Spot It!

A few years ago, I stumbled upon Spot It!, a party game distributed by Blue Orange in San Francisco and contained in a round metal can about the size of a donut. Inside are 55 round cards with eight symbols on each card. The game has more than 50 different symbols, but on each card only one of the eight symbols matches a single symbol on any other card. The object of the game is to spot the one matching symbol that is on both your card and the card in the middle before any of the other players call out their own matching pictures. It sounds so simple — and it is in theory — but it can be surprisingly challenging. At times the whole group has stared at those silly symbols for minutes, and would have sworn they had found the one card for which this game did not work, except for someone finally shouting, “It’s the clown!”
Spot It! can be played with as many as eight folks of varying ages and abilities with equitable results. It quickly became the favorite activity when I would visit my “little” who more often than not taught her mentor a thing or two about the game. It was also the mainstay at the start of our summer day-camps each afternoon when the scorching summer sun drove the happy campers inside to the happy air conditioning.
We recently had a neighborhood dinner at which we stuffed baked potatoes with chopped brisket and then stuffed our faces and settled in for the evening program. An assistant city manager gave us an overview of the scope of the city’s work and responsibilities in preparation for the next year’s worth of monthly dinners; a different city department will attend each one and talk more extensively about their duties. My co-worker blessed the barbecue and the beauty of this group — folks who came together with possibly no more in common than this place, our neighborhood we all care about.
It is true. When we come together on the second Monday of each month, we range in age from 8 months to 80 years, we are married, divorced, widowed and single, we have strong-legs and motorized wheelchairs, all shades of skin tones, diverse backgrounds and experiences, and no doubt varying opinions about the Dallas Cowboys and how the rest of the world should work.
Most in our country have forgotten how to get along with people who are different. We have sorted ourselves into homogenous groups politically and sociologically, even moving away from others to live in likeminded communities. Bill Bishop wrote about this phenomenon in his 2008 book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-minded America is Tearing Us Apart.
It is indisputable that we are living in one of the most polarized times in our history. There is little or no reaching across the political aisle to problem-solve. We can hardly speak of the “other side” without vilifying its members. We only watch our side’s cable channel, read our side’s columns or blogs, and then unfriend anyone who disagrees with us, so we don’t have to consider their posts and associated comments.
Something about sitting around a table and sharing a meal with people is almost magical. At the very least, it binds us together. Differences fade away for a time as we all pause for this necessary refueling of our bodies. (As the lone vegan in the group, I am disruptive to this otherwise unifying, lip-smacking appreciation of Texas brisket, but the rest tolerate me all the same.) That is why our group eats together every month. It is a reminder that we at least have this one thing in common, and amidst the smacking we realize we are more alike than we are different, even if we can’t agree about the Cowboys.
Perhaps you have seen those real-life games of chess or checkers or even Harry Potter’s Quidditch. I am thinking that next month when we leave the table, we may play a real-life game of Spot It! looking closely at one another to find at least one thing that matches at every turn.
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Here’s to Hope!

It’s been a rough week. It’s been yet another week when an inexplicably horrendous mass shooting has occurred. 59 dead human beings, each made in the image of God, shot in Las Vegas. And since June of last year—477 days—there have been 521 mass shootings in the U.S. Lord have mercy…

The guns used in Las Vegas were designed to kill people quickly and randomly. They are weapons designed for war. No matter what you think about war such guns are obscene. No one should be able to obtain such guns no matter how they do on the background checks. It’s been a rough week to remain hopeful.

But as a committed follower of Jesus, I remain hopeful. I remain steadfast in my commitment to following the one who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” and “Love your enemies” and “Pray for your enemies.” It is in following Jesus that I have discovered that owning a gun is not healthy. I don’t trust me. I don’t trust my ability to love my enemies while armed.

But back to hope! Hope is not tied to life making sense. As a matter of fact, hope is best understood in view of a death that was based on love. Jesus loves us! It was his love for us that held him on the cross. Life in Christ is about, “faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” So in these rough weeks I hang on fiercely to my faith and hope because of love. Love always makes sense.

