Friday, October 20, 2017

Zero to Hero

“The body is not made up of one part but of many." ~ 1 Corinthians 12:14
He showed up for practice with a new glove and cleats right from the box.  Translation: Matt (11) had never played Little League, or any other baseball before.  He clearly wasn't the teammate the other boys were hoping for.
Matt was painfully shy and appeared more fragile than rice paper.  Bright, eager and verbose were not necessarily athletic qualities.  While other kids on his team were chasing fly balls or taking batting practice, Matt seemed content drawing elaborate patterns in the dirt or reading the rule book.  His teammates took notice and eventually gave up on Matt as a player.
Excelling at sports can result in a windfall; creating a cycle of self-confidence that provides a life-long advantage.  But Matt knew he was a liability to the team.   Midway through the season he’d yet to get a base hit (0 for 23)’ or catch a routine fly ball.    He kinda liked baseball; he was just scared to death of playing it.
Then something occurred that changed the game.
Matt arrived early for their contest with the Titans … in an above-the-elbow cast.  A bicycle accident had ended his season.  He looked up into his coach's face and, with relief in his eyes, offered to quit the team.
Coach pitied the boy.  But he had different suggestion.
He pulled the boy aside and said, "I don’t want you to quit.  Will you try something new today?”
The frail boy nodded, “I’ll try.”
“I want you to coach third base.  You’d be sorta the ‘captain’ of any runners on base after they round second base.  “I’ve watched you Matt,” he continued.  “You understand this game better than anybody on the team.  We need you!”
“I’ll try Coach,” he repeated in a small voice.
With the game tied and two outs in the bottom of the final inning, Matt remained deadly focused from his position in the 3rd base coach’s box.  A weak base hit to right field advanced Jorge toward third base.  The safe play would have been to hold him at third.
Matt gambled Jorge’s speed versus the right fielder’s arm.  He motioned Jorge to round third and dig for home.  It was so close a play that many would have questioned Matt’s logic.
But Jorge beat the throw and tag by a fraction of a second.  Game over.
With the reality of what just happened starting to settle in, Matt looked in the stands.  Everyone was standing up, cheering and clapping.  His mom was crying.
Jorge’s slide produced the run that won the game.  But it was Matt’s decision as third base coach that set it all in motion.  In the unlikeliest turn of events, he felt like the day's hero.  Gone was the shy, scared eleven-year old, at least for now.
Holy Father, please help me know my place in the Body of Christ so that I can serve faithfully and productively and bring glory to You.  In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Rat Race

“Slow down, you move too fast, you got to make the morning last." ~ Paul Simon
“No, No, No!” she said hammering the steering wheel as if tenderizing meat.  “This can’t be happening, not today.”
The traffic snaked up the hill, two lines of steel and tire, each capable of over 100 MPH and averaging about 5 in their stop-start fashion.  In each self-contained world, radios told stories, cell phones squawked or texted and flat screens humored kids. Few noted the scream of sirens from the ambulance driving rapidly into the oncoming traffic.  Just another lap in the (rat) race.
Patti snaked a U-turn across the median and got off at the first exit.  She’d take the back roads home; much slower but at least she’d be making progress.  She turned on the radio and began singing along to “Teach Your Children.”
The sweet harmony ended; replaced with the dreaded news break.  Patti drove on while the broadcaster droned on: a terrorist attack in another European city, rival gang members killed in Chicago, Congress can’t agree on anything, and fans rioting to celebrate a national title.
She switched the radio off.  Silence seemed preferable to listening to anything more about the crazy, competitive society we live in.  Patti slowed down entering a local town.
A tall muscular man was helping an elderly lady out of a car and helping position her walker so she could shop in a local store.  A smiling woman was tossing birdseed into her backyard while a dozen robins flew down to enjoy the feast being laid out for them.  A young man was carrying his two year old daughter safely in his arms.  He tickled her gently when she pulled the hat off his head and they both laughed.
Patti laughed too surveying all the humanity.  It felt like a glimpse of Heaven.  The radio may have been off, but in her heart she was still singing.  Aah!  Patti loved this feeling!
No one was calling her, knocking at her office door and there was no loud hustle and bustle outside.  “Lord, what did I do to deserve this moment?” she wondered.  “Never mind,” her thought process continued.  “I just want to enjoy it.  Thank you Jesus, for allowing me this feeling of freedom and contemplation.”
Honestly, this world could use a little more kindness and a lot less competition.  Kindness makes us all winners in this life.  Kindness reminds us that we are all God’s Children.  Kindness shows us that we don’t have to beat others in this world.  We just have to love them.  May all of your moments here on earth then be full of kindness, love, and joy.  And may your only competition be with yourself: to be the best possible you … that you can be.
“Slow me down, Lord.  Ease the pounding of my heart by quieting my mind.  Steady my hurried pace.  Give me time Lord, to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to read a few lines from a good book.  Amen  ~ Orin L. Crain

