that for years he preached for the Church of Christ but then one day he decided to preach for the Christ of the Church. I love that and think of it often when writing or counseling. Thank you Terry for the influence you’ve had on me and countless others. – Paula Harrington, Calvert City, Kentucky

Terry was instrumental in helping me discover and understand “grace” theologically and practically. – Douglas Young, Teague, Texas

Terry encouraged me when I wanted to give up, he gave me wisdom when I needed it most. – Trent Tanaro, Spearman, Texas

I grew up in Tulsa, but didn’t worship at Memorial, however I heard Terry every year at the Workshop. I’ll never forget when he spoke to a couple hundred soon to be 5th graders about being leaders at our schools. I got his baseball card there, and thought he must be the coolest preacher ever. Terry loves all people and especially ministers. He has been and continues to be an encouragement to my family. He will visit and listen to any young minister seeking advice. He is a preachers preacher. – Chris Rampey, Stuart, Oklahoma

Though we had never met, Terry reached out to me at the very lowest point in my years of ministry. He offered me simple but sincere encouragement. He told me he was praying for me…and I knew he meant it. I have seen him to be a man of grace, even showing kindness to those who treat him spitefully. – Tim Parish, Lebanon, Tennessee

Terry’s smile was always infectious; his preaching style and antics endearing. More than anything, Terry has always been a breath of fresh air and extraordinary encouraging. I have been blessed by him and his ministry. – Les Ferguson, Jr., Ridgeland, Mississippi

Terry is Love. Kindness. Gentle. And, Faithful. He is above all, God’s man who listens to his Father continuously through the rough waters and the calm seasons. Terry is a preachers pastor. He offers help to the weary, beaten down, on the end of the rope preacher. Terry may be retiring from the weekly preacher duties, but I can assure you, he will continue to inspire countless thousands every day, whether it is his blog or simply seeing someone in the community where he lives. Terry is the face of Jesus! – Brian McCutchen, Sparta, Tennesee

When I think of Terry, the word “generous” comes to mind. He is always giving…always pouring himself out to people that many of us would never have noticed. The fruit of his ministry will last for generations as Terry has invested in so many people in such a selfless way. We owe our brother Terry a debt of gratitude. – Matt Dabbs, Auburn, Alabama

Terry brings to mind, for me, the verse that goes, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11) He seems to know what to say, and how to say it, and when. – Keith Brenton, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

When I think of Terry I think of the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy patience, gentleness are embodied in this servant of the Lord. I am so grateful to have been blessed by him from the time I was a student in the late 1980s to the present. We are all better because the Lord sent us this gift. His life has been an offering to the glory of the Father and we have reaped the rewards. Thank you Terry. – Bobby Valentine, Gunnison, Colorado

I’m sure this doesn’t do more than scratch the surface of heartfelt thanks and warm regards for a brother we all hold in high esteem. I love you and your family, Terry. New adventures ahead!

Thanks for reading, JD.

Goodbye Judy

Eddie and Judy Lewis

When I graduated from Magnolia Bible College in 1985 I moved 8 miles west from Ruleville, Mississippi to Cleveland. I worked for the Cleveland Church of Christ as a Campus Minister at Delta State University and as the Youth Minister for the church. The preaching minister at the time was Eddie Lewis. As a 21 year old recent college graduate with a new job I really thought I knew a lot. What I didn’t know was that I had stepped into a goldmine of mentoring under the influence of Eddie and Judy Lewis.  They were a marvelous team as they reached out to others in the church. It took me a while to realize this, but as I look back now I can see God’s hand in having me in their shadow and gaining life and ministry lessons from them that still serve me today. I think as long as I live I’ll always hope to be the kind of man that Eddie is. This is even more vivid as I’ve watched over the past six years as he has cared for his wonderful wife Judy as she traveled down the darkening road of dementia. But that was not the Judy that I knew.

Judy was perceptive. When you talked with her she often unearthed a perspective or feeling that you had not identified yet. This served her well as a counselor both in a professional setting and in informal conversations.

Judy was compassionate. Like most compassionate people, Judy had lived through a lot of her own heartache and troubles in life. I often marveled at how someone who had so much to deal with early in life could be such a sunny and bright person. She genuinely cared about the person in front of her, no matter who they were.

Judy was funny. She had a ready easy laugh – and if I can say this in a kind way – she was at times loud and vivacious!  Fun to be around because of her great sense of humor and desire to bring happiness to others, Judy had some (searching for words here) funny voices with which she would express things that brought many a smile. I can remember funny games that Eddie and Judy led at gatherings that had everyone in stitches.

Judy was unafraid. If there needed to be a hard conversation, she was ready to have it. It would be done with class and kindness. But it would happen – and often with a good resolution because of her determination to iron out anything that had created an issue. In addition, they ministered in a time when very few couples were doing marriage enrichment seminars for churches where both the husband and the wife spoke. These were tricky waters to navigate but they both cared about the family and withstood criticism from some in order to help the most.

It was during the time I was in Cleveland when an unexpected issue developed between my father and me. It was something I couldn’t do anything about. At the time I was still single and didn’t have the blessing of a spouse to lean upon. Depression settled in and I needed help. Eddie and Judy were there to be a blessing to me … a light in my darkness.

When the Lewis’ moved from Cleveland to Greenville and then on Germantown, they left behind friends and admirers who were impacted by their positive and uplifting ministry.

That’s why today, the day of Judy’s funeral, there are people all over Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana who are wistful today as they ruminate over memories of Judy. Her daughters and their families have endured a terrible loss. If there is any comfort it comes from two things…

Judy lived life to the fullest, a woman of faith and family, leaving a heritage her family can be proud of.

Judy is released from the darkness of memory loss into the brightness of God’s caring presence.

Until we meet again, goodbye Judy. God’s blessings and comfort to Eddie, Angelia and Christie and families.

Obituary for Judy Lewis

Thanks for reading, JD