Friday, August 10, 2018

Something Good in Every Day

“No gift is too small if given freely." ~ 2 Corinthians 8:12
On a typical hot, scorching day in Chicago, Ed walked through the firehouse door for the last time.  His days as a firefighter had come to an end; one no smoke eater should ever have to experience.  Not from injury, disease, or even failure, but cynicism.  He’d gotten too old for this crap!
In the gear room that’d evoked 24 years of memories, he started clearing out his locker.
Since 911, firefighters had become the subject of a well-deserve public devotion.  They’re depicted on magazine covers.  Firefighter Halloween costumes frequently sold out.  NYC Department stores even honor them in window displays.
But for Ed, ‘rightsizing,’ ‘resource adjustments,’ and politics had taken their toll.  No matter what the label, it had the same demoralizing effect.  The hardship of missing out on special events and an inability to make firm plans with friends and family bled a little life each time.  Whether he’d ever admit it, PTSD hid just below his emotional crust.
As Ed packed the last of his personal items and stared back at an empty locker, the emergency alarm screamed to life.   A small fire had broken out in a downtown apartment building.  “Let’s do this one more time,” he thought, climbing into his gear.
By the time they arrived at the scene, the “small fire” engulfed the entire building.  Residents had likely escaped the blazing inferno and gathered at a safe distance.
But they needed to make sure.
Ed and his partners entered the building clad in their fire-retardant gear, busting down doors and checking for any remaining tenants.  When they saw no residents and heard no screams or sounds, they fled the building.  All were safe and accounted for.
Ed found a spot and sat down heavily on the sidewalk.  Only then did he realize the enormity of what’d just happened.  Heat from the fire’s intensity left him parched and dehydrated, over-whelming his body's ability to cool itself.
A small, pink-slippered, child approached.  Tightly braided hair revealed a thin layer of soot only broken by tear tracks.  Ed patted the ground next to him and motioned for her to join him.
“You look thirsty,” she said in a small voice and offered him her water bottle.  It was the freshest, coolest water Ed had ever tasted.  Instantly, all seemed right with the universe.
Some gifts offer sparkling delights, lasting no longer than the bubbles in champagne.  Others - a new tool, a wool sweater - provide pleasure for a season or two.  More durable gifts, like jewelry, offer an endless reminder of friendship and love.
And then there are those rare gifts that alter the courses of our lives.  Somehow he’d return his gear to his locker without anyone noticing his previous intentions.
Lord, grant me the energy to complete all that lies ahead today.  Allow the spring of living waters to burst from me so that I can be a beacon in this punishing world.  Help my thoughts, words and deeds reflect You daily.  Amen

Monday, August 6, 2018

An Unlikely Hero

“Meditate on His Word daily and act according to all that is written." ~ Joshua 1:8
Unless you actually live in a cave, by now you’ve heard about the successful rescue of 12 young Tai soccer players and their coach by a team of international Navy SEALs.  Their 25-year-old coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, led the boys into the cave when it suddenly flooded from torrential rains.  A pair of British divers found the group 10 days later.
Western media instantly criticized Ekapol for leading the team into such danger.  The entrance to the cave was clearly marked with warnings about exploring so close to monsoon season.
Not so in Thailand where the man is hailed as the boys’ guardian angel.
At the age of 10, Ekapol himself cheated death when a disease savaged his village, killing his entire family.  Relatives looked after the orphaned child, eventually sending him to a Buddhist temple to train as a monk.
After a decade of study, Ekapol left the monastery to care for his ailing grandmother.  A Divine force must have led him to join the Wild Boars as an assistant coach.  There he found kindred spirits in these boys, many of whom were poor or stateless ethnic minorities.
They loved and trusted Ekapol.
When the cave started flooding, their football coach quickly led them to the cave’s highest ground.  There they sat in the dark - cold, hungry and terrified for 10 more days.  He used guided meditations learned as a novice monk, to help the young boys stay calm through moments when excessive anxiety could have cost them their lives.
Instead of screaming or crying, the group sat quietly in the black cave, meditating.
Studies have found links between meditation and a measurable reduction in depression, anxiety, and pain.  Given that inadequate air and food created major difficulties for them, meditation produced a calming effect by slowing down their heart rates, breathing and metabolism.  It also lowered their levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), oxygen utilization, and CO2 expulsion.
You all know the conclusion of this amazing story.
As we continue to marvel at the bravery, intelligence and help that graced the team, let’s not forget the importance of Divine intervention.  It’s really no coincidence that Ekapol was led to this team of disadvantaged youth and that his unique training helped saved them from certain death.  It's a God-thing!
There’s a long history of meditation in the Christian tradition (Joshua 1:8).  Meditation is nothing more than focused thinking – if you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate.
It takes serious effort.  You select a Bible verse and reflect on it over and over in your mind.  No other habit can do more to transform your life and make you more like Jesus than daily reflection on Scripture.
Almighty Father, help me walk in the joy of prayerful meditation in spite of what’s happening around us. May it guide me into a closer walk with You, enabling me to pray on-target and understand more deeply Your loving ways.  Amen

