once upon a time

When I was a kid, I loved stories.  I loved being read to at night and I especially loved made up stories my dad used to tell me.  He made up these nightly adventures of a country mouse… each time he started each tale with once upon a time.  I waited impatiently for him to weave a tale of enchantment, adventure and endearment.  The mouse would find small ventures around an old farmhouse and each one had the little mouse using his wit to outsmart some obstacle faced.  The mouse would find cheese, or make a friend out of the farm animals, or uncover a hidden treasure as he outsmarted a barn cat and retired couple living in the farmhouse.  Each time my father told the story of the little mouse, he would end each tale with a cliff hanger that would have me more wide awake than lulled to sleep.  Thinking back, I can’t say that my dad told this story every single night, but I have a vivid memory of these moments in my childhood.  I looked forward to each encounter with my dad and would hop into bed eager for a bedtime story… even past the age where bedtime stories were considered a part of a child’s nightly routine.   I don’t remember when he quit telling me the stories but I wished they’d never end.  We moved quite a bit, and those stories were one of the few constants in my life.  I believed at an early age, I could over come any cliffhanger in my life.  I, like that mouse, could make strangers my friends.  I could problem solve and find solutions in the midst of insurmountable odds.  I believed that though alone, I didn’t have to be lonely.  It was so small now that I think about it, yet it was a huge lifeline for me.  My father’s voice was like few times I heard in my life time.  In the pulpit on Sundays preaching to the morning crowds of soul seekers at church, it would raise and lower with intensity.  It was unlike interaction with my siblings or my mom in which he always seemed engaged in some battle of sorts and was defending, always raising a voice to defend something in his life that seemed sacred.  During story-time, his voice was tender and calm like someone with a newborn who is enthralled with the newness of life.  The only other time I heard this hushed storytelling voice was years later when he took me hunting a few times the year before I married.  In those woods, he seemed to harken back to that soft tender voice as he directed me to the deer stand, to climb over a log, or to duck under a fence.  His voice in those south Louisiana woods was sacred and sincere and held a tenderness I only heard again in the last days of his life on earth.  When I would sit by his bed as he had mine, holding his hand sharing Psalms, old songs and hushed stories of a mouse we both knew long ago.  He whispered to me in a heart felt , longing voice, “Sweetheart… sing me a song… tell me a story.”

Jack Bauer

These thoughts took place between 1 PM and 2 PM. I must admit, since my last newsletter (which has been a few months) something has happened. I’ve become a little obsessed with Jack Bauer, the main character in the television show “24”. He works for a government branch that is involved in counter- terrorism. Ron knows and he’s hooked too. The show is in it’s 7th season and a friend of mine loaned me the first season on DVD to watch during my travels. It sat on my bedroom dresser for a month before I began watching it. If you haven’t watched it, the show is broken down by the hours in a day. To watch one 24 episode season is to watch one 24 hour day. Every single episode ends with a cliff hanger–one that leaves the watcher wanting more and wondering what in the world is going to happen to this guy next!

I was on the road traveling and mentioned to a youth director friend of mine prior to beginning the series that someone had given it to us. “Be careful,” he said as he laughed. “My wife and I rented the first season,” he recalled “and we thought after we put our kids to bed we’d watch a few episodes just to see if we liked it. We began watching early that evening. We got to midnight and said we better stop.” He smiled and said, “at 8 am we turned it off and woke the kids for the day.” It is crazy to see what all can happen in just one day!

The show is presented in real time, with an hour representing an hour. It is funny to observe how life is presented in this story with a season representing one 24 hour day.

It’s been a fun ride to see how all of the different characters and the way their lives weave together and how that is revealed just a little bit at a time.

I have some observations to share:

First, Jack is single focused. He knows the purpose of his mission. Regardless of the object of his mission, Jack seems to be single focused on whatever the task at hand is. There is often quite a bit of potential distractors in the mix, but Jack sticks to his mission.

