Postscript to a Beautiful and Courageous Life

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Sandee Hagen

A short while ago, and after an escalating illness, one of the brightest lights in the constellation of our friends faltered, flickered, and then passed into eternity.

The news tore a hole in our hearts. It’s a huge blow for those of us who love her, and a sad loss for our world. But Sandee was one hundred percent confident that this life is just the beginning of the journey, and so am I, so in that sense she’s been freed up to shine more than ever before.

Sandee Hagen was one of the most courageous people I have ever known. We became friends back in the early 1980’s, when Rebekah and I launched a ministry for young families at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Pensacola. Sandee, her husband (Bruce), and their son (Nicholas), were a key part of the beginnings of what became an epic crowd of great friends.

Then, in an unimaginable tragedy, both Bruce – forty-one, and Nicholas – a vivacious six-year-old, died in a terrible car accident. Something like that leaves a wound that will always remain open, but Sandee made the choice – every day – to live. Not just to live but to live graciously, and creatively, and generously, and lovingly, and faithfully.

That’s what I mean when I say Sandee lived courageously; it takes not only great faith, but great courage, and honesty, and persistence, to continue to shine in the way that she did; and this world is a brighter place today because of her constant, insistent, faith-charged, luminosity.

That’s what I mean when I say Sandee lived courageously; it takes not only great faith, but great courage, and honesty, and persistence, to continue to shine in the way that she did; and this world is a brighter place today because of her constant, insistent, faith-charged, luminosity.

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Naomi, Rebekah, Sandee

Where many people would have built a wall to protect themselves from the danger of more pain, Sandee allowed us to love her, and she loved us back; she became a very real part of our family. She loved our children, and she allowed them to love her; she served countless others through her counseling practice; she became a Stephen Ministry leader at our church; she cared for people with a sensitivity and a depth born out of her own pain.

Sure she was hurt, and sometimes angry, and confused at such outrageous and impossible loss – but she trusted her Creator enough to work through the hard times without letting go of God’s hand.

  • Sandee convinced me of the truth of Psalm 23“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”
  • And she demonstrated the reliability of those first few Beatitudes in Matthew 5“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.”
  • And she illustrated the authenticity of Paul’s words to his friends in Philippians 1: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

In many ways, Sandee’s work (here) is complete, and those of us who love her feel privileged and grateful to have been witness to her eloquent testimony to grace, and faithfulness, and God’s unfailing love. But God’s work through the rest of us remains ongoing – an invitation, really.

Each one of us is a work-in-progress in our own way (me especially), and it is my prayer that we will be encouraged and inspired to live this gospel truth out loud, to the very end of our own days here on this Good Earth.

So I’ll wrap up these thoughts by continuing in Philippians 2:14-16

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”

Our imperative is to shine – and then shine some more – as we hold firmly to the word of life.

Thanks, Sandee, for everything. In Love, and because of love – DEREK

“4-photo-Monday” – celebrating life with joy!

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9

There is simply way too much life and energy going on around here to keep up with! So this morning I’m offering the tried-and-true “Four-Photo-Monday” format. Plus I’ll throw in a few extra images in the slide show at the end.

Rebekah leading worship at the 11:15 service
Rebekah leading worship at the 11:15 service

#1 – CHURCH ROCKS! First, Sunday morning at WFPC was a wonderful affirmation of why we’re passionate about this faith community, and how our first two years in Wake Forest have been such a blessing. There is a lot written about “people leaving church…” but our experience is one of encouragement, growth, faithfulness, and a culture of discipleship – it always has been.

GOSPEL! The good news about Jesus is still good news, it still reaches people at the heart of their need, and it still finds its most creative expression in the context of the community of faith. Rebekah and I have been part of three consecutive “good news” congregations, and we are still thrilled to be part of God’s ongoing initiatives of grace and love through the Presbyterian Church (USA).

