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

What Mike Riley Taught Me About Leadership

On February 25, 2017 my friend Mike Riley won his valiant thirty year battle with cancer and went to be with the Lord. I learned so much about life and discipleship from my friend and elder Mike. Among the many things I learned from Mike were a number of lessons about leadership. I can only relate to Mike in terms of our common connection at the church. I don’t know how he functioned in other settings, but I expect others had similar experiences with him in the various groups in which he was involved.

Early every Tuesday morning the elders of our church meet and pray together for the needs of those in our church and community of which we are aware. The empty seat at that table still catches my attention. In the Sundays since he was last able to worship with us I have missed seeing him in his second row seat beside Mignon, his rock, inspiration, and lifetime love. In his roles in public life Mike demonstrated some wonderful habits of leadership that I not only want to remember but to emulate. I can’t say that they originated with Mike, but he demonstrated them with excellence.

*SMILE AND BE FRIENDLY. I can’t think of many more admirable qualities than to be able to smile and bring out the smiles in others. Mike had a ready smile and easy laugh. This served to diffuse any tension in the air and gave everyone permission to relax. Anyone meeting Mike for the first time would quickly feel that they had gained a friend. Truthfully, they had.

*SHARE OUT OF YOUR PAIN. Mike’s decades-long battle with cancer gave him a sharp eye for loving and serving others who had cancer. I don’t know how many of Dr. Amy Givler’s books he gave away to those who were just starting down that road. When he found out some acquaintance had cancer, they got a personal visit from him. I know that those people praised God for his compassion and care by the time he walked out of their door. He became a presence of hope and comfort as he pointed the way to THE source of eternal hope and peace. His pain became an invitation to a fellow journeyman down a difficult road.

*NEVER GIVE UP. Mike was a tenacious believer in following through with the things you really believe in. Mike wasn’t one to ditch an idea because he ran into a tough spot. He was one to think up new approaches and was willing to try another way. Mike didn’t give up on people, even when they struggled. He didn’t give up on his dreams to see Forsythe Church of Christ become a great(er) church. He never gave up on praying for others. He never let his health issues cause him to give up (at least when I was observing… I’m sure he had his moments in private).

*DON’T GET STUCK ON ONE THING. It may have been more about his personality, but Mike was interested in so many different things. He was socially involved in several clubs and organizations over the years. Aside from the fact that he grew up in Monroe, I think most everyone in town knew him because he had served alongside them in some capacity or another. His interests were varied and that put him in contact with many people he otherwise would not have been able to influence.

*LOVE YOUR MINISTER. It was my pleasure to be Mike’s preacher for the last nine years of his life. Like anyone else, I always appreciate encouraging words about my work. I could tell that Mike put some thought into the things he would say about my sermons. It would have been OK for him to say, “that was a good sermon, John”. Instead he has said, “I can tell you put a lot of preparation into that message – you always do.” If he could, Mike always set down what he was doing if I asked to meet with him or called him on the phone. Mike truly made me feel like I was a very important person. He was so good at valuing my opinions and concerns.

Mike, Mignon, and Keith Roberts at Area Wide Singing August 2010

*PAY ATTENTION TO THE TIME. Mike was committed to make sure we started on time at church.  It could be that this was just a habit of his. I appreciated his timeliness because it added to his reputation of dependability. If he told me he was picking me up at a certain time, he would be a few minutes early. If he ran late, he called. It was a matter of being a man of his word and also considerate of others. 

*DEFLECT AND PASS ALONG CREDIT. It wasn’t hard to complement Mike Riley, but he seldom allowed it to settle on him. He would either deflect the complement as too much or he would pass along credit. If you complimented him you would most likely hear him begin to brag on his wonderful wife Mignon and give her the credit. Sometimes he would remember that it was his dad that taught him something important that led to the compliment. If you thanked him for his work in the eldership of our church he would point to the other elders with whom he served and share the love. 