Second Jack has an uncanny ability to know who to trust. In the show there are definitely people who should not be trusted. Time and time again, Jack realizes who is really trust worthy. Think about that in your own life. OK I’ll go first. On the surface, I trust everyone. But when it comes down to it., I’m not a good role model for trust. I forgot a close friend’s birthday this week and on the day, at the ninth hour, I called him and said, “oh no.” I had no card and no gift. I thought for sure I’d remember and be the one he could count on to make his day special. If you give me a piece of paper with your name and number on it, well it might just might go to the place where all my other lost stuff is. Some airport lost and found in Phoenix, on some shelf in the back. If you ask me to pray about something for you, I really try to remember. I might think about it after the thing I was suppose to pray for. OK, I’m just being honest.. But then there’s that moment when you really get my attention and say, “Celia I need you to help me with this.” Do you have someone like that? I called a friend last week just to hear her voice, just to touch down and say I love you. She has seen the good and bad in my life and I have seen hers. I can trust her with all of it. The last episode I saw Jack was captured and in the last seconds of the show he said, “can I make one call?” Even Jack has a someone he can call, someone he can say, “this thing happened to me.” I’m not sure you can do anything about it, but I thought of you and I called to say I need you. Who do you trust with your everything?

A third theme is that Jack has ability to get the job done alone. Many times Jack finds himself going in before back-up arrives. His advisors have asked and pleaded with him to wait. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. He’s caught by the bad guys, because maybe there were too many bad guys or maybe he couldn’t see that one guy behind the tree. Why do I attempto to work like that? I think foolishly that I can do this by myself, all alone, with no back up. Like Jack, many times I pull it off and that’s insane, because sometimes, I don’t. What I have learned is that trust goes hand in hand with this concept. There are some people I can trust my life to and there are those who will be there for me as my partners in life. Beyond them there is my faith which I know that I know God’s realness and steadfastness–the always-in-the-midst-of-my-sea-of-maybes.

I joke and say if we’re alive and well then Jack Bauer is doing his job, but I know better. Jack is not the source of my security. If I’m alive and well it’s because I know who I am; I’m doing things that I love; I’m surrounded with people who know me and love me; I have a faith that is real and true and I can trust others with my heart and life.

I’m not alone and neither are you.

These thoughts will self-destruct in 30 seconds.


In the Nashville newspaper there is a column called “from Ms. Cheap” Ms. Cheap suggests various things to do around town and in the surrounding areas that are, let’s say inexpensive. Cheap sounds so… well, cheap. She tells of best music opportunities, such as free concerts in the park, or of new openings of stores where a free hot-dog and drink might be attained. One of the best things we did last summer was taking the family to a big band concert at a city park. They gave a free dance lesson, then the band played for a couple of hours. Some folks even dressed for big band dancing and the dancing was great.

Recently a friend of mine shared with Ron and I something she and her family do for fun…. it’s called “letterboxing” and it has quickly become a hobby of ours. I think Ms. Cheap would smile on it and our family highly recommends it.

What is letterboxing you might be asking? Well the way we described it to Max and Zach is that it’s about finding hidden treasures. The longer answer is that people have hidden Tupperware containers all over the place. Inside of the container you’ll find a rubber stamp–some are ones folks have carved themselves others are stamps they might buy at a fancy stamp store or at a craft store. You’ll also find a small pad of paper and an ink pad. When you find a letterbox, you log your discovery (keep reading).

When we got ready to give letterboxing a try, our family came up with a name and logo “Two Boys Having Fun” and we went to Michael’s and found a stamp with two boys and a dog in the middle of them. We also bought a black stamp pad and some markers if we want to color our family stamp before we stamped it. When we find a box, we use our family stamp to stamp the pad then we date it and tell who we are–“Two Boys Having Fun: Ron Celia Max and Zach were here”! We have letterboxed two weekends and had a great time working together. This summer, we’ll be hiding some letter boxes for others to find and finding new ones in our town and maybe in your town.

