Friday, March 22, 2019

A Lesson For the Ages

“Forgive one another, just as God forgave you." ~ Ephesians 4:32
The small shop sold snacks, drinks, and other convenience items on the same corner for over five decades.  But lately, it’d become a magnet for local petty thieves.
Its longtime owner, Margie, sat unremarkably behind the counter reading cheesy romance novels when business dragged.  She wasn’t the kind you’d pity with her old bones and feeble limbs, but the kind who could still run an army kitchen given a chance.  Always quick with a joke, Margie knew most customers by name and treated all her visitors with equal respect.
Danny and his friend Miguel had it down to a science.  They’d search for stores where the shelves were lined up in such a way that it was difficult for the cahier to watch them.
They always went in pairs.  Miguel would take his time preparing a Slurpee from the drinks counter while Danny would stuff a backpack full of “saleable” goods that they could sell after school.  They even nicknamed their practice "finger-painting," a combination of having quick fingers and being caught red-handed.  After pilfering several desired items, they’d leave a store giggling and exchanging rebellious glances of teenage arrogance.
Today they weren't nearly as clever as they thought.
When Marge noticed the unfamiliar kids stealing, she didn’t panic.  She simply went over the counter and locked the front door.  Obviously, they hadn’t intended to pay for the ill-gotten gains.  It became equally apparent that they weren’t going anywhere.
Margie’s piercing eyes settled on them.  “Seems to me you have but two choices,” she began.  “You can wait for the cops to take you into custody, or you can put all the stuff back on the shelves.”
Their confidence retreated like a rollercoaster falling backwards.  Clearly not what they’d expected, the boys quickly did as she requested.
They were nearly finished when the police arrived.  Margie unlocked the door and explained that everything had been taken care; no need for their assistance, and went back to her reading.
How quickly most of us would seek punishment for those who commit a crime like larceny.  If we look deeper, however, we just might see people that simply need to be shown the right path.
Compassion isn't always easy, but we're all on this earth together, so we can't just help those that keep good behavior.  Kids who commit such crimes are often some of those that need help with the most basic spiritual and human principles, such as right and wrong.
Sure, we need to keep order and hold others accountable for misbehaviors.  But sometimes less is more … a good, kind example is more effective than harsh punishment.  Certainly, Christ was more effective by preaching responsible behavior than responding to irresponsible conduct.
Forgiving Lord, Your mercy flows to me in spite of my faults and failures.  If I can be forgiven, so can others. Help me demonstrate that kind of love even to those who disappoint and hurt me.  Amen

Monday, March 18, 2019

Happy Tails

“Trust in the Lord forever; He will always protect you." ~ Isaiah 26:4
They say that a dog is “man’s best friend.”  But sometimes dogs need a best friend of their own.
Meet Girard, an aging golden retriever who was blinded with cataracts from birth.  He also had a debilitating seizure disorder.  His owner, a man whose skin was so thin that his heart shined right through, cared for the old dog without regret.  By all accounts, Girard had a wonderful life.
Then his owned died … and his world turned inside out.  Without his human buddy, Girard fell into a deepening state of anxiety.  The panic he felt from not having his owner’s help, his presence, and his companionship intensified his seizure problems.
In fact, the shelter vet recommended Girard be euthanized.  Older dogs with disabilities rarely adjust to new environments.  It’s cruel for dogs like that to live such stress-ridden lives.
That all changed when he crossed paths with a one-year-old black lab mix named Bojangles in the exercise yard.  Bojo had been shot before finding her way to the animal shelter, so she had her own set of behavioral and trust issues.
Dogs have uncanny observation skills.  Bojo sensed that there was something different about Girard; something that left him approachable yet vulnerable.
The two bonded almost immediately.  Noting the dogs’ special connection, staff members began boarding the two together.
As a result, both showed worlds of improvement.  After only a few weeks, Girard’s seizures diminished in both frequency and severity.  The task of caring for his pal had, in turn, made Bojo far less skittish.
There are many myths about dogs and countless surprising truths.  It's times like these that we all wish that dogs could talk to us.  But dog lovers know intuitively what's going on in their minds.
Two dogs who were both incomplete now make each other whole.  Bojo instinctively guides and protects her new best friend through life as a Seeing Eye dog … for a dog.  Bojo is gaining new confidence and warmth.  They learn and lean on each other.
The two were adopted together by a loving couple who understood their special relationship.
As the song says, “We all need somebody to lean on.”  We’re not as self-reliant as we may at times believe.  Everyone is dependent on someone or something, whether he is poor and needy or seemingly “healthy and wealthy.”  Ultimately we must understand that God’s the one in control and come to learn that we should depend on His guidance and leading.
How’re you doing?  Are you leaning on God, or are you handling life on your own?   If you think you're doing pretty well managing your life without God, watch out.  It can all come crashing down in an instant.  Keep Him close … always.
“I love you.  Passionately.  Irrevocably.  Shamelessly.  Undeniably. Completely.  I won't leave you.  Lean in.  I will make a way for you.  I am here.  With you.  Even in your woundedness, Jesus still loves you.  And so do I. ~ God

