Monday, July 7, 2014

Rainy Days
From the 1973 Petit Jean

At Harding Elementary,

my 2nd grade classroom

and my 6th grade classroom


the same classroom.

Coatracks in the hallway outside the door.

Classroom library tucked away in the back corner.

A large bank of windows along the western wall.

My strongest memories, of that room, are of rainy days.

I mean stormy,

dark clouds, and lightning days.

Raindrops pelting the windows like bullets.

The sound of it so loud

you could hardly hear the teacher.

Dark and scary on the outside,

but warm and cozy on the inside.


Like resting in the hand of God.

Feeling happy, calm and protected

when the whole world was coming apart

on the other side of the glass.

I loved those rainy days

with Mrs. Alston or Mrs. Alexander


just a few steps away.


that life can be good

even in the midst of a storm.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Question That Never Goes Away

In December 2012, I traveled down to South Carolina to visit my sister and her family.  My nephew was graduating from college, and we had the entire weekend ahead of us to celebrate his big day.

On Friday, we were sitting around the house, relaxing and killing time.  That’s when we first heard the news, on CNN or the radio or a text message … something or someone telling us that a gunman had entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, murdering students and teachers there.

The first thought that came to my mind, “Please not again.”  It seemed like we had been through all of this before—too many times.  Columbine.  Virginia Tech.  And now Sandy Hook.  The feelings of sadness and shock seemed familiar.

And later, another thought, where in the world was God in all of this?

Over the course of the next few weeks and months, I really didn’t watch or read much about Sandy Hook.  Plain and simple, it was just too heavy for me.  When I did catch glimpses of the school building or the families or the surroundings, it reminded me of when our family had lived in Connecticut.  Things looked much the same at our children’s elementary school.  I felt a connection to the tragedy, even though I didn’t personally know anyone who’d been affected by it.

Questions continued to linger in the back of my mind.  What if that had been our kids?  Could we have moved forward and maintained our faith after something as terrible as that?

In the summer of 2013, author Philip Yancey released a book called The Question That Never Goes Away.  In it, Philip tackles the “why” of Sandy Hook and other tragedies.  He asks, and then attempts to answer … What role does God play in tragedy and suffering?Why would God allow these things to happen?

I saw the book and thought, “It’s time.”  It was time to work through some of the emotions I’d set aside.  It was time to hear the full story of Sandy Hook and to process the events of that day (and other days like it) with the help of a guy I trust—Philip Yancey.

I’m glad I did.

The book brought me to tears—or close to them—several times.  It helped me … as Yancey’s books always do.


In one section that particularly moved me, Philip wrote about the 2011 tsunami that struck Japan—a “horrifying day” that brought about well over 15,000 deaths.  There was the tragedy, and then there was hope that God and people of faith brought afterwards.

Here’s an excerpt from The Question That Never Goes Away:

I met with some of the retired contractors and construction workers who had signed on with Samaritan’s Purse to rebuild houses swept away by the tsunami.  They were living in cramped communal housing and worked long hours without pay.  “We don’t proselytize,” one told me.  We don’t need to—the people know why we’re here.  We’re simply followers of Jesus trying to live out his commands.  Just before handing owners the key to their new home we ask if we can pray a blessing on the house.  So far no one has turned us down.


A question or two remained in my mind, long after I’d put the book down.

When Philip mentioned “the God of grace and mercy I have learned to love,” I felt a connection, but I thought … Why is it so difficult for some of us to learn to love God? … If He is truly the “God of all comfort,” why doesn’t love for (and trust in) Him come more naturally?

So I emailed these questions to Philip, and here’s what he had to say:

My quick answer to your question is that we tiny little humans are relating to a God of the universe who happens to be invisible, to us at least.  We're sensory beings, and don't have a lot of experience in relating to spirit beings.  How do you love what you can't see?  That takes faith.  We tend to judge God's love by the circumstances of our lives, despite clear evidence that God's love isn't dependent on those circumstances.  I think that's why we have the clear example of Jesus, a God of all comfort in person, on earth.  I emphasize that if we are unhappy and grieved by what happens on planet earth, God is far more grieved and upset.

This makes sense to me.  The idea that God is far more grieved and upset by these events than we are … yes, this is certainly the God I have learned to love.


If you’d like to hear more from Philip, he blogs at  Also, if you’d like to check it out, he’s got a new small group study coming out this fall called Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Every Memorial Day, I remember … by Cheryl Allen

Joyce and I.N. Sanford

I was spending the week at my Nanny’s house.  Slow Alabama days drove a curious girl like me to snooping.  I found myself standing on a hamper in the pink-tiled bathroom, arm stretched high, sliding an old photo album from the top shelf with my fingertips.  The book revealed photos of my grandfather, and his letters from war.  “Dear Janie,” one read.  It was a letter to my mom, who was just a baby at the time of its writing.  My ten-year-old heart broke as I read this line:  “I’m fighting so that you can have a safe place to grow up.”

