Feb. 4, 2016

As a four year old child my family sought to teach me how to swing a baseball bat so I could hit the ball they would pitch to me. They soon discovered that my inability to hit the ball was connected to the fact that I couldn't see it. My father suggested that I turn around and swing left handed and sure enough I hit the ball. To this day I continue to swing left handed which only caused my family, at the age of four, to ask the question, "... what's wrong with Al's left eye?" That question was soon answered after an appointment to see the ophthalmologist. I was diagnosed with an eye condition called amblyopia better known as lazy eye. 

Soon it was decided that I would enter the hospital to have surgery to correct my vision. After surgery and for the next ten years I experienced therapy related to strengthening the muscles associated with my left eye so it would work in tandem with my dominant right eye. I have worn glasses all my life and every time there was a prescription change in my lenses I would have to get my eyes dilated. Nowadays it only takes eye drops for dilation to occur. Back in the late 1950s and early 60s it was accomplished with eye salve that once applied took two days to reach full dilation and two more days for the dilation to subside. 

This condition affected everything. I had to do eye exercises while wearing a patch over my right eye. I absolutely hated these exercises. I had to wear this patch to school while I was in kindergarten and first grade. Of course I had to sit on the front row so I could see the black board. My classmates made fun of me because of the patch I wore daily. Did I mention that I hated to read? My mother would order the "weekly reader" and make me read it. It was a condition I had to meet before I could go outside and play. Little by little my left eye began to improve and soon I had reached the point that I didn't need therapy any more!

The surgery I had received at the tender age of four was explained to me like this, "... the muscles associated with your left eye were so strong that they were pulling your eyeball in toward the bridge of your nose. The surgeon clipped these muscles making them weaker so that the eyeball would eventually return to its center position so your vision would return to normal." For a while that is what it did until sometime in the year 1986 at the age of thirty-three the sphere of the eyeball began to rotate further and further away from the center causing severe double vision. What I discovered about double vision was a total surprise. The more my left eye tracked further away from its normal position the more my left eye's line of sight looked the opposite direction. My real challenge came while driving my car. It's strange having two images of the same car coming at you and just before the car passes you the images come together. I tried to train myself to only look at what my right eye saw but the double vision was driving me insane.

I was serving a church in Augusta, Georgia at the time. There were issues that surfaced during my tenure there that was very disturbing to me. My feelings were hurt due to these issues as they affected my family as well. To say the least I was holding quite a grudge toward those who I felt hurt my feelings. All of this occurred while trying to find some remedy for my double vision. I had visited an optometrist to hopefully discover what, if anything, could be done for my vision. He told me that my eyes were so bad that his machine couldn't even measure them. He suggested that I make an appointment to see an ophthalmologist. Upon that visit he informed me that my left eye was moving out.

I was devastated by such news about my eye but I was equally devastated because of the issues associated at the church I was serving and the grudge I was holding only became bigger and more pronounced. I did not know what to do. As I look back on this experience the amazement regarding the movement of the Holy Spirit was unmistakable. Not long after my doctor's appointment I was home watching the 700 Club on television. I had never watched the program very much. To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure why I was watching it at the time. At any rate what I experienced during this particular broadcast has brought such a sense of clarity. Perhaps it will for you as well.

I recall the host of the 700 Club that particular day was an African-American by the name of Ben Kenslow. As I joined the broadcast he was talking about holding grudges. He indicated that to hold a grudge toward someone really didn't hurt them at all but it really would hurt the one holding the grudge even to the point of destruction from within. I recall doing some soul searching and decided to release the grudge I was holding toward those who had hurt my family and my feelings. What happened next nearly blew me out of the water.

As I sat there listening to Kenslow having what he termed "a word of knowledge" meaning he would identify someone in the television audience regarding some kind of physicial or spiritual malady and if they would claim their healing it would be done for them. This was not something that I was accustomed to let alone ever participating in. Then all of a sudden I heard these words from Kenslow,"There's someone out there with lazy eye and if you will claim your healing it is yours." My skepticism kicked in saying to myself that surely there must be numerous people in a national broadcast that suffered from lazy eye. However, it did get my attention. I recall the host went on to other areas of need but just before he closed that segment he said the following, "Oh by the way, that person with lazy eye, your eyeball is moving out and if you will claim your healing it is yours!"

I did not claim the healing at that moment. I rather chose to sleep on it while giving thought to what I had experienced.  On the way to the church office the next morning I made the decision to lay claim to the healing of my lazy eye. To make a long story short, my doctor paved the way for a new surgery that had just been developed and after that surgery I was cured. But the biggest healing that I witnessed throughout this experience was the "moving out" of the grudge I held and the freedom I have received by letting it go.