You can learn more at: letterboxing.org. The website has clues to where over 15,000 boxes are hidden, all over North America. There are additional twists to this hobby, but they’re all explained on the website. Another website , has a little more of an international coverage. On either site, you can enter a destination and find out where nearby letterboxes are hidden. To learn more about the origins of this hobby, follow this link to the Smithsonian Magazine.

Since I’ve found a few of these boxes in prominent places, it’s funny to think of how many times, I’ve walked past a few of these boxes and had no idea they were right under my nose. Now when I visit one of these locations, I can’t help but think I’m in on a secret as I walk past a box I’ve found. It’s kind of like the little things we miss along life’s journey, while we’re busy doing what we think is important. The past few hears have tuaght me over and over again that maybe the little things are really the big things. I have realized that some of God’s greatest gifts are right in front of me. I have either missed them or overlooked them in my busy-ness. I pray that you and I enjoy all the wonder of summer — catching fireflies, walking barefoot in the grass, swimming, playing on the slip and slide, having our feet in sand, reading a great book, spending time with good friends, eating fresh veggies bought at a roadside stand, marveling at God’s greatest sunsets and maybe a new adventure with your family doing something fun (letterboxing or whatever you choose).

It’s not really about the coffee. . .

I love Starbucks – I have journeyed through many a Starbucks and have landed at the quintessential drink for my taste — chai tea with soy milk, no water, no foam with nutmeg on top. It’s heavenly! Thank you, Jamie, for the recommendation. No matter where I am I can order that drink and all is right . . . OK, some things are right.

Last week I was in a Starbucks in Memphis and the girl at the counter asked my name. Then she said, “Chai soy, for Celia no water, no foam.” When my drink was ready, I heard “here’s your chai tea, Celia.” They got it right. They called me by name and instantly I felt connected to them. One of the things we want most is to be remembered (as my friend Billy reminds me).

I was visiting the Starbucks location in my hometown. (If any Starbucks is going to know my name, it should be this one.) I have been in here several times since they opened (I actually got there first — I ate at the meat and three in that location, BEFORE Starbucks even looked at the place.) Once again they asked my name and I waited for my drink. They also asked the name of the guy behind me–it was Bob and he was having the coffee of the week. While he and I waited, I said hey to Bob. Then the server said those words I love to hear, “Chai Tea for Celia” She handed me my drink, but she did not look me in the eye. OK–it was a little gesture, but it represented something much bigger. People who really know me, look me in the eye. I was ushered back to reality by that small, negligent act. They don’t know me! They don’t remember me. No matter how many times I show up and they call my name, they just don’t know me. Starbucks can use my name, but they don’t know me. Of course I’ll keep going to Starbucks; but make no mistake, it’s for the Chai tea.

Merridees, the bakery down the street also serves coffee. The minute I walk in the door, I could be on the Cheers show. The guys from the telephone company are there and I know their names. They gave Max a hard hat with his name one it. These people not only know my name, but also my children’s names. Folks there ask where I have been, where I am going and how I am doing. The manager comes from behind the counter and hugs my neck as she wipes down tables. She smiles like an angel. As I sit with my friends, we talk about life — basketball, music, the weather, news from the front page and things we should’ve invented. When I am not there, I miss them. I could go on, but you get the picture. More than my name, they know me.

When I am home on a Sunday, my church reminds me why I belong there. People call my name because they know me. I am re-member-ed (put back together), when I am in community. I need that, maybe we all need that. I sometimes believe what I am sold, but I know the difference. I am fed by real connections. There is something so simple and pure about a name. It is even better than perfect every time chai tea. You cannot beat plain-old feed-your-soul rich connection. Be on the look out and when you find it — drink it up. It is Holy (set apart) and God is there.