So this week, and every week, I’m planning to do what Michelle Warren suggests in her book, The Power of Proximity. She talks about a question that she has been asked more times than she can count: “How can you continue to work on things that may never change?” Here’s her answer, which is now my plan as we work to bring God’s kingdom to Abilene as it is in heaven: “I drink a big glass of hope every day when I get up. Some days the glass needed is bigger than others.”

Come by any time and let’s lift a glass of hope!

Guard Dignity. Save Pride.

One of my favorite church songs of late is Peter Scholtes’ They’ll Know We Are Christians. You’ve probably heard it. It has a sort of native-American-slash-nineteen-sixties-Jesus-music vibe. Its call for the church’s internal unity and external love gives me hope. It’s push for boiling down evangelism to confessing that God is here. Man, that’s good stuff. But that third verse…what’s that about “guarding dignity” and “saving pride”? Uh, I thought pride was a bad thing.

We’ll come back to that. For now, how about a story?

Many of CCC’s regularly scheduled events take place at the Friendship House on Orange Street. However, our neighborhood is blessed to have a handful of venues, each suited for different types of events. So a year or so ago, we purchased a trailer to help mobilize our efforts. We outfitted it with a locking toolbox to keep tie-downs and such onboard, and soon we were hauling tables and snow cone supplies and propane grills with ease.

We also became the go-to trailer folks. You know that phenomenon where one of your friends gets a pickup, and then all their friends are suddenly reminded of the stuff they need to borrow a pickup to haul…It was like that, but with a trailer. (After all, this is West Texas; doesn’t everyone already have a pickup???)

Last week, though, a well-intentioned neighbor & friend borrowed this trailer and apparently forgot to use the all-important tie-downs.  A bump was hit. A load shifted. And BAM! The toolbox was crushed like Darla’s can of Shasta. Darla crushing ShastaOkay, that’s an exaggeration, but it was crumpled to the point that the lid won’t close.

I wasn’t able to answer the phone when he called to confess, but his voicemail–despite a total lack of details–made his regret clear. “I, uh, I messed up pretty bad. Just–just call me back.” I was actually relieved to find out that the mishap only damaged the toolbox, rather than the tires or the frame. A trailer is still a trailer without a toolbox.

When I drove over to his place to see the damage for myself, he offered to take off the toolbox and have a friend of his work the dents out to make it usable again. He could even repaint it. Hmm, would that even be worth it?

PAUSE.

Here’s what was going through my head [in a far less organized fashion]. Ok, I can choose to…

  1. Just say, “No, that’s ok. I can take care of it.” I’d feel better about this if I handle it. After all, if you want something done right… Let him off the hook. If I can’t fix it, I can replace it. Be INDEPENDENT.
  2. Just say, “No thanks, it’s not really a big deal.” I don’t want to have to keep up with the status of these repairs. That’s more headache than it’s worth. I’d rather just do without the toolbox. Besides, I wouldn’t want to strain the relationship over this. I know he’s short on cash; what will he have to pay his friend to fix this? Let him off the hook. Be a PEOPLE-PLEASER.
  3. Just say, “Ya, know what? That’d be great if you could get it fixed.” This was his mistake, and he wants to make it right. Why shouldn’t he? There’s no rush, no need to make sure it gets done a specific way. He feels bad about it, so let him make it right. Acknowledge that he has the skills & resources to make things right. Be DIGNIFYING.

RESUME.

“Ya, know what? That’d be great if you could get it fixed,” I said.

“Thank you,” he responded, though I didn’t understand why until he explained. “I know this isn’t just y’all’s trailer. You let other folks use it, too, so I feel like I let everybody down. A lot of people would’ve said, ‘Nah, don’t worry about it, it’s fine.’ But you’re letting me make it right. Thanks.”

I am not making this up. That was his response.

