Friday, March 19, 2021

The Rewards of Real Risk in High School Fishing

It was exciting to get in our national championship rings this past week for our fishing team. I am still trying to wrap my head around what has happened in the 8 years since we started the program. 

We have had a state championship, three BASS national championships in a row (3 peat), we have had 8 anglers move on to fish in college, a two time All-American, and had the only two anglers in high school history to ever compete in the Bassmaster's Classic. Last weekend, we had a junior high team win a trophy for the 1st time in school history. 

The journey has extended beyond my imagination- we have produced a book, a tv series, I have had the honor of fishing with Brent Chapman, Jimmy Houston, and Hank Parker's TV shows. We have been honored guests twice at the BASS Night of Champions where I had the opportunity to meet Johnny Morris, CEO of Bass Pro Shops and have been the guest of vendors like Shimano and Hummingbird.

And I am thankful for the help of elite pros Aaron Martens and Randy Howell along the way along with a host of corporate sponsors and the mentorship/friendship of Doyle Powell, an industry known marketer and promoter of all things fishing!

I was in a conversation with a potential sponsor early this year and he mentioned that we had become the 'national brand of high school fishing' and the line just stopped me in my tracks. Then his next question is the one that I had to think about for almost two months now.

He asked me, 'What has been the biggest surprise and unexpected reward of starting the fishing program?"

I stumbled through it and gave some jumbled thoughts... to be honest, everything has been a surprise!

But the more I thought through it, the more I began to see the MOST surprising and rewarding aspect of high school fishing.

At first, I thought about the purity of the people... it is a grass roots God, country, fishing community- salt of the earth folks who put Bible verses on their jerseys right next to the flag.

I also thought about the healthiness of the competition. Though all of theses anglers want to beat one another, they also cheer and help one another. It has been refreshing to  see how much the college fishermen come back to help their old high school team mates.

And I considered the pleasant surprise of the quality and success of the female anglers and the immediate acceptance by the guys. We had two girls become the first female team to ever win a regional in the state of Alabama and no one cheered harder than our guys who the girls had just beaten!

But by far.... the BIGGEST surprise has been the benefits I have observed as young men and women assume real risk in their lives and what they learn by managing that risk.

We have had our hearts torn in two by tragedy on the water or in travel.... we personally know anglers who have been killed in boating accidents, truck accidents, as well as a host of extremely dangerous situations that quickly became life and death moments.

In every one of those instances, there was an incredible amount of evaluation and review of safety protocols, but not once does the community ask for the sport to be taken away. The fishing community understands that you can't risk proof life- and the assumption of that risk, has an unexpected fruit in the life of a young person.

here are a few thoughts:

RESPONSIBILITY

Our two time All-American, Tucker Smith is now fishing for Auburn University. I remember a tournament at Lake Martin his junior year where he brought his boat to a lake house we were using the night before. 

We already had 4 boats in a circle and there was a small opening for Tucker to put his boat and trailer in the mix and still leave room for traffic. 

Tucker jumped in his truck, started it up, and slowly backed his boat into a spot that left no room for error. This wasn't the naive overconfidence of a 17 year old who didn't know any better, this was a young man who was skilled in handling this moment and his boat.

I have watched kids grow in their responsibility when exposed to risk. They take care, they wash and clean, they organize, they secure..... and they are aware of the potential harm and value of the equipment.

RUGGEDNESS

Launching or trailering a boat is not for the weak. It takes courage, calculating decisions, and effort to get it on and off the ramp, often in the presence of onlookers and others who need you to be skilled and efficient.

Fishing risk isn't just life threatening... it can be painful. Every time a treble hook is cast or removed from a fish means that the anglers themselves are vulnerable to being hooked as well! Over the years, we have had hooks in the hands, the feet, heads, and even an eye one time! Anglers often have calloused hands and wind burned faces.

They have bloody shins from truck hitches, and paper cuts from tight flouro fishing lines! A high school angler is proud of a sandpaper thumb.... it means they have had a great day!

READINESS

When a young person deals with real risk, it also produces a readiness to face anxious situations. I was fishing with one of my anglers one day when a fierce storm developed right on top of us. The sky began to crack and the waves started rolling. In a calm sense of urgency, my teen partner pulled up the trolling motor,  cranked the big motor, attached the kill switch to his life jacket, and steered us quickly into an open boathouse.

When the home owner came out to check on who was in his boathouse, this young man was outstanding in apologizing, and asking if it was ok for us to hide out from the storm. It ended up being a great conversation between all of us.

For me, readiness is also a spiritual condition. I really haven't found an angler who doesn't tangibly know there is a Creator and most of them understand that every day is one that is on the precipice of eternity. It is easier to talk about Christ and salvation with fishermen.... and many, many of them readily embrace Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

REVERENCE AND RESPECT

Grayson Morris is another one of our highly decorated anglers. He is a two time National Champion and has had a terrific start to his college career, I listened to Grayson on a national podcast about fishing, and was so impressed by his reverence for the sport and the respect he commands now as a confident and accomplished young man.

He has always had that 'knack' or the 'it factor' to land a BIG fish - but he has also shown a great respect for the water. When our veteran young anglers take me out in a boat, I feel more safe with them than many adults I ride with. 

JT Russell is a three peat National Champion boat captain and a terrific tournament fisherman in his own right, and he would run his boat on plane in very shallow water without being reckless.

Yes, these anglers face REAL risk, it is a sport with great liability- but learning to live responsibly in the margins of that risk produces young men and women with confidence and reverence.

I worry that some young people today are never challenged like this... and fear/anxiety dominates their days. If we raise them in bubbles, we never get to walk with them through boo boos.

The risk is real, the pain is real, the tragedy is shocking.... but life was meant to be lived in the face of danger, not running from it at all times.

There is a balance here.... and much here can be misunderstood- but a risk free life, in my opinion, is not real living.

Catch our Fishing Team on the Web:

WINNING EDGES:

June harvest: https://youtu.be/XQeFIbJ8uow

Carson Miller: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHYJMXQhK-E&t=82s

Tucker Smith: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BbU2KSLJc0

Grayson Morris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok51WA2FWYM

JT Russell/ David Scharf: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BPdaa0JFh0&t=136s

and many more at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCONyjiaRy4BHJHwW_jJhRLg/videos

 

SEEK ONE:

Tucker and Grayson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=as0SZfb5Vcw&t=93s

 

BRENT CHAPMAN’S PRO VS JOE:

Jack Flemming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L654Ez6jUJs

Grayson Morris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uplfYiXiifE

Aaron and Jordan Martens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7ZWX51qNVI

Coach Mathews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAWrqyspf6w&t=10s

 

JIMMY HOUSTON OUTDOORS

with Coach Mathews https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKgPlyW6x-4

HANK PARKER’S OUTDOOR MAGAZINE

with Coach Mathews (coming soon) will debut on March 22, 2021




Monday, March 08, 2021

While I Was Away

 I took a full month away from personal posting this past February.

I did fully take advantage of the time and found more time for personal reading and research. I also must admit that I did not miss reading my personal pages nor did I miss posting.

So what did I miss? Here are some things in no particular order:

The Passing of Jim Weatherly, writer of the song, "Midnight Train to Georgia" on Feb. 3rd.

