The Love Shop?


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The Love Shop?

A young lady came in and stopped in front of a display near the entrance. In the middle of a grouping of plaques, Psalm 23, was printed in elegant calligraphy on pale green parchment-style paper, with a beautiful, ornate frame. She stood there several minutes, then left. She returned a few minutes later, and stood there again for several minutes. I walked over to offer to help, and noticed her wipe away some tears. I asked if there was anything I could do to help. She turned her face toward me. She was stunningly beautiful, in spite of a long scar down her right cheek. With evident sorrow in her voice, she simply said, “no.” She stood before the Psalm for another minute or so, then left.

LoveShop

Then there was the young man who applied for a job (I’ll call him Joe). As I interviewed him, I pointed out that we sometimes had people who came in wanting to talk about the Lord. Sometimes they had questions. Sometimes they sought advice on a Bible. I asked if he felt he could answer those questions. He began asking questions himself. Before the interview was over, he had asked Jesus into his heart.

Dave (not his real name) was a teenager from Chicago. He was staying with his cousins. They attended the same church we did. Trish and I were working with the youth, and had met him there. Dave had a lot of hurts covered by a pretty tough shell. He came into the store one day and was looking through the records. [If you’re not familiar with records, they’re kind of like prehistoric cds.] He said, “There’s no Christian rock music that sounds as good as the stuff I listen to.” I gave him an album by the group “Resurrection Band” and challenged him to give it a listen.

I left that store for another job within the Love Shop company. A couple of years later I bought that store and another. Shortly after returning, Joe’s parents came in. His mom said, “I’m so glad you’re back. I want to thank you for leading Joe to the Lord. He was so different after that. His attitude changed, his behavior changed. Now he’s in Bible college preparing for the ministry.”

Then she added, “Oh, and you remember Dave? Shortly after you gave him that record, he got word his dad had committed suicide. He was going to have to move. He was cleaning out his closet and found that album on the floor, unopened. He took it out and listened to it. One particular song really caught him and he listened to it over and over. Then he asked Jesus into his heart, and now he’s going to Bible college and is going to be a medical missionary!”

The Love Shop chain was purchased by a group of investors in Ft. Worth. I was working in the corporate office when my boss told me the franchisees wanted to sell the store I had managed. He asked if I’d be interested. You bet I would. We looked into it. We looked at the financial statements. The stores showed a profit. I was young and naive. I didn’t know you could show a profit on paper, and still be totally insolvent. The corporate accountant for the home office told me, “If anyone can make them work, you can.” Turned out, no one could. We bought them by assuming the previous franchisee’s debt, and watched them crumble around us over the next 14 months.

I was pretty much crushed.

I had invested over five years into a concept I really believed in. In addition, I had visions of owning several Love Shops. I was going to be making enough money to start a ministry to street people – addicts and prostitutes. There were lots of street ministries around, leading people to the Lord. But no one was discipling them. The churches either didn’t know what to do with them, or didn’t want anything to do with them. We would give them a safe place to live away from the streets, pimps, and connections. We would provide discipleship, counseling, milieu therapy, job training.

When our world is shaken and everything we hold to crumbles, the eternal still stands. Click To Tweet

This was a tough one to bounce back from. It was a few years after my divorce. Trish & I were married and had three children. I took a job as janitor at our church, and proceeded to rethink my life. This was the season when I’d drive down the road, see a dip sign, and felt like it was announcing my presence. It was also a season of soul searching, Bible study, and prayer. It was the beginning of my understanding that when our world is shaken, and everything we are holding onto crumbles, the eternal still stands. There is always One who never leaves us or forsakes us. He is faithful.

Has there been a time in your life when your hopes and dreams turned to ashes and slipped away? What happened? How did you recover? Have you recovered?

When It’s Time for a Change


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When It’s Time for a Change

The phone rings. It gradually pulls me from a sound sleep. I roll over and raise my eyes enough to see the clock. 2:52 a.m. Family? Something wrong with Mom or Dad?

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A week earlier. A different phone call. Henry called and said he really needed to talk. He asked if he and his wife could come over. I made it a policy to not have clients from the drug treatment center in my home. There were very few exceptions. That night, I made one for Henry.

