Jay-Jay’s Story ~ Life in a Polygamist Separatist Extremist Mobile Compound


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Jay-Jay was born and raised in a mobile compound, out in the desert, by a polygamist group of separatist extremists.  His father, the compound director, preached a separatist position toward all their neighbors in nearby towns, and frequently moved the … Continue reading

Jacy’s Story – Born in a Barn


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I can still hear my Mama’s voice, calling to me from across the house, “Joey, shut that door!  Were you born in a barn?” Growing up in the South, all of us kids heard that question every time we left … Continue reading

Single Parenting and Step Parenting


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Parenting is both tremendously challenging and tremendously rewarding.  Few of us realized, when we began the parental journey, just how difficult the task would prove to be, or how many nights would pass in sleepless prayerful concern over our offspring. … Continue reading

Lessons from the Berry Patch: Lesson 5 ~ Don’t Waste Time Searching for Spilled Berries

Lessons from the Berry Patch

It’s one of those things that just happens, sometimes.  You’re working along picking berries, filling your bucket and having a good day at the berry patch.  You’ve reached your hand in through a wall of thorns, carefully selecting one big ripe berry after another while avoiding pricks.  You draw back your hand, now full to overflowing with carefully cradled juicy ripe berries, to make another deposit into your berry bucket. Unexpectedly, your shirt-sleeve snags on a thorn, and the carefully cradled berries spill out of your hand to the ground, below.

What a disappointment!  What do you do now?  Those are your berries!  You have already invested all the work of extracting them from their thorn-laden vines, to gather them into your bucket.  You have fought thorns, heat, sunburn and insects to gather those berries! Right now, they seem to you like the very biggest and juiciest berries you’ve picked all day.  You had them in your hand, and now they are gone.

Your first instinct will be to drop to your knees and begin gathering those dropped berries back up.

My advice is to resist that instinct.  Just leave those dropped berries on the ground, and move on to more berries hanging on the vine.

Now, this advice probably sounds odd coming from me.  Up until now, I have advised always pursuing the gathering of more berries, pushing past every obstacle to fill your bucket with those juicy black delectable delights.  Now, I am advising leaving perfectly good berries to rot on the ground, berries that you have already gone to the trouble of picking.

It does run counter-intuitive to much of my other advice.  In fact, this is one of the lessons I have the most trouble following myself.  By the time I’ve retrieved a handful of berries from the thorny vines, I have an emotional investment in those specific berries.  They are no longer just berries in the patch that I would like to gather. They are now mine!  They are berries I have already gathered and that I am prepared to defend, in order to keep.

To make matters worse, some of the spilled berries may be laying where I can easily see them, still supported by thorns, and not yet hidden in the brown leaves and grass of the berry-patch floor.  I’ll just reach back through the thorns, and pick them up again…

The problem is, it doesn’t work that way.  As soon as you touch one of the vines supporting a fallen berry, it drops on down to be hidden in the grass and leaves on the ground.  Normally, when you pick a berry, it stays attached to the vine until you slip your cupped hand beneath it and tug gently with your fingers to drop it into your hand.  With the spilled berries, there is no support and no room to get your hand under them. The more you try to retrieve them, the further they burrow into the carpet of grass and leaves.

Now, I’m not saying they are impossible to retrieve.  If you work hard at it, you will likely recover some of them. If they were the last berries on earth and you were starving, you would probably find a way to retrieve all of them.

However, they’re not the last berries on earth.  In fact, there is a multitude of more berries waiting to be picked, right here in the same berry patch!  And with the ratio of time spent to berries picked, it just doesn’t make sense to waste your time trying to retrieve spilled berries.  You would spend at least ten times longer retrieving the dropped berries than you would moving on to pick an equal number of berries off the vine.  See, the time and effort you invest in trying to retrieve the lost berries directly detracts from the time and energy available for picking new berries.  The spilled berries are just not a good investment of your time, with so many other berries available for picking.

Moreover, continued pursuit of spilled berries takes your eye off the goal. Perfectly good, ripe juicy berries are hanging right in front of your face, and you are ignoring them while continuing to pursue the lost opportunity of the dropped berries.

My advice is to stop thinking about the spilled berries and immediately move on to picking more berries from the vine.  At the end of the day, those fallen berries won’t make any noticeable difference in how full your bucket it is…but time wasted trying to retrieve them would.

