Wednesday, December 6, 2023



December 6, 2023

My little brother died December 6, 1977. That was 46 years ago today. He was nine, I was twelve, my sister was days from turning seven. I thought I had heard all the stories about Vince since then. Yet yesterday my father surprised me with one I had never heard of before.

In his final days at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, my brother was moved to a floor separate from where the regular treatment took place. In today’s terminology, I expect this would be referred to as a Hospice floor or Palliative Care. He was in a great deal of pain, “bone pain” I have heard it called. His entire body hurt, and no one could get an IV started for pain medication. Taking any orally was not an option at this point either. Numerous nurses and technicians could not find a viable vein and my brother continued to suffer.

Finally, my father asked them to go get Nurse Betty who had been the one who administered his chemotherapy over the last year. The people in the room exchanged looks and told my dad that Betty did not ever come up to that floor. He replied, “Tell her it’s Vince.” Within minutes Nurse Betty was at Vince’s side and was able to start an IV and get him some relief as hoped.

Nurse Betty and my father stepped out into the hallway, and she said to him, “You know… I have been at St. Just since they opened the doors in 1962 and I have never been up here before… but there’s never been a kid like Vince before either.”

We all tend to canonize loved ones when we lose them. We bring the best memories to the forefront of our minds and push the bad ones back. But in the case of my brother Vince, anyone who ever actually knew him would agree he was an exceptional boy. He had such a generous and loving spirit about him. He was courageous and kind. Just a few years ago, on this same anniversary I wrote about how his death has shaped my life in ways I cannot fully grasp. Now I prefer to frame it differently. His life is what has truly helped shape me into the person I am today.  His death hurt us deeply because he had such a beautiful soul, but I choose to not focus on just that loss anymore. I was so blessed to have Thomas Vincent Doyal as my brother even for a mere nine years. The words of the Don McLean song echo in my mind, "Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you."

Saturday, September 2, 2023

A Dreamer of Dreams and a Travelin' Man


It is always a strange thing to mourn the loss of a celebrity you may have never actually met or known, but Jimmy Buffett has been a part of most of my life. My congregations have sometimes been surprised to learn I am a Parrothead (for those even familiar with that terminology). My love for his art extends much farther into my past than being a minister. As a 9-year-old I was enraptured hearing “Come Monday” on the radio in my dad’s Corvair. This was a few years before the ubiquitous hit "Margaritaville" made him a household name. 

I’ve seen Buffett in concert 5 ½ times. The “half” was being on site for a concert in Atlanta, but having to leave for reasons involving Margaritas. I saw him in Colorado, Nashville (twice), Knoxville and Chattanooga. The only one that was not a blast was in Knoxville which I blame on the indoor venue. 

By his own admission, Jimmy was “not a great singer, and I'm only a so-so guitar player.” But the music was infectious, fun, transportive and often touching. His lyrics are sometimes punny, sometimes deep and always a tad more complex than most pop music. His song, “Bigger Than The Both of Us” was featured at my wedding reception as it was very special to my wife and me. A side trip to Key West and the Margaritaville restaurant there was a part of our honeymoon.

Not many of us were able to live his laid back, beach bum life, but we loved the vibe and lived vicariously through him. I didn’t often have the time or money to head to the tropics, but I could pop “Son of a Son of a Sailor” in my cassette player and at least take a brief mental vacation. It could change my attitude if not my literal latitude. I have been known to sprinkle tidbits of his philosophical lyrics into both sermons and conversations.

The closest I came to truly living the Buffett life was a trip taken with my best friend Jay Adams back in 1990. We took off from Tennessee after work and drove all night long to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We then worked our way down the coast via AIA as much as possible all the way to the Fiesta Key KOA. There we strung hammocks from his Suzuki Samurai to palm trees. We ate the freshest shrimp I’ve ever had while listening to “Doc” warble his way through some Jimmy Buffett songs at the camp pub.

I have a trip planned to the Outer Banks in a little over a week where I plan to “cram lost years into five or six days.” It’s a place where “Salt air it ain't thin, It can stick right to your skin, and make you feel fine. Makes you feel fine.”