Henry had been doing well on the program, I thought, but was in a car accident and wound up in the hospital for a few days. When the doctors found out he was on methadone, as treatment for heroin addiction, they would not give him any morphine based pain killers. In fact, the pain killer they gave him was known to be an antagonist to morphine and should have thrown him into withdrawals. It didn’t happen, and it got his attention. Henry knew in his heart that something unusual was happening. He wasn’t sure what, or whether it was good or bad. Frankly, it scared him.

One of the nurses at the hospital was “different.” He asked her, and found out she was a Christian. He shared his fears with her and began crying as he did. He wasn’t sure why he cried, but he did. She talked with him awhile and comforted and encouraged him.  All of this was very strange to Henry.

Right after he got out of the hospital is when he called and asked if he could talk with me. When he and his wife came over, he opened up. He shared his story about the accident and how he wound up in the hospital. He revealed, too, that he had been beating the system at the treatment center. Although we thought he had been staying “clean,” he was using about $200 of “street dope” a day on top of his 50 mg of methadone. He really should have gone into withdrawals in the hospital, with or without the antagonistic drug.

He wanted to know about Jesus. He asked questions. He shared his past hurts – an abusive father who deserted his family when Henry was a young child. His mother turned lesbian as a result. She kicked him out as a young teen. He shared some other relationships gone bad. “Everyone whom I’ve ever trusted in my life has let me down or deserted me. How do I know that Jesus won’t, too?” He asked. I told him there was no way I could convince him with words that God was trustworthy, but I would pray that somehow, God would get through to his heart and show him that He would never fail him. With tears in his eyes and sincerity and fervency in his voice, Henry replied, “You do that, because I really do want to trust Him.”

A few days later. The phone call. 2:52 a.m. me (sleepy and a little unsure I wanted to answer): “Hello?
Henry (voice full of enthusiasm): “Hello, Rick, this is Henry. I just wanted to tell you I just got saved!
That got my attention. Now wide awake: “Wow, Henry! That’s great!
Henry: “Yeh. I couldn’t sleep. So about 1 o’clock I came downstairs and started reading my Bible and after about an hour, I just got down on my knees and asked Jesus into my heart!

Change can be scary. Perhaps the biggest challenge to change is fear. We settle deep into our present misery and become comfortable there. No matter how promising the hope of future good, we’re afraid to let go of the only thing we’ve ever known. To venture out, even for the relief and peace and joy for which we’ve always longed, is just too risky. What if someone let’s me down again? What if I fail again? I just couldn’t handle another disappointment.

That’s kind of what I was referring to in an earlier post when I talked about feeling beat up by life. After getting slapped down a few times, you just are afraid to get up anymore.

The past few days, I’ve been trying to set the stage for this blog. Life is full of both good and bad. Most of us know that. Eventually we even come to accept it. Victory comes when we not only accept it, but embrace it. This blog is about embracing it. It’s about why we should embrace both the good and the bad. It’s about how to. It deals with matters of faith. It deals with learning to be thankful. However, what I hope really makes it unique is not just saying, “thanks.” I am on a journey to embrace Extreme Gratitude. Come along. Join the conversation. Join the journey.

Life is full of both good and bad. Victory comes when we not only accept both, but embrace both.… Click To Tweet

Are you at a place where you know you need to make some changes? What needs to be different? Would you share a time when you knew you needed to change and hesitated taking that first step. What happened?

 

But You Don’t Know What I’ve Been Through!


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But You Don’t Know What I’ve Been Through!

Sometimes life can really knock you around. It might have been physical bullying by someone, but not necessarily. Have you ever been through situations that left you feeling like you were just beaten up by life itself? I have. There was a season when I even took “dip” signs personally.

dip

While I was in seminary, I took a full-time job as a counselor for narcotics addicts. That was an eye-opening experience for this naive, church kid from suburbia. I saw a whole new subculture. There was a depth of hurt and despair I had never seen before. Well, maybe I had, but just never really comprehended it. At the same time my eyes were being opened, I was able to show my clients a level of care and compassion they had not experienced before. Unfortunately, most of them couldn’t comprehend it.

