52 Weeks of Gratefulness #19 – People Who Put The Public In Public Education

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Grateful For The People Who Put The Public In Public Education
Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Grateful For The People Who Put The Public In Public Education

In Week 19 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for people that put the “public” in public education.

In this photo our son Chris is headed to a trip to willingly spend days in the woods woods (the duplication is on purpose for emphasis –this was deep, hot, tick and mosquito infested woods, not some glamping trip). Our son was eager to go all because when Dr. Jessica Witt Tegt and her family made Starkville their home she, being a scientist, saw where she should could make a contribution and help take science education to the next level in our community’s schools.

Chris joined Dr. Tegt’s Science Club back in 2011. As I write this, he is now finishing his first week interning with a leading timberland management firm. Chris talks often about his desire to share the inspiration he received with other kids in the Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District. This happened, largely because someone saw an opportunity to make things better for our community and cared enough to to do something about it.

When we, as the public, love where we live, take ownership and participate in the care, maintenance and improvement of public resources such as our schools, that extra effort makes for an extraordinary community.

This particular picture made me recall the work of Dr. Jessica Tegt and Team Awesome: Evan O’Donnell, Beverly Keasler, et al. But, I’ve seen so many people taking initiative and going the extra mile: whether it’s Dr. Kay Fennell Brocato who tirelessly advocated for Studio School (concepts from which are present today in our District’s state of the art Partnership School) or Dr. Alison Buehler who identified 3rd graders struggling to read at grade level and recruited volunteers to implement a remediation program that she designed or Vanessa Shaffer who advocated for the sport of tennis and held her own tennis camps to help on-ramp kids to the high school tennis team or Eileen Carr-Tabb who mans concession stands to support our district’s teams just because she’s a member of the community or Chief Sammy Shumaker who organized men to stand in the gap, pray over each and every one of our schools and mentor young men.

I could go on.

I am thankful for neighbors that put the “public” in public schools, who demonstrate what it means to live in community and take our collective success personally.

I’m grateful. #52WoG

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #18 – The Stopping Game

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For My Mom And The Stopping Game

In Week 18 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for a fond memory of my mother and her Stopping Game.

My Mom made everything fun.

When I was learning to drive she made up this game to see who could stop the car most smoothly.

A successful stop was one that was gentle on the passengers and did not cause them to jerk forward in their seats. An excellent stop was one that your passengers barely felt.

On our way to choir rehearsal or Bible class (as church was our most common destination), we’d take turns driving to see who could stop the car better.

My younger brother, though too young to drive at the time, would get in on the game too. We’d all have so much fun exaggerating like we were going to get thrown out of the car when the driver was making a stop.

At the time, I was completely unaware that my mother was teaching me to be calm behind the wheel, gentleness with the pedals, speed management and to better gauge distances in traffic. But even more than that, my mother turned what would have been a loathsome task (going to church) into absolute joy.

My Mom constantly did stuff like this. This is what motherhood looks like to me, she was simultaneously my best teacher and my first friend.

Oh, what a blessing Rosemary Luckett is to me.

I’m grateful. #52WoG

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #16 – Fruitful Words From A Friend

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Fruitful Words From Josh T Taylor

In Week 16 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for a fruitful word from a friend, Josh “T” Taylor.

I want to advance the Kingdom of God.

But, how we imagine the Kingdom and what it actually is are often starkly different.

It is easy for us to be deceived by appearances, to busy ourselves with religious activities, to feel affirmed by big crowds and large projects, but all the while having done nothing for the Kingdom. (Matthew 7:21-27)

I have struggled with wanting to do something “big” and feeling like I’m not doing enough… that is, until my brother, Josh “T” Taylor, shared a word that has been setting me free.

“T” and I attend a marriage ministry together. It is a small group but it is very rich.

One day, we were talking about the role our marriages play in the Kingdom by glorifying God in how we as husbands and wives reflect Christ’s love.

In that moment “T” pivoted and said something that completely shifted my view of ministry. He was sharing water that he had received elsewhere but it was particularly refreshing to me because it was filtered through his sincerity, his love for me and his applying it in his own life.

He said, “The Kingdom of God advances at the speed of relationships.”

That word immediately affirmed itself. My heart was set on fire as much by the messenger as by the message.

It was illuminating. It revealed, among many things, how I often get distracted seeking outcomes while God seeks hearts. And, we reach those hearts, not by large, flashy ministries but by Spirit-filled, sacrificial, longsuffering love for people as they come to us, which is most often one at a time.

I repent. Not my will Father, but Your will be done. (John 6:38)

This word from a friend and dear brother has been a great ministry to me. I will go forward in service to the Father, seeking to be faithful with whatever He places in my charge -one talent or five, and trust God with the rest.

Thank you “T”. I love you.