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

But God

“We live by faith, not by sight.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:7
Headstrong and foolish, Don set out duck hunting without telling anyone that he’d be going to a place he’d never tried before.  Nearly as asinine, he left his cell phone at home.
After settling into his blind, he gripped his gun barrel to clear away some reeds.  He’d learn later that the gunsmith who repaired his shotgun accidently cross-threaded the screw holding the stock to the rest of the gun.  The weapon broke in half when those two mistakes collided.
Dazed and confused, Don slowly realized that he'd shot a hole in his side the size of a plum.  He managed a quick prayer: “God, I'm going to need a little help!”  As he lay there dying, a thick fog smothered the setting sun.
All alone.  Excruciating pain.  Nobody knew where he was … but God.
It was nearly midnight when wife Brenda became anxious about his absence and called a friend who told her that he’d declined an invitation from Don to go hunting.  But he had no idea where.
They organized a search team and drove to a remote spot where the two had hunted before but got lost in the dark.  Scanning the unfamiliar territory they spied the slight reflection of Don’s windshield.  They reached him barely alive; on the verge of hypothermia.
Thirsty from his lengthy ordeal, Don asked for drink.  One of the rescuers offered some grape juice but was unable to open the bottle.  If but for God, Don would’ve likely died in surgery had he swallowed that juice.
The thick fog parted not once but twice for the rescue helicopter to land.  There’s literally no explanation for Don making it to hospital in time, was patched up and able to walk again, but God.
A missionary surgeon, who gained prominence repairing gunshot wounds and worked at that hospital only 1 in every 8 weekends, just happened to be working that night.  The doctor removed a full load, 120 BB’s, from Don’s side.  Had any become dislodged, he could’ve bled to death.
Modern day miracle, or just a great bit of luck?
I don’t really know.  But when I read about a bus driver who happened to put a Bible right in the place where a thug would fire his gun, it tips the scale for me.  It’s a “God Thing” – circumstances that’re nearly impossible to explain, but for God.  Some are almost imperceptible to all but the recipient.  For others like Don, they’re life-changing.
I don’t know why miracles happen to some people and not others.  I don’t know why some miracles result in life while others are found in death.  But I do know it glorifies God when I can’t do something, but He can.
Father God, I’m lonely without You, adrift on a sea of indecision.  I need to speak with You today as an intimate friend - to share my heart, my desires, my fears, and my pain.  I promise to seek You with all that I am, Amen

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Cuddlers

“Anyone who refreshes others will be refreshed." ~ Proverbs 11:25
In an instant, Teri was transported back in time.  She felt the beat of a rhythmic heart and gentle voices muffled by the protective walls of her mother’s womb.
Thrust into life at just 29 weeks gestation, Teri weighed just over 2½ pounds; kept alive in critical condition by machines, medications and a dedicated hospital staff.  Unfamiliar voices, harsh sounds, and bright lights characterized her strange new world.
This dream had occurred before – vivid, emotive, real!
During the earliest days, behavior was her only form of communication.  When stressed or unhappy, Teri covered her face, spit up, or even stopped breathing.
She loved the sound of her mother’s voice best, but any soothing pitch seemed equally reassuring especially when someone sang a lullaby or read a book.  Soft music helped the transition between sleep cycles.
Preemie’s eyes take longer to mature than their hearing, so in the beginning, she spent only brief periods of time with her eyes open and only in dim light.  Faces were Teri’s favorite!
Like most newborns, she had difficulty handling multiple stimuli at once – like trying to listen or focus while feeding.  Confusion and frustration usually followed overstimulation.
For Teri, the fondest memory of her dream was snuggle-time at about 4 pounds.  Feeling Dad’s arms wrapped around her brought hope for the future.  In Mom’s embrace she started believing that there was nothing to fear, that everything was sunshine, aromatic flowers, and kind people.  Cuddles were the only medicine she needed; a friendly star in an otherwise lonely universe.
Busy hospital sounds jolted Teri back to reality ... daydream over.
She gazed down at a docile preemie nestled against her chest, fingers curled into the fabric just enough to reassure him they were together in this odd place.  She felt his warmth seeping into her heart and kissed his tiny scalp with a grateful tear.
For the next 30 minutes, Teri lightly rocked him while reading the children's book, "Corduroy" and then singing "You are My Sunshine."  Before she left she offered a prayer asking the “Giver of Life” to bless this sweet child with the strength to stay alive and grace for a loving and fruitful life.
Love always seems in short supply.  Luckily, there are special volunteers offering up theirs to the tiniest who need it most.  Teri had come full circle – as one once cuddled in the NICU and now as a volunteer “Cuddler.”
Cuddler’s give parents some peace of mind that when they’re not able to be present, their babies are in loving hands and not alone.  And for babies exposed to opioids during gestation, cuddling helps them battle the toughest moments of their young lives - withdrawal.
A newborns’ initial ability only to receive highlights for me how potent is the joy of giving.
"I thank You, Lord as a volunteer, for the chance to serve another year.  And to give of myself in some small way, to those not blessed as I each day.”
 ~ A Volunteer’s Prayer, Pulpit Helps, August 1992