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Glory Beyond Description

“Change your thinking and become more like little children.” ~ Matthew 18:3
Her’s is not a new story – but it’s one worth sharing.
Akiane Kramarik’s life began in an unusual way.  By uncommon, she refers to her underwater birth in a shack on the edge of an Illinois cornfield.  Her family had no money, no friends, no relatives, no television or radio.  A simple life – nature hikes, open dialogue, and hands-on searches for knowledge and truth.
Her mother, a Lithuanian immigrant, and father, a chef from Chicago, created an insular home life.  Religion was never discussed in the house; all 4 kids were homeschooled.  There was no prayer, no discussions of God, and no visits to church.  Yet in their isolated, rural environment - free from media influences or outside babysitters, Akiane suddenly began to talk openly about God.
"Prince of Peace"
She spoke of colorful dreams about heaven and God’s amazing love.  Her stunned parents realized her intense focus on God couldn’t have been inspired by anything they exposed her to.  Indeed, Akiane seemed to be having divine encounters with a living god.
At the tender age of four, God instilled the desire to express her visions into art.  Initially, she utilized whatever medium was available: candles, makeup, charcoal, even tomatoes.  At around 8 years old, she progressed into acrylics and oils; and from walls and carpet to sketchbooks and canvass.  That’s when she decided to paint the face of Jesus based on revelations she’d received.
It was a meticulous effort.  Skillfully working with light and shadows, Akiane painted ‘Prince of Peace’ (left) on an enormous 36 x 48 canvass.  “The light side of His face represents the truth, the dark side represents suffering,” she explained.
She was particularly enamored by the beauty of Jesus’ eyes.  “They were like no colors ever created.  His expression was so reassuring and sincere.”
A study of the Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be Jesus’s burial cloth, shows a remarkable match.
The most amazing thing about this child prodigy is that she embarked on this spiritual journey totally unbiased and unprepared.  Yet every word she utters shows extraordinary wisdom, worthy of God's assessment.
Akiane, now 22, speaks four languages including Sign Language.  She’s published over 200 art pieces (some selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars) and 800 literary creations including two bestselling books.  Much of the money from sales is donated to charities throughout the world.
Her second book, “My Dream Is Bigger Than I: Memories of Tomorrow” is a collection of Akiane's childhood dreams, poetry, and personal reflections.  “I portray Jesus how I see Him, as both human and as divine.  I pray that people will one day follow Jesus, His teachings and feel His love.”
 “Since nobody told me how to find God, He found me.  He’s always been there for me.   I don’t belong to any denomination or religion.  I belong to God.  My art is only a representation of what I see - Jesus’ glory is beyond any description!” ~ Akiane

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Lord of the Dance

“Christ is the incarnation of the piper who is calling us." ~ Sydney Carter
Today she’d show them!  She would rise from her wheelchair and show them that, at nearly 100, she could still dance.  Dance like the days back when, as a beautiful young girl, boys would wait in line to dance with her; everyone dancing like they'd forgotten how to stand still.
Yes, today she’d show them that she was not just an octogenarian who needed help eating and getting dressed in the morning.  She began pulling herself up from her chair but her arms were simply too weak.  Sophia collapsed back into her seat.  She tried again, this time getting to her feet before she felt a firm hand on her shoulder.
“Sit down Sophia!” the nurse said and she collapsed back into the chair again.
“Not again!” she thought.  It was happening again.  The picture in her mind began fading; a distant memory of happier times.
She’d been in love once, over 70 years ago.  Marco had been what her heart had truly been seeking.  The picture in her mind regained its clarity.
Marco loved dancing too.  The lights twinkled with every step as Sophia spun in delicate circles, her graceful dress billowing.  She loved the pressure of his warm hand on her back and the feeling of her small agile feet gliding across the floor like a gentle dove in the wind.  Their life together had been wonderful.
Sophia outlived Marco and everyone she’d ever known.  They said that long life was a blessing, and the part of her that wanted to dance still believed this.  Such thoughts suddenly made her drowsy, eventually giving way to sleep.
When she awoke she was in the dining room, and someone had placed a white bib on her so she wouldn’t spill.  She decided that the time was now.
She pushed herself up from the chair and got to her feet, and for a second she felt like a teenager again.  She placed her arms around Marco’s imaginary neck and began shuffling her feet, imagining grand ballrooms as she swayed back and forth.
But a loud voice snapped Sophia back into the present. “Sit down before you break your hip,” the nurse shouted angrily.  Sophia reluctantly complied.
She needed those memories to remain with her, to soothe her when the bad ones threatened to erase all traces of those people she still held dear, even in their absence.  And at least for a moment she’d gone to a place in her mind that no one could take from her; a place where she could celebrate all that she once was.
She slumped back into the chair.  Soon the wonderful memories faded into silence, and Sophia’s mind grew quiet until the next time Lord, when she'd dance again.
Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said He, and I'll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He.” ~ Ronan Hardiman

