Tuesday, May 23, 2017

To Receive, Divine

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

No Small Gift

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Superhero

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Mother's Devotion

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Odd Lessons

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Overbooked

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A 'God' Thing

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Holding Daddy's Hand

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Seasons of Wither

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Where Do Prayers Go?

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Class Act

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Older Than His Age

“Earn the respect of others by not mistreating someone who has injured you." ~ Romans 12:17
The school bus door swung open and 11 year old Colin stumbled off, his book bag swinging wildly across his back.  He ran home faster than he ever had before, not daring to look back at the other kids swarming out of the school bus in every direction.
He heard them talking about him, snickering behind his back.  He put his head down and sprinted the quarter mile to his house.  His legs grew heavy, but he didn’t dare stop.
When he reached home Colin stood outside the door for a long while, gasping for breath.  He pulled up his sweatshirt, examining the bruises that stained his ribs.  Then he checked his eyes hoping to remove any trace of the tears he’d been shedding.  He couldn’t let his parents know he’d been bullied and beaten today for fear of the endless questions it would raise.
Tomorrow would be bad enough he thought; and on his birthday no less.  The physical pain he felt was nothing compared to the humiliation he’d surely endure.
After learning of Colin’s attack, the Principal called a meeting of the school’s Disciplinary Board.  The Board, comprised of upper class ninth-graders, would hear from all the students involved before recommending a suitable punishment.
He said a silent prayer before his testimony.  Then, stripped to its essentials, Colin told his story absent any expression of his true suffering.  His 3 attackers offered a pretty lame “sorry-we’re-just-dumb-kids” defense.
Before deliberating, the Board’s Chairman 13 year old Lance asked Colin if he’d like to say anything else.  Colin nodded and pleaded with surprising courage.
“Please don’t punish them!  Everyone deserves forgiveness.”
The room got deathly quiet.  “How old did you say you were Colin?” Lance asked, amazed at the maturity of his kindhearted peer.
 “I’ll be twelve tomorrow,” Colin announced proudly.
“Are you having a party?” Lance probed.
“There’s no point,” he replied matter-of-factly.  “I have no friends to invite to a birthday party.”
“I’d be honored to be invited,” replied Lance, followed quickly by the other eight Board members.  The Principal, who’d been silently admiring the compassion of his young students, added, “Count me in too!”  And after word spread about Colin’s actions at the Board meeting, the Principal offered the school’s gymnasium to handle to crowd of students who wanted to attend as a show of support against bullying.  Even the attackers showed up and offered a public apology to Colin.
If bullying, or avoiding people who are different, is somehow instinctive to people, so are these kind, unpredictable bursts of caring - even for a little boy few knew, whose list of friends grew instantaneously by the grace of God.
Dear God, please help me to forgive those who persecute me.  Help me see the good in them that You do.  Free me from the anger that I’m feeling so that I can walk in the fruit of love, joy, and patience.  Help me God to do Your will.   Amen

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Being There

“Be quiet and know that I am God." ~ Psalm 46:10
It’d be an overstatement to say that I played on the middle school baseball team.  I was on the team.  I practiced with the team.  I wore the same uniform.
I took batting practice and chased fly balls in the outfield before every game.  Then I sat on the bench and cheered for the guys who actually made a difference in the game’s score.
It was a decent arrangement.  I enjoyed the camaraderie, the workouts kept me in shape, and I had a front-row seat for the games.  But I didn't feel any of the pressure that comes with knowing that the outcome of the game may rest on my bony shoulders.
‘Riding the pine’ must’ve been hard for my Dad.  He’d been a gifted athlete, lettering in both baseball and track in college.  He was fast and could hit like ‘the Babe.’
Still he never missed a game.  After the final out, he’d smile, shake my hand and tell me, "Good game!" even though I never actually did anything to make the game good.
Until the last game of the season.
We jumped off to a 14-3 lead against our arch-rivals.  Heading into the 7th inning, Coach finally felt comfortable enough to look toward my end of the bench.  "Walker!" he barked. "You're in!"
I grabbed my bat and rosined its handle.  As I stepped into the batter’s box with two outs and runners on second and third, the guys on bench screamed "Grip it and Rip it!"
I was late on the first pitch, hitting a line drive into right field.  Both teammates scored.  As I stood proudly on first base, the crowd roared as if I’d just won the game (even though it just meant that we won by 13 not 11).
I spotted Dad in the stands.  His smile, his presence, being there meant the world to me.  For the next 35 years, through good times and bad, Dad was always there to smile, to encourage, and to love me.
I think about Dad whenever I'm tempted to NOT be there for my own children.  I'm not as good at it as Dad was.  But I keep trying because I know how much it can mean for a Dad to be there when you get that big hit.
Truly ‘being there’ entails far more than physical presence.  It requires a focused engagement of every aspect of our being – physical, mental, and emotional.  It means hitting the pause button and neglecting other distractions that demand our attention.
We deceive ourselves into thinking that our e-communications allow us to be omnipresent because we can multitask.  But no one can multitask and be fully present at the same time!   It’s conceited to think otherwise and borders on idolatry.
Thank you Jesus, for Dads who love us, for grandfathers who care, and for God, my eternal father, who made me and is always there for me.  How Blessed am I.  Amen

