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Baby Ben Taught me about the Prodigal Father

Baby Ben has been extra snuggly this morning. I love that boy so much.
I wake up long before everyone else in my house during the week (around 5:15am), and most mornings I have just a few extra minutes to go and wake him up for a few cuddles. I love him so much it hurts. If I could take him to work with me every single day, I would. He’s my pride and joy. I can come home from an extremely stressful day, but when he recognizes me and smiles up at me with those big blue eyes and chunky cheeks, nothing else matters.

I’d give my life for him. I’d saw off an arm with a butter knife. I’d walk over hot coals. I’d sell my house. I’d sell my soul.

Why?

Because he’s my son. My legacy. My future. In his eyes, I see hope. I see innocence. I see myself, and I see God. I see love.

He’s my son. And nothing he can do will every take away his sonship. He will always be my son. I will always be his father. He could become a murderer. A pastor. A thief. The President of the United States. A drug addict. A football star. A homosexual. No matter what, he’s my son.

When I hold him, I smile. Sometimes I cry. When he makes a new sound in the middle of the night, I sit straight up in bed, until I hear him snoring or breathing normally again. If he cries too hard or screams too loudly, it hurts me. He’s my son. My heart.

When I hold him in public, my lungs swell with pride. When someone asks to see a picture of him on my iPhone, I show them thirty instead.

Just thinking of him growing up and leaving home in rebellion or anger, makes my eyes fill up with tears. I cannot imagine. But he has every right to walk away. To leave. To disown his family. Being my son doesn’t make him my slave or my puppet. It just makes him mine.

Okay, enough! Tears, tears, tears! Dangit, Ben Thomas! You’re only eighteen weeks old and already making me snot!

“Prodigal”. Do you know what it means? I have heard it a million times. The word and the story. I always assumed it meant “wayward” or “backslidden”. Something like that. WRONG. Actually, the word “prodigal” is an adjective which means “wastefully or recklessly extravagant”.

So “prodigal” not only describes the son’s extravagant waste, his reckless life, blowing through his inheritance in a few years, and living with the hogs, but it also describes the Father’s love!

The Father’s love is recklessly extravagant. Some people would call His grace wasteful. His mercy is lavishly abundant. Overflowing. Never-ending. His love is copious. His “second chances” never end. Ever.

Bountiful.

“How great is the Father’s love for us!”

And notice what the father did: he saw the son coming from a long way off. Before the son could clean himself up. Before the son could dust himself off. The father saw the son coming toward home, and as the son limped, the father sprinted.

“If you draw near to Me, I will draw near to you.”

Prodigal son meets prodigal Father.

 

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Trailer Trash


My Dad owned a mechanic shop in our tiny, rural Alabama town.

My Momma kept this kid whose Momma worked at the bank for $1/hr.

Everyone was poor, unless they lived on the river. Or worked for Alabama Power.

I wasn’t that lucky.

We went to garage sales, not because my parents wanted to find treasures like they do on “American Pickers“, but because we were poor. You know how some kids get new school clothes every Fall? So did I, but mine were from the Thrift Store.

We washed clothes and bathed at my Grandparent‘s house sometimes, because the power and water had been cut off.

Sometimes we went quite a while without a phone.

I remember vividly, being about six-years-old, and it was the first day of baseball practice. We had been lucky enough to find me a pair of decent cleats at the Thrift Store, and I’m certain they were too big. Dad always picked them too big, so that I would “grow into them”. (He didn’t have the money to buy a pair of shoes in every size.) Anyways…we walked out to practice that day and one of the “Alabama Power” Moms said, “Oh Steve, new cleats? Where’d you get those?” It’s funny that she even noticed them…I’m sure she had to turn her nose down a few degrees to see them. Without thinking, I responded excitedly, “We got ’em at the Thrift Store!”

I don’t know if Momma hung her head in shame or not. No. I know she didn’t. She probably held her head a little higher, even if her heart sunk.