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Iddy Biddy Boo©

“Encourage one another every day." ~ Hebrews 3:13
Lisa was an artist … she just didn’t know it yet.
As an elementary teacher for more than 30 years, she sculpted young minds by fueling their curiosity and igniting a passion for her subjects.  Even the driest subjects came to life.  When teaching reading, she revealed an adventure in every book.  There was always another way to solve a math problem, even if it meant counting on one’s toes.  And art … well it came in all shapes and sizes; colors and emotions.
Lisa emphatically believed that she was responsible for more than just academic enrichment.  She knew that great teachers can change the trajectory of kids’ lives.
She was committed to her students’ well-being both inside and outside the classroom.  By forging strong relationships, Lisa was able to affect virtually every aspect of her students’ lives, teaching them essential life lessons that would help them succeed beyond term papers and standardized tests.  She just had that ‘way’ about her; creative, compassionate and inspiring.
In return, Lisa’s students also inspired her with their ability to take risks and try new things.  That’s how real learning happens.   Their willingness to experiment, learn new skills, and participate in different activities motivated Lisa to do the same.
Such was the genesis for Iddy Biddy Boo Design.
Many people see art as something with many barriers – maybe the materials are expensive, maybe you lack enough space, or maybe you think it’s too difficult, requiring many specialized tools.
Sometimes that’s true.  But for Lisa, it began simply; a few Christmas cards for family and friends using almost nothing but paper and scissors and glue.
We have some form of paper within reach all the time, and yet we seldom think about the extraordinarily beautiful pieces of paper art that we could create with them if we ever took the time to try.  Lisa did!
Friends encouraged more designs and soon a few stores gambled by displaying her “whimsical” cards (exact photos of the original artwork).  One owner, noting the success of her sales remarked, “It’s time for more people to see what you do.”
Now nearly 150 designs later exhibited in 30 stores, Lisa’s business is thriving.  Because others encouraged her!
“Teaching first grade,” said Lisa, “brought me in touch with creative and inspirational six year olds on a daily basis.  I love seeing children bundled up in brightly colored, mismatched snow clothes.  Such lovely shapes and colors.  My goal for each piece of art is to capture that children’s sense of joy and humor.  My art has definitely been inspired by the children in my life!”
Our most lasting and fulfilling achievements are often earned by helping others fulfill theirs.  A teacher who inspired, was inspired, then was encouraged … now inspires again.  Isn’t Karma great!
Learn more about Lisa’s story and her artwork by visiting http://iddybiddyboodesign.com
Almighty Father, we live in a broken world where everything calls us toward selfishness and despair.  Teach us to invite curiosity and inspire dreams.  Today let us help others find the strength and the courage to use their gifts according to Your plan.  Amen

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Old School

“With God’s mighty power working in us, we can do infinitely more than we even dreamed." ~ Ephesians 3:20
Deloris feared this day would come – the day she’d be asked not to return.  Volunteers couldn’t really be fired, just gently told that her style was no longer “in line” with that of the school’s.  As she approached the office she wondered which of the children had complained that’s she’d been too mean, expected too much or not given them enough praise.
“Grandma Dee,” was ‘old school.’  She’d been volunteering for 17 years at local schools in Nevada helping children learn to read.  In addition to helping students learn, she’s also been a role model and grandparent figure.
Her ‘tough love’ methods left some parents outraged.  Administrators felt pressure to remove her despite remarkable results.  Accountability, she believed, sharpened their minds.  Academic development required a realistic (and therefore tough) assessment of their shortcomings.
Slacking wasn’t tolerated.  Forgetting homework meant extra work.  Lack of respect met a look that could melt ceramic.  She was never physical of course, but Dee had zero tolerance for the unprepared.  Excellence came from hard work.
Over the years, this passionate 75-year-old woman watched proudly as her students grew up into young men and women right before her eyes.  She’d seen them go onto great things.
But today all that may come to an end as she cautiously entered the Principal’s office.
To Dee’s surprise, a smartly dressed woman stood there holding a dozen roses.  Her face was made up, but not overdone and her long brown hair was pulled back into a pony-tail.
“These are for you,” she said.
That young woman, Tori Chavez, had once been her student.  She’d endured a life of almost unimaginable tragedy growing up in countless foster homes.  Negative influences in her life far outweighed the good.
“You pushed me to dream bigger and achieve more than I ever imagined,” Tori continued.  “I’m running for the State Senate now.”
“You taught me that REAL love is not always pink and fluffy.  It isn’t holding hands while running through sunflower fields while wearing pretty dresses and eating chocolates.  It’s just not!”
“REAL love is tough as nails.  It’s often tarnished, scuffed and a little jagged.  Real love is losing your temper seven times and apologizing eight times.  Real love is feeling overwhelmed and exhausted at the end of the day.  It’s giving all you’ve got yet ready to give even more tomorrow.”
Their reunion inspired Grandma Dee to continue her life’s mission with renewed passion.  You see, studies show that students flourish best when constantly under a moderate amount of stress.  Overpraising kids actually makes them less confident and less motivated.  Maybe we need a little more ‘old school’ at home and in the classroom.
Father, You gave me the ability to dream, to create, to imagine.  Never let an impossible situation intimidate me.  Let it help me believe more, experience more, learn more and trust You more.  Help me understand Your dream for my life.  Amen

