The Cruise

disneycruise.jpg We are back from our Disney Cruise. Yes, I said, Disney. On the advice of a coworker who did a Disney Cruise for his honeymoon, we decided it was worth a try. In a word, WOW. Disney is second to none in customer service! We did seven days in the Eastern Caribbean with stops at St Maarten and St Thomas islands. From St Thomas, we took an excursion to St John. Every night we had great food, excellent service and lots of rest and relaxation.  Click on any of the photos or here to see a short slide show of photos.

americascup.jpg The first two days at sea, I was still feeling sick. I have been feeling poorly since February 1st and the trip to the ship from Charlotte was more than I was ready for. Having two days at sea was just what I needed to get well. By the time we reached St Maarten, I was ready for the sailboat ride excursion we planned. Little did I know that this leisurely sailboat ride was really an America’s Cup sailboat race in which we were the crew! What a rush. Early on in the race, the boat was tilted so far that water was about to come over the side where Jeanie was sitting. One of the crewmen asked if anyone was uncomfortable with the current position of the boat. Jeanie said, “I am!” He shouted back, “Get over it, there’s nothing I can do about it!”

We met the guy who created Yoda for the Star Wars movie and picked up a neat gift for someone we know and love who has loved Yoda for as long as I can remember.

trunkbay.jpg At St John, we visited Trunk Bay, which must be one of the most beautiful places in the whole wide world. There I did my first snorkelling. I enjoyed it with the one exception that it was hard for me to see without my glasses. They had markers under the water explaining what we were looking at. I could see them, but I couldn’t read them. I could see the fishes and the coral which was just beautiful.

After leaving St John / St Thomas, we had one day at sea before we would arrive at Castaway Cay (say “kee”), Disney’s own private island. They had a problem with one of the ship’s engines and the captain announced that, since we would be three hours late, they were going to refund everyone $100 and provide all rentals of floats, bikes and snorkel equipment for free. I thought to myself, “Disney even fails well!”

The final act of great customer service was the luggage handling. Like all cruises, they handle getting your luggage on and off the ship, nothing special there… however, Disney didn’t just take our luggage off the ship for us to pick it up, they sent it to the airport and transferred it to Delta who moved it on to our destination. We didn’t touch our luggage until we got back home! Unfortunately for us, they don’t have any control over the air traffic system. We spent the entire day in the Orlando airport waiting for our flight to take us home. We arrived safely though and we’re struggling to get back into the swing of real life…

I leave you with a recording of the coolest ship’s horn you will ever hear.

My Spiritual Journey – Part 3

This is literally the first day I have felt good in February. Thanks to those who prayed for me. It feels kinda selfish to ask for prayer from God for a cold when there are so many big problems out there; war, famine, big ugly dreadful diseases, broken relationships… In any case, I’m grateful to be feeling better. On to my journey…

jim-bible-school.jpg As far back as I can remember, my family went to church every Sunday. Our home church was Deer Park Baptist. I “gave my heart to Jesus” at Vacation Bible School there. I must have been about 7 or 8 years old. The associate pastor called me into his office, which was quite intimidating… it felt sort of like going to the principal’s office. I had raised my hand when the teacher asked if anyone wanted to give their heart to Jesus and the next step in the process was a trip to his office. He asked me a few questions about sin and who Jesus was and what He did for me. I answered all the questions correctly and we prayed together. He told me that I was now a Christian.

I have some reservations today about the one size fits all formula in which we answer a few questions and we are “in”. Seems more like joining a club than a crucial life decision. In any case I took my decision seriously. I believed what my teacher taught me and I wanted to go to heaven when I died. As I wrote those words, I just remembered something my dad told me the day I was baptized. He said that he noticed that I was more serious than the other kids. I’m glad I remembered that. Thanks for saying so, Dad. I knew writing this would be good for me.

As the years went on and I learned more about God at church, I grew more serious about wanting to follow Jesus. At some point, the repetitious Sunday School lessons weren’t doing it for me anymore. If I had been smart, I would have talked to someone about my journey, but I was a loner and I was pretty sure I could figure it out. In my mind, everyone needed to go through the same steps of learning and growth in series; 1, 2, 3…. Because of that, it was important for me to get them in order so I wouldn’t mess up or miss anything. I knew that they had these racks in the vestibule of the church filled with tracts and I reasoned that this was where I would find out the next steps to take. What I found in the tract rack were pamphlets on how to become a Christian in three easy steps and why the Mormans or Jehovah’s Witnesses were wrong and what to say to them when they came to your door. I didn’t find anything like what i was really looking for; the next steps after giving your heart to God. How to grow closer to God.

4-laws.gif The church that I grew up in emphasized evangelism. Nothing mattered more than “The Great Commision” from Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” It was our job to share Jesus. For a painfully shy little fellow, this was like asking me to walk on hot coals. I reasoned that the main thing was getting the message out. So, I took the tracts that told about how to become a Christian and distributed them liberally. Once on vacation, we stopped for gas and I went to the restroom. While I was in there, I unrolled the toilet paper and re-rolled it with tracts so they would fall out when the next person used the toilet. As we drove away, Dad had something to say about it. It seems that he was the next person to use the toilet. I was so embarrased!

