Dad was not a king

My Dad was not a king. Raised on a cotton farm, he dropped out of high school and his grammar was never polished.

My Dad was not a king. He drove old cars, lived in simple homes, lived paycheck to paycheck, never desired a 5-star meal, and vacations were a quick trip to the Dallas/Ft Worth area where we stayed the night with other family.

My Dad was not a king. He never traveled outside of the country, never created a bucket list, or never felt the need to pursue some adventurous experience or place.

My Dad was not a king. He never employed an additional paid staff member in the small churches he pastored; he never had many “likes”, “friends”, or “shares” on his rarely used Facebook account; and a small auditorium was the venue for his memorial service.

My Dad was not a king.

My Dad

Just over 2,000 years ago a King came to earth via his chosen Jewish people and today we celebrate the moment he was first presented to Gentiles for the first time when the Magi arrived. We call today Epiphany. (Click HERE for more on Epiphany.)

My Dad was convinced he worked for that King, he believed he had a personal relationship with that King and surrendered the days of his entire life to that King.

It is somewhat appropriate that three years ago (Jan 6, 2014) my Dad died and I am confident that He went to Heaven and met his King on Epiphany.

My Dad was not a king but he knew one intimately and he introduced him to me. Epiphany.

Learning a Healthy Lifestyle

“Before I die, I want to experience what it’s like to be thin,” I told a friend a couple of years ago.

I’ve lost several hundred pounds over my lifetime but I always found them again. Like most overweight people, I’m too familiar with diets.

At the risk of highlighting me too much, I’ve decided to share my recent journey in response to people’s questions. Maybe there will be encouragement for someone else.

November 2015

After weighing in at 229lbs, I sat in my friend/physician’s office to get the lab results of my blood work. This was our conversation:

Dr: Mark, your triglycerides and cholesterol are too high and now your sugar is increasing. It may be time for you to begin taking regular medication.

Me: I really don’t want to do that. What if I went on a diet? If I lost some weight would that fix my problem?

My friend stares at the ground for a minute trying to form the right words.

Dr: Mark, we had this same conversation two years ago. I suspect losing weight will help but there’s no guarantee. But this is harder than you just losing weight. You need to embrace a healthy lifestyle that is sustainable. That will probably be a two-year process. If you aren’t willing to take on that kind of challenge, we need to begin the medication soon.

I felt my jaw clinch from determination. This sounded hard. This sounded true.

Me: Give me one more chance. I want to try the two-year healthy lifestyle approach.

January 2016

Here are six things that were catalytic (no particular order):

  1. Self-control: I chose to focus on this one fruit of the Spirit as my New Year’s Resolution. I asked my small group to pray for me, which was humbling but helpful.
  2. Ginger: Since this wasn’t just another diet but a two-year healthy lifestyle change, I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Ginger chose to embrace this challenge with me. Bonus surprise? This gave us another point of connection in our marriage.
  3. Shelli: We connected with a life coach, Shelli Birdwell. I needed to raise the bar if I wanted different results. This was the best decision we made! Ginger and I are convinced that we would not have succeeded without Shelli.
  4. Manual:* Along the way, Shelli offered a healthy lifestyle manual which changed how we shopped at the grocery store, how we cooked, what we ate, how much and how often we ate. We had to reread it again and again to change how we thought about food. Ginger pointed out early on that eating healthy meant our pantry was almost empty and our refrigerator was full. (Fresh foods vs. processed foods.)
  5. Workouts: I walk regularly, hike a little, paddleboard a little. I simply need to stay active. However, I lose weight in the kitchen not in the gym. My eating is where I need to focus for now.
  6. Transparency: I had never shared my weight with anyone . . . not even with my wife for the twenty years we’ve been married. It was too embarrassing. For the first time in January I told my wife my specific weight. I needed to own my weight and quit pretending it wasn’t the real me. A few weeks later I told Shelli my weight. This was terrifying but somehow it released some of my secrets and helped me more fully embrace this new healthy lifestyle approach.