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Holy Communion

“I’m the vine; you’re the branches.  Stay connected to me and you’ll produce much fruit." ~ John 15:5
The older she got, the more emotionally powerful the Lord's Table became to her.  Sometimes, amazing and wonderful things happened during communion.  Like today!
Jayne watched from her usual pew as the middle-age woman patiently pushed her mother in a wheelchair toward the altar.  They seemed in no hurry.  The priest would gladly have taken communion to them, but Jayne figured the older woman had too much pride to allow it.
Her hair, once a shimmering black curtain was now just a frilly white thing.  Her porcelain face had withered by time.  Eyes once so bright they could’ve saved souls, were now lost behind dark glasses – her vision gone forever.  She sat very still.  
Jayne watched this same pair every week, because every week it warmed her heart.  When they reached the front of the church, the daughter would humbly step aside and gently lift her mother’s hand so the host could be placed in it.
It was memorably inspiring; a gesture of love and respect.
After all, the daughter could’ve let her Mom put her hands out randomly allowing the priest to find them. Or she could’ve taken the host and put it in her mother’s hand herself, or even in her mouth.
That would’ve been more efficient, less time consuming.  But instead she guided her Mom’s hand to the right location, and let her mother do the rest.  The word for that is support: to help just as much as needed, and no more.
Jayne watched again in admiration as the daughter then received communion herself.  She turned the wheelchair around and returned to where they sat.
Jayne leaned back in her seat and said a prayer of thanks: for the sensitivity of one human being to another, for the dedication needed to bring the homebound to worship, and finally for the Eucharist itself.
Witnessing this simple act reminded her of the humility of Jesus – humbling Himself in order to be exalted!   This example was meant to guide our human lives.  When we humble ourselves in Christ’s name, we can trust God to bless us.
The Lord’s Supper is rich in meaning.  That’s why it’s been a prominent part of our Christian tradition throughout the centuries.  Sometimes it’s been allowed to become a lifeless ritual, done more out of habit than with meaning.  Let’s never forget that celebrating communion marks the story of Jesus, how He gave Himself completely to give us a better life, a new start, and a fresh relationship with God.
Father God, because Jesus’ body was broken for us, that His blood was shed on our behalf, we acknowledge that He bore sin, sickness, disease, sorrow, grief, fear, torment, brutality, and conflict for us. Through His sacrifice, our freedom has been bought and paid for.  We are forgiven.  We are redeemed. We are grateful.  Amen

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Prayer Answered

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it’s the Lord’s purpose that prevails." ~ Prov 19:21
His eyes showed the kind of gentle concern her own father used to have.  Chuck laid his hand lightly on his wife’s shoulder, and spoke with a soft, calming voice.  “We have to keep praying for him.  That’s all we can do,” he said in a way that was more soothing than the actual words spoken.
‘Him’ was their 3-year old grandson Logan.  Their son Bradley, Logan’s dad, had tried to make it work.  Logan’s mom was a crackhead.  Despite the bravado of her earlier promise to give up drugs, she’d only managed to stay clean for a couple of days.
After a fight over her (lack of) sobriety, she’d charged at Bradley with a butcher knife and slit open his palms as he struggled against her.  He and Logan moved into a separate apartment a few blocks away.  Less than two weeks later she skipped town and disappeared.
Noting his wife’s anxiety and trying to lift her spirits, Chuck continued, “Maybe this summer we can take that European River Cruise we’ve talked about for years.”  Good health and careful retirement planning provided the opportunity for life’s next chapter – as volunteers, as helpers to friends, and as people with enough time for modest travel excursions.
Immediately, Marlene’s mood brightened as she envisioned the people they’d meet, the sights they’d see, the cultures they’d experience.  Just the slightest nudge from his suggestion and she was soaring among the clouds, off in a temporary world of reverie and contemplation.
Her fantasy was shattered by the shrill sound of her cell phone.  In an instant everything changed.
Family Services explained that Logan couldn’t live with his father anymore.  Bradley, single now and working crazy hours, was no longer an option.  Chuck and Marlene were the only chance for Logan to avoid foster care.
They became guardians for the three-year-old the very next day and their plans took a backseat to his welfare and schedule.  It wasn’t what they’d had in mind.
The two weren’t thrilled about the inconvenience, nor did they relish the uncertain length of Logan’s stay.  But they knew it was the best choice for him.  They were the only ones who could provide a healthy environment he needed right now.  The travel would have to wait, their priorities newly rearranged.
Chuck turned to Marlene.  “Well, our prayers were answered.  We just didn’t know that we were the answer.”
For the love of God!
Today there are over 2.7 million grandparent-headed families raising 5 million children.  Raising a second generation brings many rewards - providing grandkids a sense of security, spiritual growth, and loving relationships.  True love often comes with a price and seldom without sacrifice.
Thank You Lord for all the sacrifices Grandparents are enduring to make this world a better place for their grandkids.  Bring them bountiful wisdom, patience and grace.  Let them cast every worry, burden, and care upon You.  Amen

