Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Girl Named Duncan

My world changed forever on February 26, 1996 when this little blonde-headed, blue-eyed girl came into my life. She immediately stole my heart. We named her Duncan, after a missionary family who God used to impact me and many others in the world for Jesus. Yeah, I guess it's kind of a guy's name. We worried she might get some grief over it as she grew.

When she was little she loved tiny beautiful things: little flowers, rocks, shells, four-leaf-clovers (which she has always been able to find with ease).

Easter 2005
As she grew up, she was a walking paradox: tender yet tough, naïve yet clever, tomboy yet girly-girl, diligent and dedicated yet lazy and procrastinating, desiring to please yet sometimes a rascal. She was almost always happy but hated smiling when people watched.

I love her more than I knew I had the capacity to love, and more than words can express. Of course I could say the same about my love for Darla (in a different way), and for Drew and Dara. Drew will always be my only son and my firstborn. There's no comparison to that. Dara is my baby (she hates that moniker), we're a whole lot alike and we've always had a special relationship. But Duncan was my first daughter, and she's always been a daddy's girl.

Something happens to a dude when he has a daughter that is completely unexpected(it was for me, anyway). He sees the world differently. He gets softer and more emotional. He becomes much more protective. He falls in love again in a totally new way. Before Duncan was born, I remember wondering why men—strong men—would struggle and cry when they gave their daughters away on their wedding days. The moment I held Duncan in my arms—I was the first to hold her, by the way—I completely understood. And I dread that day.

Thirteen. Rough year for dad.
She's had more nicknames than both my other kids combined, including Punkin, Clover, Rascal, Dunky, DES, Nummy, and Princess. Honestly, I was scared to death when she turned 13 and entered the self-focused, boy-crazy, parents-are-dumb phase we call the "stupid stage" (which we all must pass through), and I was elated to watch her grow to stand strong for Jesus by age 16. In fact, of all my kids, I was more worried about how she'd turn out than the others!

She's a lot like her mother, and this is good. She loves making things look stylish, neat, and clean. She loves cooking and serving others. She has social grace and seems to know how to say just the right thing in all circumstances. She loves the beach. She is easy to be around and loves to make things fun, meaningful, memorable. She has great skin, tans easily, never stinks, and looks great in everything from sweats to swanky dresses. She'll study hard and make an A on a test only to forget everything she learned as soon as she turns it in. She has a sincere faith and is disciplined regarding reading her Bible and prayer. She's almost universally liked by others and is always trying to gently move people toward Jesus. You can count on her to do the right thing, even if she has to do it alone.

She's also got some of her dad's attributes. She's a bit of a daredevil. She's fight (as opposed to flight). She loves pondering theology and politics and loves to debate for the sake of determining truth (she's always been "my little theologian"). She loves classic cars—working on them, admiring them, driving them. She loves fishing and hunting. She's proud of her family and her name. She's passionate about missions (living up to her name). And she's not afraid to stand and speak the truth of the Bible in front of a crowd.

Oh, the stories I could tell.

She raised and saved money to go on a trip after her high school graduation. Not to the beach to party. She wanted to go to Indonesia, the country with the highest population of Muslims in the world and share Jesus. It was an incredible summer. God used her and grew her.

I could not be more proud.
I got to spend a weekend with the family around Easter. And the day afterward, I got to hang out with Duncan.

We went trout fishing at the Hiwassee. It was like a dream from which I did not want to awaken.

Duncan casting.

A beautiful river. Spring has begun.

She caught the only Brown Trout of the day and released it.
She really is a good fisherwoman. 

That's a stringer full. We caught 11 Rainbows
and Duncan caught a really nice Yellow Perch.
We turned the perch loose after this picture.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

St. Patrick's Day. Don't Miss It!

Today is St. Patrick's Day. I've always liked it. It officially marks the end of winter and the coming of spring. As a kid, I loved that it was two days before my birthday (so I was already excited). It's also one of those fun little holidays with it's own little quirks (like, wear green or get pinched) and legends! But if we're not careful, we'll miss the great message about the real St. Patrick.

In short, the guy was a sincere and passionate Christian who allowed God to turn the tragic events of his teen years into an outpouring of the Gospel in a virtually unreached part of the world.