*Shelli helped us identify goals, develop a strategy to achieve them, and offered an avalanche of support and ideas along the way. If you’re attempting to change your lifestyle, reading a book (or a blog post) isn’t sufficient.

May 2016

I reached “One-derland” by weighing under 200lbs for the first time in 20 years.

September 2016

I reached the “normal” BMI range. I’m still pretty giddy about that.

October 2016

I revisited my physician having lost 50 lbs. This time he said with a smile, “Mark, your blood work reveals that you are completely healthy. Every category is now in the normal range. Congratulations, you’re hard work has paid off.”

I’m proud of my wife who has lost 25lbs.

Here are a couple of pictures I found of me speaking that represent the “before” and “after.”

mark-before

 

 

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We’re almost halfway into our two-year transition of learning a healthy lifestyle. Thanks for your prayers.

The night my wife ran down the stairs naked

Will someone hurt my kids today? Will my friend finally make the brave choice and prioritize his marriage? Will our country elect the “right” president? Why are people so worried about a red holiday coffee cup? Will Tony Romo’s clavicle heal in time? I worry about all kinds of important and silly stuff.

Do you struggle with worry? Maybe you worry about your marriage, career, education, finances, a broken relationship, or retirement. Worry can become as much a part of our life as breathing.

worry

Now, I know I’m not in control. But I worry as if I am. Then a moment like the one I experienced last week happens and reality slaps me hard across the face.

I was sitting in our living room scanning ESPN’s mobile website to view the latest NBA rankings. Don’t judge me. It was a perfectly routine moment . . . until it suddenly wasn’t. My 10-year-old son taps me on the shoulder and he’s standing but sort of hunched over, drooling, and not able to catch his breath because a piece of popsicle he’d been eating had lodged itself in his little throat.

I jumped up and hollered for my wife who was upstairs taking a bath. Even though I’d taken CPR classes and vaguely remembered what to do, I knew my wife (who’s also a school nurse) was the person to “fix” this.

As my son continued grasping for air, my two oldest daughters were on the couch screaming for their Mom because they had quickly assessed that Dad was out of his league here. Meanwhile, I was now standing beside my son holding his shoulder and asking my wife (in a loud, somewhat desperate tone) to, “COME DOWN NOW!”

In that moment of panic I was certain of one thing, as soon as Ginger gets here everything is going to be okay.

Suddenly, my wife emerged running down the stairs naked. Somehow, she traveled a flight of stairs safely (despite being dripping wet) and assessed the situation in about 5 seconds. About the same time the problematic piece of frozen sugar water melted enough to allow my son to begin breathing again.

I was standing there having added absolutely zero assistance. While holding my son, my wife calmly looked up and said to me, “Can you make sure all of the blinds are closed?”

Umm . . . sure. That I can do.

What a strange night. I’ll never forget the feeling of my routine instantly became fear, panic, and worry.

Life is like that isn’t it?

You never know when your routine will be interrupted by fear, panic, and worry.

That’s what happened to the disciples in Mark 4 when a routine boat trip was interrupted by a life-threatening storm. The disciples were worried – heck they feared for their lives. Jesus, who had been sleeping suddenly emerges and calms the sea. Then He asks the disciples the most odd question, “Why were you afraid?” They must have been thinking, “Because we almost died!!!!”

But Jesus was asking, “Why did you spend time worrying? I was so close by. You just needed to call on me.”

When I was standing beside my choking son, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do but I knew exactly who to call. Jesus wants us to have that kind of confidence in Him during our worry.

Today, if a storm is raging around you and you don’t know what to do, cry out to Jesus. Invite others to cry out to Jesus with you. He’s got the whole world in his hands so we don’t have to worry as if we do.

After all, a loving parent is willing to do anything for their child. Even run down the stairs naked.

5 Things Your Husband Wants to Hear You Say

After I preach, no matter how many people offer encouraging feedback, the one person whose feedback I’m most interested in is Ginger’s. After all, my wife knows me best and she’ll be honest with me. Her words are most important to me.

Whether your husband admits it or not, your words impact him more than anyone.