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Everyday Miracles

“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed." ~ Number 14: 17
Morgan, a 20-something college student was the kind of young woman that made people feel good about life.  The sunshine in her smile and the buoyancy in her voice always seemed to encourage and inspire others.  That’s just how she lived, loving God and loving people.
Driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Morgan was feeling euphoric.  Early evenings along the Bay can be magical, especially when the sun was beginning its retreat.
She stopped her car for a bridge toll when she noticed a large tractor trailer truck approaching in her rear view mirror.  It showed no sign of slowing down.
With no time to escape, Morgan felt a thunderous crash when the 18-wheeler rammed into the rear of her car.  Its momentum began pushing her car forward.  She could see the jersey wall and the water far below as her brain raced frantically with prayers for the car to stop on the bridge.
Her fear quickly became a reality when Morgan’s car plunged 40 feet into the treacherous waters below.
Upon impact, the car tumbled beneath the water’s surface.  Her mind became a carousel of fears spinning out of control, each one pushing flight instincts to full throttle.   Hanging upside down and sinking into the abyss, Morgan struggled frantically to unhook the seatbelt that was rapidly deflating her lungs.
“Lord, don’t me die this way!” she pleaded.
At that very moment, she felt God’s reassuring touch.  Morgan unlocked the seat belt and pulled herself out the driver’s side window.  She swam to the surface and swam nearly a quarter mile to the Massachusetts shore.
Opening her eyes to the softening sun, Morgan gazed skyward waiting for help to arrive.  She'd never have survived that horrifying ordeal without divine intervention.  She wanted the whole world to know how God's supernatural power gave her superhuman strength to break free from that watery grave.
Sadly, the news organizations distanced themselves from any reference made about, God, Jesus, or miracles, even though it was germane to Morgan’s story.  They simply reported her dramatic escape from death but deleted Morgan's words of gratitude to God.  It’s a common problem.
So I’m telling you the whole story here.
Miracles happen every day.  When we change our perception of what a miracle is, we see them all around us.  Morgan’s story is an example about overcoming tremendous adversity through faith in God.   To Him be all the glory!
Your frightening ordeal may not be on a bridge over harrowing waters.  But suddenly, you might be going through something that causes you fear or doubt.  It could be unemployment, loneliness, bankruptcy, sickness, or countless other misfortunes.
Just know that while we all experience setbacks, God suddenly shows up at exactly the right time to turn our setbacks into comebacks.  Live your life expecting His miracles.
Lord, thank you for the miracles in my life – for family, friends, and puppies.  For sunrises, snowflakes, and mighty oceans.  And thank you for adversities too; challenges that bring me closer to you.  Amen

