Friday, November 30, 2007

The Itching Label

A trend began a few years ago to remove labels from men's undershirts and T-shirts and replace them with information printed directly onto the fabric. The reason for this change is simple: some labels cause irritation. Comfort rules in the garment marketplace. The older I get, the more I appreciate the philosophy of Gilda Radner, an original member of the Saturday Night Live cast: "I wear what doesn't itch!" I am a sworn Brooks Brothers man, and I was impressed that even the Brothers Brooks surrendered to this great idea.

There are life labels that make me itch, too, only the switch-out pattern has been reversed. I have gone from a very comfortable label--"happily married"--to several uncomfortable ones, like "widowed,” “single parent,” “grieving," and the list goes on. It itches even to write these words.

Now, I understand that my comfort is not the highest priority in life. As a matter of fact, in this new normal of my existence I have come to expect discomfort, and I'm even somewhat comfortable with it. But I appreciate people who are like the new printed labels in my Brooks Brothers undershirts. They try to remove the itch. They refuse to summarize life with an easy and itchy label. They are careful not to label the hurting as grieving or dysfunctional or any other tag. They look beyond the label and see what Jesus saw when he first laid eyes on the woman carrying a water bottle coming from the Samaritan city of Sycar. Her garment was full of itching labels, but he refused to see her that way.

This is where I have been most unlike Jesus. Labels are a way of life for me that I now see differently. Labels are not evil or completely unnecessary, but they can itch. Believe it or not, a small itch can sometimes make a big difference.

Bless someone today by removing the itching label from the garment you wrap around them in your mind. Smile and just show them that you love them and accept them. Who knows--you may be on the verge of setting a captive free.

Ed Litton

Monday, November 26, 2007

Secondary Loss

A secondary loss is a loss that happens after you have lost a loved one. Secondary losses can come when death forces you to move, leave friends, join another church, change jobs or schools. These losses are secondary in name only. Sometimes they have a more profound impact than the loss itself. Often they serve as a unwanted reminder of the greatness and magnitude of your loss.

During these holidays the secondary losses can stack one upon another and begin to become overwhelming. Putting up a Christmas tree has always been a joyous event in our home. We can and have logically anticipated that this was to be another hard process of our grief. As so many others have experienced, this going through the motions rings hallow but necessary. So we put up our tree. We have begun to hang ornaments. We are not finished because of different work schedules, but we will get it done, hopefully this week. Yet, I find a sad and strangely comforting mixture in this. With each ornament I hold I am reminded that Tammy held it last. With each memory wrapped around the special ornaments we have collected in our lifetime together, there is joy in the memory of places visited, the hands of little ones creating this masterpiece and the memories of life together. There is something else. Something I will never be able to say again. It seems strange, but I am speaking of the order in which our well packed Christmas decorations are found. Tammy was the greatest organizer I have ever known. She was not big on labels but she did not have to be. The order she brought to our lives was simple, logical and obvious, not needing a lot of instruction.

Upon opening boxes I found order, sweet order. Plain and beautiful ornaments resting safe in the boxes they were purchased in years ago, waiting to be brought out to the light. I found in stronger boxes the most precious ornaments, those hand made or the ones celebrating milestones in our kid's lives. Then there were the ones from our travels and vacations together as a family. It always seemed strange to buy Christmas ornaments in June and July but we did whenever we could. We went to Washington D.C. so often that we began a collection of special ornaments of the Capital and the White House neatly placed in their original boxes. The Ribbons we wrap the tree in are rolled up in their own place. The other decorations that adorn our living room are in their place. All a tribute to an orderly mind and heart. Tammy's mother tells of cooking one day when Tammy was about three years old. Tammy marched into the kitchen with a pad of paper in one hand and a pencil in the other. She pulled a drawer out and stood on it to reach the counter top. She then proceeded to make a list of the things she would do that day.