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Servant's Heart

"Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." ~ 1 Samuel 3:9
A new day’s come, new possibilities, a fresh page yet to be written.  Bill waited eagerly outside Sweetwater’s for his usual donuts.  Since he retired from the police force 21 years ago, he’s been collecting day-old pastries from local businesses and delivering them to the local homeless shelter.
Breads, muffins, bagels, and doughnuts might not be the most nutritious meal.  But efforts to recover outdated food from places like hotel and restaurant buffets have failed due to health, liability and manpower issues.
It wasn’t the solution to the problem, but the residents were grateful for any sustenance in the wake of ever-decreasing program funding.  So Bill does what he can, knowing that reaching out to others, being the hands and feet of Jesus, is one of the greatest callings we have in our faith.
The baker greeted Bill and helped him lift several dozen boxes of day-old donuts into his van.  As an unexpected wave of nostalgia washed over him, he recalled these same tasty treats as a child.
Life seemed simpler then – healthier diets, friendlier neighborhoods, safer streets.  We had less technology, fewer regulations, less lawsuits.  We could run faster and work harder.
The morning sun streamed through the windshield as Bill headed for the shelter.  Yet his mind remained clouded with distant memories.
In the good old days he was one only a handful of police officers in Battle Creek.  Citizens valued them.  Even most of the criminals did.  Those who didn't - feared the police.  Cops were the heartbeat of the community.
Today that trust and respect has vanished.  People tend to have such unrealistic expectations of what law enforcement officials can do.  They tend to underestimate criminal threats and why the use of deadly force is sometimes necessary.  This city seems so foreign now.
He wondered what had prompted this retrospection.
Like He sometimes does, God interrupted and put another thought in Bill’s brain.  He made a quick U-turn and headed straight for the Police Department.
The approached the Police Chief offering a hearty handshake.  “Chief, could you spare an officer to make my delivery today instead?”
The Chief smiled.  “I believe we can make that happen.”
Can you imagine what it must have been like when one of BC’s finest rolled up with boxes of donuts for these sometimes forgotten people?
Accessing God’s grace and voice may include slowing down and giving Him our full attention without distractions.  When the next opportunity to serve comes along, shoot up the prayer, "Lord, is this something you want me to do?"
As Saint Teresa once said, “Love has no meaning by itself - it has to be put into action.”  Never be too afraid busy to lend a hand or share encouragement so that others can see Jesus through you.
“Lord God Almighty, thank You for once again taking this limited brain of mine and using it to perhaps lesson the burden of others, if only for a moment, amen.  ~ Bill C