I chose the option that many would’ve balked at for being “uncharitable” or “unmerciful.” In other scenarios, it might not have been the right call. But this guy–especially because he is often short on cash–had grown tired of asking for charity and mercy. Instead, he asked me for a chance to be treated as equal, to be seen as responsible. He asked for dignity. This is the work we should be about.

[Verse 3:]
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity
And save each man’s pride

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love


Related posts on dignity & mutually-enhancing relationships:

Give and Take
The Christmas Store
The 8 Elements of a Healthy Community, Part 1
Never Has a Jolly Rancher Meant So Much

Some Extra Thoughts to Chew On

Maybe you don’t have a teenager, so you may not often feel like you’re from another planet. Or that you speak another language.
I do, and I do.
The tongues of the young have combined and shortened and co-opted words so their bae is “presh” or “adorbs” or even “savage” with style that is on fleek. And if you were to say “huh?” to your presh teen, eye-rolling ensues. Thank goodness for the Urban Dictionary. I can even throw out a new word or two before my teen uses it, which of course prompts even more eye rolling. Apparently, it is not so adorbs when Mom throws shade or declares things to be sick, dude.
The other day, she was talking about an acquaintance and said to me, “Ugh, Mom, she is so extra.” Extra, despite your familiarity with the virtues of extra – words like extraordinary, or the sumptuous thought of an extra dessert, or the relief brought on by the announcement, “It’s OK, I brought an extra one” – in this context is a jab. It is directed at the one who substitutes the pencil sketch assignment with a framed oil painting, rents the costume from New York for their dress-up day at band camp, or creates the Pinterest-laden dorm room next to your child’s. It is someone who just does too much.
They are just … so extra.
I have been thinking about the need for more of us to be extra. To live life in a large way, and to love without limits.
Let’s consider the Sermon on the Mount:
Jesus begins with some declarations – the Beatitudes describing the blessings that come with a heart that is humble and meek and gentle and pure, and follows that with a string of, “You have heard it said, but I say…” He is talking about a life that goes above and beyond even the Law and traditions the Jews treasured.
Oh, Jesus, you’re so extra.

Society doesn’t value extra. We talk about the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but in actuality it is more like, “Do unto others before they do unto you.” We say things like, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” We are more likely to get eye rolls than accolades for talking about or trying to live the “extra” life Jesus calls us into in this celebrated seaside sermon.
Jesus is calling people into joining him in a new way of life, and one of those marks of discipleship is that you surrender yourself and your rights.

Jesus says, go ahead; be extra.
Don’t take revenge. Don’t take advantage of the Law’s provision to exact an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. Yes, it is allowed, but it is not required. You do not have to get even. Jesus goes on to say, “Don’t retaliate, don’t repay evil with evil.” Don’t seek revenge. Don’t be so eager to right the wrongs against you. Return evil with good. If you want to be extra, your repayment currency is goodness.
Don’t fight back even when you are insulted or called a nobody by a degrading slap to the right cheek. Again; don’t take matters into your hot hands.
If you are required to settle a debt with your shirt, offer up your exempted cloak, even if it is the only thing to keep you warm on the streets.
Willingly walk along with the Roman soldier even after your Fitbit signifies the calculated 1,000th step. Reset it for another 1,000 and celebrate the second signal – that of a healthy servant’s heart.
Don’t turn away the borrower in the sixth year, just before the year of forgiveness, despite your financial planner’s advice.
And then Jesus escalates. Just in case you didn’t catch how extra he is.
Love the person who insulted you, took advantage of you, took your job, stole from you, hurt your family.
Oh, Jesus. You are so extra.
This crazy, radical, larger-than-life, over-the-top love will have folks saying, “Well aren’t you the spitting image of your father!” You have the characteristics of an extra God. You are his children.
I remember when Wrigley’s gum makers came out with a new type of gum. It was the kind of gum where the flavor can jump right down your throat and take your breath away, before you even know it. I remember saying to Doug one of the first times I tried it, that I was concerned the stuff might be radioactive, because it never seemed to lose its flavor – even on the bedpost.
We can learn from Wrigley’s marketing taglines:
Extra: It will refresh you from tongue to toe. Solomon says it like this: “… whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Extra refreshes us all.
Extra: The gum that never gives up. The extra life requires commitment.
Give Extra, Get Extra. The blessings of an extra God know no limits.
Let the people say of you, “Oh her? Yeah. She is so extra.”