Order is a precious gift to a family, especially a grieving family. Our lives were well ordered and by God's grace and thanks to the Holy Spirit, continues to be, well, not quite as orderly. I make list now even though it is not my nature to do so. We struggle to get a grip on different and ever changing schedules. I am reminded that she brought order to our lives and for that I am so grateful. Last July, about a month before her death, Tammy and I were traveling and really enjoying each others company. We were talking about our finances, a subject that she brought from chaos to order every day. She stopped mid sentence and said, with her rye sense of humor. "You better hope I never die, because you will be in a world of hurt if I do." My response, "I have a simple solution to that, Don't die! Then we will be alright."

Well, she was right, I am in a world of hurt. My world of hurt is not total choas, thanks to her, nor is it found in want, but a powerful sense of loss. I have lost the one who ordered my life and made it possible for me to do what I am called of God to do. It may be what is termed, "Secondary loss" but it feels like a great loss to me.

Order My Steps Lord.
Ed Litton

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


If you've wondered where I  have been away for the past two weeks, I have been hunting.  Some wonderful friends lovingly conspired to give me two diversions that I enjoyed immensly.  I am blessed with friends, dear friends and I feel loved intensly.

If any of my regular readers are concerned about me hunting, you need to understand something about my calling. I am called of God to be a missionary to Rednecks. As any missional person should, I have adapted to the culture I am attempting to reach for Christ. Tammy and I stopped thinking that the term "Redneck" was a punch-line a long time ago. I love to hunt, so It turns out there was a Redneck deep down inside.

Grief marks the days, weeks and now months since Tammy went home to our Lord Jesus.  It is as difficult today as it was in the beginning only in different ways.  I still wonder at times how this could possibly have happened.  I find myself asking God to wake me from this nightmare so I can walk into our home and find her there, but I do not awaken because the nightmare is all too real.  I am consumed with tears at times I cannot predict.  I feel the daily loss of her powerful presence in my life.  She held the key to my heart.  She knew how to unlock me and she knew how to fix what often failed in me simply by her soft, gentle hand on my broad chest. 
I must tell you what causes me awe in these days.  I must share this because of the powerful and valuable resource it has become to me.  I am compelled to tell you that I can feel in a tangible way the prayers of people.  It happens so often that I am no longer suprised when someone tells me that the Lord put me on their heart compelling them to pray for me.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit prompting us to prayer.  Prayer is not the least we can do for a hurting and grieving heart, it is the ultimate act.  I am sustained by the prayers of the saints.  This must have been what Paul felt in prison, knowing that there were distant great hearted people who stayed on their knees on his behalf.  
Pray for those who are hurting.  Pray for the wounded to be healed.  Pray for the joy of the Lord to be the strength for those who have few reasons for joy.  Pray because the mighty power of God awaits our prayers.  Pray and interceed for those in authority.  Pray and thank you for praying for me and my children.  We want to do more than just awaken from this nightmare.  We want to awaken in our souls to the new life God has for us in Christ.  We have not experience yet all that our God has in store for us. 
We wait upon the Lord!
Ed LItton

Monday, November 19, 2007

Warning: Speed Bump Ahead

Have you ever missed the sign? City traffic engineers placed a speed bump in the road to force you to slow down--but in a hurry to get to point “B” you missed the warning. The teeth jarring effect of hitting one of those obstacles is memorable, to say the least. James 4:13-17 was just such a theological [spiritual?] speed bump for me in my study last week.

“Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.”

I'm amazed by the perspective Tammy's death affords me. I'm stunned by the clarity of life at this moment--so much so that I deeply resent the mental and spiritual fog I lived in for so many years. I came to Christ with childlike faith, but I've managed to live this life and do ministry without that same faith. Here's a stunning thought: I can live and do ministry as a practical atheist.

