Christian thought

Sue Thomas - An Amazing Lady

Bill, Sue Thomas, Kathy.JPG

I think the word "amazing" gets way overused, so I try to use it sparingly and appropriately. But here goes. Sue Thomas is one of the most amazing ladies I've met in a while.

At the age of 18 months, Sue suddenly and with no explanation lost all hearing. Doctors wanted to put her in an institution, but her parents were determined for her to live as normally as possibly. She worked diligently with a demanding speech therapist for seven years to learn how to speak and afterwards continued to work with voice teachers to improve her ability to speak in spite of her total deafness. Growing up, Sue was badly bullied and ostracized, which hurt badly because she has always loved people and had a strong desire to be a "party animal.".

Even though she was branded a "dummy" and went through public school in slow learners classes, she graduated from college and later did post-graduate work in counseling and seminary training. 

Because of her extraordinary lip-reading ability, Sue was recruited by the FBI. As a special agent, she helped put away many "bad guys" by reading their lips when they thought no one could hear their conversations. Her exploits served as the basis for an award-winning TV series, Sue Thomas, FBEye, which is syndicated in 64 different countries.

In spite of her exciting career, Sue knew that something was missing in her life and she left the FBI after three and a half years. Sue found the fulfillment she longed for through a deep personal relationship with Jesus. Since then she has traveled the world telling millions about how good God is. 

I had never heard of Sue Thomas until today when Kathy and I heard her speak and got to spend some time with her.  We were captivated by her warmth, her sense of humor, her love for people, and her single-minded commitment to simply tell people about Jesus and about God's goodness. That she can speak at all is amazing. That she can speak as she does with such love and lack of bitterness or pity is even more amazing. Her world is silent, but she is anything but. She lives to share with others.

About three months ago, Sue suffered a serious stroke. It affected her ability to do almost anything including her ability to walk and to see. She now has suffers from bad double-vision. With characteristic humor and wonderfully positive attitude, she says the good news is that "it makes it look like I'm speaking to twice as many people." Amazingly, the one thing the stroke didn't affect was her voice, which she worked so hard to even have in the first place. That meant she could keep telling people about Jesus.

Shortly after her stroke, Sue began physical therapy to try to regain some ability to walk. That first day, she spotted stairs in the therapy area and asked to be taken to them. The therapist explained that it would be at least several weeks before they could began working on climbing stairs. Sue insisted that she wanted to try it that day. Why? Because she needed to be able to climb stairs to get on stages to share God's love. She did it. 

As Sue continued to speak today, I just wanted to give her a hug and tell her how much I loved and appreciated her. I'm glad I got that chance and more.  After being humbled and inspired by this, yes, amazing lady, I was reminded that I have no  reasons to complain and no excuses.


Two from a two at a zoo

Asher at zoo.jpg

Each time over the last year and a half that we've visited Shari, Robin, and Asher in St. Louis, our visit has included a trip to the impressive St. Louis Zoo, recently named the "top free attraction in America" (we like free). We also like zoos. No matter how many times you go, the unpredictable behavior of fascinating animals keeps the experience fresh. 

Today had another fresh twist. Asher turned two years old today, and for Kathy and me, this was his first time of not being confined to his stroller or the arms of a parent or grandparent. Asher loves seeing animals at the zoo, and as soon as we passed through the front gates he successfully petitioned his way out of his stroller. Freedom! Free to run anywhere and do anything that the herding team of Shari, Kathy, and me would allow.

Asher not only loves zoo animals - he loves life in general. And as much as he enjoys animals, it also seems he enjoys everything else at the zoo. With each step (or even half step) there was a fascinating rock, or leaf, or stick, or wall, or sign to stop and behold. He definitely has to poke any glass sign that lights up to see if it's a touch-screen monitor. We were inside the zoo for more than 20 minutes before actually getting to see any non-squirrel animals. We'd probably still be there sans animal sightings without occasional gentle nudging by his mom. 

This continued throughout our visit (and lest you misinterpret this, I loved every minute of it). Asher is even more fascinated by people (especially those close to his size) than rocks, sticks, leaves, and touch-screens. Asher almost didn't even see the huge grizzly bear that swam over and suddenly put its face six inches (including several inches of glass) in front of Asher's face. Asher was too busy noticing the little girl standing next to him. Same thing a little while later at the polar bear tank. The animals were coming close today. Including the monkeys. As crazy as Asher is about monkeys, even they had to compete for his attention with the stroller confined four-year-old little boy who didn't seem to appreciate that Asher kept calling him "baby."

In observing all this, I quickly realized two take-aways that interestingly are somewhat opposite each other:

1) How often do we miss some of the most important parts of life because we're so focused on less significant stuff? At a zoo you can see amazing animals that you rarely get to see any other time or anywhere else. Or you can be so focused on little things that you can see every day and everywhere to the point that you totally miss the amazing. Two-year-olds usually outgrow their fascination with rocks and leaves, but I imagine we've had more than one guy at our Seesalt or Chillipepper student conferences who missed out on a potentially life-changing face-to-face experience with God because their focus was on the girl sitting next to them. Sometimes we need to turn off the TV, take out the earbuds, disconnect the devices... They may be distracting us from experiencing much more amazing and important things.

At the same time...

2) How often do we go through life and miss the little everyday things along the way that can bring us enjoyment? Stop and smell the roses - or the rocks, leaves, sticks...  I need to finish writing a script in the next few days. It's a big undertaking. It's important. I'm often thinking about it even when I'm not writing it. But it's not so big and important that I can't enjoy rocks and sticks. Especially when I can enjoy them with one of my grandsons. Beyond our own enjoyment, paying attention to the little things can make a big difference in important ways.