Friday, July 27, 2018

Sisterly Love

“If either of them falls down, one should help the other up." ~ Ecclesiastes 4:10
Women aren’t expected to be perfect mothers just by virtue of having been born female.  Jenna knew that first hand.
When her dad skipped out of their lives, her 9-year-old sister Annie became the de facto mom. Not because they didn't have real mom anymore, but because Dorothy spent every waking hour either hung over … or drunk.  So, it simply came down to: “If not me … who?”
The clear liquid bathing Dorothy’s ice by midafternoon was vodka.  And that wasn't even the start of it.  There was brandy in her morning orange juice and sometimes whiskey in her coffee.  By dinner she slumped in her chair, drooling between snores.
Thinking back now Jenna remembered whining for the cool stuff other kids had.  She’d tried to scrub those memories from her brain.  She was just a kid then.
Who knows what would have happened if Annie hadn't started cooking and doing laundry.  She knew all about foster homes.  They sounded more like cattle pens with just as much love.
Annie walked her little sister to school, helped her with homework, told her when to go to bed, and later even brought home a meager paycheck.  She sounded so much like Dorothy it was like they were the same person.  Yet Annie was barely a teenager.  Perhaps that's why she never had any kids of her own.  Raising Jenna had been enough and she’d put her whole heart into the job.
When she was old enough to drive, Annie would pick Jenna up after school even though she could’ve easily taken the bus.  She’d hop in the front seat next to Annie and tell her all about her day.  Jenna felt safe and peaceful when they sat in the car together.
But being a tiny, little kid in a big scary world wasn't so bad.  She knew that Annie loved her and that’s all she needed.
Those times helped Jenna prepare for another special relationship that she’d find later in life.  All those times she spent talking to and being with her earthly sister helped Jenna open her heart to God, her Heavenly Father.
Annie’s beautiful love led Jenna to His.  Annie’s comforting arms guided her to His.  Her gentle spirit inspired Jenna to seek His.  Even after Annie left this world far too soon, Jenna could still feel her love flowing down from Heaven along with His.
The next time this world seems too scary or hard - don't run away.  Instead invite God into the vehicle of your soul, close the doors, and spend some time alone together.  If you do you’ll know that you are loved.  If you do you too will become loving, joyful, and brave.
Heavenly Father, please shine Your light upon my family.  Bring us together as we are meant to be.  May the love that binds us only grow stronger as we fulfill the destiny You have laid out for us.  Amen

Monday, July 23, 2018

Jellybean

“You can’t please God without faith, without depending on him." ~ Hebrews 11:6
Sweet, active, and charming were qualities that described Jellybean.  As a scent hound breed, dachshunds were bred to hunt tunneling animals, rabbits, and foxes.   For that reason, he firmly believed that sleeping under the bedcovers was his right.   That also made him a flight risk when off-leash since he often raced after the first scent or sight he encountered.
It began as a routine morning walk for Charlene and her wiener dog.  Out of nowhere, Jellybean (Bean for short) began barking and pulling her towards a concrete storm drain inlet.  Though bright and clever, Dachshunds like to do things their own way; in other words, they're very stubborn.  It was obvious the dog was trying to tell her something.
Thank God she listened.
At first, Charlene thought she heard meowing well past heavy irons bars preventing entry into the storm drain.  Bean must’ve picked up the scent of a cat stuck inside and hastened to pursue his prey.
Charlene frantically waved for help.  Dozens ignored her until 60-year-old Raul pulled over.  The stranger got down on both knees and stuck his head as far into the sewer as possible.  Nothing could’ve prepared him for what he saw!
Thirty feet or so farther into the drain lie a naked baby, with part of an umbilical cord still attached, shivering in the icy cold water.  But that wasn’t the most amazing part!
There, cuddled around the newborn, lay Bean trying his hardest to keep the infant warm and calm.  The child must have been thinking: “Your paws wrapped right around me bring a peace I've never known before, calming the chaos in my heart.  You give me hope for the future; that there’s nothing to fear.  And love is enough.”
Raul hurried back his pickup and retrieved a large pry bar.  With Charlene’s help the pair managed to spread the bars wide enough to enter the drain and retrieve the baby.  Under Bean’s watchful eye, paramedics treated the baby for hypothermia and respiratory issues and rushed her to the hospital.  The birth mother who abandoned the child was never identified.
Consider this.  Charlene had ended up on an unfamiliar path for their walk that morning.  Raul had taken a shortcut to work because he’d been running late.  And Bean, whose natural prey instinct would’ve been to attack and perhaps kill the small child, did just the opposite.
Were these simply coincidences?
The way you answer the question will affect the way you give thanks this week.  If a blessing you receive was just an accident, you can be happy.  But if you understand that the gift came from God, then be grateful to Him as well as the people He sent to bless you.
My Lord, help me to recognize and give rightful thanks for Your hand in the blessings I receive.  Deepen my faith so that I see You not only active in my life’s circumstances, but also in providing for my needs.  Amen

