The Island and the Hurricane


Storm Brewing

It was the fall of 1985 when I was sitting in the student union building of a local Baptist bible college eating bacon and eggs while reading the sports page. I had been sitting at one end of a long table or perhaps multiple tables put together. With my head buried in a sea of black ink and football news, a Hispanic hurricane of frenzy at the far end of the table caught my attention. Her audience was a small group of fellow students who were caught up in the conversational storm she was generating.  In contrast, I was like an uncharted island on the outskirts, a mound of sand with no prospects for habitation. At least for now.

I did not catch her name though her white cotton dress with the shoulder ties she wore that day made the perfect backdrop for her long jet black hair and remains branded in my memory banks. Throughout our freshman year, I would see this hurricane popping up all over the tiny campus. I eventually learned that her name was Tina with a funny last name. Incredibly, when you’re talking about a small college like ours, we actually ran in different circles.  For example, I was oblivious to any knowledge of a dance party she hosted at her parents’ house that surely would have caused a huge scandal in this Baptist college, if only for the dancing that took place.  Imagine 25% of a 180 student body crammed into her parent’s modest  Euless,  Texas home, and I wasn’t even there!  It’s just as well. My moves are not exactly ones of local legend.

Swiftly She Moves

The first time I can even remember speaking with her that year was when she approached me to inquire about the availability of one of my friends. Now, I can’t say I tried very hard to help her out as I’m not one for match-making. The next time I remember talking to her was 1 year later as she again grilled me about a guy, a different one who I had just met and who would later end up being my closest friend for the next 3 decades and counting.  This time I made a little more effort and mentioned her to him,  but as it turned out, he wasn’t interested.  But his rebuttal did not deter her from trying and he didn’t realize how difficult it would be to flee such a storm as she relentlessly pursued him.  Even though he had a new girlfriend, the Hurricane wouldn’t be easily dismissed. Ultimately, my friend would not be swept away by the storm. Meanwhile, the three of us starting hanging out and going places because I guess he needed me as some kind of Bizarro wing man.  So I became the quintessential third wheel as my friend drove us around in his early 70’s Buick. Tina sat in the middle of front bench seat and would frequently scoot over as close to him as possible while I sat contently on the passenger side.  This arrangement would go on for many nights out..dinners, movies, what have you.  Even though I was an extra in this little production, the Island and the Hurricane became friends. She would become the sounding board for my girl problems while I covertly ran interference for my friend.  In spite of this development, the hurricane was still nowhere on the radar of this uncharted island.

So, here she was chasing my best friend while I was striking out in my own romantic pursuits. Then came an unexpected twist. As she began to face the reality that my friend would not return her feelings and as I endured my own heartbreak, she and I… the Hurricane and the Island… started doing things together sans the Buick driving buddy.  It started out as simple little excursions, like driving a couple blocks from the college to Whataburger between classes to catch breakfast. I used to get the breakfast on a bun ranchero (do they still make that?) and she would get a hamburger! What? Who eats hamburgers for breakfast?? Hurricanes do, that’s who!  This was rather odd behavior I surmised, for I had been brought up with the novel idea that you eat eggs for breakfast and hamburgers for lunch.  In addition to our many breakfast runs, the hurricane would invite me to her house where I would begin to experience the culinary delights of papas y huevos. (It wouldn’t take me long to learn that Pancho’s is not fine Mexican cuisine).  Of course, she being just as white as I was, called them potatoes and eggs.  (This dish would become my comfort food for the next 32 years.)

One of the strangest times we went out together, as friends of course, was to Randol Mill Park in Arlington. We had been driving around, probably looking at Christmas lights, and decided to go park. It was strange because I have no idea why 2 friends go parking at night. I don’t remember for sure whose idea it was (probably mine), but I do remember that night contemplating holding her hand or putting my arm around her, but I didn’t.  Deep down something was developing beyond the friendship, but I just wasn’t sure about her. I mean, she wasn’t someone I had considered dating before, yet here we were in a sense, dating. We certainly didn’t call it that. It was just one of those many nights we hung out together as friends.