Life Application

Life includes many disappointments and many lost opportunities.  There are many things in life that just don’t work out the way we hoped they would.

Relationships, ministries, employment opportunities, career paths, and a multitude of other activities are all investments we choose to make with our time and resources, anticipating some sort of return.  Some work out well and some don’t.  Some exceed all our expectations, while others just fizzle.

Don’t waste time continuing to pursue lost opportunities.  Whether a job opportunity that took an unexpected (and undesired) turn, a relationship that did not work out as you hoped, or a ministry that never developed, let it go and move on to other opportunities.  Life is too short and too full of opportunities to waste time pursuing what you should already have learned hasn’t worked.

Thus far, in the previous Lessons from the Berry Patch, I have encouraged going for the gold, putting your fears behind you and giving that new ministry, new relationship, or new opportunity all you’ve got.  With this lesson, I am not changing direction.  Rather, I am pointing out that giving that new opportunity all you’ve got sometimes means first letting go of a previous lost opportunity that did not work out.

The more time and effort we invest in a given ministry or relationship, the greater our emotional attachment.  We stop seeing it as an opportunity and start seeing it as a part of who we are.  Which means it is really hard to let go and walk away, when it fails.  We tend to continue pursuing that same lost opportunity far past the time it makes sense, when we should let it go and move on to new opportunities.

In Isaiah 43:18-19, God told the prophet, “Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”  Note that it is necessary to forget the former things in order to receive and embrace the new things God has in store for us.  This does not mean erasing all memory of any lessons learned, but it does mean letting go of emotional attachment and ceasing to dwell on them.

For the believer in Christ, the primary goal is to be conformed to His image, to glorify Christ in how we live our lives, and to fulfill the destiny for which He has predestined us before the foundation of the world.  In reference to pursuing this goal the author of the book of Hebrews encourages us, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Note that single-minded pursuit of the  goal requires first that we “lay aside every encumbrance.”  In the second chapter of his letter to the  Ephesians, Paul reminds them where they came from, who they now are in Christ,  and of how little value are those things they once held dear.  Then he goes on to say “in reference to your  former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth”(Ephesians 4:22-24).

In the berry patch, the difference between lost opportunities and fresh prospects is fairly clear cut.  My rule is simply that once a berry has been dropped, it is no longer worth pursuing.

In life, the differences are often much more difficult to discern.  It is much more difficult to tell, in a relationship, whether it just needs more tending and nurturing, or whether it is time to let it go.  We don’t want to be guilty of being too scared of thorns to wade in and do the necessary hard work.  Neither do we want to continue wasting our time on a relationship or ministry that is simply over.

This is where we have to rely on God’s wisdom, spending time in Bible study and prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to show us the right path.

There will be times, though, when the right path is to let go and move on. When those times come, stop wasting time and effort on the lost opportunity, and start focusing on whatever new opportunities God may lead you toward.

(please add your comments to this post):

What are some examples from your life, in which you had to recognize that it was time to let go of something in which you had invested a great deal of time and effort?

Are there any things in your life, now, that are an encumbrance to pursuing the goals God has placed before you?  Is it time to lay them aside?

Coco ~ The Timid Puppy

Picture of puppy

Coco The Timid Puppy

We have a wealth of dogs at our house…a yammering, bickering, friendly, excitable, playful yard and house full of dogs!

Each dog has its own personality, and its own way of interacting with both dogs and humans, and all are excited at every opportunity to see me.  As soon as I step out of the
door, or pull up in the car, they all come running, eager for attention, and eager to be recognized.

All, that is, except Coco, our nine-month-old puppy.  Coco cringes down whenever she sees me coming, as though expecting to be disciplined for bad behavior.  She walks coyly away, casting sidelong glances, when I call her.  If I walk toward Coco, she runs and hides from me.

Coco doesn’t behave this way with everyone.  Whenever Sherri or one of the boys calls
Coco, she comes running, eager for attention, just like the other dogs.

For a while, I thought that Coco just disliked me, for some reason.  However, this is not the case.  If I happen to catch Coco not watching and start petting her, she will relax and stretch out, obviously enjoying the attention.  Sometimes, when I am petting another dog, Coco will slowly ease up and slip in between, so as to be petted.

Obviously, she does like me and does enjoy my attention.  However, she behaves very timidly toward me, as though she is never quite sure what to expect from me.