Let’s NOT Pretend

It’s good to be back in Abilene! After growing up here and working here for several years back in the previous century, we left for 28 years. But the mysterious vacuum that is Abilene has sucked us back in, sucked us back home. Many things have changed; many have not…and that is what we are about at Connecting Caring Communities. The name of our non-profit is our “elevator speech:” “We are working to connect people in caring communities across the city.” Or as I like to say, “We are trying to live out Jesus’ prayer: Your kingdom come, your will be done here in Abilene as it is in heaven.”

In order for God’s Kingdom to come here we need to all step up and not pretend that we’ve figured it out. We need to get beyond pretending. As one of my favorite theologians, Jackson Browne, pointed out while I was a student at Abilene High:
Everyone I’ve ever known has wished me well
Anyway that’s how it seems, it’s hard to tell
Maybe people only ask how you’re doing
‘Cause that’s easier than letting on how little they could care
But when you know that you’ve got a real friend somewhere
Suddenly all the others are so much easier to bear…
[Jackson Browne, “The Late Show”]

These were profound words to a gawky kid at AHS [Angst High School!] who desperately wanted to fit in and be liked by someone other than my mom. And in the years since Jackson first sang to me, I have found a real friend. In fact, I have many real friends, but my realest friend is Jesus who gives us the key to caring community: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” [John 15:12-13]. It is my prayer that I will love as my friend Jesus has loved me.

Jesus loves me in spite of me, not because of me. He chooses to love me even though I’m a mess. He loves me because it is his nature to love. He loves us all whether we recognize it or not. He is love. Love acts. Love accepts. Love lives in community. And love does not pretend. Love is messy. Bring on the mess! As Mike Yaconelli writes,
      There is no room for pretending in the spiritual life. Unfortunately, in many religious circles, there exists an unwritten rule. Pretend. Act like God is in control when you don’t believe he is. Give the impression everything is okay in your life when it’s not. Pretend you believe when you doubt; hide your imperfections; maintain the image of a perfect marriage with healthy and well-adjusted children when your family is like any other normal dysfunctional family. And whatever you do, don’t admit you sin. … Pretending is the grease of modern nonrelationships. Pretending perpetuates the illusion of relationships by connecting us on the basis of who we aren’t. People who pretend have pretend relationships. But being real is a synonym for messy spirituality, because when we are real, our messiness is there for everyone to see.

CCC is a mess because it is about relationships—honest relationships based on love for neighbors. Honest relationships between normal dysfunctional families. It is a glorious mess—come on in!

Not My Job

A few days ago, I got a phone call.

This time it wasn’t the usual neighbor or one of my coworkers. It was the United Way of Abilene. CCC has been a United Way community partner on various projects in our twelve years as an Abilene nonprofit, but this time it was more of a networking call. On the phone, I learned that a local construction company had reached out to them in search of a financial literacy course for its employees. While a couple of churches in town have great ministries that use financial literacy and coaching, many of the company’s employees are not religious. So they were really looking for a non-church option.

The United Way has kept up with us as we have launched our financial pilot program this year called Save Up. Our pilot started with a financial literacy course taught by expert volunteers from our partners at First Financial Bank. The participants who completed the course are now opening Individual Development Accounts and making monthly savings deposits towards things like higher education and homeownership.

Because of our pilot, United Way was calling to see if we knew of a good option for these construction employees. Since financial literacy is only one piece of our Save Up program, and it wasn’t our staff who taught the courses anyway, I offered to pass the opportunity along directly to First Financial Bank.

