Papaw’s In A Pickle


I called home yesterday to wish my grandparents a happy Valentines day.   My grandfather, who I’ve known my entire life as “Papaw,” is known much more for his ability to fix  things than his reliability at remembering special occasions such as Feb. 14.   So, I called him up, just to make sure he hadn’t forgotten.   After all, there have been more than fifty Valentines Day’s since he and Mamaw were married.

“Paw,” I said, (that’s short for Papaw in Alabama), “did you remember what today was?”

“Yea, I remembered.” He was less than enthusiastic.

“Well, did you get Mamaw anything?”

“No, not really.”

“Well, did you at least tell her you loved her?”   I willed him to answer yes.

“Son, I told her at least two or three times today.”   Whew!   That was a relief.   Long pause, then he continued.

“But I don’t think she believed me.”   Uh oh.   Sounds like trouble.

“Well,” I offered, “you better let me talk to her then.”   I heard some rumbling of the receiver and a faint “Hilda!”   A few  slow moments later, I heard her voice.


“Hey Maw.” (Again, short for – well I guess you got that now).   “Happy Valentines day.”

“Thank you sweetie!”   I was apparently still in good graces.   So I decided to cash in some of this equity to help out the old man.

“Papaw said he told you he loved you two or three times today.”

“Uh huh.”   She retorted.

“But he said you didn’t believe him.”   I waited for a moment.   Then came her response.

“Well,” she pondered aloud, “he lies a lot.”

Oh well. Sounds like my poor Papaw is in a pickle.   Next time, I may just have to help him out and send something on his behalf.   If you’re new to this blog, you can learn more about Papaw here.

A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose

rose.jpgThe advantage of running a blog with an incredibly small group of readers is that  I actually know  many of you.   I watch you day in and day out as you do life.   I  rejoice in your successes, and I share in your struggles, just as you share in mine.   So, this Valentines Day, allow me to share with you a profound piece of encouragement that has lifted me above my circumstances many times over the last few years.   You might  have heard  the song by Susan Ashton.   If not, you need to.   Check it out when you can.   In the mean time, keep reading and remember you are made in God’s image.

“A Rose Is A Rose”
Written by Wayne Kirkpatrick

You’re at a stand still. You’re at an endpass.
Your mountain of dreams seems harder to climb.
By those who have made you feel like an outcast.
‘Cause you dare to be different. So they’re drawing a line.

They say you’re a fool. They feed you resistance.
They tell you you’ll never go very far.
But they’ll be the same ones that stand in the distance
Alone in the shadow of your shining star.

Just keep on the same road, and keep on your toes.
Just keep your heart steady as she goes.
And let them call you what they will.
It don’t matter. A rose by any name is still a rose.

The kindess of strangers, it seems like a fable.
But they’ve yet to see what I see in you.
That you can make it if you are able
To believe in yourself the way I do.

Just keep on the same road, and keep on your toes.
Just keep your heart steady as she goes.
And let them call you what they will.
It don’t matter. A rose by any name is still a rose.

‘Cause a deal is a deal in the heart of a dream,
And a spade is a spade if you know what I mean.
And a rose is a rose is a rose.

To deal with the scoffers, that’s part of the bargain.
They heckle from back rows, and they bark at the moon.
But their flowers are fading in Time’s bitter garden,
And your’s is only beginning to bloom.

So keep on the same road, and keep on your toes.
And just keep your heart steady as she goes.
And let them call you what they will,
And remember a rose by any name is still a rose.

A rose by any name is still a rose.

Should I Wear A Dress To Church?

As my family and I were discussing whether or not we should move to the Sunday PM Worship service at our church, my nine-year-old daughter asked if she would be required to wear a dress?   (Currently, Sunday mornings are for dresses, while choir on Sunday night calls for more casual attire.)

My daughter’s delima (as it turns out) was rooted in her belief that the Bible explicitly commands us to dress  our best  when we go to church.   So I posed the following question to my wife . . .

Why are we to dress our best when we go to church?

Her reply . . .

“Our bodies are God’s temple.   We should treat them accordingly.   This also means dressing our best and being holy before God.”

