Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Coming Home

“A heart at peace gives life to the body.” ~ Proverbs 14:30
He arrived at the Lincoln No-Kill Shelter (LiNKS) a picture of health, groomed, shining and a tail that moved faster than a nail gun; clearly not your average stray.  He looked like a guy who could run all day and still be eager to go again.  He probably began life as a farm or hunting dog.  The staff figured he was a recent runaway or castoff.
Nameless at first, they began calling him Affinity.  He seemed to have a natural ability to read the emotions of other dogs.  New arrivals dealing with fear and anxiety appeared comforted by the handsome hound.  He knew just how to handle them.
Thus, placing Affinity in a new home was a cinch.  Keeping him there would prove infinitely more difficult.
His first adoption lasted just 5 days; the next only 2.
The third adopter was genuinely dedicated to making things work.  But the precocious hound had other plans.  Affinity, returned to LiNKS four times – dropped off once by a good Samaritan, twice by animal control, and finally by his adopter.
Although it broke his heart, the man feared the dog would become lost for good, injured, or even killed during one of his disappearances.  So he returned the dog to LiNKS permanently.
There are many reasons why an otherwise happy dog may run away.  Each new family interested in Affinity was warned of his Houdini-like escape skills.
Adoptions 5 through 9 ended similarly.  By now Affinity had turned escaping into an art form.  There was simply no fence too high and no screen door too strong to tame his wanderlust.  The staff wondered if he was lonely, bored or suffering from separation anxiety.  Maybe he’d fled in response to fear stimuli like storms, fireworks or construction in the home.
Regardless, the folks at LiNKS were done placing him for adoption.
Over time they realized Affinity was desperately trying to tell them something.  As far as he was concerned, LiNKS was home.
He’d returned to where he belonged.  At the dog shelter, he played with dozens of other dogs every day and got lots of good food and extra love from staff members.
Later the staff discovered that the serum from Affinity’s blood had healing properties.  He donates blood every two weeks for kittens with eye infections!
There’s a perfect place for every dog in this world.  For Affinity, it wasn’t a traditional home, but a No-Kill shelter helping rescue dogs and amusing rescue workers!  A troublesome pooch like him may not have received so many chances at another facility.  Had they given up on him, they never would’ve discovered his incredible gift for helping other dogs.
Lord, bless Affinity and all the animals on earth.  May they carry out the purpose that they’ve been given and may each of them help to remind us that they’re Your creation.  Help us to see all animals as gifts from You and to treat them with respect.  Amen

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Runaway Miracle

“God’s love is God’s love is perfect - unconditional, forgiving, and everlasting.” ~ John 3:16
No matter how many layers of cardboard she arranged for a mattress, her bones still ached; let alone the rodents that preyed on her young flesh.  Bianka, her mother, and thousands of others lived crammed into shacks made from packing crates and corrugated tin.
The largest slum in Central America, La Carpio is an isolated section of San José bordered by two polluted rivers, a sewage plant and the city’s landfill.  It’s where refugees settled following Nicaragua’s bloody civil war in the 1980’s.
Massive overcrowding spawned appalling levels of poverty, crime, disease and sexual abuse.
Bianka left a brief note on the table:  “I’m running away – please don’t look for me.”  She left her barrio of 14 years not knowing where she was headed, how she’d survive or who she’d meet; but didn’t care.  She was free … that’s all that mattered.
Bianka longed to see the world.  Tired of a home having only a dirt floor, abysmal water quality, and a bare food pantry, she dreamed of a better life.  She hated La Carpio and the desperate sounds of hungry children.
Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her naïve daughter, Bianka’s mother Livia hurriedly packed to go find her.  Before leaving, however, she stopped for one last thing.  She sat in the photo booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself.  With a purse full of photos, she boarded the first bus to San José.
Livia knew Bianka had no way of earning money.  But her daughter was too stubborn to quit.  When hunger meets ego, people will do the unthinkable to survive.
She searched bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for prostitutes.  She left her picture taped on bathroom mirrors, bulletin boards and utility poles.  On the back of each photo she wrote a note.
Soon both the money and pictures ran out.  Livia wept as she boarded the bus back to La Carpio.
Weeks later, her shoulders slumped as Bianka descended the flophouse stairs.  Once brilliant eyes cast a mournful gaze of pain and fear.  She looked exhausted; her dream had become a nightmare.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes detected a familiar face.  There on the lobby mirror was a picture of her mother.  She raced across the room, removed the small photo, and read its gripping invitation:  "Whatever you’ve done - it doesn't matter.  Please come home!"
Bianka caught the next bus home.
She still didn’t know how she’d survive or where they’d live, but didn’t care.  Bianka felt her Mom’s unconditional love … home was all that mattered.  They’d figure something out – together.
Lord, thank You for Your unconditional love.  Whereas others may or may not decide to love us only after we have entered their lives, You love us, flaws and all.  Thank You, for welcoming us into Your divine family as your sons and daughters.  Amen

