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Years ago, we pastored a church in the Twin Ports of Duluth, Minnesota/Superior, Wisconsin. Putting a Texas boy in the frozen Northland was a sure way to draw comments. My neighbor was the first to say, "Are you from around here?" Of couse my odd accent and lack of rust on my GMC was a sign that I had moved in from out of state. Everyone was nice. But, I knew that they knew that I was not yet one of them.

Learning the way of life in the Land of cheese and sausage took some time. Winter started sometime in late August, and ice was still on the edges of Lake Superior in early June. Since our house had a woodburner, one of my deacons tried to teach me the art of splitting wood. The ax and chainsaw became evening and Saturday helpmates. Eight cord of wood lasted almost all winter, depending on the winter.

Chopping hardwood became a gathering place for my neighbors to connect with me. Some of them would stand in my alley watching me swing an ax or buzz a log. After a while, they would give me sage advice about how I was standing or that I needed to sharpen my chain. They could tell that I was not from around there.

After months of toil, I had two piles of wood. One was a nice large pile of cut and split wood, and the other pile of wood was smaller, and jagged. That pile I could not split because of the "knots" in them. My back door neighbor pointed out that the bigger pile should have been stacked with the bark side up. He said that would keep it dry during the winter months. I asked him why he didn't tell me that before I started. He grunted and said, "You must not be from around here."

One Sunday evening, I came home from church to find a fresh pile of wood cut and stacked by the larger one - bark side up. A neighbor from up the ally came over and said that he wanted to welcome me to the neighborhood. He and his wife had brought their hydraulic splitter and finished up my "knotty" wood. He said I could use his splitter anytime. He had moved in from Iowa, and knew what it was like to not be from around here. Hallelujah - I had found a friend!

As I begin retirement, I feel like a newcomer with a dull chainsaw. Everything is different. I have not been in the state of retirement before. But I am already finding friends that have worked through the "knotty" parts and are helping me move forward. Isaiah 41:10 encourages those who are not from around here: "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."

If you are starting a new phase of life, you are not alone. The Lord is by your side, and He never fails. Also, I would like to walk this new road with you, if you invite me to do so. May I pray with you or visit if you are in the hospital? It would be my honor to be your personal pastor, until you find someone else. May the Lord bless and keep you!

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