To which I offered . . .

“But John the Baptist was holy, and he looked like crap.”

Her [final] response:

“Yes. But I’m not John the Baptist’s mother.”

Next Sunday, I guess we’re all wearing a dress to church.

A Christmas Oops – Pass the Biscuits

blogbiscuits.jpgThere we were, gathered around the breakfast table on Christmas Eve.   It was a wonderful scene.   Mom in her kerchief,  I in my cap . . . Well, it wasn’t exactly story-book perfect, but it was nice.   My mom and grandparents were with us as we shared a tasty breakfast of Biscuit, gravy, sausage and eggs.  

But along with the smells of holiday goodness was an air of tension.   The baby was crying, dishes were clinking, and the kitchen was generally a  flurry of activity.   My wife was dutifully trying to tend to the needs of my family,  making this, serving that, and all with a smile.   But I could see the frustration in her eyes.   The pressures of having company,  making breakfast  with someone else cooking in her kitchen, and dealing with all the hustle and bustle of loud . . . very loud  children were all catching up with her.

blogbillybob.jpgNow, my wife is a great cook.   She is especially good  with  homemade biscuits.   With just a little flour and milk and (well,  I’m not sure what else goes in there)   she can produce fluffy goodness  that  could make Billy Bob  Thornton lay down his mustard.   Hmmmmm.   Alright then.

She’s also great with gravy.   White, thick, and yum yum good.   But I could tell this wasn’t her gravy.   It was still good.     But it was more like “Mamaw-used-to-make-it” good.   So I asked, and sure enough.   My grandmother had insisted on making the  gravy.   I sensed that perhaps my wife was a little disappointed at not having the chance to prove her gravy savvy.

Knowing that  she  would also have been anxious about her biscuits, I decided to put her anxieties to rest.   After all, I’m just that kind of guy.  

“Wow, honey.   These are absolutely the BEST biscuits you’ve ever made!”

There was an instant hush around the table. Clearly, everyone else knew something that I did not. After sharing unnerving glances with everyone around me, I said as intelligently as possible, “What?”

God bless my mother for the saint she is.   She still  takes care of  me, after all these years.   But sometimes even she can’t save me from myself.   With a gentle touch and an almost silent whisper, she  shared with me  what I really wish I had known five seconds before.

“They’re  frozen biscuits.”

Oh, I see.   My wife  hung her head.   My oldest daughter giggled under her breath.   My grandmother looked at me like the  goofus I was.   And my grandfather just prayed for me in his own way.   As for me, I said the only thing I could have said in a moment such as this.

“Well, pass the biscuits.”

I think I’m on the naughty list.   Nonetheless . . .

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Some Things Never Change

I wrote the following post this Summer.   Why I never posted it, I’m not sure.     Must have been the  heat.   It does things to me . . .  

From July 2007:

Remember Vacation Bible School?   Remember those hot summer days  squirming in the pew sporting a Kool Aid mustache?    Remember  counting light fixtures while the preacher  droned out  Bible stories and took up money?   (Yes, even then).   Ah, those were the days.   How much we learned!   The Pledge of Allegiance, The Christian Pledge, the Pledge to the Bible, the Pledge to  Bear Bryant  . . . ok, maybe that was just an Alabama thing.  

Even now, some 25 years later, I am still taking my children to Vacation Bible School.   And while the music is louder, the games are cooler, and most kids are walking around with iPods, some things have remained solidly the same.    The Bible is still “God’s  Holy Word.”   Jesus is still offering everlasting life. And prayer changes things.   Which brings me to the real subject of this post, my daughter.      

girls.jpgAt eight*, she is my oldest.   She accepted Christ at the early age of five, which was young I thought.   But she was  precocious and clearly understood fully what she was doing.   Since then, she has epitomized child-like faith for my wife and me.   Her commitment to Jesus is pure and profound. She is an inspiration.

