Friday, June 15, 2018

Dads on Point

“God is like a father to us, tender and sympathetic to those who worship him." ~ Psalm 103:13
For Joe, country roads brought back memories of simpler times - camping trips, picnics, and visits to Grandma's farm.  For a while he was a child again – exploring, probing, and living in the moment.  He loved hearing the birds sing, seeing wildlife roam their natural habitat, smelling fresh air and just enjoying nature’s quiet, natural beauty.
Up ahead, Joe spotted an old bridge crossing over the Dismal River.  A distant memory stirred ... from back when he was an Indian Guide.  Every fall their tribe made a three-day, 50-mile canoe trip on Nebraska’s wildest, youngest, and most undeveloped river.
On a hot day you could cup your hands a take a draft of the cool water.  The banks had been alive with nesting ducks taking advantage of the shade provided by tall trees.  Herons waited, poised on one leg, patient as the breeze; patient as the river itself.
There was one year he’d never forget.  Dad dropped him at the launch with the rest of the tribe, made sure his life vest was secure and said goodbye as the flotilla set off.
Joe stuck his paddle into the river, pulled hard, then lifted and stroked again.   Before long he and his canoe partner had a good rhythm going.  He wished Dad could see him now.
About a mile downriver they came to an old suspension bridge.  He looked up and there he was.  His Dad stood right in the middle of the span.  He didn’t shout instructions or do anything awkward.  He simply waved until they passed underneath.
When Joe looked back, Dad was gone.  Maybe he’d just imagined him?
But several miles later, at the next overpass, Dad was there again.  And several after that.
It turned into a game.  The whole tribe began looking for him.  Every time they rounded a bend that day someone shouted, “There’s Mr. McDaniel!”  They all waved now, but no one was happier to see him than Joe was.
Dad had taken a chance and gone the extra mile to show Joe his love.  He never forgot that feeling.
Now as he drove across the bridge, he imagined Dad standing there, waving, encouraging him.  Joe thought of the nightly prayer he’d said when his own kids were younger, asking God to “Help me be the kind of Dad my children need.”
As a parent, you've probably received a small taste of how God feels as "our Father in Heaven." When parents look into the face of their newborn baby, they know they’ll always go the extra mile and love that child no matter what.  That's exactly how God feels about us, despite our failures or squandering what He's given to us.
Father God, bless those fathers who’ve taken seriously their parenting responsibility and especially those who are doing it alone.  Strengthen all Dads by Your love that they may become the loving, caring, role models You meant them to be.  Amen

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Selfish or Selfless?

“Never criticize or condemn - or it will all come back on you." ~ Luke 6:37
Mark had come to the coffee shop for solitude, to escape everything and everyone.  But now that he was here, even the coffee seemed cold and he longed for some company.
Two young women were discussing the rash of celebrity suicide deaths dominating the nightly news recently.  Mark was drawn to their exchange.
“People commit suicide when they are too depressed, alone, or stressed to carry on,” said one.  To which the other countered, “Just because someone’s sad beyond repair doesn’t make it OK.  It’s selfishness through weakness.”  They bounced remarks between themselves like a rubber ball.
Mark’s heart started racing.  He felt nauseous and started to cry.  It reminded him of the suicide that ended his own father’s death when he was 11 years old and the pain and isolation that lingers to this day.  Painful emotions have run the spectrum from shock to grief, to heartbreak, to rage (at both his Dad and himself), to sorrow, and back to anger at how unfair it all was.
Isolation because the one person from whom he wanted answers from was the same person he’d never see again.  One never gets the answer to the question: “Why?”  That’s a lonely feeling.
Even today, Mark found it impossible to contemplate life through the lens of depression.  The thought of suicide does seem selfish.  Why would someone leave the world prematurely, creating insurmountable sorrow, all-encompassing guilt, and unanswerable questions for those you love?
He didn’t have an answer because he was generally a healthy person.  His Dad had not been.
His Dad suffered from depression.  He knew he wasn’t well, yet he couldn’t fix it and wasn’t able to contemplate a future without pain.  His mental state felt permanent and therefore a burden to those he loved.  If you can’t get better and contribute to the well-being of those he loved, why not release them and yourself?
Through that lens, suicide felt like a selfless, practical act.
Only he was wrong.  Because his Dad was sick.  And so, for Mark, the circular argument continued.
Mark will never truly know why his Dad felt death was better than life, and more particularly, why it was better than a life with him.  But what helps is the knowledge that this illness, this plague - because that’s what it’s become in our society – is not a rational choice made by people wishing to hurt us.  Suicide is illogical.  It’s indiscriminate.  The emotions it provokes in us are irrational, too.
Rather than blaming the victims of illness, we must hold space for the struggle they endure.  We are too quick to shun what we don’t understand.  How would the conversation change if we chose compassion, or at least non-judgment?
Father, help us to be mindful that it’s not our place to judge others.  You alone will judge us as You see fit.  Help us to trust in Your almighty plan and the power of Your love to capture hearts and transform people.  Amen