My grandfather never came home. 
I guess I had always known that my grandfather died in World War II, but that day, sitting in the bathroom floor, I began a journey of understanding—a realization of what his death meant for my Nanny, and for my mom, and for me.  I was proud, and so very sad.

Years later, after I had a family of my own, my mom brought me an old Bible.  It was my grandfather’s.  On the inside cover, his name, “I.N. Sanford” is neatly printed in uppercase.  Below it, my mom’s maiden name is written in smaller print, and below that is a careful penning of her married name.  The Bible is a reminder of what we lost and of our family’s courage to carry on.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Did ya hear the one about the elephant?

I met my old friend for dinner the other night.  We ordered a couple of Philly cheesesteak sandwiches.  (Ironically, he requested his without any cheese.)

During a lull in the conversation, my friend noticed the blue wristband I was wearing and asked, “What’s that for?”

So I started telling him about a previous series at our church called “How to Eat an Elephant” and about how my wristband said, “One bite at a time.”

Admittedly, it’s a corny punchline.

But, the principle is true.

How do we tackle a big problem?  One small step at a time.

How to we go about being more “holy” in an area of our lives?  One small bite at a time.

As the minister at our church described it … we’re like the Allied invasion on D-Day.  We’re attacking one beachhead and then another and then another, until we’ve overcome the enemy.  (Did I mention that we’re not alone in this?  That God and other people are fighting for us as well?)

My friend nodded at all this, and I thought we might end up having a deeper discussion about being middle-aged and the accumulated problems of our lives.

But we didn’t (which was fine by me).

Instead, we decided to swap a few elephant jokes, from when we were kids.

Q:  How do you put an elephant in the refrigerator?
A:  You open the door, and put him inside.

Q:  How do you put a giraffe in the refrigerator?
A:  You open the door, take out the elephant, and put the giraffe inside.

Q:  How do you kill a blue elephant?
A:  With a blue elephant gun.

Q:  How do you kill a pink elephant?
A:  You squeeze him until he turns blue, and then you shoot him with a blue elephant gun.

Just a couple of old friends, laughing … and finishing off our cheesesteak sandwiches, one bite at a time.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lost in Mexico,+AZ/El+Fuerte,+SIN,+Mexico/@29.2018376,-110.0512996,7z/data=!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x86d665410b2ced2b:0x73c32d384d16c715!2m2!1d-110.926479!2d32.2217429!1m5!1m1!1s0x86b90e1dbd9d1aaf:0x7cdd4b45562640ca!2m2!1d-108.619199!2d26.414207

When I was 7 or 8, I piled into an old pickup truck with my dad and brother, and we drove from Tucson into old Mexico for a fishing trip.  I still remember a good bit of it … like being hot all the time and eating baloney sandwiches and my brother Jimmy pulling fishhooks out of my dad’s hand.  (Long story.)

Every day was a new adventure.

We even wrote a poem (or maybe it was a song) after a long hard day of fishing.  It went something like this:

Hidalgo, Hidalgo,
Where the fish don’t bite
All day and all night
At Lake Hidalgo.

Copyright pending.

And the poem was true.  We had spent the better part of a couple of days fishing and caught almost nothing.  We felt like Peter and the other apostles, just waiting for Jesus to come along and tell us where to cast our nets.  Our superior fishing skills were going to waste in this dry and barren land.

So—400 miles south of the border—Dad decided it was time for us to pack up and try another lake that he’d heard about.

Should I mention this was in the days before GPS?

So we rolled out of our sleeping bags early the next morning, loaded up the truck, and went off in search of a new place where the fish did bite.  And we proceeded to get more lost that I have ever been in my entire life.  A whole day’s worth of lost.

We drove around in circles and zigzags and other geometric patterns.  We may have even crossed into Canada at one point; I’m not sure.  And from time to time, we’d stop and ask someone for directions.

Just one problem, though … we didn’t speak any Spanish (other than gracias and Buenos Dias!) and we couldn’t find anyone who spoke a lick of English.  Not a word of it.

So we’d just pile back into the truck and keep on driving.  Canals flew by us on both sides of the road.  And, speaking of roads, there were roadrunners everywhere.  Like real live bird roadrunners.  We must have seen about a thousand of them.

It was sweltering and dusty and—even with the windows down—we were sweating through our shirts.

Lost and miserable, right?


It was one of the best days of my life.

We laughed.  We sang.  We counted roadrunners.

And—eventually—we found the lake … where the fishing was much much better.

Jimmy and me in Tucson.

Have you ever been
A little bit lost
Father on one side
Brother on the other
Protected and loved
And finally finding the way
Sound familiar?