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Saved to Serve

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and all your earthly needs will be met." ~ Matthew 6:33
The wizened old man had long since forgotten what it felt like to have joints that moved freely, without pain.  Yet once a week, Old Ed shuffled along the beach to his favorite pier as if honoring a solemn duty.  A bucket of shrimp was his only companion … for the moment.
Soon the brazen squawks of countless seagulls welcome him home.  The night seems oddly bright, casting the birds into dark shadows against a tangerine sky.  They anxiously swarm Ed as he tosses shrimp to the hungry fowl.  Listen carefully and you can hear him say “Thank You” with each toss.
Long after the bucket was empty, Ed remained on the pier; lost in memories piled high with reusable wealth.  Most Boomers likely write Ed off as eccentric, but they’d do well to know his story.
Nicknamed the Ace of Aces, Captain Eddie scored the most American aerial ‘kills’ in WWI.  He could have just as easily been labeled the ‘luckiest man alive’ however, surviving over 125 brushes with death during his flying career.
On one of his flying missions over the Pacific, he and his seven-member crew went down.  Miraculously they all survived and climbed into two life rafts where they floated for weeks in treacherous seas.  They fought the sun and sharks.  Most of all, they fought hunger and thirst.
By the 21st day the men needed a miracle.  That afternoon they held a simple devotional service and prayed for a sign.  Their strength was fading.
Pulling his cap down to escape from the blistering sun, Ed tried napping.  Time stood still as waves punished their tiny crafts.  Until …
Ed felt a seagull land atop his cap.  “How could that be?” he wondered.  They were hundreds of miles from land and seagulls never travel that far.
Only God knew.
Ed sat perfectly still, planning his next move.  With a flash of his hand Captain Eddie caught the gull.  Its flesh was eaten.  Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish.  Their hopes renewed by the grace of God, the entire crew survived until their rescue 3 days later.
Captain Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, never forgetting the sacrifice of that life-saving seagull ... and he never stopped saying 'Thank you.'  That explains his weekly trips to the pier with a bucket full of shrimp, a heart full of appreciation, and a prayer of thanks to God for the sacrificial visitor that saved their lives.
Friends, we too have received a sacrificial visitor in the name of Jesus Christ – who gave his life for all who claim it.  May our hearts be open to receive the peace, light and spirit of God who brings us this unexpected gift.
Lord, “I’m not so arrogant as to believe that You saved me because of who I am.  It’s clear to me that You had a purpose for keeping me alive.  I was saved to serve!” ~ Captain Eddie Rickenbacker

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

On Belay

“Mountains may crumble, but His love for you will never end.”  ~ Isaiah 54:10
Lisa wiped sweaty palms on her unblemished climbing pants.  The ringing in her ears and thumping from her chest screamed panic at her first rock climbing attempt.
She hadn’t been keen on trying it, but her boyfriend Tyler insisted.  “You’ll be surprised at how it’ll boost your confidence for other things.  Besides, you might even like it!” he claimed.  Swinging precariously from a rope off a cliff didn’t sound like her idea of fun, but his persistence paid off.
They both treasured Colorado’s Rocky Mountains - but for different reasons.  Tyler craved the thrills availed by nature’s peaks: hang gliding, climbing and heli-skiing.  Lisa, on the other hand, found that photography often provided a similar adrenalin rush.
Apprehensively, she stepped into the climbing harness and adjusted her helmet.  The belay rope, secured to the rock and the instructor at the top, was secured to the harness.  It seemed safe enough, but she was still fearful.  How could she have convinced herself that this might be fun?
Delicate fingers clamped onto a narrow ledge overhead just as a rock below her fell away.  After climbing about 30 feet, Lisa was ready to climb back down.  But she said a short prayer instead: “God, I’m scared and I don’t know the way up this mountain.  But I know You’re up there, and You have me “on belay.”
“Don’t get discouraged!” the instructor called down.  “It’s actually easier to keep going forward.”  And so she did … until eventually Lisa crawled over the cliff top – exhilarated, exhausted, and amazed.  “I knew you could do it!” Tyler shouted from below.
Lisa stood atop the rocky cliff, arms raised in victory.   When she looked down at the dizzying drop, nothing met her gaze but flat clouds hiding the treasure of their landscape below.
"I did it," she whispered to herself, lips chattering but curving proudly upward.  "I climbed to the top of the world!"
Many years later, Tyler was killed by a distracted driver in a head-on collision.  When the shocking news came in the middle of the night, Lisa felt as if she’d been kicked in the gut.  Hanging up the phone, her mind flashed back to that summer adventure in Colorado.
“God, I’m terrified, and I don’t know the way up this mountain.   But I know You’re up there, and You have me “on belay.
To the faithful like Lisa, there are no hopeless situations.  Futility only happens when we find ourselves at the end of our rope; where there’s no confidence in a positive outcome.
With God, there are no unfair situations over which you can’t prevail; no dreams too far-fetched or difficulties that can’t be successfully removed from your path.  He promises that those who seek Him will lack no good thing.
Precious Lord, sometimes it feels like You’ve left us in the battle; like our pleadings seem to go unanswered.  Help us trust You in the midst of our uncertainties, our questions, and our aloneness.  Amen

