Guest Columnist John Paul Carter: Our Uncut Pages

Written by John Paul Carter on October 11, 2012

Today our frequent guest columnist, John Paul Carter, an ordained minister who writes for the Weatherford (Texas) Democrat, reflects on how, in our busy lives, we often overlook the obvious answer or solution to a problem.

Perhaps time to slow down and search for answers close at hand? Thanks, as always, John Paul!

Because my mother worked for the Baptist Book Store in Dallas, helping set up church libraries, I never wanted for good books. I think it must have taken half her monthly salary to pay for the books she brought home to me.

One of my favorites was a volume of sermons entitled “Iron Shoes” by C. Roy Angell, a Florida pastor, whose forte was the well-told stories with which he illustrated his homilies. One of those tales is as fresh in my memory now as when I first read it over 50 years ago. This is the story:

A father had given his student son a book for Christmas, some of whose pages were uncut. He urged the boy to read it as soon as he got back to college. The young man returned to his campus, disappointed because his father had not offered him money that he needed for extra expenses. He put the book on the shelf and forgot about it.

Several years later, pocket knife in hand, the boy got around to reading the book. Between two of the uncut pages, he found a generous check from his father.

I can identify with having unread books that I need to peruse – a few with uncut pages – but none with checks for book marks.

Angell’s story reminds me of John Bunyon’s Pilgrim who was locked away in the dark dungeon of despair. After days of anguish, he found to his surprise that the key that could unlock the prison door had been in his vest pocket all the time.

Sometimes, like the boy in the story and Pilgrim, I miss out on God’s grace by becoming so anxious about my problems that I fail to do what is at hand. Often, I later discover that the unknown answers about the future were hidden in the undone tasks of the present.

This month’s emphasis on scripture has reminded me that my Bible has too many uncut pages, although I’ve read it many times in my seventy-three years. I’ve sometimes missed God’s comfort and counsel when I needed it most because I foolishly assumed that I already knew what was there.

The curious thing about the daily reading of even the smallest amount of scripture is that you keep finding undiscovered treasures and reconnecting with old friends – light for the present and the future journey.

“Lord, thank you for the gift of your book about Jesus, your Word. Help me to leave none of its pages uncut. Amen.”

Five More Minutes With His Mother

Written by John Paul Carter on August 27, 2012

Today our frequent guest columnist, John Paul Carter, an ordained minister who writes for the Weatherford (Texas) Democrat, reflects on how our own life experiences continue to shape our memories of our parents in his story entitled, Still Getting to Know Mother. 

“How they do live on, those giants of our childhood,” writes Frederick Buechner, “and how well they manage to take even death into their stride because although death can put an end to them right enough, it can never put an end to our relationship with them….they live still in us.”

My mother, who was born in 1903, has been dead for 32 years now. But strange as it may seem, I feel I know her – and my father – better now than I ever have in my life.

After my parents’ passing, I became aware of so much I didn’t know about their lives – especially their growing-up years and ancestry. This led me to trace their genealogy and learn more about the people and historical context that shaped them.

However, apart from this more recent gathering of data, knowing my parents better has been a long and gradual process, like the fermenting of grapes into fine wine.

As the events of my own life have unfolded and I’ve had time for reflection, a deeper understanding of my parents has evolved.

“Memory is more than a looking back to a time that no longer is,” says Buechner, “it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still.”

Many memories of my mother were my perceptions of her from a child’s perspective.

Some of what I remembered was accurate but other impressions were distorted.

As the Apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child…”

Only later, as an adult, when I had children of my own, did I really begin to know my mother better.

One of many unforgettable insights happened as I drove home alone after leaving my daughter Kristen at A&M at the beginning of her freshman year.

From 25 years before, my mother’s face flashed into my mind as she weakly waved goodbye to me while I excitedly drove away to attend graduate school in Scotland.

After the guilt of my insensitivity had receded, I was grateful to better understand my mother’s mixed feelings.

When over the course of our lives, we, like our parents, have loved, worked, struggled, achieved, lost, rejoiced, grieved, enjoyed good days, survived hard times, aged, and looked death in the eye, then – and only then – can we come close to understanding and appreciating our parents and those who have loved us from the beginning.