Today, she discretely pulled me aside and asked that I pray specifically for  her younger (five year old) sister.   “Today,” she said, “is a very special day.”    Of course  I pressed for further clarification (I am Baptist, after all and find it much easier to pray for people when I have ALL the juicy details).   She would not offer more,  but just insisted that I pray for her sister.   Then, as a parting note, offered this one small clue.

“Our theme verse today is Romans 10:9.”   With that, she  hurried to her class.

While you might not find the reference familiar, those of you who are believers will no doubt recognize the verse:

“That if you confess with your mouth,’Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9 (NIV)

It suddenly occurred to me that my daughter was praying for her sister’s salvation.   She was also enlisting me to do the same.   My  eight year old daughter saw the spiritual potential in the message her sister would hear that day.   She also remembered her own experiences as a five year old.   Therefore, she invoked the most powerful tool any of us carry as a Christian, prayer.

I began praying for my children before they were born.   But I was not prepared emotionally for the reality that they would one day grow up to pray for one another.   I am confident God will answer my daughter’s prayers.   I am confident that in her own time, my youngest daughter will no doubt come to depend on God’s saving grace as much as the rest of us.   But I am humbled at the faithfulness of my child and her unconditional commitment to prayer for the salvation of her sister.

*McKenzie is now nine years old.   She is still strong in her faith, and she still prays for her sister.

** Photo by Jadie Thomas, Jadie Thomas Photography

Oh, brother!

Oh, brother!Being an only child, I must say I take great delight in watching my three children love and tolerate one another. This picture says it all.

I can see wonderful things in our future. Oh, yes.

Remember . . .

I forgot this today.   So here it is,   just in case you did too.

Matthew 6: 31-34

So do not worry, saying,’What shall we eat?’ or’What shall we drink?’ or’What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.   But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Converstations with an 18 year old Agnostic

A few weeks ago, I was chatting online with a young man in England. Our topic was a specific piece of software. However, God had other plans. As I shared that I was building a new website for my church, the young man began to ask questions . . . very tough questions.   But these questions reveal, I believe, what is going through the minds of many students and young adults all over the world.

We spoke on a number of occasions.   There was no debating.   No arguing.   Only two people openly discussing God, the world, and ourselves.   Below is a compilation from our chats (I changed his name of course). I share these with you to illustrate that sometimes even the toughest of questions can be directly answered with the simple truth of God’s love and faithfulness.


Richard: so, your quite religious?

Me: Not religious.
Just a Christian. Big difference.

Richard: same difference?

Me: My “religion” isn’t what makes me a Christian.

Going to church, being this, being that.
Those things are important. But I don’t worship them.

In this part of the country, it’s common to see people blur that distinction.

My relationship with Jesus makes me who I am. That’s it. So, semantics aside . . .

Richard: lol sorry, i was just curious

Me: You bet. Anytime. You?

Richard: I’m baptized, but agnostic

Me: odd combination?

Richard: very
I was christened as a baby

Me: I see. Catholic?

Richard: Protestant

Me: Hmmm.

Richard: but, I see a lot of confliction in the bible
and there is a lot of bad for all the good in the world.

9 out of 10 wars are sparked due to differences in religion.

look at Iraq, Northern Ireland etc.

Catholics vs. Protestants, Shia vs. Sunni, Christians vs. Muslims

Me: It’s been going on since Genesis, hasn’t it?

Richard: that doesn’t make it right.

I can see that faith gives people great strength and I think that life on earth must have a greater meaning and purpose than our daily existence because if you think about it no-one on earth knows why we are here, what we are doing; our purpose.

no-one knows what is outside the universe. you only have those that believe in something better or worse and those who reject or dont know believers, atheists and agnostic in between

Me: Can I ask how old you are?

Richard: 18

Me: These are great insights. I questioned the same things when I was eighteen.

And nineteen.

And twenty.

I’m 33 now. Still thinking about those.

Here’s the difference. I think you’re right that clearly there’s more to it. Something greater than ourselves. Something else . . .

But I feel that humanity is a little arrogant. We tend to assume that we are capable of finding purpose in everything.

Why cancer?

Why this? Why that?

War, even in the name of religion. What’s up with that?