Friday, February 22, 2019

Cyber Addiction

“Encourage one another with your words and actions." ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:18 
Brooke had all the usual sign of addiction – the need for more to get the same effect, careless obsession, and excessive misuse when feeling anxious or depressed.  Add to that list tension, irritability, and anger when faced with withdrawal.
Neither heroin nor cocaine had robbed her of personality.  The evil culprit was a cell phone.
Brooke got her first taste of social media at a friend’s house at age 10 and received an iPhone of her own for her 11th birthday.  She quickly became obsessed with it and social media.
Brooke continually refreshed her shallow posts, often staying up until 4:00 in the morning.  Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat further fueled her narcissistic impulses.  She couldn’t put the phone down … it became part of her.
As her exposure to the internet increased, Brooke’s parents noticed that she became increasingly ill-tempered at home.  Taking away the phone didn’t help; Brooke quickly found other ways to ‘feed’ her addiction.  Their previously healthy relationship dissolved.  They were no longer a source of support and encouragement but simply a means to provide food, shelter and money (for the latest iPhone upgrade).
“At least at home she’s safe,” they reasoned - a naive sense of security as they found out when a cyber-patrol officer showed up at their home.  The officer informed them that Brooke was involved in a dangerous online relationship with a known predator.  He’d been blackmailing their daughter for obscene pictures of her.
Brooke was immediately committed to a Residential Treatment Center specializing in mental health issues related to the excessive use of mobile devices and social media.  The first thing they took away was her phone.
It was tough at first not knowing what her friends were up without feeling like she was missing out.  But over time, she’s become less attached.    My phone” became “the phone” reverting back to being a piece of furniture like “the fridge” or “the couch,” two other items you also wouldn’t carry around on your butt.
In her words: “I’m less distracted and less accessible.  I can’t be bothered unless I choose to be!”
Brooke has been ‘clean’ for 21 months and 5 days and doing great.  She doesn’t miss important invitations and no longer feels the pangs of her own insecurities; not small victories in a world where constant communication isn’t just a convenient accessory - it’s a second skin.
“I get more sleep now.  I look people in the eye.  I eat food instead of photographing it and am not driving half a ton of metal into oncoming traffic while looking down at a tiny screen,” she said.  I’m glad to be back in the world again.  It beats waiting for an alert telling me that I exist.”
Lord, “I know firsthand that the most challenging aspect of lasting recovery is fighting the temptation to return to my addiction.  Please help me; especially in those moments when fighting the beast of Internet addiction is hardest.” ~ Brooke

Monday, February 18, 2019

Shifting Sand

“Let nothing separate what God has joined together." ~ Matthew 19:6
Make no mistake; Lucille hadn’t passed away, at least in body.  But the scourge of Alzheimer’s had left her barely recognizable to her friends.  But her husband Ruben loved her just as much as the day in 1943 when they were married.
They’d known each other almost their whole lives.  She was literally, the girl next store!
Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s many years ago, she suffered frequent disorientation, mood swings and aphasia which impaired her ability to remember what occurred from one day to the next.  Yet, he listened patiently when she talked, rambled, and tried to reminisce, treasuring those few times when she remembered something, no matter how fleeting it was.
Ruben helped compensate for her diminishing abilities while always trying to ensure the respect that had defined their relationship for over 75 years.  Times were not easy, but they persevered through tears with laughter; sorrow with joy, and always filled with LOVE.
He admitted the difficulties of watching the love of his life fade away, but Ruben made a daily effort to remind Lucy how much he appreciated her.  "Every time I saw her, I told her how magnificent her smile was; what a great life we had together, and thanked her for all she’d given me.”
Recently they lived in separate rooms at a nursing home.  Not because Ruben was no longer able to care for his dear wife; he was still Lucy’s primary care giver.  He kept her safe and free from worries, responsibilities, and fears.  They lived separately because Lucy started claiming that they weren’t married anymore.
One day Lucy looked at Ruben through silvery tears.  In a barely audible voice she whispered, “I think it’s time you marry me Ruben.”
For moment he was speechless.  “But of course, my darling, I'd be delighted to marry you.”
Ruben wasn’t sure Lucy would remember because of her chronic memory loss.  But the next morning at breakfast, she recalled everything and couldn’t wait for their wedding day.  So he decided to tie the knot (again) the following weekend.
Sweet Lucy passed away the day before the (re)wedding.
So instead of gathering to witness their renewal ceremony, family and friends filled the church to memorialize Lucy’s life.  Sometimes the Pastor explained, “God provides living angels to inspire those who face adversity in their own marriages.  Their love was in kind deeds, thoughtful actions, trustworthiness and self-sacrifice - especially in times of trouble, of hardship and failing health. It transcends time, distance and even mortality.”
We can’t fully appreciate the graces reaped by the example of this loving couple.  And if you’re not quite there yet, don’t give up.  Have full confidence that God will help you get there!”
Lord, it’s hard to watch my loved one decline.  Give me strength during difficult caregiving situations and protect me from discouragement. Give me a willing spirit to see things from different perspectives so I may grow come closer to You.   Amen