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Jim Weatherly. Jim was one of my parents when I was coaching in Nashville. He was always so kind to me and we shared some good times together!

Jim played quarterback at Ole Miss under legendary Coach Johnny Vaught. He was named to the All-American team in 1964 and led the Rebs to an undefeated season. Jim was so talented in music, that Coach Vaught allowed Jim to play at local night clubs well after curfew.

Very few people know that the original title to Jim's most famous hit was "Midnight Plane to Houston" which was a quote from Farah Fawcett-Majors. Jim had lived with Lee Majors and Farah when he was trying to make it in California. During a rough patch, she told Jim over the phone that she was going to catch the midnight plane to Houston. Jim recorded it and then Gladys Knight asked if she could record it but change the title to "Midnight Train to Georgia". That song is now in the Hall of Fame.

I was talking to Jim one Saturday morning after a Friday night football game where we got beat really bad at home. Jim was at the top of a small group of bleachers and we were all taking in youth football.

We talked a little bit about the game the night before and then he pointed to the couple sitting next to him- they had been at my game last night as well- it was Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, fans of the team that had torched my team.

Tim shook my hand as we were introduced and he looked at Faith and said, "This is the head coach at CPA."

Faith got all excited and said , "THAT WAS A GREAT GAME!"

Tim looked at her like 'what are you doing honey? This man's team got horsewhipped'

Faith then realized the mistake and stumbled on the back track... "well, I mean... it was .. you know..."

I laughed and told her no problem... her team played a great game and was a really good team- and from that point on , I was always happy to tell people that Faith Hill trash talked me one time....

Anyway, Jim was always kind to me.... hate to see that he passed....

DISCOVERY OF AL MOHLER'S PODCAST, 'THE DAILY BRIEFING'

A friend of mine recommended this podcast and I listened to it all month- I have always been impressed with Al Mohler... but this is now my early morning drive to work information. I highly recommend it!

QUOTES GALORE

As I read many, many things in February, I listed some amazing quotes- here are just a few:

The past decade saw the rise of the woke pro­gres­sives who dic­tate what words can be said and ideas held, thus poi­son­ing and par­a­lyz­ing Amer­i­can hu­mor, drama, en­ter­tain­ment, cul­ture and jour­nal­ism. In the com­ing 10 years some­one will ef­fec­tively stand up to them. They are the most hated peo­ple in Amer­ica, and their en­tire pro­gram is ac­cu­sa­tion: you are racist, sex­ist, ho­mo­pho­bic, trans­pho­bic; you are a bigot, a vil­lain, a white male, a pa­tri­ar-chal misog­y­nist, your day is over. They never have a sec­ond move. Bow to them, as most do, and they’ll ac­cuse you even more of newly imag­ined sins. They claim to be vul­ner­a­ble vic­tims, and moral. Ac­tu­ally they’re not. They’re mean and seek to kill, and like all bul­lies are cow­ards. By Peggy Noonan......January 02, 2020 07:15 p.m. EST


“We ascribe beauty to that which is simple; which has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its end; which stands related to all things; which is the mean of many extremes.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson


“Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.” - Mark Twain

“When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves.” - William Arthur Ward

“Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.” - Albert Einstein

“Go often to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Hating people is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat.” - Henry Emerson Fosdick

“The most pitiful among men is he who turns his dreams into silver and gold.” - Kahlil Gibran

“Persistent people begin their success where others end in failures.” - Edward Eggleston

“Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.” - Jonathan Kozol

“Show me a man with both feet on the ground, and I’ll show you a man who can’t put his pants on.” - Arthur K. Watson

“The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterward.” - Arthur Koestler

“Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.” - Mark Twain

“Talent develops in tranquility, character in the full current of human life.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.” - Marcus Aurelius

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” - Helen Adams Keller

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” - Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry

I wrote some jumbled up stuff as well......

JAYOPSIS

Somehow the roles have changed…

Media used to investigate, but now they educate

Schools used to educate, but now they corporate

Business used to corporate, but now they legislate

Governments used to legislate, but now they moralize

Churches used to moralize, but now they minimize

Technology used to minimize, but now they authorize


Discontentment is highly combustible; it can fuel our ambitions or blow our opportunities to pieces.

Does ambition create discontentment or does discontentment create ambition?

We send messages, hiding behind tweets and emojis… our passions pushing us to press ‘send’.... but no healing takes place without losing personal space… eye to eye… words that are heard and felt.

The whole world is ratched… I am in the world…. therefore, I am ratched

If I am the hero of my story…. my readership is very, very small

I went fishing in Feb as well- killed them on jerkbaits- my favorite way to catch a bass!


Got a Pelaton - finally delivered.

I have had a great run of diet and exercise in 2021.

I loved my time away... but it is good to be back!

Completed some plans on the Bible app as well...


Friday, March 05, 2021

The Poem That is a Mirror

This poem is more symbolic of my life today, than when I wrote the first draft in the late 1980's.

I am a coffee drinker.... and just as I rarely finish the full cup before it gets cold, I have other bone piles of unfinished proposals and plans that remain in my vision but have little energy or enthusiasm left.

Even though my cup of choice is now stainless steel, which holds the heat longer, I still have quarter filled cups of cold coffee on my desk almost everyday.

I re-find this from time to time- I have quite a few handwritten versions of this in many places.

I know poetry is not in vogue, but this has been a fun project for me over many decades.

There are a lot of hints in here regarding my authentic disposition... he who has ears.....
As always, thankful for my readers!

Quarter - filled Cups of Coffee


”I have measured my life in coffee spoons” -Prufrock

"A hideous throng rush out forever, And laugh—but smile no more." - Poe

“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What advantage does a man have in all his work which he does under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1: 2-3


Quarter - filled cups of coffee, 
Shadowed stains below the band.

Cooled liquid, thick and soiled, 
Etched foam, marked by hand.

Appearance of apparent progress, 
Concrete marks of constant time.

Accompanied by piles of paper, 
Crumpled calendars, plans sublime.

Of what reward do hours meed? 
Riches and honor untold?

What state does watched time translate? 
Unused potential to save and hold?

Three - quarter empty cups of coffee, 
Symbols unfinished and undone.

Epochs spent on early ambition, 
Numerous laps short, the race not won.

Lurking depths of unrequited desire, 
Taciturn anger behind the smile,

Endless action churning piles of perception, 
Steps no closer to the next mile.

Will the minutes always last? 
What price is one to pay?

When activity is ambiguous and prostituted 
and success is a shade of gray.

The trap has sprung inescapable. 
The suction stronger than will.

No one there to loose or care, 
Fractions of effort to close the sill.

My dreams still are marathons away. 
No tunnel light, nor ray, nor rule.

Only a vast wasteland of utopian ideas 
and naive ambition.

I laugh at myself - the fool.

Mr. Stegall and the Old Goats Club (final)

(The month of March is dedicated to memories surrounding a 10 year journey with the man I consider my 'spiritual grandfather', Bill Stegall who mentored me in life and in golf from 1990 until his passing in 2000)

Mr. Stegall's memoirs are published and available through amazon. 

