Even after all these years, writing this letter seems surreal. Ten years ago today you stepped into Eternity. I’ll never forget being up early with Tusk, being the handful of a little puppy he was, at Sarah’s house in Little Rock and getting Mom’s phone call. It was well before 6 a.m., we had a house full of girls who were on their way home from the funeral of their pledge sister’s mother. I was sitting in the floor of the kitchen playing with Tusk, longing to be back asleep in my bed. My phone rang and it was Mom, which I thought was weird so early in the morning. I answered the phone as I have a thousand times before. But this call was different than any other call I’ve ever received. She was crying, there was more pain in her voice than I’d ever heard.
She just kept saying, “he’s gone.” I don’t know if it was the stupor of the early morning hour, or the haze of life at the time, but I had completely forgotten you all were in Georgia on vacation. I had missed the call from you all the night before letting me know you had arrived safely. That’s just one of my many regrets-not taking that last call from you, just one more chance to hear your voice. I don’t remember a lot of details from the call other than you had a heart attack and as she kept saying, you were gone. We talked countless other times that day with details unfolding, decisions to be made and siblings to contact.
There was some crazy law in Georgia that you could not take a deceased body across state lines for a certain period of time, with Mom stranded in Georgia all alone the only option was to have you cremated to get you both home as soon as possible. I never saw your body again. The last day I saw you was November 23, 2006. It was Thanksgiving. I left that night to get home to Little Rock so that I could go to the Arkansas/LSU game with my friends the next day. Just another decision I regret. If I had only known it would be the last time we’d be together on this Earth, I would have stayed forever. LSU won that game 31-26.
Mom flew home to Little Rock as soon as possible. She stepped off the plane carrying your remains in a small box. She had a hell of a time getting those on the plane. They had the nerve to tell her at first she would have to check “them.” But you know Mom, I’ll be damned if she is told what to do when she has already made up her mind. We left for Bella Vista as soon as she touched down. Just me and Mom, and your remains, oh and Tusk of course. It was the longest, quietest, most painful drive ever. So many words unspoken, the grief was so thick in the air I swear it would have taken a sword to cut through.
Getting home was brutal. Everything was as you all had left it. It never felt like home again. Your memories were so strong there and yet it just made it more obvious you were gone. The next few days are a blur. We planned your funeral around the kitchen table, you would have been pleased I think with some of your closest friends speaking and some of your favorite singers singing…and of course, “Off We Go” played. We buried your remains in the wall at the National Cemetery. You would have been tickled pink by your Honor Guard salute. It was so cold and windy, but sunny thankfully. We were all there, all your children and Mom. So many friends joined us, we would have never made it without them all.
The days, weeks and months that followed that first year were so hard. So many memories, so many firsts, so much pain and heartache, so much emptiness and so much grief. But we carried on, together.
You’d be so proud of Mom. She has walked through this loss with the strength of gods, the courage of valiant soldiers and the resolve of the greatest fighters. She’s the CEO of the health center back in El Dorado now. I’m not sure what you’d think about the location, but you always wanted her to achieve that dream and she has done so with so much beauty. Life has been a roller coaster for us all since you left. I finally got married to a man that you would be honored to call your son in law. I’m not sure you would ever have approved of him, but then again, you would never have approved of anyone for me. He’s an incredible man though and has so many of your qualities. Most importantly he loves me unconditionally, just like you always did. And he holds me on days like today when all I can do is cry and grieve, still.
Last December we had a little boy. We named him after you, Judd Franklin Asberry. He’s amazing. He’s beautiful (if you can call a boy beautiful). He has your serious smile, your chin and our eyes. He has my curls. And he has already mastered “the Pierce look.” He’s so funny and so loving. We named him after you with hopes that he will become the type of man you were and mean as much to people as you mean to us. He’s off to a fantastic start.
The old saying goes, “time heals all wounds.” I don’t know who the first person was to say that, but I’d probably slap them in the face if I could. It’s been ten years today since you passed away and the wounds are still there. Sure the scabs have grown over the open wounds, but they never go away. The empty seat is always there. The hole never grows over in our hearts. You were just so much larger than life. You weren’t supposed to die. Not then, not there, not that way, not so soon, maybe not ever.
But you did.
God’s ways really are higher than our ways. It’s hard to imagine what life would have been like if you hadn’t died. But I look back now and I’m so thankful for your life. I’m thankful for your service to our country in the Air Force. I’m thankful that you married my Mom and that I now have her as my very best friend. I’m thankful that you taught me about Jesus and took me to church every time the doors were open. I’m thankful you showed me how to serve others. I’m thankful that you taught me to be giving. I’m thankful that you taught me to be stubborn too, although my husband isn’t as grateful.
