Using the prayer in Ephesians 3:17–19 as its blueprint, Remodeled takes you on a richly personal journey of interior redesign. The project is author Berry Simpson’s heart, and the tools are the events of a lifetime, used by the Master Carpenter to craft a dwelling for himself where he feels comfortable and at home. With the feel of both a memoir and a devotional, this honest and poignant book splashes stories, reflections, and scriptural insights on its pages like colors in an Impressionist painting. Smaller images—some bright and joyous, others shadowy and painful—weave together to form the larger portrait of a life in the ongoing process of transformation.
A beloved wife’s face aglow with delight on the dance floor … the comfortable discomforts of a trusty old pickup truck … family members and friends who fill a life well-lived … taking you through the rooms of one man’s heart, Remodeled invites you to consider your own life and discover how God is at work in it, wisely and lovingly remodeling you within.
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Chapter One: Sacred Space
Monday was our twenty-ninth anniversary, so Cyndi and I took our lawn chairs and a Subway oven-roasted chicken sandwich on toasted wheat bread, baked chips, and Diet Cokes, and had a happy-anniversary picnic in our new dining room, which was still concrete and two-by-fours. Later we shared the ear buds on my iPod and danced our first dance in our new living room to Shelby Lynn singing “I Only Want to Be with You.” It was a sweet moment.
We were building a new house, our first attempt at such a project, and during construction we drove to the site every day to take pictures and check on progress. Really, what we were doing was trying to help this house grow. We had contributed dreams and imagination and experience to the design, not unlike contributing DNA to a baby, and now we were determined to watch as much of the progress as possible.
After weeks, it finally looked like a real house instead of a maze of wood and concrete and cross-bracing. It was satisfying to walk through and remember the drawings that Cyndi and I worked on for three months. It was a little scary, too, to realize that skilled craftsmen were turning our napkin sketches into two-by-fours and plywood and concrete. We just hoped we hadn’t designed something stupid and everyone had been smiling and nodding all this time, waiting for us to wake up to reality.
Our paper floor plans were theoretical, all about hopes and dreams and ideas of how we’d actually use the space in the future years. Seeing the unfinished doors and framed walls that had been mere drawings was amazing. For months we’d moved walls around on paper, debating the best place to hang our coats, or put our computer and printer, or watch TV. Now we could actually begin to imagine living inside and entertaining friends.
Watching the construction reminded me of a time early in my engineering career when I designed my first tank battery for a newly drilled oil well. I was so happy to see the actual tanks, piping, and circulating pumps, just the way I drew them with drafting triangles and compass! I drove up to the battery when no one else was with me to walk around and put my hands on the pipes, feeling their reality, their density, and the molecules that had once been only a concept. The metamorphosis from design on paper to steel on the ground made me happy. It made me feel accomplished and manly.
Cyndi and I based much of our life—the actual pattern of how we lived and slept and worked and loved—on the layout of our house. When we bought our first house on Whittle Way Street in 1982, I was only twenty-six and Cyndi was twenty-four. We had a two-year-old son, Byron, and a second baby on the way. We hadn’t been a family long enough to have established patterns of our own, so the house we bought shaped us more than we shaped it. But now, with this new house, we had the opportunity to do the shaping.
I expected to develop a relationship with these rooms. I expected them to become knowledgeable witnesses to our dreams. I expected the shape of this house to shape my future life and behavior, even guard my identity and help me remember who I am. Maybe I’d write a book sitting in this very room I was standing in. Maybe we’d sit with close friends in that other room, watching a great movie and talking about our lives. Maybe Cyndi would stand in the kitchen, cooking S’mores with grandchildren and creating lifelong memories. Maybe I’d chase Cyndi into that room, and that one, and all the rooms. Maybe someone in our family would live awhile in some of these rooms, finding in them a safe haven in a world of uncertainty.
It’s only in the past few years that I have come to appreciate the sacredness of space: the actual cubic feet, the geography, the pictures and décor and story of a particular place. I was too young to understand all of that before. I had thought of space as mostly utilitarian; I never imagined it was connected to my heart.