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Perfect Dress

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." ~ Psalm 118:24
Woody sank into the designated chair and waited impatiently.  He allowed his mind to briefly wander down nostalgia boulevard.
In his late twenties, he met the woman of his dreams.  Soon came Myra, their beautiful little girl.
The hectic life of a toddler gave way to more temperamental ‘tween’ years.  He’d sooner forget most of those days ...  except of course the Daddy Daughter Dances.  That night itself was special, but spending a day alone with his little princess - shopping for the perfect gown, shoes and purse - gave Woody an even greater sense of pure joy.
They started early with heaps of whipped cream on blueberry pancakes.  Then off to the first of several dress shops.  Woody loved the way her face changed when she slipped into the right gown; the way hopes and dreams illuminated her eyes.   She always assembled the perfect ensemble.
He still saw that little girl in her frilly dress.  Ebony curls framed a childish face with eyes that shined like sapphires and a smile as sweet as lilacs.  Hopefully, he prayed, she’d carry the value of their time spent together, the memories created, and lessons learned, for a lifetime.
Woody casually wiped away tears streaking down his face; his chin trembled like a small child.  He gazed toward the window as if light could transport him back in time.
Through misty eyes, he saw her again … older now … modeling a wedding dress.  Everyone knows that Moms plan the wedding, so he hadn’t expected to be consulted on much beyond the budget.
Yet to his delight and shock, Myra asked him to take her dress shopping … one more time.
In a spacious sunlit studio, she tried on her first-ever wedding dress: a high-neck, sleeveless gown with a full skirt.  After looking at Woody, she pronounced: “Nope!”  It looked nice, but the neckline was too high and its skirt too full.
Number two had long lace sleeves.  She’d fallen in love with it in the catalogue; one that Mom absolutely adored.  Myra stared in the mirror, then looked out her Dad.  “No!” she mouthed again.
When the assistant pulled back the curtain for a third time, Myra looked fabulous.  “Frankly, she’d have looked magnificent in a Pizza Hut table cloth,” he thought trying to curb his enthusiasm.
Her big brown eyes met Woody’s as she squeezed his hand.  “This is IT! Daddy,” she announced triumphantly.  “I know I found the right dress because I can always see it on your face.”
Woody offered a silent thank-you to the mother who, by letting Myra go, allowed her to be his at the precious time when she said yes to the dress.
Lord, teach me to offer You a heart of thanksgiving in all my daily experiences.  Teach me to be joyful always, to pray continually and to give thanks in all my circumstances.  I accept them as Your will for my life.  Amen

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Escape From the Battlefield

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend." ~ Proverbs 27:17
A grandson of slaves, he was raised in a New Orleans ward so treacherous it was called “The Battlefield.”  There prostitution, gambling, and drunkenness were as frequent as the sunrise.
When his father abandoned the family, the boy dropped out of elementary school to help support his mother’s meager income as a prostitute.  Talk about a difficult childhood!
A family of Jewish immigrants took pity on the 7-year-old boy, hiring him as a coal delivery boy, and soon took the starving child under their wing.   The Karnofskys also experienced the ungodly treatment by “other white folks” who felt they were better than the Jews.  For the first time in his life he was treated with kindness.  He’d wear a Star of David pendant for the rest of his life to honor the Lithuanian family who taught him about courage and determination.
Even at an early age he proved to be gifted in music, singing on the streets of the Big Easy for spare coins.  His broad smile earned him the nickname "Satchel Mouth.”  He didn’t receive any formal musical training until age 11, when he was arrested for firing a pistol in the air during a New Year’s Eve celebration.
The crime earned him a stint in a detention facility called the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys.  There, under the tutelage of Peter Davis, he learned how to play the cornet, eventually becoming the leader of the Waif’s Home Brass Band.
Released from the Waif’s Home 18 months later, he set his sights on becoming a professional musician.  While he still had to work odd jobs selling newspapers and hauling coal in the city’s famed red-light district, the kid became fascinated by the bands playing in the brothels and dance halls.
One of the greatest cornet players in town, Joe ‘King’ Oliver noted his surprising talent and began mentoring him; occasionally even using him as a sub.  He quickly began earning a reputation as an accomplished blues player.
You might recognize his name.
That little boy was Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong.  “Satchmo” had been truncated from “Satchel Mouth” when a London writer mistakenly contracted the two words after meeting Armstrong.  The rest, they say, is musical History.
But none of his fame could have been possible without the help of strangers.  From the Karnofskys who loaned young Louis money to buy his first ($5) cornet, to the various musicians who guided his musical career, they formed the backbone behind his dream.
They helped paved the path and provided the direction that pointed him towards his vision.  They also helped him make important connections.
There are lives out there waiting to be impacted by YOU.  Feel the fear … and do it anyway!
My Lord and Mentor, how blessed I am for Your friendship and guidance.  And as is the case of mentorship, I can never repay You -except by mentoring and pouring my life into young people who come into my own life.  Amen

