A special “repost” from my wife, Dana’s, blog today. It’s our anniversary … and I’m a lucky man.

MyWindow2theWorld

I have a special thing in my life. I have a best friend who is also my mate. Today, we celebrate 3 years of marriage. It may not sound like long, but we’ve literally been around the world and back in those three years.

I love Steve for so many reasons and there are so many wonderful things about him. I am blessed to know he is a godly man. He is loving and kind. He is so passionate about the things he believes in. He is creative, spontaneous yet loves a certain amount of routine, same as me.

 

 

I was just thinking a day or so ago, how great my self-esteem would be, if only I could see myself as he sees me. He wants me to be myself, and thinks I am always the same. He is smart, funny, innovative and playful. He always includes me…

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The Difference in a Year

“Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” ~ Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding from Shawshank Redemption

A year does make a difference.

These are some things that are different now, than from this time a year ago.

  • Just as the calendar year rolled around, it became obvious my dad’s illness was considerably more serious than any of us knew. A few weeks later, he died in a hospice bed. I’m the only son of an only son. When your dad goes missing from  your life, things change. You inherit new responsibilities. You wrestle with your own mortality. A few days ago, I found myself in one of his favorite stores, and for a fleeting moment, thought about what I’d get him for Christmas. Then I remembered he was gone. Every so often, I cry, but mostly, I think about the pure joy he now experiences, shake my head in wonderment and smile.
expatriates in ecuador

Dana and me with our newfound friends Caesar and Maggie. Caesar is a Peruvian lawyer and French-trained chef. I’ll never forget our first visit when Caesar said, “I am a citizen of the world.”

  • I’ve gained a greater appreciation for diversity. My years as a kid were spent growing up in a small, rural-American community. We were all white, low-to-middle-income products of the Mississippi delta. In an age absent of smart phones and iTunes, I passed the time reading encyclopedias, subscribed to National Geographic for Kids and corresponded with a pen pal in Venezuela. Today, I’m amazed by our divisiveness, and I find myself purposefully reaching out across racial and cultural lines. Those times are the most rewarding of experiences.
  • My view of what it means to be a Christian has radically changed. At 19, I decided “going to church” needed to be a part of my life, that it would make me a better person, and basically, that it would be a ticket to eternity. The endless three-point sermons through which I sat spoke much more to my performance than they did to my acceptance. The result was my focus on an endless string of failures and the notion that I never quite measured up. It produced guilt, shame, and an overall sense of failure. It took getting angry with “religion” to finally understand the God in whom I believe made the ultimate sacrifice because He knew I’d never meet the standards of the law. The freedom to fail, and knowing that God won’t ask for my resume has changed all I ever believed about the church.
  • I got my best friend back. From the time we were in the seventh grade, Brady Cornish and I were best friends. Together, we rode the country roads, played a lot of golf, and got into a lot of mischief. We became as close as brothers. In
    best friends and relationships

    Brady and I posing for a quick snapshot just before a match last weekend in Mountain View, Arkansas.

    1988, I allowed my own life circumstances to get in the way of our friendship, and even though we lived only 30 miles apart we went 22 years without as much as a phone call. The loss of the relationship was my fault, not his. But a day never passed when I didn’t think of him. In January, I needed my best friend, drove to his house in shame, and did my best to ask his forgiveness. He embraced me as if a day had never passed. Today, life is fuller and days are more complete because our friendship is stronger than ever. I’m blessed beyond measure by Brady’s trusted friendship, and have no shame in acknowledging just how much I love this great man.

  • I’m playing golf again. In our early years, Brady and I played golf every weekend. When our friendship was lost, golf was lost with it. It’s a minor thing in the grand scheme, but the time we now spend together on the links are among the best of times. After so many years, the slices are more frequent and the drives aren’t as long, but we’re working on our games together and making progress. Golfing days are good days.
  • Once again, writing is a big part of my life. Producing words from a keyboard is the place where I’ve always been most myself. I was a newspaper reporter for 10 years, a press secretary to a member of Congress for four years and operated a publishing business for a time, then let it all go. It was a huge void. Now I’m blogging regularly, working on two books, and with a little luck will publish my first work on Amazon this coming Black Friday.
expatriates in ecuador

This is a photo of our home under construction in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. From where it sits, we can see miles of beach and south Pacific sunsets every night.