Jan. 21, 2016

The year was 1990. I was involved in chaplaincy training at the Baptist Medical Center in Pensacola, Florida. One of my very best friend's father was at the end of his earthly life and soon the news came that he had died. The funeral service was planned and I made the decision to go in support of my friend and his family. Sometimes events occur that carry with them a landslide of meaning. Sometimes it takes several years to sort through such meaning and while you think you have sorted through it all the realization of only scratching the surface communicates the absolute enormity of God. Such was the event that unfolded before me that day in 1990.

I traveled from Pensacola eastward along interstate highway ten to where the funeral was being held. The car I was driving was relatively new. I did not anticipate any problems to surface while making this journey. I arrived at my destination and attended the funeral service. Because of my relationship with the family of the deceased it was a special time spent together as they remembered fondly the love and care of their father and grandfather and husband. Eventually we said our goodbyes and I began to make my trip home. 

I remember the funeral was on a Wednesday because along with securing my chaplaincy training I also served as the minister of music of the First Baptist Church in Gulf Shores, Alabama and arriving to participate in their mid-week prayer service was the next item on my agenda.I recall as I started my car there was a hint of a possible issue with my battery. It seemed to be somewhat sluggish but it did start and so off I went getting back on the interstate driving westward toward Gulf Shores. All of a sudden the engine began to die and the car began to slow down and as a result I rolled to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. There I sat not really understanding the mechanical problems being encountered. I tried to start the car again and just like normal the car started up and I once again was headed toward my destination in Alabama. Three or four miles down the road the same thing happened and before long I was rolling to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. I tried to start the car but it appeared the battery was dead. I sat there longer thinking what I was going to do next. I tried to start the car again and wouldn't you know it the car started up like normal and once again like Willie Nelson, I was back on the road again. 

I recall approaching an off ramp and thinking that perhaps I could get some assistance at a gas station but somehow my urgency to get to the church in time for the mid-week service seemed to blur my judgement and so I continued along the highway. It wasn't long before my car was once again rolling to a dead stop. This time there was no sign of life in my car and looking  around, it appeared I was in the middle of nowhere. I got out of the car and raised the car's hood. The events that occurred next still bring a sense of awe in me. Perhaps they will for you as well.

There I stood next to my rather new car in the middle of an area that looked like a swamp with seemingly no idea how I was going to get home let alone the mid-week prayer service at the church. It was a long walk back to the off ramp. There were no cell phones then. So what I did next rather surprised me. I looked skyward and with an audible voice I said, "God! I need some help!" Within a matter of minutes two motorists stopped to help me. Of these two, one was a man in an Oldsmobile. He told the other motorist that he would take care of me so the other gentleman said, "Okay" and went on his way.

How do I describe to you how this gentle man assisted me? I explained the symptoms and he sort of scratched his head and then he jumped my car off from his car and next thing I knew I was back on the road heading for the church service. He followed me to see if my car was going to behave again as I had described. Sure enough it did. My battery was done for so this gentleman took his battery out of his car while his engine was still running and replaced my battery with his. Soon we were back on the road. We had decided to stop at an auto parts store and I would purchase a new battery which I did. Once it was installed and he placed his battery back in to his car we were back on the road again. He told me that he had begun his trek that morning from Georgia. I don't recall him telling me where he was going. What he did say was that he would see me to the church making sure that I arrived there safely. It was getting late and sure enough we both arrived at the church just before the service began. I invited him to come and worship with us. He said he would but asked me not to draw attention to him. So in order to say thank you I sang a song of praise to God. Once the service was over he waved goodbye and that was the last time I saw him.

I have often thought about that eventful day. I can still hear the silence while being stranded on the highway pondering what to do next. My prayer to God also echoes within me. The swiftness of the answer, the confidence to carry me safely to my destination even though I had not communicated where I was headed, and all of this given by a perfect stranger in such a loving way continues to bless me to this day. Hebrews chapter thirteen verses one and two says, "Treasure family bonds and friendship. Family fondness remains the essence of this kingdom. Treat strangers with equal affection; they could be a messenger of God in disguise!

Jan. 15, 2016

I can imagine what you must have thought when you first read the title of this submission. Believe me, I struggled with using it but finally came to the place in my thinking that allowed me to move forward. The "in" word, or the word "in" has become, for me, one of the most important words in the English language.Its importance speaks of inclusion. I'm getting a little ahead of myself. This important word is shaping the way I now think about everyone else and how I am also thinking about myself these days. First of all allow me to give you a little history. As I have reflected on my upbringing, like a lot of people growing up in the United States and particularly the deep south, church, religion, Sunday school, evangelism and probably a host of other words that perhaps come to mind, helped to shape the way we were led to think. It really didn't matter what church one attended or whether church was even on one's weekly schedule, what we experienced "in" life colored the way we saw one another. It seemed that we entered a segregated world filled with rules and expectations. Have you ever watched children playing on a public playground or one of those fast food enclosed play areas? I have observed children, being total strangers, playing with one another and having a lot of fun. It mattered not about culture or race or religion. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for my upbringing. It has certainly aided me along my journey and that brings me to the point of this entry. I would like to share with you how that seemingly small insignificant two letter word "in" has radically changed my thinking and my life.