(https://www.amazon.com/Bear-Swamp-Frances-Patton-Statham/dp/096752332X)

I have a copy of that book and it is a very detailed look into his life and family. I especially loved his recollection of WW2. It had to be hard being that tall... not easy to duck!

I thought I would close out this series in a couple of ways: writing about my regrets and telling a story about our greatest win.

MY REGRETS

When I read, "The Boy From Bear Swamp" it saddens me to see how many important things Stegall and I DID NOT talk about. He was always questioning me.... in my selfishness, I never thought to question him.

Tell me about the war and how you were wounded in combat?

Tell me more about being a husband and a dad.... what would you do differently?

What are your fears? How do you deal with them?

Take me to your childhood home...

Tell me what it was like to manage a team of mules?

Tell me more about your baseball days.....

How tragic that we never take the time to really talk to one another. Yes, we had some great talks along the way... but not even close to what it should have been like.




OUR BIGGEST WIN

One June after school has just let out, Mr. Stegall invited me to walk a few holes at Shoal Creek. On those days, we walked down to hole #5 and would get in about 7 or 8 holes depending on daylight. We carried light bags with just a few clubs.

We got to the last hole and I made a putt for birdie and without thinking, I had played 7 or 8 holes to just 2 over par.

"Jay, we need to press this summer.... I think with work, you can break 80."

And so that summer, I practiced quite often and worked very hard on my game. I bought another wedge and began working on hitting fades and draws and working on things like knock down shots and getting more consistent yardages for each club.

And I still shot mid 80's all summer.

Part of the problem is that we set some parameters on the score: no mulligans, no gimme putts, play the ball down... if I was going to shoot in the 70's, it needed to be a legit score.

The harder I worked, the less it seemed to help. A huge part of golf is decision making, and I was woefully poor in that department.

Then the calendar started to become an issue.... Football practice was going to start on Aug. 1 and once football started, I would lose my game from a lack of attention.

Stegall took me to Coosa Pines twice on the last week of July. That course should be 'easy pickens'... but the level of perfection needed is difficult and you have to have some putts go in.

On July 30- I was down to two days.

I got to hole 18 and needed a bogey to shoot 79. I missed a 5 foot putt to shoot an even 80!

The very next day I came to the 18th hole and needed a double bogey to shoot a 79, I flubbed a chip and two putted for another 80!

I was devastated!

Not only was I out of time, the exposure of my mental weakness was embarrassing.

Stegall, was quiet but consoling.

We started 2-a-day football practice the next morning and I didn't touch my clubs for an entire week.

He called me that weekend....

"Jay, are you a winner or a quitter?"

"Well, Mr. Stegall, the jury is still out on that."

"Well get your bag, we are going back to Coosa Pines."

I hadn't even cleaned my clubs from the round last weekend.

But we went around the course, and I birdied the last 2 holes to shoot a 76!

He was way happier than me.... but I was jacked!

I went back to football practice, fired up about hitting my goal.



Midway through the season, I got the news.




Mr.Stegall had been diagnosed with bone cancer ... it was aggressive, and the prognosis was dire!

I wish I had a clear timeline of our interactions but I do remember our last time together.

I went to his home at Shoal Creek where he was in a hospital bed on hospice.

The cancer was cruel and had wasted his body... he was so thin! It seemed like only a few months earlier, his muscles were still ripped!

He grabbed my hand, and we prayed.

I don't remember any of the words that day.... I don't remember the funeral.

But it is hard to ever go to a golf course and not think of Mr. Stegall, every time the Master's comes on TV, I think of him. Every time I go past a cornfield.....

Just this year, I have driven by the Dillard house on the way to North Carolina and I actually played golf at Mountain View. It was my first visit there since 1999!

Covid kept us from sitting in the grill, but the memories flowed!

I can't wait to see him in heaven.... 

He is the GOAT...... the greatest of all time.

As I close, I want to encourage all of us to take up the baton and example of these men. 

You don't have find to find a young redneck that needs refining.... you can simply keep loving and training children and grandchildren.

I was talking to a student not long ago, and she was enjoying teaching her grandmother how to use an ipad.... what a wonderful excuse to spend time together!

As a fishing coach, it thrills me to see boat captains who are grandfathers.

We have work to to until our final sun sets.... we are to point them to Jesus and there is nothing wrong in having some laughter and fun along the way!




Thursday, March 04, 2021

Mr. Stegall and the Old Goats Club (pt 5)

(The month of March is dedicated to memories surrounding a 10 year journey with the man I consider my 'spiritual grandfather', Bill Stegall who mentored me in life and in golf from 1990 until his passing in 2000)

The picture on the left is Stegall, Bobby Patrick, Benny Parks, and me in Foley, AL. I guess we would be the new Old Goats now.



Remember the old song by Billy Joel, Piano Man? The narrator is the piano player and the song goes around the bar telling stories about the patrons gathered there.

This post mirrors that. 

I'm going to go around the old grill at Mountain View Golf Course and give you a small vignette of the men I had the honor of spending time with. 

The men who joyously called themselves, "The Old Goats".

'O.C.' was a brilliant man. Mr. Stegall prepped me before the round about his incredible powers. "He bought a new TV the other day and went in and reprogrammed his remote control. With that one remote, he can now work his TV, his lights, and even his garage door!, Oh my stars!" He is the one who knew everyone's score to par at anytime on the course. Stegall proved that to me the first time we played... on the 11th hole he asked him...

"O.C., where does Jaybird stand?"

O.C. looked up and said, "He was 6 over front, 42. He is 1 over on the back. He is down 1 on the front 9 and even on the back, and currently down one on the 18 for the bet."

It was like I was watching a new sequel to the movie, Rainman!

"Jim" was the oldest man of the Old Goat Club. When Jim played, the other goats got a little agitated, because he was slow. But they never lost patience, and he was always treated with honor and respect. Jim had been a physician, and had been a strong Christian presence in medical ethics before it was popular to do so. I remember him having the best smile!

"Ronnie" was the business wheeler and dealer. He had won a fortune, lost it, and got part of it back. He had story after story of courtroom battles over bad business deals. His speed was about as opposite of Jim's as any human could be. Thankfully, the two never played in the same cart or it would have been a disaster. Ronnie talked fast, walked fast, ate fast, and had little patience for any delay of game. He threw out the one liners and had all of the zingers. A mutual friend of the Old Goats had built a private sewer line and it was Ronnie who coined the term, " Yeah, the man is now #1 in the #2 business".

"Gene" was pure class and grace. The man had a movie star look about him. His swing was elegant and an aura seemed to follow him. He had a charisma that lit up the Old Goats. His dress was immaculate, his car spotless, and grace flowed from his speech. He would have been a spot on pick for any movie grandfather a director would ever cast. Some men just age well, and Gene was one of those.

"Burt" was a fighter, in a good way. He is the man you would point to a mountain and watch Burt climb! He was supposedly a true warrior on the German front in the 40's. Burt never backed down from a just cause but like any warrior, took shrapnel in the process. Burt had made an enemy of a man a few decades earlier, and that man turned the entire system loose on Burt. Frivolous lawsuits, gossip, untimely news articles had tarnished his name. I guess Burt was the controversial one of the Old Goats, but I admired Burt. He saw the battle was worth the sacrifice, and had no regrets about taking on the world. There is an energy and power found in the DNA of men who are contra mundum. I do know that Burt told me that all he needed was Jesus and his wife, and he would fight anyone. And I think that is all he had, except for the goats. And, as you would guess, could crush a golf ball!

