A sour lesson on Fox Hollow

Fox Hollow was the first neighborhood I could remember. It was only a couple of miles from the city courthouse. Our parents moved there when I was 5. As I got older my friends and I would ride bikes to the city square where we could get a Coke for 35 cents outside the Rexall Pharmacy. (A Coke can also mean a Sprite). But back to Fox Hollow. It was one big circle of houses, a mile around. I lived a few houses down from my friend Will Garland. (As an aside, Will and I always called each other by our full names. We were Willgarland and Willzant to each other, I guess not to confuse ourselves). The Garland house was the house where it happened. They loved all things British, including gardens, antiques, and Welsh Corgis. It was the place where my friends and I all met. Will’s parents didn’t seem to mind the racket. I give them tons of credit for allowing a bunch of rough boys to run around the house with all the expensive antiques and paintings. The one rule was not to wake up Mr. Byrd at night or else he would call our parents. Will’s room was upstairs and directly over his parent’s bedroom. You were taking your life in your own hands to try to sneak down the steps. They were the loudest steps in the world. Will’s older brother would later introduce us to the rooftop exit off of the upstairs playroom. Thankfully, it was only an 8 foot drop to the porch.

One of my first memories in Fox Hollow was setting up a lemonade stand. I’m pretty sure our parents just wanted us outside the house for a while. Will and I lugged a table down to the bottom of the hill. Our parents dropped off the lemonade we had made. In fact, we had made it from scratch. Will and I squeezed lemons, mixed in sugar and chipped out the ice from his freezer. It was quite the Norman Rockwell moment as we set up shop near the bottom of the circle where Fox Hollow Drive and McCaskill Drive intersected. There was a creek at the intersection where we would spend hours in the summer with small nets trying to catch crawdads. (Are there crawdads in Georgia?)

Our parents had instructed us not to pester our neighbors as they drove by. Will and I stood behind our handmade sign that priced the lemonade at a quarter. Sure enough, our neighbors stopped and gave double our cost. We stored our earnings in a Tampa Cigar box. We split the money at the end of the day. I saved up for some Upper Deck Baseball Cards. But what I remember the most was the next day. The next day, my dad was driving me home from school. As we turned onto McCaskill drive, we were swarmed by 3 other neighborhood boys. They were Will’s older brother’s friends. (I won’t name names). They were the cool older guys in the neighborhood. They were jumping up and down with signs for $1 lemonade. They obviously got wind of our financial prosperity the day before. My father purchased a cup for the two of us. He handed me mine. As I looked out the window, I could see these older guys jumping down towards the next car behind us. I took a sip. It was pink lemonade and weak and had the slight taste of water hose.

As we pulled into our driveway my dad said, “I like yours better.” I asked, “Dad, why did they copy us?” He said, “Will, that’s life. Get used to it.”

Stories from Jackson

It’s the New Year. Time for resolutions. I’m not going to fool myself and make a year-long goal. I’ll just try to kick things off for January.

I am going to write down some of my favorite stories of growing up in Jackson. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps I am wanting to sharpen the writing craft in this new year or needing to bounce around a sermon illustration or two. But it’s more likely I want to stroll down memory lane and visit old friends. Like that time first time hunting with my dad and having to smear fox pee from a bottle on my boots to hide my scent. Or those fall nights when Peek’s Clearing and Grading opened up their shop for a Towaliga community stew with cakewalks or playing little league baseball for the legendary (to Jackson at least) Homer Williams who was so superstitious about winning that we wore the same underwear to each game that he had his wife mark with black thread. I hope some will be fun, others sad and some revealing. But mostly, I hope they’ll stir up good memories.

Today, I relate differently to my childhood friends. I hardly see them. I share different viewpoints about life and my Christian faith. I want to remember my friends well and the time we shared without overthinking it. They made me laugh and invited me over to shoot basketball and watch a movie on a Friday night. I look forward to visiting in spirit old friends. They’ll be rough cuts for sure. I’ll try to crank out a story every few nights throughout January. So if you’re interested, join along.