Last week I spoke to a gathering of 75 men and asked them, “What’s the one thing you want to hear your wife say to you?” Below are their responses.

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5 Things Your Husband Wants to Hear You Say

#1 “I respect you and trust your leadership.”

#2 “I love you no matter what.”

#3 “I appreciate you. Thanks for all you do.”

#4 “Take the day off & go surfing” (or whatever his hobby is).

 #5 “Let’s have sex tonight.”

(Last week I also spoke to a gathering of 75 ladies last week and asked them to tell me the one thing they wished their husbands would say to them. I shared their responses yesterday, which you can read HERE.)

Everyone’s love language may not be words of encouragement but everyone benefits from positive reinforcement.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Prov. 18:21

Let’s speak words of life today!

5 Things Your Wife Wants to Hear You Say

I noticed Ginger walking down the stairs with a basket full of dirty clothes after having worked all day and having fed our family dinner. I said, “Ginger, you’re a good wife and mom. Thanks for all that you do for our family.”

Ginger responded, “And whyyy do you say that?” She was suspicious of my motives because I don’t talk like that often.

You see that morning I’d spoken to a gathering of 75 ladies and had asked them to tell me the one thing they wished their husbands would say to them. The far majority of these ladies (61%) said they wanted their husbands to simply say, “thank you.” Below are their responses.

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5 Things Your Wife Wants to Hear You Say

#1 “Thank you for all you do for me and our family.” -61%

#2 “I think you are beautiful.”

#3 “I’ll always be faithful to you.”

#4 “Take the night off while I do the dishes.”

#5 “How can I help you this weekend?”

Everyone’s love language may not be words of encouragement but everyone benefits from positive reinforcement. Most of us feel gratitude but fail to express it. You can change that this weekend.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Prov. 18:21

The following night I spoke to a gathering of 75 men and asked them, “What’s the one thing you want to hear your wife say to you?” Click Here to see what they shared.

Final words of advice from Dad – Part 1

My Dad’s temporary journey on earth ended on January 6, 2014. Knowing his time was short, I sat with him for several hours during his final days. In an attempt to “keep him with me”, I asked him many questions. (My Dad was always powerfully simple.)

This week I’ll share his answers to five of my questions.

Question #1: Dad, what advice would you give me as a Dad?

  • Stay as close to God as you can
  • Try to be an example . . . I know I failed sometimes & always felt inadequate
  • Read your Bible daily
  • Pray for your kids individually every night

As he talked I typed into the notes app on my iPhone. Then he continued, “You know, it’s hard for a kid to grow up and become something special without the intervention of his father. I prayed every night that God would make champions out of you three kids. Now, I thank him that he did.”

I felt the tears. I blinked a few times. Noticed the lump in my throat. Then cleared my throat. And said, “Thank you for being a great Dad and praying for me.”

Then I asked Question #2: Dad, what advice would you give me as a husband?

I’ll share his simple answer tomorrow.

6 Christmas Survival Tips

Is this your first Christmas without a loved one?

All the ‘firsts’ without a loved one are difficult. But the First Christmas can be especially challenging.

First Christmas

I recently asked a grief counselor from our church, Debi Dixon, to share some advice for people facing their “First Christmas” without a loved one. Here are 6 Christmas survival tips:

1. Have a Plan

It can be as simple as lighting a candle. Intentionally do something tangible to remember/honor your loved one.

2. Feel free to carry on traditions or do something completely different.

Some people find comfort in keeping traditions alive. Others find comfort from doing things differently. Give yourself permission to do what you need to do.

3. Don’t try to do too much.

Accept invitations but let people know you might cancel. Feel free to limit your activity. Don’t be afraid to leave when you reach your limit.

4. Don’t be afraid to cry in front of others.

5. Talking about your loved one can be helpful and a relief to others. Sharing favorite stories about your loved one can be helpful.

6. Don’t let others tell you how to grieve, do what you need to do. We all grieve differently.

For an encouraging message entitled “First Christmas” click HERE.

