Monday, December 2, 2013

Hassle Holidays

I  have a great list of things that make me smile every time I think of them. My kids of course, my wife, some friends. There is also a list of things that I have heard or seen that can turn that frown upside down. The list can be added to at any moment, take the comment I heard recently that has me smiling as I write it here. Hassle Holiday.

Now let me set up the scene for you. I am in the office of a dear friend. She is an amazing mom, wife youth leader at our church. She is also a very well-respected attorney and travels the world solving legal problems for people. It is just before Halloween, we are sitting in her office preparing for a very important meeting. I asked what her family would be doing for Halloween. That was when I heard the term "Hassle Holiday" for the very first time. 

"That is a Hassle Holiday and we don't mess with all that trick or treat, candy, costume stuff. We have a family movie night and dinner out," she said in an almost passing manner. The term took a second to sink in, but then it was like the switch was flipped for me. "What do you mean?" I asked. "Yes there are certain holidays that are just a lot of hassle and I don't know that we want to celebrate them. We don't care if others do, but we just have a family tradition of going out to eat and a movie."

I was laughing. I loved it. I love that she was so matter-of-fact about it. That it was a term I had never heard and it was part of her family dialect. I asked her what other holidays are considered Hassle Holidays. "Valentine's Day," she said with her classic smile. "What, you are kidding me," I exclaimed.

"No really. It is just another day and it should be practiced all year not just one day." OK, so I have heard this from a guy once and when he executed the nothing mode on Valentine's Day it did not go well for him at home. I'm not sure how her husband deals with this, but I am sure it is a fine line. It has to be.

So I got to thinking about other possible Hassle Holidays and none come up as more of a hassle than Christmas. 

I won't waste the ink here talking about the commercialization of Christmas and how many claim it ruined the most important day of the year. Those same folks also claim it is the reason for the polar ice caps melting and the decline of the banana industry in Florida. Horrible.

But Christmas is the one holiday that penetrates all of society and creates waves of emotions that are almost unlimited. Shopping, decorating, travel, cards, work deadlines, guests in our home. Each of these can be wearing on our physical and emotional limits. Highs and lows. Hassles and joy.

The Spirit of Christmas came from a pretty hassle-free event that created a simplistic opportunity for folks around the world to experience joy. A baby born in the meekest, low-tech, inexpensive birthing center around, a stable. The birth of that child, now thousands of years later, gave us a story, a guide, a life to look at and know that through all the hassles and headaches of today, there is hope. Knowing Christ, Jesus, the baby born that day does not remove the hassles, it just puts them on the back burner. 

They never again have to be the objective of the day. 

This Christmas I am going to, again, try to be happy and do more for others. I am going to get out of myself and look to bless as many folks as I can. I am going to try to not complain about the decorations when my wife asks for my help and not be waiting with a cardboard box in my hand the day after Christmas to get this hassle of a holiday put up and behind us.

Each year as I get older the pages on the calendar go by faster. In my heart I so want to do life well. I don't want  to let the hassles of life get in way of loving my family well. I want to listen better and not consider conversations I don't instigate as a hassle. I so desperately want to reach out to others and not consider unplanned encounters a hassle. I want to celebrate life, the gift of each moment, hassle-free with the knowledge that I am loved by a heavenly Father. That my family and friends know I love them dearly. That I am not a hassle for them but a blessing. 

If this is the time of year you experience joy, soak it in. If this is a time of pain for you, look to a relationship with our Heavenly Father. Getting to know Him, becoming a part of His family is truly hassle-free, He designed it that way on purpose. Romans 10:9, Because if you acknowledge and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and in your heart believe that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

A very hassle-free Merry Christmas y'all. God Bless.

TJ Greaney

Sunday, September 29, 2013

God, Coffee, and a Biker

The beep on my iPhone goes off early, and I roll over to look at the incoming message. I see there are a few that came in during the night. Some folks working, some auto deliver, some spam. But at that moment I return to where I was the day before and the day before that. At work, thinking about what I have to do, about all there is that needs to get done. I'm off and running although maybe slower in the early morning hours, I'm off. My work day begins.

I know I am most likely not telling anyone anything they do not already know. I have been thinking about the comment someone said not long ago how an employer who gives their employee a smart phone can get a lot of work out of them that they might not get otherwise. Think about it. Who checks emails at their desk at 9 p.m. - who does it from their phone all hours of the day and night? 