Our own experiences continue to shape our memories of our parents.

To borrow a phrase from the title of a well-known book, sometimes it’s like meeting our parents again for the first time.

And, Buechner would add, “If they had things to say to us then, they have things to say to us now too, nor are they by any means things we expect or the same things.”

Lord, thank you for my parents and our still growing relationship.




Father’s Day Remembered

Written by John Paul Carter on June 21, 2012

After all the wonderful Memory of Dad stories that we published last week in honor of Father’s Day, I couldn’t resist one last one. It’s courtesy of one of our frequent guest columnists, John Paul Carter, an ordained minister who pens a column entitled, “Notes From the Journey,” for the Weatherford Democrat newspaper near Fort Worth, Texas. Thanks, as always, John Paul!

From the time I was 14, my parents insisted that I find a summer job. By the time I entered Baylor in 1956, I had labored as a grocery-sacker, soda-jerk, shipping clerk, and metal worker. At the time, although I did my work well, I saw little connection between it and my future vocation as a minister.

As my sophomore year at Baylor drew to a close, having failed again to find a summer church position, I hired on as a counselor at the Dallas Big Brothers’ Camp Tammi Babi. The wilderness campsite was located in the rugged cedar-brakes near Cedar Hill (later the home of Northwood Institute).

It consisted of a base camp (dining hall and swimming pool) and several outlying campsites, each housing 8 boys and 2 counselors who lived in tents, cooked most of their meals over a wood fire, and “roughed it” for a month at a time.

I had lived in the city all my life, never been a Boy Scout, and only been camping once or twice. Looking back, I’m not sure who was more desperate, me for a job or the camp director for counselors.

Before the boys arrived for camp, we were required to complete a grueling, two week orientation during which we prepared the campsites and ourselves. There was a thick counselor’s manual to be mastered, new outdoor skills to be learned, and lots of back-breaking labor – all in 100 degree weather.

What had I gotten myself into?

The first Sunday at camp was Father’s Day and we were allowed to go home to do our laundry and enjoy a few hours in air-conditioning with our families before taking up our cross again. None of us lingered at the front gate that morning and some of us doubted we would return!

As soon as I got home, I began to describe my ordeal to my father – sleeping on a cot in a hot tent, digging latrines and fire-pits out of solid rock, exhausting heat, snakes, spiders, horseflies, and very little pay.

I painted a miserable picture and asked his permission to quit and search for another job.

Daddy listened patiently and was sympathetic to my plight. After a brief silence, he said, “I want you to go back out there and give it your best for one more week. Then, if you still feel the same way, come home and I’ll help you find another job.”

Reluctantly, I agreed.

To my amazement, after another week of hard work with the other counselors, I wanted to stay and spend the next two months in the cedars as “Chief Paul” with a bunch of eight-year-old boys I’d never met before.

Although I couldn’t imagine it at the time, that summer turned out to be one of the best times of my life. I learned more about life, survival, grown-ups, children, myself, and nature than I ever would have learned in a church – lessons that have lasted a lifetime.

Surely God was where I didn’t expect him and I almost missed it!

That summer might not ever have been, had it not been for my dad.

As he often did, Daddy listened, understood, encouraged, gently guided, and then let me make my own decision.

That’s why, on Father’s Day, over fifty years later, I still give thanks for my dad!


What is Crazy Love?

Written by John Paul Carter on March 5, 2012

“Crazy Love” was the original title of this column written by our frequent guest columnist John Paul Carter. It was first published in his twice-a-month column, “Notes From the Journey,” in the Weatherford Democrat, and we appreciate him allowing us to run in again for our FMMW audience.

Thanks a million, as always, John Paul!

Reporting on the news from Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor describes in agonizing detail the ordeal of Johnny Tollefson as his proud but eccentric family drives him to St. Cloud to help him register for his first semester of college. When they are unable to find a parking place, the mortified boy seizes his opportunity to escape, bolts from the car, and races alone toward the registrar’s office.