Friday, February 1, 2019

Soft on the Inside

“Keep your promises even when it hurts." ~ Psalm 15:4
“Don’t forget to go get Davey’s clothes, Daddy!” Aayla said as she scampered down the driveway toward the school bus.  In that purple shirt and jeans she could’ve been anyone, or no-one.  But to Terry, her stepdad, she was the world itself after his wife died unexpectedly.
Last night, while cooking dinner, Aayla asked him: “Dad, will you take Davey with you tomorrow, wherever you go?”  It was the first time he remembered her calling him ‘Dad.’
Like most busy parents trying to keep up a dialogue while preparing dinner, Terry answered “Sure!” without full realizing what he’s said.  When she became visibly excited he knew he was all-in.
“Daaaaady,” she continued by upping the ante.  “Can you also buy Davey some clothes?  He doesn’t have any that fit right."
The demands kids place on parents range from the necessary (“Wipe my nose!”) to the ridiculous (“Pick the raisins from my cereal!”).  But we can all agree that a promise is an obligation, especially if they don’t forget and constantly remind us.
So this heavily tattooed Dad whose work shirt was adorned with the nickname ‘Punisher’ went to the garage and began searching for a car seat.  At some point during dinner, he remembered Aayla reminding him that Davey needed to be strapped in.  “Because, you know … safety.”
The man whose exterior screamed manliness lifted Davey from his crib, placed him in the car seat, and drove to the store.  Once inside they grabbed a cart and approached a young sales person.
“Miss, where are your clothes for little babies?” he asked.
Imagine the confusion as the doe-eyed clerk stared at the burly, 6’2”, seriously inked man pushing what was clearly a doll strapped into his cart (safety first).  Appearances may often be deceiving, but her puzzled look seemed quite legit.
She kindly directed Terry to the baby clothes area.  He rejected several ill-fitting outfits before making his way to the cash register with a few perfect choices.  If Terry was embarrassed at all, it didn’t show.
Having been issued a challenge by his daughter, this tough-looking guy delivered big time.  Terry wanted Aayla to know that she was special; that she could always trust and believe in him.
If that’s not great parenting – I’m not sure what qualifies.
It’s a lot like our Creator God’s love for us.  We can only hope to imitate his parenting skills.
He knows us having shaped us.  He provides for us, loves us unconditionally, and longs for engaging relationships with us.  He forgives our many sins, clothes us with new identity, and guarantees an abundant life to those who believe in Him.
God never made a promise that was too good to be true; or one He didn’t keep.  Perfect nurturing!
Heavenly Father, thank You for revealing Yourself as the ultimate promiser, in whom I can completely trust.  Help me to honor all my commitments, even when it’s difficult, expensive, or inconvenient.  Amen

Monday, January 28, 2019

Snow Angel

“A joyful heart makes a cheerful face." ~ Proverbs 15:13
There are two kinds of people.  Some wake to the pristine world of virgin snow in all its perfection and rejoice.  They smile as they view it from the warmth of their home, fireplace flames crackling and curling, marshmellowed cocoa in hand.
Others bundle up and race outside to catch snowflakes on their tongues, making fresh prints with boots and sleds making their mark on the cold, blank canvas.  They embrace everything about this kind of weather, the subtle crunch underfoot as they stride forward amid low hanging shafts of sunlight illuminating the sparkling scenes ahead.
Two kinds of people - those who observe and reflect and those who engage and feel.  Some say, those who live life to its fullest … and those with regrets.
Maggie fit the ‘active’ category.  She prided herself on being a spunky senior working way past retirement and redefining the notion of dynamic ageing.  At 91, her vision and hearing were waning, and her gate lacked the grace she’d had in younger years.  That, however, wasn’t going to stop her from having fun.
Elderly people tend to stay indoors, so they don't accidentally slip or develop pneumonia.  But to Maggie there was something about snow that made her young again.  Like a kid who gets to stay home from school on a snow day, this grandma wanted to go outside and play.
And there’s one fun snow sport that anyone can do without risking injury, and there's no learning curve.  So with the help of Eric, her great grandson, Maggie got her wish!
Eric supported her as she lowered herself to the ground.  As he struggled to set her down gently, she awkwardly fell backwards into the snow.  What started as a shriek quickly became a chuckle and eventually uncontrollable laughter!
People think of laughter as a noise that comes from the mouth.  Yet when Maggie laughed it was nothing like that.  The laugh was in her eyes as her face flushed with joy and amusement.
It came from deep within; giggles bursting to the surface like yoga for the synapses.  For Eric, those few moments were better than a whole day of skiing or snowshoeing.  Just the sound of her cackles, snickers, and belly laughs, was enough to transport him from the tensions of modern life.  He pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of her joyful face with glittering wingspread.
As Maggie concentrated on moving her arms and legs, she exclaimed with delight, "I haven't made a snow angel in a very long time!”  Reminding us all that you're never too young to start a snowball fight, go sledding, or lie down and leave an angel shape in the snow.
Almighty Father, You gave us life to be celebrated, enjoyed, and embraced in all its mystery.  Guide us to our inner child.  Draw us to your playground of creation, God of life, so that we will live more fully.  Amen