I've blogged about him before. There are other great articles about him. To state it briefly, here are just five quick lessons from his life:

1. God uses evils and hardship in our lives for his glory and our good. It happened with Joseph in the Bible. It happened with me. It happens with you. Patrick was kidnapped and enslaved in a hostile foreign country during what should have been the happiest years of his life. He was mistreated and he suffered. He finally escaped and found his way home. That much alone is a testimony of God's grace! But the story wasn't over. He refused to be a victim.

2. Courage is a great gift. There are so many ways Patrick was courageous. Besides enduring slavery and escaping home, he took the initiative to train for ministry. He sensed God calling him BACK to that wretched, pagan island of Ireland—and he WENT. He faced impossible odds, dangers, and death frequently, yet was never ashamed of the gospel.

3. Creativity is a powerful tool. Patrick may not have been a scholar, but he was creative in accomplishing the Great Commission. From using the simple, ubiquitous shamrock to make the Trinity understandable, to shifting tactics and going after the Irish chiefs in order to reach the masses, he was a strategic mastermind.

4. Persistence pays off. Patrick was no quitter. He just kept sharing, baptizing, and planting churches. Truth is, he proclaimed Christ in Ireland for about 30 years, saw over 100,000 conversions, and planted over 200 churches. Thousands of leaders were trained and sent into ministry. Many institutions he founded still exist today, almost 16 centuries later!

5. Social justice and the gospel are great partners. For understandable reasons, Patrick hated the institution of slavery. He fought against it and found success. But by no means did this fight deter him from communicating the good news—it propelled him in it. The two were symbiotic in making him such an influence whose legendary status is renown. It saddens me today that many champions of social justice have compromised the gospel, and many gospel-centered churches have ignored the poor and abused. Did not Jesus come to set captives free (both spiritually and temporally)? Of course the spiritual must take precedent. The truth is the gospel IS THE ANSWER to the problems that most plague mankind.

So don't buy the made up lore of ridding Ireland of snakes, green beer, and leprechauns. Know the real Patrick and ask God to make you more like him. Then you will be remembered for the right reasons and find great joy.

Monday, March 14, 2016

One of My Favorite Places...and People!

This weekend was just great. Dara got some backpacking equipment for Christmas, and spring break is when she was determined to try it all out. Well, spring break is here! Amid a questionable (if not threatening) weather forecast, we decided to take a chance and go for it. I am soooo glad we did.

We went to one of our favorite hiking spots—where incidentally Dara hiked when she was just three years old—the Shining Rock Wilderness area in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

So we packed our gear and loaded up the Wagoneer (our "family adventure mobile") and left on Friday. We got to the Blue Ridge Parkway, only to find that it was closed! Uh-oh. Back down the mountain we drove until we found a trailhead that would lead us to Black Balsam Knob and Flower Gap from the eastern base of Little Sam Knob. That means we had to walk several miles further than we had planned! As Dara said, it was totally worth it. The day was unseasonably warm and the hike up the old rail bed and up Flat Laurel Creek was beautiful. It took us between Sam Knob and Little Sam Knob (yes, I too wonder who Sam was). We ate lunch and were drawn to the rocky peak of Sam Knob (elevation 6,045 feet), so we decided to climb it, lightening our load by hiding our packs at the base before ascending.

Wow. Beautiful 360-degree mountain view. Perhaps one of the best I've seen. While gawking at the vista, we noticed the wind increasing and the temperature dropping. We descended, found our packs, and headed toward Black Balsam Knob. The trail was lonely (read: awesome!). We felt as if we owned it all! That's the way the mountains are supposed to be. I think the threatening weather reports had scared away all the spring breakers, and the closed parkway made access even more difficult. All good with me!!

We filled our water bottles and crested Black Balsam Knob as the wind was getting more gusty. We continued on to the northern slope where there is a great little flat grassy spot I found 25 years ago in the midst of a laurel and blueberry thicket. It's a perfect campsite. You can see the sunset, there is a great little fire ring, and the bushes form a wind shelter. I told Dara, this is exactly the same spot where we camped when she was three.

