The incredible freedom we have in Christ is not a killjoy. Before I say one bad thing about California I want to write that it was my favorite place growing up.
Moving to California we stopped at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO for some R&R. We stayed in a cabin with a big front window that looked out upon mountain peaks that shouted the glory of God. Deer and squirrels literally came up close to the cabin, and you could tell they were used to vacationers being present. My brothers and I swam, roller skated and played basketball before we climbed back into the car to go to our new home. It was a beautiful experience.
When we got to California the church had put a big banner saying Welcome Tomlinson Family across the garage, and there were several members inside the parsonage who greeted us when we walked in. The Loftis, Masonhall and Sutton families stand out in my mind as those who embraced us like we were blood related. Jesus has that kind of impact on people, and when we embrace his presence powerful things happen that are talked about many years later. My heart is heavy for people who can’t open their own hearts to that kind of love. In a world where we hide that kind of community is rare. Church life as exceedingly grown into something of an abnormality for weak minded people, but I see it as just the opposite. Church should be where we can remove every pretense to show our brothers and sisters who we really are. Those kinds of churches exist, and I think my wife, daughter and I are a part of one. Maybe that’s what God was trying to show me from California to Florida. There are people in churches who are the salt of the earth, but the struggle amidst darkness will make people fall. We fall, we get up, we forgive ourselves and others, and we look to the One who sustains us through it all.
It’s paining me in this moment that Dinuba was only home for two years, but God’s sovereignty was never in doubt as the human play played out on stage. The characters weren’t in the least bit actors, but Satan doesn’t need thespians to deceive others. We deceive ourselves, and when words are many sin is not absent.
I first heard evangelical pastor Jeff Walling in Dinuba, California. As you can imagine he inspired dad’s little church, but I don’t remember if anyone became a Christian during Jeff’s talks. He planted seeds as he continues to do so today. It’s amazing how the seeds we plant are grown by the Father. Evangelism is real. Telling others about Jesus is never a wrong choice. We get comfortable in our little, medium size and large churches, and so many times we are lazy when it comes to sharing the Gospel with those who have fallen away or have never obeyed it. May we repent.
Ellis and Doreen Masonhall bought my brothers and me bunk beds. They were retired public school teachers who loved God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. They took us to different places, and they just loved on us as if we were their grandchildren. Their granddaughter Valorie would sometimes go with us. We went back in 1998, and Doreen’s dementia was such that she didn’t know who we were. She’ll know later when we meet again. Ellis told us about his R.O.M.E.O. group (Retired Old Men Eating Out), and their roses and incredible garden was just as beautiful as I remembered it in the middle 80’s.
Walt and Joann Loftis were precious people, and they too were retired school teachers. We stayed with them in 1998, and their daughter Toni, who acted like a big sister to us when we lived there, came over with her family. We played basketball in the driveway, and Toni’s husband did not want to lose. I can’t really blame him because Toni was really good in high school, but I’m embarrassed for him because he did lose to Joel and me. When you’ve gone to Coach Meyer’s boarding camps, played with incredible players and gotten cut from teams you play with a chip on your shoulder. Put it this way, ball is life. It doesn’t matter if you’re in California, Michigan or Tennessee. Okay, that’s enough trash talk. Did I mention I have a hoop in my Nashville driveway? Bring it.
The Suttons were some more rock stars in Dinuba. They had a sweet pool we swam in a plethora of times. Joel’s bud Charles Shaw would go with us sometimes. This was also during the time when Jeremy wasn’t Jeremy. Sometimes he was Monroe, and other times he was Monroe Charley, but most of the time he was just Monroe. “I not Jeremy. I Monroe,” he’d say. He was like 3-4 years old. Talk about someone who can ball, and that dude is almost 40!
Needless to say our two visits to Pepperdine University and the Malibu community was one for the books. It’s a good thing I didn’t go to Pepperdine because I would have had to drop out because the beach was too enticing. We were eating at a Jack In The Box on the PCH one evening, and I remember an intoxicated homeless man stumbling across the street almost getting hit. Pepperdine is one beautiful campus, and I find it ironic the number of people who have come to my alma mater from that beautiful place. I chose Lipscomb because of Nashville, rather than choosing Harding in Searcy but if Nashville and Los Angeles were the choices why in the world would someone choose Nashville? Truth is stranger than fiction. It’s a “free” country.
Ricky Nelson recorded a song called Travelin Man, and that song describes a lot of people. I’ll leave it at that.
California didn’t stay home, but it was a great experience. San Francisco, Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Forest and Southern California were beautiful to experience, and I hope one day to take my wife and daughter to see those amazing places. After we left we stopped off at Hoover Dam, and my mind went straight to Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman.
And then I thought, man, Lex Luther is such a jerk.