Check out griefshare.org for additional holiday survival suggestions where you can also sign up for a free daily 1-year grief devotional.

Is someone you care about experiencing their “First Christmas” this year? Share these six survival tips with them.


When you subscribe to my blog, where I post once a week, I will send you two chapters that were cut from my new book on forgiveness.

Click HERE to subscribe and I’ll email you the two chapters.

5 tips to help you write YOUR eulogy

If you’re like me, setting goals can be exhausting. Where do you start? How do you prioritize?

Here’s what I’ve learned: Writing YOUR own eulogy is more helpful than short-term or annual goals.

Last week, I wrote my Dad’s eulogy (you can read it HERE).

If you haven’t written your eulogy, it’s time to consider it. It helps you surface what’s really important to you.

Why write a eulogy?

Your GPS can’t identify the turns you will need to make until you provide the destination address. Your GPS works “backwards” from the destination.

Your personal eulogy identifies your desired destination which allows you to make all of the turns (or decisions) more clearly.

This follows Stephen Covey’s principle: “Begin with the end in mind.”

eulogy

How do you write your eulogy? Here are 5 tips:

1) Get away for solitude and prayer. Jesus modeled the importance of getting away from the daily noise to hear from God.

2) Take your time. Some people take weeks researching their next car purchase but only minutes thinking through their life goals. If this is your life’s destination spend the days, weeks, or months necessary to sort it out.

3) Your eulogy may be written in complete sentences or you could simply focus on specific virtues (integrity, dependable, etc.).

4) Identify your closest relationships (spouse, children, parents, co-works, close friends, etc.).

5) Imagine each of your relationships standing briefly to speak about you at your funeral. The more specific you are the better. (Picture what they’re wearing, how they’re mourning, imagine the atmosphere, etc.) Then boil down what you want to them to say in a couple of sentences. Write out the brief words of your spouse, then your children, parents, etc..

You’ve written your eulogy. Now what?

Your eulogy becomes your over-arching “bulls-eye” for your life. When making major decisions, ask yourself, “Will saying ‘yes’ to this move me closer to my desired destination?” This is a helpful clarifier in your decision-making process. Then schedule a date on the calendar to review it annually.

In writing my Dad’s eulogy, I simply wrote what my Dad lived.

Now, it’s your turn. Choose to live what you want others to write.

A Eulogy in honor of My Dad

I wrote my Dad a letter to serve as his eulogy and read it at my Dad’s memorial service last Saturday.

Dear Dad,

I miss you. But I’m so proud of the life you lived.

You were raised on a cotton farm in Ennis, TX during the middle of WWII. Your Dad was a sharecropper and you were one of 7 kids. That’s all pretty cool stuff from a previous generation’s world. I was always proud of your heritage. I loved hearing stories about your childhood. I wasn’t there but I felt like I was.

I sometime imagine you, your 4 brothers and 2 sisters running and playing in the cotton fields occasionally taking breaks to lay in a pasture covered with bluebonnets. I picture a farm house surrounded by a large covered porch shaded by big oak trees. I’m guessing you sometimes embellished when you told the stories because you talked as if it were always a happy Tom Sawyer-like adventure! But I loved those stories because it connected me to more of you.

But it wasn’t always a Tom Sawyer-life adventure was it? Your body gave it’s first indication that it was broken when you were a little boy when a bicycle accident resulted in you developing epilepsy. You’d have seizures or fear seizures the rest of his life.

A few years later when you were only 17, you were diagnosed with tuberculosis. You were sent off to the TB Hospital in Carlsbad for a few difficult months. Eventually, one of your lungs was removed but then God healed you . . . temporarily.

A few years later, you made a life-changing decision that changed the trajectory of your life. It began when a pastor of a local church drove out to the farm to pick you up and take you to church. When you were re-telling me this story a few weeks ago you said, “for some reason I just kept going every Sunday”. You told me the pastor was nice and fun to be around. He and his wife would sometimes have you over to their house after church for lunch. God was using them to draw you to Himself.