But in the end, it’s my own soul, my own self that I can truly do something about. So many of these things we discuss are products of either a lack of God or a misrepresentation of God.

Would you agree with that?

Richard: i think that its very easy to shift the blame.
Its easy to say that God has left the middle east to rot, but I also think that people are made vulnerable by religious belief as much as it strengthens

Me: Perhaps it’s our vulnerability that allows us to do our greatest work in the world? Weakness might not be a bad thing. It is after all strength that leads to power that leads to abuse of power.

Richard: look at religious extremists

Me: Do you feel that they speak for religion as a whole?

Richard: no

Me: They do. [of course I mean they think they do]

Richard: of course not

Me: That’s what is sad.

Richard: extremists? they misrepresent it

Me: Exactly.
As do many of us on a daily basis.

Richard: and this is made worse by the media

Me: Amen to that. Then point is, so many people make decisions about their belief in God, or God’s involvement in their life based on people around them.

Richard: to backtrack slightly, would you not agree that extremists exploit the weaknesses in religious believers to build armies?

Me: People who may or may not be a true representation of who God is. That is a common tactic among all civilizations. I would agree with that.

But does that mean that we should not worship God? Or that we should learn more about Him (who warns us that there are many who would lead us astray) Those people are”religious” . . . they are easily led astray. Furthermore, their problems are more geo-political

Richard: but how can you learn more about God? you cant profess to know his way

Me: I can seek it. Sure.

Richard: for all we know the bible could be the most successful hoax for 2007 years

Me: Ah. Now we come to the heart of the matter. Again, something I’ve wrestled with a lot.

I’ve just gone through a quick introduction study to Islam and the Koran. The main problem of any religion is the validity of its written word. The muslim book of faith is riddled with problems. (historically)

However, one might say the same about the Bible. Who knows what things went on in the Cannonization process, political or otherwise?

But here’s the cool part. Faith. The Bible says it’s the evidence of things not seen. I can’t prove the Bible’s validity. I’m not smart enough. But I can prove what God has done in my life. I was there.

Richard: what has he done?

Me: He has watched over me and cared for me. He has given me a wonderful family, a loving home.

He has taken me through trials, through loss, abuse. I don’t have one of those Oprah stories for you. Mine’s not glamorous. But it’s real. And it’s built on a life of serving someone greater than me. Even when I didn’t deserve it. So, I don’t base my faith, my belief in what I see. I base it on what I believe.

We pretend to KNOW a lot of things. Yet, my RSS reader tells me often how we NOW KNOW something to be different than we once KNEW it. So, how much do we REALLY know about anything.

Not that we shouldn’t learn. I love science, and discovery. I love learning about the miracles all around us. I hope you keep asking the questions we’re talking about. Because I truly believe that one day, when you find what you believe to be a solid answer that answer will be in God, not in religious people . . . good or bad.

They (me included) will ALWAYS let you down.

No excuses.

No blame shifting.

Just reality. But God, He’s better than that.

Oh, and one more thing. The Bible (which I believe to be perfect in spite of man’s involvement in it) says this about knowing what God wants.

Don’t conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may PROVE the perfect will of God. That which is perfect, and honorable, and pure.

In other words, when I am able to see all the crap of this world through God’s eyes, then I’ll begin to understand my place here on Earth.

Know what’s funny? So much is made about our place, our souls. But when you look at all the stories in the Bible, you rarely see God working on a time frame less than a few centuries. It was a knock to my ego, but I finally realized that while the things I do on this Earth are crucial to God’s plan, I may honestly never live to see the value of what I’ve done. (Which I guess is why He’s so big on obedience and faith).

OK, I’ll hush now. Don’t mean to preach.

Richard: so hang on
1. you know gods game plan
2. What have you done that you may not see the value of?

Me: Good Q’s.

3. You think that god may be having a nap right now in between saving the world?

1. I daily seek God’s plan, and He promised that I can find it. But it is a process.
A lifelong process.
2. Having this conversation, perhaps.
3. God’s plan is much bigger than you or I. He already “saved” the world. We just keep screwing it up.