Like most people, they thought, if you haven’t been where I am, experienced what I have, you can’t help me. I’ve learned that’s just an excuse for not being helped. If someone gets too close to helping us it means change is coming. As much as we may detest our current situation, most of us are afraid of change. So, we will even narrow the definition of experience. “If you haven’t experienced exactly what I have, then you can’t understand or help me.”

A few of them got it, though. Very few ever moved to the point of really being willing to change. But some understood enough to be willing to open up, become vulnerable, share at a deeper level, listen, and be helped.

Dave, one of my clients, saw me downtown one day. I was coming out of the courthouse. He asked what I was doing down there. He thought I was visiting someone in jail, or maybe dealing with a ticket. I told him I was coming from the divorce court where my divorce had just become final. He was shocked. “I had no idea you were going through something like that. You’ve been hurting all this time you’ve been trying to help us? And you’ve been dealing with that without it showing, and without using drugs?”

It was kind of an epiphany for both of us. He realized people could actually go through a crisis in their lives, something very painful, and deal with it without drugs. And, I found the common ground I had with my clients. There really are a limited number of emotions available to any of us. We all have the same set of emotions with which to respond. That’s not what makes us different. That’s where we can relate. The difference is the outside stimulus. It could be divorce, an abusive parent or spouse, death of a loved one, bullying, failure, a rebellious child, a miscarriage, cancer or some other illness. Whatever it is, we only have that limited set of emotions with which to respond. The difference is how we choose to respond. Or, maybe more accurately, how we have learned to respond.

Through it all, I’ve learned God is faithful. He never leaves us or forsakes us. I’ve learned I’m not a dip. I’m His child. His heir. He really loves me. And even if I’m a nobody, I’m no less than anyone else. And, I’ve learned to be thankful – and that’s what this blog is mostly about.

join the conversation:

How about you? Have you ever had a time when life seemed to just trample right over you? How did you feel? How did you deal with it? What did you learn? What do you have to be thankful for?

God Gave It All Back


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God Gave It All Back

In 1994, I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Africa. I was working for Word Records as a sales representative. I had 3 weeks vacation a year, but they rarely allowed us to take all 3 weeks at one time. We had sales conferences 3 times a year. These were big events with information about our upcoming product releases. Missing one was unheard of. The mission trip would be 3 weeks long, and would overlap a major sales conference. My supervisor was doubtful, but said he would present my request to the VP of sales.

Meanwhile, I had a dream. Here’s the short version: My wife, Trish, and I were in the sky over the east coast of the United States. There was a disturbance in the water down below. We moved down low to see what it was. It was like a bubbling. I touched one of the bubbles, and suddenly, I was flying across the ocean. I quickly came to the coast of Africa. As I neared the coast, the words “I want Africa” burst from within me. As I set foot just beyond the beach, I looked up the coastline and saw the skeletal remains of an old sailing ship. I was in a village with people milling around, going about their daily lives. My heart ached to do something for them, “to improve their lives and give them hope.”

When I shared this with Jimmy Hodges, the organizer of the mission trip, the first thing he said was, “Have you ever been shipwrecked in your life?”

preaching in Malawi

preaching in Malawi

As I mentioned yesterday, as a youth I felt a call to the ministry and thought that for me that meant foreign missions. Right after that experience, I was riding home from church with my Mom. She asked, “What would you do if God sent you to Africa? You’d be a long way from family.” I said, “I would go. If that’s what God wanted He’d take care of me.”

Just before college, the Lord spoke to my heart about staying in this country. I would still be in the ministry, just not overseas. I went to Louisiana College and majored in religion, minored in Greek.

I met a girl. She played the piano, had a nice voice. We sang together. She was “called to be a pastor’s wife.” We thought we had a lot in common. We got engaged our freshman year at college. Married the next summer.

Through college, I worked in churches doing music and youth ministry and interim pastorates. My senior year, I was also Chaplain’s Assistant at a mental hospital. I finished college a semester ahead of schedule. Over Christmas break, we loaded up a U-Haul and moved into a simple little white frame house a few blocks from seminary in Ft. Worth.