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Thingamagig Store

“Be a loving and kind example for your children." ~ Proverbs 22:6
Some fathers try to appeal to their children by showering them with gifts rather than giving of themselves.  Others play ball, take them camping, or build tree houses.  Joe let his son tag along with him – to his office, while mowing the lawn or to the store.  Funny how some kids actually get great joy from doing things that adults consider work.
Hardware stores were Joe’s idea of heaven.  He’d open the door, inhale the signature odor of lawn fertilizer, sawdust and house paint, and sink in.  He admired tools he'd never buy and think up projects he’d never start.  To him, the hardware store was a dusty temple of useful stuff.
Homer’s Hardware was his favorite: old fashioned, cash only, not a computer in the place.  They’d walk across an old wood floor – worn smooth and devoid of stain or varnish; complete with squeaks and uneven joints.  It was the kind of place you went when you needed a whatchamacallit or a thingamajig.  You could simply say “I need a little thing about this big and that color; they knew exactly what it was and where to find it.  Try that at Lowes.
The store had narrow aisles and tall shelves filled with an vast array of items for just about anything: vacuum bags, propane tanks, rakes, hoses, watering cans, charcoal grills, tape, glue, smoke alarms, door hinges and saw blades.  You could even buy a single bolt or screw without purchasing the whole package.  Try that at Home Depot.
Saturday mornings were an educational experience for Jack as his Dad wandered about, stopping to point out things he thought might impress his son.  Like the store was a kind of museum and Joe was its docent.
Joe was conversant in sink parts, belt sanders, conduit, Elmer's Glue and every kind of garden tool. Honestly, Jack wasn't paying much attention, because his own love of hardware stores was based on things like how much dryer vent hoses resembled the arms of the robot on "Lost in Space."  But it was time their time together – Joe sharing a small corner of his world with a son he cherished.
Joe knew he only had one chance to be with his son before Jack grew up.  And that if he wanted his son to respect him in later years, he had to build that relationship before it was too late; while Jack was still young.
Parents - your children will grow up too soon.
As they reach later and later developmental stages, you’ll look back wistfully at how quickly it went, how quickly their innocence and childlike dependence on you evaporated.  Your child also presents you with an opportunity to grow.  Seize that opening.
Lord, thank you for my dear parents.  Help me to show how much I appreciate them.  Forgive me for the times I've made them sad.  Bless them with good health and happiness.   Keep them close to one another in this life and in the next.  Amen

Monday, April 2, 2018

No Seconds

“The Lord will never leave you nor forsake you." ~ Deuteronomy 31:8
Wayne Ford will die soon!
He sat cross-legged, a thin blanket across his lap, atop the concrete bench that served as his bed on San Quentin’s East Block.
Stale air filtered out from his dark cell.  He’d been relieved of all possessions except a well-worn Bible and a guitar missing the ‘D’ string; solitary punishment for crimes 19 years ago and too heinous to mention.
Death row was off-limits to most of the activities and volunteers that flooded the rest of San Quentin with theatrical, educational, and music programs.  There was simply no space in East Block.  Even the chapel’s Easter service had been held in a converted shower bay.
Joshua, his assigned guard, entered the cell with breakfast: chopped something on week-old toast.  Wayne had gotten used to it – after all, it wasn’t like his body needed much nutrition anymore.
As had become a daily custom, Joshua and Wayne prayed together.  Joshua had made certain that Wayne (and every other death row inmate) had the opportunity to know the transforming power of the Gospel before they died.
Today Wayne prayed, not for a stay of execution, but for God’s forgiveness.  He’d accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior a dozen years ago and become a devoted Christian ever since.
When they finished the devotional, Joshua asked, “Wayne, what do you want for your final meal?”
And there it was!  He knew from other inmates that last-meal planning marked the start of “The Death March” which began 14 days before the execution.  Time was running out.
The room began spinning.  Wayne sank to the floor, trying to make time slow down.  He felt sick.  Taking a deep, calming breath, he asked, “Can I have a little time to think about it?”
Joshua left him alone.
Barring last-minute legal action Wayne knew the last meal was his last chance to control anything that happened in those final hours.  Memories of favorite foods immediately flooded his thoughts.
Grandma Mae’s fried chicken, made with sweet potatoes, deep fried in olive oil.  A side of chili cheese fries with honey-glazed smoked bacon bits or fried jalapenos.  Classic iced mint lemonade with a slice of lime.  And for desert, his mother’s chocolate caramel date pudding.  Oh, the many choices to consider!
Joshua returned to Wayne’s cell before shift change.  “Have you decided on something delicious?” he queried.
Wayne’s voice caught as he meekly uttered, “I think I’d like a small piece of bread and some grape juice please.  If it’s good enough for my Lord on His last earthly day, it’s more than enough for a sinner like me.  It is (nearly) finished.”
“In my cell so dark and dreary, the touch of God's hand I can feel.  Asking Him to please forgive me, before Him pleading I will kneel.  I know someday beyond the sunset, He'll call my name to make amends.  Till that day I'll keep on prayin' and ask that He forgive my sins.”  ~ Hank Snow, “Prisoner’s Prayer”

