DEFINE GOD

“DEFINE GOD.” Phinehas

PART ONE

I relish the attempt to meet your request, Phinehas. Let me begin with a little history you may not know.

In 1978, I considered your dad one of my best friends, as well as my mentor. I had just tasted the reality of God in my life, and, for the first time, I began to consider Him in my thoughts. This was all completely new and strange, and exciting. Your dad led me into a joyful life of believing God, and trusting Him with every area of my life. I watched John, and tried to imitate his pursuit. I began to grow excited as God’s presence began to become more and more visible to me, His words more real and exciting and wise than ever before. My love for the Father began to grow, as I watched that love grow in your dad.

When we moved to East Texas, and Y’all moved to Vermont, we kinda lost connection.( No Internet back then) I guess, something changed in Johnny that I never understood, and we have really had no significant conversations since.

When Mom died, and then, Chelsey died we got together, but sharing did not go very deep.

I have always felt a deep sense of loss over the change in our (your family and mine) relationship.

Anyway, if you asked me to define your dad, I could only go so far as my experience with him allowed, his actions when we spent time together, his words in our conversations. You get what I’m saying?

But your family is really close to each other, at least it seems to be from my viewpoint. If I asked you to define John White, you could relate his life, his words, his actions, his love for you, his love for others, his love for certain causes, certain activities all things that you have observed up close for over thirty years.

But, even then, the definition would be lacking. Your brothers and sisters would add more. Your mom, even more. His mom, even more. And even then the depths of his personality and character would only have been touched.

You ask me to define God. I have only known Him and loved Him for 38 years, which seems long in human terms, but in eternal terms, I don’t think I have even scratched the surface. I do know that He changed me, and He is causing me to become more like Him, though, even in that, I have scarcely scratched the surface.

A difficult thing it is to do what you request.

I can tell you, there will be no dictionary definition.

I will glean from His words, His actions, His love for you, His love for others, his love for me, His love for righteousness, and His love for a world that has turned away from Him that I have observed up close for over thirty years.

Much more to follow.

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THE HAIRCUT THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

Memory from 2015. (Actually from 1972, but I remembered it in 2015, and then, I found it today.)

A couple of weeks ago, Zoë suggested that we watch the movie “Signs” with Mel Gibson. I had seen it before, but it is fun for her to want to watch one with us so we agreed.

I say I had seen it before, but I remembered about as much as if I had only seen the previews. Something about the movie was stirring me on the inside. You know, that feeling you get when you see a movie that is so inspired, it touches you, and stays with you. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. I won’t ruin it for you. Suffice it to say, that I began to ruminate on small events in my life that had life-changing impact.

After my second year in college, I came home for the summer. My sister, Elaine, had just graduated, and I was looking through her Yearbook, hoping for an idea of someone that may be willing to date me. There were 600+ students in her graduating class, probably more than 300 girls. So, I began turning the pages, looking.

Now, I was not a “player” and, for me to have the courage to ask a girl out, I had to have a little encouragement first. So, I poured through the entire senior class pictures, and, when I got to the W’s, one photo grabbed me. The first thing I noticed was the beautiful hair. Wendy Wright was her name. I knew her a little. When I had worked at Safeway in Orchard Hills, she had gotten a job there in the snack bar. She was always friendly, her hamburgers tasted incredibly good, she knew how I liked my coffee, she had a boyfriend, I had a girlfriend.

As a matter of fact, my senior year, her locker was right next to my girlfriend’s locker, so we talked occasionally, mainly just chitchat. The idea of dating her just never came up.

But, that hair in the picture grabbed me!

I told my sister, “I looked through your Yearbook, and, of all the girls, I only found one I would like to date. Wendy Wright.”

I had pretty much given up on church at that point in my life, so, my family was active, and I stayed home. But my sister was in the youth group at our church.