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Love Lost (and Found)

"God is love.  Love endures all things." ~ 1 Corinthians 13:7
Lodged in the shadows of an elegant rotunda in NYC’s French Embassy lobby stands a curly-haired youth, set on an ancient Roman altar.  It’s taken a battering over the years, having not only lost its arms and lower legs but also suffered a number of breaks.  There’s considerable water erosion, probably from an earlier life as a fountain, on the chest and head.  There’s also some staining on the face and some chipping of the nose and upper lip.
Over the last half century, the statue has been seen by thousands of visitors, many of whom gathered for social events in the shadows around the fountain.  But if they thought of it at all, it was as a throwback to turn-of-the-century taste.  Never did anyone suspect that it might be Manhattan's only sculpture by one of the greatest creative artists of all time.
The statue, identified variously as a young archer or a Cupid, has been the subject of intense scrutiny.  The flickering curls of the hair, the forms and features of the face, the treatment of the body and the carving technique suggests it was carved by the famed Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo as a teenage prodigy.
Mythologically, Venus’ son Cupid was at times portrayed as a small, winged boy, carrying a bow and arrow.  Legend reveals that those shot with his arrow were destined to fall in love.  He’s cute and lovable but also mischievous and dangerous at times.
Cupid reminds us of the power of love especially when it is pure and uncontaminated by jealousy, fear and greedy attachment.  It’s ironic that this masterpiece, this iconic symbol of love, stood unrecognized for centuries.
God’s love may also lie unrecognized within our own hearts ... but it’s there whether we acknowledge it or not.  “In the quiet of the night, be comforted: the Lord remembers you.” (Psalm  63:7)  He is the God of all comfort and the healer of fragmented, devastated, tender hearts.
Human love is an incredible thing, the kind of gift that puts purpose in your life and happiness in your heart.  But God's love is even better!

It’s not influenced by your appearance, by your possessions, or by the amount of money you have in your bank account.  It’s not changed by your talents and abilities.  It’s simply there for the asking - when you’re sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful.  God’s love is even there for you whether or not you feel you deserve it.
Deny it, fight it or try to ignore it, but God's love for you is omnipresent, lying right out in the open sometimes when you least expect to find it.  Be comforted: “God loves you.” (John 3:16)
Lord, there’s no human experience that I might walk through where Your love cannot reach me.  Teach me to love You more.  Help me to rest in that love that asks nothing more than the simple trusting heart of a child.  In Jesus name, Amen