(I seriously wonder about people who can only gather, tell, and then retell stories of “what’s wrong” with The Church – any and every denomination. We are called to share the good news, the gospel – that’s our job as disciples. If your focus – and the stuff you like to “post” on-line – is always to share bad news, then you’re obviously not working on behalf of Jesus. And, if you’re not working on behalf of Jesus, then you must advancing the cause of something else….)

on the steps of the Campbell home
on the steps of the Campbell home

#2 – THE GRANDKIDS ROCK! Friday I took advantage of the “reachable” proximity of Richmond, and zoom-zoomed up the highway to take our daughter Naomi out to lunch for her birthday. Of course, David and Beks came too.

The grandchild “cuteness factor” seems to have ramped up exponentially over the past few months. Beks spent the entire meal grinning at me and reaching out to hold my hand. David was full with inventive games. There’s really nothing much I can say here other than, “Here’s another reality Rebekah and I are deeply thankful to be enjoying right now.”

Life is good. Life with grandchildren is even better.

Rebekah's cobbler
Rebekah’s cobbler

#3 – KOINONIA: The experience of community is probably the single most important aspect of what makes life here so good. Community with one-another, community with family, the town of Wake Forest, and the community of faith. One of many deliberate “people-initiatives” we enjoy through our church is the koinonia dinner group we meet with monthly (groups break-up, mix-up, and re-form twice a year).

This time it was our turn to make dessert. Rebekah was inspired to put on her chef’s hat, delved into family recipes and more, and then produced a remarkable peach cobbler from scratch. I was most impressed: she not only made something delicious, but she also managed to cover pretty-much every square-inch of the kitchen with flour and other random cobbler ingredients!

IMG_2093# COMMUNITY-PLUS: Then, celebrating the fact that I am making so many authentic, meaningful friendships here, and also celebrating North Carolina’s gift of a mid-80’s day with low humidity, I managed another round of golf Saturday morning.

I actually played fairly well, but – more importantly – I simply enjoyed the beautiful “North Carolina Piedmont” with a friend.

To my point, life is more beautiful, more meaningful and – I believe – more authentically represented when we tell the good story, when we engage every experience in the context of the good news, and when we live like we mean it – because God most certainly meant something remarkable, and something good, when we were imagined and created. “And that’s what happened. God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day.” – Genesis 1:31

It was – and it absolutely is – supremely good. – DEREK

(Now, enjoy more than four-photos!)

life rocks! Dads’ Day at Maul-Hall is just another example!

fresh off the plane from Italy
fresh off the plane from Italy

What a great Fathers’ Day! It had all the best features: family, friends, food, celebration, a powerful morning at church, serendipity all over the place. Far too much to cover in one post, but I’ll offer some highlights.

First, Andrew and Alicia flew in to RDU Saturday evening. This was their terminal move from Italy,and the beginning point for new adventures. But how cool for us that the next chapter starts here, celebrating Dads’ Day and what it means to be a family.

Our daughter, Naomi, drove down from Richmond with the grandkids. So, although we really missed her husband, Craig, it was probably the first time in ten years I’ve had both the children home for Fathers’ Day. What a blessing.

with great friends at WFPC - Sylvia and Frank behind me
gathering before worship at WFPC – Sylvia and Frank Beall behind me

The crowd of visitors just kept expanding! By the time I got to the sanctuary for 11:15 worship the list of lunch guests had expanded to 15! We enjoyed an epic celebration of love, faith, family, and friendship. Yes I have a few photographs to go with today’s post, but I was so busy I failed to capture the most important image of all. However, as Rebekah pointed out, “you’re a writer! You can do this without a photograph!”

Our “guests of honor” were Frank and Sylvia Beall, of Pensacola. And the picture I wish I had is of Frank with Rebekah at our current church home, Wake Forest Presbyterian.