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Jesus and the Easter Bunny

“I am the resurrection and the life; those who believe in Me will live forever.” ~ John 11:25
According to a recent study, curious children ask a staggering 73 questions every day ... half of which parents struggle to answer.  Riley’s question this morning clearly caught his Mom off guard.
“What does the Easter Bunny have to do with Jesus?” ask the unusually bright 4-year old.
“That’s great question,” Donna stammered, trying to buy a little time.  Faced with two choices, (making something up or admitting she had no idea), she said “Let me have a little time to think about that one.”  Then quickly turned to Google.
Later that day she offered Riley this explanation.
“There's no story in the Bible, “she began, “about the cotton-tailed creature known as the Easter Bunny.  Nor is there a verse about children painting eggs or hunting for baskets filled with tasty Easter goodies.”
“Sometimes,” Mom continued, “people made up stories for things they couldn’t understand.  Many years ago, bunnies, eggs, and fluffy, yellow chicks became part of the celebration of Easter honoring the day Jesus died but came alive again. It’s never happened again.  That’s what makes Easter so special.”
Way back then, people in Germany enjoyed a festival to honor Eostra, the fairy-tale goddess of Spring and Fertility.  When it came to finding a symbol for Eostra, rabbits hopped to mind because rabbits are really good at making more rabbits.  Like Jesus, they’re also gentle, kind hearted and forgiving.
One day a little girl found an injured bird and prayed to Eostra for help.  Magically, the goddess turned the bird into a rabbit, promising that, for her good deed, she would return at the end of Lent to bring the child rainbow colored eggs.  (Back then, people couldn’t eat eggs during Lent.)  Eggs were an ancient symbol for rebirth, like Jesus emerging from His grave and rising to heaven.
Both rabbits and eggs around Easter soon meshed into a single tradition with stories of Easter bunnies hiding colorful eggs in gardens for children to find.  The tradition of making nests for the rabbits to lay its eggs soon followed.  Eventually, nests became decorated baskets and colorful eggs were swapped for candy, treats and other small gifts.  It wasn't long before chocolate found its way into the modern form of Easter.”
“Riley, the TRUE story of Easter is a little confusing,” Mom said, “but you’ll understand it more as you get older.  I love that the Easter story uses eggs, baskets, and a bunny to honor Jesus.  He was a friendly man who taught us about love and heaven.  Jesus died and it was sad, but then He came back to prove that He was God's son and show us that there could be life after death.
“Black is for the wrong things we have done, Red’s the blood He shed for every one. Green’s for growing His Word in your heart, put your trust in Jesus for a brand-new start.” Amen  ~ A Jellybean Prayer

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Hopeful Grip

"In God’s eyes, all human life is sacred." ~ Genesis 9:6
They’d been trying frantically for a baby.  Julie, an obstetrics nurse, had suffered two miscarriages before she became pregnant.
Then, at 14 weeks, she started having painful cramps.  An ultrasound painted a grim picture that every parent-to-be dreads - spina bifida. Their unborn son’s spine had failed to close properly during the first month of pregnancy.
If a baby survives, spina bifida often leaves debilitating defects including hydrocephaly and a host of devastating secondary conditions.  Abortion was encouraged as an option.
But after years of trying to conceive, the couple believed that God had chosen this baby for them.  Scripture is clear on the sanctity of life in the womb; ending the pregnancy was never an option.
Based on her medical training, Julie discovered a pioneering program of in-utero surgery at a hospital in Nashville.  The theory behind the surgery is that repairing spine disorder before the baby is born prevents or limits brain damage, and gives a better chance of healing.
After intensive discussions with the medical staff, they not only gave surgical approval for their  21-week-old Samuel, they also agreed to let a photographer capture the surgery on film to increase awareness of this innovative procedure.
Tension mounted as the surgery began.  The procedure would take place within the uterus; no part of the child was to breach the surgical opening.
The procedure took less than 90 minutes and seemed to go well.  As the photographer stepped forward to get a final shot, the uterus shook violently from within.
Suddenly, an entire arm thrust out of the surgical opening, then pulled back until just a little hand was showing.  The doctor reached over and lifted the tiny hand that reacted by squeezing his finger as if to say “Thank You!”  Testing for strength, the doctor shook the tiny fist.  Samuel held firm as the photographer shot.
The image captured the amazing event with perfect clarity.  The “Hand of Hope” photo instantly went viral and has been used extensively by pro-life and Christian organizations to illustrate life inside the womb.
Samuel’s surgery delivered the results his parents had prayed for.  The hydrocephalus began shrinking immediately.  By the time their young son was born 15 weeks later, his brain damage had also reversed.
Now an active teenager, Samuel Armas has become a pro-life advocate.  "When I see that picture, he said, “the first thing I think of is how special and lucky I am to have God use me that way.  There is no debate about whether a child in utero is alive; the debate is over whether or not they are worthy of protection.  By witnessing such divine miracles, scientific research within the womb is challenging many to reconsider that question.”
Father God, all life is in Your care.  You’ve entrusted us to one another, that we may show everyone the same love You have for us.  We pray, then, for the least among us, the children in the womb.   Protect them from the violence of abortion.  Amen

