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“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (NIV)  

It was late July 1968 and I can’t remember when I had been more excited. I was fourteen years of age and we were packing our blue station wagon (an “estate car” in Irish terms where I’ve lived for the past thirty-seven years) on a Friday afternoon for the journey of a lifetime.

With my father at the wheel, and me joining him in the front seat, my mother would be in charge of the back seat (and the snack bar) along with my sisters Betty, age 17 and Jeanne age 11. The trip would take us from our home in Fort Worth, Texas to Eugene, Oregon and back in the space of two weeks, or thereabout.

Why would our family be invested in such a dramatic journey of over 5000 miles? My eldest sister Susan had just gotten married on the 8th of June just a few weeks previous and she and her husband Bryan were living in Eugene where he was doing doctoral studies at the University of Oregon.

That Friday afternoon a neighbor saw us packing the car and offered us a small two-wheel camper trailer for the journey. It came in pretty useful bar the fact that it kept blowing out tires and we were continually getting them repaired, as I recall.

My father was a hard working electrician and didn’t have unlimited vacation time so we had to make the most of every day’s travel. That Friday evening we set out for the first leg of our journey and made it all the way to a small motel in the town of Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Just before we turned in for the night my older sister Betty broke down in a flood of tears. She began to beg and plead with my father, explaining that this trip was not on her agenda, and he should send her back home immediately! She generally had the reputation of being the rebellious teenager of our house, but I couldn’t imagine at the time why she wasn’t excited about the trip! It just shows you that a fourteen year old boy sees life differently than a seventeen year old girl, especially one like my sister Betty.

As you may have guessed, it was too late to turn back so Betty had to make the most of the trip and the next morning we continued the family traveling circus across America.

I have to admit that my father was not easy to live or travel with but throughout the journey I continued my role as peacemaker among the family, as best as I could. It seems to me that we each have a tendency to play a particular “role” in the family where we have been placed – not by our own choosing – but we often adapt to a role that seems to come our way along the journey.

As I have matured I have often gone back to the words of the Apostle Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians where he compares the Church of Jesus Christ to a human body. Each part of the body is there for a reason and each one plays a role that’s necessary for the health, well-being and growth of the body. I would learn over the years that I have a role in the larger “family” of God’s Kingdom and if you are a follower of Jesus – so do you!

Saturday, the first full day on the road, we made a strategic decision to drive all the way to Florence, Arizona to see my aunt Myrl – my mother’s only sister. After a long day’s journey including treacherous hairpin turns along mountain roads in a night-time thunderstorm we finally made it safely to my aunt’s home. I can still recall how tired my father looked sitting in a lounge chair in my aunt’s living room.

With My Father at Armitage State Park near Eugene Oregon, August 1968

Space doesn’t permit me to recount the entire journey but we drove all the way through California from south to north and ended up in Eugene, Oregon on about the fifth day of the journey. When we arrived in Eugene my sister’s apartment wasn’t very large so my other two sisters and mother stayed with some new friends of Susan and Bryan in a nearby apartment.

My father and I meantime, drove up to Armitage State Park Campground just north of Eugene and stayed in tent that folded out of the camper. I can recall some of the fun times my father and I had on the campground more than the events back at the apartment.

So many of the sights we never would have experienced if we hadn’t been travelling together as a family. The beauty of Oregon was stunning and we even made it to Crater Lake, a must see if you are ever in the region. If my memory serves me correctly, we even worked in a brief visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona on the way home and a drive through a scenic part of Colorado.

Yes, it was the trip of a lifetime. I’m thankful that God placed me in the family that I have and I’m grateful for the role and the gifts He has given me. I hope you, regardless of your family of origin, will find a place in God’s family as a follower of Jesus and discover the unique role He has for you.  

My sister Susan would pass away tragically in 1994 and my sister Betty in 2006. I regret not having more discussions with them about the trip and the times we spent together.

We make decisions daily as to how we choose to travel with our family of origin. Sometimes they are a blessing, for some of us they may not be. We may want or even need to break run, just like my sister wanted to do late that night in New Mexico.

We can also choose to be part of a larger family, to find our place in the Kingdom that God is building here on earth. If you are reading this today my prayer for you is that you will join the exciting journey of following Jesus and discover the part He has for you to play. I’m so thankful that it’s a journey that’s always moving forward.  

Along life’s journey there are always tears, laughter, blown out tires and beautiful scenery, but my hope and prayer is that you will find joy and contentment and realize that going somewhere together with others is well worth the price of the ticket.

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“He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’).  Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.” – Mark 5:39-42 (NIV)

Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas in the mid 1950’s was, for the most part, a superb way to start out in the world. I often look back to the traumatic events that dotted my childhood but I have to say that blessings have marked my life from the very outset.