Another thing that was the basis for our friendship was our membership in the college’s traveling ensemble.  When singing on stage she was paired with my friend, and I was paired with…well no one. I was the pianist which means I was by myself in my own little world as the musical accompaniment for this fine singing group. The ensemble would sing at local churches and on campus in chapel services as well as a couple 2 week tours in the winter and spring to recruit for the college. I was enjoying my 3rd semester in the group, and this was Tina’s first. The ensemble presented the first occasion where the hurricane would enter the general vicinity of my coordinates. This experience would prove to be the catalyst for shifting winds that would soon occur.

After an autumn schedule of concerts, the ensemble’s winter tour was coming.  In late December of 1986, 15-17 people jumped on a charter bus and headed for the Southeast region of the country.  When we took off for Florida, the hurricane was still somewhat making waves for my friend, but her patience was finally beginning to waver. (see what I did there?) The storm was finally weakening a little bit.  During the first several days of the tour she sat next to him on the bus while I sat alone across the aisle. Don’t feel sorry for me though as I was perfectly fine with all that. But on January 1st, 1987, the winds shifted.

Baptists in seedy motel rooms

Many of the tour stops were in Florida that winter. The routine was simple. We arrived at a church, unpacked, set up sound equipment, went back to the motel where we stayed, got dressed…guys in matching blue suits with pink and blue paisley ties,  the girls in glossy pink dresses, (Hey, it was the 80’s ok?) and finally back to the church to put on an hour and a half concert.



Though sometimes we would stay in the homes of local church members, more often than not we stayed in motels usually 4 guys to a room and 4 girls to a room. In the evenings we’d go watch TV or play games in other rooms, usually where most of the group members were hanging out.  The three of us were hanging out in one of the rooms watching TV.  Now, before I continue with how this night went, I think it’s important to mention that Tina and I had never had any discussion about us ever being a couple. You could say that the whole concept would have been laughable (for all parties) if it had ever been entertained.  Yet, we were always together during the fall of 1986.  Usually, these times were spent sorting out each other’s romantic pursuits.  In fact, she tried to fix me up with another girl she knew from church after I had finally struck out with the girl I had been pining for. I can vividly remember the particular afternoon where she had set up a meeting between me and this other girl. It was to be at a Burger King in a nearby town. To this day, she makes fun of the little bottle of cologne that sat in the cubby hole of my 1975 brown Dodge Duster with its white vinyl bucket seats. The product was called “Hawk”! And at this point in my life, I had not quite mastered the proper ratio of cologne to splash my face with. The whole car reeked of this potion. It’s a wonder the girl at Burger King agreed to a date shortly after. I don’t even think I asked her out. I was so shy that I think it was actually Tina that asked her out for me.  So I did take this girl out, but as fate would have it, there was no real spark between us and I was back to square one.  The lonely little island with an oncoming storm approaching.

The island and the hurricane were as opposite as could be.  She was an extroverted, relational, grade 5 storm of hospitality while I was an introverted mist of corny humor.  We were the original Monica and Chandler. Just like Chandler, humor was my defense mechanism. One such attempt at humor I performed was when I would grab her, pull her in close, look longingly into her eyes, and move in for a passionate kiss or so it would appear. Then at the last Lucy-holding-the-football moment, I would cover her mouth with my hand and then kiss the back of it. To an onlooker, they would have assumed our lips were locked only to discover with close examination that I was faking the whole thing.group3



So, back to the motel room. (Sounds seedy doesn’t it?) It was New Years Day and the Orange Bowl was playing on television. There we were, the three of us, watching the football game.  I think there might have been a commercial playing when I decided to dust off the old fake kiss comedy routine. (I probably performed this bit a half dozen times)  So as we sat on the bed in front of the tv, I pulled her in close….looked longingly into her eyes, and finally moved in for a passionate fake kiss.  Except, I didn’t cover her mouth this time. My heart began to race and the voices in my head screamed, “what are you doing?!? What are you doing?!!” …and then it happened… The kiss heard around the world!  What must have lasted 5 seconds would transform my life for decades! The look on her face was one of utter shock or pure ecstasy…I can’t be sure.  Meanwhile my friend had the same look on his face (shock, not ecstasy). Of course, I can’t really say with any certainty what his facial expression was because my eyes were clearly fixed on her deep brown eyes the whole time.  There was no joking this time. And these weren’t mere pupils.  For the first time, I was gazing into the windows of my soul mate, this hurricane that whisked into my life, sending waves crashing into my lonely shores. Now, little did I know, the ramifications of all this. I couldn’t see that far into the future. In the moment, I could only think about how this all would be received by our friends the next day on the tour bus as she moved across the aisle to sit next to me. They would surely be stunned by this turn of events.  At that moment, as I looked into her soul, I failed to realize that it would eventually be the one that God would entrust me to cultivate, to encourage, to care for, and to love.  I would be lying if I said that I came to this realization on our wedding day 3 1/2 years later, but even now, after 27  years of marriage, parenthood, and ministry, there is still so much to learn, so much to discover about her…about myself….about Christ at the center.

