An old lure, yet so much more

By Gary D. Myers

It’s an odd thing to keep – a beat up old fishing lure with no hooks. It’s been with me for quite a while – at least 15 years. The lure has traveled with me through various cross-country and cross-town moves. It has no value for catching fish besides I have little time for go fishing these days. I keep the lure because it means something to me.

Here’s the story. While I was working at the newspaper in Meridian, Miss., a homeless man approached me looking for a little cash. I gave him a few dollars and talked with him a little while. Before I left him, the man dug around in the shopping cart he was pushing and pulled out this fishing lure – one of his few, rather shabby earthly possessions. He was thankful for what I had given him and he wanted to give me something in return.

In some ways the lure serves as a spiritual marker for me. In the Bible, the Hebrews often set up spiritual markers, reminders when God did something special for them. When they crossed the Jordan River they carried 12 stones from the middle of the river and stacked them up as a tangible reminder that God had kept His promise to them. The marker was meant to help them remember the lesson. And as we all know, lessons are easy to forget.

The lure is tangible reminder of what God was doing in my life at that time and what He was about to do during the next 15 years. What was he doing back then? Giving me a heart to reach out to the cast-offs of society. This work in my life didn’t start in Meridian, but living there helped me along on the journey. Growing up around poverty in rural Oklahoma, I naturally had compassion for the poor. I learned to reject the easy characterizations and stereotypes people often attach to the poor. Trips to inner-city Houston and Los Angeles helped push me along the path. But Meridian, located on a major interstate between Atlanta and Dallas collected its fair share of homeless people. There I encountered the homeless on a daily or a least weekly basis. I learned a lot about treating poor people with dignity in Meridian. I learned that you cannot share the gospel with the poor and homeless if you see yourself as superior to them. No one’s salvation costs any more or less than mine.

Caring about those on the margins isn’t always popular. Once I was approached by a man in a grocery store parking lot in Meridian. He was seeking money for food. I told him that I would buy extra groceries for him while I did my own grocery shopping. I came out a few minutes later with a bag of food for him. The man was happy to receive the food, but the assistant manager who saw me give the man the food wasn’t happy at all. He said I shouldn’t have done that. He believed that the store would be overrun with “unworthy beggars.” He thought having homeless around would be bad for business (even though I bought extra groceries just a few minutes earlier – it was at least good for business that day). This assistant manager made his proclamation loudly for all to hear, including the homeless man and several other customers.

I went on to Pittsburgh where I encountered the homeless on a daily basis near the University of Pittsburgh campus and often volunteered at a shelter. Then I moved on to Kansas City where I volunteered at another shelter. By the time I made it to New Orleans, I had learned a lot about compassion ministry. Most of all, I had become more comfortable sharing my faith while meeting physical needs.

So this broken-down fishing lure reminds me of that encounter in Meridian, but it reminds me of all the ways God has prepared me to minister to those on the margins of society. It reminds me that God has a plan and He prepared me for the ministry opportunities I have in New Orleans.

The symbolism of the fishing lure is not lost on me. When Jesus called Peter and John (who were fishermen) He said He would make them “fishers of men.” The lure is not only a reminder that I am supposed to be sharing the gospel (fishing for men), it is also a reminder of who God has called me to minister to – the castoffs, the forgotten and the down and out.

Subterranean Termite Blues

By Gary D. Myers

Just below the surface in the city of New Orleans lurks a group of pesky, destructive insects – the Formosan subterranean termites. This invasive species of “super termites” is native to Taiwan, but hitched a boat ride to the United States in the 1960s. They thrive in warm New Orleans climate.

Much more destructive than native termites, these bugs have terrorized homeowners throughout the city. From historic buildings to majestic old live oaks, no wood is safe from these creatures without treatment. It is easy to get angry at the termites, but they are simply doing what they do. They don’t have a vendetta against the Crescent City.

Though my house is currently receiving regular pesticide treatments to hold the termites at bay, I have seen numerous places where termite-damaged wood has been taken out and replaced. During our home inspection, the house was deemed termite free – meaning there was no active infestation. Well, I recently found another spot of termite damage when I decided to install a new energy-efficient door. It had me singing the “Subterranean Termite Blues.”

I bought the new door a while back, but waited to install it until this summer. I figured that it would be a little more difficult to install a pre-hung door in an old house than the instructions implied … and I was right. This old house didn’t exactly have a standard opening. However the problem was intensified by the termite-eaten board I found on one side of the door.

Everything looked good on the surface. There was no reason for me to think there was any damage in the door frame. Looks can be deceiving. Inside I discovered a 2X4 so totally ruined that it looked like a series of long toothpicks held together by two or three dabs of Elmer’s glue and some paper mâché. The board had no structural integrity left. Someday that little issue would have reared its ugly head, I’m glad I found it when I did. Needless to say, it took a lot longer than expected to install the door.

As I pondered my door-changing experience, that rotten, ruined piece of wood served as an object lesson. It reminded me just how easy it is for Christians like you and me to look good on the outside. We dress ourselves up the outside with religious activity and good deeds while ignoring our relationship with Christ. The things that we let into our lives slowly begin to eat away at our hearts and our integrity. We can hide it for a while, but if we are wasting away on the inside eventually it begins to show.