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Joyful Again

“Never be afraid - I am with you!  I will protect you.  I am your God." ~ Isaiah 41:10
There’s nothing like an old flame pressing back into your life and asking “How’ve you held up?”
“Me?  Held up?  Well . . .” Jordan stammered.  She couldn’t recall what she said next, but she remembered how she felt: SAD!
‘Sad’ sounds so childish, like something one should be able to cast off with a happy reflection or the smile of a friend.  But ‘sadness’ is real.  It sits inside like the germ seed of depression, just waiting for the right conditions to grow, to send out roots to choke the hope from your heart.
She’d based everything in her life on fear of something bad happening.  Despite her tough exterior, she was paper thin inside.  Taking risks terrified her.
That very day she made a decision to live her life again.  The 32 year-old-Jordan was just as alive and deserving of infinite possibilities as her 18-year-old-self once was.
Slowly but steadily, that’s exactly what she did.
Jordan started talking to God – out loud.  It seemed weird at first, sharing her fears, asking forgiveness, thanking Him for the good things already in her life.
Prayer began to change her.  She started feeling a quiet inside.  It changed her thoughts.  The meditation deepened their connection.
Over time her mind became clearer, more resolute.  Just as burgeoning sunlight promises a new dawn, God helped ease the pain of distant memories and steeled her to think of a more positive future; one that she would mold, build, direct.
Jordan felt more in charge, in command of her own mind, body and soul.  She was a woman walking into her own destiny, yet a destiny that lay squarely in His hands.
Today she’s alive again.  Her job seems more fulfilling.  Favorite oldies make her smile again.  She likes to dress up for parties.  Her prayers work better when she says them near the lake.  She loves being near water.  She likes the way it flows.  It’s alive.  It’s free.  It’s beautiful.  And now God’s helped her realize that she is too.
As we journey through life, there’ll inevitably be periods of incredible frustration and despair.  During those tough times, it will sometimes appear to us that we’ve lost everything, and that nothing and nobody could possibly motivate us to move onward in the direction of our dreams.
God always has something for you – a key for every problem, light for every shadow, comfort for every sorrow, a plan for every tomorrow and human support that comes in many forms.  It can be a simple email or text message from someone we respect, inspiring blog posts, insightful books, helpful neighbors, and so much more.
Almighty Father, I’ll try this day to live a simple, sincere and peaceful life, resisting every thought of anxiety, discouragement, impurity, discontent and self-indulgence.  In its place I’ll cultivate cheerfulness, fairness, charity and a childlike faith in You.  Amen

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Discarded Snow Globe

“Be kind to strangers, they might be angels in disguise." ~ Hebrews 13:2
Three years ago, the silence of the hospital’s ultrasound tech confirmed their worst fears before the doctor on call could do so.  Their unborn son was no longer alive.
Jason and Mari Foster had been waiting since then to adopt, with many heartaches and challenges along the way.  They spotted a photo on a special-needs adoption site and knew instantly that this was a match for them.  A few weeks after filing their adoption petition, the agency phoned.  They’d been chosen.  They’d need to meet him at Seoul’s Incheon Airport without delay.
Jason rushed to furnish his room.  Mari bought clothes and supplies.  Both worried the adoption might fall through yet again.
Mari looked uncomfortable when a young man met them at the airport’s gate.  On the advice of other adoptive parents, she’d purchased several small gifts for a birth Mother.   Clumsily, she tried to hand them to the man carrying their baby.
Hwan smiled, shook his head, and said, “Please take care of baby.”
Her heart skipped a beat.  “Yes, I, we, will,” she stammered.  It felt like a marriage vow, this tremendous and solemn moment.
Hwan handed Jason a small Korean snow globe.  “He like this; it make him smile.”  Then he turned to hide mournful tears and walked away.
Jason slipped it in his backpack and his new ‘family’ headed for Security.
Little did they know, only snow globes that contain less than 3.4 ounces of fluid (tennis ball size) can be packed in a carry-on bag.  Despite frantic pleading, a TSA Supervisor forced the couple to discard the globe, the baby’s only connection to his birth father and the country that had given him life.
The three boarded the plane for Chicago, distraught yet determined that this be remembered as the greatest day of their married life.
Aaliya Aziz watched nearby as the distraught father parted with his cherished globe.  She retrieved it from the trash and vowed to return it … somehow.  Returning to the baggage counter, Aaliya asked that her carry-on bag be checked to her final destination.
When Aaliya arrived home a few days later, she posted a photo of the snow globe on Facebook.  Shared some 40,000 times, the message eventually caught the attention of executives at Things Remembered, the company that sold the globe.
Employees at the company's Ohio headquarters and its Korean store were able to identify Hwan as the buyer who connected her with the Fosters.  Aaliya mailed the globe immediately with a short note: “Take care of this lucky baby.  May this bring him joy and comfort.”
“Yes we will,” Mari said confidently, “Yes We Will!”   She handed her new son his once-discarded keepsake, grateful for the kindness from two unknown angels.
Tender Jesus, so meek, so mild, teach us to be like You in all our ways.  Teach us kindness, gentleness, generosity, and to be giving, forgiving, loving and caring.   Teach us to follow in Your humble footsteps.  Amen