It wasn’t that space itself had magical spiritual qualities. I know that some consider certain geographic locations to be holy places, but I don’t believe the holiness is in the rocks and trees and air. I believe the holiness comes from people doing holy things in those places, and from pilgrims having expectant hearts when they visit. Places are sacred because of the time we invest in them. They become sacred because our hearts are there. Cyndi and I were putting as much of our hearts into this space as we knew how, making it as sacred as we could.
Dancing around the two-by-fours on our twenty-ninth anniversary was great fun. It was one of those sacred moments that turn empty space into home, and we could hardly wait until we lived there.
Tell about something you designed. How did is change you?
What is your favorite room, and why?
Where are your personal sacred spaces?
Calling on God
September 6, 1986, was the first time I called on the name of the Lord when I had something to lose. It wasn't my first prayer or my first time to speak to God. I'd been a Christian since I was seven years old, since 1963. My relationship with God, as well as my intellectual and emotional faith, had been strong all through high school and college and marriage, but until that day in September, my prayer life had been mostly an intellectual exercise. I recognized the sovereignty of God and thanked him for all his blessings on my life, but it was more of a bonding experience than actual calling on God.
All that changed when I thought I was losing my little boy.
I started that particular Saturday morning by running the Septemberfest 10K. It was a good effort for me, a 49:12. Cyndi wasn’t with us that weekend. She had driven to Amarillo on Friday to teach an aerobics workshop and wouldn’t return to Midland until Saturday evening.
I spent the afternoon watching the Oklahoma University versus University of California, Los Angeles, football game on television with my son, Byron, whose sixth birthday was in a week, and my daughter, Katie, age three-and-a-half. I don’t think they paid as much attention to the game as I did.
Oklahoma, my alma mater, was ranked number one and the defending national champions. They ran for 470 yards that day while limiting the Bruins to 155 total yards of offense, winning the game 38–3. It was great! And we all three kept watching the broadcast until the very end.
Once the game was over, the three of us decided to celebrate the great victory by riding our bicycles to Burger King to eat dinner. It was something we did often. In those days, Cyndi spent most weekends traveling around the country teaching exercise workshops, so the kids and I went on long bike rides.
We would ride three or four miles to a fast-food restaurant with a playground. After eating, the kids would play for an hour or two on the playground while I read a book or worked on my lesson for Sunday. I got credit for being a great dad and letting them play as long as they wanted while I pretty much ignored them the entire time. And it all came with unlimited drink refills.
These bicycle trips were great adventures and the kids would talk about them all weekend. We'd look at the city map and plan the safest route. We never rode the most efficient route, but rather circled around trying to follow safe residential streets, choosing intersections that I thought Byron could cross on his bike. Byron had an orange safety flag on his bike, about eight to ten feet high, and he was a careful rider.
At the time I was reading Roger Banister’s autobiography titled The Four-Minute Mile, and I hoped to finish it at Burger King while Byron and Katie played. I had the book tucked into the waistband of my pants in the small of my back.
From our house, the kids and I traveled north on Whittle Way, crossed Wadley, and continued on to Mark Lane. We turned east on Fairmont and rode to Midland Drive. After crossing Midland Drive we traveled north and crossed Loop 250 at the traffic light, then east on Crestgate and southeast on Gateway. We then turned onto Caldera.
We had traveled about three miles and had been riding for about a half-hour, and we were only a couple of blocks away from Burger King. We were past the tricky and most risky portions of the trip. Byron was riding his little red bicycle very close to the curb as he had been strictly taught, and I was following him on my bike. Katie was sitting behind me in a plastic bicycle seat, fast asleep, her head rocking from side to side.
We were riding east along Caldera Street when a loud engine roar caught my attention. I looked up and saw a white Camaro coming toward us. The car was going too fast, and sure enough, the driver lost control in the S-turn and started to spin.
Byron was so focused on the road ahead, trying to ride close to the curb, that he had no idea a car was spinning toward him. If I yelled to him, “Watch out!” he would look over his left shoulder to see what I was saying, and I was afraid that if he did, he would swerve into the street and make himself a more likely target. So instead of yelling, I watched as the car slid and spun—it seemed agonizingly slow—straight toward Byron.