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Take Up Your Cross

“Jesus said, “If you to follow me, deny yourself, carry your cross and follow me." ~ Matt 16:24
The dawn came with musical silence; Raelyn’s soul heard the melody that her ears could not.  A new day had come, new possibilities, a fresh page yet to be written.
To her friends, she appeared strong.  But deep down, she felt the kind of sadness that leached into your bones rather than exploded in a cascade of tears.
Her friend invited the family to visit their cottage in Michigan, but they couldn’t go.
Heather, their 23-year-old daughter had been suffering from anorexia for more than a decade.  Her weight was that of a small child.  They’d nearly run out of options until a chance Facebook posting last fall brought Heather the first breath of hope in years.
Treating anorexia, which is characterized by self-starvation and an inability to maintain adequate body weight, seems absurdly simple on the surface: just eat and gain weight.  It’s something Heather and the millions of others afflicted by eating disorders have heard many times.  But it’s never that simple.
Raelyn had long since lost track of the number of times Heather had been admitted to a treatment program with electrolyte imbalances caused by starvation or self-induced vomiting, or thoughts of suicide.  She’d gain weight during the program, then return to her old ways when discharged.
So for more than 20 years, she remained miserably, incurably, trapped.
Up to one in five people with chronic anorexia will die as a result of their illness, either from the effects of starvation or to suicide.  It’s the deadliest of all psychiatric disorders.
Scientists have made tremendous progress in treating teenage anorexia before the disorder becomes chronic.  But this hasn’t translated into effective treatments for adults.
In Ohio, an experimental five-day intensive program requires patients and up to four support people to join them for treatment.  So Raelyn’s family vacation will be spent in Ohio this summer with Heather and their last hope before hospice for successful treatment.  She felt the weight of the sadness in her heart; making no effort to chase it away.
“It's okay to be sad . . . especially about sad things," thought Raelyn.  There's a single word for a burden we bear for the good of others: CROSS.
She thought about Jesus and "Take up your cross and follow me."  There's a difference between taking up a cross begrudgingly and accepting it as a heavy gift for someone else.  Jesus wasn't happy about His situation; He pleaded three times to have that cup taken from Him.  Yet He didn't resent having to die for the sake of the world.  He was sad, but did what He had to.
Jesus or the comforts of this life?  It’s a tough call, but the reward is incomparable.
“Here I am Lord.  It is I Lord.  I have heard You calling in the night.  I will go Lord, if You lead me.  I will hold Your people in my heart.”  Amen

Monday, March 12, 2018

Silent Grief

"He comforts us so that we’re able to help others when needed." ~ 2 Corinthians 1:4
It was her last of several visits today.  She rapped softly on the oak door, tucking her personal worries and problems to the back of her mind.  It’s time for comforting words and compassionate presence.  She’d been doing this for two decades and knew scripture by heart, yet clamped to her chest she carried a leather bound Bible.   Pastor Carrie knew that just the sight of it brought comfort in times of pain.
The door opens and she’s mindful to project warmth and genuine caring.  This is why she came to this profession, this calling - to bring God’s Word to those in need.
Her visit brought needed relief to a woman grieving the death of a stillborn child.   Mission accomplished.   Her Savior’s grace brought temporary joy to a personal life (Carrie’s) laden with a sadness forever etched just below her consciousness.
Not until her young daughter died in a horrifying car accident, one that could have avoided had she not been in such a hurry, did she truly understand grief’s intensity - piercing, crushing, and enduring.
The sudden death of a child disrupts the natural order of life.   She’d forever remember that day as the one in which her life froze.  Her death marked the loss of innocence, the future, of hopes and dreams.
Life wouldn’t be the same … ever!  Insomnia haunted her nights; fatigue ruled her days.  She was inescapably gripped by a whirlpool of pain – swift, relentless, dark.
Exhausted and emotionally shattered, Carrie tumbled into bed and surrendered to sleep this night.  As her brain slowly let go, she entered the surreal universe where dreams soothed and balanced one’s soul.
At first a lazy fog hung in the air, obscuring her view of a ghostly figure.  As the mist cleared, a small girl emerged.  Chestnut brown hair lay on her shoulders like a flowing waterfall, emerald eyes as bright as a sunrise.  Her smile was warm with a hint of humility.
She stumbled forward, struggling with the weight of two large water buckets - way too heavy for her small frame.
Something vaguely familiar about this child peaked Carrie’s interest.  She asked: “Sweetheart, what are you carrying that’s so very heavy?”
The angelic figure replied in a soft, sweet voice: “Your tears Mommy!”
Only after that dream did her heart begin to heal.
The spiritual battles and pressure your pastor faces are unprecedented.  We tend to believe their theology prepared them to see the God’s glorious purposes and are thus immune from the frailties of grief.
Untrue!  Pastors grieve just like every other human being and often, given the intensity of their profession, more deeply.  Strengthen and encourage your pastor through prayer and thanksgiving.
Lord Jesus, Thank you for all pastors/priests and the burden they carry for us.  Grant them the rest they need.  Help me to remember that I can help by volunteering my time and talents so that my pastor doesn’t have to take on that task.  Amen