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Happily Ever After

“Those who believe in Me will live even if they die." ~ John 11:25
“Daddy, will you read me a story?” she asked in a voice that defied rebuff.
The nightly ritual added ten minutes to the end of his day, when patience was low and exhaustion high.  But that’s 10 more minutes Jack felt lucky enough to spend with dear Ellie ... listening, encouraging, telling her the unspoken words that convey: “Today, right now, you are the most important thing in the world to me.”
Jack propped himself up on the bed reading a fairy tale to the sweetest child he’d ever laid eyes on.  Ellie, his 3 year old daughter, gazed up at him with adoring eyes; fixed on every word.
Ellie loved the fairytale world; they opened up a wider universe to her.  She dressed as a princess for breakfast.  She dreamed.  She sang.  She twirled.  She danced her way through her days.
Jack finished with those famous words: "And they lived happily ever after."
Her eyelids fluttered before slipping shut.  Ellie’s breaths were even and calming; the expression on her face so vulnerable and childlike.  An unexpected warmth rushed through him.  He never wanted it to end.
As he set the book aside, it occurred to Jack that the ending of the book was exactly what he sought for his innocent child.  He wanted her to "live happily ever after."
Was that too good to be true.  Happily ever after?
As adults we’ve outgrown fairytales.  We live in the real world.
Ellie’s already in a playgroup where’s she’s been called names.  Fat, ugly, stupid . . . though she was none of those.  The real world, she would soon discover, was no fairytale.
There will be times when her heart will be broken.  There will be times when she cries in grief and he can’t comfort her.  There will be times when all she feels is fear, sadness, and loneliness.
He stroked her silken hair, smiling wistfully and hoping that those times would be brief and that she’d have more joy in her life than not.  As her Dad, her exemplar, her spiritual mentor, it was his job to teach her that "happiness” doesn’t depend on how life treats you.  Happiness is something you create in your life - choice by choice; day by day.
And, if he’s completely honest with himself, Jack still believes in fairytales.
Happiness comes when your love is not a slave to circumstances.  Love brings us joy and connects us to God.  It’s love that mends broken hearts.  It’s love that heals grief.  Its love that defeats fear, allays sorrow, and soothes isolation.
Choose to love today then!  Choose to "live happily ever after, one day at a time.
Dear Father, thank You for sending us Jesus.  Thank You that He didn’t just look down … He came down.  Our Rescuer.  Our Prince.  Our Hero.  All of our dreams come true! So that we can live happily forever after.  Amen

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Awe Inspiring

“Let all who live in on earth stand in awe of God!" ~ Psalm 33:8
Perhaps the most iconic grand pianoforte of all time, its Spanish mahogany case was inlaid with marquetry and ormolu.  A gift from Thomas Broadwood, the most prolific manufacturer of that time, it was selected by five of the finest pianists in London.
Ludwig van Beethoven received the six-octave Broadwood in 1818; the instrument upon which he composed most of his celebrated works.  The piano is estimated to be worth more than $50 million and is understandably roped off and out of the reach of the thousands of visitors who pass by it each day at Hungary’s National Museum in Budapest.
Once during a private tour by wealthy patrons, a young woman couldn’t resist the temptation to ask a museum guard if she could play it for a moment.   The guard, influenced by her generous tip, allowed her beyond the ropes briefly.
She sat at the famed piano and knocked out several bars of Moonlight Sonata.  When she finished, the crowd applauded politely.
As she stepped back through the ropes, the woman asked the guard, “Have all the great pianists visiting the museum played the piano?”
“No, miss,” the guard replied.  “In fact, just two years ago I was standing in this very place when a gray-haired gentleman with long, flowing hair visited the museum.  He was accompanied by the Museum Director and an international press, who had all come in the hope that he, Ignacy Paderewski, would play the piano.
“When he entered the room he stood over there, where your friends are standing and gazed at the piano in silent contemplation for nearly 15 minutes.  The Director invited him to play it.  But with tears welling in his eyes Paderewski the great Polish statesman and one of the few men alive worthy enough to play Beethoven’s piano, declined saying “I’m not even worthy to touch it.”
Paderewski was frozen with awe.  The young woman saw the piano and thought it would be cool to casually play it.
We’re living in a time of ‘awe deprivation.’  Technological advances have made things once thought impossible - not only real today, but normal, expected, even mundane and unimpressive.
We FaceTime with people on the other side of the globe without another thought.  Search engines access millions of pages of data in nanoseconds.  We use global positioning satellites to find the quickest route and avoid traffic.
The speed with which change occurs leaves us struggling to be impressed with much of anything.  The byproducts of being awe-deprived are increased arrogance, decreased empathy, and greater challenge to find real meaning.
Awe is the result of being in the presence of, or exposed to, something worthy of wonder, admiration and respect.  Awe results from an openness and willingness to see greatness and be moved by it.  Let’s put ‘awe’ back in awesome!
“Great Redeemer, Lord and Master, Light of all eternal days; Let the saints of ev'ry nation Sing Thy just and endless praise!” Amen  ~ B.B. McKinney