Memory flashback...that trip was also on spring break. Darla and I backpacked with all three kids and hiked up to Black Balsam Knob. Drew was eight and Duncan had just turned seven. It was an inexpensive vacation, and we were poor and adventuresome. Darla gave in to my enthusiasm to do the backpacking trip (she's a hiker, but not a backpacker or a camper). So we packed our big six-man tent from Wal-mart and gave the kids a load. Our greatest concern: little Dara. She had a little pink Dora The Explorer backpack that matched her hand-me-down pink coat, and she wanted to share the load. We filled it with her blanket and some stuffed animals. Would she make it? Were we cruel to try?

That was when I first learned about her trademark toughness and positive spirit. She NEVER complained. She just sang while we walked and had the time of her life! After setting up camp, Darla was stressing. It was unexpectedly cold. Snow was on the ground in places. Duncan and Dara's "Disney princess" sleeping bags weren't up for this. So we doubled them up for Duncan and Dara ended up sleeping with Daddy. I must say, one of the top 5 favorite memories of my life was that night. Dara snuggled next to me SO happy. She told me how much fun she was having and that she loved me. She and I held hands all night. We were warm and slept like two rocks. Unfortunately, Mamma didn't. In addition to the cold and wind, there were coyotes yelping and howling all night long.

Ok, returning to 2016. Our first night was uneventful. We set up the tent (oops! I only had 2 tent stakes!) and ate Jambalaya. After sleeping well, we ate hot oatmeal for breakfast, packed up and hiked over Tennant Mountain, through Ivestor Gap, over what we call "Hippy Mountain" and by "Redneck Tarp City" (our affectionate nickname given to a spot where the rednecks drive their 4x4 trucks and camp in August for blueberry season) and on to Flower Gap. We did make one wrong move when we took a short cut (or so we thought) and ended up on the side of a mountain in some of the thickest brush I've ever been in. We decided to sit under  a grove of fir trees and eat lunch to get out the map and think about how we would get out of the brambles. We finally made it to Flower Gap, set up camp, and went to fill up all our water bottles in the spring (a half of a mile further) and gather firewood. Upon our return, we discovered a Raven that had grabbed our freeze-dried meal, had torn open the bag and helped itself to some of the contents. That didn't stop us from eating what was left.

The evening was crisp, breezy and beautiful, and the fire was welcome. It was a perfect evening if there ever was one. This is why we go to all the trouble to backpack.

I made 8 additional stakes out of wood and found another one, and secured the tent and rainfly well. A boy scout troop we passed earlier in the day had told us rain was expected that night.

Never doubt a scout.

As SOON as we got in the tent, it began to rain. And the rain never stopped. All night long the weather got worse and worse. Monsoon rains and wind battered the tent all night. At 7AM the dripping started as my seams hadn't been sealed in quite a while. Dara's little sleeping pad got soaked, and so did her bag. She said she was warm, so I said that we should try to sleep out the storm (it's miserable to pack while it's raining). But she was going stir crazy. So we got up and packed around 9AM and hoisted our significantly heavier packs to our backs and started the long trip back—in the rain. Finally, the rain slowed then stopped, and the the haze finally cleared revealing Big Sam Knob!

Decisions, decisions. Should [we] stay or should [we] go now? We both decided to in home. Virtually everything was soaked. Not cool (actually...quite cold!). Sleeping would now be a struggle. As we passed between the Sam Knobs, the visibility continued to improve, and by the time we saw the glorious Wagoneer, it was clearing pretty well with some occasional spots of sunshine.

The BIGGEST disappointment of the trip? The whole hike, Dara talked about eating at a restaurant called "Juke Box Junction" on our way home. It's a favorite of ours any time we hike in this area. You know how it goes: we were hungry, cold, and obsessing over what we were going to eat. I was dreaming of that big hamburger, crinkle fries, and a huge chocolate malt. Dara was talking about how their chocolate chip cookie dough milkshake was the best she'd ever had. We got there and were relieved to see cars in the parking lot (meaning, it's actually open on Sunday!). We excitedly went to the door and were met by a waitress who said, "I'm sorry, we're closed." What?!?! It was 42 minutes before the closing time that was on the door! I began to protest. Then it hit me...daylight savings time had begun early that very day. We were actually 18 minutes late. Doggonnit!

Dara was so heartbroken...and blamed me for wanting to sleep that couple of hours longer hoping for a break in the rain!!