As odd as it feels to say, ten years later, I would not wish you back here. You made it to your final destination. You are at rest and in complete peace. You have met your Maker face to face, and I can only imagine the reunion that was. I know today you are worshipping your Savior in Heaven with no thoughts of Earth, and that’s how it is supposed to be. You are reunited with your friends who had gone before, your brothers, your sister, your Mom and Dad and your daughter Vickie joined you this year. With each passing year I’m reminded that this is not our home and I am so thankful for the Hope that reminds me that one day we will be reunited again.
I miss you Daddy, it hurts still, the tears still fall. But God is good and He has been faithful, and will continue to be.
We love you so much!
Love, your baby girl
Before some of my Republican readers start typing out their angry replies to this post, bear with me, I’m not saying “I’m with her!” Hear me out…
In 1916, the Georgia Tech football team beat Cumberland College by a score of 222-0. Seriously. And no, that’s not a typo. In an LA Times column in 1983 Paul Aurandt called that game “the biggest blowout in football history.” Ironically, Cumberland College lost to Sewanee that year 107-0 as well.  And as of today, 100 years later, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump in the popular vote by 2,302,743. Back in 1916 even with the most lopsided victory in college football history, Georgia Tech didn’t even win their conference outright (they tied with Tennessee for all my Vols friends). And even with a 2.3 million lead in votes, Hillary Clinton has not won the Presidential Election.
We tell our children that life is not fair, and it is not, but is it not because we make rules and standards, and even Electoral Colleges, to prevent it from being fair?
So the question is, do we force life into not being fair?
A common news topic post-Presidential Election of 2016 is that we should abolish the Electoral College. This isn’t really a new idea. Folks had the same cries in 2000 when Al Gore lost the White House to George W. Bush. In all actuality, this complaint has existed since the election of 1824 when the House of Representatives had to choose the President as none of the four candidates secured the required majority of electoral votes. In fact, John Quincy Adams was elected by the House of Representatives even though Andrew Jackson had received the most votes. It happened again in 1876. Samuel J. Tilden received the majority of the popular vote, and yet, you have never heard of President Tilden because Rutherford B. Hayes won a controversial Electoral College vote as 20 votes were unresolved. Again in 1888, the incumbent President Grover Cleveland secured the popular vote (albeit by a narrow margin) and still lost to the Republican nominee Benjamin Harrison. There were even some who said that Nixon beat JFK for the popular vote in 1960 due to a split in electoral votes for the Democratic nominee. 
And you know what? I bet Al Gore, Andrew Jackson, Samuel Tilden, and Grover Cleveland would tell you, that life is not fair and they’d most likely blame the Electoral College, a manmade institution.
So what does this have to do with college football?
Some of you are not sports fans, and trust me-there are times during stressful games like the Iron Bowl, when I wonder why I am. But for a little background, let me introduce you to the BCS. The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) created in 1998 and consisted of four bowl games: Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange. The goal was to match up the two highest-ranked teams in a championship game at the end of the season, thus the BCS National Championship Game was created in 2006 and played its final game in 2014. 
Why you ask? Because many of the coaches, teams, administrations, boosters and fans believed the system was not fair, another manmade institution.
In 2014, the same organization created the College Football Playoff system, where a four-team single elimination tournament began. This system is a manmade bracket competition with the selection seeds for the four teams being decided by a 13 person selection committee. I know you’ll be shocked to find out that even though this system is seemingly better than the BCS system, it is still criticized as being unfair. The complaints surround subjectivity of the committee, and a lack of representation for schools without conference championships. Additionally, there has been some criticism on the qualifications of the committee members. In essence, there are some who believe the manmade process is not fair. 
There are those who believe they have dreamed up the perfect solution to the Electoral College flaws. Some believe a “district plan” where there electoral votes would be awarded based on congressional districts would be better. In this plan, the two Senate votes would be considered as “at-large” awarded to the state’s most popular vote winner. We actually already have two states, Maine and Nebraska, that operate under this plan. Many believe this would preserve the “small state advantage,” while allowing diversity within the states to be reflected in national election totals. But the reality is this manmade plan could have the opposite of the intended effect because of lopsided congressional districts that always swing a certain way. Another solution that has been created is the “proportional plan” where we would still have the Electoral College but the electoral votes in each state would be allocated based upon a percentage of the popular vote won. Can you even imagine what would happen in a close election then? Or an election with multiple candidates of the same party? Or a runoff? 