 You can probably go back "in" your memory and perhaps list experiences you have had that changed your path or your course. Sometimes the changes may have been very painful. Regardless, those course changes have affected the way you think now. The way we think about ourselves "in" relationship to everyone else dictates our path. If you think that what you think cannot be perceived by others you are sadly mistaken. I remember some verse in the Bible that indicates as a person thinks so are they and if you think a certain way it will not be long before that thought crosses your lips or surfaces in your behavior. If you love, guess what? If you hate, well you know.

Some years ago I experienced an encounter that was of a spiritual nature. I had been seeking spiritual guidance from God for weeks. One Saturday morning I was home by myself. As I was meditating I sensed that I was not alone although I did not see anyone. I was so convinced of not being alone I addressed this presence with the question, "what about my shortcomings?" Obviously, I was concerned about my past sins and whether these sins stood in the way of my relationship and fellowship with God. What happened next I will always remember. I heard a voice in my spirit tell me rather commandingly to get my Bible. I did not hesitate. I reached for a hardbound copy of an Amplified Bible. The next instructions, "now turn to Ephesians!" I recall being so enthralled with being given these instructions to start with I wanted to hear more instructions. So I asked, "Where in Ephesians?" There was only silence. So I decided to turn to the first chapter. There was a red circle around the number seven indicating the seventh verse of the first chapter. I knew I had not drawn this circle around the number seven but the Bible used to belong to my mother, perhaps she drew it. At any rate this is what I read. "In Him we have redemption (deliverance and salvation) through His blood, the remission (forgiveness) of our offenses (shortcomings and trespasses), in accordance with the riches and the generosity of His gracious favor." To say the least I lost my composure when I came to the word "shortcomings." I thought to myself, whoever or whatever was present with me must have heard my question. After regaining my composure I once again heard what became the last instruction that morning. The voice said, "Now turn to Revelation." Knowing that this book is the last one in the Bible I swept my hand across the pages and it landed on the last page of the book. There were no numbers circled in red. My attention somehow was drawn to the sixteenth verse of chapter twenty two and this is what it says, "I, Jesus, have sent my messenger (angel) to you to witness and to give you assurance of these things..." The verse continues but somehow that was as far as I needed to read. 

What the apostle Paul recorded in Galatians 1:16 sums up his gospel message. From the Mirror Translation it reads, "This is the heart of the gospel that I proclaim; it began with an unveiling of sonship "in" me freeing me to announce the same sonship "in" the masses of non-Jewish people..." When I awakened to the reality that this Jesus has been "in" me from my very beginning changes everything I now understand concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Jan. 1, 2016

I was introduced to music and singing in a choir while I was in elementary school. Of course, at the time, I had no idea music would play such an important role in my life. I received initial training to sight read musical notation while in junior high school. Tried out for a select ensemble in high school and was blessed to be chosen. Graduated from high school and entered college as a music major. How in the world I managed to make it through college and seminary while studying music remains somewhat of a mystery to me. However, if I had not shown up to participate in the first place I would have missed out on so many blessings.

Serving as a minister of music in several churches in the southeastern United States helped me begin to grasp some of the challenges that often surfaces while being involved in "church work." Some of my experiences were very uplifting and some were, well, not so uplifting. What I discovered about myself, during these challenging experiences, amounted to my lack of self awareness. Now self awareness is a fancy term describing how one becomes atuned to not only what they are doing but why they are doing it. Do you recall reading the passage in the Bible where Jesus looks out at the crowd while he is hanging on the cross and prays to his father in heaven saying, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do"? Perhaps it is important to know why we do what we do. Perhaps not knowing is why history repeats itself. At any rate, for a long time, as I think about it, I really couldn't tell you why I did what I did. I recall being challenged, by one of my supervisors, to find out. This happened while I trained to be a chaplain. That started my quest to make such a discovery.

I was asked why I wanted to train to be a chaplain. I really didn't know. My supervisor told me to go find out. I suppose I could have looked in a number of places to make such a discovery but I chose to look in the Bible. I referenced an Amplified Bible most of the time and while reading II Corinthians 7:5-6 I made a most unique discovery. In Paul's letter to the Corinthians he recounted the struggles he encountered while introducing the Gospel to the gentiles in Macedonia. In the midst of his pain and depression he describes experiencing comfort at the arrival of Titus. Titus was perhaps Paul's first gentile convert. When Titus showed up he brought with him a sense of encouragment that perhaps he did not even realize he possessed. All of a sudden I became acquainted with my reason for being a chaplain. I don't often know the needs of people to whom I minister but somehow showing up brings a sense of comfort and encouragement that may be just what is needed. 

Showing up is the most essential aspect of relationship. Showing up is necessary if one plans to participate. As I face the new year I'm asking myself, "Al, how will you show up for others? I think its a good question to ask! I encourage you to ask it too. By so doing hopefully we will be showing up for those who need us the most!