Sunday, June 25, 2017

No Small Gesture

“Let hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times." ~ Romans 12:12
Cassie took her young daughter to the ER that morning with a 104.5o fever - the culmination of two months of vague symptoms without a clear diagnosis: occasional bellyaches, frequent fevers, constant joint pains.
The doctor, a forty-something woman with a warm smile and a kind face, took blood for testing and noted that Riley’s liver felt enlarged.  She ordered X-rays and an ultrasound.
When the same doctor entered their exam room forty-five minutes later, her smile had vanished.  She met Cassie’s eyes first, then glanced down at Riley who was clutching the tiny stuffed puppy she’d been given by the X-ray Tech as a reward for being brave.  Something was definitely wrong.
A nurse asked Riley, “Do you want to come with me and play with some Legos, sweetheart?” and led her away.
The doctor closed the door.  “Her blood work is very concerning,” she’d said.  “I know this is a hard word to hear, but I’m 99.9% certain we’re looking at some sort of blood cancer.”
Two days later an oncologist would confirm the horrifying news.  He explained the disease and said that for the next 3 years Riley would receive spinal taps, injections and oral doses of radical chemotherapy – just enough poison to kill her Leukemia.
Cassie remembered few details from that moment; time spiraled into a dark abyss of fear and anxiety.  She realized the enemy her 5-year-old faced was much more than a silly cold.  As a single Mom, how could she ever face this battle alone?  She cried silently for a minute; then collected herself as an orderly entered the room with a bouquet of beautiful flowers.
Cassie read a card from her best friend Emily.  How sweet she thought!
Then she noticed a second card attached.  It read:
“Dear Mrs. Bradley, I took your order at DesignWorks florist.  My seven year-old had leukemia many years ago.  He’s fine now and a healthy young adult.   Treatment has improved so much since then as well.  Good luck.  My prayers will be for you and Riley as you face the challenges ahead.  Shalom, Laura."
For the first time, she felt her worries relax and her spirit soar.  They were in a hospital filled with sophisticated medical equipment and technology.  Riley was being treated by some of the best doctors and nurses on the planet.  But it was a stranger in a flower shop that shared her compassion and gave Cassie the hope to carry on.
Christians know that Christ brings hope to those who believe.  He’s a bright star in a sometimes desperately bleak universe.  He brightens our inner selves with the promise that smiling and laughter are just around the corner.
“My child, you are as you need to be, born with the exact talents this world needs.  You are pure of heart, strong of spirit and brave.  Whatever your talent is, use it for love, peace and healing.  Know that I love you, no matter what." ~ Jesus

Sunday, June 18, 2017

That's What Dad's Do

“Make your Dad truly happy by living right and showing sound judgment." ~ Proverbs 23:24
As a general rule, Travis kept his emotions to himself.  He figured they were clues he'd rather not share.  But today was different.  Excitement wired his body like being plugged directly into the main; his brain fast-forwarding with no ‘off’ switch.
After months of studying, practicing, and spending barrels of money, he’d earned his Private Pilot License - a little piece of plastic that allows you to fly legally. Today he’d take his first flight with a passenger – his Dad.
After pre-flighting 1684W and adding a quart of oil, Travis returned to the FBO dripping with sweat and exhausted from stress.  He gave his Dad the full passenger briefing; weather briefing, seatbelts, doors, what to do in an emergency, keeping an eye for traffic, sterile cockpit limitations, and what to listen for on the radio.  Then they hopped in, strapped up, started the engine, and taxied for their run-up.
“Let’s make this bird soar,” he said, lacking the bravado he’d hoped to muster.
The little Cessna took off into the wind and climbed to 1,500 feet staying below some scattered clouds.  As he’d been instructed, Travis talked incessantly; telling Dad what he was doing, what he was about to do and why he did it.  Banter not only helped calm his nerves but, as a new pilot, it solidified the processes he learned in training.
Dad remained very quiet.  Trying perhaps, not to disturb the pilot or maybe just blissfully unaware, Travis speculated.
He coaxed the plane higher seeking smoother, cooler air above the low scattered layer.  They’d just leveled off at 4,500’ when Dad finally spoke: “OK, we can land now.”
Travis’ jaw dropped faster than a loaf removed from an oven too soon.  He’d planned to circle the Detroit skyline before returning to City airport.   He calmly reminded his father of that.  But he’d never forget what his father said more than 30 years ago.
“I’m terrified of small planes,” he said with eyes as wide as if someone was coming to deliver the fatal blow.  “I just wanted you to know that I have confidence in you, son!”
That’s what Dads do!  The best ones bolster our confidence!
And so much more.  From changing diapers and cleaning up vomit to helping with homework and having heartfelt conversations with teenagers, real Dads today are all-in.
They teach life’s lessons by example.  They share their faith with us, tell great stories, and carry us with strong arms and such a warm touch.   They spend time, not money - because they know what really matters to kids.  He treats his children like the adults he wants them to become.  And when there is nothing else left, he still loves us no matter what.
Heavenly Father, thank You for guiding me, forgiving me, and loving me.  And thank You for my own Dad – his work ethic, the way he shared his faith and for his rock-solid integrity.  Amen