The next Sunday, when my sister went to youth group, Wendy Wright walked in, a guest of Cathy Cooper. Now, she and Cathy were really just more acquaintances than close friends, but that Sunday, Cathy decided to ask Wendy to go to youth group with her. Wendy had always had a boyfriend, and her free time was always with him, but she had just broken up with him, and decided to go.

Elaine saw her, and said, “Wendy! Hi! Randy was just talking about you the other day!”

Wendy smiled politely and said, “Oh, how is he doing? Tell him to call me sometime.”

Elaine passed on the message.

Encouragement received.

So, in true stalker fashion, I learned where she lived, and began to drive by as often as I could, usually on my way to work. I had had to cut my long hair in order to take a job on the night crew at Kraft Foods, where my mom worked during the day. Anyway, I was just hoping for a glimpse of the this girl. Instead, every time I drove by, there were 8-10 kids playing in the driveway. I remember thinking, “Oh great, she has a ton of brothers and sisters.”

One day, I mustered the courage to stop, and I walked to the door, rang the bell. A woman answered ( I thought she may have been an older sister (did you catch my compliment, MaryJane?)) but she was not smiling, she had a black beehive hairdo, and she seemed a little mean.

“Uh, is Wendy home?”

“No, she is at modeling class. Who are you?” Still seemed mean.

“Uh, just tell her, Randy Epps came by.” And I practically ran to the car to get away.

When Wendy got home, her mom said, “Some boy came by today.”

Wendy, “Who?”

“I don’t know, Randy something.” ( they were kinda having the typical mom/18 yr old daughter war)

“Epps? Randy Epps?”

“Yeah, that might be it.”

I found the nerve to call. She was wonderful! We talked for four hours. That is when phones were plugged into the wall.

She asked me to come see her, so I went a couple of hours before I had to go to work. I worked from 10:00 PM to 7:00 am. When she opened the door, I was a little shocked. (A lot)

She said, “You cut your hair!”

She stood in front of me, and she had one of those Twiggy short short haircuts.

I said, “Yeah, you did, too.”

We talked again for a couple of hours, then, at 9:30, I told her I had to go to work. (she told me later, she thought I was just making that up to get away, because I hadn’t told her what my job was.)

So, my point.

Our lives are made up of countless small, seeming inconsequential events, that have to be ordered in some way. God has a plan for us. He gives us countless opportunities to come along for the ride, but he doesn’t force us to do things His way. But he is always moving the pieces around.

By the way, Wendy and I were married four months later.

Perfect match.

God knew me, knew I needed her.

Five years later, her mom finally decided that maybe I was okay.

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FOOLISH PRIDE

Written JUNE 6, 2016 (taking my mind back to a healthier time)

  1. I made the Rice University soccer team in the Fall of 1971.
  2. I became a starter on the Rice University soccer team.
  3. I played a game against the professional Dallas Tornado soccer team with Kyle Rote, Jr.
  4. I scored a goal against The University of Houston soccer team.

Reality:

  1. It was a soccer club. No one got cut.
  2. I was probably at best the second worst player on the team. ( one guy may have placed me a little lower). The only reason I started because I was fast enough to recover from some of the myriad of mistakes I made.
  3. The Dallas Tornado beat us 10-2. I ran alongside Rote a couple of times, but I was less intrusive to him than a gnat.
  4. Took a shot at goal, miskicked it, off my toe, and the banana shot that resulted went right around the outstretched arms of the diving goalie. Not where I aimed it, but…..GOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLL!!!!!
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STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN? NOT YET!

I was at my last stop of the day on Wednesday. Window cleaning all day long. A bunch of ladder work, and I was pretty pooped.

Painters were still working the front of the house, so today, I would do the back windows on the outside, and all the inside windows.

I had nearly finished. The ladder seemed heavy, and I was huffing and puffing every time I moved it.

So, I saved the three high windows at the backdoor for last.

The room had a polished tile floor, with furniture in front of all the windows.

There was a kids version small wooden picnic table with two wooden benches in front of the first one.

I slid the two benches off to the side. There was probably room for the picnic table there, but, for some reason, I felt like I should move it out of the way more.