Speaking of Momma–she would iron my clothes: jeans, shorts, t-shirts (probably drawers too). You name it, she ironed it. It didn’t matter if we were poor and my clothes cost $0.79 off the Goodwill rack, she was determined for “her baby” to look good. We might have been poor, but we weren’t going to act like it.

I wonder how many nights my Momma cried…

I wonder if my Dad was ever embarrassed when he would have to call one of the “Alabama Power” Dads to come turn our power back on…

We lived in a trailer in my great-grandparents’ yard.

We lived in a trailer, but we weren’t trash.

Labels lie. Don’t use them. Don’t accept them.

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. (1 Cor. 12:25-26…read 13-31 when you have time)

You are needed.  You are loved. 

You are uniquely wonderful. 

I’m thankful that my parents instilled in me many years ago that my self-worth isn’t based on the acceptance or rejection of others. I’m proud of who I am. Proud of my family name. Proud of my roots.

ATTIC,

Steve

*This post is a part of the Labels Lie Campaign from People of the Second Chance. POTSC is a group of folks who are crazy enough to believe in second chances for absolutely anyone. POTSC is an army of scarred-up freaks who are intensely passionate about compassion. POTSC is a posse of misfits, determined to overthrow judgement and liberate love.

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What I Saw

I am a pretty smart cookie. As a matter of fact, I think my brain is one of my best assets. I love to learn and learn quickly…. Except for my sense of direction. A guy I know used to say to me “You couldn’t find your way out of a wet paper sack.” Ha! That’s a funny southern sayin’… and even funnier because it’s about true.

I am dependant on my GPS. But sometimes it just won’t take me the route I want to go. And I don’t have enough directional sense to strike out on my own. Plus gas is just too expensive to go driving around for days. I digress.
Leaving the radio station last night, I asked Steve which way he went home. “I want to follow you.” I said. “That’s a shorter way for me to go, but I am not sure how to do it.” “OK, but I gotta get gas right up here,” he replied. So I followed my friend to the gas station and parked behind his car while he filled up. My mind was filled with thoughts about the show and an incredible second chance story.
This is what I saw.
Steve swiped his card and began pumping gas. A car pulled next to the opposite tank. A slender young man with perfect hair took the gas nozzle off the hanger, swiped his card, and made a face. His hands flung in the air as he turned to the person in the passenger seat. The passenger and the guy exchanged exasperated words; it seemed his debit card was declined. The guy at the pump spoke to Steve, and after a couple of exchanges, the passenger got out, walked around the car and got in the driver’s seat.
Now, this passenger was dressed in girls clothes and wearing heavy make-up, but was clearly not a girl. The passenger, now the driver, backed the car between the pumps, so now their car was behind Steve and in front of me. Then the driver got out of the car and became the passenger again.
Steve finished filling up his own car, then put gas in the stranger’s car. They were chatting a bit, the guy pointed, Steve looked down at his shirt, shook his head and laughed. Steve’s t-shirt read “Real Men Worship God.” Steve placed the nozzle back in the pump. Then my friend looked the stranger in the eye, reached out and shook the guy’s hand.
I imagine I had a stupid grin on my face. I just witnessed my friend put his words into action.
This is what I saw.
I just saw a guy who had no money, was out of gas, who would be labeled a faggot by society’s glance, and who had a partner dressed in drag sitting in the car. This couple I imagine would not be welcomed into most churches. Luckily for them, Jesus was not sitting at the altar waiting for them. The hands of Jesus were waiting at the gas pump. These hands pumped their gas, paid for it, and reached out for a gesture of friendship. These hands met a stranger’s need, paid the price, and made physical contact- without question, without debt owed, without judgement.

The love of Jesus, put into action is what I saw.

‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison [may I add “overdrawn and needing gas”?]and didn’t help?’ He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me- you failed to do it to me.’ Matthew 25 44-45 MSG
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Be Honest or Die

Have you ever found God in an unlikely place?

i didn't plan it like this, really

I didn’t plan to be sipping on orange juice, cranberry, and vodka while smoking a Macanudo  and reading Brennan Manning’s “All is Grace”.