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hatred is Weakness

“Suffering builds character, which gives us a hope. Romans 5:3-4
It was the call no one should ever have to make – the call to a close friend at work announcing that his wife had been killed by a teenage girl on the way to school.  Probably distracted, died at the scene, police investigating, manslaughter charges pending.
The news passed through Anton like a hurricane.  Everything they’d worked and struggled for suddenly lay in ruins.  His heart nearly stopped beating as he fought the mind-numbing fog about to consume him.
“How is the girl?” Anton asked.  “Was she hurt too?"  Jamal couldn't believe his friend’s first response to such devastating news was concern for the girl.  “Ask her if it’d be OK for me to stop by later this week and talk with her.”
Darcy wanted to decline but knew she couldn't.  He needed to get it off his chest, she reasoned.  Terrified, she reluctantly agreed to meet Anton.
Anton greeted a girl of eighteen, maybe less, who averted his gaze.  Darcy’s handshake was delicate and clammy; her eyes were wide as if someone was coming to deliver a fatal blow.
The burly, middle-aged man stepped toward the girl, not with bitterness in his eyes, but with arms outstretched, scooping her up in a warm embrace.
Tears that she’d been fighting back began flowing freely onto his flannel shirt.  Darcy couldn’t stop repeating, "I'm so sorry.  I'm so sorry."  Once she regained her composure, Anton motioned her to a window seat and began telling Darcy things he wanted her to know about his wife Rachel’s life.
"There was no limit to how much she loved the Lord," Anton began. "She enjoyed a close, intimate walk with God.  She lived every day as if it could be her last on Earth, and never left the house on her morning ride without hugging me as if she might be saying goodbye for the last time."
Anton had her full attention as he continued. "Darcy, even though this caught us all by surprise, it was no surprise to God.  He also knows that you’re strong enough to handle this.  You can't let this ruin your life.  He wants to use you for His glory; to love Jesus without limits, just like Rachel did."
“I asked the DA drop all charges against you without a trial.  What would be the purpose of making your life more miserable?"
Darcy kept waiting for Anton to dish out some reprimand, but none came.  His mercy - along with his challenge to her that night, would comfort her for years to come.  God took that horrific event and turned it into something beautiful.
Darcy gradually went from feeling "guilty” to feeling "chosen."  She chose to carryon Rachel’s legacy of being a godly woman who loved Jesus beyond measure with her own life.
God of Forgiveness, bitterness is the poison we swallow, hoping the other person dies.  Release this terrible burden by experiencing the cleansing power of forgiveness even though I hate what they did. Amen

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Who Rescued Who?

“God works for the good of those who love Him." ~ Romans 8:28
The image of a taupe-colored puppy on an exam table, emaciated and covered in scabs, was almost too horrible to comprehend.  She’d likely been caged, neglected, and starved to near death.  The animal rescue group gave her less than 1% chance of surviving the night.
Miraculously, with fluids, nutrition, and an urgent visit to the vet, the puppy began to perk up.  Her rapid recovery prompted the rescue team to dub her “Xena the Warrior Puppy.”  They even started a Facebook page showing her amazing recovery that quickly gained 9,000 followers.
Linda Hickey, one such admirer, fell in love with the wounded Warrior.  She checked the Facebook page several times a day, praying for her health and a speedy recovery.  It kept her mind off the challenges her own family faced.
Their 8-year old son Johnny had been diagnosed as autistic.  He read with proficiency, but autism left him alone and isolated.  Most of his social interactions were painfully awkward; unfamiliar situations often triggered terror, tantrums or both.  Seeking comfort and predictability, he’d embrace solitary activities like playing with marbles or coloring in silence.  They’d run out of ideas on how to reach him.
Linda talked to God often about Johnny.  Xena had been given almost no chance of surviving, yet she was thriving.  A warrior, all right!  Linda wasn’t holding out for something that miraculous for her son Johnny, but maybe there was hope for him yet.  God always has a plan.
So when the opportunity to meet Xena at rescue fundraiser presented itself, Linda took the family to meet her in person.  The dog spotted Johnny and approached the normally-reticent young boy.  To Linda’s surprise, Johnny smiled widely, then melted in the onslaught of unconditional affection.  The Warrior Pup became a permanent part of Linda’s family that same day.
Since then Johnny hasn’t stopped talking.  He talks to Xena all the way home from school, during homework and afterwards he plays with her until dinner.   According to his mom, “Xena helped Johnny come out of his shell; he’s never been happier.”
Xena helps Johnny in other ways too.  He’s always struggled with personal-space issues, but he’s fine with letting Xena lean on him, lie down on him and perch precariously on his lap.  It doesn’t matter that she weighs almost as much as he does.  And despite his phobia of touching food, Johnny prepares dinner for Xena every night.
While the Hickeys are more hopeful now than they’ve ever been about Jonny’s future, they find it best to focus on the day they’re living, and possibly the day after that.  “God had a plan,” Linda said.  “These two were destined to be together - to rescue each other at a level that humans simply can’t fully understand.”
Lord, let me do my very best to honor You in everything I do.  Help me to understand and carry out the perfect plan You have for my life.  Amen