Friday, July 6, 2018

Did the Right Thing

“If you don’t do what you know is right, you have sinned." ~ James 4:17
It's not easy when your family is barely scraping by, treading paycheck-to-paycheck, earning just enough to keep from going under.  That’s especially true when you're a teenager.
Her Dad worked two low paying part-time jobs and had no real prospects for better employment.  Mom worked odd jobs under the table when she could.  They were the in-betweeners – never earning enough to live comfortably but not ‘poor’ enough to get public assistance either.
Once the school bus pulled away, Emma broke into a run, dashing into the alley behind the stores and restaurants.  The food in those trash bins was double wrapped; much of it still cold from the refrigerators.  Free food meant she could pocket the lunch money Mom gave her before school this morning.  Maybe she’d splurge and see a movie.
At first she almost ripped over it – a thick black wallet bulging with cash lying just off the curb.
She picked it up and looked around to see if anyone nearby might have dropped it.  There wasn’t.  She didn't bother to open it immediately, but turns out it contained 27 Benjamins.
She pondered what to do next.
Being hungry in a working-poor family, $2,700 might’ve gone a long way.  She could’ve indulged herself: an iPhone, designer purse, or perhaps the down payment on a car, with plenty left over to help out her Mom and Dad.
But those thoughts never occurred to Emma.  Twenty-seven hundred dollars was an awful lot to be carrying around.  Her parents didn’t own a credit card; too easy to get behind in payments.  It must’ve been intended for something essential.  She needed to get it back to whoever lost it.
The young woman forgot about her grumbling stomach.  Emma felt a little funny rifling through someone’s personal items, but she imagined the rightful owner wouldn’t mind if he got his wallet back.  She was right!
The wallet and cash belonged to a veteran who sobbed with relief when Emma reached him with the help of a local storeowner’s phone.  He’d been behind in his rent; a friend had loaned him the cash to settle debts with his landlord.
They met.  Emma even refused a $50 reward.  She’d done the right thing even though taking the unethical short cut might have benefited not only herself, but her family as well.  But feeling good about doing the right thing was something that she’d enjoy for the rest of her life!
Doing the right thing is often counter-cultural in today’s “what’s in it for me” society.  However, that’s exactly what God wants us to do.  Doing the right thing in every circumstance will not only bless our friends, neighbors and even our enemies, but it will be a special gift to ourselves as well.
Lord, make me truthful and honorable in all things.  Give me the ability to be charitable, forgiving, and patient with all people.  Help me to understand their motives and shortcomings, even as you forgive mine!  Amen

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Flash, Bang

“Shine among others like beacon lights." ~ Philippians 2:15
Allen heard if before seeing it.  Pop! Pop! Pop!  Small ammunition - machine-gun fire.
“Incoming!” he yelled, and dove under the table – shrinking, trembling, cowering.  As adrenaline flooded his veins, Allen felt his ribs heaving as if bound by ropes, choking his lungs as he waited for the all-clear.
“Allen, you all right?”  He looked over to see his best friend Patrick crouched beside him.  “Where am I?” he wondered as the fog began to dissipate.  He was no longer with his battalion in Iraq.  He was home.  Neighbors had been setting off firecrackers.  Not gunfire; innocent pyrotechnics.
Embarrassed as hell, Allen stood up.  “Sorry,” he muttered retreating into the house.  Not in a combat zone but his pulsed raced like he was.  Every hair on the back of his neck stood at attention.  No more fireworks - never again.
Patrick followed closely behind.  When they were safely inside, he spoke gently: “Position yourself, Allen, so you can see the fireworks being lit.  That way, you won’t be caught off guard.”
Allen admired his friend.  He too was an army veteran; the main reason Allen had enlisted.  Patrick understood.  It was as if he was telling Allen’s panic to shut up and rack out.
His fear began to melt away.
“And, buddy … most important,” Patrick continued, “Surround yourself with people you know and trust.   We’ve got your six!”
Later that week, the two army pals took their place in the field.   As the pyrotechnics team lit the first fuse, Allen gazed into the night sky said a short prayer: “Lord, I know You’re here with me.”
The first firework whistled into the air and burst.  Allen took a deep breath, and kept watching as the explosion splashed vivid colors across the sky.  He was celebrating July 4th for the first time in years, as a child of God shining like a beacon light.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA!  Friends, when you see the “Stars and Stripes,” don’t just cheer or salute; give thanks for your freedom even as you pray for those who don’t enjoy the same liberty you do.
If you watch a parade, let the procession remind you of the cost of freedom paid in days gone bye and its luxury today.  Then pray for freedom to escalate around the world.
When you see military uniforms, give thanks for those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice and for those who serve today protecting our freedoms.  Pray also for harmony among nations and all people.
And finally, as you follow those burning ribbons paving their way to the heavens before the each burst of color, attach a small prayer to one or two.  Imagine God receiving your petitions and already at work on them while you wait for His answer.
Heavenly Father, we know that once our prayers break through the heavens, and You take hold of them, something beautiful happens.  Just like the fireworks, You respond to each prayer with vivid and powerful results for all to see.  Amen