I didn’t plan it this way. Really.

I didn’t plan to be doing all of this while enjoying a 50-degree sunset from Lookout Mountain on the eve of New Year’s Eve.

I didn’t plan it this way. Really.

I didn’t plan to meet Jesus out here. Not this early. We just arrived. Vacation has barely begun. But she is scrapbooking and Jesus, the Macanudo, and the cocktail were calling my name.

I didn’t plan it this way. Really.

I didn’t plan to have my Granddaddy’s old “Companion Bible” out here with me. But somehow, this all fits together. This jigsaw puzzle would make some cringe, but as the right side of my face curls up into a crooked little smile, I take in a deep breath, exhale some good smellin’ smoke, and watch the clouds turn from orange to red to a blazing magenta.

I didn’t plan for my drink and the sunset to match. Really.

i didn't plan it this way, really

I didn’t plan for Jesus to meet me a few years back, in a little coffee shop inside our church. He was dressed like Benjamin Norris House, Sr. (the previous owner of that old “Companion Bible”). Jesus with skin on. Jesus, with a raggedy mustache, a three-day beard, and stains on his plaid button-down. I didn’t plan to meet Jesus that way—that day. I didn’t plan for Him to rescue me from my own religious persecution. I didn’t know He cared.

I didn’t plan it this way. Really.

[clickToTweet tweet=”I didn’t plan for Jesus to rescue me from my own religious persecution. I didn’t know he cared. #graceismessy” quote=”I didn’t plan for Jesus to rescue me from my own religious persecution. I didn’t know he cared. ” theme=”style3″]

I didn’t plan to be called “rebellious” and “a heretic” for being more amazed by grace than scared of a fiery Hell. I didn’t plan to be introduced to “The Shack” or “The Ragamuffin Gospel” at my lowest point, after serving the rules for so many years. I didn’t plan for my Granddad to challenge me, during that struggle, to find God on my own, outside my religious bubble—outside the box.

I didn’t plan to find God that way. But I have.

His grace is sufficient. His friendship knows no bounds. His love doesn’t have the strings I once thought. He loves me. Steve Austin. The abused, addicted, anxious perfectionist. God—Jesus—Abba—whatever you choose to call Him—He loves me. He’s wild about me. And honestly, whether you get it or not—whether you agree or not—whether you even like it or not, He is madly in love with you too.

Believe me: I couldn’t have planned it this way, but it’s true.

I’m becoming more concerned with being inwardly honest, rather than outwardly polished. The Big Man couldn’t care less about my spotless exterior. And sadly, a few of you reading this are more concerned with the fact that I started this conversation mentioning liquor and a stogie than about the unconditional love of the Savior of the World.

[clickToTweet tweet=”I’m becoming more concerned with being inwardly honest, rather than outwardly polished. #graceismessy” quote=”I’m becoming more concerned with being inwardly honest, rather than outwardly polished.” theme=”style3″]

The sun is no longer visible. Just a magenta haze, peeking over the horizon. My glass has only 1/3 remaining, and my wife is ready to chow down at the Wildflower Café.

I didn’t plan it this way, but I like it.


*To check out BeHonestorDie.com and view the original post, just click here.

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This World is Cruel but God is Love.

I learned a great lesson about messy grace in a high school classroom.

this world is cruel but god is love

I’m eavesdropping on a high school conversation.

An openly gay boy, talking to a girl who is eleven weeks pregnant.

The boy asked, “How awkward was it [telling your parents]?”

And she responded, “Daddy threw a couple of things and cussed me out.  He told me to get out of the house.”

Then they made some small talk, and when I tuned back in, she said, “I had to quit softball.  My life is over.  Now I have a new life to care about.”

A gay boy and a pregnant, unwed high school girl.

“Jesus loves the little children,

All the children of the World!

Red and yellow, black and white,

They are precious in His sight!

Jesus loves the little children of the World!”