You eventually made the decision to surrender everything and follow Christ. Your decision to follow Christ must’ve felt private and personal but it would impact so many other people in your lifetime and beyond including your kids and grandkids. I’m so glad you made that decision to follow Christ Dad.

The pastor in became your mentor and before long you were teaching a Sunday School Class and eventually you made a decision to spend the rest of your life preaching. The sharecropper’s son who’d dropped out of high school was going to be a pastor. At the time, you must’ve felt so overwhelmed. You must have had so many doubts and fears. Your decision must’ve seemed so personal but your decision to preach would impact thousands of other people in your lifetime of ministry. It obviously influenced me. Dad, I’m so glad you made that decision to preach.

Soon afterwards you met and eventually married my Mom. While you were engaged, your body showed its brokenness again as you were diagnosed with Brights disease (the same kidney disease that had taken your Dad’s life at an early age). The doctor said you may not live past the age of 35. I can’t imagine how that diagnoses must’ve shaken you and challenged your faith. However, it seemed that God healed your body . . . again temporarily.

Then in 1967 at the age of 24, you married my Mom. You and Mom would be married for more than 46 years. When describing your marriage to me last week – you said, “I was always happy with her.” You and Mom’s unconditional love for us created a solid foundation from which we kids would feel the freedom to dream big and take risks.

A couple of years into your new marriage, your body began acting up again. A spot was found on your lung and you were diagnosed with cryptococcosis – an often fatal fungal disease. Mom was worried how long your body would last. You must’ve been worried too. However, once again God healed you again . . . temporarily. Soon God gave you your first child Marci and your attention was back on your future. Along came me and then Amy.

Interestingly, this is where God provided our family a special 17-year window of health grace. When Mom was pregnant with Amy you had your last epileptic seizure. Then for 17-years you had no health problems. This was the largest season of health you would ever have. Mom was given a healthy husband and we kids were raised only knowing a healthy Dad. You told us about your epilepsy, tuberculosis, bright’s disease, and cryptococcosis but to us it was all something in the past that didn’t seem relevant to our present. We only knew a “healthy” Dad.

I’m so grateful for these 17 years of healthiness during our childhood. During that time, we watched you enjoy the simple joys in life. I liked it when you would go swimming with us in the lake in a pair of cutoff shorts. I liked it when you’d take us on a long drive in the country and along the way we’d stop for a coke. You enjoyed going out for breakfast on Saturday mornings. Even your favorite meal was simple: cornbread, pinto beans, fried potatoes, cabbage followed by a bowl of ice cream. Simple joys.

But what you really loved was being a pastor. It was what you were created to be! You were an encourager. You loved going to church and preaching God’s word. In a typical week you would preach/teach 4 times-a-week, clean the church, mow the lawn, make hospital visits, do funerals and weddings, counsel people, and whatever else needed to be done. You were born to be a pastor. I liked it when you’d let me tag-along for a hospital visit or a men’s prayer breakfast.

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I remember watching you. I was so proud of you. You were my dad & my pastor. You were so positive and encouraging to people. I loved that about you. I wanted to be like you. At the age of 12, I surrendered to preach and I prayed that God would let me encourage people like you did.

I remember you letting me preach for the first time at the age of 12. I’ll never forget unzipping my Bible as I stood behind the pulpit. I was so scared. I was unzipping slowly hoping Jesus would come back before I had to speak. I didn’t want to say anything. I remember thinking if I could somehow just whisper to you, “Daddy I’m scared. I don’t want to do this.” So I looked over at you hoping to tell you I was too scared to do this. But when we made eye contact you smiled and gave me a nod of encouragement. I was still scared but your subtle encouragement gave me the confidence to at least try. So I preached my entire sermon . . . in 5 minutes. I could tell you were proud. That made me feel good.

It’s funny how all of us kids loved to get that nod of encouragement from you. I can’t think of any major decision I’ve ever made when I didn’t seek it.