All was good. I had a good reputation. I had the respect of my peers, and my relatives were proud of me. I knew what I was going to do with my life. I had a wife who shared in those plans. I was working on a masters degree. It was all “gain,” as Paul put it in Philippians.

Our parents had advised against our getting married so young. “At least wait until after college.” Most of our college friends had questioned our plans. “You guys argue all the time. Are you sure you want to get married?” We didn’t see it. “We don’t argue that much.”

Yes, we did.

It didn’t take long after we were married for us to admit it. Within a year or two, the “d” word was being tossed around. But, I was in the ministry. Divorce just wasn’t an option. Eventually, it was. She decided she had never loved me. She didn’t want to have my children. She just married me to get away from her alcoholic parents. She wanted out. Most of her reasons sounded like quotes from the soap operas she watched, or from Barry Manilow’s music. However, she was afraid God would punish her if she actually divorced me. Still, she wanted out. I let her go – hoping to somehow, someday win her back. Then, when I found out there was another man, I gave up and filed for divorce myself.

I had been raised to believe a divorced person could not be in the ministry. In my mind, I was done. Everything I had considered good about my life seemed to slip through my fingers like sand.

Return to Africa. – Word did approve my missing the sales conference and going on the trip.
After a week of training local church leaders we began a series of open air meetings in local villages. Our first night preaching in the villages, we saw 3,000 people accept the Lord. The African pastors who were with us were celebrating and rejoicing and singing. Their joy enhanced ours. It was the most amazing time of worship and thanksgiving I’ve ever experienced.

Jimmy commented, “Most ministers work their entire life-time pastoring churches, and never experience in their whole careers what we saw tonight.”
The Lord spoke to my heart, “Those 20 years you’ve been out of the ministry, I just gave them all back to you.”

Have you ever had a time of major loss or deep hurt? How did you move on from there? Have you experienced healing and restoration?

What Have You Lost?


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What Have You Lost?

Have you ever been sure of something, but then, it didn’t happen like you thought?

You were just sure he’d ask you to the prom. He didn’t. You were sure your team would beat your rival school from across town. They won. You were sure you’d get that key promotion. It went to the new guy. You were sure he was the man of your dreams. The marriage ended in divorce.

IMG_8792

In high school ROTC, we had inspection every Friday during class. Best-Dressed competition was voluntary.

You arrived an hour before school started for an intense inspection. Uniforms were checked down to the minutest detail. Creases had to be perfect, and shirts wrinkle free. Ribbons were attached and patches sown the exact regulation distance from pockets or seams. Shoes shone like mirrors. Brass was polished to a perfect shine – no smudges, and no left over traces of Brasso Polish. The smallest “cable” (loose thread) was a demerit. You had to be able to answer any question over anything you had been taught regarding military science from chain of command, to weapons, to first aid…. I won.

On awards day, I even received the Brigade’s highest honors, Senior Army Instructor’s Ribbon, the Military Excellence ribbon, and the District Army Instructor’s ribbon. Whoever won Best-Dressed their junior year, was a shoo-in for Lieutenant Colonel, Battalion Commander, as a senior. The winner of the Military Excellence award sometimes even made full Colonel, Brigade Commander, over all the schools in the district.

Senior year came and promotions were announced. Battalion commander went to someone else. He hadn’t even placed 3rd in Best-dressed. Everyone was shocked. I was promoted to Major, S-2, third in command of the battalion. After class, I asked the instructor why. He said it went to the guy with the highest overall GPA. No one had ever said anything about that to us before. We thought it went to the guy who was the best in ROTC. I was disappointed.

I didn’t let it bother me too much, though. ROTC was something for high school, but as a youth, Africa seemed to be in my future. I was going to be a missionary. But, that’s a whole ‘nother plan. Over the next few posts, I’ll share some other unexpected turns in my life and look at how we can deal with those events in the light of God’s Word (if everything works according to plan).

Sometimes things just don’t turn out the way we expect. It may be something simple. Or it may be something that seems to alter the course of our entire life.

Can you relate? What plans have you had that didn’t work out the way you expected? Small or large, can you share a time when it seemed your best plans and dreams were ship-wrecked?