So often we become our work. We are super fast on returning comments by others, hammer on projects, emails, stuff, all hours of the day or night. It is a rare person who puts down their phone when the 5 o'clock bell rings and leaves it until the next day. We adults are almost as bad, or worse, as the kids today, we can barely sit still without grabbing for our back pocket comfort electronics. But then, again, we all know this.

So we become super employee and start phasing out the things we used to be. We cancel trips or stare at our phone the whole time on a family vacation.  We email, text and Facebook as our kids read their stories or talk about their day. But hey, we get stuff done.

So what do we sacrifice when we become our work? We are no longer the bike rider, the fisherman, the woman who loves to sew or craft? Even worse we skip the morning time with God reading our Bible or walking quietly. We no longer sit with our journal and a cup of coffee as our family awakens, basking in the emotion of a new day. We don't hear well when our kids speak and don't call our elderly parents as often. I am guilty.

James was wandering inside the coffee shop. Everyone was busily getting their morning coffee, talking, shuffling along. I watched him walk about as though he was waiting on someone, looking to strike up a conversation. His clothes were a bit ruffled and he wore a desert camo hat strapped below his chin. In my mind, I discounted him early and in some way thought, hoped, I would not be confronted by him for conversation.

I got my small coffee, dark roast, black and made my way to an outside table on the porch. I never sit outside but today, God had a different idea. James was standing next to his bike, next to where I sat. I looked at him and gave him the obligatory smile and quickly looked away so as to not be drawn into a conversation. I took out my laptop and turned it on.

"How does that work," James asked. "I am going to buy one today." And the conversation began. I wanted to cut it short, give brief answers, be distracted by my ever-important work. God would not have anything to do with that. 

"I love to write stories, but I only have an eighth-grade education," he said in a joyful voice. " Well, I began, I only have an eighth-grade education, and I write stories. You can do it if it is what God wants you to do." The conversation wandered around the Bible and the story of Adam and Eve. James talked about his struggles with alcohol and how money made him mess up. "I know what you mean. I struggle every day too," I assured him. We talked about the things in his life that influence him away from God and how we should walk inside the coffee shop and pray over it. How we could pray over the people that go to movies that have witchcraft and other distractions from God.

James gathered his stuff together and began to get on his bike. Before he did, he told me a short story about a puppy who was lost and hungry. "Did you write that story, is that one of your short stories?" "I just made it up," he replied proudly. "I like it, write it down for me James, I want you to write those down." And as fast as it began, it ended, he said bye and rode away.

James, I am sorry. I am sorry of what I thought when I first saw you, my arrogance, my busyness, my ignorance. The peace that came during my time with James this morning was one I recognize, it was with God also. 

As I get older and seek time with God, family, meaning to it all, I realize I have got to be present. I don't want to be any of the things I once wanted. Wealthy, famous, powerful, in control or whatever that stuff was. Funny thing is as I give those things to God, release my life to His will, my desires, incredible things happen. Things so far beyond what I could have dreamed up, planned, schemed. He takes me places and introduces me to the most amazing adventures and people. Yesterday I sat and talked with the president of Ford Motor Company, a conversation about our ministry (KOZ) and our families. Today, maybe even better, a conversation with James about computers, movies and puppies. 

Jeremiah 29:11, " For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." And why do I get so wound up? Jeez, I am about as dumb as a rock. But hopeful! God is so good to me.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hot & Dirty, The Perfect Boys Hunt Camp

As the boys began to arrive that afternoon, the heat of the day had set in. The weeks before we arrived were dry, and it showed as the dust devils swirled.  Every plant and fencepost along the ranch road was covered with a fine white dust. The Lone Star flag hung motionless in the August heat from the porch of the bunkhouse. Ah yes, Kids Outdoor Zone summer hunt camp at its finest.

It would be easy for some to see how a week of hunters’ education, ranch management, hunting and outdoor fun would be a wonderful dream come true. Others might ask how it can be fun when it is so hot. For boys, you just need a little water, some firearms and game, dirt, four-wheel vehicles and some other guys to share the adventure with. Boys are made for this stuff.

 The first gate sits on the highway and is pretty easy to find. The oil boom in the area has given lots of visual markers to go by; the flaming pipe in the pasture across from the gate is the best one yet. After gate 2 leading onto the ground of camp, you are inspired with a sense of excitement. Exotic and native wildlife roam freely and can be seen at each turn. 