My Parents on their Wedding Day July 28, 1947, Cleburne, Texas

I was born on January 8, 1954 in Harris Hospital to J.L. and Blanche (Loper) Northcutt. My parents moved from Townsend Street to 2650 W. Boyce Avenue when I was four years old. I can still recall one scene from our “new” house the day we moved and it continued to be our family home until after my mother’s eventual passing in 1989.

With me in the family home were my two older sisters Susan Jane born in September 1948 and Betty Joan born in November, 1950. Both were born in Cleburne where my father had grown up and my parents were married and spent the early years of their marriage.

My mother, Nora Blanche Loper had grown up in a few locations in west Texas although she, her parents and four siblings had moved around before settling down in Glen Rose. Her father died when she was thirteen from complications from a burst appendix during the dark days of the Great Depression.

After I was born my mother delivered my two younger twin brothers who died around childbirth. One was stillborn and the other lived one day. Robert Richard and Charles Lee were buried in the family plot in the White Church Cemetery near Glen Rose, where my mother would eventually be laid to rest. The experience was deeply traumatic and she always wondered what life would have been like if they had survived. I never met anyone in my life who had more compassion for children than my mother.

A few years later my sister Jeanne Marie came along. Somewhere along the way we started to nickname her “Jeannie” even though that wasn’t her proper name. Early on I didn’t quite take to having another sister instead of a brother, but as the years went by I learned to value her love and friendship. Today I am deeply grateful to have her especially since our two elder sisters passed away far too early – but that’s another story.  

From a very young age I loved television. I was an avid fan of the Three Stooges and “Slam Bang Theatre” which was shown on our local station KTVT – channel 11 every afternoon after school. A local man, Bob Camfield played the role of Icky Twerp and all my classmates would have been big fans of him and the show. I had loads of favorite cartoons which included Deputy Dawg, Bullwinkle, Felix the Cat, Top Cat, and Dudley Doright.

One evening my parents were watching TV and a drama was showing that featured a man trying to escape the bad guys on an island. He found a gourd, strips of cloth and gunpowder from which he made a homemade bomb. He was able to light the fuse, blow up the bomb, distract the bad guys and get away.

I couldn’t have been more than five or six, but one day I got angry that one of the neighborhood boys couldn’t come out to play so I decided to recreate the “bomb” idea and throw it the neighbor’s house! I found a glass jar with a lid, tore up strips of cloth and soaked them in lighter fluid! My father was an occasional smoker and in those days cigarette lighters and fluid were household commodities. I used one strip as a fuse and was going to get my father’s lighter when I was caught!

Looking back this was one of the first close calls that obviously averted disaster and you can be sure that I never, ever tried a stunt like that again!

South Hills Elementary School Today

Eventually I attended South Hills Elementary School which was just a short walk up Lubbock Avenue and a right turn up Bilglade. My Kindergarten teacher was Miss Sanders whom I didn’t appreciate very much at the time. By the autumn of 1960 I was in first-grade and my teacher was a lovely woman named Mrs. Herring.

It was during first-grade that an event occurred which would be a life-changing event for me and my family.   The winter of 1960-61 I contracted strep throat. My mother told me that we had snow that winter, a rare occurrence,  and she made the mistake of letting me go out to play even though not fully well. The strep throat developed into Rheumatic Fever and I ended up missing three and a half months of school that year, being confined to the bed most of the time. I had a recurrence of the Fever during second grade and missed two and a half months of that school year.

There were now numerous trips to our family pediatrician, Dr. Frank Cohen, regular doses of penicillin and the occasional Gamma globulin injection (extremely painful, if you haven’t had one!) I learned the torment of unwanted isolation but had our family cat, Cuddles to console me in my time of need.

It was during these formative years that my faith was developed at a heart level. Although we were faithful churchgoers, I can’t recall discussing many matters of faith with my parents in the early years. However, at nights during my illness before bed during mother would read stories to me from the Gospels of Jesus healing children (quoted above) and we prayed for my healing. In later years these memories would become the bedrock of my faith.

A friend who attended our church in those days, Myrle Burton, was my home-school teacher during my illness before home-schooling was even known. I remember my classmates sending me cards and gifts to wish me well in my illness. Some of the cards and puzzles that I received I kept as keepsakes well into my teen and even adult years.

Looking back on my early years I can see that God was preparing me for far more than I ever realized. I think back to my dear mother suffering through the loss of her twin sons and now struggling to keep her life and family together during the illness of her only son. I can’t imagine what she was thinking and feeling when she tried to sleep at night. My father was a hard-working electrician and she was home trying to provide for a family of six and nurse me through my illness.