Friday, June 2, 2017

Never Again

“Jesus said, Father, forgive these people.” ~ Luke 23:34
Pvt. Brian Engelhard, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment, surveyed the scene before him with what combat veterans describe as the thousand-yard stare; a gaze that says he’s seen the horrors of war and will never forget them.
A vast sea of white lay before him as if someone had planted the seeds for the garden of stone before him.  He wondered how many, knowing that the true answer was “too many.”
Trudging across the marble field, he stopped at each headstone and placed a flag one in front of each marker.  He read each name and calculated every age.  He realized that every person was too young to be here; every soul cut down in its prime.
Silent and respectful of the sacrifices of those just below his feet he soldiered on, determined to complete his mission before nightfall.  The mournful sound of taps from across the field brought him to knees.  “Forgiving Lord,” he began with this heartfelt prayer:
“There has to be a better way to solve the world's problems.  Sadly after the WWII – the ‘War to End All Wars’ - there was Korea, then Vietnam, and ever more wars.  I pray now, that we stop adding young men and women to this cemetery.
After I returned home from serving my country, I trashed everything that had anything to do with the military.  I got rid of pictures, my uniform and those medals.  In that way, I expressed my determination never again to fight in a war.
I wish I could bring back the people I know I killed, but I can’t.  And I imagine every murderer feels the same way.  I visit men in prison now, and when I hear their stories, I tell them that without God’s forgiveness, I’m no different than any other murderer.
We wish we could bring our victims back to life and ask their forgiveness.  But we’re not in that position, and so we simply have to accept Your forgiveness.  Thank you Lord, Amen.”
Pvt. Engelhard struggled to his feet and continued putting more flags in front of the headstones.  By the grace of God, he’d found peace by confessing the things that had burdened him.  He still regrets the past and will forever feel it’s torment.   But God’s mercy had provided closure on the sins of war; they no longer had power over him.
When we think of the pain so many veterans suffer evidenced by the troubling rates of suicide, homelessness, mental illness and drug abuse, we should think of Jesus, who was mocked and whipped, cursed and nailed to a cross.  We should remember his words as he hung dying: “Father, forgive these people.”  Let’s each face our own guilt and brokenness and allow ourselves to be converted and healed.
Father, as we remember our veterans this year, help us acknowledge the lasting pain so many carry.  Forgive us - for being indifferent to their anguish, too self-concerned to share their burden, or unwilling to listen when their ghosts surface?  Amen

Saturday, May 27, 2017

On Angel's Wings

“Those who live in the shelter of the Lord will find rest in His shadow." ~Psalm 91:1
It was a day she had dreaded for weeks – the military funeral for a man she’d respected, a dear friend.  Colonel Alan McAllister had been commander of her squadron during the Gulf War.  It seemed inconceivable that a man of such vivacity could be struck down so quickly from cancer.
On one of his final days, the Colonel sat up a little taller in his hospital bed and asked Juanita for a special favor.  “Will you sing my favorite song, ‘On Eagles Wings’ at my service?”  He knew she’d sung at other military functions.
Silence lingered as he awaited her response.  A small sigh of anxiety leapt from Juanita’s throat.  She wasn’t sure she could keep her emotions in check.  Still, how could she turn down his request?
“Of course I will,” she stammered, hoping that she’d have ample time to prepare.  But today came way too soon.
For those who’ve never experienced a military funeral firsthand, it’s powerful and displays proud traditions.  A soldier is buried to a 21-gun salute followed by the haunting sound of "Taps” echoing across the cemetery.
Juanita had barely made it through without breaking down.  She wanted to cry watching the Colonel’s wife Mary clutching a folded flag.  Instead, she caught sight of a yellow butterfly fluttering above the sea of military uniforms.
Had it been there the whole time?  Juanita watched the butterfly linger over the heads of Mary and her daughters during the final prayer.  It had been such a difficult day for them, but somehow the sight of wings as beautiful as painted silk, floated on the breeze to comfort them.  She remained engrossed as its delicate wings looped through the air before winging off into the sky.
After the final prayer, Mary approached Juanita.  “Will you come over to the house later this afternoon?” she asked.  “There’s a gift that Alan insisted I give you for singing today.”
Later as they sipped tea and reminisced about the colonel’s service, Mary spoke.  “Juanita, you did an amazing job today.  “Such a blessing; and we really appreciate you.”
“To God be the glory,” Juanita responded.  “I’m so glad you were blessed.”
Mary rose from her seat and opened a drawer.
“Alan and I agreed on this special gift,” she said, handing a brightly-wrapped box to her friend.  “He gave me this same gift once and wanted you to have one too.”
Juanita pulled off the wrapping paper, opened the box, and pulled out a Swarovski crystal butterfly.  It caught her breath.
“Alan and I believe that a butterfly’s magnificent, yet short life reminds us to enjoy the present,” Mary explained.  “Its transformation, as well as our own spiritual transformation, continues well beyond death.”
Are butterflies Angels perhaps?
“He will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His Hand.”  On Eagle’s Wings by Michael Joncas