  • If you’d told me this time a year ago, that I’d be building a house in South America, I’d have laughed out loud. Last April, Dana and I took a whimsical trip to Ecuador. The first night I saw the sunset on the South Pacific I thought of my dad and just how short life is. What the heck? We bought a piece of land on the beach, started construction in June and will go back to our finished la pequena casa azul en la colina on December 21. We’re excited about what it all means.
  • And so I’ve become semi-fluent in Spanish. Dana and I want to immerse ourselves in the Ecuadorian culture. Those six hours of college spanish were 25 years ago. Rosetta Stone‘s getting me there, but there’s a long way to go.
  • I feel as though I have friends around the world now. Blogging on wordpress has allowed some wonderful new friendships and really closes the distance between like-minded writers and entrepreneurs. It’s so much fun to receive a compliment from someone thousands of miles away, and to return the favor almost every day.
  • More than ever, I believe in second chances. All those guilt-ridden failures a few hundred words back still carry their consequences, but they overwhelm me no more. Everyone wants to leave a legacy. I’m thankful to be on a journey where I know mine will be found.

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Why She Loves Me I’ll Surely Never Know

 

 

“A man has only one escape from his old self: to see a different self – in the mirror of some woman’s eyes.” ~ Clare Boothe Luce
Steve and dana watkins jonesboro ar
It often amazes me why anyone would particularly love a guy like me. I’m just glad there’s one who does.

The first time we ever spoke of a relationship between us, I asked Dana a simple question. “What do you want?” I asked, in a critical moment of transparency.Dana and Steve Watkins Jonesboro ar

“I want to take care of you, and I want you to protect me,” she said, with an answer that oversimplified anything I ever expected.

And so our lives began together with that simple foundation.

I’m not one of those dashing GQ cover guys with a sculpted body and perfect hair. Stimulating social conversation has never been my particular forte’. And the older I grow, the more set I become in my quirky ways.

But she loves me. It’s a thing I never doubt. And it’s an amazing thing to know as perfect truth. Why she does, I’ll surely never know.
new york new yorkDana’s unconditional love gives me a freedom I’ve never known. Permission to be free, imperfect and to pursue the most outrageous of things (what we call laughable dreams). It’s an uncomplicated life, and makes things much easier than they otherwise could be.

If I take four hours out of the weekend to play a round of golf with my buddies, it’s okay. There will be no passive-aggressive silent-treatment-type stuff when I return home.

If I hole up in an office for an entire weekend to write without distraction, it’s okay. She understands I had to get it out of my system.

A few months back while traveling several days on business, I returned home only to find she’d taken a spare bedroom in our home and turned it into a “man room,” especially for me.

When she throws her leg across me in the bed at night, it’s a subtle reminder that she just wants to be close, and it causes me to smile, even at 3 a.m.

I’ve been known to give her presents that were things I really wanted. She never says a word – just comes along for the ride.

Four years ago, I pursued a business dream, invested everything we had, and ended up flat broke. It was a laughable dream that laughed right back at me. For a time, I gave up on everything. She never flinched.

She calls me babe, sweetheart, darling … I often wonder how anyone could think of me in that way.Steve and Dana Watkins jonesboro ar

She’s never given me an ultimatum, quid-pro-quo, or a single demand I can recall.

She calls my mom most every day, just to talk and express her thoughtfulness.

She’ll text me later today and tell me she loves me. I can count on that.

How did I get so lucky?

Why she loves me, I’ll surely never know. I’m just glad she does.

Lord, help me do my part, and help me take care of her well.

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Your Smiling Face…Dana

Whenever I see your smiling face, I have to smile myself, because I love you, yes I do.

And when you give me that pretty little pout, it turns me inside out. There’s something about you baby … I don’t know.

Isn’t it amazing a man like me can feel this way. Tell me how much longer … It could grow stronger every day. How much longer?

I thought I was in love a couple of times before, with the girl next door, but that was long before I met you. Now I’m sure that I won’t forget you.

And I thank my lucky stars that you are who you are, and not just another lovely lady set out to break my heart.

No one can tell me that I’m doing wrong, whenever I see you smile at me.

No one can tell me that I’m doing wrong today, whenever I see your smiling face my way.