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Holding Space

“Be kind and compassionate to one another." ~ Ephesians 4:32
Cancer delivers two types of pain.  They’re both bad, but one’s worse than the other.
The first pain comes from the organ that’s been most affected.  It’s like a knife stabbing every part of your body.  For Donna’s Mom Anne, it was her abdomen.  Pain shot through Anne’s stomach, causing frequent nausea, bloating and occasional vomiting.
Cancer’s other pain is the mental; like running out of time and not knowing what to do.  Anne’s fear was paralyzing, exhausting and dark.
When she got sick, Donna became what psychologists term the person who “held space” for her.  Holding space means walking side-by-side with them on their journey without judgment or expectations.  It’s the deepest form of listening.
Donna accompanied Anne throughout her journey, seeing the world through her Mom’s eyes; allowing space for panic, confusion, and expression without trying to “fix” anything.  Donna didn’t try and cheer Anne up about her illness or deny what was happening in her body.  She held space by allowing the situation to unfold without fueling the emotions that were part of it.
While Donna was holding space for her Mom, others were holding space for her.
Her children and closest friends were holding space for her as she walked the difficult path with her Mom.  When she’d come home at night they’d encourage her to rest and assured her with their calls, cards and prayers.
The hospice nurse was holding space for Donna and her Mom, guiding them on what to expect next.  Their home nurse Amy held space for the family, quietly resigned to the background, as people came and went to say their last good-byes.
The day she began transitioning, she fell into her daughter’s arms and softly said “I’m ready to go.”  Donna was heart-broken inside, but calmly replied by saying “Ok, mom.  I’m here.”
When Anne took her final breaths, Donna sobbed hysterically as she gazed out the hospital window.  Her life was falling apart.  The thoughts driving her meltdown were unintelligible due to the crashing waves of emotions.
But somehow, she found herself able to clear her head and stare at her disheveled reflection in the window.  Bob stood silently behind her.  Her husband of 37 years was holding space for her.
Holding space means acting as God created us to act.  It may be as practical as going grocery shopping for someone who is sick or shut-in.  It can also mean keeping that person alive in your heart throughout the day and sending prayers on their behalf.
It develops in us the capacity to care for someone without determining what’s best for them, to be present without judging, to hold but not control.  That’s the way God loves us; and so holding space becomes the chance to try to love like God.
“Open the eyes of my heart Lord, that Your light will flood our hearts and that we will understand the hope that was given to us and the glorious blessings You’ve bestowed upon us.” ~ Ephesians 1:18

