Excitement to Brokenness #103

Our family had looked forward to Sky Ranch’s 25th Anniversary Banquet for many months. The move to the East Texas location had proved to be a good one. It was at this banquet the announcement was to be made that Gladys Lankford was giving a chapel for Sky Ranch.

On August 3 I was asked to resign, and was told that Sally Jo and I should not plan on attending the banquet. Soon after I resigned, Glad told Sky Ranch she was no longer interested in giving a chapel.

As August 22 approached, Carla and Jenna asked if they could attend the banquet. They knew that Sally Jo and I had been asked not to attend, but no one said they could not go. They knew many of their staff and camper friends would be there. Our kids loved Sky Ranch and left our home with great anticipation. They returned home several hours later, truly in shock. Sally Jo and I had never been mentioned during the entire evening – seven years of our lives passed over as if we never existed.

Carla’s response to the evening was: “Dad, if Christians would do this to you, they would do anything to anybody”. I had to agree.

I can quote “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” — I Peter 5:7. I believed God cared for me, for my family – that heaven will be fair – but this did not remove the pain of the now!

I can work at “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:13-14. But working at this though I did, bewilderment continued!

King David wrote: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent…I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: ‘He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him'”. These words from Psalm 22 also expressed the ache of Jesus on the cross.

If I stop here, either in my thinking or my writing, I further bury myself in despair. King David went on to write Psalm 23. “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

It was six months before I could see, that whereas some people meant what happened for evil, God meant it for good! Living In Partnership With God is hard work, because it requires faith, sometimes a blind, struggling faith, while the world beats us up. We should not hesitate to cry out as did the father of the demon filled son “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” — Mark 9:24.

Now What Do We Do? #102

Our family had a very serious discussion: should we stay in camping, or should I go back into church ministry? Our conclusion, very much fueled by our children, was to stay in camping.

Ted Clifford invited me to have breakfast with him. He was the “oil and gas” business man who said to me: “I am like a steward – I take care of what the boss gives me till I get to the end of the line”. (IPWG # 91) Over breakfast Ted told me that if I would like to build and direct another camp/conference center, he would pay for it.

Clayton Bell asked if I would be interested in developing a camp/conference center for the Highland Park Presbyterian Church.

Darryl Coates, the building contractor who had developed Jan Kay Ranch as a rental facility for churches, (IPWG # 96) told me I could have half of everything he owned – except his wife. Darryl meant it!

These were wonderful opportunities provided by men who trusted me – in spite of the fact that the Sky Ranch Board of Directors had asked me to resign for no stated reason. In two of these opportunities the men would be making a large personal investment – and I would be working with them, not under a board of directors.

Beginning another ministry in the Dallas area, with an excellent facility, could only create competition for several existing quality camp/conference ministries in the area – including Sky Ranch. I was determined not to undermine Sky Ranch in any way, and besides, with what we were living through, we knew we had to leave the Dallas area.

Sally Jo and I met with Dr. Robertson McQuilkin who asked me to consider developing the Cove facility and ministry in North Carolina. As we talked about this, Sally Jo and I realized we really did not want to be involved with the development of another facility. As Billy Graham said, “Every invitation is not a calling.”

We came to realize that what we really wanted to do, what we believed God would have us do was:

  • To work directly with the people to whom we would minister
  • To encourage the development of capable, godly young people.
  • To provide the opportunity to learn basic life and recreational skills young people could use throughout their lives
  • To not be overly involved with fundraising – as Sally Jo put it: “more the L’Abri model” (God will provide) .

We actually wrote this out as our “professional objective”. Because we had defined what we wanted to do, what we believed God would have us to do, it became much easier to decline other ministry opportunities.

As to what God would specifically have us do, we had no clue! For me it was back to Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” In the King James Version the last phrase is “he will direct our path.” Today I would add to this verse Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

When unemployed, it is difficult to trust the Lord to direct us to the work (not just vocational work) He has already planned for us to do. Waiting patiently for the Lord to direct, to go before, can be frustrating, frightening, painful.

When living In Partnership With God, we have no choice but to trust and be open to whatever He would have us do. God has demonstrated He has many ways to communicate with His people.

Matagorda Island – Unreal Experience!! #101

On Friday evening, ten days after being asked to resign, Sally Jo and I were having dinner with friends when the telephone rang – it was Clayton Bell. Clayton and Peggy became close friends in Dothan, AL where Clayton was pastor of 1st Presbyterian Church, and I was his assistant. Clayton was now the Pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, and we had been with them often during the previous seven years. Clayton said that he and Peggy would like our family to join theirs for four days on Matagorda Island. We had no clue what or where Matagorda Island was, but…we’d go.