For another great music memory check out my post today here http://wp.me/p2wzTk-D

Our Relational DNA: It Spans the Globe

This sweet lady sold me a pancho at The Middle of the World equator monument in Quito. She reminded me of my grandmother. The pancho is a rather GQ look if you ask me!

Dana and I had a number of reasons for undertaking a 10-day adventure in Ecuador, but chief among them was to immerse ourselves in the culture.

We knew there would be a number of challenges. We have an elementary grasp of the language, knew we would be traveling in unknown territory and had established only a few on-line relationships with a few American expatriates prior to our journey into Guayaquil and our ultimate destination to Puerto Cayo.

This Ecuadorian group of family and friends was on holiday at Los Suenos del Mar, and as they were posing for a group photo I ran to them to get a photo of my own. They were thrilled that I would want a photo for myself, and we spent the rest of the day, posing for more group photos together and sharing stories about our families.

For certain, there were many challenges, and we embraced them. Some have asked about our takeaway from the trip, and for one, I can say to no small degree that my faith in humanity has been restored.

This group of local tourists had been partying all night. As I walked to breakfast, bleary eyed at 7:45 on a Sunday morning, I was yet to have my first cup of coffee when they insisted that I share in a drink of the local spirits. I couldn’t say no! Viva la Ecuador!

People are good. I believe that again. And our last day in Puerto Cayo confirmed that belief.

This is my new friend, Manuel, and his two young sons. We are tough hombres!

Whoever we are, and wherever we live across the expanse of this globe, we have an innate desire to be relational … and it only takes a single kind gesture to make a lifetime of memories.

The woman at center is an Ecuadorian school teacher. She insisted that her daughter practice her English with my wife, Dana.

Let’s Pray About It (or just do nothing)

Keenly aware of his own shortcomings, Jack still liked to think of himself as a decent enough man.

Complex by nature and misunderstood by most, Jack walked around most days with an invisible guard that only few could permeate. Very few.

He didn’t necessarily like that about himself, but the circumstances of his every-day life reinforced his intrinsic nature. At least that was his excuse.

But made aware of an injustice against a brother or an urgent need, he could be provoked to radical 360-action in the blink of an eye.

Jack lived a busy life with a good day job and lots of peripheral interests. His phone would ring dozens of times during the day and he was selective in the calls he took, and the ones he let go straight to voicemail.

When his phone rang at 9:14 that morning, he only vaguely recognized the number, but it was familiar enough that he decided to take the call. On the other end was a welcome voice – an old friend wise in years and experience that called every couple of months just to check in on Jack.

He did it because he was a good man, and he cared.

“How ’bout a cup of coffee with old friend,” Simon asked, “… say around 9:45?”

It was impossible to say no to Simon, the man who had counseled him through tough times and even conducted the wedding ceremony for Jack and his wife Diane almost three years ago.

“See you then,” Jack said, knowing any visit with Simon was a time to treasure.

Simon arrived three minutes late whipping into the parking lot at breakneck speed. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, “I had three people come into the church and wanted to talk and I just told them I had an important meeting.”

Simon was an elder-emeritus at a church that over the past year had been on the brink of chaos. A split in the congregation had created deep wounds that compelled Simon to action and take the reigns to lead the healing process. It had become his full-time job. And it was beginning to wear on him.

Jack and Simon exchanged the normal pleasantries and talked about the important things happening in their lives, and Jack noticed an unusual burden on the man he so loved and respected.

“Are you okay,” Jack asked.

“I’m fine, just tired. I’ve made a commitment to the church to see us through until we find a new pastor and then I’m going into hiding for a while. I’m tired,” Simon said.

Jack shared with Simon his plans for a vacation adventure on his schedule in the coming week and Simon’s eyes lit up with curiosity.

“Boy, I wish my wife and I could do that. I need a break,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to live vicariously through you. Will you send me a postcard?”

Jack reached across the table and grabbed Simon’s arm. “This is what I want you to do,” he said. “Think about yourself today, forget everybody else, go and make a reservation to somewhere tropical and get out of here tomorrow.”

“Well you don’t understand, I’ve made this commitment and I’ve got to see it through, and I don’t think we could pull it off anyway.”

And Jack’s wheels started turning.

