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A Memorial Becomes a Sanctuary

 

By Dane Fowlkes, PhD.

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” ~C. S. Lewis

Worship happens when I least expect it. I completed a final interview with the Department of Homeland Security to confirm my Known Traveler status, exited DFW Airport for the hour and forty five minute drive home enduring traffic slowdowns among other frustrations of urban gridlock, and breathed easier once I left the concrete jungle behind. It’s impossible these days to avoid road construction with its narrowing lines and reduced speed limits, but I navigated all of them while retaining focus on returning home. South of the -Y- where I-35 east and I-35 west merge to become simply Interstate 35 south, I glanced across and out the passenger side window and smiled at an almost indescribable array of central Texas wildflowers. It looked as if someone emptied a paint bucket gradually alongside the highway. I hastily identified bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, pink evening primroses, and a few winecups thrown in for good measure. Blue and orange ribbons streamed as far as the horizon, dipping over and beyond. I looked as closely as one is permitted when traveling seventy five miles an hour, and the whole display was so dazzling that, on the spur of the moment, I pulled to the shoulder for a closer look. I lowered the passenger side window, tilted my head for a better view, and was surprised to spot a small white cross engulfed by the ocean of wildflowers. The cross stood a foot or so above the floral carpet.

I waited for a break in a traffic, quickly exited my Jeep, and walked directly toward the cross. Although I cannot fully explain my actions or emotions, it felt oddly calming to approach the cross jabbed into a sea of blue and orange while cars and eighteen wheelers sped by in another world. I stepped carefully through the flowers, not so much to prevent harming them as to keep from hurting myself, alert for any snakes that may have chosen to picnic among the bluebonnets. My wife and I comment on that danger every time we see adults positioning a child for a photograph against a floral palette–beware of snakes. A moment later, I reached the cross situated some twenty-five feet from the shoulder of the road, and looked down at the crude sculpture fashioned out of what looked like narrow intersecting boards from a weathered white picket fence. The roughly fashioned cross was evidently positioned there to mark a highway fatality. Someone lost a loved one along Interstate 35 and wanted to remember or perhaps establish a primitive warning to future travelers that danger once lurked there, taking the life of someone they cared deeply about. I had no way of knowing how long it had been there; what I did clearly observe were brilliant bluebonnets and vivid Indian paintbrushes crowded in around the cross, creating a floral frame for distant tragedy. 

What happened next defies reason. The juxtaposition of cross and flowers washed over me like a wave that would not be prevented from the shore. There was so much more there than a cross and wildflowers; tragedy transformed into glory, mourning transitioned to joy. A memorial had become a sanctuary. Without thinking, as best I can tell, I raised my arms and lifted eyes heavenward and prayed out loud. It isn’t like me to be so obvious. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I don’t do that sort of thing; conservative is a label that fits more than my political posture. To be completely honest, I am characteristically rather dull, but likely regarded as a lunatic by passersby, I was undeterred in my praise of our Creator who takes the worst life throws at us and fashions it into building blocks for eternal glory. Worship is unaware of anything but its object of adoration. Much that passes for worship these days may be better termed something else, something less. Rarely are we captivated by heaven, oblivious or at least unconcerned about what we’ll eat next, what others are wearing, the pain in our sciatica, the score from last night’s game, or the items we need to add to the calendar on our iPhone. Thank God there are unplanned moments when I remember that God is enough, that he is, in fact, everything. Worship is nothing more and nothing less than losing sight of all else save God, and enjoying him in the process. The Westminster shorter catechism begins by stating, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Ordinarily I grasp and respond to only as much of God as I need at the moment, making worship extremely selfish, but standing like a scarecrow in a field of wildflowers, my heart responded to what my mind still cannot fully fathom. Worship comes from a heart overfilled with the glory of God.

Dane Fowlkes, Ph.D. Biography

With eloquence, candor, and simplicity, Dane Fowlkes turns the pages of his own story and allows the reader to peak over his shoulder and into his heart.  In these spiritual and autobiographical reflections, this celebrated communicator relates carefully chosen experiences from his life as son, father, grandfather, husband, minister, and writer—for the purpose of illustrating the weight of glory in ordinary human experience.  “Glory abounds in the ordinary if you know where to look; grace is always present tense.”  Fowlkes has led anything but a dull existence—from initiation into an African tribe in norther Kenya where he is known as Jilo, a name that means “season of celebration,” to living near Gandhi’s ashram on the Sabarmati River—yet he has learned to discern and celebrate God’s grace in the commonplace. 

Fowlkes’s words reveal the presence of God in daily life.  He embraces difficult questions and garden-variety experiences as equally essential components of our lives, rather than as enemies that seek to destroy us or bore us to tears.  “Only those who stumble in the dark fully appreciate the miracle of light.”  Reflecting Fowlkes’s gift for storytelling and his minister’s heart, his new book, Ordinary Glory will inspire laughter, hope, and transform the way we view the unremarkable moments that fill much of our lives.  Turn the pages and rediscover what it means to be thoughtful about grace.  See why this newly published author will be quoted by Americans for generations to come.

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