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tales of Integrity

"A friend will be a friend in times of all kinds." ~ Proverbs 17:17
It was a moment that changed two lives forever.  A nanosecond gone horribly wrong . . . two friends gravely entwined.
At the bachelorette party, just weeks before her wedding, Randi (friend #1) was playfully pushed into a pool by her best friend (#2).  She hit the bottom head first.  Her body went numb as she floated motionless in the water.  A C6 vertebra fracture left Randi no feeling below her shoulders.
Her dear friend (#2), who’d had only innocent intentions, would likely carry some burden of guilt for the rest of her life.  Only in her silent prayers could she speak her heart to God and beg forgiveness.  She didn't feel like she deserved it but she hung the shreds of her sanity on it.
The story of the “Paralyzed Bride” immediately spread like kudzu in Kentucky.  The media wanted to know who caused the unfortunate calamity.  They demanded a name, a face and some answers for an “exclusive” interview.  They’d recklessly ask questions no one had a right to ask: “Do you feel guilty?”  “How can you live with yourself?”  “Are you still friends?” “Does Randi forgive you?”
People would paint them with broad brushes.  Randi - the sweet, wonderful example of human determination; the good one.  Since friend #2 pushed her into the pool, she’s the villain.
Still confined by traction, Randi made a decision.  As her bachelorette friends gathered around her hospital bed, she made them promise to never reveal the name of the person who’d pushed her.  It wouldn’t serve any purpose.  It wouldn’t do anyone any good!
With that decision, they’d keep their dignity, and of course, their friendship.
So, the media changed course – a new twist.  They’d praise her for not outing her friend despite offers of money and prestigious interviews.  “Hollow praise” to Randi’s way of thinking.
Protecting her friend was a natural instinct.  It didn’t make her a saint for simply doing the “right thing.”  Media and money come and go, but friendship lasts a lifetime.  Exposing her friend’s privacy during such a traumatic event never entered Randi’s mind.  Ever!
Epilogue:  The couple’s wedding plans were put on hold temporarily.  They married a year to the day after their original date.  The friend who pushed her into the pool, whom Randi never identified, was among the invited guests.
“I didn’t have to forgive her, Randi explained.  “I never blamed her in the first place!”
During a celebration of their 3rd anniversary, the couple announced their pregnancy from a surrogate who’s yet to be identified.  But I have a pretty good guess who it might be.
Lord, You’ve blessed us with friends who love us, who share our sorrows, who laugh with us in celebration, who bear our pain, who need us as we need them, who weep as we weep, who hold us when words fail, and who give us the freedom to be ourselves. Thank you!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Kevin's World



“Unless you become more like children, you’ll never enter Heaven." ~ Matthew 18:3
We were invited by some friends for dinner at their home - a place off the beaten path that provides a great setting for reflective conversation.  One of the highlights is always their son Kevin who greeted me with a throaty hug and “I love you!”
Kevin was born mentally disabled 21 years ago.  Apart from his size, there are few ways in which he’s an adult.  He reasons and communicates with the abilities of a 7-year-old, and always will.
After our initial welcome, Kevin returned to one of his favorite pastimes – swinging on the rope swing his Dad hung years ago from an oak tree in the backyard.  Not until he sat on the weathered seat, and tightly clutched the frayed cords, did he finally release all the stress that everyday encounters present.  Kevin closed his eyes, relishing the almost-floating sensation and returned to his own world.
“Does Kevin realize he’s different?” I asked Dave, his father.  “Do you wonder if he’s satisfied with his life?” 

Dave pondered the question before answering: 
“Kevin doesn’t recognize differences in people,” Dave began, “he treats everybody as a friend.  His heart is pure.  His needs have always been met, and he never worries that one day they won’t be.”
Kevin is never happier then when he is working.  Whether he unloads the dishwasher, vacuums the carpet, or walks the dog, his heart is completely engaged.  When his tasks are complete, he knows how to relax.”
“Kevin believes everyone tells the truth, promises must be kept, and when you’re wrong you apologize instead of argue.  Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry when he’s hurt, angry or sorry.  He’s totally transparent; always sincere.”
“And he trusts God.  Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to Christ, he comes as a child.  Kevin seems to know God - to really be friends with Him in a way that’s difficult for “educated” people to grasp.  God seems like his closest companion.”
“In fact,” Dave confessed, “I envy the simplicity and security of Kevin’s faith.”
It’s then I realized that Kevin’s not the one with the handicap - I am.  My obligations, my fears, my ego, my circumstances - they all become disabilities when I don’t submit them to Christ.
Perhaps Kevin comprehends things I can never learn?  After all, he’s spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and soaking up the goodness and love of Christ.  And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are revealed, and we’re all amazed at how closely God lives in our hearts, maybe I’ll know that God absolutely heard the simple prayers from the man on a rope swing.  Kevin won’t be surprised at all.
Dear Lord, thank You for all the people who enrich my life and make it meaningful by their true friendship.  Let them live under Your care and bless them always.  Amen