I’m grateful. #52WoG

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #15 – A Mentor’s Admonition

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For A Mentor's Admonition

In Week 15 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for a mentor’s admonishment.

Our long time friends, pastors and mentors Pearson and Gloria Liddell were moving thousands of miles away.

As we were seeing them off, I asked Pearson, “What do I need to work on?” “Where do you see I need to grow?” Pearson being Pearson studied the question for a moment before giving his thoughtful, heart-felt response. His reply to me in a word was, “Compassion.”

My wife remarked how she loved the response because Pearson expanded the scope and rather than make it about me personally, he gave me something for ministry.

I took his words to heart and have studied them ever since.

I could write a book from my takeaways, but the condensed summary is this:

If I don’t love you, I’m disqualified from ministering to you.

But, I do love you or at the very least I want to because Someone I love dearly loves you even more.

Pearsons admonition challenged me to always seek to have the love Christ has for everyone I encounter. It is timeless yet a timely reminder for me in this season.

I’m grateful. #52WoG

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #14 – William Chapman

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For William Bill Dad Chapman

In Week 14 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for William Chapman.

What is it about us and food?

Our best moments seemed to be around breaking bread. This is the best picture I have of you because often when we’re together, we’re too busy eating for me to take pictures. And, here I’m sharing a meal with you and Tan at the Starkville Korean Church where you were a long time friend and faithful minister to that congregation.

The very first time I remember our sharing a meal together was at the men’s luncheon that meets on Thursdays at New Horizons Christian Fellowship, another place where you were also a long time friend and faithful minister. That’s where I got my first real glimpse of you and your cheeky attitude. I remember saying to you, “I solicit your counsel and give you authority to correct me,” and you snarkily replied, “I was going to do that anyway because I already have that authority.” Smart butt. That was the point that we became friends.

We’ve shared several meals since then, each time you were ministering. The first time I came to visit you in the hospital, you said “What do you have for me?” and you went on to teach how when a minister is visiting the sick, they should come either with a Word, a prayer or a song. With each visit we’d edify each other and then share a meal.

At your funeral, I learned that you did that all over the place: at the Starkville Korean Church, the Starkville Chinese Christian Church, Second Baptist Missionary Baptist Church, New Horizon’s Men’s Lunch, Mississippi State Christian Faculty Forum, teaching online Bible classes to people in China and on, and on. By God’s grace, that’s who you are: a minister and connector to the beautifully diverse, international, multi-ethnic, global body of Christ.

This brings me to our last meal together on Monday, April 4th 2022, where I also administered communion to you. You shared how you and your family were making your funeral arrangements. Your final remarks to me are etched in my soul. The first being, “I see no downside. Either Jesus will be the first face I see or that of my wife Tan. To live is Christ. To die is gain.” And, your last being, “Make sure they emphasize the importance of the diversity in the body.”

But, here you are, a white man, taking communion to your lips from my hand, a black man, as though you were receiving it from the Lord Himself.

Not once have you ever uttered, “I don’t see race.” Rather, you saw my blackness and did not consider it as a flaw but a feature of God’s design and embraced me. You did this for many others.

As I consider your last words to me, “Make sure they emphasize the importance of the diversity in the body,” and as I look around at your funeral, at those who have been born, grown and connected by your ministry, I see no need, your life has already done that. What I will do instead is endeavor to continue what you’ve done.

How fitting that we quite literally shared your last supper, a sacrament that connects us to every believer past, present and future, through the body and blood of Christ. Jesus said that “many will come from the East and West and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). What a glorious day that will be when you and I are assembled with believers from every nation, tribe and tongue (Revelations 7:9) to sup again with our Lord (Mark 14:25)!

Thank you for sharing a spiritual, cosmic, much more beautiful view of the kingdom than our natural, limited perspective allows. I’m grateful. #52WoG

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #13 – Mrs. Cunningham

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Mrs. Cunningham (Twitter)

In Week 13 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Cunningham.

I only remember three things about Mrs. Cunningham:

The first is that she ate these weird looking apples with red jelly covered seeds that she use to suck on at her desk. I’d later come to learn this fruit was called a pomegranate.

The second is this story that she told us in class about someone in her family who was going so fast on a motorcycle that when he crashed the force of the collision hurled him into a telephone phone, sticking him to it by his ribs. It was at that point I decided never to ride a motorcycle.

The third and most important is something she said to me that changed my life forever.

Throughout my life, black women, especially, have had this superpower of perceiving and projecting the best version of who they believed we were destined to become. In the depths of my soul I know that no other voice besides God’s has greater impact in a young black man’s life than that of an affirming black woman.