That’s the easiest and yet hardest thing to understand about God. Free will. He could force us to love Him. To obey Him. But we were created with free will. Which means we have the choice not to obey, not to seek, or even not to believe. And so . . . we need saving.

But that doesn’t mean an end to struggle. Honestly, the Bible tells us it will only get worse. Eutopia is not to be found here. If we choose to follow Him, He uses us to advance His perfect will.

If we choose otherwise, well then we (and the world around us) must deal with the consequences or our actions.

But make no mistake. God doesn’t sleep.

If He did, I doubt you or I would be having this converstation. After all, just because we can’t see His hand working in our lives doesn’t mean it isn’t.

Richard: well, you were talking about the arrogance of humanity earlier. lets twist this. by answering my questions, you profess to know the answers. you seem to know your purpose. but — surely you are just relaying what others have told you or what you have read / picked up . . . and if not — then you’ve made it up

Me: lol

Richard: talk about a pincer manouver. let me develop this

Me: I’m listening.

Richard: you believe that when you die (as a catholic christian) that you will go to heaven or hell, is that right? or is it purgatory then heaven? one goes one way

Me: I’m not Catholic. But otherwise, yes. Heaven or Hell.

Richard: so, if you’ve been a naughty boy you get red hot pokers and tea with saddam or if you’ve been good you get to play the harp on cloud 9

Me: Nope. But thanks for playing. Let me clarify. It’s not about naughty or nice. Good or bad. We’re all bad. All naughty. Bible says . . . there is not one righteous, no not one. So what makes the difference? Jesus.

Richard: repentance?

Me: Exactly. Now, repentance means turning “from” right?

Richard: I know the story

Me: Sure.Good. But, what happens when we’ve turned “from” so many times our head is spinning?

I mean, let’s get real. I’m not perfect, and haven’t been for a long time.

But everyday, I get up and try to simply obey what I know about what God wants. (As He tells me in his Word, right?) It’s the grace and mercy of Jesus that puts me playing that harp on that cloud, or whatever. Not my success in being good.

As I stated earlier, people will always let you down. It’s the Jesus inside of them that you can count on. Does that help answer that question?

Richard: no. because if every person has jesus inside them, or at least every believer, then why will they let you down?

Me: Good question. We’re still human. Jesus doesn’t take over like night of the living dead. When we give our lives to Him, we commit what we do to His glory. But we still have free will. If we could be perfect, we wouldn’t need Him in the first place.

Richard: ok — so do you think that if everyone converted to christianity then the world would be a perfect place? global warming would stop, cancer would disappear? AIDS would fade out?

Me: Nah. We missed that boat in the Old Testament. God created a perfect world. Then we disobeyed and messed it all up.

what do you think of this? [reader: we discuss this later if you want to take a look]

Hang on and I’ll check out that link. But first, let me finish my thought before it drifts away.

There are things, problems, that we created for ourselves, environmental, medical, whatever. These things are consequences of our own actions.

I know some who have “converted” to Christianity who might not be doing their part to make the world a better place. Again, my faith isn’t in people.

I know we could argue theory all day long, but God isn’t working with theory. I think honestly that if everyone on the planet walked with God the way He intended, the world would obviously be a different place. At this point, I’m not sure even Al Gore can stop global warming.

Now, let me look at that link (and by the way, I never said I knew the answers. I’m sharing what I believe to be true. Everyone believes something. And sure I’m telling you what I’ve learned from others. How else would I know it than by study and instruction?) Remind me to tell you about a comment on my blog not too long ago.

[after returning from reading link]

Wildly entertaining read. Very good. Again, the arrogance of religion to say that everyone BUT them is going to Hell.

But, then who goes? Endothermic vs. Ectothermic battle aside, Hell is real.

As is Heaven.

Although I doubt anyone is drinking tea or playing harps at either location. As good as that quote is, it amplifies a sad truth.

The Bible does clearly say, Got Jesus? Going to Heaven.

The problem is sin. I just screws up everything. Things like pride and fear get mixed in, and suddenly you’ve got a bunch of Christians who are supposed to be sharing God’s love dishing out nothing but hatred.