*SHOW UP.  It was crucially important to Mike to show up. If you had a surgery, he showed up (often with Mignon) to pray for you in the prep room before the surgery actually took place. I had never heard of being present in that space before I became the minister at Forsythe. I found out that it is a cold and scary place, just before going under the knife. Of course Mike knew that from his own surgeries. I also remember on a miserable day with rain pouring out of the sky, Mike and Mignon and Ronnie and Billie Teague took the three hour drive to the Lehrton Cemetery in Ruleville, Mississippi and sat with us while our son was buried. We had only known them a few months, but he showed up. He always did.

I’m sure I can think of more over time but these are the ones that are so vivid in my mind. His absence is an enormous part of my life.  I’m certain it is much more so in the lives of his beautiful family. He left a legacy of hope, faith, and love that remains strong in my memories. Those memories challenge me to be a better leader, Christian, and friend. 

Thanks for reading, JD.




When We Met Frank and Linda

I  know that when people hear me start in on Katrina stories they do their best to hide their expression that says “Oh no, not again!” I understand. But I have a reason to revisit this story. 

Katrina hit August 29, 2005. Unforgettable date for anyone who lived there at the time. Our home was flooded but also our church building just a block away. There were several people who worked hard at the church building to clean up. There was no power…it was late August… hot and nasty work. And of course we were thinking about when we might be able to gather as a church again. One day I went out back and there was a red and white tent set up. It was a total surprise to me, and a welcome one. David White at one time had been a deacon at Orange Grove Church of Christ in Gulfport was now a deacon at Brentwood Hills Church of Christ in Nashville where he and his family lived. David, as I understand it, was doing relief work on the Coast and had the tent set up.

The next Sunday we had folding chairs and had tried to pass the word around as best as we could that we would have a time of worship. No one had cars (they had flooded) and there was no electricity… no cell towers for calls … so we didn’t know who would be there. People from the surrounding neighborhood walked up to the tent for worship. It was quite an experience. Later we stored all kinds of supplies under that tent and people would drive by and tell us what they needed and we would put it in their trunk. 

David wasn’t through helping us and in time arranged for my family to come to Nashville to visit with a missions committee and perhaps to speak to the Brentwood Hills church about what we were doing. That was a rare privilege, as it was impressed on me that they do not usually allow basically unknown guests to get up like that. Thanks to David and the leadership there we were able to share the mission on the Coast. We also enjoyed a wonderful reception the night before. We stayed in the home of another Deacon, Frank Shelton.

(As an aside, it was also on this trip that I met another amazing person, Joe Dudney, which I wrote about HERE.)

Frank and Linda were wonderful hosts. They were very warm and inviting and we felt at home. Frank showed an interest in John Robert and showed him a prized Mustang convertible he had. We took some pictures in it and then Frank took us on a drive through the Lipscomb University campus. It was so much fun and quite a reprieve from the hard work going on back on the Coast. The Sheltons had a condo on Kentucky Lake and told us we could stay there anytime it was available. We did that once, and it was a beautiful time away.

Over the years Frank kept in touch via email and shared with me some of the mission works that were close to his heart. I knew that he was battling lung cancer for the past few years. Last night Frank won his battle and now is with the Lord. I don’t think any of us know exactly how God has things worked out on the other side, but I hope that Frank and John Robert can take a spin in a Mustang again. 

In the rubble of our post-Katrina world there were many bright encouragers. Frank and Linda, and David, shine strongly through those dark days because they loved with the love of the Lord. 

Here are the arrangements for Frank Shelton’s service:
Visitation will be held at Brentwood Hills Church of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee on Friday, June 23rd from 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, June 24th from 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. The funeral service will be held at Brentwood Hills Church of Christ on Saturday, June 24th at 2:00 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to:
Union Health Foundation, Frank and Linda Shelton Scholarship Fund
Union Health Foundation
1606 North 7th Street
Terre Haute, Indiana 47804

Brentwood Hills Church of Christ (memo: in memory of Frank Shelton) for
the Bright Angels Christian Academy in Oduwo, Kenya.
Brentwood Hills Church of Christ
5120 Franklin Pike
Nashville, TN 37220

or by visiting: brentwoodhills.org

There was an Army of Volunteers. I See that Frank and Linda are on this partial list of people who helped us. (LINK)

Thanks for reading. JD