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

To Receive, Divine

“A gift is like a rare gem; any way you view it you see beauty refracted.” ~ Proverbs 17:8
Spring had arrived in the mountains.  Butterflies danced among the stunning flowers littering the meadow.  In the woods multicolored blossoms were rapidly transforming into green leaves.
Without warning however, dark clouds threatened the sky; like a predator encircling its prey.  Soon drops bigger than prairie hailstones pounded the earth as the sky roared with satisfaction.   May showers had taken the sunshine out of spring.
He drove to the local store for another week’s worth of food. After paying for his groceries, Trevor headed for the door when he heard a loud thud.
He turned and saw that an older man with a walker had fallen on the slick floor.  Trevor rushed over and helped him to his feet.  Luckily he was unhurt and thanked Trevor several times.
Trevor pushed the cart to his car.  The skies had settled but still overcast.  A sense of purity caressed the air.  A dense, earthly smell rose from the ground soothing everything with its soft embrace.
Like the weather, he’d sensed changes coming in his own life for some time now.  He smiled broadly at the thought of helping another.  Sharing love, spreading joy, and doing all he could to make the world a better place brought him closer to God.  He felt alive!
As he reached for his keys, Trevor realized that he’d locked them with his cell phone inside the car.  “Je suis tres stupide!” he mumbled to himself, kicking the tire with a few additional choice words.
“What’s wrong?” a teenage bicyclist asked as he rode up.
“Locked the keys inside my car,” Trevor said, more embarrassed than angry.
The stranger handed Trevor his cell phone.
“Even if I called my wife,” Trevor continued, “she can’t bring me her car key.  This is our only car.”
“Call your wife,” the boy suggested.  “Tell her I’m coming to get her key.”
“That’s eleven miles round trip,” Trevor replied.
“Don’t worry about it,” the boy said.  And an hour later, he returned with the key.  Trevor offered to pay the boy, but he refused.  “Let’s just say I needed the exercise,” he said before riding off.
Trevor felt awkward.  He found it much easier to offer help than to receive it.  He’d been taught from an early age that giving is better than receiving.  But receiving is an equally noble endeavor.  Maybe that was the change God had planned for this day.
When someone extends their attention and caring toward us, how deeply do we let it in?  Can we allow ourselves to be nourished by another’s act of kindness?  Receiving deeply not only nurtures us, but it also honors the giver.  It makes them feel that they made a difference in our life.
Lord, remind us that by accepting help from others, we’re joined together as family members. By allowing others to love us, we bless them as well, with the opportunity to serve, to love, and to live as Christ.  Amen

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

No Small Gift

“Be kind and compassionate to one another." ~ Ephesians 4:32
The summer’s heat had already become unbearable; sweat trickled down her back like warm soup.  “Gonna have to get ‘Betsy’s’ air conditioning fixed” she mumbled to herself for the third time this week.
Kassidy had been running errands all morning and was about to head home but decided to treat herself first.  Ice cream shops are always joyful places.  What could make a person happier than the sweet smell of fresh waffle cones and gallons of creamy, frozen goodness to choose from?
The Dreamery Creamery’s ice-cream freezer was stacked with all her favs – chocolate peanut butter, raspberry ripple and orange dreamsicle . . . but there were more, so many more!  As her breath fogged up the glass, a bubbly youngster caught her attention.
David’s tiny hands spread over the chilled glass like a hungry cat over a fishbowl.  If there had been three choices he’d have picked one long ago, but the array put his mind into a blissful tingle of possibilities.  There weren’t just all the flavors, but all the possible combinations.  It wouldn’t come cheap of course, but then reaching your 4th birthday is a reason to celebrate.
"Are you sure you want to spend your birthday money on ice cream?" his mother asked.
There’s something intoxicating about an excited child.  They bounce, they giggle, they squeal (and they lack an ounce of patience).  As Danny’s grin got wider, from a distance Kassidy too started to smile.  Bursting with liquid sunshine from within, Danny eagerly nodded “YES!!”
Kassidy stood behind him as the cashier smothered a small vanilla cone with sprinkles.  She handed him the cone and he handed her his money.  He was about to turn around when the cashier told him to wait and dropped a few small coins into his hand.
The little guy looked at his change for a moment and then lifted his hand up to a St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital donation box on the counter and dropped them in it.  He turned around and met Kassidy’s eyes.  He grinned and she smiled back.  Then he walked out of the store with his Mom, happily licking his frozen desert.
After watching that little miracle of love, Kassidy’s heart felt lighter and the world seemed brighter.  It felt so good to be in a world that had such kindness in it.  She knew too that all of the angels in heaven must have been cheering when they saw that little boy’s kindness.
In the eyes of God no gift is too small; every act of love is priceless.  By simply sharing a few coins that little boy had made Earth a little more like Heaven.  May we all do the same.
Almighty Father, in today's hustle and bustle, it’s too easy to move through the day disconnected from our capacity as humans to be kind and caring.  Teach me to become fluent in kindness; compassionate to others, to the earth and to me.  Amen