Take as much or as little as you'd like from #1 or #2. Or even both. Experiences from the St. Louis Zoo are free.


Remembering Dr. Rust - Part 1


This seems to be a season of life in which many of my former "bosses" and/or mentors are passing on from this temporary life to the next eternal one.  A few weeks ago I got word that Dr. Ray P. Rust had died. Dr. Rust was executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention when I served there as associate director of the evangelism department. He is certainly among those at the very top of the list of great leaders with whom I've had the privilege of serving.  To say that I have long had the utmost respect for Dr. Rust is an understatement. 

I have forgotten everything about my official job interview with Dr. Rust except for one brief part. And I remember that one brief part like it was yesterday.  I might be off by a word or two, but I feel confident enough in my recollection to put the conversation in quotes.

After we had talked about a lot of other things, Dr. Rust said, "Bill, as you probably know there is a lot of division in our denomination right now with a lot of people choosing to be on one side or another.  I'm not out to hire people from just one side. In fact, I'm not even going to ask you what side you're on. All I want to know is - do you think you can work with all of our people no matter what side they're on?"  The magnitude of that attitude and question was immediately appreciated. This was a man I wanted to work for and hopefully get to know. I thought about my response, but I didn't have to think long. I simply replied, "Yes, sir, Dr. Rust. I believe I can do that."

As I said, I don't remember anything else about that day or about what I'm sure was a thorough and in-depth conversation. So I don't know if we then went on to talk about other things, or if he then offered me the job, or if he said he'd pray about it and get back to me, or whatever. As I'm writing this, I'm somewhat amazed that I don't even remember if I officially got hired that day, a few days later, or a couple of weeks later.  But I sure do remember his position, his question, and my answer.

In those days and these days when people were and are indeed quick to pick a side and see everyone else as opposition and even enemies, Dr. Rust had a desire and commitment to bring people together rather than drive them further apart. I think and hope I already had that same desire, but I took seriously my answer to him that day.  I remembered it as I interviewed and hired staff over the years. I remembered it as I worked with "our people" on both sides even when they sometimes had their own agendas that worked against the common goals that we hopefully shared. 

It has been many years since I've worked for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, but I'd like to think the wisdom of Dr. Rust has continued to help guide me. In our ministry and simply in my desire and mission as a Christian to serve and follow the Lord, "our people" has expanded. "Our people" are not all Baptist. In a larger sense, "our people," are not even all Christians or Americans or anything else. God calls us to love and serve all people - even our enemies who are not on our side. 

I think Dr. Rust understood that more than many did and do. He has already been missed and that will continue. We need more Dr. Rusts.

(I have other significant and fun remembrances of Dr. Rust that I will save for another post)

Birthday list

Every day our local newspaper has a birthday list of somewhat famous people. Kathy and I read the paper online during breakfast and often comment on whose birthday it is.
Bill: Jesus didn't make the list.
Kathy: He probably wasn't really born on December 25.
Bill: I know, but in parenthesis they could have said this is when his birthday is traditionally celebrated.
Kathy: They just put people on the list who are alive.
Bill: Well?
Kathy: You're right - he should be on the list.
Merry Christmas! And happy birthday to the one who has his own exclusive list!

What everybody doesn't really know/think/wish/etc.

Recently I’ve seen an increase of online articles with titles like “What Every Pastor / Christian / Husband / Wife / American / (or whoever) Knows / Wishes / Thinks / Believes / (or whatevers) About (Whatever” (feel free to fill in your own blanks).  This is not a comment on the content of the articles themselves, but mainly the titles and by association the presumptions that go with the posts.

 How can anyone presume to know the thoughts/wishes/desires/etc. of “Every Pastor” or “Every Christian” or “Every True American” or “Every Anybody” for that matter? If there’s one thing I think I know about pastors, it’s that they don’t all think the same way. Same for husbands, wives, Americans (True or False), Christians, Muslims, Southerners, Mid-Easterners… 

While not many people put such presumptous titles on their ideas, I wonder how many of us still assume that we speak for everybody else, or at least for everybody with which we want to identify or associate. Does stating that we speak for everybody else lend more weight or validity to our ideas? Or do we think/hope it makes more people more inclined to read what we write?

Maybe presuming to speak for whole groups of people has just become an accepted literary device. I hope not. I, for one, don’t want to accept it. Maybe more humble sounding titles won’t get as much attention or sound as important, but I’d rather see more posts with headings (and more importantly attitudes) like “What This One Christian/Pastor/Husband/Wife/American Thinks/Wishes/Believes/etc At This Moment About Whatever.”

Maybe it's just me.


Outdoor wedding.jpg

This was my view for a wedding recently. The picture doesn’t do it justice.  I’ve been in some of the most opulent man-made sanctuaries in the country and beyond, but none can compare with the natural sanctuary that God himself created. A good reminder that we shouldn’t try to limit God to our church buildings.

In Acts 17:22-27, Paul says “… I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

Perspective on a storm

Thunderstorms were in the forecast. As we were tearing down and packing up our last week of Seesalt, I stepped out on the auditorium loading dock and wondered if we were going to have to load the truck in pouring rain. About that time staff member Erica Peterson walked out and noticed the same dark clouds I was seeing. Her immediate reaction, spoken softly to herself but barely loud enough for me to overhear - “We get to see a rainbow!”

It was a perfect capsule summary of Erica and an attitude that I’ve reflected on often in the week since then. Thunderstorms come into all of our lives. God, help us not to be so worried about the rain that we forget that “We get to see a rainbow!”