I could write about the ensuing weeks and months, about how I put us both through hell trying to break up with her only to come crawling back 24 hours after I had secured my “freedom”.  Even when I came to my senses, I still didn’t think this would last. As she would attest, she was the emotion-driven antithesis to my quirky stoicism. I found great comfort in my aloofness as an uncharted island that might never be discovered. She was that hurricane I couldn’t control..I only hoped I could survive the unpredictability.  As it turned out,  my talent for detachment only exacerbated her emotions, and her outbursts served only to stoke the inward fires of my reticence. But by God’s grace, we’ve grown out of our childish ways, which isn’t to say we’re fundamentally different than we were back then. But the view is vastly different. I no longer see her as someone to survive… if that were even possible.  I now only see her as a beautiful, flourishing force of nature!

Paradise Found

No one could have predicted how the Island and the Hurricane would come together to be this perfect match. It’s not what what either one of us was seeking for in the fall of 1986.  You can only attribute it to God’s creativity as he often uses the unimaginable to enlarge our imagination and dispel our presumptions. If not for the Hurricane, this Island would have easily drifted out of view. But God knew it wasn’t good for me to be alone and whipped up a storm to be his appointed means of tethering me to Him.  An island needs a storm to jostle it out of lethargy and a Hurricane needs a place to touch down lest she dissipate into nothingness. God performs unfathomable miracles.  After all, He created this world we live in out of utter chaos. For us, He created our union from the raw materials of passion and introspection.  If left to our natural state, we would have been a chaotic mess, but formed by a Sovereign God, we’re a living testament to His mercy and grace.

Now, on this day, her 51st birthday, I’m so grateful for the chance to grow old with this Proverbs 31 woman…..for the Godly wife she’s been to me, for her forgiveness, for that ferocious heart of hers that pursues her family and never gives up on us, for her model of motherhood marked by patience and endurance not perfection.  I thank God for her as his means to calm my anxious heart while I get to be his means for protecting hers.







The gift a dad would never ask for


Yesterday, social media feeds were filled with dad tributes in the form of grateful posts and blogs. I realize I could have written a blog and posted it yesterday, but sometimes the inspiration doesn’t come until the day has passed. Likewise, the best father’s day gift isn’t always realized until later. My wife asked me over the weekend what I wanted for a gift. It’s not that she isn’t thoughtful, far from it, but because I so frequently purchase what I need or want throughout the year it has become very difficult to buy for me. My son even informed me he had ordered something online the day before and it had not arrived and I’m sure I’ll like it when it comes. However, I am content to relax the special day away with my family, so I don’t lose any sleep over what I might get for a father’s day gift.  Nevertheless, I already received the best gift yesterday and somewhat unexpectedly. I simply got to “play the dad”.

My son’s car had several minor issues that would prevent it from passing inspection today, and yesterday those things needed to be done. Could he have done them on his own? Sure. Did I help him anyway? Sure did. We took a little trip down to the auto parts store to purchase a headlight lamp, license plate bulbs, and a set of wiper blades. I even let him pay for it. We got them home and while I replaced the headlight, he worked on the license plate. Then together, the two of us, mechanically challenged as we are, dripped sweat in the Texas heat while attempting to install the wipers. (insert joke: how many Wrens does it take to…….). Come to find out, the YouTube video led us astray (honest to God) and we drove back up to the parts store and let a professional come out and install them for us.