There were a lot of first-time KOZ boys that came to camp this year. Our demographic is almost always one that requires help with funding, and we are blessed with generous support to get them there. Society provides KOZ with a lot of boys who don't have male role models in their home. More than 50 percent of the kids in America go to bed at night without a man in their home. Many of our boys come to us without much to do with the outdoors either. The average kid is spending 40 minutes a week outdoors and 70 hours a week looking into a video screen of some type.

Boys will be boys, and when we start telling them all about the shooting and archery, fishing and big ole camp fire, the instincts of a boy kick in and even the most reluctant boys begin to let their guard down.

We hunted every morning and evening. We ran snare lines along the fences and repaired gaps at the same time. Almost every outing the boys harvested a ram or rabbits. They spent a lot of time at the cleaning station with the older boys teaching them how to properly dress out their game, prepare the skins and skulls and store the meat for eating later. 

Everything the boys harvested was cooked and eaten, everything. Rabbit stew was the favorite with potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and peas slow cooked all day. Barbecue and baked ram back strap were also top choices. A favorite before-dinner appetizer was the floured and fried ram testicles. Wait, what, huh? Yes, and they are delicious especially if they are dipped in cool ranch dressing.  The boys ate them freely even arguing over the last bits and pieces. Ah yes, I love summer hunt camp.

The hunting and outdoor skills training are a key element to the week of course. The hunters’ education card and achievements are important. Learning these time-honored traditions, the adventures boys dream of are crucial. But it is the leadership and the spiritual meaning to it all that binds the boys for long term. 

Each camp carries a theme, a purpose beyond the harvest. This year it was the book of Nehemiah from the Old Testament. The boys learned about being committed to a task, being led by God was an incredible gift He offers freely.  They learned that through prayer and hard work they could "do hard things." It was incredible how the older boys shared with the younger ones their life experiences and how God led them through hardships to victories. The nighttime camp fire talks were amazing.

One night as the campfire waned and the boys began to head to the bunkroom, a new boy – fatherless -- turned to a veteran of the hunt camps, "Thanks for talking to me and teaching me that stuff. Nobody has ever done that for me." The older boy answered, "It's what we do in KOZ; you will do it one day too." I was moved to tears. 

Six days after the boys came through the gate, the parents returned to pick them up. "He did that?" one mom commented. "He learned to shoot, shot that ram, cleaned it, cooked it, all the way, all that?" She was dumbfounded. "Yes, yes he did," the KOZ camp leader told her. Her son was beaming. He had been taken through an initiation into the world of a true man, a core desire. Inherent traits that were stuffed deep inside his heart, a boy’s true heart. The fatherless wounds exposed and breakthrough.

After the boys had left the older boys, the counselors sat in a half circle talking about the week. The intense moments of the hunts and the high-five victories of the harvest. They talked about the heat and the dust the food and the laughs. They shared conversations that came during still quiet moments with their apprentice, some with tears in their eyes.

Many cultures have always had and still to this day, "rites of passage," elements to the raising of their children. These include trials and intimate moments with older, seasoned members of their culture. Those are hard to find today in the lives of kids in America. It is a broken link that shows in the degradation and damaged families that are so prevalent in our country.

 Jesus spent three years walking, talking, training His disciples to go out and share the news of salvation. Seems He did a pretty good job. He trained His team to counsel, teach and care for others. He gave us tools, text and examples we can reference. 

The hunt camp was great. The time at the ranch with the boys is always special. Most of the boys will have grown in some way from the time there. Some maybe more than others but all realized something about themselves they did not know before they arrived. That is the plan for the time there: heat, dust, blood, sweat, tears and all. 

The big payoff is those who accept Christ into their hearts and share the things they learned. The young boy who sees something, learns something and makes it his own. Those changes we may never see in our lifetime. Taking their sons hunting, talks around a campfire with a fatherless boy they bring with them because someone brought them. Eternal rewards that change everything.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Girls Hunt, Get Baptised and Just Basically Rock it Out!

The usual first agenda item on the way to the ranch is the stop at Dairy Queen. We sit and get to know each other a bit better, maybe reacquaint ourselves with each other. It doesn't take much and we are laughing and eating and enjoying huge ice cream cones in short order. I remember how much I love this. I love the opportunity to speak into the lives of young ladies from the perspective of a man who adores them and honors them, cares for them, will protect them.