Friday, June 29, 2018

Abandoned, not Forgotten

"God created each of us in His own image." ~ Genesis 1:27
When Lynette learned she was pregnant, she knew it would be impractical for her to raise another child.  The 36-year-old woman was practically homeless and the birth father wasn’t part of her life.
Determined to give her baby a better life, Lynette contacted a Christian adoption agency that promised to find her child a loving home.  Together, they agreed on an infertile couple living in another state but who remained in close communication throughout the pregnancy.
Everything lined up flawlessly; multiple ultrasounds came back perfectly normal.
As the big day approached, Lynette grew excited about the parents’ arrival.  She had no regrets whatsoever, having viewed her situation as kind of a long-term babysitting one.
With the birth imminent, Lynette was admitted to the hospital with preeclampsia.  A 5-pound baby girl was delivered five days later after 15 hours of labor and a C-section.
An eager pair of adoptive parents arrived early with a photographer to document the special day.  But when they visited the newborn in the NICU, they instantly noticed that the newborn looked much different than they’d expected.
The infant was born with Treacher Collins, a rare genetic condition that stunts the development of bones and facial tissues.  The condition hadn’t shown up in any prenatal scans.
The couple fled the hospital in tears and abandoned the baby due to her deformity.
Despite the diagnosis, Lynette thought the baby was absolutely beautiful.  “I was smitten at first sight,” she admitted.  “It was a sign that she was supposed to be mine.”
She named her Abigail which in the Hebrew Bible means “gives joy.”  When Lynette looks at her sweet child she doesn’t notice her deformities.  She sees her baby as perfect and without any reservation, decided to keep and raise her little “princess.”
Abigail’s condition doesn’t affect cognitive functioning and won’t prevent her from having a typical life.  It may however, require some reconstructive surgery in the future.
Lynette left the hospital without a suitable place to live.  Her 18-year old daughter created a GoFundMe account to help raise money since she’d never had a baby shower.  When the Daily News did a story on Lynette and Abby, readers from everywhere took interest; donations poured in.  The page raised nearly $25,000 from 579 different people.
Lynette said she’s saving the money for “whatever Abigail will need it for,” health, education or otherwise.
Today Lynette and Abigail are living with her friend in a two bedroom apartment in Florida.  Local nonprofits have provided everything from clothes to diapers.
Lynette harbors no bitterness towards the couple who “rejected” Abigail.  “I feel sorry for them because they missed out on getting to know what a truly amazing angel she is.”
Lord, though we don’t know the reasons You allow a child to have a birth defect, we DO know that every child is created in Your image, is loved by You, and has an important purpose in helping change lives for eternity.  Amen