"Fred" was frail. Every year, more and more of his ears and face were removed from skin lesions. He had built a very powerful company, sold it and watched the buyer run it into the ground. And then the buyer sued Fred for mis-representing the business! And to everyone's shock and dismay... Fred lost in court! The court case cost him everything and Fred was a man with a lot of personal pain. It wore on his face. But Fred was the most consistent player for the GOATS. I had high admiration for him, he took a lot of hits... but never stopped swinging.

In Billy Joel's song... there isn't much hope. They need the piano player to find a ditty to add to the alcohol to take away the loneliness for just a little while. There is a lot of truth in that song...

In the Old Goats Club, in the midst of cheeseburgers and diet coke, these men never showed anything but resolution and hope.

What makes the difference?

I am fully convinced that the living Word of God that testifies to the truth of the good news of God's grace in Jesus Christ makes a world of difference.... an eternity of difference!

I saw it fully on display every time they needed young Jaybird to fill out the foursome. 

I once heard a parable of heaven and hell.... not close to being biblical... but fascinating and eye opening.

In the parable, HELL is a place where men are seated at a table. They are in chairs and in chains.
In the middle of the table is a warm bowl of delicious soup. 

Each man is also handcuffed to a very long wooden spoon. The spoon is long enough to reach the bowl, but too long to figure out how to get it back to their mouths.

And in this hell, men are always starving.... with the bowl of food in full view for all eternity!

Then the parable changes to describe HEAVEN... and the scene is a surprise!

It is the SAME table! The same SAME bowl! and the Same spoons!

But in heaven, the men don't care about feeding themselves.... their long spoons are used to feed one another! 

And that was the secret of the success of the Old Goats Club. All of these men were in varying degrees of loss, sorrow, and pressure.... but their fellowship and communion of God's gospel and God's Word sustained each one daily.

Yes, golf was fun... a tool... an escape... but it really was just a convenient conduit of what really matters. 

The men had fully grabbed on to God's mercy... and in turn they were free to love God and love others.

And it made those cheeseburgers taste even better!




Mr. Stegall and the Old Goats Club (pt 4)

(The month of March is dedicated to memories surrounding a 10 year journey with the man I consider my 'spiritual grandfather', Bill Stegall who mentored me in life and in golf from 1990 until his passing in 2000)

The picture on the left is Stegall and me playing the par 3 course at Shoal Creek


STEGALL GETS SERIOUS

If you only have time to read one of these... this is the one.

I was getting about as good as I could get in golf.

 Not great, my game is greatly limited by poor habits and flexibility.

But I had become the golf coach at Briarwood and had more opportunity to practice, especially the short game and it was helping my scorecard.

I could tell that Mr. Stegall was really pleased with my growth and we got to enjoy the game more with each improvement . He usually beat me, but every now and then I would happen to be lower. I never competed against him, we just played the course.

I started keeping a handicap and had whittled it down to a 12. I don't know if I will take time to write about breaking 80 with him or not... but I have never worked so hard to produce so little in athletics.
On good days, I shot an 81 or 82. On average days, I shot between 83 and 86 and my bad days were usually still under 90.

Stegall played mostly to an 8 if I remember. But his 8 at Shoal Creek usually meant he was going to shoot between 74 and 78 on just about any course.

And Mr. Stegall never played the senior tees, we played the standard members tees on just about every occasion. I usually out drove him in distance, but his iron play and short game was as good as any.

He played a draw on just about every shot.

This next story is the one I tell them most... 

One beautiful day, Mr Stegall talked about the glory of the leaves changing for the Fall. 

That man loved nature and nature's God. He spotted every bird, heard every animal, smelled every flower, and basked in the sunshine like a kid in summer.

But this day, the question of the day took a dark turn....

"Jay........... and the longest pause ever....... all my friends are dying…

these were men who built factories......

they founded businesses .... led churches.........strong men.. but now they just seem to wither like scattered leaves… 

so answer me this…

How do you die with dignity?

I heard the sound of the wind blowing a few more leaves off of the branches.

I knew better than to give his question a hasty or foolish response.

 “I’ll have to think on that one Mr Stegall”...... and we played on.

We didn't talk anymore that day. It was an odd quiet that surrounded us like a golden sepulcher.


I was on the golf course with him again a few weeks later and Stegall had not forgotten my assignment.

Jay..... have you been thinking about my question.. How do you die with dignity?

Yes Sir, I have… quite a lot to be honest.

And?…

Well, Mr Stegall, I have been reading I Corinthians 15 and I don’t think we die with dignity......Death is sin’s last knockout blow, if we live long enough, we end in shame. We are a man once and a baby twice. Frail..weak… dependent.

But Paul makes it clear in that great passage, one of my reasons for living....we are sown in dishonor but we are raised in glory. We go down in shame, we are raised in victory. Christ has done so for us!

Our job is to fight like heck until that last dying breath, which is the great glorious trumpet call of God as He calls us home. If we die in Christ, we do die with honor, no matter what it may look like.

He looked with at me with deep eyes and a low voice.. “EXCELLENT!

Over the next few years, many of the Old Goats couldn't make the tee time.

The doctor visits were more numerous, most of them were bandaged from skin cancers or nicks to their skin while on blood thinners.

These men never lost their smile.... but underneath I could always see the war.

It takes a long time for the transition to take hold... but one by one these grand men were loosening their grip on the world but were tangibly experiencing God's grip on them.

Fortunately, it wasn't Stegall's time yet.

But the chill of that fall day was a reminder that our time was getting short.

To be continued.......

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Mr. Stegall and the Old Goats Club (pt 3)

(The month of March is dedicated to memories surrounding a 10 year journey with the man I consider my 'spiritual grandfather', Bill Stegall who mentored me in life and in golf from 1990 until his passing in 2000)

The picture to the left is the Rabun Gap - Nacoochee School near Dillard, Georgia 


ON THE ROAD WITH STEGALL

Mr Stegall took his game on the road quite often. And it didn't take him long to realize I was a good partner for those trips. I was young and I was happy traveling as cheap as he did.

I don't think I have made it clear how strong and energetic he was for his age. He never got tired and I do think most of the other old goats did not have his capacity to play golf and keep going on to other things.

About once a month on Sunday afternoons, I would go to his house at Shoal Creek and we would clear brush, play the par 3 course there, go fishing at one of the lakes, clean the fish, and then his wife (Momma Ann) would cook us a meal.

That energy doubled on road trips. So I had a lot of advantages.... he made me drive his van as well. 

Mr. Stegall never lost his frugality that had to be linked to his early days as a poor boy in Bear Swamp, South Carolina. He had an uncanny way of finding the most inexpensive places to stay and eat that I have ever seen. And these places were nice!

He took my wife and me to the Master's one year, for example.

He found lodging was much cheaper just across the state line from Augusta and our breakfast there was $1.99. It was our wedding anniversary and we all celebrated at Olive Garden, with coupons. His FAVORITE part of the Masters was the pimento cheese or egg salad sandwiches in the green wrappers that sold for $1.50.

So yes, we went to the Master's.... one of the most exclusive sporting events in the world, and our rooms were $45 a night, and we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner for about $15 each. Try doing that!

We went to many great places and golf courses over the time we spent together. 

Most of the time, we went to the mountains.

Mr. Stegall was one of the typical snowbirds in their retirement years. It was all about the temperature. You went to the beach in the winter and to the mountains in the summer. It definitely allows for the best golf during those seasons.

But it was the North Georgia mountains and the Carolina's that made Mr. Stegall come alive. It was his roots and his heart.

One frequent stop in those days was the Dillard House in Dillard, Georgia. It has been in service since 1910 and is most known for the "family style" menu served on circular 'lazy Susans' in the middle of the table.

From the dinning room, we also had a view of the Rabun-Gap Nacoochee school where Mr. Stegall went to school. At that time, the school was a junior college that accepted Stegall after he finished Walhalla High School. In those days, the school was a boarding school for mountain people. The students actually farmed their own food there. Stegall's job there was handling a team of mules!

I guess I need to write a little bit about the vehicle we road tripped in. Again, the man was NOT extravagant. I drove him around in his 1989 Plymouth Voyager minivan. But I guarantee that it had ONE feature that no other van in the country had. And that ONE feature was added when he replaced that van with another van a few years later..... 

All of Mr. Stegall's vans had an altimeter that he had taken from a WWII bomber. He liked knowing his standing versus sea level at all times. And driving in the mountains kept him entertained. I thought about it for a while, but I don't think he used it to judge whether the course required a 7 or 8 iron from 155 yds out.

One more point about driving in the mountains with Stegall.

He constantly pressed me to NOT use the brakes when I was going downhill on steep mountain switchbacks.... rather, he wanted me to slow the van by downshifting into low gears and only tap the brakes.

THAT was so uncomfortable for me... I thought I was tearing his transmission up.... but that is exactly how he drove and he pushed me pretty hard to do it the exact same way!

We never listened to the radio when we travelled, he played co-pilot and tourist guide all the way.

 Landmarks sparked stories. 

We always had to roll the windows down when we passed a cornfield and he would ask me if I could hear the corn growing. The first few years he asked, I tried to hear it. Later, I realized that it was just a figure of speech.

He also used the time to discuss deeper theological issues. He loved telling stories about the preachers he had taken to play golf at Shoal Creek.

He told a fun one about R.C. Sproul standing over a birdie putt on the par 3 #5 hole just down from his house. He said R.C. enjoyed the round more than anyone else he had ever played with.

He said R.C. stepped back from the putt and said a prayer out loud.

"Lord, if you allow me to make this put, you can take one day of eternity away from me!"

They all laughed, he stepped back to the ball and promptly sank the putt.

I do think it is appropriate to document that not all discussions were easy or comfortable. Mr. Stegall was a gentleman at all times... but he did not run from important discussions.

He spoke to me one trip about my covenant of marriage and the importance of never breaking my vow of faithfulness. He did not miss any part of that issue.

"Jay.... when you are a young man, the temptation is just about lust.... when you are an old man, the temptation becomes more about pride. And I promise you, pride is the harder one to resist."

He encouraged me to meditate on the consequences of such actions.

"Jay.... when the passion leaves... it will be too high a price.... you will lose it all.... you will lose your wife.... you will lose your children... you will lose your job.... you will lose your reputation."

He would quote Proverbs and explain that the women who aggressively pursue men are really interested in taking them down "you need to convince yourself that any woman who knows you are married and still wants to commit adultery is crazy... and will just as likely steal your wallet or slit your throat."

He had me talk through Psalm 119- "Jay, the Word of God is your only weapon in those moments" and he would have me tell him "How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your Word. Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You!"

We never stopped discussing a range of topics.... strange, but we never talked political views... this is the first I have ever thought about that. We never talked presidents, governors.... hmmm ... can't remember a single time we discussed it.

We did talk about racism.... He was staunchly against any judgement or stereotype of a person based on the color of skin. He never used racial epithets and he never told racial jokes. He loved people no matter their stock or trade.

He and I did have our generational differences.

One quirky one was that he did not like morning showers. He believed that you only showered at night.

It bothered him that I showered in the morning and we discussed it briefly one day.... I told him I took two showers... one in the morning and one at night...

Mr. Stegall got up early every morning and had a calisthenics routine that closely mimics the movements we use today in modern high intensity interval training (HIIT).

He would be breathing pretty hard and had a light sweat before breakfast. When we cleared brush on his property, he had no trouble swinging an axe or handling a large chainsaw.

His hard work kept him mobile and active well into his 70's before bone cancer began its vicious assault.

Going on the road with Stegall was life changing: we went to Highlands, North Carolina- Sky Valley, Georgia-  Gulf Shores, Alabama - Augusta, Georgia twice- Lake Oconee, Georgia and played at least 50 different golf courses in a decade.

Still to this day, I don't gear down on mountain road switchbacks..... probably should... but I never go down one without thinking about Mr. Stegall.


To be continued.......







Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Mr. Stegall and the Old Goats Club (pt 2)

(The month of March is dedicated to memories surrounding a 10 year journey with the man I consider my 'spiritual grandfather', Bill Stegall who mentored me in life and in golf from 1990 until his passing in 2000)

The picture to the left is a round with Mark Woods and Mr Stegall at Shoal Creek in 1991.

SPEED OF PLAY

I have never played golf in Scotland, but it was one of Mr. Stegall's favorite trips. And his primary admiration of the Scots were how fast they played.

Mr. Stegall HATED slow golf. He had quite a few dislikes. He didn't like loud organ music after church was over. He did not like people who promised more in a minute than they would own up to in a month (he called them 'politicians' and he would point to a person from time to time and say...'politician', and that was not complimentary at all!).

He didn't like his hearing aids... He would look at me and say, "All I heard in the service today was shuffling shoes and rattling church bulletins."

He invited me to play with him one day at Coosa Pines, the fun and playable course of the Kimberly- Clark papermill plant on the banks of the Coosa river in Childersburg. He LOVED that course, and we went there quite often.

The sights on that little course were majestic.... the smells were quite the opposite and one time we were were greeted with floating yellow foam that rained all over us!

We took an extra long break at the turn and discussed the topics of the day... I had started coaching football and he was always asking me about how things were going with my new bride, Lisa, as well.

He then began the conversation that was his #1 topic of the day.

Every round of golf we ever played, Mr. Stegall had a 'main' topic. And it always began with this dramatic emphasis on my name.

He would say, "JAY?"..... with an upward tone like a question...and then there would be a dramatic pause.

I soon recognized that as THE SIGNAL..... he would follow with a question or series of questions.

If I answered well, he always had the same reply.... "EXCELLENT" and the lesson was over.

If he didn't like my answer, he would simply go "hmm" in a very short and quick spurt.

That meant I was going to hear it again.... maybe the next day... or maybe the next week.

So, here we were at Coosa Pines, a gorgeous day and not a soul was on the course.

"JAY...... long pause...... here it goes...... you like coaching football?"

"Yes sir, it has been amazing!"

"Well tell me something.... how long does a team have in between plays?"