Update on Vintage Campers: Done and Decorated.

Blair is reading a new book called, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. We are finished with our two vintage campers and it feels good. There are some touch up items still to do, but the heavy lifting is done. Our crafty group of church members decorated all day. Because I’m a bit tired, I’ll simply share the photos. We are ready to serve hot chocolate and s’mores tomorrow, social distance in place! I’ll post about the ways we’ll share our message. One is to write a message on each cup with a person’s name. For instance we would write, “Will, there is hope,” “Will, there is peace,’… to help share our Advent/Christmas good news. Keep us in prayer!

Camper Update

We’re just 5 days from premiering our vintage camper. There’s still work to do, but here are the latest updates. We installed the new serving window and it’s huge. For our hot chocolate bar, the plan is to have “quaranteams” in the camper. It should be spacious and open enough to hold a family of 5 inside as they serve up hot chocolate and cider.

We have also worked on our bar top and it should be installed today. It was more work than I anticipated. Our guy Ben had to take it to a planer in Rutledge, Georgia because of the size. Then we sawed it down to the right dimensions. Then came the sanding. I was amazed to feel how smooth you can make wood. I learned about the different grades of sand paper. Then the staining. I love the craftsmanship. I was reminded of the scripture’s testament that Jesus was the son of a carpenter.

Although I am no woodworker myself, I do enjoy learning craft. My craft is words. Using words is a craft with similarities to woodworking. You need some good raw material. You dream what the story could be and begin. Once you have have a rough cut, you trim the word count to the appropriate size. Make it tight. Sand down the rough sentence structures. Coat it with some colorful words to give it some gloss.

Sam worked hard on the electricity and the outlets work inside the camper. I helped with some of the painting and was reminded how satisfying working with your hands can be. We finished the painting the top half white. We’ll paint the trim a fun turquoise this week.

In the midst of this, we’ve also renovated Haygood’s old tree lot camper. It was in rough shape. We had originally thought about using it for our hospitality bar, but it just was not in good enough shape. Instead, we decided to gut it and use it for storage for the tree lot tools. We’re going to give it fresh paint job and make it picture worthy for family Christmas photos.

Here are some pictures of both campers. I hope you enjoy. We’ll have more to post in a few days.

Here’s Sam replacing the rusty screws. You can also the paint design. We’re keeping the blue arrow.
This is the old camper. We have worked hard on getting it structurally sound inside. Now we need to give it fresh coat of paint this week.
I went ahead and painted the trailer hitch and an empty propane tank (that’s the color of the trim).
This is the renovation of the inside of the tree lot camper. It will be used for tools.

Update on Vintage Camper

We are in a bit of a holding pattern for our camper. Over the last couple of weeks, my friend Sam and I made some decisions about the serving window dimensions. We decided to make the serving window open and large. The dimensions will be 80 inches wide and 40 inches high. That helps us get rid of the three awkwardly situated windows on the left side of the camper and creates a spirit of openness, which is what the church should be about. We had to custom order the window because of the size. It’s an 18 day turnaround from a store in Indiana. The back log is due to the high demand of these sorts of windows for these sorts of projects. Apparently, we were not the only ones with a little time on their hands for a DIY project during a pandemic. But it’s ordered and should arrive within the next week or so.

Sam and I also waffled back and forth on the serving bar. In addition to the window, we wanted a wooden serving bar that would give the camper a little pizazz. Maybe we went a little overboard, but we hopped on Facebook marketplace and researched places that sold slabs of wood. We found the perfect piece of old growth heart pine at a saw mill in Alto, Georgia. My only connection to Alto is that my father was a prison warden and there is a state prison in Alto. When I was a kid, the warden of that prison invited us up to fish some of the local ponds. We pulled in some big bass one morning. I can remember vividly fishing in a john boat early in the morning as the sun was breaking to light up the still water with the fog rising along the red clay banks. It was quite a day with my brothers and father.