In the above passage, James deals with the sin of presumption. We all make plans, and so we should. What the child of God cannot do, though, is make plans apart from the Lord's will. We may not mean to do this, but the urgency of life, the pressures of time, money, and deadlines squeeze the life out of us. We plan, we presume, and we press on with our day; and what is lost is a simple faith that says, “If it is the Lord's will, I will do this or that.”

The Puritans favored a Latin phrase that became the seasoning of all of their spoken words: Deo volente, which means “God willing.” At the bottom of their writings, the letters DV would appear. The Puritans might make promises and commitments, but always with the qualifier, “Lord willing.” Certainly we don't need another cliché in Christianity, but we do need to reintroduce this concept. We must season our lives with the powerful reminder that we can plan, dream, hope, and even desire to prosper--as long as we humble ourselves and remember that it all depends upon the Lord and His will.

Oh yes, it also depends upon His definition of prosperity not ours. This is why the Scripture admonishes us to pray “in the Spirit.” Our praying must be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who searches out the deep things of God and helps us know how to pray.

What is your life? With regard to time and space, it is like a mist that appears and then vanishes. It seems just that brief.

Sitting in a deer stand in Kentucky last week, I was able to enjoy God's creation and reflect on the beauty of His amazing mind. It rained much of the time there, and between the soft wet drops of rain a mist would blanket the field. The wind would move the mist across the field, but before it came to the tree line, it disappeared.

Life is short. This speed bump in God's Word reminds me to live each day in light of that fact. Eternity is long, so what can I do this day to glorify my God? I will do it, Deo volente!

Ed Litton

Friday, November 09, 2007

When the Invisible becomes Obvious

An invisible being named sadness seems to stalk me. Sometimes it catches up with my fast gait and takes my soul at the most embarrassing moments. In those moments I weep in the most helpless way. Why does God allow this? I wonder out loud. He not only allows it, he seems to encourage it. There's no denial with God. He doesn't deny the reality of sin, pain, sorrow or suffering. It's real.

God is always doing more than meets the eye. He's doing something in us that is seldom motivated by the desire to simply make us happy. He's making me strong, healthy, whole and holy. He is teaching me to trust his invisible attributes and his eternal power. Other footsteps follow me, too. Goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life. These invisible guardians of my soul are just as real as the sadness. They leap on sadness, and the violence is great, but amazingly they always win.

When the Lord is your shepherd, let me tell you how the invisible becomes obvious. Today I was addressing the mundane task of car repair. As I dropped my truck off for a front end alignment, a man with a gracious smile approached me. “Do you remember me?” he asked.

I replied, “Your face looks familiar.”

“My wife and I came to see you about our marriage a few years ago.”

Suddenly I remembered. His wife was a check-out clerk at a grocery store. One day she was checking another woman's groceries, and the woman asked her, “So how are you doing?”
It was as if a dam broke, as the clerk's grief gushed out in tears.

“What's wrong baby?” asked the concerned customer.

“I love the South. It's the only place I know where people aren't afraid to call a total stranger 'baby, honey and sweetie!'” The clerk then burst out, “My marriage is in trouble, and I don't know what to do.”

The woman left her cart and hugged the clerk and comforted her. Then--and at this point I want you to know I'm relating what the clerk later communicated with me--the woman took the clerk's hand and said, “Sweetie, I don't go to church there, but I hear the pastor at First Baptist North Mobile really loves his wife. I'd suggest you and your husband go talk to him. Maybe he could help your husband love you too.”

Through her tears the clerk responded, “I don't know if he'll go see a preacher.”

“Well, honey, he can't go if you don't ask him.”

I remember the couple coming into my office and nervously taking a seat on the couch. I asked why total strangers would want to see me. The wife tearfully told me the story of the meltdown at the check-out counter. “I want this man to love me like I hear you love your wife.”

I'm not trying to make this sound like a Billy Graham film, but before we were finished both the man and his wife prayed and trusted Christ as their savior and lord.

I went home that night and told Tammy about my day. I remember saying to her, “I never dreamed that loving you, which is so easy for me to do, would become an evangelism tool.”