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Superhero

“I’ve gone to prepare a place for each of you so that we’ll be together forever." ~ John 14:2-3
Sadness filled her eyes; their emerald green too glossy.  Nancy’s voice trailed off like words unwilling to take flight.  “Cancer,” she muttered to her daughter Aspen.  “But I’m gonna fight this like the third elephant on the ramp to Noah’s ark.”
And she did … everything her doctors suggested: chemotherapy, double mastectomy, and radiation.  When it went into remission, Aspen believed the nightmare was over.
But 2 years later the cancer returned, having metastasized throughout her lymph nodes, bones, and later on to her liver.
It seemed an impossible fight, but Nancy fought harder than Aspen thought possible, meticulously researching cancer at a cellular level.  She changed her diet dramatically, going from a 'meat and potatoes' diet full of processed foods and sugar to a predominately vegan and organic diet.
She exercised with a personal trainer, becoming fit and physically strong for the first time in her adult life.  She even took up painting to help relax and relieve anxiety.  Nancy did everything she could medically, holistically, mentally, spiritually and physically to stay alive.
It was around this time that Aspen began to realize that Nancy was so much more than 'just' her Mom.  She was a Superhero – an extraordinarily brave, smart, tenacious person who wanted nothing more than to be with her family and friends as long as she could.  No one could ever inspire Aspen the way her Mom did. She wanted to live so badly; staring down death and saying, "Not yet."
The oncologist’s words would eventually splinter inside Nancy causing more pain than the cancer.  Terminal.  Hospice.  Comfort care only.  No more autumn walks in t he park or birthdays at the bowling alley.  She wouldn’t see Aspen graduate.
After acknowledging she couldn’t win the battle, Nancy showed no fear.  Her affairs were in order, her husband and children were as provided for as they could ever be (Nancy arranged an army of friends committed to raising them like loving aunts).
Nancy believed in life everlasting; one more glorious than an earthly one and that her family will join her there too someday.  She accepted that the Lord called her home before she was ready and never raged at God or asked “Why me?”  She simply adored all the beloved people who’d graced her life, and kept telling them until her voice was gone.
Aspen spoke.  "Mom, you taught me so much about living, but now you’re showing me how to die."  Nancy squeezed her hand and, amazingly, Nancy smiled broadly.  As joy filled the hospital room, no one noticed that her vital signs were dropping quickly.
Within seconds, Nancy was gone, ushered into heaven, ready to meet her Almighty Father and grateful for a life well earned.
“It's your world now, my race is run.  I'm moving on, like the setting sun.  No sad goodbyes, no tears allowed.   You'll be alright, it's your world now!” ~ Glen Frey (singer, songwriter for the Eagles, 2007)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Mother's Devotion

“Point your kids in the right direction; when they’re old they won’t be lost." ~ Proverbs 22:6
Tommy’s education started unremarkably, like many other children of his time.  He attended school when his family’s work load permitted.  But his mind often wandered.  Having lost patience with the child one day, the teacher called the boy a dull learner in front of the class.
Angry and humiliated, Tommy told his mother.   When Nancy went to the schoolhouse to confront the teacher, a heated argument ensued after the teacher doubled down.  “Tommy is simply not teachable,” she insisted.
So at age 12, his public school career ended abruptly.  But that was far from the end of the story.
Nancy had been a school teacher in Canada and happily took over the job of educating her son.  She knew her son had quite a bit of capability from the things he was doing around the house.
Nancy encouraged her son to have both a head and hands approach to learning, allowing him to experiment in his own laboratory.  She even overcame her husband’s protests after various small explosions and odd smells erupted from their small basement.
She imbued Tommy with four life-long pillars of learning:
  Don’t be afraid to fail.  Keep trying; learn from your mistakes.
Read the entire span of literature, not just what you like.
Not all learning comes from books; it’s important to work with your hands and learn from life.
Never stop learning, always keep improving yourself.
Tommy was imaginative and inquisitive, but because much instruction was by rote and he had difficulty hearing, he was bored and therefore branded a misfit.  And additionally, by today’s standards, he would’ve been classified as dyslexic.
In later years, a mature and very successful Thomas Edison acknowledged that his mother’s discipline for a focused life was responsible for his great success.  He obviously learned differently from the standard recitation learning of his traditional one-room schoolhouse.
It was fundamentally necessary for Edison to have a visceral feel for the information he was learning, especially for a need to experiment and react to the results of those experiments.  Throughout his life Edison developed a love for literature and could quote many great poems and passages.
Can you imagine what life would be like without light bulbs or electric motors; phonographs and motion picture projectors?  Perhaps the world’s most prolific inventor, Edison acquired a record number of 1,093 patents!
But none of that would have happened had it not been for a devoted mother who refused to believe his teacher’s assessment.  Always remember, your defiant or befuddled twelve year-old might have a spark inside of them that just needs to be lit by someone who believes in them.  Who better to light the fire than YOU?
Lord, thank You for the honor of being a parent.  Give me patience and a joyful heart with the everyday innocent and not-so-innocent failings of my children.  Help me encourage them to be all that You meant them to become.  Amen