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Script for Hell

“Never allow yourself to be mastered by anything." ~ 1 Corinthians 6:12
As a police officer, Antonio was unafraid.  He broke up domestic quarrels and street brawls.  Once during a heavy rainstorm, he waded into a flooded intersection to rescue a motorist and her child.
But when a tow truck slammed into his patrol car, he suffered a career ending back injury.  Several surgeries and various pain meds over the next two decades did little to stop the debilitating pain.
Then he met OxyContin.
Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin with a bold marketing claim: One dose relieves pain for 12 hours, more than twice as long as generic medications.  Based on that promise, OxyContin became America’s bestselling painkiller, and Purdue earned billions in profits.
But as Antonio discovered, the drug had a fundamental problem: for him it wore off hours early.  Following Purdue’s guidance, his doctor prescribed a stronger, rather than more frequent, dose.
But they didn’t mention that since Oxy is a chemical cousin of heroin, when it doesn’t last, Antonio would experience painful withdrawal symptoms, including an intense craving for the drug.
Soon Antonio had developed a deep tolerance to Oxy and had become physically dependent on it.  His prescription had increased to over ten times the original dosage.  Yet his life was ticking along relatively pain free; a busy family life took precedence.
But here were warning signs along the way.  Stomach cramps, nausea, intense headaches - all would hit without warning.  Antonio wasn’t looking for a buzz when he sought the drug - he was desperately seeking to escape the gripping sickness that accompanies withdrawal.
Occasional fender benders led to more serious accidents.  He was constantly groggy; eventually spending most of his day sleeping.  One day, another officer found him slumped over the steering wheel of his car at a BP gas station and rushed him to the hospital.
He never regained consciousness.  He was 42.
A toxicology report showed lethal levels of oxycodone in his blood.  The label on an prescription bottle found nearby directed Antonio to take an 80 ml Oxy tablet twice daily.  There should have been 64 pills left.  There were only 5.
Over the last 20 years, more than 7 million Americans have abused OxyContin.  The drug is widely blamed for setting off the nation’s opioid epidemic, which has claimed more nearly 200,000 lives from overdoses involving OxyContin since 1999.
I’d like to blame GPs, the health system, and even Big Pharma.  But the problem's more complex than that.  We need more responsible discussions around the management of acute pain before it becomes chronic pain.  The key to avoiding addiction is the help of a medical team that's easily accessible, along with regular checkups to reassess the need for, and use of the drug.
Lord, wrap Your loving arms of protection around me to overcome any evil influences in my life.  Surround me with good, wholesome, God fearing people who will positively support me - not drag me down.  Amen

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Redeemable

"To treat people well is to honor their souls; to love your neighbor." ~ St. Thomas Moore
In 1919, Lewis Lawes moved his wife and 3 small children into the warden's mansion at Sing Sing prison.  They shared the yard with over 1,000 of the most dangerous men in the world - murderers, rapists, and thieves who the Lawes alone believed capable of redemption.
At the time, Sing Sing had the reputation of being unmanageable.  Nine wardens had served in the previous eight years.  One lasted only 16 days.  "The easiest way to get out of Sing Sing," Lewis once joked, "is to go in as warden."
Physical conditions at the facility were atrocious; questionable business practices had decimated the budget; corruption was rampant; and inmates seemed to run the penitentiary.
In his 21 year tenure, Lewis instituted numerous creative reforms.  By his own admission however, much of his success was due to his wife Catherine.
She believed passionately that prisoners were human beings, worthy of attention and respect.  She regularly visited with prisoners in the depths of despair and recognized that even the most troubled convicts could be inspired by demonstrating trust in their ability to handle responsibilities.  For example, she allowed a hardened kidnapper to care for her children.
Catherine saw them less as prisoners and more as individuals.  She taught them, encouraged them, and even ran errands for them.  Mostly she cared for them as her own.
As a result, the ‘boys’ cared deeply about her too.  Many said that Catherine was the body of Jesus that came alive again at Sing Sing in 1919.
The prisoners became alarmed when Lewis didn’t report to work in the fall of 1937.  Rumors spread quickly that Catherine had been killed in a car accident.  The following day her body laid in repose for public viewing, 3/4 of a mile from the prison.
As the acting warden took his early morning walk, he noticed a large gathering at the main gate. Nearly every prisoner pressed against the fence, eyes awash with tears, faces solemn; no one spoke or moved.  They’d come to stand as close as they could to the woman who’d loved them.
The warden made a remarkable decision.  "All right, men, you can go.  Just be sure to check in tonight."
Sing Sing’s south gate slowly swung open.  Hundreds of men, convicted of every crime imaginable, slowly emerged from the prison without escort to pay their final respects.
Every single inmate returned that night.
No one tried to escape out of respect for Catherine - the woman who walked daily into Hell to show them a piece of Heaven.  Her gentle spirit transformed many hardened souls in that prison, demonstrating that tenderness is powerful, strong, vigorous, dynamic, and life changing.
Merciful Lord, come to the aid of all those in prison and grant them Your peace in the midst of this difficult time in their lives.  Grant that this trial may bring them closer to You, our rock and our refuge, our comfort and our hope.  Amen