Early in third-grade I had my tonsils extracted and the Rheumatic Fever never recurred, but my memories of those years and my mother’s fight to bring me through them never left.

I firmly believe that God is at work in the large and small stories of our lives to shape us for the future He desires for us to have with Him and the place He has for us in the world. As I look at the present with its current challenges, we are now in the midst of a terrible crisis with the Covid-19 pandemic. I can’t help but think that He has far more planned for each of us than we ever realize. May we cling to the One who is eternal and holds us and the future in His capable hands. We just never outgrow the foundation of our faith.

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“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

I need not remind you of the volume of distractions these days that beg for our time and attention – 24/7 news reports, e-mails, texts, social media, Slack, WhatsApp, the list goes on, and on and on! I heard recently that some 3 Billion hours per month world wide are spent on people playing video games alone!

For a number of years now I have kept a personal journal dealing with issues that relate to what’s going on in my life at deeper levels. I’m far more self-aware than I used to be and exploring what’s going on “below the water line” so to speak. The parts of me that others cannot see.

Several years ago many “D” words were showing up in my journal vocabulary – “Depression, Despair, Discouragement, Disappointment.” To say that I was dissatisfied with this situation would be an understatement. And yes, that also begins with the letter “D”!

In my daily devotions I seriously began to look attentively “inside” and question why these persistent emotional battles were being fought. I was convicted because if one was to look at my life from the outside they would see very little, if anything, that would account for these feelings. It just wasn’t reasonable or rational.

To some degree I discovered that many of the emotional maladies I suffered were due personal choices as to where I invested my time and attention. For years I was a worrier and brooder – thinking deeply about things that disturbed and saddened me. The internal focus of my life was not invested well in the things of eternal value that I knew in my head were much more important and essential.

In the passage quoted above the Apostle Paul in writing to the Colossian church in the first century describes some incredible truths. He says that a person who has trusted Jesus Christ in this life (which would describe me and thousands of others world-wide) has a new identity that is now “hidden with Christ in God.”
This profound truth, he explains, now means that even though we live in the physical realm, we can focus the center of our lives on the eternal reality that we are given a new identity that will endure forever. Paul says, set your hearts and minds on this new reality.

I have found that this is a matter of moment-by-moment and day-by-day choices of where we focus our attention. In reviewing my journal in recent days I see that words of gratitude, grace and thankfulness have replaced the nasty “D” words that once so dominated my thinking.

Obviously this is a long-term process, but it’s also a daily choice.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to counsel a man who had dealt with several addictive patterns in his life. He had successfully dealt with a serious gambling problem but wanted to go deeper and deal with other issues as they surfaced. He had learned in the recovery process that an addict is “chasing good feelings.” I had to admit in my own life that I was guilty of doing the same thing even thought I had never been into gambling or substance abuse.

I now see that God wants to give us great feelings. But the difference is that the great feelings are based on great realities – those of an eternal realm that will endure long beyond this beautiful but broken world we now inhabit.

I’m now convinced that good feelings are not an end in themselves but are a result of where we focus the center of our lives.

God’s desires for us include feelings of love and acceptance, of beauty, grace and mercy. These all flow from who we are and what we have in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He wants us to turn off the noise and give moment-by-moment attention to the new identity we have in Jesus that is not based on material possessions or on our status in society (or even the “Christian” community), and certainly not based on our personal performance.

If you will engage in this process with me you’ll also discover, as I have, that in this new pattern you will have much more time and energy to give to those around you who need your love, acceptance and availability.

By shifting our awareness of where our attention is focused we can become people who are growing strong in giving our energy to others who are of eternal value as well.

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“And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”  – Exodus 14:31 (NIV)

Trust is a very deep and mysterious thing and yet it something that we do every day to some degree. Without trust our lives would be in tatters. We trust everything from cars to computers, bus schedules to customer care employees. When you think about it trust is also risky. By trusting others, we can open ourselves up to hurt and disappointment.

Seven years ago today, September 1, 2009, I made a choice to trust someone with personal issues in my life that were beyond my own resources. The details are not as important as the lessons that resulted from that decision.

 In reviewing the story in Exodus 14 where Moses, under God’s direction led the children of Israel out of Egypt, safely through the Red Sea from the flight of the Egyptian army we find a very interesting statement.

At the close of this crucial chapter the text says, “The people feared the LORD and put their trust in Him and in Moses his servant.”

Trust is critical to our relationships both with God and others. As a Christian, in my work with other followers of Jesus, rarely do people argue the fact that we should be trusting God. However, the stronger pushback comes when we start talking about trusting others around us.

Trust is a matter of the heart and we don’t like having our hearts crushed, yet all meaningful relationships are built on mutual trust.