Monday, January 21, 2019

Love You Forever

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be." ~ R. Munsch
The obstetric nurse entered the hospital room with empathy and a stethoscope.  Sara hadn’t felt her baby’s gentle pokes for nearly 24 hours.  She and husband Bob were justifiably concerned especially since their last baby was stillborn at 20 weeks.  But babies can be elusive.
The nurse’s silence sealed their fears before the doctor confirmed it.  Their 18 week old son was no longer alive.
Sarah knew all too well the pain of grief.  She’d finally crawled out from its weight when they learned they were expecting again.   She’d dreamt of a baby boy that held her hand on the way to swings, squealing with delight and demanding higher pushes.  In her mind’s eye he was generous with smiles and free with his hugs.
In that moment time stopped.  All presence of quiet coping vanished.  She slumped on the exam table; deadness dulling her senses and salty tears flowing unchecked.
To make the unthinkable worse, doctors told the couple that they’d not be able to conceive again.
Bob too, took the news hard.  He’d worked part-time at an orphanage while studying to become a Jesuit priest.  He wasn’t ‘priestly’ material, but he loved working with kids.  A prolific storyteller, he’d developed quite the knack for keeping preschooler’s attention.
He often sung silently to himself an ode to his two dead babies; never out loud or written down.  Every time he tried to sing it he cried.  It was his way of grieving.
Eventually, his wife convinced him to take some time off to write down some of his favorite children’s stories.  At age 35, he sent 10 each to nearly a dozen publishers.  Nine said, “No” and one said, “Yes” to a story called ‘Mud Puddle.’  It sold a just 3,000 copies in 1979, but it established Bob as a legitimate writer.
Before committing them to paper, Bob often told his stories to live crowds.  One day while performing at a theatre, he made up a story on the spot to accompany the song that had been in the back of his mind.  Almost magically a story poured out about a mother who’d sing her son the same lullaby at night during every phase of his life - even when he was fully grown.
It was the first time anyone, including Sara, heard the now iconic "Love You Forever" story.
Robert (Bob) Munsch first published “Love You Forever,” as a picture book in 1986.  This touching account of a mother’s evolving relationship with his son has become one of the best-selling children’s books of all time – selling over 30 million copies to date in multiple languages.
The Munsch’s have since become adoptive parents of three.
God our Father, Your beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them.  Give us grace, that we may entrust these unborn babies to your never-failing care and love, and bring us all to Your Heavenly Kingdom.  Amen

Friday, January 11, 2019

Savior or Servant?

“If you want to stand out, then step down.  Be a servant." ~ Matthew 23:11
In a cramped room that smelled of sweat, deodorant, and shampoo-scented steam, Coach Bagley readied his basketball team for the big game.  Frankly, it was the BIGGEST game of his career.
His Farmville Eagles had a chance to make school history.  After 27 losing season, Coach had not only posted his first winning season, but today they had a shot at the conference championship.
A man not known for fiery speeches - was on fire tonight.  "When we walk onto the court, those butterflies will turn to ferocious Eagles.  You’ve gotta want this night to last forever."
After a quick prayer, they left the locker room to a boisterous crowd of delirious fans.  Who could blame them?  With a population of just under 1,500, Farmerville had but one stoplight within its city limits of roughly two square miles.
The Eagles played just one school smaller than itself during the season.  They were out-numbered, out-sized, out-everything.  Could tonight could be THEIR night?
Bagley had announced before the game that a local businessman had donated money for a 4-year college scholarship for the team’s MVP.  The recipient would be chosen by the team’s 9 players after the game.
Maybe it was the scholarship … or perhaps blazing desire, but the Eagles soared that night.
Thomas hit almost everything he launched, finishing with 27 points.  Danny (aka “Dimes”) added 14 points and 11 assists.  Despite being the shortest Eagle, Darnell flawlessly moved the ball up the court and directed the offense.  Tug, short for Tugboat, ‘owned the paint’ collecting rebounds with reckless abandon.
Because there was no girls’ basketball team at Farmville, Sydney played with the varsity boys.  Her warrior-like hustle earned her the nickname “Squito” for her mosquito-like agility.
After celebrating with fans, the Eagles entered the locker room for one final task.  Each was given a sheet of paper and asked to identify who they believed to be the team’s most valuable asset.
It took just a few minutes before Coach tallied the results.  He looked up after nodding agreement.  “Seems right to me, too,” he said wiping away a single tear.
“By unanimous vote, I’d like to congratulate Meredith Olsen, our Equipment Manager, who you’ve chosen as our Most Valuable Player.  Away from the spotlight, she stayed well beyond practice to ensure uniforms and practice gear was washed, organized and ready for the next day.  She even laundered the cheer uniforms and mascot costume.”
Meredith led the team by serving.
She demonstrated what Christ meant when He washed His disciples feet.  Jesus became a servant to become our Savior.  There is but one God.  If you want to be great, you must serve others.
Almighty Father, help us to be better than we are.  Teach us to be more like you, and less like the world around us.  Help us to put aside our selfish desires and vain ambition. Teach us to be true servants in both word and deed.  Amen