Truth be told, all the manmade options would likely end in the same feelings, “this isn’t fair.”
There are those who have spoken out about adding teams to the College Football Playoff system, allowing 8 teams instead of 4. And there are others who have said that taking the top two teams from each of the Power 5 conferences would be more fair. But in reality, there are still those who would say, “this isn’t fair.”
I’ve given a lot of history in this post, but honestly I felt like it was necessary to actually get to the point. Life isn’t fair. We aren’t lying to our kids. And the reason it’s not fair is because everything we deal with is manmade and as humans, we cannot see the bigger picture. Only God knows the end of the story. In all actuality, it’s not fair that Hillary Clinton didn’t win. (And I do say that with gritted teeth) But with over 2 million votes separating the candidates in the popular vote it’s clear the country thought a different person deserved to become the 45th President of the United States of America. But we have laws and systems in place to protect us. The ideology behind the Electoral College was not to shut down the popular vote, it was actually to give a voice to those in smaller states and rural areas. The fact is though, not everyone can win. And not everyone can play for the National Championship in college football. There are winners and there are losers in our society. I’ve never been big on the whole participation trophy thing. Because of the way our culture is designed it’s important to teach kids that there will be ups and there will be downs, there will be victories and there will be defeats. I’d much rather teach my child to lose with the same integrity and dignity that he may win with. In the words of Emmitt Smith, “Act like you have been here before.” Too many kids today grow up and find themselves in a competitive sporting atmosphere and are pitching fits and throwing tantrums because the outcome was not favorable and they are yelling, “that’s not fair.” Being gracious in defeat is just as important, if not more, than being gracious in victory.
So where does that leave us politically? Well, in a recount. A system of checks and balances is important. If something was done wrong, counted wrong, not counted, it should be discovered. Due diligence is vitally important. It is a tough pill to swallow knowing that Secretary Clinton spoke against Mr. Trump saying he wasn’t sure he’d be able to accept the results and now she is having trouble herself with acceptance. But it’s understandable, because you know she’s thinking, “this isn’t fair.”
And in football? We are left with a lot of one loss teams who might be able to knock off the perineal teams that seem to always be playing for the Championship, but instead are back home in their locker rooms saying, “this isn’t fair.”
There’s two sides to every story, and really probably more than that. The truth is, it’s not fair for President Elect Trump either. He’ll constantly live out his Presidency with folks saying, “That’s not my President.” Just to serve as a wakeup call, he IS your President, whether you voted for him or not. That’s the way the law works, that’s the way the Constitution was written and that’s “the way the cookie crumbles.” And he deserves the same respect that those of us who voted for him would need to have shown to Secretary Clinton had she won.
You don’t have to respect the person, but you should respect the office. Just like, as much as I hate Alabama (as an Auburn/Arkansas fan) I’ll have to respect their run if they win the National Championship again. Trust me, life has very rarely ever been fair for Arkansas fans!
If you have ever lost a loved one before their time, you know that life is not fair. If you have ever seen a mother bury her child, you know life is not fair. If you have ever walked the maddening road of cancer with a friend, you know that life is not fair. If you have ever watched an innocent child suffer at the hands of illness, you know that life is not fair. If you have ever had a coworker who worked their tail off and still lost their job, you know that life is not fair. You’ve heard the question, why do bad things happen to good people? You’ve undoubtedly asked that question at least once in life, and if you have, you know that life is not fair.
But maybe that is where we are missing the mark. Maybe our expectations for fairness are our fatal flaw. And if that’s the case, we know that yes, it’s not fair that Hillary Clinton lost when she won the popular vote. And we know it’s not fair that our favorite college football team, with only one loss, doesn’t get a shot at the National Championship.
But life isn’t fair, and our expectation that it ever would be is unfair to life itself. The beauty of life is in our pursuit of never giving up, even when it’s not fair.
So pour yourself a drink, put on your pearls (or bowties for the guys) and keep on keeping on.
Today is #GivingTuesday and I thought what better way to start off this site than to share some nonprofit organizations that are helping others thanks to the generous donations of folks like you and me. Check them out!