After I got off the phone, I noticed I felt good about being a connector. I got to take two business groups and put them together for common good. Connecting caring communities, you might say. I don’t even know if things will work out between these two companies. Maybe it won’t. But later that night, I realized what all had to happen before I even got that call. First, a local bank had to put work hours into finding curriculum and knowledgeable volunteers, making themselves available for the community. AND a construction company had to decide that they were not going to let financial hardship fall on its employees just because they might not be familiar with traditional banking practices.

Too often when opportunities to care present themselves, we hide behind excuses like, “Yeah, well, that’s not my problem.” But the funny thing about caring is that it’s good for business. Having employees that are better equipped to make good decisions with their earnings would add stability to this company’s workforce. And when a bank establishes trust by teaching healthy financial habits, where do you think the participants go when they want to open an account? Apply for a loan?

I would have expected most companies to say, “Financial education? That’s not our job.” Technically, for a construction company and even a bank, it’s not.

But caring? Caring is everyone’s job.

Caring in Action Camp – 2017

by Cooper Spruill

This summer CCC was privileged to have two summer Cooper Spruillemployees work with us during our Caring In Action day camps. These camps allow us to provide a job-like experience for 20 North Abilene teens as counselors. Thanks to a grant from the Future Fund at the Community Foundation of Abilene, we are even able to incentivize the teens’ involvement with gift cards. 

One of our summer employee superstars, Cooper Spruill, a graduate student at Abilene Christian University, shares his experience working with our staff and the teen counselors:


This year I spent my summer vacation not on any beach, tourist attraction, or any exotic destination, and I’m better off for it. Instead, I spent my summer working alongside current and future leaders of Abilene, Texas.

Abilene, Texas, as you may know, isn’t one of the major cities in Texas, but for its size, it loves and leads in major ways. Yes, you can’t go far in this city without finding someone who cares, and that is exactly what myself and twenty-three other Abilenians did this summer. We cared about and invested in the youth of this city through the Connecting Caring Communities Young Leader’s of Abilene program and Caring In Action day camps.

Through the two initiatives, a mix of twenty youthful high-school and middle-school age counselors were “hired” to help run the Caring In Action day camps for elementary-aged youth, and learn vital leadership skills for their future. The camps ran during the afternoons of four different weeks throughout the summer (June 12-15, June 26-29, July 10-13, July 24-27). While at camp, each of the twenty camp counselors separated into four groups that represented their different tasks for the day: snacks, games, crafts, and registration. While in these groups, the counselors were tasked by their group leaders to complete certain portions of the day’s activities, or assigned to the different groups of campers as guides.

Throughout this process, the counselors are given the opportunity to take initiative and develop skills such as task planning, time management, professional communication, team coordination, all while participating in a fun and/or delicious activity with the campers. As for the campers, they were met with a variety of creative snacks, challenging crafts, and engaging games that the staff prepared for them that day. All in all, our time this summer at the Caring In Action day camps was an all-around win for everyone who participated, and a joy to witness.

Throughout my time at the camp, I oversaw one of the four groups as they rotated through their various assignments. While doing so, I watched different counselors step out of their comfort zones, take charge, and genuinely work to put and keep a smile on our campers’ faces. Some of my favorite memories of camp came on the days when we played team tic-tac-toe, made art pallet cookies, and were visited by a zoo-keeper from the Abilene Zoo.

Each week of camp brought reoccurring faces, new elements of our year’s “Stretch” theme, differing challenges, and rewards. Still, the staff and campers of this year’s Caring In Action day camp brought an effort to learn, lead, and be successful at Caring in Action. Through their dedication, and the overall direction, the day camps at Connecting Caring Communities were very successful this summer, and the relationships and memories made there are built to last.

Who doesn't love a Snow-cone?

Returning to Sender

When I was a student at ACU and asked, “Where are you from?” I would often say, “I’m from Radford Hills, and I was born in Hendrick—it’s down off of Pine.” I am thankful to be from Abilene, Texas. I went to Valley View Elementary, Taylor Elementary, Lincoln Junior High, Abilene High and Abilene Christian University. I was educated and shaped into the man I am by my experiences in Abilene. I love Abilene and am excited to be returning to my sender.