I remember screaming “No!” I felt sick and helpless. I don’t think Byron ever saw the car coming at him, because he never swerved his bike to avoid the collision. Still spinning, the vehicle struck Byron, its right rear fender hitting him squarely on the left side of his head. All I saw was a flash of white car and red bike … and I heard a dull thump. The blow knocked Byron sideways up onto the sidewalk, bending both wheels of his bicycle as it sheared laterally into the curb.
I have no idea why the car didn’t hit Katie and me as well. We were riding no more than three feet behind Byron.
I jerked my bike over the curb and onto the sidewalk, and the vehicle spun past us another thirty feet before finally stopping in the middle of Caldera Street, facing west. According to the police report, it had skidded a total of 220 feet.
I threw my bike to the ground and ran to Byron’s side. The driver jumped out of his car and yelled, “What happened?” Since he was going backwards when he hit us, he didn’t see the actual impact.
Byron appeared to be unconscious, but he was breathing. Then I heard Katie crying. She had been sound asleep and didn’t wake up until she hit her head on the ground when I dropped my bike, or maybe when she heard me yelling. I ran back to my bike to unbuckle her. Since Byron was breathing, I decided to get Katie out of the child seat before she started to panic.
The driver heard Katie crying and asked, “Is she OK?” He still hadn’t noticed Byron lying on the ground. “What do you mean is she OK?” I yelled. ”Look what you’ve done to my son!” It was an honest question from the driver, asked out of concern for a crying toddler, but I was extremely upset by his question. He was asking about the wrong kid. I yelled at him, over and over, “Look what you did to my boy ... Look what you did to my boy.”
Still screaming at the driver of the car, I ran back to Byron. I had to hold Katie as I knelt beside him. Katie was afraid, clinging to me, and she would not let me go.
Once by Byron’s side, I finally settled down a little bit. As The Dad on location, I was responsible to be the voice of reason and handle the situation with strength and faith. It wasn’t actually so hard to calm down, because all my attention was now focused on Byron, who was totally unconscious and lying limp on the grass.
By this time, fifteen to twenty people had gathered around us, and several more were running down the sidewalk. Apparently, a lot of people in the neighborhood had been outside, and the sound of the car skidding had attracted a crowd. Someone told me they had already phoned for an ambulance.
Byron was lying with his bike, unconscious. He had obviously taken a bad shot to the left side of his face. His eye and mouth had already started to swell. But he was breathing and he would sometimes answer if I talked to him. He was not bleeding and did not have any obvious broken bones. He cried a few times, but not much. The driver of the car was kneeling down on the sidewalk beside Byron.
I was terrified but calm. I held Katie tightly in my arms and prayed to God, out loud, to protect and save my son: “Jesus, take care of Byron.” Katie said, “I love you, Daddy.”
I felt a huge responsibility for my kids. How could I take care of both Byron and Katie? I was terrified that Byron might be seriously hurt or permanently injured or might even die. But I also knew I had to stay composed for Katie’s sake. I had two kids to worry about.
The paramedics arrived in about two minutes. I thought, “At least now, God has some professionals to work with.” Till then I was sure that God would help Byron, but I was nervous that his only resource was me, and I didn’t know what to do. Now God had these trained men at his disposal. They quickly checked Byron and loaded him in the ambulance, using a backboard.
A man from down the street told me he would take the bicycles. I gave him my business card so he could find me later. Katie and I rode with Byron in the ambulance to the hospital. Byron was quiet, fading in and out of consciousness. He cried a little. I was so afraid. I loved my boy. I mean, it had broken my heart when he started school. Now he could die. “Oh, Jesus, help him.”
In the emergency room at Midland Memorial Hospital, Byron was attended to by six to eight nurses. They put a foam neck collar on him and attached electronic sensors to his chest that monitored his heart rate and breathing. When they attempted to put a needle in his arm for an IV, Byron woke up and started crying loudly, kicking his legs and waving his arms. This was the first real sign of pain that he had shown since the accident. By now his mouth was quite swollen, and his left eye was dark purple and swollen shut.