Manning the blender at my "Pirate Looks at 40" birthday party

Monday, December 19, 2022

Christmas Just Isn't What It Used To Be


Christmas just isn’t what it used to be. My childhood memories of getting up on Christmas morning are draped in a fuzzy gauze of memory. I wish I still had some of the toys I remember unwrapping back then. I recall my “cowboy” stocking with a missing eye. Mom’s punch and haystack candy is what Christmas tasted like. A ceramic tree with Lite-Brite looking ornaments was a favorite decoration. I also loved the old-fashioned electric candles that used to adorn our neighbor’s windows.

Christmas just isn’t what it used to be. I spent many exhausting Christmas Eves coming home from a candlelight communion service at church, getting kids to bed and then spending hours working on presents that required “some assembly.” It was worth it to see their smiles as they ran in to see what Santa had brought them as they marveled at the magic of the morning. We then ate sausage casserole and drank hot chocolate and spent the day in our pajamas, usually watching a new video someone got as a gift.

Christmas just isn’t what it used to be. The kids have moved out and I do not have to sneak around on Christmas Eve much anymore. Scheduling time with all the family and their significant others and the resulting conflicting schedules is one of the more challenging parts of the season now. While I lament no longer being able to make at least one holiday trip to East Towne mall, I do enjoy the convenience of online shopping and delivery. We are getting to the point where we are not wrapping as many presents but rather giving monetary gifts and some stocking stuff.

Christmas just isn’t what it used to be. I am sure things will continue to change for the remainder of my life. Perhaps instead of an artificial tree, I will get a hologram instead and presents can be beamed instantly to my space deck. When I am gone, Christmas celebrations will transform and shift for those I leave behind. I am at peace with this because I am comforted by what does not change. Hebrews 13:8 reads, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Everything around the babe born in Bethlehem changes, but He does not.

Friday, June 4, 2021



I do not claim to be a country boy in the strictest sense. At the same time, I am not really a city boy either. To be perfectly honest, I would have to say I am more suburbanite in my upbringing. Still, when I reflect on my childhood and youth, I am thankful for the more rural things that were part of my life. Living in the South, there are just some things you absorb by a type of osmosis. For example, I chose to listen to the local rock radio station and yet I know all the country songs and artists from back then.

I am feeling nostalgic for simpler times as we emerge from this pandemic.  I fondly recall not only the smell of honeysuckle, but also the taste from pulling off the flowers and sucking out the nectar. I became a master catcher of crawdads from under countless rocks in numerous creeks. I spent sunny afternoons playing “catch and release” with grasshoppers and cool evenings putting lightning bugs in jars. I have flown June bugs in circles with a string attached to a hind leg. I was the guy everyone called if there was any snake wrangling that needed to happen. The same applied to lizards and frogs.

Helping my father with various projects introduced me to some tools I imagine would be foreign to many kids today. Besides the common push mowers and weedeaters, rakes, shovels and hoes, I broke plenty of sweat with posthole diggers, brush axes, scythes, tillers, mattocks and pruners. I hauled a little hay and cut a little tobacco. When I took a break I would cool down by drinking water from a hose and dousing my head with it as well. I even became familiar with a lathe though I never finished my dream project of a homemade baseball bat.

Along the way, I learned to bait a hook whether with corn or a worm. I never graduated to big game hunting, but bagged a few squirrels and rabbits and ate them as well.  I’ve pulled countless ticks off of every part of my body. I spent enough time in the woods that its unique scent is the best aromatherapy I know. The night sounds of crickets, whippoorwills and spring peepers calm my soul. I feel right at home with my hands in the soil either planting seeds or pulling weeds.

I do not have much of a purpose for this rambling reminiscing other than perhaps triggering some of your own fond recollections. Thank God I am sort of a country boy.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Gentle Whisper


The stress of the last year of dealing with the coronavirus has led me to a somewhat strange fascination with a certain type of video on Youtube. While I am reading or otherwise working at my desk, I will often pull up a soothing clip to play on a loop. In the summer, it was waves repeatedly cresting on an exotic beach. In the fall, it was leaves falling into a softly rolling river. This winter I pulled up several versions of a crackling fireplace while it snows outside a window.

My youngest daughter pointed out these videos are classified as ASMR. That acronym stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. I looked this up on Wikipedia and found, “ASMR signifies the subjective experience of low-grade euphoria characterized by a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin. It is most commonly triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli.”