I answered quickly, this is a topic I could kill... "Well, Mr Stegall... in high school you have a 25 second playclock and..."

He interrupted me... "25 seconds?"

"Yes sir."

"So you are telling me that you can get your team together in a huddle, call a play, have them go to the line, and snap the ball in 25 seconds?".... and then he let out one of his great lines he used all the time... "Oh my stars!"

The phrase "Oh my stars" was as dramatic as it sounds.... and he used it ALL the time.

We would stop at the farmer's market on Finley Avenue in Bessemer on the way home from Nikki's West restaurant and he would ask the young man there.... "How much are these tomatoes?" or "How much is this okra?" and no matter what the boy said, I knew what Stegall was going to say ... "OH MY STARS, why did I retire?"

So back to our chat that day at Coosa Pines....

"JAY..... if ELEVEN boys can run a football play in 25 seconds, do you think it is unreasonable to ask a man to hit a golf shot in that same amount of time?"

"yes, Mr Stegall.... entirely reasonable..."

And he looked away and said, 'hmm'.

So we started the back nine by both hitting good drives... I was getting better and better (and was practicing).

I walked up to my ball...

looked at the hole....

took a waggle....

looked at the hole...

took another waggle...

and then I saw HIS golf towel fly in front of my face and land next to my ball!

He yelled out... "DELAY OF GAME!"

And he picked up my ball and marched it 5 yards backwards and threw it down on the ground!

OHHHH- I finally understood.... he had been talking about me the ENTIRE time! I was the slow player! And I was too slow to know how slow I was!

I walked back and hit the ball.... and it landed on the green about 10 feet from the hole.

He said, "EXCELLENT"

And our pace of play never slowed down......

He called me one day at Briarwood about 4 years later.

"Jay, meet me at Inverness Country Club after school."

When I arrived, he already had a cart waiting on me. He had a cart and I had a cart.

We played 18 holes in a little over an hour.

I shot an 81 and he shot a 76.

And all of Scotland would have celebrated!

To be continued........

Mr. Stegall and the Old Goats Club (pt 1)

In a social media culture where the term ‘G.O.A.T.’ creates long threads of endless memes and pithy arguments, I can’t help but smile and remember.

And those memories? The smell of steaming hot onions at Mountain View Golf Course, one of the last grills left with enough residue to conjure up real cheeseburgers and fries. The sound of old friends rehashing the round. The sight of short golf pencils adding up the scorecard with symbols for ‘trash’ and ‘press’ and plus marks, double circles, asterisks, triangles, rectangles. And underneath everything was the warmth and royalty of a club of elders.

I was the young gun, almost like their pet- but in a good way. I was the out-of-place, tag-a-long rookie whose best contribution to the group was that I filled out their foursome and they could all still beat me at golf.

They called themselves ‘the old goats’. It was a group of 8-10 retired businessmen who traded in their briefcases and daily stock reports for Ping golf clubs and large headed putters with oversized grips.

And the one man who stood tallest in the saddle was William (Bill) C. (Clyde) Stegall, Sr. But no one called him anything else but ‘Stegall’. He was a poor boy from rural South Carolina who was picked and plucked out from the farm through the ministry of R.G. LeTourneau and the mission of the Rabun-Gap Nacoochee school.

Mr. Stegall graduated from Clemson University with a degree in engineering, founded a successful commercial AC/heating company in Birmingham, AL, was heavily involved in heating and cooling many buildings at Auburn University, and silently contributed to the early growth of Briarwood Christian School.

I met Mr. Stegall in his twilight years, after he sold his business and moved to Shoal Creek, a secluded and beautiful golf community in north Shelby County, AL.

In fact, I know the exact time and date.......

I had been invited to speak at the Sunday chapel that Stegall had organized at Shoal Creek.

I still have the program that Mr. Stegall had typed for the 15 or so patrons that morning.



It was Sunday, April 8, 1990 at 9:15 AM.

Stegall was a muscular 6-6, 225 lb, 68 year old grandfather full of vigor and joy.

I was 25 and life was way over my head, though I had no clue. (Life is still way over my head, but at least I know it now).

Little did I know that our relationship would last a full ten years. 

Mr Stegall went to be with the Lord on Feb. 24, 2000 at the age of 78. At that time, I was 35 and my life had been transformed in such a powerful way, that I still think of my spiritual grandfather almost every day.


It is time, I took some time to write about him. Mr Stegall and the Old Goats Club.


I don’t know how long it will take and I don’t know how often I will be able to write in this hectic season.

But this first post has to be about golf. As I am sure many more will be.

The ‘honorarium’ for speaking at that chapel on April 8, 1990 was a round of golf at Shoal Creek. Mr. Stegall was the member I had been assigned to play with and from the very first day we met, he decided to take an enormous amount of time to help me become a better golfer- but most important was his desire to mentor me in my walk with Christ.


My friend, Bobby Patrick had spoken as well- so we all got to play together in May 1990.


And though I was SO EXCITED to be playing such a special place... I was also intimidated. Shoal Creek golf course had hosted 2 PGA championships, it had ambiance, I would be playing with a caddy... all of that was well beyond my capacities- both mental and physical. I had only taken up playing consistently for about a year. I was still figuring it out.

I can’t overstate how wonderful that golf course is. In fact, years later I had the privilege of playing Shoal Creek with a friend from Memphis who played exclusive courses all the time including the Honors Course, TPC Southwind, and others.

In the middle of the round, as my friend noted the pristine condition of the course and the fact that there were almost no houses in view, he stopped and sad, ‘When you were bragging about this course, I thought you were exaggerating… this place is awesome!”

But back to that fateful first day. Why Stegall even bared to ever see me one more time is evidence of God’s immovable providence.

I was nervous!

Mr. Stegall sent very specific instructions on what to wear, and the expected etiquette that had to be honored. Over time, I grew in my reverence for the course and also in my fear of Mr. Hall Thompson.

Hall Thompson was the founder and president of Shoal Creek. He carved the course out of the woods and mountains, even build his own private road (Hugh Daniel) to get residents and members back to civilization.

He put in bent grass greens when people thought it too far south for such a notion. Hall was a member of the pin selection committee for Augusta National and with Jack Nicklaus as the course designer, Shoal Creek is about as close to Augusta as any course could dare to be.

Mr. Thompson was also known to escort people off the premises who couldn't respect the traditions and expectations of golf. A well known story to this account, was a very wealthy but loud visitor who decided to put on his golf shoes in the pro shop instead of the locker room.

Mr. Thompson went up to the man and said, “Sir, we have a locker room just over there.”

Evidently, the man was just rude enough or naive enough to not know who he was popping off to.... so his day ended much earlier than he anticipated.

Mr. Stegall had stoked the reverence in his communication to me- "Hall wants his quests to wear long pants, dark socks, and you need to shave.” And he didn’t have to say collared shirt, belt, and tucked in… that was a given.

My anxiety grew.

Then Mr. Stegall sent a yardage book of the course with just a few comments- "The course is long, the rough is deep, and the greens are as fast as lightning. And if Mr. Thompson is playing with us, you better play the ball down…. Rolling the ball on his course will generate some wrath. Play it as it lies and know the rules.”