Sam and I took a Friday road trip in his truck to pick up our new treasure. For this knotless, 2 inch thick and 10 foot long piece, we paid $150 which seemed pretty cheap for such a fine piece of wood. As we pulled into the mill, I suddenly realized I was a wearing a nice polo which didn’t exactly scream saw mill. Sam took notice and we both decided we might get a better deal if I was in my white t-shirt so I quickly changed. The owner was friendly man, with a lip full of dip. He ran the saw mill with a small team and purchases were by appointment only. He was an honest man that trusted a personal check. The mill itself looked a like graveyard for trees until you got close to some of them. In fact, I asked why some of them looked so grey. He brought out a planer and planed one of the slabs. You could see the rich color once you sanded the dull weathered surface. “Any tree is going to turn grey if you leave it out in the sun all day, but it’s good inside.” I’m sure there’s a metaphor for people in there too.

We loaded it up and made our way back to the church and dropped it off in the garage. We have some measuring, cutting and sanding still to do, but we’re getting there.

Here’s the old heart pine when it was first cut.
Here we are at the saw mill.

Here are a couple of other small updates. We have an older camper that’s been part of the tree lot for years at the church. It’s a Scottie camper from the 1960’s. While we’re waiting for our parts for the new camper, we’re gutting the old one and using it for tool storage. We’re giving it a new floor with LVT (luxury vinyl tile, sounds sophisticated, right?) and we’re going to paint the outside because it’s got that vintage, fun look about it that people travel miles for their Christmas picture. Our “Scottie” is in pretty rough shape. We’re going to give it a paint job and dress it up with some lights and wreathes. It will make the perfect backdrop for family pictures this Christmas season.

We have a little committee at Haygood that has started dreaming about how to use our campers for the tree tot. They came up with the theme, “Christmas Campfire”. We’re going to bring out the hay bales, three fire pits and s’more packets. We’ll be ready to serve hot chocolate and have campfire stories at night of “The Grinch,” and “The Polar Express” and of course the greatest story ever told about our savior Jesus.

We believe this new venture will help our community warm up and come together safely during this awful pandemic. That’s it for now.

Vintage Camper Project

I needed something cheerful to work on during this pandemic. We purchased a 1965 Nomad camper for our church. My good friend Sam Heys and I traveled up to Morristown, Tennessee this past Monday to pick it up. It was quite the adventure that included a beautiful story of the woman who sold it to us (I’ll tell it later). And we were accompanied by Ben Bishop who will help us with the renovation. (Ben is also in a Nirvana cover band and plays around the Atlanta area). The aim is to renovate the camper into a mobile hospitality camper for the church. In particular, we plan to use it in our Christmas Tree lot at Haygood as a hot chocolate bar.

This might be one of the more crazy ideas I have pursued, but that’s what a pandemic will do to you. My bigger hope is that a fun vintage camper with lights and Christmas cheer will be a small sign of hope during a dark time. The plan is to use the proceeds to support In-town Collaborative ministry, the local food bank. I’ll keep you posted on our progress as we go along. The inside of the camper had already been renovated with vinyl flooring, side paneling, lights and electrical outlets. The next step is to cut out the serving window and give it a good paint job. I’ll keep you updated. And here’s a shameless plug…if you want to contribute to the renovations, let me know. We have some ideas about some extra add ons. Many thanks to the North Georgia Conference for a hospitality grant to help us purchase it.

Good morning fall

It’s hard to believe we’re in the 7th month of COVID. School has started back for our children. I’m at home today. I have to give a big shout out to our school system. We’re doing virtual learning. Last Spring when we did virtual learning, parents were asked to teach our children. That was pretty rough given I was also trying to balance leading our church. This fall, the teachers are teaching them. Our main job is to make sure all their devices are working.

I have been trying my best to keep a normal schedule. On most mornings I am at the gym before 7 for a HIIT class. We do the class outside. Dripping in sweat, I hurry back to help Blair get the kids plugged in for the day before taking a shower. The routine is good. No doubt, there are some days that are harder than others.

We have so much to digest each day. We’re entering an election season. We’re dealing racial tensions in our country. I’m working hard to be a bridge builder in these conversations while at the same time trying to articulate my support of our African American community. They need to be heard. Far too long they have gone unheard! (When we try to deny racism still exists, we just sound crazy). If you’ve grown up in the south like I have, you know the racism is there and you know we’ve all been a part of it. And you know we have also seen beautiful moments of compassion and love. That’s the strange thing about living in my part of America. There’s so much love and hate twisted together.

The African American experience with law enforcement is far different than mine and is drenched with injustice over the long haul of their time in America. I’m also sympathetic to the cries of our law enforcement. It’s not fair to paint them with a broad brush. Their hurts and cries need to be heard too. Their public service and courage must be valued and appreciated. There must be some way to build bridges in the midst of this. I feel the divisiveness will only grow in a political season which means we need more voices to seek peace and justice with compassionate and listening hearts.

Enough rambling for today. The kids are done with their ‘brain break’ and it’s time to get back to tech support. 

The gift of agitation

I wanted to give a quick reflection over an image I stumbled across. I was reading Tom Berlin’s book, Reckless Love. Berlin remembers visiting the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglas. A part of their tour included a video on Douglas’ life. In his later years, Douglas was asked by a young black man for some advice. Douglas repeated one word: “Agitate. Agitate. Agitate.”

As Berlin was guided around the Douglas home, they were shown a washroom Douglas had added. Their guide picked up a tool. Berlin describes the scene:

“It looked like a plunger, but had a conical end made of metal rather than rubber. ‘Does anyone know what this is?’ she asked. ‘An agitator,’ called out a member of our group. ‘That is right!’ she said happily. ‘This is what you used to make sure your clothes come out clean and fresh. You use this to agitate the water and the laundry so that the soap can clean the fabric.'” (Reckless Love, Tom Berlin: 71,72). 

Think about a modern washing machine. Do you know the middle spindle in top-loading machines? That’s an agitator. It’s job is to agitate the water so the soap can do the work of cleaning the stains.

This notion of an agitation works too to help us think about our conversations around race in our country. It’s hard to have these conversations at times, maybe even a bit agitating. But when done with love, care and peace, people who agitate the waters help us remove the stains of racism that have long plagued our country. They help us have meaningful conversations that help us see where we have missed the mark. My encouragement to us is to view this season as a time of being cleansed, purified and made more holy in the eyes of God.




Gardening has much to teach us. Angry? Try jumping on a shovel.

My family gardened with me today and we had a blast. Over the last two years, I have spent many days in our front yard trying to get it into good shape. And it’s a beautiful front yard (IMHO). I love the work. Gardening gives me an escape, a way to process my emotions, dig out my frustrations and ultimately have something to show for it. There’s nothing like jumping on a shovel when you’re mad at someone! (It’s more constructive than getting in a social media thread war). And there’s nothing divisive or political about a garden. It just something beautiful people can enjoy and you feel good about it. The rest of family, however, is not so passionate about it. I was thrilled they got in the dirt with me today.

In fact, it was the last part of their Father’s Day gift to me. On Father’s Day, they gave me new tools. The kicker was they also told me they would devote a whole day to gardening with me. And they did. We took to the back yard. It had started to get away from us. Blair and our two girls tilled roots. I dug out an old spiky knock out rose bush (not a fan of knock-out roses!). Tilling and digging will wear you down. After a two hours, I could feel the dehydration.

If there was one word that sticks out to me about today, it’s the word ‘cultivate.’ Cultivating soil for a garden is real work. You have to dig up those old stubborn roots from plants no longer blossoming and taking up resources and space. You have to mix in compost to replenish the nutrient-deprived soil. We used our own compost from old bananas, coffee grounds and egg shells. It was absolutely disgusting which means it was perfect. (As an aside, my brother-in-law thinks I’m becoming a little too I.T.P. with composting).