I slid the table pretty far from the window so it would not be in the way.

I set up my ladder on the first one, the most difficult one.

Before I went up the ladder, I noticed that I had a response on my phone from one of my blog commenters. Still asking me to answer his questions in the way he wanted.

We were in a long going (argument) discussion.

Later, I thought, I just want to finish this job.

He had been troubling me for some time for “real evidence that God is real” and never seemed satisfied with any thing I said.

He said I was copping out, just like all Christians do, and he knew so many who “had been genuine Christians” and had deconverted.

I had told him I didn’t believe that was possible, because I had been broken, and when I converted, “I had been fixed. A whole new person.”

“So,” He asked me, “If you were deconverted, would you be un-fixed?”

“It’s not possible,” I said.

The latest comment was “answer the question.”

I thought I had, so I went back up my ladder, finished the tallest window, came down and moved the ladder.

“So heavy” I puffed.

As I climbed, when I got to about 12 feet, the ladder slid.

I tried to quickly go down, but instead flew off.

First glimpse was how far away the floor was.

Next I landed on my back with a crash.

Not a thump. A crash.

Picnic table? How did I land on the picnic table? I moved the table out of the way, didn’t I?

If you’ve ever fallen from a distance, you know you don’t jump up.

I cried, “Lord, Jesus.”

The pain was real.

My next thought. “Third fall. How do I tell Wendy?”

The argument I had been having didn’t seem very important.

I stood. “That’s good.”

Arm movement hurt.”I’m not gonna try to finish. Just gotta figure out how to get my stuff out of the house. Left arm, no strength. Think I broke my shoulder blade.”

On the floor is a splintered child’s picnic table.

Many splinters.

I moved it out to the patio. “I’ll have to explain this to the owners,” I thought as I huffed, and puffed, an gasped in pain as I made trips to my van to load my stuff.

Yeah, I drove home. A little over an hour.

Pure will power.

In the emergency room, I told the doctor about the picnic table miracle.

“So, I had moved that picnic table out of my way. When I fell, 12 feet up, I landed flat on my back on that picnic table.” He made a face like that must have been really bad.

“It saved my life. It cushioned my fall. My head never hit the floor.”

I have to say right now that I don’t have a reason for moving the table to that place in the room.

I certainly didn’t plan to have it there, just in case.

There had to be one orchestrating this process.

Bad things happen all the time, but we have to be looking for the little things, the small details that change everything, the proof of a loving knowing God who knows what we need when we need it.

The CAT scan showed broken left shoulder blade (I knew it) and a broken back (T4 vertebra, fractured and compressed, but in place). No surgery.

I smiled. It could have been so much worse.

I wrote my online opponent the next day.

“I like to think that the reason I don’t have brain damage, crippling injuries, or a coffin is because God has given me to you as a gift.”

I don’t think he felt the same.

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LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

July 1, 2015

The declaration of independence says that our creator has given certain indisputable rights; Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Apparently, the right to life doesn’t apply to the unborn, and liberty is slipping between our fingers as our government grows more and more, and decides what liberties are good for us, and which ones we cannot handle.

The pursuit of happiness is the one that is at the forefront now. There is a group that says if we can just change the definition of marriage to include us, then our pursuit of happiness will also be fulfilled.

But, if the future proves that the redefinition doesn’t bring the happiness, then the probable next step will be to blame the lack of satisfaction on a group or groups that did not agree with the changed meaning of marriage in the first place.

Some change is good. Some change, when enacted in haste without taking into account possible future ramifications, may bring unfortunate outcomes.

I’m not a prophet. But we will see.

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WHEN THE FOCUS CHANGES

One thing about getting old is that you remember simpler times, before technology, before the great darkness.

A time when a woman’s pregnancy was referred to as “with child.”

There was no question. That small change growing in her womb was a child.

Not a mass of tissue, a child.

“She is in the family way.” (When a family meant mother, father, children.)

The reason abortion was rare and not legal was because people were aghast that you would consider ending the life of that growing child.