I cannot say that I have felt euphoric or even tingly, but the videos I described are definitely calming for me. They are like a mini mind vacation where I can imagine sitting on a beach instead of being cooped up at home. Some common ASMR clips involve sounds such as someone whispering. As I learned about this phenomenon, it reminded me of Elijah’s mountaintop vision in 1 Kings 19 wherein he witnessed a rock shattering wind, an earthquake and then fire. But the Lord was not in any of these. Then he heard the still small voice (or gentle whisper) of God. This is the most common way prayer is answered today and what is more calming or peaceful than the voice and presence of the Lord? Or as Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6-8, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Monday, December 7, 2020

Blue Christmas Bus

I took a ride on the Blue Christmas Bus this past Sunday. This is closely related to the Struggle Bus if you are wondering, but specifically about feeling down during the holiday season. It started before I even left the house with news that a church member had succumbed to complications from the corona-virus. Then I soon found myself standing in empty children’s Sunday School classrooms missing the donut-fueled sugar rush excitement. Not long after that, I was in a sparsely filled sanctuary for another worship service with people I would like to hug but cannot. I was especially feeling the burden of responsibility to my “flock” as I want to keep them safe while also offering them the comfort of gathering together while socially distanced.

After church I drove by the literally boarded up East Towne Mall. I never thought I would miss the massive crowds and hustle and bustle this time of year, but I do. I also saw the ghostly closed Toys R Us where I had purchased many gifts for my children in Christmas’ past. This year we will likely not be able to get together like we want.

In the afternoon, my parents along with my sister and I met at the gravesite of my brother who died on this date 43 years before. We kept our distance from one another on an occasion that begged for embracing. After a tearful prayer, we then exchanged Christmas presents since we have decided it would be wisest not to have our annual Bonus Christmas get-together as I like to call it.

On my way home, I drove by my childhood home in East Knoxville while listening to Karen Carpenter. Her beautiful, yet haunting voice was perfect for my frame of mind. This was the last home we lived in before my brother got sick. As my father once said, it was our last “safe place” before leukemia upended our lives.

At one point I told my wife that I had been feeling “hunched” all day long. Somehow she knew what I meant without my fully putting it into words. She remarked that it was unusual for me to even say anything because I usually just silently wallow in my misery until I emerge on the other side of it.

Here is the point where I suppose I should tell you how my faith got me through. Or that prayer uplifted me when I was feeling down. The truth is I concluded my evening with hot cereal and chocolate milk and my favorite Christmas movie: Die Hard. I made fists with my toes and felt a little better. I am sorry if you wanted a more pat answer, but why perpetuate a false notion of Jesus as some kind of genie to always make us feel better whenever we wish? I will say I do still have a pervading assurance this will pass and I know that Jesus is the source of that hope. I know I will get off this bus, but I may pass several stops before I do. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Redemption Business

Earlier today, anchor Alan Williams of local TV station WVLT invited me to participate in a little project they have been doing during quarantine. Local pastors are taping short video segments of encouragement that air at different times. The goal was 30 seconds but the best I could do was keep it under a minute. Below is my original text of which I only used about a third for the final product. I'll post the video link below as well. 

When bad things happen, it is in our human nature to think of it as a punishment. A tragedy occurs and we wonder what we did to deserve it. Many people think of God as one who just doles out judgement so it is expected that there will be those who believe this current pandemic is in response to our sinfulness in some way. While nothing is beyond God’s power, I do not believe COVID-19 is some kind of divine retribution.

My father who is a retired pastor often says, “God is in the redemption business.” That is exactly how I choose to approach this unsettling turn of events; not with thoughts of retribution but of redemption. God can take anything in our lives and redeem it. Our mistakes. Horrible things that happen in our lives. Even things others may do to us.

In the Lord’s hands, pain can receive comfort. Ugliness can be remolded into something beautiful. The bitter can be redeemed for the better. This is certainly possible for a God who can create anything and everything from nothing.

One of my favorite songs called Trading My Sorrows quotes Psalm 30: “Though sorrow may last for the night, His joy comes with the morning.” This current crisis is obviously not going to be over in a night, but it will be over. Our faith gives us a vision beyond all that is happening right now.

God is in the redemption business. That is what Easter is all about. We hated not being able to gather together in our churches for that celebration this year but it did not keep us from remembering that it was about Jesus’ victory over death. The greatest redemption of all time that offers us redemption as well.

That same psalm also includes the following encouraging words I want to leave you with:
“Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me.
You Lord brought me up from the realm of the dead, 
you spared me from going down to the pit.
Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people, praise his holy name.

May the God of redemption bless you all.

Here is the link to the video: