Saturday, March 24, 2007

Caleb's Turns "7"

Caleb turned 7 years old today - this is his fourth birthday in Africa. He had his 4th birthday just 2 days after we arrived in South Africa. What a joy it has been these last 7 years to be his father. He has an incredible imagination and he keeps us laughing with his comments and "amazing-laughter" with the things that he comes up with and the math that he does in his head - especially related to money.

He received some 'How to draw' books from Jody's parents and spent about an hour and a half this afternoon drawing this. This scanned picture doesn't do it justice. We were amazed - this in free hand, not traced.

We asked him what he wanted for his birthday - since we'll be home in 3 months - we asked him if he wanted birthday here or to wait and buy some things in the States - he wanted a little of both. So we bought him some 'riding gloves' for his bicycle, some Hot Wheels, a water gun and gave him some cash - about $80 from us and various grandma's, aunts and uncles.

This is a coloring/story book that he received from my mom - he said that he was going to like coloring all those pictures.

He just opened a 'mega-water gun' . He was pumped about that. He finally had something that his brothers didn't have and he knows how to use it.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

My Friend, Mark

My good friend Mark Stephens went home to be with the Lord Sunday night. After cycling 35 miles on Saturday and preaching on Sunday, he was watching TV with his wife and suffered an apparent heart attack. His wife called 911, Fire and Rescue came, and he was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. He leaves behind his wife, and 3 girls of 15,13, and 10.

Mark and I spent the last year of seminary together riding in a car 65 minutes to and from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Spending that much time together, we bonded like brothers. I have never had a relationship like that. Jody couldn’t believe it sometimes as Mark would drop me off, drive to his house 15 minutes away, and call me on the phone. He called his 3 years, pastoring in Arkansas, “exile” as he longed to get back to his home state of Florida.

Mark was a University of Florida Gator graduate and fan. I have never seen a fan like Mark. Each year he would receive the Florida Gator Football Press Guide – the book that has all the players, stats, and information that you would ever want to know. He kept that book by his chair and would reference it during the game. Watching a game with him was fun. I know of one time when the Gators were not shown in Arkansas that his father called him, long-distance, and held his receiver up to the TV and Mark listened to the second half on the telephone. He spent 3 football seasons away from Florida and I remember him telling me that all 3 years Florida beat Peyton Manning’s Tennessee Volunteers. Mark could hardly wait to get to seminary that next Tuesday after those victories.

Mark and I went to the Southern Baptist Convention in Salt Lake City and we roomed together. We had a blast. At the time, he had only 2 girls and we had Andy and Josiah was just a baby. We made it a point to go around the booths and get 2 or 3 of everything that they were giving away – pens, stickers, notepads – so that we could give them to the kids when we returned home. He was almost obsessive about it. But that was Mark.

We graduated Seminary together and traffic caused me to miss the Senior group picture. I arrived just after they had all dispersed. He told me that he had saved a spot right next to him as long as he could. He tried unsuccessfully to stall, knowing that I was coming. In choosing our graduation rings – they were identical except for our name imprinted on the inside. We would touch them together and say “Wonder Twin powers activate …in form of a…” Do you remember that from the Super Friends?

He was presently working for the Florida Baptist State Convention. He was Director of Theological Education by Extension. He was working on me coming to his home church to speak when we are home for Stateside Assignment.

It was my privilege to call Mark my friend. He gave me my preaching Bible and I really don’t know if there has ever of time that I didn’t pick it up without thinking of him. My grief is not that he is gone, but with the family that is left behind. I don’t even want to imagine what they are feeling. I don’t question the wisdom of God, I don’t understand it in situations like this; He has been too good in the past not to trust Him in times of grief and sorrow. I know that we will see each other again. Until that time -

I will miss my friend, Mark.