This wasn’t some Jedi mind trick or some form of psychological manipulation. I believe they earnestly believed in your potential. They seemed to always approach you in the context of the promising view they held of you. Even when they caught you in the midst of wrongdoing, they would say something like, “Now, Mr. Luckett, I know you’re a gentleman and gentleman don’t act like that.” They conveyed an expectation that you wanted to live up to.

One day, Mrs. Cunningham looked intensely at me, to the point I was embarrassed and thought I was in trouble, and she said to me, “Mr. Luckett, you’re a leader. See me after class.” It was that day that she made me a school crossing guard for G.N. Smith Elementary. I remember her walking me to the Principal’s office and giving me my uniform. It was the old fashioned kind, it wasn’t a vest but sort of a reflective belt with a strap that ran diagonally across your chest. I revered that uniform and felt the weight of its responsibility every time I put it on. It was too big for me but I grew into it. My job was helping people to safely get from one point to another. The profundity of that never left me.

I was a crossing guard 5th grade and 6th grade. I went on to my beloved middle school, Bailey Magnet, looking to serve. I was a class representative to the student government “Knights Of The Roundtable” for 7th grade and 8th grade, class president 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade and student body president 12th grade. I became president of the Metro-Jackson Student Council and the student representative to the Jackson Public School Board. Today, I try to serve wherever I can, largely because my 5th grade teacher said, “You’re a leader.”

She believed it, then so did I. I’m grateful. #52WoG #teachers #education #blackwomen #leadership

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #12 – Martin Coleman

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Martin Coleman (Twitter)

In Week 12 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for Martin Coleman.

One Sunday after service, Marty Coleman walks up, “Hey Brother Paul. I understand you have a business that does computer work. There is someone I think you should meet.”

He then waves over a young man who seems tired and despondent. His approach toward us from across the room was slow and labored. He’s disheveled. His hair is matted to his head with gel. His clothes are wrinkled like he had just rolled out of bed with them on. His glasses are so hazed, perhaps from the gel in his hair, that I can barely see his eyes.

Though his approach seemed reluctant, when we started talking, he opened up easily enough. He’s a gamer. He knows his way around technology by having built custom and very sophisticated gaming computers. Brother Marty’s hope was that I would be able to give this young man a job.

This is not long after the Great Recession. One of my largest clients, representing twenty-five percent of my business’s income, was a casualty of the economic downturn. I lost them to closure and many of my remaining clients cut their retainers in half. I feel personally responsible for the people that I hire. Each time I extend employment, my heart and philosophy is to provide that person a home either until they are ready to move on or, preferably, until we’ve helped them to advance in their career. I try not to hire anyone unless I feel there’s a good chance that I can provide that.

But, with the cuts, I couldn’t sustain the staff I had and was scrambling to find safe places for each of my employees to land. By the grace of God, opportunities -even better than they had with me opened up for every one of them. I was so thankful and relieved. Anyone that employs people knows that it is no small undertaking; taxes, withholding, reporting -just maintaining the revenue to make payroll is a tremendous burden. After having miracuously averted the near disaster of having to lay staff off, leaving people who are dear to me without means to provide for their families, I was perfectly content to go it alone for a while. I did not have any appetite for hiring anyone else and going through that again.

But, God.

My default position on the proposition of hiring anyone was flatly “no”. But, there was this nagging notion that this wasn’t just about hiring someone. I had a sense that this may be from God. But, I resisted it. It wasn’t anything I wanted to do. Business wasn’t great. I didn’t even know if I could really financially afford another a person but that nagging notion would not relent. I shared it with my wife who said, “If you believe this is something God is leading you to do baby, you need to be open and to trust Him.”

So, I begin to move in the direction I believed God may be leading. I start making calls. I learn that the young man is in recovery from a drug and alcohol addiction, has not long gotten out of prison and is staying with another brother from our fellowship. But, I find myself with a compassion I cannot explain and am moved to keep going. I call the brother that the young man is staying with as a character reference. He candidly and honestly reports, “He’s unreliable, he’s sleeps all day, he’s still drinking and he’s been lying about it.”

The Holy Spirit was like, “I’ll take him.”

I hired the young man that day and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

God provided and we worked together for years. We did more than work beside each other every day, we shared life. We laughed together -a lot. We studied the Bible together. We battled our demons together. We prayed together. We shared our dreams together. What was dear to him became dear to me and the other way around. To this day I can still feel his intense love for his family, especially his son. From that day it became my heart, to the extent that they will allow me, to treat his family as my own. He did the same for me.

Anyone that knows Melissa and I can attest that we are very particular about who keeps our children. They are a treasure to us. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we’d be reluctant to entrust even the Secret Service with our kids. As a result, we didn’t get out much. Observing that, this young man insisted that Melissa and I have a night to ourselves and volunteered to keep our boys. Having watched this young man grow over the years, we humbly accepted without hesitation or concern.