I wanted to say something to them both.  Wanted to hug them.  Wanted to tell them “this world is a cruel place, but God is love”.

[clickToTweet tweet=”If you judge people, you have no time to love them. ” quote=”If you judge people, you have no time to love them. @potsc #potsc #graceismessy” theme=”style3″]

I wanted to tell her, Your Dad may have cussed you out and thrown things, but your Father loves you beyond measure, no questions asked, no strings attached.  Your Father is wild about you and your little baby.  And what you have is a gift.

But I have to be careful, considering my job.

So I will pray a little more.

I will try to creatively love a little more.

I will judge less.

I will listen more.

“God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.” Lamentations 3:22

[clickToTweet tweet=”This world is a cruel place, but God is love. #lovewins #graceismessy” quote=”This world is a cruel place, but God is love. ” theme=”style3″]

 

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The Chaos of Christmas

Have you ever thought about the chaos of the Christmas story?
i'm most thankful for the cross this christmas.

An unwed, pregnant teenage girl.

A long road trip in a stinkin’ hoopty to pay the IRS.

Farmers in a field, following something like a UFO to a far away land.

Flea bag motel.

Giving birth at the vet’s office.

Sounds pretty chaotic, right?

It was worse.

A teenage boy who knows the Bible forwards and backwards.

Amazes the scholars, who hate him.

He becomes a big and strong young adult who can build anything, but the way he speaks and teaches draws massive crowds.

He speaks of unconditional love, but the church leaders are plotting to murder him.

He looks like your average “handy man”, complete with a beard and dirt under his fingernails.

But he calls himself Messiah.

Sounds pretty chaotic, right?

It was worse.

Our God of love was intimately  familiar with chaos.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Our God of love was intimately familiar with chaos. #Christmas #graceismessy #jesus” quote=”Our God of love was intimately familiar with chaos.” theme=”style3″]

He faced Death head-on to ensure our eternal security.

As we gather around the piano to sing our little Christmas carols, I’m reminded this year, more than any other, that this God of Love endured Hell on Earth for my benefit.

I’m most thankful for the Cross this Christmas

[clickToTweet tweet=”I’m most thankful for the Cross this Christmas. #jesus #graceismessy #christmas” quote=”I’m most thankful for the Cross this Christmas.” theme=”style3″]

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“You’re a rotter, Mr. Grinch! You’re the king of sinful sots!”

He was a mistake from the very beginning.
Brought about by a wrong wind…

A mistake, but he didn’t start out bad.

He started out innocent, but different.

Nobody starts out evil.

He was just like all the other Whos in Whoville…he just looked a little different.

An eight-year-old with a beard.

An outcast.

Nobody liked him. They couldn’t handle his differences.

So he lived up to their expectations…

…they expected him to be a freak.

A weirdo.

A loser.

You nauseate me, Mr. GrinchWith a nauseous super-nausYou’re a crooked jerky jockey, and you drive a crooked hoss,Mr. Gri-inch! Your soul is an appalling dump-heapOverflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots!

Remember in the Jim Carrey version, when he comes to school with a bag over his head?

How many people do we pass on the street, or sit next to at work or school who wish they could walk around with a bag over their head?

How many folks do you and I come in contact with on a daily basis, who wish they could go on a Grinch-like rampage, run away, and live in a cave in Mt. Crumpit?

Who do you know that just lives up to the terrible expectations that people have placed on them for years? People who have never given them a second glance…

…or a second chance?

What if we were all like little Cindy, who was determined to bring the Grinch into the Whobilation?

What if our anthem was like Cindy’s, “nobody should be alone on Christmas”?

Nobody should be alone…ever.

Cindy wouldn’t give up on the Grinch, and when he finally realized the true Spirit of Christmas…

And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of *ten* Grinches, plus two!

And the Narrator closes the classic Christmas movie with this quote:

Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near.Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp.Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we.Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.

NO ONE…

IS EVER…

BEYOND…

A SECOND CHANCE!