The conversation continued, the two parted ways, and as Jack drove away he determined to respond to call he believed came straight from God.

“It would only take about $2,500 to send Simon and his wife away on a surprise and well-deserved vacation,” Jack thought to himself. “And we could have him in Bermuda shorts within a week sitting on some Caribbean beach. I’ll chip in my share,” he thought, “and make a few calls to friends who love Simon the most and we’ll have him on his way before the sun goes down. Everyone would surely understand and be compelled to help.” He just knew it.

Over lunch Jack made a quick list of a half-dozen people to whom he could call and make the case. How exciting! What a great surprise for this wonderful man. A few calls here, a few calls there, start the chain call for the cause and the deal will be done.

Jack, the naive dreamer. Oh, the humanity.

“It’s a great idea and well-deserved, the recipient of the first call responded. My first thought is it would be better to do this later, but we’ll pray about it and see what happens.”

“I don’t really have time to give this the thought I’d like too, but it’s something we ought to do,” the second call recipient responded. “The timing may not be right for the church to pull something like this off. I think it’s something we’ll just have to pray about.”

“I’m glad you’re taking the initiative,” the third call recipient responded.”I want to pray about this.”

Let’s pray about it.

Jack saw the writing on the wall. He tried not to be angry, but it was hard.

“The timing’s just not right,” … the message from those he called kept running through his mind.

Maybe we’ll pray about it for another six months and Simon will be so spent that it’s too late.

Maybe instead one day we’ll spend thousands of dollars on flowers for his memorial service and talk about what a great man he was. “We sure did appreciate and love him. He was a great man,” we’ll say with our posthumous honor and glory.

“Let’s pray about it…”

Or just do nothing. That works.

Not.

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The Holy Spirit: Our Bastard Stepchild?

“It is better for you that I go away. If I do not go away, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, will not come to you. If I go away, I will send Him to you.” ~ John 16:7

Notice the last sentence in that verse. “I will send HIM to you.”

God the Father.

God the Son.

God the Holy Spirit.

Seems the Spirit is the last one to get our attention. We put Him at the bottom of the list.

We count the Spirit as one of the Trinity because the Bible tells us to do so. But why do we so often view Him as the lesser of the three, an occasional afterthought, when John tells us in the verse above that it is better for Jesus to go and the Spirit to come.

Another translation of that verse says: “It is expedient for you that I go away.”

Though Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, it’s the goal of most Christians to follow Him and to become more like Him. How do we know Jesus if he’s away in the Heavenly realm and we’re here on earth, and why was it better for Him to go away?

Jesus’ task on earth was completed on the cross. It is a finished work. The job was done, and thank goodness for that.

But we do well to remember that God himself took on our humanity as Jesus the Son, and by His own choice He limited himself by becoming man. Jesus (as man) could not be all things to all people, in all places at all times.

In other words, if the Lord Jesus were here today in His human body, He couldn’t be where I am now and where you are at the same time.

But there is one who can, and is.

If the “headline” on this post makes you uncomfortable, I join with you in that discomfort. I mean no harm and no disrespect. It makes me uncomfortable because it points out my failure, and moreover, my sin.

So many times, I’ve heard people in church say … ‘the Holy Spirit was really present in our service today.’

Are we guilty of viewing the Spirit as some magical energy force, more powerful at one time than another, choosing to “show up” at one moment and not the next? Is He just some heavenly fog that we eagerly await to descend upon us and transfigure the moment? Is He just some spiritual portal through which we must pass to touch the face of God?

I’m guilty.

A pastor in my hometown was courageous enough to ask this question to his congregation last  Sunday. His question stopped my thoughts dead in their tracks. Why would I long for the Spirit to show up and do a great work in my life when he’s already right there, all the time? He lives inside of me.

He grieves when I violate my moral consciousness. He disciplines me in love when I go against His will, but He stands beside me at all times and loves me because I belong to Him. The deal is done.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten things wrong. We’ve bought into the idea that the Spirit is some transcendent force or power – some notion just beyond our grasp and reach. We hope and pray that He will show up and move us on Sundays.

We’ve learned it all wrong, and so now, we have a lot to un-learn.

I know I do.

Thank goodness for the Better Way, and let the lessons of un-learning begin.