The nurses moved Katie and me out into the hall away from Byron’s crying. Katie leaned into me and she said, “Daddy, I don’t feel very good.” I said, “Well, we are in the right place. The hospital.”
After taking several X-rays of Byron’s head and neck with a portable machine, the emergency room doctor discussed the results with me. He felt that there were no fractures or breaks.
Later, in the hospital hallway, I held Katie in my arms. We could hear Byron moaning and yelling as the doctor forced open his swollen eye in order to complete the diagnosis. Katie was very clingy. I hadn’t put her down since I got her out of the bike seat. I am sure she sensed my tension and fear, yet she took great care of me. She put her head down on my shoulder for a bit, then raised up and started singing to me. It was a very cool moment, and several nurses and other people heard her and smiled. It was an incredible, timely gift from God. He’d already sent the professional paramedics when I needed them. Now he was sending me a shot of faith through my own little girl.
I called my friend and fellow Septemberfest 10K runner, Fred Walsh, to come and get Katie. He raced down to the hospital and left with Katie while Bryon was still in the emergency room. Fred also put a note on our garage door for Cyndi to find when she came home, telling her to call the Walsh’s. That’s how she found out about the accident. This was years before we all had mobile phones, and there was no way to contact Cyndi while she was traveling.
The nurses took Byron to another room for a series of CAT scans. While I was in the nearby waiting room, a police officer came in and asked me questions about the accident. He told me that the diver had not been drinking but had admitted to driving too fast and had accepted a citation for excessive speed. The officer had several slips of paper in his pockets with the names of ten or twelve witnesses.
The CAT scans indicated no internal injuries. Byron was then taken to the X-ray room for more X-rays, and these confirmed there were no fractures or breaks.
After a while, Fred returned to keep me company at the hospital. We both felt silly dressed in khaki shorts and matching T-shirts from that morning’s race. We were afraid we looked like a couple!
The nurses wheeled Byron back to the emergency room. He was still mostly unconscious. He talked only when we talked to him. The nurses were taking his vital signs, watching to see if his pupils responded to light, etc. We waited in the emergency room until his hospital room was ready.
Cyndi arrived at the hospital about 9:00 PM. Byron recognized her voice and responded immediately. By this time he was beginning to stay awake a little more, and he complained often about the IV needle in his arm. The nurses moved him to a room across the hall from their station in the pediatrics section. They continued to check Byron’s vital signs thirty minutes all through Saturday night. I slept on a couch in his room that night. Byron would wake up slightly when the nurses checked him but went back to sleep immediately.
Sunday morning the doctor checked Byron and asked that the heart monitor be removed. Byron’s vital signs had stabilized sufficiently, he said, and the nurses could stop checking every thirty minutes.
Byron spent all day Sunday in the hospital, mostly asleep. Cyndi and I took him for a walk down the hall for about thirty minutes. Sunday night, he was very alert and ate a huge supper. Once again I spent the night in his hospital room.
Byron didn’t remember the accident. In the emergency room, he had told one of the nurses that he had bumped into a car. However, when I asked him Sunday evening if he knew what happened or why he was in the hospital, he said he didn’t know. He remembered riding toward Burger King but nothing about the accident. He was concerned about his bicycle, and he asked often if he would be able to get a new one.
Monday morning, the doctor visited Byron and released him to go home. Byron’s doctor told us to stop by his office to pick up a prescription for ointment to put into Byron’s left eye.
I had been manly and brave the entire weekend in the hospital. I had been afraid on the inside, crying on the inside, but on the outside, I had been a rock—not because I wanted to be; it just happened, driven instinctively to stay calm and brave for my family. But once we left the hospital, it was all I could do to keep from breaking down. I could hardly keep from crying as we all ate lunch together at Furr’s Cafeteria. I made it, but Cyndi could tell from my expression and speech that I was struggling.
After we got home, I ran two miles, trying to outrun my tears, trying to burn off my fragile emotions. But when I returned from the run, the dam finally burst. I fell into Cyndi’s lap and sobbed, and cried, and talked, and cried. No longer could I stave off my emotions. All the fear and pain and anger and helplessness came down, all together.