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Lion Lore

“God's not dead … He's living on the inside, roaring like a lion!" ~ Newsboys
He hesitated at the edge of the shade and roared - nothing like human speech or bird song, but sound that came from deep within his body and projected with such force that it could be heard for miles.  His Majesty, the 'King’ was calling his pride.
The lion has always seemed like the most confident animal in the zoo, standing there all regal-looking, smugly bearing his royal crown.  He eats when he wants, sleeps as much as he wants, and paces where he wants.
Strategically located just inside the main gate, he has it all; the undisputed King.  But lions are neither the most rapid and agile, or even the smartest.  Nor are they the strongest or the fastest.
So where does his confidence come from?  Or does he just appear confident?  Does he have those days when he wishes he could be sleek like the cheetah?  Or maybe taller like the giraffes?  Or more entertaining like the monkeys?
I’m certainly no lion!
There are days when it seems like getting all the pieces to fit seems overwhelming; so draining that I’m brought to my knees in desperation.
There are days when I feel fairly competent as a parent.  Then we’ll have one of “thOse” days when the bickering and whining are incessant; days filled with too much yelling and plenty of doubt.
There are days when I feel like I’m relatively fit, exercising daily and watching what I eat.  But then there are “th0se” days when I see photos of celebrities with rock-hard abs.  What was left of my confidence deflates like a popped balloon.
There are days when I feel like I am making progress professionally.  And then there are “thOse” days when a client complains about progress on a project, or chooses to follow another path entirely.  How do others do it?
Consider the lion - he doesn't even have to roar - there’s power in silence and persistence.  It’s like he doesn’t have to prove that he’s a threat – everyone already knows what he’s capable of.
Jesus was the complete lion ... who was, is and always will be.  He moved with intention, with purpose, with clarity, to save us - and the world.
And now, He’s passed the baton to each of us.  But I’m not perfect.  Maybe we’re all just trying to be the best that we can be.  His Word is filled with promises of strength and courage when we place our confidence in Him.  It’s in those moments of surrender that we see just how faithful our God is and we feel His overwhelming love and strength fill our souls.
God Almighty, help me seek and hear You with the brute force of a lion.  Show me how to care for others uncondi-tionally by wearing Your example on my sleeve.  And give me the confidence to shout what I believe like lyrics at a rock concert.  Amen

Saturday, February 17, 2018

When Left Became Right

"Never give up, for your work will be rewarded.” ~ 2 Chronicles 15:7
Chances are you’ve never heard of Károly Takács.  But he’s a national hero in Hungary; everybody knows his name and his incredible story.
At age 28, Károly was the top pistol shooter in his country.  Having won the major national and international championships, he seemed destined to capture the 1940 Tokyo Olympics’ gold metal.
Just months before the Games, while training with his army squad, a hand grenade exploded in Takács’ shooting hand.  Both his right hand and his Olympic dreams vaporized in milliseconds.
Most people would have quit.  But not Takács.  He was a winner.  Winners recover QUICKLY; simply bouncing back is not enough.  When they experience a setback, they recover immediately so as not lose drive and momentum.
He focused on what he still had – mental toughness and a healthy left hand.  While he couldn’t write a legible sentence with his left hand, he decided to make it the world's best shooting hand.
For months Takács practiced secretly by himself.  Maybe he didn’t want to face those who might have discouraged him from his rekindled goal.  Perhaps he didn’t want the sympathy.
But he had no fear of failure.
A year later Károly resurfaced at a Nat’l Shooting Championship in Hungary.  His colleagues were delighted to see him and appreciated his attending to cheer them on.
He surprised them by announcing that he was there to compete against them – their best shooting hand against his ONLY hand.   He won!
Károly’s Olympic dream would not be fulfilled for 8 years as two consecutive Olympic Games were cancelled due to World War II.  When they resumed in London, Károly represented Hungary in the pistol shooting event.  Imagine being a gold medal favorite, losing your shooting hand in an accident, yet picking yourself up from a shattered mess, and training your left hand to shoot as well (or better).
He WON the 1948 Olympic gold medal and set a new world record in pistol shooting.  Egged on perhaps by his rival, Károly won a 2nd gold medal in the same event at the 1952 Helsinki Games.
When a boxer gets knocked down, they have 10 seconds to get back up.  If (s)he gets up in 11 seconds, they lose.  Remember that next time you get knocked down.
Takács definitely had a right to feel sorry for himself; to stay depressed and ask himself “Why me?”  He had the right to act like a beaten man.
But Takács made the DECISION to find a solution; to pick himself up and to learn to shoot all over again.  Winners always search for a solution.  Losers search for escapes.
Next time you get knocked down, decide to act like a winner.  Get up quickly, take action, and shock the world!
Lord, my energy is sagging, and my motivation is lagging.  I need Your strength and fresh touch to get back on track.  I need your joy to replace all the bone-tired parts of my mind, body, and soul.  Amen