The sinister voice of the destroyer was in the world then as well, whispering to those who would hear.

“You could make some good money, if you will help these poor desperate young girls prevent this horrible mistake from ruining their life.”

Sometime, in the 60’s,the narrative changed.

“Poor, desperate young girls are being forced into back alley abortions, coat hanger abortions because people don’t think they should have a right to make their own life decisions.”

“It is simply a mass of tissue we are removing.”

A growing mass of tissue with DNA that is different from the mother’s DNA, with capabilities and possibilities built into that DNA that could do great and marvelous things for the world.

If only it survives until birth.

Since 1973, it is estimated that over 54,000,000 abortions have been performed in the United States.

That is 1,255,813 children killed before they start, every year.

That is 3,440 children deprived the chance to live every single day.

I live in a town of about 1300 people. If three towns this size were destroyed every single day, what would we do?

But, when the focus changes, everything changes.

We have several generations now that have always had this “choice” available.

I wonder why the country has become so irreconcilably divided these days.

Could it be that that one sinister voice of the one whose purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy has finally gained the ear of the majority?

“Did God really say…?”

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I JUST CAN’T HELP MYSELF

I’M SORRY.
I JUST CAN’T HELP MYSELF.
SERIOUSLY.
I CAN’T.

“Then enjoy it, Randy just keep it to yourself.” (Facebook friend on sharing my faith, 6/27/16)

Those of you who know my wife, Wendy, know what an incredible cook she is.
Yesterday she saw something about homemade curly fries on Facebook, she tried it out, and she built an entire meal around curly fries. Fried chicken (John Bush recipe with tobasco honey), fresh corn on the cob, salad, fresh watermelon, and, yes, homemade curly fries.
I wish you could have tasted it.
I don’t think I am better than you, I just wish you could taste it.

When I was in school, one time a math teacher was doing a long, involved problem on the board. Early on, I saw that she had forgotten to carry a 2, and I raised my hand to tell her. She couldn’t see me, because she was facing the board. So, I blurted out, “You forgot to carry the two.” She stopped, looked, corrected the error, and said, “Thank you.”
If she hadn’t changed it, everything from that point on would have been an error.
I didn’t think I was smarter, or better than my teacher.
I just happened to see her one mistake.

On May 8, 1978 when I discovered that God, in fact, was real, and not some vague concept that I only irregularly entertained in my thoughts, my life went from a two dimensional black and white silent movie in the fog to a multidimensional HD color movie with surround sound. I found a love for the One I now knew as my Father, and discovered a love for the words I began to see in the Bible with new eyes and understanding.

My life became so rich, I began to see the mistakes I had been making, causing me to completely miss the path I had just discovered.
New sights, sounds, thoughts thrilled me every day.

I just wanted people to taste it.

It didn’t make me better than them.

I just wanted them to see the one mistake that may be keeping them from this amazing path of life.

Because I wanted good for them.

Now I know, tastes are different, and some people don’t like to be told that they may have made a mistake.

But I won’t know that about you until you tell me.

In the meantime, just taste this.
It is the best ever.

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CONFUSION?

Now that I am considered by some to be getting old, and the scarcity of my hair and the color of my beard seem to confirm that fact, I am beginning to realize that no matter what i say or write, at least half of my audience will disagree with me.

But, it’s not just the disagreement. We have always had disagreements.

It is the “That offends me!” response that makes this world so difficult.

I guess that is the nature of this “new normal” we are living in.

But it started way before the pandemic.

At some point, having a difference of opinion has become a reason for friendships to end, families to break apart, and discussion to turn into venomous attacks against one’s character.

You know that what I am saying is true.

I am living in a world where I am forced to take a side.

The other side becomes my enemy.

Or, I can just keep my mouth shut and try to stay out of the conflict.

I JUST CAN’T!

Now, a rope hanging in a garage or a park becomes a hate crime, a statue of an historic man or woman becomes a reminder of some horrible offense, a person’s skin tone is again becoming a reason to divide, law enforcement has suddenly become something the world is questioning, a protest that turns violent is considered a form of free speech, and hatred is applauded.