Monday, May 1, 2017

Odd Lessons

“Wait for the Lord’s help, be strong and brave." ~ Psalms 27:14
He’d have been a great a great father is he hadn’t been addicted to crack.
The first time he saw his dad smoke crack cocaine, Torii was seven years old.  But that marked the beginning of a lifelong struggle; the anguish of knowing the father he loved was a drug addict.
Torii’s childhood entailed living sans electricity and having to scavenge for food in his crime riddled neighborhood.  Poverty comes with addiction; all the family’s money went to support his dad’s habit.  Addicts don’t think about anything else – not about family, friends or career; they’ll lie, cheat and steal for a fix.
To this day Torii gets a sick feeling just thinking about the times he and his brothers lived on nothing more than a loaf of white bread, spreading ketchup or syrup between two slices to make the hunger go away.  Or the times he slept on a towel when the old bedroom mattress became too nauseating.
The boys often walked the streets, worrying about whether their dad was alive or dead, only to find him stoned out of his mind at a crack house.  They’d coax him back home, knowing all too well the humiliation, fear and chaos of living with a dead beat dad.
His father's behavior gave him the inspiration to move beyond his drug-infested ‘hood’ and build something positive out of his life.  He also found strength and hope in Jesus Christ.
Their mother’s faith kept the family together.  She pleaded with them to be better fathers than their own dad was to them.  And that's what Torii tried to do with his life.
Baseball became his safe haven – the one of the few places he could put aside thoughts of his tortured past.  Having played for the Angels, Twins, and Tigers, Torri Hunter became a five-time All-Star and won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards.  While noted for his spectacular outfield catches, he wasn't too shabby on offense either, with 353 homers, 1,391 RBI’s and 195 stolen bases.  He retired from the Major League after 19 professional seasons in 2015.
His faith allows him to forgive his dad.  Hunter moved his father to Dallas where he now lives, so he can watch over him and try to keep him from the drug culture (a constant battle after nearly a dozen rehab stints).
Prayer helped him become a better father.  He admits to spoiling his own kids “a little.”  But he also helped with homework and held them to a strict moral standard.  Because he didn’t have that growing up.  Ironically, his dad taught him valuable lessons without ever knowing it.
Father of us all, thank you for my Dad.  Through the marvel of Your creation, my parents gave me the gift of life itself.  He continues to be a great teacher and mentor, such a wonderful example of how to live a life of faith.  I am blessed.  Amen

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Overbooked

“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be." ~ Psalm 39:4
With her biggest sales pitch just an hour away, Kara hadn’t slept well last night.  Overcaffeination rendered her mind lethargic.
Racing through a crowded airport, Kara realized she’d left her iPhone on the hotel shuttle.  She borrowed a phone to call he own iPhone and ask that the driver please return it.
As the call connected, something terribly embarrassing happened.  Right there, surrounded by thousands of commuters, her bra started ringing.  She’d forgotten about tucking the iPhone in her bra.  That’s the moment she decided that hectic her life needed to change.
No longer would she wear being ‘overbooked’ as a badge of honor?   Her calendar would have to include more than conference calls, work deadlines, and other people’s needs.
At 27, it was time to start living the story she wanted to fondly look back on.
So, on a fitfully, cold winter evening, Kara entered the front doors of a nearby nursing home and asked to visit their ‘loneliest’ resident.  Their nomination sat quietly in room 109.
Kara had no idea who she was about to meet.  But she knew that the memories we covet most are rarely born from within our comfort zone.
She knocked on the door intending to deliver a gift … but discovered one instead: a 98-year-old woman named Stella.
When Kara asked about the best moments of her life, excitement washed over Stella’s face like sunshine through fine white linen; she glowed from the inside out.
Not what Kara expected; how could this frail woman feel so alive tucked away in a place like this?  She listened intently as Stella regaled her life story - glowing about the ways she’d collected fascinating memories.
Stella beamed about a rebellious love that lasted for decades.  They chuckled together when she tallied up the outlandish risks of her youth.  She’d experienced the ultimate luxury that Kara sought but couldn’t buy – a life well lived.
Despite living in this small, beige-colored room and without visitors for several months, nothing could take away the satisfaction a life well lived gave Stella now.
During the hour and a half they spent together sharing stories and laughing, Stella passionately urged Kara to make time for exciting life experiences.  It was the single most important piece of advice she wanted Kara to remember, even asking the girl to promise that she would.
Driving home, Kara steered through mournful tears.  She barely remembered her early twenties.  Probably because she never slowed down long enough to actually live them.  She’d been asleep at the wheel; a life on autopilot.
From today forward, Kara’s life would never be the same again.  Collecting experiences, adventures and face time with amazing people would become at least, if not more important than most other tasks and obligations.
Lord, thank You for the gift of life.  Please calm my hurried heart.  Prompt me to slow down when needed?  Help me experience Your heavenly tranquility and I’ll praise Your holy name.  Amen

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A 'God' Thing

“We live by faith, not by sight." ~ 2 Corinthians 5:7
Occasionally we encounter events that seem to be so random, they can only be explained as a miracle.  Such was the case when 21 year old twin sisters Ashlee and Andrea discovered they were pregnant at the same time.  Oddsmakers say the chance of twins having twins is about 1 in 2,500.
What makes the story even more amazing, is that the two moms, living hundreds of miles apart, were six months pregnant when they found out they were both going to have twin boys . . . due on roughly the same date.
They admitted that twins ran in the families of all four parents, and that they didn’t use fertility drugs to conceive the babies.  Since both were likely to be cesarean births, the twin mothers decided to schedule their deliveries for the same day.  It wasn’t a publicity stunt but rather so that all four babies would share the same birthday with their grandfather.
Ashlee went to Georgia several weeks before their due date to be with her sister so that they could be born in the same hospital.
In what might be a medical first, each of twin sisters delivered twin boys by C-section on January 1st.  Andrea gave birth to identical twins weighing just over 4 pounds each.   Ashlee gave birth to fraternal twins weighing 5 pounds, 9 ounces and 7 pounds, 4 ounces.  All four boys - and their Moms – are doing fine.
The boy’s physician claimed the chances of twin sisters giving birth to twin boys on the same date are probably greater than 1 in a million.  What a delightful coincidence – or was it . . . “a God thing!”  Isn’t that what call something miraculous that goes our way?
Christians tend to label things that unexpectedly work out in their favor as “God things.”  This statement always follows something good that’s happened to us - a story of healing, a rare coincidence that went our way, finding a parking space, getting a job or when our child stops warming the bench in time to hit the game-winning shot.
But there’s a flip side to that coin.  When things don’t go our way - it’s still “a God thing.”  When we don’t get the promotion that we wanted - it’s a “God thing.”  Times of suffering, times of misfortune, times of loss – “God thing, God thing.”  It’s all within His sovereign plans.
God’s in control of the “bad” days just as much as He’s in control of the “good” ones.  All of these seemingly random events invite us to experience God in ways we may have never considered.  He’s bigger, more beautiful, and more surprising than we could ever have planned or predicted.
Lord, sometimes Your plan isn’t what we asked for.  It’s hard to see where You are during the hard times.  Through Your grace, help us to know that You’re there, that You care, and that when this world is falling apart, You’re still in control.  Amen