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Saving a Wretch

“Forgive as the Lord forgives you." ~ Colossians 3:13
Nurtured by a Christian mother, he was raised in his father's image after she died weeks before his 7th birthday.  Young John joined his father at sea and quickly took to the bottle; often drinking whiskey or rum for breakfast.  Due to his reckless behavior, the boy was forced to join the Royal Navy, a pattern that would persist for years.
After attempting to desert, he received 100 lashes and demoted to common seaman.  To add further insult, the disgraced sailor was exchanged to the crew of a slave ship.
Disliked by the crew for his rebellious and drunken ways, they left him behind in West Africa with a ruthless slave trader and was brutally abused along with the other slaves.  John was rescued by a sea captain who’d known his father and eventually became captain of his own slave ship.
Ships like his would anchor off the African coast where tribal chiefs delivered pens full of men and women captured in raids against other tribes.  Buyers would select the finest specimens, which would be bartered for weapons, ammunition, metal, liquor, trinkets, and cloth.
The purchased captives would be loaded aboard for sailing. They were chained below decks to prevent suicides, laid side by side to save space, stacked row upon row.  Captains sought fast voyage across the Atlantic hoping to preserve as much as their cargo as possible, yet mortality sometimes ran 20% or higher.
During one voyage home, his ship was caught in a horrendous storm off Ireland’s coast and nearly sank.  Captain John prayed to God.  The cargo miraculously shifted to fill a hole in the ship’s hull and the vessel drifted to safety.  He took it as a sign from the Almighty and thus began his conversion to Christianity.
Captain John started reading the Bible and began to view his captives with a more sympathetic view.  He eventually left the slave trade and studied for the ministry.  John Newton was ordained into the Anglican Church, and in 1764 took a parish in southeastern England.
Newton’s church became so crowded that it had to be enlarged.  They held not only a regular weekly church service but also began a series of prayer meetings, for which he wrote a new hymn each week.  Among his many contributions is probably the most famous hymn in history: “Amazing Grace.”
For the last 43 years of his life, Pastor Newton preached the gospel in one of the most prestigious parishes of London.  By 1800 no evangelical clergyman had gained more fame or exercised more spiritual influence than Newton.  At 82, Newton said, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior."
"Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound), that saved a wretch like me!  I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.  ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed!"  ~ John Newton
 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Bucket List

“A happy heart is good medicine but a broken spirit saps one’s strength.” ~ Proverbs 17:22
When Dillon was growing up, it always seemed like someone else “knew best.”  That became less true as he started to take control of his life and tweaked his parent’s values to fit his own life.  So when Dillon announced that he was dropping out of college, his parents reacted supportively.  In fact, they were genuinely proud of their son.
Earlier that week, (September 2017), the 20-year-old Californian learned that his best friend, who’d already beaten childhood cancer, had gotten the worst news imaginable.  The cancer had officially returned; this time as a mutated string highly resilient to the experimental drugs he’d used before.
Chris had one year or less to live.
Thiers's was that kind of friendship that blooms from the center of your heart - that kind of friendship that grows from the seedling basking in the warm soil to an enormous tree with many sturdy branches, but not enough to disguise its enormity or sheer brilliance.
Now the pair is traveling the world to cross off as many items as possible on Chris’ 127-point bucket list.  They kicked off their mission by buying 150 hamburgers from a fast-food restaurant and delivering them to the homeless.
The friends have documented Chris’ “One Life, One List” at https://mybestfriendslist.com where followers can sign up to become bone marrow donors and contribute GoFundMe donations to help finance his bucket list wishes.
From having a pillow fight with strangers (#31), to tasting the world’s hottest pepper (#11), and flying a jet airplane (#7), they’re determined to experience all life has to offer.  The two are also hoping to dive with sharks (#62), pay for someone’s college (#96), meet Danny DiVito (#104), and ride a motorcycle across Alaska (#123).
The ultimate wish would be to find a bone marrow match for Chris, the odds of which are a little less than winning the lottery.  Even so, they broke a world record (#4) by inspiring 3,715 people to sign up for a bone marrow donor list in one day.
Facing a grim prognosis, Chris remains hopeful and keeps appreciating the “simple things in life.  ”So many people think they’ll be really happy and enjoy life when they go on vacation, when the kids are older, when they climb higher on the ladder of success at work.  But God wants you to enjoy your life now, not when.”
So follow their lead - make the decision to enjoy your life TODAY.  If you’re too serious, lighten up!  Learn to laugh at yourself and the things that normally frustrate you.  If you don’t have joy, then no matter what you have or how great your circumstances may be … it doesn’t mean much.
“Lord, thank You for placing friends like Dillon in my life!   If this is my last year on earth, let my legacy inspire others to live their lives – really LIVE them.  Help me spread the word that any good bucket list is never finished.” ~ Chris Betancourt