I remember when my mom used to teach me not to say I hate anyone.

There is a scripture in Matthew where Jesus is warning his disciples of the world that is to come where things are gonna get pretty bad.

He says, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” Matthew 24:12

So, since I can’t keep my mouth shut, here is my take on this world in which I find myself.

We can’t fix it.

There is no government, no movement, no radical protest, no violent protest, no well phrased speech, no chanted mantra, no charismatic leader that can change the course of “the love of many growing cold.”

The heart has to be changed.

And, that can happen!

Trouble is, I have to give up my efforts to fix myself, or fix you, and give myself back to the one who made me.

You have to do the same.

I know what you are thinking, “Here we go, the religious thing.” And you close me off.

I become the enemy.

That’s the natural thing to do.

This heart change, though, is not “natural”.

It actually is in direct opposition to everything you have ever done before.

Something happens to your thought processes and you begin to sense a love for others begin to grow inside. An affection, a sense of wanting to help others, a sense of peaceful rest, a sense of patience with the faults of others, a sense of kindness toward those that yell at you, a new found love and trust for your God, a sense of being gentle toward those around you, a sense of having control over your old way of reacting, a sense of joy that you just can’t quite explain.

That’s it. You just can’t explain it.

He calls you, “Come to me and I will give you rest,” and you come.

The eyes of your heart are opened for the first time.

You become a completely new person.

A little bit at a time.

And, you begin to perceive the “image of God” in those you meet, even if they haven’t had their hearts changed, yet.

You hear a voice inside saying, “This is the way! Walk in it!”

And that is when the change in the world comes.

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SERENDIPITY

Father’s Day 2017

We were sitting around the table after a barbecue lunch, Craig (Wendy’s brother)and Belinda ( Craig’s wife), Blair (Wendy’s dad) and Mary Jane (Wendy’s mom), Randy and Wendy, Zoë, and Glenda ( Belinda’s mom). Adam, Staci, and their three girls were in the other room, the squeals, cries, and laughs of the three girls rolling into the room where we were sitting, along with an occasional visit of one of the three.

Blair retold a story of his dad curing a horse of “blind staggers.”
Around 1935
Blair: I think it was one of the McGills that brought his horse into daddy’s blacksmith shop.
“Doc, my horse is really unsteady on his feet. He’s always stumbling.”
“Blind staggers,” Daddy said. “Blair, get me that two by four over there, and that little sledgehammer.”
I handed ’em to him.
Daddy turned to McGill and said, “Now, hold this board in front of his eyes so he can’t see anything.”
McGill held the board, and Daddy whacked it square in the middle, right between the horse’s eyes.
That horse went down to its knees.
McGill thought Daddy had killed it.
But, the horse got up, and McGill led the horse, staggerin’, out the door.
A couple of days later, I walked out to the mailbox. It was way out at the road. McGill rode up on his horse.
“Hey, Blair, you tell your daddy he really knows his stuff. My horse hasn’t stumbled once since he worked his magic.”

I asked Glenda how she was related to Dillman Foster.

Dillman had been Wendy’s and her family’s next door neighbor in Garland. She was a widow, whose two sons shared her house. Mickey and his wife, Mary, their two kids, Sandy and Ricky, and Mike, the second son.

Dillman, after the others moved out, decided to move back to Winnsboro where her family lived. She hired Blair to do the plumbing for her in the house at Lake Winnsboro.

Glenda said,”She was my aunt, my mom’s sister. When I was young, I lived with her for a time.”

While Blair had been doing the plumbing for Dillman, he would drive back and forth, from Garland to Winnsboro. In that time, he met Glenda Harper and her husband, Dick, as well as other members of that family.

He liked the area so much, he and Mary Jane began considering a move to East Texas. They would drive out on weekends and look at land, and houses.

When they found the forty acres they live on now, they had us come down to look.