I think Coco’s timidity toward me began a couple of months ago.  One afternoon, as I was working in the garden, several of the dogs started playing, romping, and digging amongst the tomatoes, corn, and peppers.  “No, Stay out of the garden!” I scolded as I chased them away.

A few minutes later Coco returned with another puppy, to continue their destructive play.  Again, I scolded and chased them away, before returning to work.  When Coco returned yet again (alone this time) I picked her up and carried her to the edge of the garden, thoroughly scolding her the whole time.

A few minutes later, pausing from weeding, I looked up to discover Coco was back in the garden, digging up a tomato plant.  “No!” I scolded, “Stay out of the garden!” as
I carried her back to the edge of the garden, setting her down with a firm swat.  Totally shocked, Coco ran yelping across the yard to hide under the truck!

Ever since that swat, Coco has acted very timid toward me.

My intent, in giving Coco a swat, was to teach her the meaning of the word “No!” and respect for the boundary of the garden.

Unfortunately, Coco learned the wrong lesson.  The lesson that Coco retained is that there are some behaviors that I dislike, and although she doesn’t know what all of
those are, if caught doing something I don’t like, she may be disciplined.

So, she behaves accordingly. She acts guilty whenever she sees me coming, assuming she is likely doing something I disapprove of, and anticipating undesired discipline.

Coco is so concerned about possibly doing something wrong, and so nervous about being disciplined, that she doesn’t realize that I really like her, and want her to like me.

Isn’t that how we sometimes behave toward God?

The Bible tells of God’s rules, and we realize that we have often broken God’s laws. We read of God’s discipline and judgment, in the Old Testament, and we expect God to behave harshly toward us.  Upon encountering undesirable events, we assume that God is disciplining us for our bad behavior.

Caught up in the business of life, we miss a few daily quiet times, skip church a few Sundays, and one day realize that it has been quite a while since we really talked with God.  We miss the closeness of fellowship with God, but suspect He may not be too pleased with us by now, and aren’t too sure we are ready to deal with it. So we stay away a while longer…and the guilt and dread pile up deeper…

Like Coco, the timid puppy, after a while we can reach a point where we cringe every time we think of God, and run the other way and hide every time we sense His presence. The longer we avoid God, the more we perceive Him as a harsh task master
watching and waiting for us to make a mistake, so He can discipline us.

Yet the overwhelming fundamental message of the Bible is that God loves us deeply.  In Romans 5:8, the Apostle Paul said that “God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us,” and in John 3:17, Jesus said, “For God
sent His son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.”

God loves us and wants to have an intimate relationship with us.  He is not looking for an excuse to discipline us.  Rather, He is looking for opportunity to demonstrate His love toward us!

Yes, God does discipline His children.  However, His discipline is not because He is
angry with us, but because He loves us too much to leave us blind and selfish.  His discipline is an act of love to guide and teach us, not to vent His anger.

Rather than cringing and hiding like timid puppies, “let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Discussion Questions
(please respond with comments):

In what areas of your life have you behaved toward God as a timid puppy, too scared of His disapproval to draw near to Him?  Can you, now, trust His grace and enjoy His fellowship?

Lessons from the Berry Patch: Lesson 4 ~ Always Kneel to Pick Low-Hanging Berries

Girl Picking Grapes

Always Kneel to Pick Low Fruit

While picking blackberries, you will encounter some berries hanging low to the ground, just peaking out from beneath the leaves.  Your natural instinct will be to reach down, pluck the low-hanging berries, glance around for any other fruit, then move along to either left or right in search of more berries.

Resist this natural instinct.  Rather than reaching down to pick the low-hanging berries, kneel down.  I know, it sounds crazy.  You’re in the middle of a berry patch, with thorns, weeds and mud.  Why on earth would you want to kneel down on the ground, when you can just as easily reach all the berries by simply stooping down?

Here’s the thing.  Kneeling changes your perspective.  If you see three or four low-hanging berries and reach down to pick them, you wind up with what you expected, three or four berries.  However, if you kneel to pick them, you gain a new perspective that often reveals more berries.  Often, some of the juiciest berries are tucked back, concealed in the shade of the overshadowing leaves, and you simply cannot see them from a standing position. Where a few berries are visible, more are likely hidden, and kneeling gives you the necessary perspective to see and harvest them.

Also, kneeling slows you down and helps you focus.  You may not even realize that you’re rushing, when you stoop to pick, but you are.  Your mind has already started moving forward to the next stop; your eyes have already started glancing in search of the next pocket of berries; your feet have already started to shift your weight.