Monday, January 7, 2019

Honey for the Soul

“Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body." ~ Proverbs 4:32
Naomi’s body language told it all.
While people scurried about the Village mall, her shoulders slumped forward; a common trait of those depressed as they try and be smaller and take up less space.  Her gait revealed a lack of energy and enthusiasm.  And her eyes cast a blank, listless stare.
But even though it hurt, she tried her best to smile.
What made matters worse, shoppers scurried about unaware that she even existed.  Her heart ached; she was invisible to everyone around her.
Nothing seemed to be going right in her life.  Sometimes Naomi just wanted to curl up into a corner somewhere and hide forever.  Nothing could be worse than feeling alone, rejected and unloved.  People were simply too busy with their own lives to bother with her.  She needed a hug, even if were only the fragile beginnings of friendship.
She walked into the aisle that carried her favorite items.  Naomi couldn’t find the Peanut Butter Cups through the tears misting her eyes.  What was the point of living anyway?  Who would care if she suddenly disappeared?
Reaching for a prized chocolate treat, a stranger approached.  He’d noticed her dejected body language; then said the kindest words she’d heard in a very long time.
“You have a beautiful smile, you should use it often,” he said.
“Excuse me?” Naomi asked wiping moisture from her eyes.
“I saw you coming toward me and just wanted to tell you that,” he said before walking away.  It definitely wasn’t a pickup line; it seemed authentic and sincere.
For Naomi, those simple words made all the difference; as if invisible holes had poked her skin and all her tension leeched out.  She tilted her face toward the brilliant light shafts breaking through the clouds above and her gloom began lifting.
She beamed!  Someone had noticed her.  She wasn’t invisible after all.  "Perhaps," she wondered, "this is happiness; what comes when the battle’s over."
The moral is twofold:
1.       Be kind and gentle with your words.  Just a simple word of encouragement can impact someone’s life today.
2.       Body language can tell you a lot about someone’s emotional state.  Learning to recognize the nonverbal signs can help us extend needed compassion to those who may be struggling.
Kindness has many synonyms - love, service, charity.  But they all imply action; tangible things we can do every day.
God designed our bodies perfectly for that purpose.  Each part has a unique role to help other parts function better as a whole.  We have two eyes trained to see twice as much, and two ears to hear double the amount we speak.  Therefore, we should approach others as humble learners earning the privilege to speak.
Dear Lord, teach me to love tenderly and vulnerably.  Help me to not shrink away from others because of fear, and miss opportunities to extend a loving, charitable, helping hand when they arise.  Amen

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Vinedresser

"I’m the Vine; you are the branches. Those who believe in Me will bear much fruit." ~ John 5:15
I always dreamed of owning a vineyard.  So on this south-facing slope, it became my life’s mission.
A practiced vinedresser schooled me on how to tend my grapes.  He was old and bent, but his smile was inviting.  His hands were gnarled but they held everything tenderly; wisdom gained from experience.
For one entire season, we walked the morning-wet fields.  He taught me everything I needed to know about the secret world of the vines.  Surrounded by grapes, I learned to pray for gentle rains, generous sunshine, and cool nights.  He also shared the spiritual symbolism of his work.
“Humans develop much like plants,” he said.  “There’s nature and nurture, and a balance above and below the earth.”  From the time they’re grafted and take root in the soil, vines need careful and constant attention.  Like our children and friends, grapes ripen slowly, thriving with decades of kindness and affection amid a fragile environment.
“A bountiful harvest doesn’t happen by accident,” he warned.  “Without pruning, there’d be no fruit to gather.  A vine has only enough energy to nourish a few canes.  Let all of them grow and none will flourish.”   We want it all.  But we must decide how best to use our energy; how many activities and possessions we can feed.  The answer’s not as many as we think.
“Good vinedressers know their vines, branches and the soil they’re growing in,” he revealed.  “They know what’s needed and when.”  We often don’t know what’s best for us.  But our Heavenly Vinedresser does.  Because God loves us, He constantly ‘prunes’ us.  He’s not angry; He’s hard at work in His vineyard.
“Keep trimming what’s dead or misshapen, lest you end up with a tangled mess,” he suggested.  “Train the vines on trellises - not to restrict them but to support them, just as Jesus, the proverbial ‘Vine’ supports and sustains us.”
“And when it comes to harvest time,” he advised, “move around and let the sun hit the vines from different directions.  Lift that leaf where more grapes are hiding.”  There are so many surprises if you walk around and look at things from different angles.
It got me thinking about looking at people from a different perspective.  Like the branches, sometimes you have to get down and crawl on your knees and look pretty hard.
And finally, a vineyard can be wiped out in five minutes of hail.  That too, is a lesson in faith and hope.  All is not lost; the vineyard will recover.
As I rock on my porch in the cool evening shade, I give thanks for the fruit of my vines and the God who made it all possible.
“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we’ve received the wine we offer You: fruit of the vine and work of human hands.  It will become our spiritual drink.” ~ Roman Missal