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Last Reunion

“God does not show favoritism." ~ Acts 10:34
Few 92-year-old, white-haired men are seen as celebrities.  But Eddie Stafford was treated like a rock star from the moment he returned to Normandy with several of his D-Day comrades.  They were some of few remaining survivors from the 1944 invasion that claimed 10,000 soldiers (Allied and Axis) on a single day.
D-Day survivors have been returning back to the sites where they fought in the war, retracing their steps across the beaches, down country roads, and across fields where cattle now graze.  But this trip was probably the last reunion because the men are all in their late 80s or 90s, and few are now able to make the trip.
For Eddie, this pilgrimage would complete a story begun long ago.  The last time he saw France it was under attack, ravaged by bombs and gunfire.  For him the prosperous farms and tidy villages of Normandy today seemed like a vindication for the sacrifices and hardships they endured as young men, proof that peace can flourish after the horrors of war.
On the last evening of their visit, their French guide took them to a local bar after a long day of touring.  The crowd seemed friendly; old friends catching up, most of them men about the same age as the US vets.
They spoke German.
A heavy silence erupted as the veterans found seats.  Anxious eyes glanced around trying to escape eye contact.  Some shifted uncomfortably in their seats grasping sweaty under the tables.  Others shuffled their feet against the cobbles of the bar floor, nervously tracing the outlines of each brick.
Whispers swirled throughout the small space.  Things were about to get interesting.
Ever since the war, American television depicted Germans as savage, dull-witted and violent.  But Eddie knew that these too were decent hard-working men doing their duty for a country they honored and loved.  He was no better, no wiser, no smarter; and just as simple to manipulate.
Eddie rose from his chair and hobbled across the room like his leg had fallen asleep.  The shrapnel he’d received from that December bombing run had never fully healed.
He introduced himself in English and struck up a conversation, the exact contents of which he’d never reveal.  But soon enough, everybody in the room was talking to each other and sharing stories.
The Germans talked about what it was like to be young and terrified that the next bomb was going to land on them.  The Americans told them what it was like to be young and frightened as they flew amid fierce anti-aircraft fire.
For those men, Americans and Germans alike, their war finally ended over glasses of beer in a French bar, more than seventy years after the armistice had been signed.
“Now I understand the meaning of our lives, the loss of comrades so very long ago.  So to you who have answered duties siren call, may God bless you my soldiers, may God bless you all.” ~ Lewis Millet (An Old Soldier’s Prayer excerpt)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"Behind the Mule, Beneath the Sun"