That’s not good. For any religion.

I can’t deny that those without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ will sadly spend eternity in Hell. I also can’t deny that I, because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, will not.
You still with me?

right, but again, how can you know all of this? how can you know that hell exists? same goes for heaven? there is no conclusive evidence. you can only believe that they are there.

Me: How can you know that chair you’re sitting in won’t fall over in the next 60 seconds?

Richard: physics

Me: You may understand that. But most don’t

Richard: I put the chair together, I know that its firmly bolted together

Me: What if you didn’t make the chair?

Richard: gravity from the earths core is holding it to the ground

Me: What if you had no concept of the physics and gravitation force? What if you’re like the several billion people on the planet who simply believe that the chair will keep them off the floor?

Richard: but the point is, that there is conclusive evidence that supports the laws of physics, extensive theories that have been commonly accepted

Me: So, do you believe in anything you can’t prove?

Richard: wheras . . . hang on . . . thats a twisted and loaded question . . .give me a second to think about it

Me: true, but a good one.

Richard: simply because you cant prove something does not mean that its not there but you shouldnt use that fact as justification to say that something exists

Me: Have you ever seen Saturn? With your own eyes?

Richard: no

Me: So, you believe it based on what someone else told you? Maybe pictures?

Richard: no. out of context, I have no idea that its there. without contextual knowledge, there is no proof that its there

Me: So, it’s not there?

Richard: you’ve laid a good trap

Me: No trap.

Richard: saturn is there, but I personally havent seen it

Me: Just asking a question. You’ve asked me to prove the existence of Heaven.

Me: I haven’t seen.

Richard: someone else has done the legwork of discovering it

Me: I’ve read about it.

Richard: but you cant compare saturn to heaven

Me: Why not?

Richard: because millions of people have seen saturn

Me: No, sir.

Richard: through telescopes etc.

Me: They have seen what they believe to be Saturn, what they have called Saturn. They used to call Pluto a planet.

They used to think the world was flat.

What will they “see” a hundred years from now.

All we truly ever have is what we believe. The confidence in those around us to tell us truthful information. The willingness to believe there could be something more. They are all beliefs.

I believe in Heaven because I believe in the Bible. I believe in the Bible because it’s the word of God.

I believe in God because I believe in God.

I have found Him to be faithful. I have found Him to be true. I have tested His Word. And while He is not a Circus Act that I can call on to make magic, He is most willing to move mountains for me. Even if I can’t see them, still I believe.

Know what else? It’s my weakness that makes Him strong. How weird is that?

The second I stop trying to do everything on my own and start relying on Him to direct the course of my life, my reliance on Him, my acknowledgment of His power, not mine, that’s what stirs action in my life.

It’s not something you’re going to find with Google, Richard.

Richard: lol i know. ok, but what happens if you die and nothing happens? can you remember what happened before you were born?

Me: I’m kind of glad I don’t. Seems like that would have been dark and messy. But I get your point.

lol. I dont mean in the womb

Me: I know.

Richard: I mean before you were conceived

Me: Dude, I’m just a man.

Richard: Before you arrived _here_ I know — but, if you cant remember anything before

Me: I’m only responsible for what I do from the birth canal to the grave.

Richard: how can you be so sure that there is going to be an after? this is what plagues me

Me: I see that.

Richard: in the beginning there was nothing and in the end … there will be nothing?

Me: Let me think of something profound . . .stand by, this may take a minute.

Richard: ok

Me: I’ve abandoned the profound . . I’m now searching Google. (jk)

My wife and I just had a baby boy. He looks just like me.

This leads my mother to tell me story after story about what I did at that age. I used to do this, I used to do that. I don’t remember ANY of it. But it happened.

Was I supposed to remember it? Couldn’t. Didn’t have the brain capacity, the processing power, the retention abilities yet. It was bigger than me. But it happened.And it was great. And without it, I would have been deprived.

I can’t remember pre-birth. Dude, I don’t even know how that works in Heaven. I’m not told.