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Hell on Wheels

“Nothing is certain in this life: enjoy both prosperity and struggles." ~ Ecclesiastes 7:14
Long before bike helmets were used, Riley loved to race his Stingray at breakneck speeds, keeping his guardian angel working overtime.  The kid with 9 lives was hell on two wheels.
The bicycle's ‘banana’ seat was elongated so that it looked more like a mini couch than a saddle.  The chrome handle bars were a design statement too, echoing that of the ol' Harley Softtail.  But the 5-speed stick shift set it off like no other.
Several weeks before Riley had hit loose grave.  He flew over the handlebars and smashed open his skull.  The kid with 8 lives remaining walked home bleeding, terrified his Mom, and took a trip to the ER for multiple stiches.
But boys have short memories and soon Riley was back on his bike, flying fearlessly down the hill at a speed rivalling that of a cheetah with his feet off the petals.  The next thing he remembered, the front wheel jammed into a bridge railing and his momentum carried him right over the top into the river below.
Thank God for the autumn rains.  If he’d done that just two weeks before there would have been only rocks to break his fall instead of 2 feet of water.  Getting his bike fixed was Riley’s first priority; the collar bone would heal itself.
After a tune-up, he was back at it again, this time for a little off-roading. The gears were flawless as he shifted into high and pedaled hard.  The greenery became a blur as his eyes watered from the racing wind.
Seemingly out of nowhere a giant tree limb blocked his path.  It must have come down in the storm the previous night.
Riley jammed on the brakes way too late.  When the front wheel connected with solid wood, he went airborne (again) and felt his arm snap when he hit the hard dirt floor.
He stood up, collected himself, and laughed.  He was happy to be alive and ready for one more ride before heading home.
I’m now in my sixties; my bike riding days are far behind me.  I try not to stress my guardian angel nowadays; he worked hard enough when I was “hell on wheels.”
I’m grateful to be alive; ready for one more ride through this life before heading home.  We’re never sure how much time we still have left on earth but I’m determined to live them all in love, laughter, and joy.
Life’s a glorious adventure.  Its most exciting parts though, aren’t when you risk your neck. They’re when you share your heart.  May you give love freely - first to God, then to others and finally to yourself.  It’s your road and yours alone so make it count.
Lord, we move so fast that sometimes we see so little.  Slow us down.  Help us to pursue moments of meditation.  Help us to see in a deeper way, to become more aware of what speaks to us in beauty and truth.  Amen

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Missed Kiss

"The child who knows love has the greatest gift the world can offer." ~ Psalm 127:3
Morning had come too soon.   “Running late for work, gotta run,” Malcom said, as he pecked his wife’s cheek, grabbed his lunch, and let the screen door slam behind him.
As he drove away, Laci ran down the stairs two at a time.  “Wait, wait!” she yelled, but he’d already left.  She watched the silhouette of his scrubs against the morning sun climbed into the car and hastily sped away.
Her mouth crumpled like used wrapping paper. “Daddy forgot to give me a goodbye kiss,” she whispered in a voice that trembled under the weight of her hurt.  “I’m sorry sweetheart,” her Mom said trying to soften the blow.  “Daddy can’t be late for work; he’s got an important job.”
“It’s okay,” Laci said, trying her best to be all grown up.
Jorge knew he’d forgotten something.  Stethoscope, security badge, suckers for sick kids – check.  And there it was ‘kids’ – he’d forgotten about his own kid.  How could he?  Guilt consumed him as thoughts of her sweet, angelic face flooded his heart.
On the school bus, Laci’s eyes glazed with a layer of tears.  As she blinked, they dripped from her eyelids and slid down her cheeks.  She bit her lip trying to hide any sound that wanted to escape from her mouth.   She watched as other children shared secrets and giggled.  Part of her wanted them to feel sad too.
Guilt gnawed from within Malcom’s chest.  For Laci happiness was simple.  It's playing ‘Let’s Pretend,’ cuddling with her kitty, or a funny bedtime story.  She was always the first to pick up a friend who’d fallen; her heart bigger than the soccer ball she kicked around the backyard.
What he’d done couldn’t be undone.  He could make amends later ...  or do something now!
As the bus slowed to a stop in front of the school, Laci scrubbed the tears from her cheeks.  She knew they would lead to sympathy, and sympathy would bring more waterworks.
Laci picked up her school bag and headed down the aisle; shoulders slumped and eyes cast in a mournful gaze.  As she exited the bus, a familiar car glided to a stop directly in front of the bus.  He got out of the car.
She ran to him bursting with liquid sunshine.  As her grin got wider everyone near them began to smile.
“I’m so sorry I forgot’, he said, as he picked her up and kissed her affectionately.  She said nothing.  Her jaw ached from smiling.
But I don’t want you to be late for work, Laci said.
Fifteen years from now, Malcom said, “no one will remember that I was late for work.  But you’ll never ever forget that I met you at school just to kiss you goodbye!”
Loving and compassionate Lord, please bless these young lives with what they need to find joy and justice and peace, so that this world and their world will be a better place for all of God’s children.  Amen

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