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Holding Daddy's Hand

“I am the Lord your God.  Don’t be afraid, I’m holding your hand." ~ Isaiah 41:13
FATHER: My daughter is like a snapchat in time.  I recall her ponytail blowing in the spring breeze, her girlish face absorbing the sun’s warmth.  There’s nothing I wouldn't do to keep her from harm, but I can’t protect her forever.  I can only be there when she falls and stand well back while she reaches for the stars.
I remember entering Disney’s ‘It’s a Small World’ for the first time.  “Daddy?  I’m scared,” she said in a voice that oozed anxiety.  Happily, I reached down and clutched the delicate hand baring such sweet innocence.  A precious moment, indeed.
Honestly, it scares me that these days duck just below the horizon.  She isn’t always going to grab my hand for warmth and reassurance.  Before long she’s going to pretend she doesn’t need me anymore, her independence sprouting like kudzu across the Georgian countryside.
DAUGHTER:  I can’t remember the first time I held my Daddy’s hand, but I’ll never forget the security I sensed when his enormous, calloused hand was wrapped around my faint little fingers.  I adored the feeling of protection, knowing with complete certainty that no monster, sickness, or other danger could harm me while he held my hand.
Through all the stages in my life, Daddy’s huge work-worn hands would comfort me one way or another: reassuring me as I waited for the bus on my inaugural day of school; restoring my self-confidence after breaking my arm; calming my wedding day jitters.  No matter how each giant step in life turned out, the strength of Daddy’s unwavering grip would always be there.
It scares me a lot that the time is near when the hands that once promised safety and security, wither to little more than skin and bone.  Soon his weary fingers would have to reach down from heaven – an ever present positive force in my life.
GOD:  My hand is always within reach.  Times when you’re scared and need someone to hold on to; days when you’re weak and need an extra boost; moments when you don’t know what to do and crave guidance and direction.
You may no longer have your parents to hold your hand when you’re scared.  You may now be the person asked to hold someone’s hand for comfort.  You may need to be strong for others.  But no matter how strong you think you are, there are times when the scared child still lives within you.
In those times, turn to Me.  For I am the LORD, your God, and I will always be there to help.  I too, want to hold your hand and bring you peace.  All you need to do is ask, then take My hand.
“Hold my hand Lord, lead me the way, help me be good every day.  Show me what’s wrong and right, keep me safe through the night.  Let me know what You’ve planned, lead the way God, hold my hand.”  Amen

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Seasons of Wither

"For everything there is a season, and a time for everything under heaven." ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1
Sarah’s eyes could only detect shadows of light and dark.  She knew day from night and the proximity to a window on a sunny day.  Without colors, she relied on the intensity of other senses.  She loved the seasonal changes for their simple joys.
Nearly blind from birth, Sarah knew before her sighted friends when the winter season was in transition.  She knew every flower of her neighborhood by their scents, either that which they released to the damp air or by crushing a petal to release their aromatic sap.  The daffodils and crocuses were usually early bloomers.  The myriad of lush hues from the grass and leaves were lost to her; but their gentle fragrance never was.
She knew the call of each bird species and marked the progress of the season with their song.  There was more good humor in the air and the children reappeared in greater numbers to the streets. Soccer games erupted in the spaces between the clustered garages and in cul-de-sacs. Skateboarders rode over the uneven pavement slabs, sounding for the entire world like an approaching train.
She felt the breeze kiss her more warmly.  Even the rainfall would be different, no longer driving and harsh, but settling softly on her face, almost refreshing.  The wind would lose its bite, becoming ambient, congenial, and tousling the hair of pedestrians - but no longer stealing their warmth.  It’s the promise of summer to come, of warm days without the weight of winter garb.
But on this bleak, spring morning, that all still seemed months away.
Seasons fade in and out like soft lullabies, their transitions unhurried but never faltering.  Like mother earth herself, they only turn in one direction, always onward, never back.  Sarah breathed in deeply, so wanting the beautiful flowers and sweet-smelling blossoms that she could almost smell the promise of their perfume.
Thought she can’t smell them yet, Sarah knows they’re coming.  It’s happened every year.  She knows with certainty that those bulbs lying dormant below the soil will come to life when God says it’s time.
Sometimes it’s the same way spiritually.  We hit bleak times in our lives, and it feels as if God’s a million miles away.  We chase the dreams He’s put on our hearts, and we wait and wait, but nothing happens.  But just like things happening to those bulbs below the soil, God is busily at work on our behalf, even when we can’t yet see those first sprouts of His endowment.
The flowers are coming.  If God made you a promise, you can count on the fact that you will one day see it bloom in your life as well.
For flowers that bloom about our feet, for tender grass, so fresh and so sweet; for song of bird, and hum of bee, for all things fair we hear or see, Father in heaven, we thank Thee!  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, April 3, 2017

Where Do Prayers Go?