It turns out that my childhood felt like my very own Tom-Sawyer like adventure. I’m still thankful for those 17 years of good health. But like your illnesses . . . your good health was temporary. Eventually, your kidneys began to fail. Your health declined. You retired. You and Mom moved to San Angelo so you could do dialysis full-time.

Interestingly the timing coincided with me just beginning my ministry in San Angelo. Suddenly you were in the congregation as I led worship and as I preached. I was often scarred to death. I would look out in the audience and see your smile and see your nod of encouragement. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me! I could tell you were proud. Eventually, through a kidney transplant, God healed you . . . again temporarily.

As your health bounced back, you became pastor of Berean Baptist Church. On your first Sunday, there were literally 3 people (you, the worship leader, and the treasurer). I asked you, “Why would you go there Dad?” You said, “It’s an opportunity to serve the Lord, preach, and share the Gospel!” That’s what you were created to do. The church is now flourishing numerically and financially and most people say you that you saved that church. It’s so appropriate that we’re having your memorial service here today.

But then your body began to decline again. This time there would be no recovery or healing. Your body surrendered to cancer, diabetes, cardiac failure, and many other ailments. Due to your dogged determination, discipline with your diet/medication/routine, you somehow milked 70 years out of a very broken body. I’m so glad you did because all of us kids got to introduce our kids to you.

But it was time. Last Monday morning, your broken body finally quit. And this time God didn’t heal you temporarily. He healed you permanently. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord where there is no more epilepsy, tuberculosis, kidney disease, cryptococcosis, or heart disease. You are fully and permanently healthy! You are reunited with the God you spent your life serving.

You wouldn’t agree with this Dad but you actually left a legacy. One that I’m so proud of.

Two of your grandkids now bear your name but it’s our faith that reveals your legacy. Because you chose to make God the ultimate priority in your life, you made a deep impact in us all. A legacy isn’t about doing something magnificent it’s about being ordinary and dependable for a long period of time while loving those closest to you.

So I’ll miss your smile, laugh, the twinkle in your eye, our weekly phone calls w/your encouraging voice, and I’ll miss your nod of encouragement. But, I am so grateful for the certainty of Heaven. I already anticipate being with you again Dad.

In the meantime, I’ll always be proud of the life you led for God. I’ll always be proud of the risks you took for God. I’ll always be proud of your faithfulness to God especially during the difficult days. I’ll always be proud to carry on your legacy.

I love you Daddy.

Your proud son,

Mark

The Danger of Thanksgiving

Our kids are usually pretty grateful. Which made what Lincoln did on Monday night a little surprising and disappointing.

I was returning from work. As I walked into the house, my 8-year-old son was the first to see me so he immediately ran up to me. I smiled and intuitively began to open my arms for the on-coming hug. Instead, Lincoln stopped just in front of me, looked up, and in his little 3rd grade voice asked, “Dad can I play on your iPhone?” What? No hug? No, “Hi Dad.” Only a desire to spend time with an electronic gadget in my pocket.

Not gonna lie. That stung a little. I told him, “Not right now.” He slumped his shoulders and walked away. Still no hug. No, “Welcome home Dad.” Ouch!

Now, I love watching my kids smile when I give them something they enjoy. It makes me smile. But when they pursue the gifts I give them more than they pursue me that hurts . . . a lot.

I’m guessing God feels that way.

Ginger and I believe we have more blessings for which to be thankful this Thanksgiving than ever before.

danger

Did you know that turkey fryers are not the only danger of Thanksgiving? The more subtle danger of Thanksgiving is to measure God’s love for us by His blessings to us.

This may be a difficult Thanksgiving for you. If your measuring God’s love for you by His blessings to you, you may question God’s love.

So I want to be grateful for God’s blessings this Thanksgiving; however, I want to keep reminding myself that an all-powerful God created me, redeemed me, and is continuing to shape me all because He passionately loves me. I’m so thankful for that. It will remain true every Thanksgiving!

BTW, Lincoln is now limited to two 30-minute sessions with the iPhone each week. He helped me create that system later Monday night. But we’ve played a lot of Nerf football the last two nights. I sure enjoy my time with that little guy.