I’m sure that over time, the Israelites found God to be more trustworthy than Moses. However, I’m coming to see that we can’t fully say we are trusting God without being able to trust key people whom God has placed in our lives.

There are several “Moses” figures in my life and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not fully trusting God if I’m not trusting them at some level.

Seven years ago today, I took a step of faith by trusting a friend with things I had never spoken about to another living individual. Admittedly it was a risk, and there were many issues that flowed from my decision to trust another living soul with my “stuff.”

I have since regretted many of my life choices in the past, however, I have never regretted the decision to trust God and another person He had hand-placed in my life.

Looking back over the last seven years here are a few life lessons that will remain with me always as a result of my decision to trust God and a “Moses” in my life –

  •  Vulnerability and Relational growth – As a result of my decision I eventually discovered that I was robbing myself and others of the “real” me that was hiding behind a curtain, too scared to come out. These years later perhaps more people around me get to see the “real” me with fewer masks.
  • A Confidence that God is work in my life – Previously I was trying to be the best version of about five or six people whose lives I was sure were “better” than mine. I stopped trying to be my version of other people and instead trust God with who I really was and was becoming.
  • Transformation and the Inner lifeIn these years I discovered that everything in our lives really flows from the inside out. Jesus once said of men that “from the overflow of the heart, his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45 NIV) Cultivating our inner life is the means whereby God meets us at deep levels. Life circumstances may shape us but deep change in one’s life is from inside out, not the reverse.

I can speak from personal experience that trusting God and others made all the difference in my own life and even though it’s a difficult road I’m grateful for the growth.

Who are the “Moses figures” that God has placed in your life that you need to be trusting?

We don’t grow unless we’re vulnerable with someone we can trust. It goes without saying that we can’t trust everyone but we do have to trust someone. We often find out the hard way that we can’t trust everyone and we can often get caught out.

Was there ever a cook who has never been burned in the kitchen? Most good cooks I know had their share of wounds but bandaged them, went back to the kitchen and ended up being quite successful at what they did. They grew despite the pain of the wounds.

We should always be discerning when it comes to trust. We may never trust everyone that we should but we’ll certainly not develop as healthy individuals without trusting someone. Perhaps in doing so we’ll be safe and trustworthy ourselves, even a “Moses” in the making.

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My thoughts on healthy acceptance of what we cannot change in life

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” – Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV)

A New Resolve: “I cannot change the person I was created to be. To live well I must develop a healthy sense self-acceptance and self-compassion.”

Have you ever considered the question – “If I weren’t myself, who would I like to be?”

I’m sure at times we all go through stages of wondering what life would be like if we were actually walking in someone else’s shoes. I know I do.

For those of us raised on the western hemisphere there is a huge amount of pressure put upon us to “develop ourselves” and reach our full potential as human beings. To a degree this can be a healthy thing. I’m certainly a fan of personal development and life-long learning.

We can also become so dissatisfied with life that we loathe the person that we are. We can excuse our own behavior because we feel cheated in some way that we didn’t inherit the gifts and abilities that people who are successful seem to have. It’s a difficult thing not to compare ourselves to others even at the best of times.

For some of us who have been raised by parents who perhaps struggled with their own identity we can be subject to messages of shame and get the idea that life would be a whole lot better if we were someone other than who we actually are.

Over the past several years I’ve been grappling with the possibility that for many years of my life I really didn’t like myself very much. If I’m honest there’s probably more things about myself that I would like to change rather than living out my true identity of who I was created to be.

On the other hand, the Psalmist quoted above bursts out in gratitude to God when he reflects on how God made and designed him. He says, “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

How often do we stop to thank God for how we are made and designed? This is the poetry of self-acceptance.

It means –

Accepting and valuing myself as a Creation of a personal God

Accepting my own strengths as well as my weaknesses

Accepting my personality as God crafted it

Accepting my gifts, knowing that I have unique abilities just as much as anyone else

Accepting my physical limitations and my humanity (no one is actually Superman!)

In recent years there has been some excellent research and writing done on the subject of shame and self-compassion. Studies have shown that those who have a greater degree of compassion for others are first of all compassionate with themselves.

It’s fortunate that we now live in an era when self-awareness is seen as a value. By taking an honest view of ourselves we can actually learn to be less critical of ourselves and then extend that insight to others.

I’m learning that a harsh and unaccepting approach to myself will, like a form of contagious cancer, spread to others around me. But an honest appreciation of myself as God created me to be can only be beneficial to me as well as to others.

Would that we all could share the same attitude as the Psalmist who exclaimed, Thank you, God, for making me just as You did. You knew what you were doing! How can I argue with that?” (paraphrase mine!)

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