Keillor observes that, although the Tollefson boy doesn’t know it, it’s love that he’s experiencing. “What else,” he asks, “could make us behave so badly, if not love? What else could cause us to be so easily embarrassed, so self-conscious, so humiliated than just love?”

As anyone who’s ever loved can tell you, love can be crazy and painful. Most of us, like Johnny, at times have felt like we were being “loved to death.” And more than once, we’ve been baffled when our love and concern has been taken as something less.

Garrison Keillor’s tale reminds us that just because we do something out of love doesn’t mean that it will be perceived as love. The family meant well but in their exuberance they forgot the feelings of the one they loved. To the boy, their loving efforts felt like anything but love. On the contrary, he saw it as a potential threat to his new life that was just beginning.

An essential part of loving is paying attention to how those we love want and need to be loved. Loving another doesn’t make us all-knowing and even the knowledge we have often changes. We have to keep on finding out what says “I love you” to our beloved, and then do it!

The story also illustrates that just because it doesn’t feel like love, doesn’t mean it’s not love. Ill-conceived as their efforts were, the Tollefson family’s heart was in the right place. Although the boy could only feel embarrassment and fear in the moment, love and support for him was what was intended.

We sometimes mistakenly assume that if someone loves us, they will know exactly what we feel and need – without us having to tell them. If they don’t, we may question their love for us. However, whether or not we are loved is better discerned when we reflect on the other’s intent and their quest to know our heart.

If we are to love and be loved, we would do well to pray with St. Francis: “Grant that we may not so much seek to be understood as to understand.” Even so, we can only know in part. Learning to love is a lifelong process – a wonder-full mystery to be lived into, not a problem to be solved once and for all.


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Encouraging and Hopeful Words for the New Year

Written by John Paul Carter on January 12, 2012

Here’s another inspiring article from our monthly guest columnist, John Paul Carter, as originally published in his twice-a-month column, “Notes From the Journey,” in the Weatherford (Texas) Democrat. 

One afternoon last year when we were in North Carolina visiting our friends Ann and Robert, we toured the Billy Graham Museum in Charlotte. The impressive exhibits not only chronicled the life and achievements of the world famous evangelist but also the lives of the other members of his team.

In an audio interview, Cliff Barrows, Graham’s dynamic music leader, told of a time early in his career when his dad took him aside and said: “Son, you did pretty well, tonight. But let me give you a little tip. You’ll never get people to sing better by telling them they didn’t do too good. Tell them they did well, but you think they can do better.”

“Ever since that conversation,” Barrows reflected, “I’ve always tried to encourage people.” The inspiring music of the volunteer crusade choirs was due in part to Cliff Barrow’s encouragement.

It reminds me of a time, several years ago, when the roles were reversed and I learned a similar lesson about encouragement from my son. My dog Gus was still alive and Rush was staying with us between jobs. Although house-trained, Gus had made a mess in the house and I was angry and yelling at him. Rush stepped between me and my cowering pup.

Speaking just loud enough to get my attention, he said, “Stop it, Dad! Don’t you know that Gus wants to please you more than anything else in the world?” He took the dog outside and I sheepishly cleaned the rug.

Later that day, as I reflected on the experience, I realized that my now grown son, whether he realized it or not, was not only talking about Gus but also about children. It was a lesson about the human need for more encouragement and less criticism. I wish I’d learned that much earlier in my children’s lives. But hopefully, old dogs can still learn new tricks!

Centuries before the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, Isaiah prophesied that the coming Messiah “would not break the bruised reed or quench the dimly burning wick.” In other words, he would come with encouragement for those who were down and almost out. Jesus of Nazareth did not disappoint.

One who caught this Spirit of Jesus was a man named Joseph, one of the first members of the early church. Acts says that the apostles gave him a new name, “Barnabus,” which meant, “son of encouragement.” He was Paul’s traveling companion and encourager on his early missionary journeys. But when Paul became disenchanted with young John Mark, Barnabus took Mark under his wing and he and Paul went their separate ways. Think of what our New Testament might have looked like, had it not been for Barnabus’ encouragement of Mark!

It’s been my experience that most of us are doing close to the best we know how. While we need help in lots of ways, one of the things we need most is encouragement and hope.

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