REV. FRANK BEALL: Frank served as the senior pastor at Trinity in Pensacola, Rebekah’s first call out of Seminary in 1982. Frank was mentor, colleague, boss, inspiration, friend, and – along with Sylvia – family. He helped to facilitate the kind of environment where Rebekah could follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and thrive. They worked together 14 years, and the ministry they built is not only legendary in Trinity Presbyterian history, but remains foundational to everything that has happened since.

worship at WFPC
worship June 21 at WFPC

It was a good Sunday to visit (well, every Sunday is a good day to visit WFPC!), because Rebekah was at her preaching best, dealing with difficult social issues head on, challenging our church to respond in love and humility, preaching with enough passion, intensity, insight, and love that there were a lot of tears in the sanctuary at both services.

“I wanted to stand up and applaud!” one of the men said to me afterwards. To which I thought, “then why not?” If God is reaching in and grabbing our souls, making some noise about it seems to make good sense!

Other guests included Naomi’s childhood friend, Laura, who is now a Navy chaplain currently attached to a group of Marines; our great friend, Sandee; and – surprise “walk-on’s” from Plant City, the Carters, a huge part of First Presbyterian in Brandon.

Rebekah and Sandee
Rebekah and Sandee

My point, the “so what” of today’s post, is how rich and full life is in the Kingdom of God. Everything, from worship, to lunch, to work, to getting together with friends, is loaded with meaning, and love, and the potential to change the world.

It’s the beginning of another week (see, “TGIM – thank goodness it’s Monday!“); So hold on, who knows what God has in store! – DEREK

Good memories and the promise of more!

Stetson University in DeLand, FL
Stetson University in DeLand, FL

“Share of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were once slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you!” – Deuteronomy 15

Wednesday in Central Florida was a day for good memories. Not nostalgia, but gratitude. Nostalgia tends to be a slanted, paralyzing mythology that does disservice to both the past and the present; good memories are simply grateful.

with Linda (Parson) Davis
with Linda (Parson) Davis

So, after a morning of writing in the library, I met our great friend Linda Davis for lunch. Linda, who has served Stetson in many capacities – including vice-president – is now “Special adviser to the president for philanthropy.” And, when the special adviser to the president for philanthropy goes to lunch with someone who is in no position to write a big check to the university, then you know you’re a real friend!

Linda is the one who first introduced me to Stetson, back in 1976; and her wonderful parents, Harold and Rabel Parson, let me treat their place – Echo Ranch – like my second home.

Both in their early 90’s, and both under the care of hospice, Harold and Rabel are nearing the end of their pilgrimage here on Earth. Rebekah and I swung by for a visit, and we were delighted to find them talkative and in good spirits. There’s a line from the original Star Wars movie that can’t be improved on when it comes to explaining the effect their passing will have (not only the community of DeLand but the world): “There has been a disruption in The Force…”

with Rebekah at Echo Ranch
with Rebekah at Echo Ranch

From Echo Ranch we drove over to Orlando to see Rebekah’s step-mother, Myrt Alexander, before driving into Winter Park to enjoy a relaxed reprise of our favorite dating activity from the late 1970’s.

We parked, then walked the streets around Park Avenue. We window-shopped; we wandered around boutiques we could never afford and still can’t; we wondered at the proliferation of exotic cars; we tried on ridiculously priced clothing and wondered if the Rollins College students shopped there (probably); we read the menus outside the French bistros; we watched Amtrack trains pull into the station, and imagined jumping on to explore America by rail; we stood outside the Park Avenue Plaza hotel (a place we did, eventually, check into August 18, 1979); we smooched at various street corners; we finished the complete loop; and then we walked around again.

This time, however, rather than grab coffee and a fresh-fruit milkshake at the East India Company, we wrapped up our date with a long dinner at the Italian restaurant across from the train station. It was a good evening.

On Park Avenue in Winter Park
On Park Avenue in Winter Park

At the beginning of this post I mentioned the difference between good memories and nostalgia. It’s an important distinction, I believe, because nostalgia can be a paralyzing force in politics, in the church, and in our lives and relationships. Nostalgia leverages a false, or contrived narrative of the past, to conjure an emotional response in the present, that seeks to manipulate decisions regarding the future. Good memories, on the other hand, simply say “thank-you” to the experiences we have shared in the past; they are building blocks for more good memories today, and lead us to look forward to more good memories in the future.