Kneeling, on the other hand, says you’re ready to stay awhile.  Rather than focusing on the next little pocket of berries, the portion of the patch right in front of your eyes has your full attention, and you have no plans to move forward from that spot, until you have found and picked every ripe berry within reach.

By kneeling, you will often pick a dozen or more berries, where you had originally seen only three or four.  The difference is in the new perspective gained, and the focused attention of staying put for a while.

Life Application

In life, in general, it usually pays  to take the time to search for hidden treasures.  We tend to get so busy rushing about the business of life that we forget what life is all about.  We’re so busy earning a living for our family that we forget to take the time to enjoy them, and to let them know we  appreciate them.  We’re so busy trying to please our boss that we forget to take the time to listen to our boss’s priorities and needs.

We’re all guilty of it at times, and that’s a real shame, because it is to our own detriment.

Take the time to enjoy a child’s comment on their day, or your spouse’s tender heart.  Take the time to notice when a coworker is having a bad day or appears upset.  Take
the time to notice a beautiful sunrise or a night sky full of stars.

I know it may sound trite to talk about stopping to smell the roses, but it is still true.  These are the real treasures of life, magic moments where God is either revealing His glory to you, or giving you the opportunity to reveal His glory to others, by simply taking the time to notice.

Just as kneeling to pick berries yields the change of perspective necessary for spotting hidden berry treasures, kneeling in prayer, before God, yields a new perspective on life.

I cannot tell you how many times I have come before the Father asking for His help, and walked away with a completely different perspective on the situation and my role in it. My focus is usually on changing the situation and changing other people’s actions. God’s focus seems to usually be on changing my heart and my perspective.

I approach God, feeling frustrated, and I leave the conversation feeling motivated.
What a change!

And it would not be possible without the change of perspective that kneeling provides.  There is simply something about physical posture that changes our ability to listen.
Kneeling, or bowing my head, says that I am in need of help, that I am ready for a new perspective, and that I am ready to sit and listen, rather than rushing off.

Right after explaining the need for wearing protective armor, Paul tells us, in Ephesians 6:18, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit…”  Clearly, “praying at all times” means having an attitude of prayer all day long, and asking God for guidance as we go about our daily business.

However, it is all too easy to let this slide into simply casting up God-help-me’s throughout the day, without taking the time to actually listen to God. The focus of prayer should be less on my telling God my needs (which He already knows) and more on my listening to God and allowing Him to change my perspective.  That requires a change in posture with time to listen.  If the situation does not permit kneeling, then at least find a place to bow my head and listen for a moment.

So, take the time to kneel…and plan to stay put a while.  You will likely walk away with treasures that were previously hidden.

(please add your comments to this post):

Can you tell us of a situation you have faced, where you went before God asking for his help and walked away with a different view of the situation?  How was your attitude changed by that time kneeling before God?  What new treasures were you able to see that had previously been hidden from your sight?

Lessons from the Berry Patch: Lesson 2 ~ Make Sure You are Properly Prepared and Attired

Drawing of the Armor of God

Roman Soldier Protective Clothing

There are lots of potential dangers in the berry patch.  Sure, it looks and sounds peaceful enough…pastoral even.  You can bring your kids with you and visit while picking a bucketful of juicy berries.  What a nice, safe, productive, enjoyable way to spend some family time! And it’s true!  The berry patch is all of that and more.

However, it is also full of potential hazards…hazards that are relatively easy to protect against if you take the time to prepare, but that can cause significant discomfort if not properly prepared for.

First, there are the thorns.  Blackberries are protected by long, sharp, hooked thorns that seem to always find a way to prick, no matter how carefully avoided.  Long sleeves, blue jeans and boots will greatly aid in reducing your number of pricks and scratches.  They will also help you to be less timid in your pursuit of berries.  Berry pickers who go to the patch attired in shorts, tank top and flip-flops invariably wind up skirting the edges of the berry patch, looking only for the berries within easy reach that don’t require any real effort. Sure, they’ll find a handful of easy-to-reach berries, but they’re not properly attired for pressing in to where the majority of the berries may be found.  These unprepared pickers usually wind up eating the few berries they picked at the edge of the patch while the properly attired pickers finish filling their buckets.