Easily the best thing about me is my wife, whom I met as a freshman at ACU. Becki is my favorite human! She is my encourager and supporter. She loves me! And she is the mother of our two daughters who also hail from “Hendricks, TX.” We lived in Abilene most of the 1980s. I was on staff at Highland Church of Christ, and Becki started the Junior Achievement program in the local schools. Our greatest achievements, our daughters Courtney and Carlee, are graduates of ACU who are now settled into lives of their own. Courtney and her husband Jason and son Clark [“Super Baby!”] live in Denver, Colorado—a great place to visit! Carlee was just married July 23rd and will be living in Dallas. Our children love and follow Jesus, and with them we are well pleased!

 

As I begin to serve as the Executive Director of Connecting Caring Communities, I am thankful. Thankful for the opportunity to return home and invest my life in the work of restoration that is foundational for the spreading of God’s Kingdom throughout the communities that make up Abilene. As Peter Block puts it in his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging:

“Restoration is about healing our woundedness—in community terms, healing our fragmentation
and incivility. It is only out of this healing that something new can emerge.”

I am a fallen, broken man. I live on a fallen, broken planet. But my brokenness has been healed by the grace, mercy and love of God! It is the grace, mercy and love of God that is our hope. It is learning to live out the most important commandments of loving God and loving people [Matthew 22:36-40] that will change our lives and change the world.
I am here to love God and love people. Each person in Abilene is created in the image of God and precious to him. I want to help the College Heights community to thrive. I want all the people of Abilene to be invited to bring their giftedness and willingness to the table as we all work to incarnate the words of Jesus’ prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Make the Most of an Abilene Summer

The rigorous schedule of school will soon give way to the slowness of summer, if it hasn’t already. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, June 21 will be the longest day of the year, or at least the longest amount of sunlight. The summer solstice officially marks the beginning of summer, though we have most likely already begun our summer celebration. Summer in West Texas doesn’t lazily slide into town on the coattails of spring, but rather bolts in breathing hotly down spring’s back, shoving it aside and loudly declaring its arrival and intended stay.
It isn’t even Memorial Day and many of us have already bravely donned our swimsuit, eaten our fill of watermelon, and even slurped an inaugural snow cone. I am in favor of a shorter summer and longer springs and falls which are gentler seasons, catered to by actual spring and fall clothing lines from Land’s End or L.L. Bean. I sometimes thumb through the catalogs looking longingly at spring sweaters or jackets, but pass them by, knowing I couldn’t wear them more than a day or two. In West Texas, only two seasons are worth your shopping time – hot and cold.
Although I would prefer it not last from April to November, I do like summer. I like the lazier rhythm, homemade ice cream, beach vacations, and long days filled with sunshine — preferably under 100 degrees.
Also, summer means it is time for Caring in Action (CIA) day camps sponsored by Connecting Caring Communities and hosted by CCC’s Young Leaders of Abilene (YLA) leadership group for middle- and high-schoolers. For the third summer, these youths will be spending their summer learning and practicing leadership skills as they lead day camps for the elementary-age children in the College Heights neighborhood. Camps will be held at Grace Fellowship Church at 910 Cypress, Monday through Thursday, from 1-3 pm. (See below for camp dates.)
This year, the campers will be asked to STRETCH their minds and bodies and imaginations and vision. The theme allows us to focus on reading and brain teasers and puzzles and yoga and Zumba and karate and hobbies and careers and community service. These camps are made possible by a Future Fund grant from the Community Foundation of Abilene.
If you are too old for camp, don’t despair. Summer provides opportunities for adults to be leaders in their neighborhood as well. Longer days mean more opportunities to host your neighbors for a backyard barbecue, or collaborate with them for a block party. Check out your neighborhood association and see if you can host an event to get to know more folks and increase your community’s involvement in the association. The list is as endless as the heat of summer. Make the most of it!