“What’s done is done; like water over the dam.  There’s no use thinking of what might have been." ~ Ecclesiastes 1:15
For him the country was the safest place to live, to explore, to create new stories.  Though Ken could feel lonely in a crowded room, he felt entirely at home on the family farm.
He was never happier than wearing muddy boots and his battered, felt hat.  Of course there were chores, but that's how he got to feel important and know he was needed.
There was time for work and time for play, a perfect balance.  But today was all about work; his first day on his own, plowing behind Elvis the mule.
A crisp morning breeze brushed across the field.  Crickets broke the silence.  Edging the plow into the soil, he seized the cold steel handles and headed across the field admiring the brute power behind such an amazing animal.
The first furrow plowed was the always the most important.  It had to be straight, especially when you had acres of land to plow.  If you got the first furrow straight, the whole field would end up straight and square.
Dad reminded him (for the umpteenth time) before he’d left the barn: “Plow with your eye on the fence post at the end of the field.  Stay focused!  Never take your eyes off of it.”
“How dumb!” Ken thought.  How’re you going to know if you’re plowing straight if you don’t look back occasionally to see how you’re doing?”
Throwing Dad’s advice out the window he decided to do it his own way, looking back to admire his progress.  He enjoyed being in charge!
When he reached the end of the field, he looked back eager to view the results.  Instead of the ramrod straight line he was expecting, he saw what looked like a slithering snake, with more bends and curves than the Colorado River.
On the return Ken complied, with telling results - the line was as straight as a gun barrel.  Dad had been right.  The row got messed up only when he lost focus.  At day’s end he marveled at the field of dark, straight rows; another season's promise in the ground.
Paul had similar wisdom when he spoke of placing his focus on Jesus Christ.  When we need, God knows.  When we ask, He listens.  When we believe, God acts.
Too many of us try to steer our lives by looking in the rearview mirror.  “If only … “Things ain’t what they used to be.”  "I wish I woulda or coulda …"
“Press forward,” Jesus said “and don’t look back.”  Like Paul, if we focus on Christ, we’ll plow a dead straight path and accomplish God’s purpose in our lives.
Lord, You are the God of the impossible.  You can do anything.  I want to trust in Your ability and not my own.  Help me to focus forward and teach me to see difficulties in my life from Your perspective.  Amen

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Get Rich Quick

“And (Jesus’) mother stored all these things in her heart." ~ Luke 2:51
The beach was her go-to place.  Some folks like homey coffee shops.  But for Margaret, the sea’s briny aroma was like an elixir, it tasted like home.
Despite the heat, she found herself frozen in place.  The waves rolled in white tipped, spreading themselves like fine lace over the beach.  There’s something revealing about the quiet whisper of waves sharing the ocean's melodies. 
Today it was the memories of summers long ago with children she adored.
It had been late afternoon, almost time to leave the beach.  The light had already begun fading into liquid gold, but it was so warm no one was in a hurry to leave.  Her eyelids fluttered closed as she remembered calling for them as they scampered up the beach, yellow bucket in hand.
She’d been fretting all afternoon about the invitation to her best friend’s wedding.  Unfortunately Janet lived in Australia.  Traveling there was a luxury she simply couldn’t afford.  She’d told her husband earlier that morning the only way she could go was if she “got rich quick.”
Margaret looked up at the twins as they approached.  They were so “busy.”  They’d worn her out by simply watching them running and swimming and playing in the water for hours.
“Mom, look what we brought to you!” Tommy shouted flashing his dimples.
The twins stood there holding a plastic bucket in their hands.  It had been heavy and took both of them to hold it.
They were dirty; their hair tousled with sand.  There had been something about their smiles: the way butterflies seemed to escape from his stomach; the way the sun had somehow toppled from the sky and made a home right in her heart.
“You brought for me?” Margaret remembered asking.
“You said you needed to get rich fast,” Tammy said, “So me and Tommy collected all these pretty shells from the shore to make necklaces!  We haven’t looked at all of them but we hope there’s a pearl for you too!  That way you could go to ‘Aunt” Janet’s wedding!” she grinned.
Their happiness had been so infectious.  There they’d stood, so proud of themselves, holding a treasure bucket of hundreds of little shells.
She’d hugged them closely, not minding the mess they’d made of her sun dress. “You’ve made me the richest person on earth!  And faster than anyone could have imagined!
And Margaret hadn’t been talking about monetary wealth.
The light wind here still carries their voice and sweet kisses.  She stood up, face to the breeze and felt the sand retreating with the tide as the sun’s flaring hues melted into the sky.  Just for a moment she was a young mother again.
Oh how she missed those days.
Thank you, Lord, that you fill a mother’s heart with love, for nurturing them, teaching them, comforting them and for leading them to know and do what is good, living not for themselves alone, but for God and for others.  Amen