Isaiah 43:1 But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

Mountains Or Beach, by Ron

This has been a unique two weeks for the Whitler family. Rarely do we get to the mountains AND the beach in one month. Our event calendar had us at both with only 36 hours in between. I’m not crazy about the forced choice question–I love both! Our mountain event was a youth leadership event in Estes Park, CO. Snow was falling and in that winter wonderland we listened to Christmas music. At the event, we explored the theme “Christians Under Construction.” We talked about God’s role in that endeavor and our individual and corporate roles in our growth. At the beach event in Fort Walton Beach, FL, we’re taking a look at encountering God. One of the things I love about the beach is the shore line. It’s that dynamic line where all of the ocean meets all of the land–2 different substances encountering one another. Max and I have explored that line–we sneak up on it and run from it. The line has a lot in common with the place where God meets us. During the event we’re taking a look at some waterfront encounters with God. Celia will be in St. Paul, MN on Sunday and we’ve got a year end visit to Houston to wind up our travels. It’s been an incredible year!! So how ’bout you . . . beach, mountains or both?

On Favorites, by Ron

Day before yesterday Max shared a brand new word with me . . . “favorite”. I’ve never heard him say it before. It’s kinda funny that his first use of the word was to describe a video he’d never seen before. He was carrying a video tape he had selected for viewing from a drawer of tapes. The tape didn’t even have a picture on it–just some random shows we’d recorded to watch, but Max wanted to watch the tape he’d chosen. I guess a it was a new strategy to use in an attempt to get the world to respond to what Max wanted (not that adults ever exhibit that kind of behavior–I can’t imagine where he picked it up.) I know what his favorite video is, we’ve seen it many times, sometimes more than twice in a day. I can sing all the songs to it–and it’s not my favorite video. I still don’t know where he got the word favorite–if I’ve used it around him, it was insignificant to me. Max has made the word significant.

Speaking of significance . . . last week in worship, we heard a sermon about a story that I’ve heard before. It had been a fairly insignificant story to me, but I doubt it’ll ever be insignificant again. It was the story of Cornelius from Acts 10. The turn of events in this story radically changed the church–we’d be a very different church without Cornelius. One of the central elements of the story is a vision from God. Some Bible stories seem pretty distant to me, because they happened so long ago. But as I listened to Cornelius’ story, I smiled, thinking of my friend, Adam (that’s not my friend’s real name.)

Adam and I are pretty different people. If you know me well, you know I’m pretty down to earth (though I’m really careful about saying what God doesn’t do). Adam, on the other hand, sees visions from God–nothing on the everyday sort of frequency, but about every ten or fifteen years, Adam has a vision that I believe comes straight from God. I’m not talking about a post-burrito kind of dream–I’m talking about a vision like right out of the Bible, that forces Adam to make sweeping changes in his life. Several months ago, I spoke with Adam about the events leading up to his most recent vision, about the vision itself, and about Adam’s response. It was an incredible story that took place over the course of two or three years. I can assure you that Adam was a faithful disciple before his vision, but Adam’s life has changed radically. Adam doesn’t share all the details of this story with many people, and I feel pretty privileged to know the whole story. When you know the whole story, you understand. Being faithful has had a high price tag for Adam. Adam had to lay it on the line. I’m not sure I want instructions that are that clear from God.

Adam’s and Cornelius’ stories are incredibly similar. Knowing Adam’s story has made Cornelius’ story come alive for me. My word for you is to be on the lookout for the significant–it’s out there. Read Acts 10 and think of my friend Adam, it’s still happening today.

God’s Peace, Ron

Ps I’m also more aware about my use of the word “favorite”.

Ice Cream

Hey From Me: the art of eating ice cream…..