Then, there is the sun.  Blackberries like to grow in areas with lots of sunshine.  So, while picking you will be exposed to direct sunlight most of the day. Fortunately, the same clothes that help protect from thorns also help protect from sunburn.  However, you must still address any areas remaining uncovered. You should wear a hat or cap, to help keep the sun off of your face, and you should apply sunblock to the back of your neck, your ears, and any other exposed areas, to prevent sun burn.

Then there are the insects.  Chiggers in particular seem to abound in areas around a blackberry patch, although there may also be ticks, mosquitoes or horse-flies.  None of these is very difficult to avoid, but can seem downright unbearable if not planned for.  Fortunately, the long sleeves, blue jeans and boots that protect against thorns and sun also make a good barrier against insects.  However, a good overspray of insect repellant is a must to keep the chiggers out.  Personally I recommend Deep Woods Off, or something similar.

Spray a light spray over all your clothes, then a very heavy spray around your waist line and ankles, where insects are likely to try to find a way past your protective clothing.  Finally, apply a light spray over your exposed face and back of your neck.  This final spray is easiest done with someone else’s assistance.  Be sure to close and cover your eyes and hold your breath while your assistance lightly sprays your facial area.

Finally, there is the heat and dehydration to be concerned about.  Early morning is the best time for picking, before the full heat of the day.  However, plan to potentially be out in the heat for an extended period.  Carry plenty of Gatorade and water, and be quick to use them.  Although heat is uncomfortable, it is seldom truly dangerous so long as you keep your fluid levels up.  However, dehydration can come quickly and is potentially fatal, if you fail to replace expended fluids.

Life Application

Many things in life require proper preparation and planning.  In fact, life itself requires preparation.  The whole purpose of childhood is to provide for a child’s protection and provision until the child has matured enough to be prepared to protect and provide for himself.

Likewise, education is preparation for future ability to perform in a career or trade, in order to be able to care and provide for oneself and one’s family.

The same is true of the Christian life.  Too often, we view the Christian life as simply a matter of faith and forget the faith must be put into practice, much less that we must make appropriate preparations.

In Ephesians 6:10-11, the Apostle Paul tells us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.  Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”

Paul is telling us that the Christian walk is full of hazards, and that we must make sure we are properly prepared.  If we are not properly prepared and attired we will be ineffective and exposed.  Like the berry pickers who circle the edges of the berry patch selecting a handful of easily picked berries, if we are not prepared for the Christian life, we will skirt the edges picking up a few encouraging motivational ideas, but will fail to fully embrace the Christian life with our complete enthusiastic trust. As a result, we will not see the life-changing heart-molding blessings that the Father has prepared for us.

Worse, we may fall prey to “the schemes of the devil.”  Like the berry patch, the Christian walk appears very idyllic and pastoral, where we walk with Jesus and all of our cares are provided for. And that is all true.  However, it is also true that the Christian walk is full of hazards which are dangerous, potentially fatal even, to those who are unprepared.

In Luke 8:5-15, Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seed.  In this parable, Jesus describes three ways that the Word of God may be ineffective in a person’s life, and only one way in which it is effective.  The difference between the effective and the
ineffective is the preparation of the soil.

In the passage in Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul goes on to discuss the Christian walk in terms of warfare, telling us “Put on the full armor of God,” and providing detailed instructions on how to prepare for battle:

“Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace, in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:13-17).

Having detailed the protective equipment necessary for daily spiritual warfare, Paul goes on to emphasize the need for constant prayer, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit…” (Ephesians 6:18).  Prayer is our access to Christ, the Living Water.  Just as we must constantly consume fluids to stay hydrated in the heat of the berry patch, as we go about our daily business in this world full of hazards, we must
constantly replenish our reliance on God, through prayer and Bible reading.

So, before you enter the berry patch, today, first make sure you are prepared.
Put on the full armor of God. Fill up on the word of God.  Then carry Christ with you, praying constantly for replenishment of His life-giving essence.

(please add your comments to this post):

What examples do you have, from your own life experiences of times where being prepared allowed you to be more effective in glorifying Christ?

What examples do you have of times when being poorly prepared resulted in loss of effectiveness?

In what area of your life have you been skirting around the perimeter of the berry patch, avoiding wholeheartedly plunging in to deeper commitment and greater effectiveness?  What is keeping you from a deeper commitment?  What can you do, today, to either take the next step deeper into the berry patch, or to prepare for taking the next step?