For ministers, there’s a lesson in there about ministry. Many times, we allow ministries that are no longer blossoming to consume all the time and energy, nutrients and resources. Sometimes, you got to say thank you to those ministries. Then get in there and start tilling the roots, dig up some dead plants, mix in some smelly compost and plant something new.  ‘Cultivate’ sounds like such a happy, blossoming word, but in reality it’s a smelly, sweaty word. I’m sure that’s the reason new church starts are called “church plants.” Ask a church planter. It sounds glorious until you realize the exhausting work of cultivating a new church.

It’s interesting to me that the first task of Adam and Eve was to tend a garden. That was real work. God asked them to spend their days shaping wild land overgrown with weeds (were there weeds in Eden?) and thorns that prick through gloves. I have a new deep respect for farmers!

I’m a hobbyist at best, but the work is always worth it. Cultivation leads to flourishing. Today, I was certainly happy to have a partner to help me. Blair and our two girls worked for 4 hours today in the dirt. I’m sure Blair would have loved to have watched Hamilton for the third time. Gardening is a lot like painting a room. Seventy percent of the work is preparing. After a quick run to Home Depot, we planted lantana, coneflowers, a hydrangea and begonias. We took a moment to admire the work. It was a good day. We have done the human, earthy part of cultivating and planting. Now we get to watch God do something beautiful.



Life in Atlanta today

We are finishing up week 12 in the pandemic life. Our family is heading out tomorrow for vacation to St. Augustine. We’ve rented a condo on the beach. We like St. Augustine because it’s not as crowded as other beaches.

Blair and our two girls were dropping off our dog at my brother-in-law’s home. I went for a run and took the longer route where Monroe and Piedmont Park come together at the Beltline. I was about to take a left to make the triangle to Virginia-Highlands. Along the way, however, I heard helicopters. I knew why they were there. Atlanta is under a 9 o’clock curfew. And I knew that Piedmont Park tends to be the gathering space for marches in the midtown area over the killing of George Floyd. I wanted to see what was going on.

Sure enough, there were national guard soldiers lined up along the street standing next to their jeeps. These soldiers were young and I could see my college-age self in them. I saw one group of protesters with their “F—Trump” sign and others that said, “Latinos for Black Lives Matter.” There was a car with “I can’t breathe” written in white shoe polish on the windows.

I was on a run and without a phone or else I would have recorded the sight. Obviously, we’re in a tumultuous time. I was trying to get a good run in before the vacation so I could sweat out the business of the day and take a shower when I got home. But the helicopter was a jarring sound. I know I need vacation. Trying to produce sermons and worship virtually each week for the last 3 months has been taxing on the spirit. I love it, but it’s time for a change of scenery. And yet, I couldn’t help but think about the contrast of my need for vacation and the deep hurts of the people in our country.

I live in a community of mostly white residents. It’s a beautiful place and the people are friendly, but I am no doubt sheltered from the hurts of the black community these days. In some ways I always have been. Although, growing up in Jackson, Georgia I shared the days with many more black friends than today. School and sports helped bring us together and I’m forever grateful for those experiences. But still,  I live only a couple of miles away from one of the hubs of this movement happening in our country. And I live only a couple of miles away from the MLK center where one man’s life and witness changed the entire world.

I don’t know what to do with this flood of emotions. I’m not sure if it’s guilt, or whether my heart was punctured and felt the hurt of the black community and the rise of something new. After asking two young women about any upcoming rallies, they simply said, “You just missed it. They headed out 20 minutes ago, but you can still catch up with them.”

Blair and the girls would be home soon and it was time to pack for vacation so I told these young ladies I would try to catch the next one. I walked and jogged and walked and jogged up Virginia Avenue to Highlands and made my way home. The march is probably over anyway and the curfew is about to go into effect. As I walk in the front door, I still hear the helicopter hover above and see my children return in their innocence, excited about the beach. I suddenly feel heart my jump back into gear and throb with the thoughts of sand and water.