Friday, February 9, 2018

Paw Prints

"Each rising sun brings new hope because of God’s tender mercy." ~ Luke 1:78
During the night a blanket of snow fell across the midwestern plains, as Dori snoozed beneath woolen covers.  She stumbled to life as a warm, wet nose caressed her check, meaning of course, that Rebel need to relieve himself.
Racing to the door, she barely managing to get the puppy out.  As he tip-toed through the frosty landscape with urgent matters, Dori gazed into the white abyss laying silently across her yard.
Under a dove grey sky, the backyard resembled an unfinished painting; much of the canvas still flawlessly white.  Its purity elevated her spirit; a world made fresh as a book of new stories.
Rebel enjoyed everything about this day: the satisfaction of being the first to make an impression in a blanket of freshly lain snow, the subtle crunch underfoot as he frolicked among shafts of sunlight illuminating the winter scene before him.
In a matter of minutes, Dori’s snow (yes, HER snow), was quickly re-decorated; dotted and dimpled with paw prints and yellowed reminders of mother nature’s calls.  Dozens of circles zigzagged across the former glittery wonderland, its radiant beauty now vanished.  Her dreamscape gone forever.
Dori sighed.
But then, something occurred as memories sharpened into focus.  Perhaps those paw prints had meaning she hadn’t recognized.
Each of those ‘blemishes’ might represent mistakes from her own past.  Perhaps an unreturned phone call, maybe an un-mailed birthday card.  A forgotten lunch date, or a promise swept aside.
Bit by bit as she sipped a marsh-mellowed cup of cocoa, the fabric of her life unraveled.  She dug deeper into the past, pushing snow into the far corners of her mind, until she exposed the cold bare earth.  It was a frightening place.
She had to make things right - to become a better person; more positive, less judgmental.  “I must always be there for my friends,” she thought, “and family, neighbors … even strangers.”
The next morning, Dori bravely opened the front door to let her four-legged companion out, bracing herself for another cold blast.  Instead, a picture-perfect sight nearly stole her breath.
Once again, a fresh blanket of snow had fallen.  The tracks were gone, embellished with a new layer of glittering wonder.  The sunlight danced amongst the snowflakes, sending prisms of color shooting into the morning sky.
It was a new day.  A day to start fresh, along with that perfect layer of sparkling snow.  A new chance to be a better person.
We all have blemishes from our past, their yellowed pages long forgotten in our mind’s eye.  But like paw prints littering snow, we can learn from them, and our future will be better, and brighter, like the resplendent beauty that awaits us with each new sunrise.
Today Lord, I wish to lay down the burden of my shortcomings, and seek the courage to begin anew.  Help me understand that I’m not trapped in the past, but freed by Christ to live and grow today.  With gratitude, Amen

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Flying Blind

“We live by faith, not by sight or feelings." ~ 2 Corinthians 5:7
Capt. Virgil Anderson was arrogant.  If he could do half the stuff he thought he could - maybe "confidence" would have been a better word.  It wasn't!
In his mind’s eye, he was superior to other pilots by virtue of his talent.  Twenty-two years of experience had taught him to rely mainly on the feel of the plane and his visual reference, rather than to trust the guidance of his instruments.
On the day he commanded United’s 737, the jetliner had been flying along normally when suddenly it began to experience all sorts of chaos.  It gyrated across the sky, plummeting thousands of feet at a time and turning violently to one side.  Two of the four engines stalled and failed, leaving the plane without the power it needed to maintain level flight.
Anderson responded instinctually, doing his best to right the course of the tumbling aircraft, while hundreds of passengers waited in abject terror, not knowing if they’d live or die.
At the time of the crash, the aircraft was flying about 1,000 feet above sea level in whiteout conditions – where the cloud-filtered sun reflected light from the snow, making it impossible to distinguish ground from air.  Without a visual point of reference, Anderson was easily fooled into thinking the plane was doing the opposite.
It flew into an icy mountainside, killing all aboard.
Investigators later determined that this tragedy had ultimately been the fault of the pilots.  They should have responded according to their flight training and according to the plane’s manual.  Instead, they relied on one fatal flaw - instinct.
Capt. Anderson, an experienced, well-trained pilot, had refused to trust his instruments, relying instead on his flawed assessment of the situation.  Even though he thought he saw the situation clearly, Anderson was in fact flying blind, refusing to heed the information conveyed by his instruments.
It cost him his life and the lives of hundreds of others.
The story offers a spiritual parallel.  When faced with the raging storm of uncertainty, we have a choice: trust our clouded perceptions or trust God’s Word.  We can trust our own feelings, or we can place our faith in the promises He made on Calvary, devotional prayer/Bible studies, and the wise counsel of Christian pastors and mentors.
It’s hard, and sometimes frightening.  But in the fog of life, our feelings will mock our faith and suggest that God has left us.  But His instruments will always reassure us that He’s still there, right beside us.
If you or a loved one is flying in a storm of desperation, remember our own perceptions, as real as they feel, are not reliable.  Fly instead, by the instruments God’s provided us.
Almighty Father, help me to trust my spiritual instruments - to follow Your will for my life and not let my feelings dictate what I do.  Help me set my mind to be a blessing to others and make right choices that honor You.  Amen