This week I’ve been so pleased to see that, fond as our memories are, the Stetson University of today is more beautiful, more accomplished, and offers more for the future than the Stetson we attended almost four decades ago. Winter Park, too, has moved into a present that is far beyond the Park Avenue of our memories.

at the soccer field this morning
at the soccer field this morning

It’s like that at our faith community too. Wake Forest Presbyterian Church has some spectacular history, as well some difficult years; but – as Carly Simon sang so eloquently – “These are the good old days!” And, because of that, tomorrow has every opportunity to be brighter still!

In hope, in gratitude, and in promise – DEREK

 

 

Wake Forest Today column… plus my take on “Social Media”

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Notes on the Journey

This week’s Wake Forest Today column tells the story of how Scout Labradoodle became my personal trainer.

Not only is it a great story, but it’s an invitation to more deliberate personal health… across the board. Primarily I’m talking about physical health, but spiritual health often works according to the same principles of commitment, intention, and practice. Click to read the article, Notes on the Journey. Here’s the intro:

“Greetings, friends! It’s another beautiful day in Wake Forest. It may be cool, but spring is beginning to blossom all around us.
“In my neighborhood the trees are busting out with anticipation; the birds are singing; people are walking, biking, and jogging; and even the most sedentary of my neighbors are venturing out onto the sidewalk. It’s almost impossible not to respond positively to the imperative of new life…” (read more…)

social-media-logos_15773FEELING THE LOVE: Knocking social medial has become a little trendy. But as for me, I don’t agree; lately I’ve been feeling the love.

Recently I’ve heard people say things like:

  • “Anyone who thinks they have 500 friends has reduced the idea to the least common denominator…”
  • “Every minute you spend on the computer is a minute you can’t spend in a real relationship…”
  • and, “I don’t Skype. I’d rather go out and actually see people….”

But I don’t see it that way. First off, I’m a writer. The computer is my workspace. The Internet is my office. The community I interact with while I’m at work isn’t virtual, it’s real. Plus, I have the amazing privilege of (fairly randomly) getting a glimpse of what literally hundreds of people I love and care about are up to. When their image pops up on my radar I think about them, sometimes I message them, and – quite often – I pray for them .

IMG_2445Then, yesterday was my birthday. I received personal messages from somewhere around 200 different people. It amounted to a literal torrent of goodwill and encouragement that lifted me up. That’s not virtual, it’s real.

Finally, our grandchildren live in Connecticut. I’m lucky if I get to be in the same state with them three or four times in a year. Yet, because of Skype, I’m 100% confident that when I get off the plane next week David and Beks will not only recognize me, but be entirely comfortable with the relationship. That’s not just real, it’s wonderful!

Relationships are a lot like the health equation I discuss in the Wake Forest Today article. The key is intention, and commitment. Getting in shape; growing spiritually; nurturing meaningful relationships: it all requires making the effort.

IMG_2453And as for you – the 1,500 or so people who I’m reaching today via this log post – all I can say is “I believe you are worth the effort, and this communication comes directly from my heart.”

In love, and because of love – DEREK 

(Please don’t forget to read my column at Wake Forest Today)

best gumbo recipe ever (+ koinonia)

Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely,  while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47, CEV)

Gumbo
Gumbo

With the exception of last Saturday’s DOG-BLOG, this has been a fairly “in-depth” content week here at “The Life-Charged Life.”

So today I’m going to indulge those who sent messages asking for my recipe for the amazing gumbo I prepared for dinner Friday evening, and then shared via a mouth-watering picture on facebook while I was cooking.

The occasion was our “Koinonia Dinner Gathering” small group from church. Rebekah and I hosted, and we wanted to share our very best with our friends.

First, I’ll give the history, then I’ll talk you through the recipe.

IMG_0860HISTORY: Many years ago, Rebekah’s youngest brother, Jesse, and his bride, Heather, were married at the Pensacola church where Rebekah served as associate pastor. Rebekah’s mother decided to serve gumbo for the rehearsal dinner. She lived 500 miles away, so she did most of the preparation over the phone with her souschef, yours truly.