  • Week 1 – June 12-15
  • Week 2 – June 26-29
  • Week 3 – July 10-13
  • Week 4 – July 24-27

* Campers are encouraged to come all four weeks!

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

No matter how much we try and plan for the future, none of us can know the twists and turns of “what’s next.” The truth of this principle has recently been reinforced to me. I have resigned from CCC, effective by the end of February. How this came about is a bit of a long story, but I think it’s a good one, so please bear with me.

My 88-year-old dad has been battling a crippling neuro-muscular disease for about 10 years. (Some of you may recall that I wrote a post about him back in the fall of 2016.) This disease has left him unable to walk, confined to a wheelchair, and essentially homebound. He lives in Orange County, Texas, between Orange and Beaumont, in the same house where I was raised, and on the same piece of land where he was born and raised. Recent events, including a visit last month to help care for him, have convinced my brothers and me that dad is simply no longer able to stay by himself.

My brothers and I have discussed this at length, and considered all the various options available – hiring an outside caregiver, relocating dad to live with one of us, moving him into a nursing home. For various reasons, none of these options can work for him, or for us. We have decided that the best course of action would be for me to move in with dad and serve as his full-time caregiver.

While I am looking forward to spending more time with my dad and serving him, I am overwhelmingly sad about leaving Abilene, and CCC in particular. In the nearly nine years since I joined this team, I have been blessed to make some wonderful friends and see amazing things done, working with neighbors and others to better our community.

I have learned so much during my time with CCC – especially about what it really means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The opportunity to meet some great people, to get to know neighbors from different backgrounds, different cultures, different religions, and to host them in our home – these have been priceless blessings that I will always cherish.

I think of friends I made who have passed away: people like sweet Sandy, a tattooed elderly lady that I met through Meals on Wheels. Sandy, you must have lived an interesting life in your younger days; I’m sorry I never got to hear the stories I’ll bet you could have told. People like David, confined to a wheelchair, yet always with a smile on his face. Rhonda; Jimmy; Paul; all of you blessed me with your friendship, and I thank you. I will continue to miss you, and remember you fondly.

I think of the kids who spent part of their afternoons with me and our volunteers at “Kids’ Club,” and the parents who trusted me to watch their little ones for a while. It was my honor, and my pleasure. We had a good time doing homework, drawing on the sidewalks, climbing trees, doing crafts, and more. And I remember the Bible stories we told – “they say stories like that make a boy grow bold, stories like that make a man walk straight.” The Fruit of the Spirit and the Armor of God, David, Deborah, Moses and Esther. Mary & Joseph, Peter and John and the boys, and best of all, Jesus, the manger, the parables, the miracles, and the cross. And the twelfth and final egg, which is, of course, empty.

I think of the meals, and all the laughs we had around the table and out in the yard. Easter egg hunts and Halloween carnivals. Banana boats and dirt cake, hot dogs and Frito pie. A dunking booth on a certain very cool October day, and kickball games. Swing sets and bluebonnets. The prayer walks and recruiting volunteers. Working with teens for the “Young Leaders of Abilene.” Finding unexpected skills, like the time I handed my neighbor Diego the spatula during a cookout, then couldn’t get it back, only to learn that he used to be a short-order cook! I wouldn’t trade a minute of any of it.

And I think of so many friends who have supported, and continue to support, our work through your prayers, your gifts and your financial participation, a huge and heartfelt “thank you.” We literally could not do this without your gracious assistance and partnership.

To the colleagues I’m leaving behind, past and present. Please know that I’ve enjoyed every minute of working beside you. It has been a privilege to serve with you. I’m praying for your continued success.

Working for CCC has been one of the greatest blessings of my life, and I shall always cherish the opportunity to live out the call to love our neighbors, to bind up the broken-hearted, and to seek the shalom of our city. Thank you for your participation in this ministry, and may the Lord continue to bless and guide all of you, as you continue to work on behalf of CCC, our neighbors, and our community.