Wednesday, July 8, 2009


My beautiful wife, Karla, and I met in a small town in Colorado nestled between the majesty of the Collegiate Peaks and the serenity of the Arkansas River. The circumstances of our lives at the time of our meeting should have kept us from falling in love, but love knows not the self-created boundaries we surround our hearts with. Praise God for that!

While our meeting was not love at first sight for either of us, it began the knitting together of two lives that would eventually become one. I lived in Wisconsin. Karla lived in Texas. We began slowly with phone calls and, of all things in this technological age, hand-written letters. The letters we wrote to one another expressed our hopes, fears, dreams, and growing love for each other. One of the decisions we made during that season of our lives that I'm most thankful for is that we kept the letters. Stored in a portfolio and arranged chronologically, we have these letters available to read even after thirteen years of marriage.

I love Karla. I know and trust she loves me. We love each other dearly. Yet, once we were married, the letters and poems slowed to a trickle and eventually stopped, much like a river during a season of drought. This confuses me. The source and strength of our love for one another never wavered or lessened. If that's true, and we know in the depth of our heart it is, why have the letters and poems ceased to be written?

I fear that the answer is frightfully simple. After observing my own relationship with Karla and having the privilege of walking alongside couples both as they prepare for marriage and seek to enrich their already existing marriages, I've concluded that our expressions of love for one another decrease simply because we take love for granted. We assume that the other knows our love for them and, as a result, we don't recognize the lack of attentiveness we give to expressing that love. The attentiveness present early in the relationship gets replaced by assumption later in the relationship and emotional drought becomes a real possibility.

I miss the letters and the poems. I miss the joy that accompanied the process of putting pen to paper and expressing how much Karla means to me. They tell our story and our story is far from over. If it is to be told, we are the ones to tell it and we are the ones who most need to hear it. Perhaps this is true for you as well.

Monday, July 6, 2009


It's been 10 months since I've relocated my family from Colorado to Texas. More specifically, from the beauty and majesty of the Colorado Front Range to the bayous of Fort Bend County. All of my common logic and appreciation for aesthetic beauty wasn't enough to keep me from returning to the state of my birth. I returned to Texas in spite of the urban sprawl of Houston, the miserable heat of the summer months, and the numerous pests that call the Gulf Coast Region home. Texas is and will always be home. It calls its wandering sons and daughters back in spite of itself.

Since returning, one of the pests I have come to know well, too well, is the southern chinch bug. I'll save you from the scientific description of this little critter and simply say it is a royal pain in the dairy aire. The chinch bug attacks St. Augustine grass in times of hot, dry weather. I'll refrain from belly-aching about how hot and dry this summer is. Let's just say dust has more moisture in it than Missouri City, TX. Thus, my yard, primarily St. Augustine grass, rolled out the red carpet for the chinch bug and he/she has left more irregularly shaped brownish/yellowish spots than I care to count. Dry yard results in chinch bugs...Chinch bugs result in dead grass.

Just like the flat coastal regions of Texas, our inner geography can go through dry spells. We often experience them during seasons of transition. These transitions can be physical, emotional, and spiritual. A move leaves us dry, longing for the moisture present in friends left behind. A relationship ends and leaves our hearts dry and thirsty for someone who will love us and stand by us as we are. Various circumstances leave us spiritually dry, searching for God in the wastelands of our broken hearts.

It is at these times, these dry times, that the chinch bugs of life attack. They settle in and leave desolation behind. The only solution - water. Even when my yard seemed beyond recovering, steady watering invites new life, new growth, restoration. Even when life appears hopeless and there seems little chance of recovering the life that once was, steady watering brings new life, new growth, restoration. But, not just any water will do. Only living water. "Whoever drinks the water I (Jesus) gives them will never thirst. Indeed, the water Jesus gives will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life." You want to be prepared for dry seasons, reach for Jesus. You want to restore your life in the midst of a dry season, reach for Jesus. Noone and nothing else will satisfy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Blessing of Boundaries

My godfather owns a cattle ranch just outside Houston, TX. He allows me to bring my family up as regularly as we're able to enjoy getting out of the city. We love it! Sunsets, starlit skies, and evening breezes are welcome relief from the congestion of city life.

We also get the opportunity of helping with projects around the ranch. Whether it's feeding the horses, helping with yardwork, or mending fences, there's always something that needs to be done. This is just the way it is on a ranch. It's the rhythm of daily ranch life.