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Tiny Miracles

“We can see God’s eternal power and divine nature by what He has created." ~ Romans 1:2
Jenna needed to exercise and get her kids out of the house for a little bit, so they went to the city park to run around and explore.  The sun’s warmth was too quickly interrupted when her most nature loving daughter called with great urgency and enthusiasm to come to the nearest tree.
Zooming in an out of a brightly colored birdfeeder was a hummingbird − their first sighting of the year!  ‘Little Hummer’ quickly became part of the 7-yeaar-old’s heart and mind, prompting library visit and a stack of bird identification and reference book.
Soon Emily christened her very own backyard hummingbird feeder for Little Hummer.  Whether he actually visited or not didn’t matter; Emily spent hours enthralled by all their aerial acrobatics.
“Mom!” Emily shouted.  She’d read volumes about these tiny birds.  “Did you know that their wings beat 50-80 times per second?  It can hover, fly backwards and sideways, and fly at speeds of more than 55 mph.”
“But,” she continued breathlessly, “That’s not even the coolest part!   Hummingbirds burn huge amounts of calories - the equivalent for us of 1,300 hamburgers a day, washed down with 65 quarts of water for cooling purposes.  To work at their energy level, our hearts would have to beat 1,260 times a minute.  Our body temperature would rise to 725°F and we’d burst into flames."
Mom interjected, “Of course we’re not designed to operate that way.  But the hummingbirds show great evidence of God’s careful design for its remarkable lifestyle.  He loves all creatures and this is one way He shows us that He’s real.”
“God equipped the hummingbird with a needle-like bill which penetrates deep into flowers to extract nectar.  It’s specially designed tongue takes about 13 licks per second.”  (Mom had apparently done a little reading on her own too). “Its unique wingbeat allows the tiny bird to move forward to pierce the flower, hover until it gets enough nectar, and fly backwards to remove its bill from the flower.”
Then Jenna put an exclamation point on her comments by adding:  “All the hummingbird’s features had to work perfectly from the start for it to have survived - long bill, special tongue, and special rapid wing-beat - in order to be able to gather its high energy food.”  It’s a miracle that only God could have done that so perfectly!”
Miracles surround us daily - the rising sun, the roar of the ocean, the cry of a newborn baby, even the sight of a hummingbird in flight.  Make them teachable moments filled with the joy of being present in a child’s life.    Keep the information fresh and relevant by teaching when it makes sense and always invite conversation.
Almighty Father, let me be Your miracle on earth.  Help me be a miracle of love, a miracle of kindness, and even a miracle in the life of another.  Let my soul soar through this life and into the next.  Amen