They took us over to the Harper’s house to introduce us, and we met the whole family, Dick, Glenda, Belinda, Richelle, David, and Arthur. Richelle kinda bonded with Chelsey, and she took her back to her room to play with Barbies.

Belinda said, “I remember that. Sandy gave me those Barbies, and I gave ’em to Richelle.”

Wendy said, “Sandy? Sandy Foster? I gave my Barbies to Sandy. I also had a brown suitcase filled with homemade Barbie clothes that this lady that Mom knew had made me.”

“We had that suitcase, I’m pretty sure!”

I asked, “Did y’all ever meet when you lived in Garland?”

Wendy said, “No, I don’t remember that.”

Belinda said, “We used to go to Aunt Dillman’s a lot in the summer. It’d be us four kids, Sandy, Ricky, and three other cousins.”

I asked, “So, did y’all play outside? Did you ever play in the driveway next door?”

“Oh, I’m sure we did. All of us.”

Now, here is the weird thing. Summer of 1972, I had seen Wendy’s picture in my sister’s SGHS yearbook. I thought I would like to date her.

I found out where she lived, Oriole, in Garland, and I finally figured out how to get there.

So, trying to get up enough courage to actually talk to her, I would just drive by, hoping to get a glimpse, maybe see her outside, and start an innocent, random conversation.

So, I drove by the house, the first time, and there were nine or ten kids, playing in her driveway. I thought she must have a bunch of brothers and sisters.

“Belinda, could that have been you?”

“Could’a been, Randy, could’a been.”

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I CAN BE A SHEEP

That’s what you want, right?

I can follow a shepherd. It seems a lot of people can follow a leader. Or two. Or three. So many voices.

The trouble is, there are a lot of flocks out there.

And they are not friendly with each other.

Some of these “shepherds” keep changing the rules. A good sheep will keep following, even if the shepherd makes a few mistakes.

Or a lot of mistakes.

I can see this cartoon in my mind: a group of people gathered around a leader, hanging on every word.

Another voice calls from the side, “Here’s what we need to do.”

The whole group pitter patters over to the next guy. In perfect unison.

Back and forth.

Over and over.

So many voices.

So many shepherds to choose from.

I’m just not that interested in being a follower of someone who really doesn’t recognize truth. Someone who makes up stuff as he goes along.

Here’s the thing. I already have a Shepherd, and He doesn’t make mistakes.

Now, I do.

Quite often, actually!

I can actually find myself wandering away from His flock. Not on purpose.

Just because I get distracted with the many, many arguments flying all around.

We have to choose sides, don’t we?

So, in my wandering away, my shepherd grabs his rod and his staff and comes looking for me, to bring me back to the place of safety, peace, nourishment, and purpose.

I am reminded of the reason I belong to this flock.

The Shepherd found me.

He invited me to join Him.

He gave me something I couldn’t lose, a Life that lasts forever.

The ability to see His plan,

to hear His voice,

to see the darkness,

to choose the light.

Those in the darkness hate those in the light.

I love my Shepherd with everything that is in me, and, because of that love toward Him, I am learning to love those around me with the kind of love He offered to me.

The kind of love that wants the best, even if they can’t see it.

He says to me, “Love me, then treat everyone as you want to be treated.

EVERYONE!”

I don’t need someone to tell me how privileged I am, how certain skin tones need to be elevated above others, how I should fear every virus, how I should isolate myself, mask myself, seek revenge, despise those that disagree with me, do all these things that directly oppose those things my Shepherd has been telling me all along.

Things like:

Do not fear,

Trust me with all your heart,

Love your neighbor as yourself,

I will give you a life that lasts forever,

I know the plans I have for you,

Do not confirm to the ways of darkness.

“But, wait,” you say. “This shepherd you follow…he died a long time ago, right? Don’t you think you should follow someone a little more real?”

There is no one more real!

He walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I belong to him.

You can, too.

But you have to let Him fix you first so you can see Him,

hear Him,

see the darkness…

And choose the light.

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