Now that I know him....  Mr. Stegall was messing with me. Hall Thompson was NOT playing with us and he knew it. And Mr. Stegall played fun rules… he wanted fast golf… and that meant liberalizing the USGA rulebook ‘a tad’.

I will get back to that first day in just a second... but I do need to comment on how Mr. Stegall used to play pranks on me ALL THE TIME!

As we started playing more, I got to play with the 'Old Goats'.

It was usually a phone call or voice mail (on an answering machine LOL):

"Jay, Stegall here... the Old Goats are playing tomorrow at _______ (many local courses) and we want you to help us fill out a foursome."

And they all had their quirks and medical maladies... I hope you get to meet all of them in my writing, but I may have to conceal their names.....

And yes, the Old Goats bet on their rounds.

I still can’t keep up with how it works. There was trash, press, double up, front, back, total, handicap holes.

One of the Old Goats was O.C. Turley.
When you played with Mr Turley, no one kept a scorecard… he knew at all times where everyone stood.


My first experience with the entire ‘old goat’ group was a Monday round at Mountain View Golf Course. It was their choice of play on Mondays, when Shoal Creek was closed.

About halfway in the round, I discovered I not only was in I IN the bet ..... I was WAY DOWN!

Stegall leaned over and whispered to me in his unmistakable voice and style.

“Jay, did you bring any cash with you? If not, I’ll cover you today.”


After the round, the men sat down for the real reason they came to the course… the cheeseburgers.
The first comments made every time we played was that the grill at Mountain View was better than the whole menu at Shoal Creek.

And then the ‘ciphering began’
I had lost so many holes, had so little trash, and lost so many presses that my final tally was about $40.

All I thought was how I was going to tell my wife, I lost $40 playing golf!

But then I learned the "McElwain Rule”.

The “McElwain Rule”, was a payoff system which was some kind of ratio of what had to be reported as income on their personal income taxes. So the maximum payoff at the end of any round was $12.

But I don’t think any bet was ever actually paid, the Old Goats had more joy in giving the debtor (me) grief than they did in actually collecting.


Let me go back and finish the first round (May, 1990) and will move on……



My first day at Shoal creek, I was already in awe and overwhelmed.
I was so impressed with the pretty grass, that I didn’t feel right in even taking a divot!

There were two groups that day, we were in group one and there were some other guys in group two.
I had felt a little stupid that I had bought new shoes, a new glove, and new balls just for the round.

The guy in the group behind us bought a whole new bag!… and not just any bag, this was one that the pros used… it was massive!

My other anxiety was playing with a caddy. But as I soon discovered, Charlie was another highlight on that day!

Hole #1- Shoal Creek Golf Club



On the tee, Mr. Stegall repeated his rules. ‘Play fast, have fun’. Then he started telling the group that he was a wounded, partially disabled and old WW2 veteran. (Then he proceeded to birdie 3 out of the first five holes).

Stegall’s Golf Rule 'Addendums':
  • Play fast. Hit when you are ready.
  • Practice swings are useless.
  • If you hit it anywhere out of play, return to the fairway for a 1 stroke penalty.
  • Roll ‘em in the fairway.
  • Double bogey max, pick it up, and let’s move on.
(By the way, Stegall would have LOVED the new rule where the flag can stay in place when putting.)


Hole #1 is a relatively ‘easy’ starter hold, about 400 yds. I made good contact but pulled my drive and found the left fairway bunker.

So this is comical, not only did I find that bunker… I found EVERY bunker on that first hole! I proceeded to go from the fairway bunker to the frontside left sand, from frontside left sand to frontside right sand, and then on to the green and NEVER in my life had I played undulating and steep greens like these.


Charlie picked my ball out of the hole and Mr. Stegall put the big bear arm around me.

“Jay…. double bogey maximum… you’re doing good.”

Two things happened… I settled down and we all started having fun.

My caddy took a liking to me, because he could see he was actually helping me. His name was Charlie and he was a very good man… very patient… and wise! He got to where he just handed me a club and really helped me on the greens. Before long, I was LOVING how smooth and fast those beautiful greens were!

After the 9th hole, we took a short break.

Charlie and I sat down together, wiped off the sweat and drank some of the coldest, best water I had ever tasted.

Charlie’s buddy was one of the caddies of the other group, the one who had the misfortune of carrying the brand new monster bag- he was beat tired!

Charlie looked at him…. “How’s your guy?”

The guy looked at me and paused…. Trying to figure out if he could be honest or not.

He simply said… “He’s ALL bag.”

And we laughed.

I finished the round and shot 105 (using the Stegall rule means that I was NOT ready for Shoal Creek).
But I had found a mentor that day who decided that he was going to teach me.. A lot about golf and a lot about being a man.

The next day, I went to the dentist.
As my dentist was looking in my mouth he said… ‘What in the world!?”

And he put his hand in my mouth and said ‘Would you LOOK at THIS!”

And I looked… his entire hand was FULL OF SAND!

“Where did you get a mouth full of sand?”

And he couldn't keep a straight face anymore…

My boss, the Rev, Tom Caradine, was with us that day at Shoal Creek and followed us every step of the way. And he loved the fact that I found every sand bunker at Shoal Creek, he called his buddy… my dentist… to make sure the memory would be forever etched in my memory (but really to just rub it in).

Mr. Stegall got a big smile on his face when I told him the story.
And from that day, we were about to go on a 10 year journey together that I will never forget.

And so I will be writing for a little bit about 'Mr. Stegall and the Old Goats Club'

To be continued…….

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Elijah on the Sideline

Have you ever been kicked in the teeth, thrown in the mud, bent over in pain, with your enemy standing over you... taunting and powerful? 

Or worse, has there been a season of winter... winless.. and there doesn't seem to be a heartbeat left and no friend on the horizon?

We almost always think of the Bible in terms of wins and perfection. But the Bible is more about loss and depression. It has few level plains.... everything in the Bible seems to model human existence as short peaks and deep, dark valleys. 

If there is a passage that speaks to our life in times of isolation and darkness, there is no more powerful passage than the account of Elijah running from Jezebel in I Kings 19. There is enough content in these 22 verses for an entire book.

THE STORY OF TWO MOUNTAINS:

Elijah was a prophet with power. There is no more public and powerful victory in the Old Testament than the one on the top of Mount Carmel when Elijah called down fire on the prophets of Baal. Elijah's story is one of dramatic showdowns and extremes. He is a man who was fed by ravens and who prayed down rain.

But there is another mountain that Elijah will end up up on.... just a few chapters later in your Bible... a journey that took 40 days and nights covering a distance of only 260 miles... when you are wandering in a state of loss and darkness, everything is slow and wearying. 

A MAN ON THE RUNNOW WHAT? 

Often after great highs, we sink into holes of emptiness, fear, loneliness, and isolation

Hal Higdon has an entire section in his book, “Marathon- The Ultimate Training Guide” devoted to ‘Post-marathon Blues”.“We focus our lives on this one event for 5 months- and then its done” reflects a Melbourne Beach, Florida runner “Now what?You have the great high of race day, especially when you finish or meet your goal...but soon after- there is this tangible reality of emptiness.