What is it about ice cream? As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved ice cream…. I can still remember the sound of the ice cream truck coming into our neighborhood… do you think I ever had my money ready and anticipated his arrival… it was an event every day… digging in my room… screaming to my mom… finding loose coins on my father’s dresser and claiming them as my ice cream money… I can remember racing after the truck…. what to have… so many choices… it came down to a few for me… fudgesicle… bananasicle… nutty butty…. every once in a while I’d get crazy and get a push-up… those were the days… eating ice cream in the heat of the summer…. slip-n-slide in my front yard… yummm…. and always ice cream was present at church dinners…. many times we’d have homemade ice cream…nothing quite like it… it was an event at our house… I’d have to say a celebrated event… I loved making ice cream and getting to crank the ice cream maker… to be in charge of adding more salt to the ice… I’d sneak a piece of salt to eat on my shift… man that ice cream was good…. and I guess more than the taste … those memories were good… there was something pure, genuine.. and real about those times… there are moments in each of our lives where goodness shines through… it is clear and present and no mistaking it…. a couple of weeks ago I was in Athens, TN… for a church revival….. evenings with the youth of the church… luncheons…. lots of singing… lots of good preaching… eating pot luck dinner… and oh did I mention … Athens is the home of Mayfield Ice Cream…. lots of ice cream…. moose tracks will set you free… this past Tues… it was Mayfield Day in downtown Athens… and anyone could get free ice cream between 11-2 pm. I showed up, stood in line and got me some free goodness… it was neat to see folks of all ages… sitting around trying out new ice cream flavors… it was friendly…. it was a hot summer day and that cool treat hit the spot… it was 2 scoops of moose tracks for me but more important it was 2 scoops of goodness…
…. while I’m on goodness… I was reminded at the revival of another goodness… in my life… God’s goodness… never runs out …. free to everyone…. it’s pure, genuine and real… all the time… through all things it’s something I can count on …. that’s something worth celebrating…hope you are enjoying the memories you are making this summer… and your days are filled with the goodness of this life… good friends… family … God’s love… and lots of ice cream… gotta go… just remembered I’ve got some vanilla bean in the freezer.. screaming my name.

scoop on brothers and sisters….


Greetings! Alot can happen in a week….. this time last week Maxwell ‘Max’ Grisham Whitler was born into the world…. 4:08 pm central daylight time (we hit the send button on this email, exactly one week later in celebration of his one week birthday–at 4:08 pm)…..Ron and I have had a wonderful wild week…. thank you for your notes, calls, e-mails, advice, flowers, gifts, prayers…. during this pregnancy and this week…. many of you told us it was going to be an experience of a lifetime…. I had no idea…. Max is great ….. like many other parents… I think he is beautiful…. readers digest version of the week and Max: he’s got dark blue eyes and I think he looks like Ron , he’s got dark brown hair…and lots of it…. when he is awake …. he is checking everything and everybody out….. he was born very alert and active… mother’s genes…..anything can happen when you are changing a diaper….. especially with boys… look out! … he has the cutest sneezes… 3 or 4 in a row…. and after them most of the time he lets out a sigh that cracks us up….the name… we like Max and Grisham is a family name… sleep is overratted…..moms who have had little sleep can be brought to tears over a can of biscuits…. and dads have to listen to this nonsense, smile and give hugs…. in short- Ron has been very supportive and a wonderful partner….. we are glad Max is finally here, on the outside….he’s a good guy to be around….. and it will be a joy to see his personality develop…..

… there’s been a lot to learn this week…. a lot to take in ……

… I have thought about Mary and in the Bible where it says she pondered these things in her heart…. what must have been going on in her mind is a mystery to me the week after Jesus was born….and how she had Jesus in the midst of the chaos that surrounded her amazes me….how did she keep her cool… how did she focus on the baby…. did she ask for help from Joseph…did she ask other mothers advice and share her fears with them….. I have pondered lots this week….. and I wonder if she had similar questions and worries that I have had….will he always be safe….. will he always feel loved….. will he know what’s important to Ron and I…..will we continue with God’s help to grow as parents and partners….. will he learn to lean on his faith …. and be in true retationship with God and others….. will he be a giver and not a taker…..when he’s 16 and says “yea right” to me in a sarcastic tone… will I remember how cute and sweet and loved uncontionally he is and continue to support him as he grows into his own…..

…..I thank God for this week…. for Ron… for Max… for you in our lives as we enter this new chapter of life… the journey is to be enjoyed… in the midst of pain, questions, fears, laughter, elation….and this week it has been……

To see pictures of Max, follow this link:

The stats: Max joined us at 4:08 pm CDT. He weighed 7 lbs 6 ozs, was 19.5″ long.