Oh well, we ended up finding a pretty good burger joint in Waynesville. Have I said how much I love rednecks? Here's just another reason why: Dejected after missing Juke Box Junction, I told Dara, "If we can find one redneck or fat guy, he'll know where we can find a good burger joint." Within one mile, we spotted our redneck. I wish I could describe this guy, but I shall refrain. Upon hearing my accent, he dropped his guard (my legit country boy slang is handy at times) and told me we needed to turn around and go to Juke Box Junction! That's when he revealed his distinguished burger connoisseur credentials. I explained our predicament (without using words like "predicament") and he told us of another joint adding, "I'll tell ya, they gotta big 'ole burger 'bout 'dis big (making a circle with his hands bigger than the circumference of his head) and stacked way up high like 'is" (separating his hands vertically about a foot apart). Then he gave me complicated, detailed directions there. I asked him the name (I'm not sure he'd heard of Google maps). He said, "Ammons."

We went without hesitation and he was right. I had the "hamburger steak" bacon burger, which was about a half pound patty with all the trimmings. Dara got a burger, tater tots, and hot fudge cake that was to die for.

The sun was out. We walked around downtown Waynesville before heading home.

I love that girl. I'm so thankful to God for all my kids!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Can't Quit Daydreaming...

Benny and I behind the Jeep CJ9 with the real heroes of the
hunt, the dogs!
I used to have a lot of hobbies. Fishing (bass, trout, crappie, catfish, and others—all different), hunting (squirrel, rabbit, turkey, dove, boar, quail, pheasant, grouse, crow, raccoon, chukar, duck, goose, and deer—with bow, muzzleloader, shotgun, and rifle!), hiking & backpacking, golf, canoeing, working on cars, road biking, mountain biking, painting, playing guitar, gardening, horses, dogs (training & breeding), woodworking, four wheeling, working out, reading, caving, traveling, skiing, basketball, football, softball, weight lifting, swimming, running, and more! Whew! What a list!

But as we grow older career and family take precedent, and life's priorities and budgets force us to narrow our list of hobbies. I used to have the equipment for ALL the above pursuits (some is packed away and forgotten in the attic)!

Some, however, are still pastimes that I still enjoy (even if I have less time for them than I once did) and I try to discuss them on this blog. One of my favorite things in the world to do is quail hunt. I don't own a pointer/brittany/springer/setter, and I certainly don't have any hunting land. But every once in a while, God graciously provides for me to do what I have no budget to do and experience a day or so in the field.

The cabin in which we stayed. Belle prancing in the front.
A few weeks ago, my good buddy Benny invited me to come with him and a friend and go quail hunting at a hunting preserve in south Georgia, called Wynfield Plantation.   Itwasawesome.  We had a great time talking on the way down and back, but the hunting experience is hard for me to explain, except except to say that I felt like a rich dude. The place is so nice. And they totally serve you hand and foot. Wow!

They provide the dogs, guide, Jeeps, and food (prepared by a chef) and everything else. All you have to bring is proper clothing and your gun. And that's where I probably should be embarrassed. I have a Remington 1100 that I got for Christmas when I was in 8th grade. But I love it and I proudly walk in the field with it like Happy Gilmore walks on the golf course with his hockey stick (not that I'm as good!). Perhaps it's a little out-of-style, but it does the job. Most of the hunters (at this place, anyway) have fancy over-and-under style Brownings and Benellis.

Truth is, I'm still pinching myself. The trip seemed (and seems) like some kind of dream. We shot a lot of birds. The folks at the plantation cleaned the birds for us, froze them, and gave them to us in little coolers to take home. Amazing.

Here's Benny on the right and the little English Cocker right
behind her master, our guide. An awesome little dog.
My favorite thing about it is watching the dogs hunt. Benny had his old faithful bird dog, Belle. I was privileged to be along for what might have been her last hunt. She did great. One of the coolest dogs I've seen is the English Cocker, a shorter dog that stayed at "heel" with the guide until the pointers were on point on some birds, at which time the guide would send in. The Cocker would flush the cubby (meaning, the hiding group of quail would fly up in the air), and then it would retrieve the dead birds that we shot back to the guide. Remarkable.

Below is a very quick video of me shooting a quail (it took two shots). The dogs really do all the work. I'm just so happy I got to go along.

Good times. Many thanks to Benny for letting me tag along and for the good conversations we had. Now I've got to pinch myself and quit daydreaming about it!