When I was a young teenager, I had a Sunday School teacher, whose name is gone from my memory. He was a short blond firecracker of a man. He really loved Jesus and was full of excitement. He was as anti-speaking in tongues as he was on fire for Jesus. I don’t know why that was such a hot button for him. His teaching was my only knowlege about speaking in tongues and my only perspective about the matter. Whatever speaking in tongues was, he was worried that we’d get involved with it. I took his teaching as gospel and learned chapter and verse why “speaking in tongues was of the devil.” There was no way I was going to get involved with that! In his class we also studied a popular book called “The Late Great Planet Earth”. This was the first popular book I had ever read about what to expect at the end of time. Mostly what I remember about it was that Jesus was coming back in 1988! Whoops.

In the group of four boys that were my age at Deer Park Church, three of them went into fulltime ministry. I alone pursued a secular vocation. Many times I have asked myself what happened to me. For some reason, even then it was important to me that I should be able to be serious about following Jesus without earning a living as a minister. That is not a criticism of anyone in ministry. It is a value I hold dear, not just with regards to ministry, but also taking leadership in groups without being given a formal leadership role. To me, that’s the way the world ought to be. So many people wait to be told what to do instead of using the gifts and talents that God has built into them. There’s a reason we are all different. We need each other.

My Spiritual Journey – Part 2

Gran-Great

naomi-lewis-1964.jpg The next logical part of my journey is my relationship to those who came before me. I was blessed to know all of my grandparents and three of my great granparents. I was pretty young when my great-grandparents died. My dad’s mother’s father (M. C. Lewis) died before I was born. I barely remember her mother, (Naomi) but I called her Gran Great (my grandmother was “Gran”). Mostly, I remember an old lady who I would “perform” for. At Christmas, we had a gathering of my grandmother’s family (the Lewis’s) at which all the kids were expected to say a piece for Gran-Great. My parents tell me that one of the pieces I recited for her went like this… “The chimney’s small. Old Santa’s fat, but he get’s down in spite of that.” I guess for a little guy that was pretty good.

Great Grandpa & Grandma Anderson

rom-bertha-anderson-1967.jpg I knew both of my dad’s, dad’s parents (Rom & Bertha Pearl Anderson). We visited them many times and I remember my dad telling me each time that this might be the last time we would ever see them alive. The fact that I remember hearing this more than once testifies to their longevity. It also tells me that the sadness I felt cut pretty deep. Many of our memories that stick do so because they are attached to strong emotion. This photo is just how I remember them. I even remember being that wallpaper, which struck me because of its “oldness”. Everything in their house seemed so old. It even smelled old. My great-grandfather liked to put me on his knee and tell me bear (pronounced “bar”) stories. His voice was airy and soft and he had a gentle laugh that I liked.

Hymns

My great grandmother was impressed with my singing hymns when we visited. I do not remember this, but my mom tells me it is so. My mom sang hymns a lot when I was little and, being the little musician that I was, I picked them up and sang them too. I still remember most of the standard hymns very well. I suppose it is because of hearing them so much when I was growing up.

Interestingly to me, I do not “treasure” the hymns the way I hear from so many people who grew up in the church. So many times I hear people my age and older wish we sang more of the the old hymns in church today. To my mind, they seem distant and old fashioned. It seems as if I should cherish them and hold them dear since they were clearly such a huge part of my childhood, but they do not. The reason, at least partly is because my musical taste and my love of variety are not met in the old hymns (you don’t get much new and avant-garde with hymns). It could also be that I unconsciously associate hymns with a “by the rules” religion that I attach to my grandparents’ generation… a religious attitude that I find repellant. For whatever reason, the fact is that I loved hymns when I was a youngster but today, I do not prefer them.

I was sharing this dicotomy with a friend the other day and he reminded me of some of the “remakes” of old hymns to a more modern sound. I like very few of them. The ones I like are the ones in which they make interesting harmonic changes instead of merely “changing the beat”. Most of these remake productions lack depth musically speaking. They are merely rock and roll facades on old hymns. It isn’t that I consider what they are doing sacreligious. It is hard for me to imagine that any musical style in and of itself is unpleasing to God. I believe to my core that God is mostly concerned with our hearts.

The Attitude of the Heart

Samuel, in the Bible, says when choosing the next king for Israel, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7. This is a principle that I hold very dear. God is more concerned with my heart than my actions. I once knew a man who loved to perform gospel music ( good-ole hillbilly, bluegrass gospel music). He didn’t love Jesus, but he surely loved gospel music. Something about that bothered me. To sing for Jesus when you don’t love Him, just doesn’t make sense to me. I believe that as a musician, I can perform secular music with an attitude of worship to God that is pleasing to him. Likewise, I could sing a hymn with a poor attitude and I do not believe it would be pleasing to God.

Thinking about God’s looking on the heart also reminds me of Jeanie’s and my philosophy of raising children. When our daughters were little, it was very important to us to try to discern the reason they did something wrong. Did they have an attitude of defiance, or was it a childish mistake? Were they truly sorry, or just embarrased that they got caught? Once I was so exasperated with Danae that I shouted at her. I said, “Why don’t you stop acting like a three year old?” This broke the spell for me long enough to laugh at myself… because she was three years old at the time.