Homes for Our Troops
I had the honor of helping to build a house in 2008 in Minnesota for a veteran and have since been a donor very frequently to this organization. HFOT is a nonprofit organization that builds mortgage-free, specially adapted homes nationwide for severely injured Veterans Post 9/11 to enable them to rebuild their lives. These veterans have sustained injuries including multiple limb amputations, partial or full paralysis, and/or severe traumatic brain injury. These homes mean freedom and independence for these veterans. The homes help them to focus on their families, recovery, and rebuilding their lives. Nearly .90 cents per dollar goes directly to the program services for Veterans. Charity Navigator has given HFOT 4 stars every year since 2008 and Charity Watch has given HFOT an A rating and listed them as a Top-Rated Military & Veterans Charity.
To Write Love on Her Arms
To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people who are struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also invest directly into treatment and recovery. Donations to TWLOHA allow their organization to act as a bridge to help for those who are suffering, to continue to create a positive community that believes in the reality of recovery, to challenge the stigma of mental health through merchandise, speaking, tours, social media and various other programs, and to invest in treatment through grants to centers and support counseling through scholarship funds.
The Cancer Card Xchange
CCX collects monetary and gift card donations and then distributes them to verified cancer patients simply to brighten their day, and lessen their load.
Puppy Rescue Mission
TPRM fund raises and assists in pet rescue, foster and re-homing when needed, in particular pets of soldiers, especially those deployed in war zones. They assist with requests, logistics, administrations and fundraising for the adopted stray dogs of war rescued and bonded with soldiers. They help cover everything from vet care, supplies, transport, and related issues. They work with other organizations to help our soldiers bring their companion animals home from war.
The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. This organization gives them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community. My Dad began taking me to volunteer at Special Olympics about the time I could walk. It has been a part of my life ever since. I’m thankful for the years I spent with him helping train these amazing athletes and then into college as my social club volunteered at the state games in Arkansas every year, and on to my time in Minnesota in 2008 when I volunteered at their games.
Thirst No More
Thirst No More is also an organization my Dad introduced me to through his friend Craig Miller. TNM’s mission is to help transform communities through the power of compassion. Their projects are usually centered around regions where people have been ravaged by war, tyranny, or natural disasters. TNM is actually an association of like-minded churches, cooperating in relief, development and church planting. One of the main focuses of TNM is getting clean water into needy areas. Six thousand deaths occur every day from unsafe water and poor sanitation, sadly 90% of those deaths are children. So many of those deaths could be prevented with clean water, improved sanitation and hygiene training. The World Health Organization estimates the ROI on $1 invested in water and sanitation to be anywhere from $3-$34 depending on the region and the technology.
Together We Rise
TWR is a nonprofit organization that is comprised of motivated young adults and former foster youth. Their vision is to improve the lives of foster children in America. They collaborate with their communities to bring resources to youth and use service-learning activities to educate volunteers on issues surrounding the foster care system. TWR works with hundreds of foster agencies, social workers, CASA advocates and other partners. Their foundation provides thousands of foster youth across the country with new bicycles, college supplies and suitcase so that they don’t have to travel from home to home with their belongings in a trash bag which is typical in their situations. 94% of all their proceeds go towards the things they give the foster youth.
Ronald McDonald House
Not going to lie, I find the actual Ronald McDonald character creepy b/c I hate clowns. But what this organization does is life changing. RMHC has been giving families a place to rest and refresh right next to medical facilities that their children are in since 1974. RMHC has helped lessen the burden for more than 7 million families since its inception. You can’t put a price tag on being able to be close to your child who is sick and receiving care. RMHC does several things including obviously building the homes next to medical facilities, but also building resting areas for families right inside the hospitals, Ronald McDonald care mobiles bringing healthcare to children where they need it, grants and scholarships.
The Moyer Foundation/Camp Erin
The mission of the Moyer Foundation is to provide comfort, hope and healing to children and families affected by grief and addiction. The Moyer Foundation was created by former Major League Baseball pitcher Jamie Moyer and his wife Karen. It started in Seattle with a broad mission to help children in distress but has grown into a national organization with signature programs reaching thousands of children impacted by grief or addiction in their family in over 50 cities each year. Camp Erin was named after a young girl named Erin Metcalf who died at 17 of liver cancer. The Moyers felt that a grief camp for children would be a befitting tribute to her life. Now there are over 45 Camp Erin locations across the country and over 18,5000 campers have attended Camp Erin.
The American Widow Project
Since 2001 over 6600 U.S. service members have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. This number doesn’t even begin to touch the additional thousands who have lost their lives due to sudden illness, accident, homicide or those who have taken their own lives due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These staggering figures have also left behind 3600 young military widows facing their worst nightmares. The AWP believes that every widow deserves the opportunity and tangible tools available to rebuild their lives.