The gumbo I prepared this weekend has its heart and soul in the old “Grandma Nell” recipe. It’s a little different every time I cook, but the foundation is consistent. It’s one part Grandma Nell, one part “The Seafood Cookbook,” and one part Derek Maul.

RECIPE: So this is what I did:

  1. After breakfast, boil three turkey legs and one red onion (chopped) in lightly salted water for most of the morning, till the meat falls off the bone and the stock is rich. Separate the meat and reserve the stock.

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    Maul Hall kitchen
  2. In a sauté pan, brown 8-ounces of mild pork sausage. Set the browned sausage aside, with the turkey.
  3. Add some butter to the sausage pan, mix in three tablespoons of flour and stir till golden-brown and smooth, gradually add 1-2 cups of the stock and bring to a boil, stir with a whisk until thickened, then add the mixture to the pot of stock and stir.
  4. Keep the large pot of stock on simmer and then add the following ingredients: 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped; three stalks of celery, chopped; 1 package of sliced okra; 1 sweet red pepper, chopped; 2 cans of corn; 2 cans of diced tomatoes; 2 bay leaves; 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce; sea-salt & black pepper to taste.
  5. Bring the mixture back to the boil, then let it simmer on a low setting. Add the turkey and the sausage, then enough boiling water to bring the stock to the consistency you desire. Cover, and let the mixture simmer (creating a richer stock) for another good hour or so.
  6. Around 90-minutes before guests arrive, add 16-oz of lump crab meat (yes, it’s expensive, but this gumbo is not the place to get by with imitation crab). Also, add 16-oz of small shrimp (shelled and deveined). Open the fresh oysters (2-pounds) and add the liquid – but reserve the oysters.
  7. 30-minutes before the guests arrive, prepare the white rice. After 18 minutes, turn off the heat but leave the rice, covered, on the burner. It should be perfect by the time you serve.
  8. Add the oysters when you turn off the rice, stir them in and leave the gumbo to simmer, also add half a lemon, thinly sliced.
  9. Finally, just ten minutes before you’re done, stir in two teaspoons of gumbo filé powder.
  10. I’m sure you have been stirring and tasting the gumbo all afternoon; I recommend a light white wine to accompany this rewarding exercise.

IMG_0852BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER: It’s important to invite people who will bring amazing appetizers, wonderful cornbread, perfect salad, and yummy dessert! Our guests raised the bar with everything.

Finally, great gumbo is vastly improved in the presence of great conversation. Rebekah and I always have a handful of “connect-questions” up our sleeves just in case. But this group didn’t need the help!

When the party broke up, three-and-half hours after we dove into the appetizer, the great gumbo had become merely a footnote, one small element in an evening of fun, warm fellowship, laughter, and spiritual insight.

IMG_0858All the best ingredients, mixed together, simmered over the course of the evening, and covered in prayer.

Bon Appétit  – DEREK

even relaxing can be all about faith

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore. (Psalm 133)

Stormy and Doug
Stormy and Doug

This weekend my thoughts have shifted away from issues such as the silliness of politics and the details of making a new home; and – instead – I’ve relaxed via a couple of my favorite recreational pastimes.

Friday evening, Rebekah and I enjoyed dinner with good friends. Stormy and Doug moved here from Brandon a year ago, and settled in North Raleigh. They have a beautiful home, and invited us to a dinner party along with their pastor and his wife (Craig and Donna Miller also moved here from Tampa recently, so we enjoyed a mini reunion).

After dinner we pulled out guitars and sang old Beatles songs, James Taylor tunes, gospel favorites, and Neil Diamond classics. It was a lot of fun, completely relaxing, and occasionally tuneful.

par threeVIRGINIA! Then Saturday I drove just across the Virginia line to play golf with my friend Ray. Ray is the men’s ministry leader who has been instrumental in connecting me with the Disciples of Christ. We’ve become close friends over the past three years.