My godfather tells me, and it's been affirmed by others who manage ranches across the nation, that a great deal of time is spent on fencing at a ranch. This is especially true of Black Angus cattle ranches, where breeding is an art. A great deal of money is spent on obtaining properly pedigreed bulls and heifers to ensure the birth of healthy calves. Once they're on the property, a ranch owner must be incredibly attentive to the females to determine when they're ready to spend time with the resident bull. This sounds simple, but considering that the bull can be downright uncontrollable when he knows the females are ready, things get challenging. Apparently, traditional barbed-wire fencing is not enough to keep him away from the ladies. A romantically-inclined bull will go through barbed-wire to satisfy his immediate hunger and throw a rancher's long-term strategic plans for growing a healthy herd into chaos.

The response by most ranchers is electric fences. Although barbed-wire seems more of a deterrent, a single-wire electric fence is much more effective. The jolt received when a bull encounters an electric-fence is an effective boundary and allows the rancher to do what's in the best interest of his or her cattle. I've accidently encountered one of these wires and understand why. Believe me, it will get your attention and cause anyone, person or bull, to reconsider crossing the established boundary.

Humanity seems to have too much in common with the bulls of the world. From the beginning of creation, God clearly established boundaries for humanity, boundaries that were in the best interest of humanity as they allowed for healthy relationship with God, others, and themselves. Didn't take much for self-interest to tempt us to cross those boundaries, resulting in broken relationships. Even today, whether we are Christians or not-yet Christians, we are willing to cross ethical boundaries for short-term gratification rather than uphold those boundaries, trusting our Shepherd has our best interests at heart. If we would only live within those boundaries, we might come to know that they exist only to allow us to experience life in all its wonder and beauty. God's boundaries aren't about restricting us, but protecting us from ourselves that we might experience life in all its fullness.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blue Bell and Grace

For those that know me, that I would actually write on the beauty of Blue Bell ice cream comes as no surprise. Growing up in East Texas, I spent many an afternoon eating Blue Bell's top-seller, Homemade Vanilla, from the carton with my mom right beside me. The bottom line is Blue Bell lives up to the hype. It simply is the best ice cream in the country.

Founded in 1907, the original Brenham Creamery Company purchased excess cream from local dairy farmers and sold butter to people in Brenham, Texas. Later, they expanded production of their creamery to include ice cream. This move restored the company to good financial status as well as the good graces of the community. Renamed Blue Bell Creameries in 1930 after a native Texas wildflower, which, like ice cream, thrived in the summer, Blue Bell now produces the third-best selling ice cream in the United States. This "little creamery" in Brenham has accomplished this even though it only sells in seventeen mostly Southern states.

I have visited the "promised land" and tasted the many flavors Blue Bell produces. I have lifted multiple spoons and savored this sweet nectar of heaven over and over again. I never get tired of Blue Bell ice cream... never. Yet, I will acnowledge one significant limitation - no matter how diligent I am in trying to extend the joy that Blue Bell brings me, it is only momentary joy. Yes, a few scoops of Homemade Vanilla or the seasonal gem Southern Blackberry Cobbler cure whatever ails me, but it's only a short-term fix.

All of us, I am sure, have our own short-term fixes for the bumps and bruises we experience in our lives. Some are harmless, while others are quite harmful. The real danger is when we allow these short-term fixes to dull our attentiveness to the source of our brokenness, placing our own selfish interests ahead of God's interest both in and for us.

God has not been silent as this condition has progressed historically. Speaking into history and responding to humanity's broken condition, God didn't offer Blue Bell, but grace. As much as I love Blue Bell, I recognize the momentary joy it brings pales in comparison to the eternal bliss God offers in a restored relationship with Him made possible only through the gift of God's grace in Jesus Christ. While Blue Bell is good, Jesus is better.

You may not know this, but Blue Bell differentiates between the cost of diferent ice creams by color-coding the rims of the half-gallon containers. Thus, the color of the rim designates the cost of ingredients in different flavors. If it cost more to make the ice cream, the additional cost is passed on to you and I. For example, Country Vanilla and Strawberry have a silver rim because they are the least expensive to make, Homemmade Vanilla and Cookies-n-Cream have a gold rim, and Southern Blackberry Cobbler and Southern Hospitality have a brown rim because of the special ingredients used.

What color do you think designates the cost Jesus paid on humanity's behalf in order to make possible a restored relationship with God? I believe I would choose red, a deep purplish-red that reminds me of the blood spilled, of the price paid so that I might experience abundant life. A color that also reminds me of the lifestyle God has called me to, a life of self-sacrifice, a life of giving myself away by sharing with my very life the good news of God's grace in Jesus Christ so that others may live.