I came from a line of hard-working Wren men who were paint and body men and mechanics. But it all stopped when it got to me because my dad steered me toward music. No doubt, he tried to convince me to watch him work on cars, but I waited him out in my room on the piano bench until he gave up. (he gave up pretty quick). As a result, I had the privilege of passing down all I know about cars to my son. (insert winky face)

The day of imparting my “knowledge” came yesterday, and together we struggled. In the end, however, he now has working lights and wipers. Indeed, these are cherished moments for me whenever he gets to witness the joys that “adulting” can bring. Of course, he is an adult, but he’s still trying to find the joy in all this. But it’s a true gift for a dad like me to see him through all these mundane tasks. Mind you, it’s not about bailing him out of predicaments like some sort of low level super hero. It’s about the journey, much like the 4 hour mountain hike up McCullough Gulch we did last summer. (see photo above)

I can remember the trailhead offering a contrasting view from the one 2 steep miles up by the waterfall. The trailhead offered hope, looking ahead to the destination, and the waterfall gave us perspective to see how far we had come. Oh, but the middle and its  rocky terrain, obstructed views, thin air, exhaustion, needed respites, and struggle.  Turns out the journey was the bridge between hope and perspective.  I’ve been on this journey called fatherhood a while now and thankfully my hope increases as my perspective broadens. It’s a gift that I really need and really want.

Lean times

shepherd There was a popular gospel song in the 1970’s titled “Learning to Lean”. The lyrics of the chorus were as follows:

Learning to lean…..learning to lean…I’m learning to lean on Jesus
Finding more power than I ever dreamed, I’m learning to lean on Jesus.

As a kid, I didn’t have a grand conception of what these lyrics were saying. Lean on Jesus? I imagined sitting on a rock and gazing at a sunset while leaning next to him as he put his arm around me to comfort me, much like a dad would his little boy. To be honest, the song with the catchy chorus didn’t get much deeper than that. It was not in the same league with many of our timeless hymns.

A few decades later, one begins to realize the sheer magnitude of what it actually means to “Lean on Jesus” but with not much help from the phrase itself. Per Merriam-Webster, one definition of “lean” is “to rely for support or inspiration” which really doesn’t cut it. (Frankly, it was difficult to find a definition that doesn’t fall short.) The phrase “lean on Jesus” seems to imply that He is good for that occasional helping hand or good advice, but it doesn’t paint a picture of minute by minute reliance.

That’s just it, lyrics like these say much about us. We don’t like to think of ourselves as helpless sheep. We don’t want to be “made to lie down in green pastures”. We would rather not venture into “the valley of death”.  Instead, we prefer to seek our own pleasures, like Abram’s nephew Lot who, when given the choice, chose to pitch his tent near a wicked city.  We lack the faith of Abram who relied on God enough that he deferred to Lot when it came to parsing land. Abram knew that no matter where his tents were pitched, the Lord was with him. Keep in mind, Abram had not showed himself to be a bastion of faith before. In the previous chapter, Abram was lying about Sarai being his sister instead of his wife simply to save his own skin. The Lord rebuked him the end of Genesis 12  (through the words of the Egyptian Pharoah who he feared) and then the next thing you read is Abram giving Lot first dibs on the land.

Often when hearing this story, we focus on Lot and his decision as if it is the great turning point of the story when in reality it was a turning point for Abram.  In the previous chapter, Abram attempted to control the outcome through lying which was not an exhibition of true reliance on God. It was as if he was saying, “thanks Lord for getting me this far, but I have a better way to secure the inheritance you promised me.” In fact, we discover that it wasn’t Abram’s scheme which saved him, rather it was God who afflicted the house of Pharoah with plagues which caused him to send Abram and Sarai on their way.

The action of God (afflicting Pharoah) was the catalyst to creating faith in Abram and it only takes a few verses into chapter 13 to demonstrate the change in Abram. He witnessed the power of God and by doing so, came to see the futility of his own plans and it resulted in a faith that viewed God’s unseen promises as infinitely more valuable than the prosperity that lay before him.

Was Abram “leaning on God”? Sure, if leaning means total reliance. His relationship with God throughout the Genesis narrative isn’t one of shared sunsets and fatherly advice to a son. It is one rooted in God’s promises and his sovereign actions to make those promises come to pass. In spite of Abram’s weaknessess and moral failures, he truly learned what it meant to lean on God. Likewise, we must come to see the futility of our ways and wait on God to act. Remember, as the Psalmist wrote, God is the one who restores the soul and He will lead us to the path of righteousness for his namesake. Ultimately, that’s what his promises are for, the sake of His name and the eventual peace and rest of his people.