Thankfully, it is much easier to check the condition our hearts than it is to check for termite damage inside the walls of our houses. Prayer, Bible study, worship and missions keep us focused on God’s voice. And when we listen, He lets us know the problem areas and His word replaces the dead stuff with sturdy material.

When this object lesson came into my life, I checked my heart and I found some dead wood. I have also found God faithful to change me.

There are many things in this world that want to compete for God’s place in our lives. In the end those things will leave you in ruins. But the Christian walk is not about “dos” and “don’ts.” God wants a vital relationship with us – one that spills over to our neighbors and to the ends of the earth.

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Surprised by sailing

By Frank Michael McCormack

In Wednesday night’s regatta on Lake Pontchartrain the sailboat crew I’m on finished third of 10 in our class. Yes that’s right. Regatta. Lake Pontchartrain. Third.

I’ve been chasing the sailboat dream for a while now. It started when I met my friend Tony, who was living on a sailboat in Chesapeake Bay at the time. That got me looking for a sailboat, though I’d never been on one. I tried hard for a while to get Jennifer to let us buy a big boat and live aboard.

I didn’t get too far with that idea.

Another friend of mine later invited us for a cruise on his boat that’s docked at Southshore Marina near the Lakefront Airport. It was our first time out on a sailboat. We were hooked.

(As an aside, another friend of mine described boats as holes in the water that you just throw money into.)

Now I love power boats. Fishing boats. Offshore boats. Ships. Really anything that floats. But there’s just something about cutting the engine off and the boat continuing to move along just because of the wind. The steady movement. Rocking with the waves. Wind filling the sails. It’s better when there’s wind.

After my third time out on my friend’s boat, I went several long months without ever going out for a sail. No joke, every time he called to invite me for a sail I was always out of town.

So to scratch the sailboat itch, Jennifer and I began eating dinner at the Lakefront, watching the sailboats come and go. We stuck with that for a while. Then one night we drove by a sail dealer on Lake Avenue in Metairie and I spotted an old school Pearson Ensign sailboat parked outside.

Just out of curiosity, I emailed one of the guys at the sail dealer about the boat. It wasn’t for sale, but he did put me in touch with a guy who he said was looking for some crew members for the weekly Wednesday regatta (sailboat race). I emailed with that guy a few times and it was settled. I raced with him and several others just a day or two later. As it turned out, it was the marines and me.

I was terrible. It was like everyone was speaking in a different language, and I’m not talking about marine-speak. There’s port, starboard, aft and whatever the other one is that I can never remember. We didn’t just make a right or a left turn. We attempted these maneuvers using sails like the “spinach-curd” and “jibber jabber.” I’m exaggerating a little, but I really can never remember that other side of the boat. To top it off, it was stormy and we raced a short course, which meant close quarters.

Everyone was very patient with me, but still I was really only good for ballast. They were experienced sailors. It was my 4th time on a boat. I tried to be as vague as possible about how many times I’d been on a boat. They might have figured me out. Afterward, we stopped in at the Southern Yacht Club for a sandwich and to get to know one another some more. I discovered some mutual connections with one of the guys. New Orleans is a big small town, after all. We even talked religion and politics.

I thought I’d never hear from those guys again (because of my sailing performance, not the conversation). Graciously, though, Joel the boat owner invited me first for a training cruise this past Saturday (I was out of town) and then back for this Wednesday’s regatta.

Wednesday, the winds were calmer and it was a much longer course. Both those factors made the race much more low key, which was great for crewmembers like me (okay, just me) who were still getting their feet wet (or struggling to keep them dry).

I had a job this time. A purpose! A responsibility. I stayed near the mast and was responsible for fine-tuning the downhaul and the outhaul (both adjust the tension on the mainsail). I also made sure the headsail passed smoothly from one side to the other when we tacked. The headsail almost got me one time. The race was great. We were constantly fine-tuning the sails. Checking our speed against the wind speed. Setting goals. Targeting boats to pass.

In the end, we finished third in our class – an incredible improvement over a few weeks ago. After the race, several of us went up to the New Orleans Yacht Club and had hamburgers as we awaited the results. I texted the colonel my number. He responded with “Rgr.” The next day I sincerely thanked Joel for another great time on the lake. He said the same, adding that he hoped I considered myself a regular crew member now.

Now I’m not totally crazy. I’m no expert yet. I couldn’t sail across the Gulf by myself, nor across the lake, nor across the marina. But it’s not about that. It’s just great to be doing something fun and different, enjoying the outdoors, learning new skills and making new friends.

And it all happened because I drove by a sailboat on my way home one night, sent an email and took a chance.

I’m kind of an introverted extrovert, I think. I really thrive off being around people, but left to my own devices, I tend to be a loner. But what would happen if I was more disciplined and intentional and took some more chances in order to widen my circle of friends? I bet I’d have more friends on my block, learn some good hobbies and habits from other people, enjoy a broader support system, and have a wider sphere of influence.

Not too bad an outcome for a chance detour on the way home one night. Just think, a seemingly unconnected series of events led to me being a member of a crew with a group of great new friends, all of whom I didn’t know three weeks ago. Now, why am I sometimes afraid of trying new things again?