The man at the auto garage gave me a lift back to the office, which gave me another opportunity to catch up on their spiritual journey and once again to encourage their growth in the Lord.

Sadness crawled on me early this morning, but my Good Shepherd sicced Goodness and Mercy on the sorry dog. Before it was over, another invisible friend named Joy showed up.

Ed Litton
*Painting by William Holman Hunt

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Where Are You Wintering?

The Apostle Paul writes to his friend and coworker, Titus, and makes this request: " your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there" (Titus 3:12). In our world of swift travel, it taxes the imagination to think that a journey could take months or even years. Seasons had a profound impact on travel in the ancient world. “Wintering” was the practice of postponing a journey, due to a change in the season. You would plan a long journey knowing you might have to find a place to winter. With travel scheduled in seasons rather than hours, you had to consider where you would live when things turned cold.

Today’s speed and ease of travel threaten to obscure a very important principle. Because I can travel the globe in a matter of hours, I sometimes forget what true progress is. When facing serious set-backs like grief and injury, we need time to recover before our journey continues. Winter sets in, and we must decide how we’ll spend this delay in our progress. We’re so accustomed to quick travel that we've also come to expect quick recovery after loss.

Paul wintered until it was time to travel again. George Washington was forced by encroaching winter to stock up and rest his army at Valley Forge. The good news for Washington was that winter also stopped his enemy cold. Most armies ceased fire during the winter and found a safe place to heal and wait for better fighting weather. Robert E. Lee's favorite place to winter was along the Rapadan River in Virginia. His men would build log churches for nightly meetings, and local pastors would preach great revivals among the troops.

Winter can stop the progress of an army or a world-wide evangelistic ministry like the one Paul was leading. Winter forces us to rely on prayer, because only God can do anything about the weather. In fact, God does not limit himself to an airline schedule. He created us for a world that traveled at a snail’s pace—which means that our souls may, from time to time or season to season, need wintering.

I find myself peeved at set-backs and delays of even seconds in a fast-food line. I cluck my tongue at a long traffic light. Help me understand why I have greater access to the world but experience greater frustration with the briefest delays!

Could you be delayed from your goals for the whole winter? Could you wait for an answer to your prayer for three months or three years? Can you wait for some undisclosed length of time for the Lord to heal your wounds? Certainly he isn’t obligated to keep us informed of his timetable.

Paul tells Titus he’ll be wintering at Nicopolis, a small coastal city in Greece. The city was named for its founder, Emperor Octavion, in celebration of his victory—the Greek word for “victory” is nicos—over Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium. Having doubtless seen the monument to that hollow victory made from the empty hulls of ships destroyed in the battle, Paul settles in for the winter. He knows what it is to rest in real victory. Do we rest, recover, and winter in a place of victorious Christian living? I doubt many of us consider waiting, resting, and healing to be productive activity, much less victorious. I am impatient with delay in the winter of my discontent.

Currently I’m wintering in the seaport town of Mobile, Alabama. It is a place of victory, rest, and hope in Christ—but I get to choose if I will see it that way. My soul winters here until the seasons change and my journey continues. If we’re not careful, we’ll think just like that. Progress is delayed while I winter. In fact, wintering is progress for the soul. Wintering is movement toward prayer and seeking after God. As General Lee demonstrated, wintering is a great time for revival.

I am in a safe place to weep. God has planted my life among a great hearted people. I can weep unexpectantly in my Barbers chair and find a brother in Christ put his arm around me and quietly pray. Thank you, Lord, for my brothers and sisters in Christ at North Mobile. Thank you for their love and prayers. Thank you that in this winter of my sorrow I am safe in a victorious place in Christ, waiting for winter to pass and the sound of battle to begin again. Thank you that in this winter of my soul, I can rest, heal, and pray, finding my strength, wisdom, and direction in you.

Ed Litton