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Father Figure

“To God be the glory forever and ever." ~ Philippians 4:20
He grew up the youngest of nine children in a broken home in Boston’s rough Dorchester section. By 13, he’d developed a serious addiction to cocaine among other illegal substances.
At just 14 years old, he dropped out of school, joined a cold-blooded gang, and began making his living on the streets - hustling, stealing, and dealing drugs.   With each passing day, his rebellious, anger-riddled, and destructive lifestyle mounted.
At 15 he faced civil action for his participation in two separate incidents of hurling rocks and racial slurs at African-American children.  He injured two of the students.
His chaotic life finally came to a crashing halt at 16, when he viciously attacked 2 Vietnamese men.  He sucker punched the first blinding him in one eye and beat the second man unconscious while shouting racial insults about 'slant-eyed gooks.'  For these crimes, he was charged with attempted murder, plead guilty to assault, and was sentenced to two years in prison.
He’d finally earned his stripes; locked up with the kind of guys he idolized.  Three of his brothers had already done time; his sister went to prison so many times he’d lost count.
Back on the streets after only 45 days, he quickly returned to peddling drugs.  But in the shadows, he was being watched - not by undercover cops, but by a fearless young priest.  The street punk stood speechless when the Padre got right in his face: ‘‘What the heck are you doing?”
Father Jim Flavin managed to get him off the street and onto a basketball team in the Catholic Church league.
The rest they say “is history!”
When he stood at the podium in 2007 accepting an Oscar for his supporting role in “The Departed,” Mark Wahlberg (aka rapper Marky Mark), fought back tears describing how the charismatic priest rescued him from a criminal trajectory.
‘‘Where we grew up, we mostly looked for the wrong role models in the wrong places.  It took me far too long to realize that the real heroes were there all the time.  Rev. Flavin helped us realize who the real heroes are.  He’s my hero, my mentor, my friend, my brother.  I have the greatest respect and debt to him; he married us and baptized all my children.”
Today Mark Wahlberg enjoys enormous success on both the big and small screens as model, actor and producer.  He’s packed away the demons of old and boasts a growing family, with his Catholic faith acting as a pivotal force in reshaping what had threatened to become a troubled adult life.
He’s never bashful about his faith, “I never would’ve been able to change my life and have the success and love that I have in my world today without my faith.”
“Lord, help me be a good servant, father, husband, son, friend, brother, uncle, neighbor, good leader to those who look up to me and a good follower of those who aim to serve You.“ ~ Mark Wahlberg

Thursday, January 25, 2018

How Great Thou Art

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you." ~ Isaiah 43:2
Jason awoke early for a peaceful walk along the Caribbean coastline.  The ocean had always been his remedy for relieving tension, worry, and anxiety.
Its shore marked a graceful arc in the sand, glittering under the remains of a moonlit sky.  With a soothing sound, the waves rolled in a brief burst of kelp.  Every few meters he discovered a briny treasure, once the habitat for some aquatic creature - footprints they left behind soon erased.
From the sandy shore, he gazed out at the horizon before him.  Waves of a royal blue crept towards him and then ran away, only to repeat the process in a cycle that left a salty mist on his feet.  But beyond those magical waves was something even more breathtaking and spectacular: the rising sun.
Beautiful smudges of coral, lavender, and a fiery orange blended together to create a sight so astounding it swept away all his worries, just like the waves creeping over seashells and stealing them back into its depths.
He inhaled deeply as the sunlight poured over him, allowing his mind to focus on the ocean’s energy.  It cleansed him from head to toe; from the inside out.  Negativity and fear escaped like the outgoing tide.
When he imagined its healing power, he pictured countless others who must feel the same way - surfers, divers, swimmers, and children grinning from ear to ear.  The ocean serves as medicine for so many.
Its power is immeasurable.  We’ve learned to travel over the mighty oceans, to descend to the bottom of them, and to travel through them - but the relentless force of their waves remain untamable.  Rocks are crushed, shorelines are changed, and even the most experienced sailors can be driven aground or sent to their bottoms.  Man’s combined genius and equipment can do little to conquer the oceans.
They’re no problem for God, however.  The One who created the mighty oceans does with them what He wishes.  And when the turbulent seas of adversity are threatening, we need to remember His awesome power.
Sometimes there are obstacles that seem overwhelming to us.  But like the seas, they have no more resistance to God’s power than water in a teacup!
God’s love is like that.  It's refreshing, powerful, and a little terrifying at times.  But all you need to experience His love and healing grace is the desire to walk closely with Him, a willingness to confess your sinfulness, and a sincerity to communicate with Him daily.
“Dear God, Your ocean is so wide and my boat is so small; the winds are so strong - my sail so slight; and the world so fierce and I’m so frail.  Please watch over me, Amen.”                ~ Winfred Ernest Garrison