This trip was the third annual Kids Outdoor Zone Pinks (girls only) Quail Hunt. Some of the girls have been here before; others are new to the program. The Austin Gun Club facility provides a great experience for our program. The lodging is a huge well appointed bunkhouse, a huge kitchen, a multi person bath, media room and some other comforts for sitting, talking, reading. The grounds have on-site tactical shooting, skeet, trap and pistol ranges. They also have an outstanding dog training facility with dogs for the quail, chucker and pheasant hunting on 1,000 acres that wraps around the property.

My daughter, Taylor, is a freshman in college, (Texas A&M) and she is a female chaperone who knows the girls and how to mentor them as a young woman. They love her, respect her and see her busting birds from the air and quick firing a pistol as good as any boy. Then she takes it to a still quiet level in the evening studying a Scripture passage that has been placed on her heart for the trip. Powerful.

Each one of the girls has a story, some good, some painful. Salem (Pickles) came to us after her father died in a car accident. He had just promised to take her hunting; she never got to go with him. This trip is an anniversary of sorts for her and me. We have grown to care for each other, and I have been blessed to speak into her life on lots of adventures since that first trip.

Destiny lost both of her parents and lives with her grandparents now. I know it is hard on all of them, but they persist.  This was her second adventure with me; her first was a deer hunt over the holidays when she got her first deer. Actually, it was one of her first trips away from home, first time to shoot a shotgun, drive a four wheeler and, well, the list goes on. She has been empowered with the idea that she can actually do hard things, amazing things, and it has changed her.

Ashley is one of our newest leader prospects. She came to us last summer and embraced the opportunities and outdoor adventure with gusto. I love the joy this young lady carries. God brings along these kids at very specific times, and Ash was one of them about whom He was very particular. He loves her deeply. She has begun an amazing walk with God since we met. I have seen her confronted with choices and a life she questioned not long ago. Her loving Father offered her hope, direction and a sword with which to fight. She grabbed it.

LeeLah was the youngest on this trip. It was her first time out with us, first time just about everything with us. But how God came. At one point she was shooting skeet, and the gun was hurting her shoulder. I watched as a tear rolled down her cheek when she yelled, "Pull." She was going to finish her round even if it hurt. Wow. On Saturday night the girls sat about doing their nails as we watched a movie. Leelah wasn't interested in any of the nail painting, not until I chimed in, "You do yours and you can do mine." Bad idea for me -- mine were 10 different shades of wrong.

Most of the things we did on this adventure were pretty basic as far as outdoor skills. They all drove the four wheeler, shot guns, rode horses. But it was the things that God did that absolutely astound me when we get out of His way. Truth be told, I didn't want to go. I felt I was busy, and it might be best with a small turnout to just cancel or reschedule. I went to my trusted team of men and asked their council; they were unanimous, go. So I prayed just that -- Lord, You must have a plan, so I will take the girls and go. And of course, He did.

Friday night I asked the girls, as I usually do with the kids on the first night, “Where are you in your walk with  God? Have you been baptized? Have you asked Christ into your heart? Do you know what those things mean?” Saturday morning we talked more about what how He speaks to us and our heart. We returned to that topic on Saturday night. Destiny told us she wanted to be baptized and her grandparents wanted her baptized and thought maybe we could do it. They knew we did "that kinda stuff." Yea, we do. So we planned to do it sometime on Sunday.

In a quiet moment on Sunday little Leelah came up to me and asked if she, too, could be baptized. I am moved to the edge of tears just recalling the moment. Her heart was tender, and I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Incredible. Of course, of course you can! I hugged her.

Now where do we do this? Lord, you know where … can you let me know? But there was nowhere on the ranch that would work. It wasn't there, then I thought of the river on the way home. Pretty, clean and easy to get to. When we got there the wind was strong and the water was freezing, but it was right. The girls were fearless and came right out into the water one at a time. In the pictures afterward I could see the joy of the moment on their face, even cold they were bold in their expression to the world of their commitment to a Heavenly Father.

He knew. His plan all along was for a small group of girls to go to quail camp and for these two to be baptized while we were together. Forgive me, Lord, for being weak in my convictions, for being short-sighted and shallow in my faith sometimes. Thank you for loving me anyway. Thank you for loving the girls. Make them fearless. Make them bold. Let them know, no matter what, that You are a loving Father and You will never leave them, never forsake them, never, never. Amen.