Way over here at the other end of the parenting continuum, I have also asked my daughters many times to judge me by my motives more than my actions. As a parent there are many times that I have just not known what to do or say. I know what I want, but I don’t know how to get it. I have made some real hum-dingers of mistakes with my words. Hurt feelings, miscommunications. I am blessed that my family is so forgiving.

A Prayer Request

I have had a cold for the last week and a half that has wiped me out. Just sitting up and writing for a while is draining all my energy. Please pray that I will recover quickly. I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired… if you know what I mean.

My Spiritual Journey – Part 1

Beginning

ps145-4.pngEverything is spiritual… so how can one write about their spiritual journey without writing about everything? My purpose in this series is to explore what I believe about God and why I believe it to be true. It will be a very personal journey. My purpose is not to say that I am right and why, but to say, “This is who I am.” Like everything I write on this blog, my purpose ultimately is for my friends and family, to know me better. The unexpected gem for me is how much I learn about myself in the process. If it is encouraging to others, so much the better.

I expect it will be mostly chronological, but not completely. As I get into some particular thread of thought, I may chase it through time. You will undoubtedly meet a few people who helped to shape my spiritual thought from Mom and Dad to my own children, from my Sunday School teachers and Youth Leader to a few very influential pastors and friends. Much of my journey has been shaped by trying to please others. A desire to please others is good, but it is also flawed. The simple fact is that I cannot make anyone happy. I can do acts of kindness, but whether the recipient truly receives them is not my choice. Whether it is enough to make a difference is not my choice. I hope that in the process of exposing the unhealthy addiction to making others happy, I can be freed to explore my own heart deeper… and continue doing acts of kindness, but with no expectations.

Before the Beginning

At least, before my beginning… It occurs to me that as a chronological journey, I should tell what I know about the spiritual journeys of my ancestors. It isn’t much…

Gathering at Pine Grove ChurchI know that my Dad’s family was from West Virginia. He was born and raised in an area on the Kanawha River nine miles from its intersection with the Ohio. The area was called “Nine Mile”. His father’s family (Anderson) had bounced all around West Virginia and even into Kentuky and Tennessee having children as they went. They made a living by building or fixing up a house then living in it a while, selling it and moving on. When they arrived at Nine Mile, they stayed to have several children. My guess is that the nomadic lifestyle was a bit much with a lot of children. No matter why they chose to stay, they took up farming and became part of the Nine Mile community. They attended church at Pine Grove Church, which is now gone. There is still a cemetery there where many of my ancestors are buried (none of them are Andersons though). Pine Grove Church was a Methodist church, I believe.

Another family in the Nine Mile area who also attended Pine Grove Church were the Lewises. Bernice Lewis was my grandmother. Her father, Miles Clement Lewis, was a school teacher and a devout Christian. He spoke in church on at least one occasion, for which I have published his notes here. Bernice Lewis and Preston Anderson met at Pine Grove Church where both of their families attended services. They told me about going to social events there for dates. Anyway, that’s not the point of this entry. The ancestors I spoke of were from the Lewis side of my grandmother’s family.

They married and made a life for themselves very close by that area. For their whole life, they were members of the United Methodist Church. They believed in God and raised their two sons in the church. Their younger son, my uncle, is a Christian pastor and a great mentor to me. He comments frequently on my blog. Their older son is my father and also a great influence in my life. He has occasionally left his mark here too.

My mother’s family came from Alabama. I believe they were Baptists, but I don’t know much about that. Her parents moved to Charleston, SC when she was a young teenager. Her father became a machinist in the Charleston Naval Ship Yard. They attended Charleston Heights Baptist Church, which was very near the Naval Base (that little fact will become important soon).

My dad joined the Navy when he graduated high-school. He had high hopes of attending the Navy School of Music. He had passed the entrance audition and was well on his way when life took a different turn for him. In his physical exam, they determined that he didn’t have enough teeth to be a navy musician. I can only imagine how dissapointing that must have been. The Navy sent dad (of course he wasn’t my dad yet) to Charleston. While there, he went to Charleston Heights Baptist Church to worship. Guess who he met there… yep. He and my mom were married about a year later.

Mom and Dad took my brother, Ken, and me to church in the Baptist church as long back as I can remember. Some of my very early memories were of my dad directing the music at Highland Creek Baptist Church in Hanahan, SC. I remember singing from the hymnals and feeling embarrased when one of the ladies would look at me and smile with that “isn’t he cute” smile. When my mom was recovering from having my brother, she tells me that I would go to church with my dad and I would sit on the front pew very still and good while he directed the singing. Then he would come sit down with me for the rest of the service. People would just rave about how good I was. I liked that attention and I’m sure it had a big impact on my being “good”.

So there you have it. It’s a beginning… not an earth shaking beginning, but it is the one I have. Next time, I’ll talk a little more about my childhood experience in church, what I remember of it and move into the teen years. Until then…