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Love Letter

“Honor your father and your mother!" ~ Exodus 20:12
By the time she was 18, Lacey had weathered a series of crises including a cancer scare, bullying at school, and now a breakup with her longtime boyfriend.  Long time for teens anyway: 31 months.
She’d shown a wide variety of powerful and destructive emotions: sadness, anger, humiliation, fear, confusion, jealousy, and regret.  Lacey recalled those feelings when she’d hit bottom: "I didn’t care what happened to me and couldn't care less what happened to the people around me.  I’d lost all hope!”
Eventually, about six weeks after the break-up, a feeling of relief emerged.  She’d survived … with the help of her church, friends, and especially her parents.  As her thoughts turned from inward out, she realized just how kind, loving, and reassuring her parents had been during that time and in fact, her entire life.
Lacey was too self-conscious to tell them how much she loved and appreciated them F2F, so one night she poured her heart into a letter and placed it where she knew they’d find it before going to bed.
“Dear Mom and Dad, these past couple of months have not been easy … for any of us!  But I, for one, would never have made it out of my miserable funk without your love and support.  Thank you for all the times you told me it was going to be okay.  Thank you for making me laugh when I was sad.  And thank you for nudging me to look forward with renewed hope.  If I learned anything in this journey, it’s that you two are the most important people in my life, and I love you more than anything.  When I have children, I want to be just like you.  Love Lacey   xxooxo”
Hours later they burst into her room, shook Lacey awake, and hugged her.  Eyelids flickered to the unlit room.  She didn’t know what was going on until Lacey saw the letter in her Mom’s hand.
Then perhaps more fully awake than she’d ever been, Lacey recalled seeing tears in her Dad’s eyes for the first time in her life.  She didn’t speak; soaking in the pure joy in their faces.  Her simple note had touched them in incomprehensible ways.  It had made them happy and that was enough.
Oh the power of a single act of love.  A kind word can heal a heart and change a life.  The most beautiful thing in this world is to see your parents smiling, and knowing that you’re the reason.
For all that our parents do for us, there’s no way of repaying them.  Though they do not expect anything but love from us, an occasional thank you or an acknowledgment to appreciate them, might just make them happy.
O God, thank you for my parents who have loved me and cared for me.  Help me to show how much I appreciate them.  Forgive me for the times I've made them sad.  Keep them close to one another in this life and in the next.  Amen

Monday, April 23, 2018

He Picks You

"You didn’t choose me, but I chose you.”  ~ John 15:16
Malik recognized that look.  His shoulders were slumped; eyes cast in a mournful gaze.  Isaiah’s mouth framed a semi-pout.  He kicked a stone along the sidewalk, trying to make some sense of it as he replayed the most humiliating moment of the day.
They’d moved here three weeks ago but his son had not made any meaningful friends yet.  And he’d apparently been deemed hopelessly unathletic by a jury of elementary schoolers.
“I didn’t get picked …today at recess,” Isaiah began.  “In kickball … when they picked teams, nobody … wanted me on … their team,” he continued as moisture formed on his eyelashes.
Malik could tell from the broken flow in his voice that this information came straight from the boy’s heart.  The only thing more difficult than being alone, he thought, was watching your six year old son consumed by a loneliness that seems to rob him of all hope.
Malik felt a sharp pain in his own chest.  He’d been there with his other kids too.  Dad, I didn’t make the team.  I didn’t get invited.  I didn’t get the part.  And he didn’t have to travel too far down memory lane to recall similar events in his own life - wasn’t asked to attend; wasn’t asked to help; didn’t make the invitation list.
He stepped in front of his son, bending down to get eye-level with Isaiah.  There on the sidewalk, a hint of fall in the breeze that blew across his dejected cheeks, Malik remembered something that was shared regularly in a church they attended since moving here.
They stand after Communion, hold hands and spoke these precious words: “I am totally accepted, deeply loved, completely forgiven, and empowered to live a new life in Christ because of the resurrection of Jesus.”  The truth aroused him through the whispers of autumn leaves.
“Zay,” he said.  “God always picks you.  So much that He sent Jesus.  He loves you completely.  And He always picks Isaiah.”  Malik tilted Isaiah’s head so he could see his eyes.  “He always picks you!
The little boy cracked a slight grin.  Malik caressed his cheek and kissed his forehead.  He took his Dad’s enormous hand into his.  “OK,” he said, “race you home?”
And as he watched the boy charge ahead, skipping like a stone bouncing across a glossy lake, his giggles created ripples of mirth for a brighter day tomorrow.  Malik knew that was enough.
Feeling rejected is universal; something common to everyone who breathes.  Since that first bite of the forbidden fruit, we live in a fallen world and feeling left out is become a part of life.  We can’t always protect our kids from life’s bumps and bruises.  But we can remind them that they are totally accepted, deeply loved … and always chosen.
Almighty Father, thank you for choosing me and redeeming me.  Help me turn my back on worry and crush fear under my feet.  Thank you for loving, caring and always believing in me.   Amen

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