By the grace of God, the young man that had an addiction was transformed into one of the most diligent, devoted and trustworthy people I’ve ever known. He was among those that I can count on one hand that Melissa and I considered leaving our estate to and making responsible for the care of our children should we both die unexpectedly. He is a true and dearly beloved brother.

He would often gush about the difference I made in his life, not realizing the heavenly shift that God used him to make in mine. I have been continually praying to God to teach me to love the way He loves. God answered my prayer and taught me to love by sending me someone to love .

Moreover, he showed me other believers who did not just love in word but also in deed. They truly behaved as people of one heart and one soul, who had all things in common (Acts 2:44, 4:32). They opened their homes, they opened their hearts and treated this young man’s burdens as if they were their own. Their labor yielded a harvest of new life not only in him, but also in me, revealing to me the authentic Church in power and glory. Thank you Brother Marty for this life changing introduction. I’m eternally grateful. #52WoG

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #11 – Dr. Joe Bumgardner

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Dr. Joe Bumgardner
Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Dr. Joe Bumgardner

In Week 11 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for Dr. Joe Bumgardner

I love old people.

I considered intently whether to say that. I try to be purposeful and measured in every word I say. “Old people” carries a pejorative connotation while “young people” does not. And, for this reason I chose to use it. We need to take back the words “old” or “elder” and restore them to their rightful honor. There are treasures that can only be gained with age, experience and mindful contemplation over time. When we dishonor and dismiss our elders we’re poorer for it, throwing away wonderful gifts of unimaginable wealth.

Dr. Bumgardner is in his “ninth decade of life”, as he puts it, and in that time he has amassed a great wealth of wisdom to share.

My boys and I have never been hunting. It was something new I thought we could do together and more than the hunting, I was interested in the lessons about life that we could glean from it. I was also interested in the idea of developing a useful skill and was attracted to the efficiency of the bow. So, I approached Dr. Bumgardner because I knew he as an avid outdoorsman and a skilled bowhunter.

My proposition was to hire him as a coach and pay him to tutor us, but he would have none of it. At the moment that I approached him, Dr. Bumgardner set things in motion to help us along on our journey of bowhunting. Just an hour or so after we met, I received an email where he had charted out next steps for us to consider. He had already contacted people and made arrangements for us to get measurements for our “draw length”. Unlike going to the gun range, you can’t just rent a bow and fire off a few to get a feel for it. A bow is largely customized to its owner. I didn’t know that at the time and wasn’t prepared for how expensive it was. But, Dr. Bumgardner wouldn’t let that stop us. He again made calls and managed to borrow a bow from another hunter with a draw length similar to us so that we could, at least, get an introduction. He then invited us out to his home to give us our first lesson.

It was like we had hit a vein. Dr. Bumgardner was so full of wisdom and experience that he literally erupted. In one hour with him, I gained more knowledge and insight than if I had read a whole book. He shared safety considerations, mechanics of the bow, physics of the arrow and its release, the anatomy of game (deer, turkey), etc. etc. I left with an entirely new lexicon; limbs, cams, biscuit, cock / hen fletch, peep sight, release aid… I could spend several hours deconstructing what he taught in one. It was like drinking from a fire hose.

Dr. Bumgardner is an old man whose age and experience affords him the ability to offer more than I could ever hope to consume. I am grateful that he is eager to share his wisdom and am humbled that he is willing to pour that into us. I am committed to soaking up everything I can and paying it forward so that not a single precious drop is wasted. Dr. Bumgardner I rise before you and honor you. I’m grateful. #52WoG

P.S. Special thanks to Eddie Myles for allowing us to borrow his bow. I’m grateful to be surrounded by such kind, giving and compassionate people.

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #10 – Legacy Of Willie Lee Harris

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For The Legacy Of Willie Lee Harris

In Week 10 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for the legacy of Willie Lee Harris.

His cancer is terminal.

We can see his body weakening. On this particular day, Mr. Harris seems to be doing remarkably well. Where he had been confined mostly to a chair or his bed, he’s walking around, talking, doing stuff. The reason for all this activity is that he wants to make the house more secure. His sons and grandsons are there to help him check locks and install security bars on the windows.

This is the last thing Mr. Harris did before leaving this life: making his wife secure. Mr. Harris knew he was dying, but in the face of death he thought about protecting his wife.

What an awesome legacy. This is the stuff my extended family, my wife and consequently my children are made of. I’m grateful. #52WoG

P.S. This is the day the family traditionally celebrates the birthday of Mr. Willie Lee Harris, even though we learned some years ago, that according to his birth certificate, he was born on March 11. That’s a window into a whole other discussion about the black experience, government and historicity, but suffice it to say we’re glad this man was born and we honor his legacy, especially today.