But I’m told about Heaven AFTER life. I haven’t seen it. But, for all the knowledge, all the study, all the time spent in those message boards searching for how to get rollovers to work in Safari . . . we are nothing without our believe in something.

Can’t prove that. But life will teach you that. As it is teaching me.


These are (as I mentioned) ongoing conversations.   They happen in the midst of other topics like computers, family, divorce, the military.   To my knowledge, this young man remains undecided on God.   However, I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to answer some of his questions, and I pray for more.

Sir William and Prince Charles

homeless_bridge.jpgNot long ago I met Sir William and Prince Charles. It was an honor for me as I rarely meet men of their station. Of course it is not for lack of opportunity. Both William and Charles spend most of their time just a few miles from where I call home. If I were to visit them, however, they would not invite me in. I would be given no tour of their guest wing. I would see no king-sized bed, no portraits of great ancestors, no walls upon which to hang them.

Neither William nor Charles have a home. They reside rather among the streets of Downtown Nashville. William is 52. He has just been released from the hospital where doctors recently removed his appendix and portions of his pancreas. He is no stranger to hospitals. His life on the streets came just after a fall from a three story building shattered his right heel. He was working then. He is not now. In fact, he hasn’t for three years. With no income and suffering from severe health problems, this man who grew up the son of a defense contract executive is now walking through the night just to stay warm.

Charles plays the saxophone, tenor and baritone. He is charismatic and well spoken. He is a diesel mechanic and an electrician. And he is also homeless.

As I talked with Charles and William, I found it hard to understand why they were on the streets. These seemed to be reasonably intelligent men. They had education. They had verbal skills. But just because I can’t understand a reality doesn’t make it less so. In that reality, there  are most likely two histories that are full of issues I could never truly understand, circumstances I could never comprehend unless I lived them.

During dinner, Charles talked a great deal. William contributed from time to time in his quiet, gentle way. Together with my friend Jeff, we shared a few laughs and a great meal with these and other gentlemen. Then we left.

Both William and Charles knew they would likely never see us again, and so they thanked us for our hospitality and kindness.

Jeff and I didn’t speak about this to one another. But we could both tell what the other was thinking. How does it get this far gone? What about family? What about government programs? What about churches? What about . . . me?

There are some who would make homelessness a political issue. The liberal might cast a vote for federal government programs designed to jump-start these men back into economic and/or social readiness. The conservative might stress the importance of local involvement and individual awareness, offering up faith-based initiatives as a better alternative.

The liberal might offer that we should do everything we can to get these men off the streets or at least out of the cold. The conservative might agree, but remind the liberal that more of these men should help themselves.

But while the two are struggling to right the wrongs of society through policy, William continues to walk through the night to stay warm. Charles continues to migrate from state to state working to save enough money to settle down in a location of his choosing, all the while trying not to spend his hard-earned money of needless expenses like shelter.

There’s a quote that is sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill:

“If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”

I wonder when it comes to issues like homelessness where in that spectrum I fall. That’s when I remember the words of the volunteer who stayed with these men that night after my friend and I left for our homes. “Remember,” he said. “These guys don’t need you to fix their problems. Most of the time, they just want to be warm, fed, and . . .”

catch this . . .

“to carry on a conversation with someone who will listen.”

Later, after a lengthy conversation regarding our favorite authors, William confirmed these words. “It’s so nice,” he said, ” to carry on an intelligent conversation with someone who cares.”

That’s when I realized why I was there. It was not to gain insight into the problems of social policy. It was not to fix anything for William and Charles, to find them jobs, or to set right the wrongs they had suffered or even inflicted. Instead, I was there to be a friend on a night when there was no one else.

Sometimes, a problem is so big that we never get started trying to fix it. So that night, I decided to start by not trying to fix anything. Instead, I put social stigmas aside. I laid down my prejudices and had conversations with two men that the day before might have never crossed my mind. These were not homeless men, they were just men. They could have just as easily been royalty.

And so it is that Jeff and I spent our Monday evening having a wonderful dinner with two truly wonderful gentlemen. Good luck to you, Sir William and Prince Charles. I do hope to see you both again soon.