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Freckles

“A joyful heart is good medicine." ~ Proverbs 17:22
Grace was putting on her makeup under the watchful eyes of her.  After applying lipstick, her 6 year-old granddaughter Hayley looked up with admiring eyes.
But when she opened her mouth to speak, the words came out fitfully; sounds half swallowed by a weepy noise.  ”Gramma (long pause), I can’t wait …‘til I’m … old enough … to wear … makeup!”
Whimpering gave way to sobbing.  It was the kind of desolate crying that comes from someone drained of all hope.   There was rawness to it.  Her whole body shook; defenses washed away in those salty tears.
Grace had never seen Haley so deflated.  She made no attempt to conceal or even wipe away her tears.  Even birds would go quiet to hear the giggles from deep inside the chest of this typically-effervescent child.
“Sweetheart,” Grace began.  “What’s bothering you?”
Hayley’s eyes glazed with tears.  As she blinked, they dripped from her eyelids and slid down her cheeks.  Her lower lip quivered as words slowly made their way out of her mouth.
“The kids make fun of my freckles,” she wailed.  “They call me Hayley Doody on the school bus.  The boys call me turkey egg and ginger.  I hate my freckles!”
Grace turned away from the mirror and knelt down next to her sweet grandchild.  “Dandelion blossoms are like brilliant freckles on a field of green.”  It was a line she’d read in a magazine many years ago, something that had always stuck with her.  To Grace it meant that even when beauty is right in front of us, not everyone can see it.
Hayley looked confused.  So Gramma tried a different angle.
“Honey, when I was a little girl I always wanted freckles," she said, while tracing her finger across the child's cheek.  "There are all kinds of flowers and they’re all beautiful.”
“I’ve never seen a flower with freckles,” the girl replied, and ran off to her room, slammed the door shut, and cried herself to sleep.
When she opened her swollen sticky eyes the next morning, the first thing she saw, lying on the pillow near her head, was a fiery-orange flower covered by spots.  She’d later learn that the ‘Tiger’ in Tiger Lily, refers to the black spots on its petals.  They’re often given for a 30th wedding anniversary to symbolize humility and devotion.
In this story, freckles offer a metaphor for what we’re born into, and how we choose to cope with difficult circumstances.   It seems human nature to have a slant toward the negative.  It’s easy to spot the faults and issues in things.  The good news is that even if we weren’t born a glass-half-full person, we can train ourselves to see more of the positive.  It’s about what we focus on.
Holy God, I’ve come to You burdened with worries, fears, doubts and troubles. Give me new strength, hope, and confidence.  Prepare me to meet the constant struggles of daily life with a deeper faith and trust in You.  Amen

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Misfits

“Good homes are built on wisdom, compassion and understanding." ~ Proverbs 24:3
I was born in an old wheelbarrow in an unused toolshed with four siblings.  Two were stillborn; another was born crippled.  Mother disposed of him I guess.
She gave us our dog names – Blaze and Shelby.  When we were old enough, Mother taught us to hunt and forage for food.  She also taught us to avoid humans.  They could be dangerous.  The day I saw a man kill Mia, a fox who lived under the shed with her kits, I knew she’d been right.
Mother disappeared one day and we were alone; abandoned and afraid.  We stayed near the old shed for a while.  I liked the garbage pile, its warm shelter, and the field mice sharing our space.
When Blaze decided to move on, I followed him away from our first home.  He was my whole world.
We lived in the forest or in empty doorways eating from garbage sacks or hunting wild game.  I recall packs of wild dogs who inflicted the many scars I bear today.  I also remember the humans – some with gentle hearts; others crazed with brutality.
Some nice people from the park took us home one day.  But Sam and Mindy weren’t used to living with dogs.  And when we messed on the floor, ate their son’s toys and lunged at skateboarders, Sam decided he’d had enough.  He drove us into town, tossed us from his pickup, and sped away.
Blaze scraped his nose from the fall; I landed hard on my shoulder.  We rested for a while by the side of a busy road.  We noted a bag smelling of chicken under some bushes across the highway.
I was about to dash across when a car screeched to a stop near us and a man jumped out.  He commented on how cute Blaze was and decided to keep him.  I guess I wasn’t cute enough or he didn’t need two dogs.  He drove off and I never saw my brother again.
But I got ‘dibs’ on the goodie bag.  It wasn’t however, full of chicken.
Wrapped in a tattered blanket lay a tiny newborn baby.  I carried the abandoned child under some barbed wire towards an old woman tending her flower garden.  She immediately took the baby to a hospital where she responded well to treatment.  No one ever claimed the girl.
I’m an old dog now and that woman cares for me . . . and the little girl now.  Three misfits living comfortably together.  A fire casts long shadows over the rug where I relax.  Flames crackle and hiss.  I feel the warmth of a fire on my nose, my tail and my paws, and I remember when I wasn’t warm, well-fed or loved.
Home is where love heals.
“Jesus, thank You for leading me home.  It took a long time through many travails, but I trusted You.  I pray, Lord, that as You created this family, You’ll continue to lead us daily. Woof, woof!” ~ Shelby