It isn't just in running....Ernie Conwell works for the NFL Players Association. He was a college standout for the University of Washington and achieved great accomplishments as a pro. He was drafted by the Rams in 1996, won a Super Bowl after a horrific knee injury, named a captain for the New Orleans Saints- An All-Pro selection in 2001.

I had the privilege to have Ernie coach with me in Nashville and I loved hearing him speak to men about his miraculous journey back from the knee injury and what it felt like to compete in the NFL.

But you could hear a pin drop when he explained the saddest reality of all......

Right after his Super Bowl win - the pinnacle of a sport achievement- a lifetime pursuit that organizations invest millions to get, and individual's pour blood, sweat, and tears to grasp...
In the locker room...right after winning THE SUPER BOWL!.... after hugs and laughter...
a lot of grown men sat there with empty stares on their faces... now what?


This isn't to minimize the lasting memories or value of the accomplishment. It is a recognition of all human existence... the thrill is momentary and often less than satisfying.

It isn't just in big things... it is in almost every aspect of life.

I always thought it was appropriate that Pip experienced all the shock of seeing his world collapse in the classic novel, “Great Expectations”.

“All the truths of my position came flashing on me; and its disappointments, dangers, disgraces, consequences of all kinds, rushed in in such a multitude that I was borne down by them and had to struggle for every breath I drew.”

But it was the subtle letdowns that he noticed first:

My (new) clothes were rather a disappointment, of course. Probably every new and eagerly expected garment ever put on since clothes came in, fell a trifle short of the wearer's expectation.

So RIGHT after Elijah's great victory... he get's word that Jezebel was making a promise... she was guaranteeing the death of Elijah!

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. [2] Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” (1 Kings 19:1–2 ESV)

And Elijah grew VERY afraid:

Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life ....

Have you ever run from something that is scary? ... I have.... one time as a boy I jumped a fence and a german shepherd ran toward me... I turned and ran so fast and so full of fear that I leaped over the chain link! The panic! Yes, usually there is danger... but we also are running from something that we can't see anymore, and in our mind the beast is growling and drooling and about to snatch us...

When a powerful enemy puts you in their site... it can create such a panic.  But with Elijah, he had just publicly stood up to the state and the prophets of darkness... why run now? I think it was the nature of her vow... it sounded drop dead serious and it made Elijah not only quiver, but run.. and the running creates thought distortions as well.

[4] But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 

One of the alarming statistics coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic is the staggering amount of suicides and crises of anxiety that are as dominant as the plague itself!

The CDC reports that during June 24–30, 2020, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.

So where do we go and what do we do when these thoughts begin to overtake us?

Mental health is a very complex issue and usually there is not an instant cure. In Elijah's case, the Lord intervened in a very supernatural way... but there are principles here that can help all of us. Living moment by moment and taking steps is a type of miracle... and we should celebrate all victories, even the tiniest ones!

DON'T MISS THE BROOM TREE

 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” [6] And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. [7] And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” [8] And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:5–8 ESV)


At some point our human energy meets its limit and we fall down... incapable of going forward. In the middle of the desert, the Lord had been growing a broom tree, some of which can grow to heights of 9 feet or more. Years previous, it was just a shoot, struggling to survive in the harsh heat and dehydrating winds. But God knew it would serve a purpose ( and many more we will never know) to hide the prophet in pain. And there Elijah was fed by angels. On two occasions, as he woke up... maybe years later he thought it a delirious dream ...... but we know better. God feeds us as well when we reach the end of the rope. The text that comes at an unusual time. A song we hear. A stranger we meet. We pass it off later as a coincidence, even at times we run away God's angels- but they won't stop until you have been given enough to finish the journey and get back on mission.

Just a note- it doesn't take 40 days to get from Carmel to Horeb and it doesn't take 40 years to get from Egypt to Canaan. But we never get to go in a straight line anywhere when it comes to matters of faith. We fight the path and God has to nudge us bit by bit. This is not a hike in a meadow, this is a wrestling match all the way! And when we finally get there, we always laugh at why it took us so long!

THE AMAZING ENCOUNTER THAT CHANGED NOTHING AND EVERYTHING

So this is one of my favorite passages in the Bible:

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [10] He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” [11] And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. [12] And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. [13] And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [14] He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:9–14 ESV)

What a mystery and what a moment!

God asks... "What are you doing here?". Don't you love the questions of God! "Adam, where are you?"
"Peter, who do men say that I am?"

God knows the answers.... but he LOVES the interaction!

And those questions can haunt, can convict, and uplift... sometimes ALL at the same time!

What we miss here is the passion and conviction of the two answers, even though the words are the same!

I really got knocked down this week when I learned some very sad and disturbing news about one of my heroes, Ravi Zacharius. No need to go into the details, but it made me sad. Combine that with some physical fatigue, a nagging calf injury, and a week full of complaints and grumbling and I was knocked flat.

And it is easy to ask in those moments... "Is God there? and Does He care?"

But even through the winds, and earthquakes, and fires... His still small voice nourishes me to keep crawling. And what is our response? Get up and get on mission.

And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. [16] And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. [17] And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. [18] Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:15–18 ESV)

God is there... He does care... and we are NEVER alone. There is no such thing as the 'last Christian on earth' though the devil wants you to believe that.

So where are you?

A failure because of sin?.... yes, that happens to everyone, even those we think are bullet proof (heed the lesson there).

The target of an enemy? Yes, sometimes we run and the thought distortions grow!

A let down after a high?... yes, that is a normal existence, listen for the small voice!

Worn down and exhausted? As you lay down, look for the broom tree... nourishment is coming.

Lonely and without a friend? Hang in there... keep loving and keep serving

As Elijah went on in obedience, he picked up a friend.

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. [20] And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” [21] And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him. (1 Kings 19:19–21 ESV)

My mom had a strange obsession with the Blood, Sweat, and Tears song, "And When I Die".. the chorus went like this.

And when I die, and when I'm gone
There'll be one child born
In this world to carry on, to carry on

I did NOT like the song... I told her it was stupid and she just laughed. But there is a lot of truth there-  our seasons will come to an end and we will be too frail to go on the journey one day. But we can cheer from the sidelines and encourage those that will then be walking a well worn path!

We must be willing to train (disciple) the next generation to live for Christ. Hard times are coming for those who cling to Christ. But don't fret- love them well and shepherd their hearts.

When we serve other people, it helps to lift us up out of fear, worry, anxiety, and depression.

After some rest, some fishing, prayer, a day of snow... there came the still small voice and I was ready to go again!

May we all be led to keep walking in Him!

I get a strange feeling that the devil will be more visible in his attack these coming decades. He often hides his cards and plays them subtly to avoid being identified.

He would rather it be blamed on secular issues or secondary causes. If people see Satan too clearly, they will have no excuse to deny the existence of God.

That is the meaning of 'occult'- it means 'hidden' and that is where the devil does his best work.

But I also have a stronger feeling that the church is about to demonstrate more power than we have seen in decades. 

Maybe it is just me, but I can feel His power growing in me as well. Grace greater than my sin. Strength stronger than the storms blowing. Love deeper than the cynicism dominating the landscape. Faith that is small, but able to move that mountain. And a hope that has very little anxiety attached to it.

God is that good!