My relationship with God and my understanding of prayer changed that weekend. I was afraid I might lose my little boy, and there was nothing I could do to help. I turned to God in desperation. I was drained of ideas and resources. I called on the Lord to save my son, knowing that God was Byron’s only hope.
Even as I was kneeling in the grass at the scene of the accident, I wondered what I would say to God if Byron died. Perhaps it was a case of introspection carried to the extreme, but even under duress I was making contingency plans in case God didn’t answer my prayer the way I wanted him to.
I promised myself that I would not lose faith in God even if I lost Byron. Fortunately, I never had to test my resolve. The Lord answered my prayer that day. He saved my boy.
Byron’s bike was totaled. My bike needed one wheel trued and the other replaced. I guess I hit the curb harder than I realized. The bike tires could be taken care of, but my heart has never been the same. For the first time in my life I had to face the realization that I couldn’t protect my family.
I worked hard at being a good dad, but even if I drilled my children on the rules of the road and coached them how to ride in traffic, they were still vulnerable to crazy people driving too fast. Bad things happen to good people even when good people do the right thing. My inability to protect my son was frightening.
However, the accident didn’t stop our biking adventures. It wasn’t long until Katie was big enough to ride her own bicycle, and the three of us continued to ride together for many years. But it was a different experience for me. I knew and accepted that I was not in control like I thought I was. I could control my actions and stay on my side of the road, but some other guy could still do something stupid and take away my most valuable possessions.
But I knew we couldn’t just stay home where it was safe. That would have turned our home into a prison. The only thing worse than living with fear of another accident was avoiding adventure and I didn’t want to raise my kids in such a small story.
I am proud to say that twenty-five years after that terrifying experience of nearly losing my son, I resurrected the bike rides with my seven-year-old nephew, Kevin, who lives with us. Our family has moved into a different house across town, but Kevin and I still ride to the same Burger King where I took Byron and Katie. It is a four-mile trip one way, an eight-mile round-trip. The first time I took Kevin on a bike ride, he hadn’t ridden any further than around the block, so it was a 1,500 percent increase beyond his previous longest ride. Just in case he got tired, I cleared my schedule for all afternoon to make sure I was patient with him and didn’t have anything to hurry home to. I told him I had plenty of time to wait if he got tired, but I wouldn’t phone home for a ride. We were going to do this together.
I didn’t have to worry. Kevin made the four miles with no complaints and only two “how much furthers,” and even then he wasn’t really asking about how far it was as much as he was making sure he could trust me to know the way.
We spent about an hour at Burger King eating, playing on the playground, and working on Bible study teaching notes. It felt like old times. Our ride home took less time. I was surprised. I thought we would go much slower as Kevin got tired.
Our only incident happened on Lancashire Road just before we turned east down the secret back-alley passageway to “A” Street. Kevin was riding slightly behind me when I heard a crash. He had hit softball-sized chunk of caliche and went down onto the pavement.
I stopped my bike immediately, knowing he had crashed, but I didn’t turn around right away to check on him. I wanted to give him time to react without having to worry about my response. I slowly rolled my bike backwards until I was beside him and said, “Stay down, breathe slowly, and take your time.” He carefully got up, nursing his right palm and left knee, but he didn’t cry. He quickly got back on his bike and was ready to go.
We were just about to take off again when I saw an idea flash across Kevin’s face. He got off his bike and picked up that big caliche rock and put it in his backpack. He said, “I am going to put this in my rock collection.”
Good boy, I thought. That rock may have tripped you, but who was the winner now? Kevin now owned that rock. It was a pound-the-chest, howl-at-the-moon, rattle-the-antlers moment, and I was very proud of the boy. The call of adventure was alive in this young man, and I was fortunate to witness his victory. What a shame it would have been to have missed that moment because we stayed home out of fear of accidents. How would Kevin ever learn to call on God if all I did was keep him safe? We all need a bigger story to live in.
When was your first time to call on God when you feared losing something valuable?
When is it hardest for you to trust God’s love?
What adventures do you take with your family? How do you fell about the risks?