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Humility on Fire

"Act justly, love mercifully and walk humbly with your God." ~ Micah 6:8
The old man awoke to soft sheets as the morning light trickled through dense blinds.  Shedding the remains of a soulful dream, he soaked in the warmth of his covers before letting his face kiss the sun's rays.
He’d almost forgotten that he was in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, one of the most luxurious in all of Shanghai.  His spacious room was more like a guest suite in an Italian palace.  The bed was king-sized with pure white, Egyptian cotton sheets.  He had his own desk, a sixty-six inch SmartTV, a sprawling Corinthian leather sofa, and, on the other side of the floor-to-ceiling windows was his own private terrace overlooking the Huangpu River.
And the bathroom!  In addition to the waterfall shower, there was a tub big enough for a football team, and a Jacuzzi.  Handcrafted Italian marble throughout; a far cry from the hollow cube of windowless concrete that had been his home for 27 years.  The old man shuddered to think how much it might cost a night.
He rose and immediately knelt near his bed for daily prayer.  His was a crowded, hectic life now.  Opportunities for time alone, much less for prayer, were limited.  Yet despite scheduled priorities, prayer for him lay at the root of all others - at the root of life itself.
Without prayer, he’d begin to take credit for the good things in his life, chalking them up to his own skill, knowledge, wisdom and hard work.  He’d soon forget that all those attributes were gifts from God who gave us the mind, body and conditions that enabled us to develop those qualities.
Then he made the bed; making perfect hospital corners.  He folded the beautiful duvet cover in thirds at the foot of the bed just like he’d found it the previous night.  He finished by carefully arranging a variety of pillows and shams to give it the luxury hotel look.
He always made his own bed – no matter where he traveled.
When the hotel manager learned of this, he was embarrassed.  Chinese hospitality requires that the person who cleans and arranges your room - does exactly that.  Doing it for yourself is thought to be an insult. “Please don’t do this again,” he pleaded.
The old man asked the manager to bring the ladies who would be cleaning the room, so that he could explain why he himself made his own bed so that they would not feel insulted.  He never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings.
For politicians, humility and power are a rare combination.   Nelson Mandela never really cared about what powerful people thought of him, but he did care about what less important people did.  A breathtaking combination of charisma and old-fashioned courtesy, he was small, subtle … and oh so humble.
“Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others - qualities which are within easy reach of every soul - are the foundation of one's spiritual life.” Amen  ~ Nelson Mandela

Friday, July 28, 2017

Tenacity

“Don’t give up because God never gave up on you." ~ Unknown
During his 90 years on earth, the man knew plenty about failure.  His early professional life was largely a string of random enterprises, most of them unsuccessful.
Due to a troubling relationship with his stepfather, young David dropped out of school and left home when he was just 12 years old.  Four years later he lied about his age to join the Army and was sent to Cuba.  He was discharged after just four months.
Biographers would describe him as a scrappy, hot-tempered man who loved to swear, and despite a strong work ethic, often found himself unemployed.  He was a farmhand, an army mule-tender, a locomotive fireman, an aspiring lawyer, an insurance salesman, a ferryboat entrepreneur, a manufacturer, a tire salesman, an amateur obstetrician, an (unsuccessful) political candidate, and an airport owner/manager.  He simply couldn’t hold a job.
What he did possess was an intense drive to overcome all the hardships in his life.
In 1930, the Shell Oil Company offered him a service station rent free, in return for a percentage of sales.  What started as a gas station kitchen expanded into a motel-restaurant.  He began to serve chicken, ham and steak dishes.  The restaurant burned down 9 years later.
He rebuilt a 140-seat restaurant pressure-frying his chicken, a method he later patented, which sped up the cooking process.  The cafĂ© became a so popular for its fried chicken and biscuits, that the state’s Governor designated him a Kentucky ‘Colonel.’
But as the unfortunate man approached retirement age, highway construction redirected traffic away from the popular restaurant he’d built over nearly 20 years.  In 1956 at the age of 65, he auctioned off the business for just enough to settle his taxes and other debts.  He was broke.
With nothing but his $105 social security check and a killer chicken recipe he hit the road looking for restaurants to buy the rights to his formula.
He lived in his car for 2 years and was rejected 1,009 times before finally finding a restaurant owner who agreed to use his recipe.
His franchise formula was unusual.  He sold his "Original Recipe" of 11 herbs and spices to franchisees and trained them on his cooking process.  They paid him 5 cents for each chicken sold.
By 1963, there were more than 600 locations.  In 1964, Colonel Harland David Sanders sold the company to investors for the equivalent of about $15 million today.  Expansion accelerated, and the company went public in 1966.  Franchisees did very well for themselves, and Kentucky Fried Chicken became a restaurant success story.  Today the chain of more than 39,000 restaurants operates in more than 50 countries.  Its annual global sales is second only to McDonald's.
All because he never gave up!
“My Child, I have a wonderful plan for your life.  If that means going through a dark tunnel of conflict, take it and keep pressing forward.  There will always be Light on the other side.   Bless you!”  God