If you ever find yourself in Texas, come on by the Carroll household. We promise to treat you to a heapin' bowlful of Blue Bell ice cream. We also promise that, by God's grace manifested in our broken and redeemed family, you might also taste of the goodness of a life of faith and be drawn to the feet of Jesus.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Isn't That God's Job?

My daughter Ella is walking affirmation. She's a natural when it comes to brightening your day. She's also a perfect example that we are, all of us, theologians. There is simply no way around the reality that each of us wrestles with life's biggest questions and wonders if there's a God who cares or, if he cares, how he manifests his care for us in the 21st century.

Recently, Ella was in the car with my wife. They pulled into a gas station and Ella noticed a woman working on her car. Ella asked, "Mom, why do people try to fix their own stuff? Isn't that God's job?"

Great questions baby girl! I believe we may be growing entirely too dependent upon ourselves in our efforts to "fix" whatever is going on in our lives. Isn't that God's job? The God of all creation who cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field longs to care for us, BUT we often refuse to receive that care. This week, instead of working so hard to fix your own stuff, take a risk and invite God to speak into your circumstances. Ella is convinced that's his job. I'd tweak that and say confidently that it's his joy to get knee deep in the stuff of our lives and bring restoration.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Wilt Disease

Throughout our marriage, my wife has always siezed the moment when I'm away on business to complete projects. She is action-oriented. I am contemplative. So, when it comes to painting, cleaning the garage, or landscaping, I move too slowly for her. She gets much more accomplished when she doesn't have me slowing her down.

This spring, while I was at a training event, Karla beautified our yard with a cornucopia of flowering plants. I returned to a front yard full of begonias, vencias, Mexican heather, and petunias. She was excited about all of these, but she was most thrilled by a gorgeous red hybiscus. I'll admit the red petals, when in bloom, were brilliant. She had successfully turned our ordinary yard into an extraordinary explosion of color - the same impact she has had on my life.

Unfortunately, within days of planting the hybiscus, we noticed that the leaves, which had originally been a deep, dark green, were browning, wilting, and falling to the ground. This plant which had looked so beautiful at the nursery was now becoming an eyesore. Karla quickly googled why this could be happening and discovered that the plant most likely had wilt disease, a fungus that gets on the root system of a plant and attacks it from the roots up. The only possible means of restoring the plan to health is to generously pour a mixture of bleach and water into the soil and hope that it kills the fungus.

This reminds me of Jesus' parable of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27). Jesus has just finished delivering his Sermon on the Mount and tells those listening (are you listening?) that everyone who hears his words and puts them into practice is like a wise person who built their house on a rock. The rains may come, the streams may rise, and the winds may blow and beat against the house, but it would not fall because its foundation was on the rock.

If we hear Jesus' words and put them into practice, our foundation for living will be solid, regardless of the circumstances around us. If we don't listen to the words of Jesus and put them into practice, we are susceptible to wilt disease. We may be able to look good on the outside for a while, but eventually, the fungus of self-reliance will attack our root system, our foundation, and we will be like a foolish person who has built their house, their life on sand. If we choose the latter, our lives will fall with a great crash or, in the case of the hybiscus, it will die.

Karla chose to saturate the roots of the hybiscus with the bleach/water mixture. Just a few days later, the plant began to look healthier and, within a week, its health was restored. When we hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, God pours a divine mixture of love and grace upon our root system and we will begin to bloom. We will be that wise person who built their house on a rock and the world will be different because we are in it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Movement of the Moment

The title of this blog comes from a beautifully written song by Allen Levi of the same title. My prayer is that its postings would provide the same impetus for reflection that Allen's song has for me over the years.

Our lives are a collection of moments, none of which occurred in still-frame. Each moment was moving towards another, crashing on top of another as waves in the ocean. Sometimes we remember these moments as beautiful while at other times we would simply rather forget them. But we can't. The moments of our lives are forever a part of us, having shaped us, for good or ill, into the people we are at this present moment.

Frederick Buechner once wrote, "All moments are key moments." I think of this well-crafted phrase often as I manage details of a life that seem all too ordinary. If Buechner is right, and I'm inclined to believe he is, every moment of our lives makes a difference, either for us or for others around us. Therefore, we would be wise to listen attentively to the movement of these moments. If we listen closely, perhaps we might hear the whispering voice of God, the maker of moments, and learn to courageously surrender every moment to Him.