I appreciate and respect Ray’s commitment to the unique joys and challenges of encouraging men to practice lives of vibrant faith. Like me, Ray wants to see men “seize the day” when it comes to the opportunity to move beyond mere church membership and into life-charged discipleship.

The golf was simply a vehicle that allowed us to get together for a long, deep, conversation. What’s cool is how natural it is to talk about faith, and how encouraging it is to spend time with someone who is also committed to the idea of “Live like we mean it.”

Ray
Ray Gryder showing good form!

Ray even brought along his video camera, and so we sat overlooking the golf course and completed an off-the-cuff interview for his video-blog series. Essentially, we had a conversation about what it means to be involved in “mission.” I pretty much said that mission is the same as salvation: it means being in partnership with God in the work that God is doing; it means getting on board with God’s initiatives in this world; it means living fully “gospeled” lives. I’ll share the link as soon as it makes it through production.

Misson means:

  • being in partnership with God in the work that God is doing;
  • getting on board with God’s initiatives in this world;
  • living fully “gospeled” lives.

All the more reason to head in to church Sunday morning, to spend time in gratitude and devotion, and to be involved in a worshiping community that tries to live into the beautiful truth of the Gospel of Love.

Peace, blessings, and love – DEREK

18th hole

the blessing of friendship and shared ministry

with Liam and MicahI know this is a writing blog, but sometimes a picture is more than enough. That’s almost the case this morning, because this shot of Rebekah with her great friends, Micah and Liam, pretty-much says it all.

We went over to Tim and Kelly Black’s house for dinner Friday evening, to enjoy our last chance at a quiet(ish) meal together before we hit the road for North Carolina. The boys, of course, captured Rebekah’s heart as they always do, and when they crawled into her lap so she could take her own “group picture,” I had my photographic essay in plain view and there was no avoiding it, I had to take the shot.

LOVE THE ENTIRE FAMILY: I guess I should dig out a recent photo that includes Tim and Kelly too, because this is a post about the entire family, and what I want to say more than challenges the pen; because even a really good writer can’t do justice to the kind of love we feel for Tim and Kelly and the boys, and what they have meant to our experience of life and ministry at FPC Brandon.

Pastors Tim Black and Rebekah Maul
Pastors Tim Black and Rebekah Maul

Simply put, Tim (who is now, officially, “acting head of staff”) has been the best imaginable colleague in ministry for Rebekah. She typically introduces herself as “one of the pastors here at First Brandon,” and she tends to introduce Tim in the same way.

Why? Because even though Tim was called here as “associate pastor,” what he’s been from Day One has been Rebekah’s trusted friend and colleague in ministry. That kind of blessing is not typical on the average church staff, and we are beyond grateful for what such a collaboration has meant over the years.

Then, Kelly shines in her own way; not only is she a great partner in ministry for Tim, she’s also been the ideal “preacher-spouse” compatriot for me. Sincere, creative, talented, positive, encouraging, a beautiful spirit, a deeply committed Christian, an enthusiastic leader in the life of the church – What more could we ask for?

THIS HELPS US A LOT: I’m sure all of you know that I write to and for myself as much as anything else; that’s what journaling is all about; a blog is an on-line journal after all. And I see that I’ve done it again this morning, inasmuch as, in describing what we love and will deeply miss about Tim, Kelly and the boys, I have been outlining what is always possible when we forge deep relationships with other people.

God’s good people are everywhere, and the more I think about the amazing gift of relationships, the more I understand that God has a wealth of abundance in store for us in Wake Forest.

Nothing could ever replace the love we have  experienced here in Brandon. and Rebekah and I are profoundly thankful. But we’re also on the edge of our seats with anticipation for what’s going to be coming next.

Derek, Rebekah, Kelly and Tim (image by Richard Crawford)
Derek, Rebekah, Kelly and Tim (image by Richard Crawford)

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
 It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore. (Psalm 133)

important! please help my friends bring their daughter home…

adoption blog header (1)A couple of weeks ago I promised our friends Kelly and Tim Black that I’d write a post about their new child-to-be, Vivi Black, and also include a link to the ongoing “Bring Vivi Home” fundraiser (click on “Bring Vivi Home).