Two days later the Bells and the Giesers joined members of the host family, with staff from their Dallas home, boarded a large private plane, the interior of which was much more like a family room than the inside of an airplane. We flew to their private landing field on Matagorda Island – which was 38 Miles long, located about 30 miles north of Corpus Christi. Several years later the family gave the island to the state of Texas, and it is now on maps as “Matagorda Island State Park and Wildlife Management Area.”

Welcome to a dream world. We were warmly welcomed and taken to our rooms, located on a long wing of the house where the ocean breeze would blow through. Our rooms were simply, but beautifully furnished, down to the last detail, including fresh flowers. We were soon taken by 4 wheel drive vehicles to see the island – which birds, which included flocks of roseate spoonbills, deer and other wild animals shared with the cattle and cowboys. For four days this was our private play ground.

When we went surf fishing, an experienced fisherman was waiting on the beach with the fishing trailer. He gave us lessons, baited our hooks, unhooked the fish, and then packed them on ice – for us to enjoy at a coming meal. This was also true when we went crabbing. We enjoyed the body surfing, shelling, mini-bike riding, feeding deer, and watching Carla gallop down the beach on a horse chosen to match her riding ability. When we returned to the long white house, we all knew there was a large stainless steel refrigerator full of all kinds of drinks…help yourself.

We dressed for dinner. Every meal was served on a plate appropriate for the meal. Round plates with the star brand on which to eat steak, fish shaped plates for the fish we had caught – I do not think we ate on the same pattern of plate for four days. As there were children, food was always prepared the children would enjoy – including macaroni and cheese!

In the evening deadly coral snakes lay on the warm surfaces. No one went outside at night! After an incredible meal, a kid-friendly movie was shown. I remember that during the movie a large velvet box of candy was passed around, refilled and re-circulated – a nightly ritual. Adults were welcome to watch the movie, play games, or talk together.

Four wonderful days placed in the middle of a time of internal confusion. A gift from God!

Even as I write this I am aware that many live in, or go through, extremely difficult situations, be it dealing with a family situation, a serious accident, an illness like cancer, or dementia or Alzheimer’s. We cannot provide a Matagorda Island experience, but we can provide a hug, a meal, or perhaps a silent presence that says “I am here for you. I love you.”

As we live In Partnership With God, we also live with human beings, the work of His hands. This world can be a brutal place. Jesus said “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” — Mark 9:21

Life Must Go On! #100

Sally Jo’s diary for August 3 ends with: “Chuck home from board mtg. After we’d finished supper – had been asked to resign – long night”

In my experience, we can cry out to the Lord in pain and frustration, and though He is with us, the emotional upheaval is real! Even when I seek to cast my care upon Him (I Peter 5:7), even when I trust God to lead me (Proverbs 3:5-7), even when I believe God will work things out for my good and His glory (Roman 8:28), God does not take away the bewilderment, the confusion. In the midst of the storm, we remain human beings, and life must go on.

For me, going on required that I return to the ranch with Sky Ranch board member, Bob Blakeney, to wrap up a few things in the office and to pick up some family things from our new home at the ranch. Fortunately, Bob and I were good friends. When I asked Bob what had happened, he would only say “Chuck, things were said about you that, if true, meant that I did not know you at all. If what was said was not true, if you stayed, there was no way it could have been a good situation for you and your family. So, I voted to ask for your resignation”. (Bob, and his wife Anne, stuck with us through the ensuing weeks – and just two weeks ago, May 17, 2010, Sally Jo and I met Bob and Anne in New York City for another wonderful day together.)

Going on for Sally Jo meant she had to un-pack what she had packed to take with us out to the ranch, and to go to the grocery store, and to talk with a neighbor, and to get ready to move out of the house because the missionary family needed to finish their preparation for living the next three years in the jungle.

Life had to go on for our daughters too. Shaken and hurting though they were, they were pragmatists. Carla had two horses she wanted to keep. She had been teaching riding at the ranch and had worked for a horse trainer, so Carla – a junior in high school, and Jenna – in 8th grade, went to find an inexpensive stable near home where Carla could stable her horses and teach enough riding lessons to cover stable fees, horse food, gas for the car, and perhaps some spending money. The two horses? Yankey, the Chincoteague pony, was only five, but fairly well trained, and Likely Too, a registered quarter horse who had been headed for the meat packer because it was “likely to” do most anything. Carla bought it from Sky for the meat packer price, being confident she could train the horse.

God does love us – but this fact does not protect us from the effects of the actions of others upon us. God does love us – and thus he gave us brains, courage, friends and the other resources needed to help us go on, even when our world is crumbling around us.

The apostle Paul, who had been beaten, ship wrecked, and lied about wrote:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered’. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:35-38

When we live In Partnership With God, life must go on. And as we go on, God sticks with us.