A Short Tongue with a Long Lesson

Contradictions. Counterintuitive. These words described my wonderings as I tried to learn a new skill. It was a crazy thing. I was trying to learn how to back-up a trailer with a short tongue.

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Now that’s a short tongue!

I had built the trailer from a kit so I could haul my eleven-foot inflatable fishing boat to favorite fishing spots. Backing it up never came to mind as a difficulty. Until I tried it. Embarrassed by the difficulty I had on my first attempt, I was convinced that everyone watching me try to back down the boat ramp at my favorite lake surely thought I was an incompetent idiot.

Then I discussed this with one of our sons-in-law. He affirmed that to back-up a trailer with a short tongue is a challenge. That was comforting, but I had to learn how to back-up my trailer.

There are videos on YouTube and elsewhere on how to master this talent. I watched several. One important approach was repeated more than once; I had to adopt that method. It was to steer from the bottom of the steering wheel, not the top. When backing up a trailer with a longer tongue, you can successfully steer from the top; simply turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction you want the trailer to turn. A snap. I tried that with my short tongue trailer and nearly jack-knifed the trailer numerous times.

I had to practice. One afternoon I hooked up the trailer and drove to the outer areas of the parking lot of a nearby Farm and Fleet. Again, I was convinced that the few people watching me trying to back-up that trailer were certainly wondering what I was doing, maybe even thinking about calling the police. I didn’t care. I had to master this. I lost count of the number of times I pulled forward and backed up that trailer. I talked to myself about that key point – “steer from the bottom of the steering wheel, not the top. Turn the same direction you want the trailer to turn.”

Slowly I began to get it. Doing the opposite thing of what I had learned about backing up trailers was the key. “Amazing,” I said to myself; steering from the bottom of the wheel, turning in the same direction I wanted the trailer to turn, made all the difference. It worked!

As I drove home from the Farm and Fleet parking lot, I once again discovered that God is active in every aspect of our lives. I’m reading James Bryan Smith’s book, The Magnificent Journey right now, and I was reminded again of this exciting reality when I read these words:

        51BxCbwfauL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_ - Copy“But what happens if we understand grace to be God’s action in our lives? We then live each day, each moment, in the expectation that God will act. We open the possibility that every aspect of our life – from gardening to parenting to our vocation (may I add learning to back up a short-tongue trailer) – is an opportunity for God to interact with us.” (James Bryan Smith, The Magnificent Journey, IVP  Books, 2018, page 31)

As I drove home, I thought of things Jesus said that are so counterintuitive. God blesses those who are humble. God blesses those who show mercy to others. Getting even? Jesus said, if someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Do to others what you would like them to do to you. Counterintuitive!

Jesus contradicted what we are commonly told will light up our lives and give us rest and peace. You know the often hollow promises of our culture. Consider Jesus’ contradictions.

    >Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

   >Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

   >Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

Steer your life by the counterintuitive adventure of following Jesus, that frequently contradicts familiar advice. While learning to back up my short tongue trailer I learned that what may seem not to make sense, may steer you in the right direction.

Visiting My Roots

Recently Mary and I ventured south on a Sunday morning to Tremont, Illinois, the town where I grew up. Tremont Turkey FestivalIt was the 54th annual Tremont Turkey Festival, with carnival rides, craft tents, car show, the longtime staple of turkey legs, turkey sandwiches and trimmings and, on that Sunday morning, the Community Worship Service where I had been asked to be the speaker. I was honored to do so.

Shawn Dagenhart, President of GospelFest Ministries, led us in a meaningful time of worship. Shawn is a gifted music publisher, writer, arranger, orchestrator, well known in that area, and he drew a crowd. Following the service, Mary and I visited with some family members and a few of my High School classmates. One friend reminded me of the time we were supposed to be working on a school project but ended up playing with my ham radio instead. A woman recalled that I had baptized her 42 years ago. Lucille, a member of the church I served in Delavan, Illinois, is now 98 years old and told us she is still volunteering at a nearby hospital.

I missed my cousin, Terry. He died unexpectedly last October and surely would have been there. Terry’s brother and sister-in-law and I visited briefly, feeling sad about Terry’s absence. More than 50 years ago, Terry and I walked those carnival grounds as workers set up the rides. One of the workers asked us if we would find them some striped paint. Another asked if we would please get them a left-handed monkey wrench. We were young and naive but not that dumb. But it was a memory on those grounds where I had now come to invite people to inhale God’s grace.

From the worship tent, we made our way, with my sister, my mother and a couple great-nephews, to the large park shelter where the famous, and delicious, turkey meat was being served. And we wisely chose not to resist another Turkey Festival tradition, strawberry shortcake.

It was in Tremont that my parents went to High School, dated, fell in love and got married in nearby Pekin at a pastor’s home. At the Tremont Baptist Church, I was nurtured and made an early profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and it was there I preached my first sermon. My dad was a respected businessman in Tremont for many years in that small town whose population, for as long as I can remember, hovered around 2000. He was trusted for his good work and for always treating people fairly. I’ve admired his courageous decision to leave the steady income of Caterpillar, after carrying a lunch bucket for only six weeks, saying he just didn’t want to do that for the long haul. He stepped into what eventually became his own business where he sold gas and repaired and sold cars. Through his hard work and good reputation, he provided comfortably for our family. His dad, my grandpa, had been the oldest continued Shell dealer out of the Chicago area, on the same location.

These are my roots. It was good to be in touch with them again. In many ways that day, we inhaled grace and exhaled gratitude.

Having risen early that morning, Mary and I were tired as we arrived home later that afternoon with my 95-year-old mother, who would be staying with us for a couple weeks. She sighed as we put her to bed. As I pulled the covers up on her I said to her, “you’ve had a big day.”

“It was a good day,” she responded with an emphasis on good. It was a good day. In only moments, she was asleep.