  • Vivi – Vivienne – Black currently resides in China, where she is waiting for several large mountains of paperwork to be completed before Tim and Kelly can fly over and bring her home.
  • Tim and Kelly (Tim works on the pastoral team with Rebekah at our current church, First Presbyterian of Brandon), are currently working on the mountain of details, preparing their home, loving Vivi passionately from a distance, and doing some creative fundraising to help cover the staggering expenses.

HELP! The bottom line is this: Vivi is one amazingly blessed little girl to have landed a family like the Blacks. I honestly can’t imagine a more loving and faithful household where Vivi could learn what it means to be loved and to love, and to serve one-another in the spirit of generosity and faith.

I’m keeping this short and sweet. So here’s a scripture to chew on. Read it carefully, then ask yourself if it’s too much trouble to go to the “Bring Vivi Home” fundraiser and purchase a piece of the “Bring Vivi Home” puzzle. If everyone who follows this blog buys just one $5 share, we would immediately add almost $3,500 today alone.

We love because God first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:19-21).

With my granddaughterSo I’m challenging each one of you to participate. Also, and this will help a lot, please send this post to at least two other people. Let’s bring Vivi home today!

In love, and because of love – DEREK

live forward (one for the foodies – Oakley’s Grille)

Lynn Marx and Rebekah
Lynn Marx and Rebekah

Okay, foodie peeps, this post is for you!

Yesterday, Rebekah and I went out to lunch with Lynn Oakley Marx, one of her great friends from growing up. Lynn and her husband, Randy, live in Richmond, but Lynn periodically heads this way to visit her mom in Sun City.

Lynn’s brother Keith has lived in the Tampa area for years; recently he opened his own eatery on Bruce B. Downs in New Tampa. Believe me when I say that Oakley’s Grille is a name you’re going to want to remember.

A GOOD REVIEW? My writing slant tends to lean toward the positive, so if our meal had been anything less than outstanding then I’d wouldn’t mention Keith’s restaurant at all. Fact is, outside lunch being been better-than-good then I’d be blogging about something else today (There’s more than enough going on in the world right now to capture my attention without wasting posting space on food if I’m not going to recommend it).

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  • However, while there may be more than enough stories to share, the same can’t be said for great casual dinning venues. So this is definitely news you can use; I’m letting you in on a noteworthy secret by pointing out the yum at Oakley’s Grille.

I ordered a Philadelphia Cheese Steak Sandwich; Rebekah had the French Dip; Lynn enjoyed the Fajitas. Other people who have been to Oakley’s say the Black Angus burgers are the best they’ve had anywhere. We also shared a generous order of Sweet Potatoes Fries that was most certainly state of the art.

IMG_3345GOURMET CRED: Most of you know how much I enjoy cooking at home in our amazing kitchen. Once in a while I’ll post a blog about a recipe, or how much fun it is to entertain a few friends and to share a great meal together. I have no interest at all in cooking professionally, but I can confidently say that I’ve developed a modicum of gourmet cred over the last few years.

My gourmet radar tells me the following: Don’t let the lack of white table-clothes, china, crystal and stainless fool you; the food is all fresh, made-from-scratch with top-quality ingredients, and prepared by actual cooks. What you’re getting when you eat at Oakley’s is a sit-down South-Tampa bistro dining experience for the price you’d pay at a homogeneous, processed, fast-food chain.

Keith Oakley serves Rebekah and his sister, Lynn
Keith Oakley serves Rebekah and his sister, Lynn

LIVE FORWARD: My final word is this. Keith Oakley may be 61, but he’s reinvented himself one more time and he’s doing something creative and new and to the best of his ability. Personally, I find a lot of inspiration and hope in that quality of a story.

Which leaves me to wonder: what are we (any one of us) doing to “live forward” at this stage of our life?

– DEREK