Some of the best jokes start this way, am I right?
I’m sure Billy Graham needs no introduction, but some of you may be unfamiliar with Jen Hatmaker, so let me take a few minutes to give you some background. Jen Hatmaker is a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter, speaker and author. She is married to a preacher in Austin, Texas by the name of Brandon Hatmaker. They have three biological children, and two adopted children from Ethiopia. She and her family also appeared on HGTV’s “My Big Family Renovation.”
So why is Jen Hatmaker relevant today?
On April 25th, 2016, Religion News Service website published an article called, “Christian Author Jen Hatmaker takes stand for LGBT inclusion.” I’ll get to why I think the title is an oxymoron shortly, but let me explain what all was in the article first. The opinion article by Jonathan Merritt was in reference to Hatmaker’s Facebook post two days prior where she said, “So whatever the cost and loss, this is where I am: gay teens? Gay adults? Mamas and daddies of precious gaybees? Friends and beloved neighbors of very dear LGBT folks? Here are my arms open wide. So wide that every last one of you can jump inside. You are so dear, so beloved, so precious and important. You matter so desperately and your life is worthy and beautiful.” She concluded the post by saying, “Anyhow, my message to you today is simple, LGBT gang and all those who love you: You are loved and special and wanted and needed. The end.”  Since her post and follow up article of an interview with Merritt published in October of this year, LifeWay Christian Resources, a Southern Baptist chain, discontinued selling her books in all 185 of their stores and online as they said her statements “contradict LifeWay’s doctrinal guidelines.” 
So why do I view the title of Merritt’s article as an oxymoron? Glad you asked.
I am bewildered by the necessity of an article to declare a “Christian” taking a “stand” for “inclusion.” Come on now. The entire Christian faith is built on the premise that Jesus Christ, the Son of the ONE true God, came to Earth, died and was resurrected again paying the price for the sins of the world so that we might be saved. The Christian faith teaches that Christ died for all sins, for all men, for all the world. Call me crazy, but that would be the truest definition of “inclusion” I can think of. As if His death wasn’t enough to show that Christianity should be identified by “inclusion,” His entire life on Earth, His entire ministry was flooded with “inclusion.” Mark 2:15 says, “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him.” In verse 16 the Scripture goes on to say that the Pharisees asked His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And in verse 17, Jesus has a drop the mic moment when He says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This is one of my favorite moments in Scripture. I cling to these words of my Savior more times in a day than I can count. You see, He came for EVERYONE. Everyone was included. No matter what they had done in life, there was no exclusion from His grace, no exclusion from His mercy, no exclusion from His salvation and most certainly, no exclusion from His friendship nor His love.
So what does all this have to do with Jen Hatmaker and Billy Graham walking into a bar? You really ask great questions!
When asked by Jonathan Merritt if Hatmaker supports gay marriage she responded by saying, “From a civil rights and civil liberties side and from just a human being side, any two adults have the right to choose who they want to love. And they should be afforded the same legal protections as any of us. I would never wish anything less for my gay friends. From a spiritual perspective, since gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, our communities have plenty of gay couples who, just like the rest of us, need marriage support and parenting help and Christian community. They are either going to find those resources in the church or they are not. Not only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn’t treated the LGBT community like family. We have to do better.”  I know right now some of you who are my real “churchy” friends are having a stroke about this statement. But what I hope you see is the same “inclusion” that our Savior showed when He was walking this earth. This is not a conversation on what is right and what is wrong, or if God made Adam and Eve or Adam and Steve. This is about the fact that we are all human, all falling short of the Glory of God and all in need of a Savior. A Savior who chose “inclusion” over exclusion every single moment of his time on earth and still to this day chooses to include us in His salvation, never excluding anyone.
At the millions of crusades Billy Graham has preached at during his ministry he is known for saying, “God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’” Rev. Graham never said that God was saying to the world, “I love you if you love someone who is of the opposite sex.” He said, “I love YOU” and inclusive YOU. 
Billy Graham also is quoted as saying, “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”  Financially, it wasn’t the easiest decision for Jen Hatmaker to take the stand she took. She’s losing out on who knows how much profit on book sales by being banned from LifeWay. Her comments, her opinion, and her beliefs on the matter of gay marriage and the LGBT community stiffened quite a few spines…I’ve read the posts, articles and tweets of many of those stiff spines. The reality is I saw more of Jesus in Hatmaker’s post and article than in any of the critics’ responses.
God is a God of inclusion, and His followers should be also.
Cheers Jen and Rev. Graham!