“Always keep praying." ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:17 
Sonya planted cherry-pie kisses on the sweet, gentle child sitting on her lap.
Paige giggled like only a child can.  It was that infectious kind of laugh that lights up adults - like an echo of the children they once were.  When her expression took a more curious tone, grandma knew an important question was about to surface.
“Grammie,” she began.  “Where do prayers go?  How do my prayers find their way to God?”
Paige always asked lots of questions, but Sonya was completely unprepared for this one.  Three quick thoughts emerged.
First, she wanted to be consistent with what her parents had told the youngster.  Second, while Sonya had attended dozens of Bible studies and should be able to nail this question, she needed to answer the question at a level Paige could comprehend. Third, and most important, Sonya didn’t want to say anything that she’d have to ‘unsay’ later.
Sonya smiled and looked into the adoring eyes of her innocent grandchild.  “It depends on which prayer you say honey.  When you say a blessing for the food you eat, the blessing doesn’t go anywhere; it just stays with you in your mind and makes you feel thankful and blessed.  When you sing a song from the Bible, it goes to your heart and makes you feel happy and strong.  That’s what my grandmother told me.”
Satisfied momentarily, Paige asked “Will God answer all my prayers?”
“Oh yes, dear,” Sonya replied.  “He answers every single prayer with either yes, no, or not yet.”
Feeling liked she had nailed it, Sonya continued.  “Getting a “yes” is wonderful.  It’s exactly what you wished for.  But, you can’t always get what you want.
“No” is tougher to take and even harder to hear.  What’s good about “no,” though, is that God promises to help you deal with any situation.
Most of the time God says “not yet.”  He has a very special plan for you Paige, and you need to be patient and trust God to work in your life.  It’s hard sometimes, but you still have to try.”
Fearing the question were getting more challenging, Sonya decided to turn the table.  “Paige, do you know where God lives?”
The child thought for a moment, then said emphatically, “Grandma, you should know the answer to that one?”
Decide ahead of time as a parent that you won’t freak out when your child challenges you and questions God.  Or your teenager tells you that Christianity isn’t different than any other religion.
Thank them for the question.  Explore it with them.  Ask them questions.  And reach out to a wider circle of influence that can help them process what they’re going through.  Make your home a safe place where doubts can be expressed.  You just might foster belief as a result.
“Jesus, are you really there?  Do you hear and answer every child’s prayer?  Some say that heaven is far away, But I feel it close around me as I pray.”  ~ Janice Kapp Perry

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Class Act

“Be humble in whatever you do, never let selfishness or pride be your guide." ~ Philippians 2:3
Death wasn't kind.  He knew that.  It took people who were far too young, far too good.  It didn't pretend to care, it didn't pretend to distinguish.
After a five-year fight with cervical cancer, Johntel watched helplessly as his mother took her last breaths.  She was just 39.
As his teammates gathered at the hospital in show of support for their senior captain, there was talk of cancelling the basketball game.  Johntel wouldn’t have it.  He insisted they play.  And play they did, even though the game started late and absent their captain and MVP.
Early in the second quarter, Johntel emerged from the locker, fully dressed in his team’s crimson and gold uniform.  The Coach called a time out and players from both benches hugged the grieving athlete.  Fans came out of the stands to do the same.
He’d intended just to watch and support his team from the bench.  He soon realized, however, that despite his grief, he wanted to play.  But since he wasn’t on the pre-game roster, his team received a technical foul when he entered the game.
Two free throws awarded on a technical foul would usually come as a welcome opportunity in a tight game.  Under the circumstances, the opposing Coach (Rodman) and his team didn't feel right about taking them.  They pleaded with the referees, but the rulebook left no room for exceptions.
It didn't matter that Rodman’s basketball team had ridden a bus two and a half hours to get to a game that started an hour late.  Didn't matter that the game was close, or that this was a chance to beat a big city team.
Something else was on Rodman’s mind when he asked for a volunteer to shoot the two free throws.  “Let’s do the right thing,” he suggested before carefully selecting his shooter.
Darius went alone to the free throw line, dribbled the ball a couple of times, and stared at the rim.  His first attempt went about two feet, bouncing several times as it rolled out of bounds.  The second barely left his hand.
It didn't take long for Johntel and his teammates to figure out what had just happened.  They stood and turned toward their opponents and started applauding the classy gesture of sportsmanship.  Soon, so did everybody in the stands.
Johntel went on to score 10 points and his team won easily.  Later, both teams went out for pizza, two players from each team sharing each pie.
Rodman’s team went home with a loss.  But their display of character would be something no one in that gym would ever forget.  Sometimes you win . . . sometimes you learn.  Amen?
Lord God, there's so much more than the score at the end of the game.  Help us keep competition in perspective.  Help them play fair, safe from injury and thankful for the chance to demonstrate their faith to others by their actions.  Amen.