Friday, August 18, 2017

Kevin's World



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

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


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Freckles

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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Misfits

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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Humility on Fire

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

Friday, July 28, 2017

Tenacity

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Priceless Wisdom

“He shows no favoritism; God treats all people alike." ~ Act 10:34
Andrew was a big city kid – always had been, hoped he’d always be.  The sense of freedom, the limitless activities, the anonymity it provided.  But when his company offered him a promotion in a small, rural town, Andrew felt instantly apprehensive.
He’d been warned that small towns were deceptively quiet – feelings run deep often leading to conflicts at a very personal level.  Everyone knows everyone else’s business.  But then again, it might just be the jolt he needed to jump-start a rather dull, uneventful existence.
He walked along a main street that hadn’t changed much in 75 years.  Across the street, 3 older men sat in the shade of an awning outside the general store.  They waved.  Andrew smiled to himself at the Americana picture they depicted before shyly returning the gesture.
Entering the diner, a small bell above the door announced his arrival.  A few customers looked up briefly before returning to their conversations.  Behind the counter was an open window to the kitchen.  It had a vintage feel – original but well kept.
Shirley, a sixty-ish waitress suggested he find a spot anywhere.  Andrew opted for an empty stool.  “What’ll y'all have?” she inquired before he even had a chance to sit down.
“Whatever you recommend,” he replied, hoping to fit in.  Soon she placed a heaping helping of roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans and a single slice of white bread.  The best he’d eaten in a long time, maybe ever.
As the lunch crowd thinned and hoping to make conversation, Andrew motioned for a refill.  Shirley quickly obliged.  Andrew wondered how many dozen times she’d done the same today.  He asked, “What kind of people live in this town?”
She answered with a question.  “Where’re you from son?  What’re people like there?”
“I’m from Chicago,” he responded.  “I loved it there – friendly people, lots to do, I actually hated leaving.  Some disadvantages, but one adjusts.”
“You’re in luck,” Shirley replied.  “People here are warm and generous; always busy.  Folks who leave often return.”  With that she scanned the diner continuing her hospitality.
Confused by her response, Andrew stared pensively into his mug.  When she returned to warm his coffee, Andrew queried the old woman again.  “What if I’d told you that the people where I come from are closed minded, mean spirited and lazy?”
Mable didn’t think twice before answering.  “I’d have said that you surely won’t like it here.  Grinning, she added, “People here are unfriendly, lethargic and pigheaded.”
Priceless wisdom.
Life’s an endless journey, and at every phase we learn something new.  Some things are taught – others are caught.  The way we judge others is often just a reflection of our own attitudes and values.  Shove preconceived notions out the door by talking less and listening more in 2017.
Father, help me to lay down my self-imposed responsibility of judging the heart, motives, intentions, and actions of the people in my life.  Substitute my condemning thoughts with loving ones; critical with compassionate ones.  Amen

Monday, July 17, 2017

"Winning Isn't Everything"

“When pride comes, shame follows; it’s wiser to be modest." ~ Proverbs 11:2
It began at a Halloween party.  Her father told his 7-year-old daughter to watch over a shy, little girl.  Esther, dressed as a pirate found the black Ninja named Kay and grasped her hand.  They didn’t let go the rest of the night.  That single act marked the start of a remarkable bond.
Kay and Ester weren’t simply good friends, they’d become part of each other’s souls; the kind of friendship that blooms in the center of your heart.  Theirs was a kinship that grew from a seed basking in the warm soil to a majestic tree with massive roots and strapping, powerful limbs.
Among the things they shared in common, the two began training in taekwondo, a Korean martial art that, unlike karate, emphasizes the feet more than the hands.  Soon they were competing at the highest levels; eventually advancing to the finals in the Flyweight division at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
As they feared it would, the time came for the two best friends to fight.  Dueling black belts, as close as sisters, were each one victory away from claiming the single remaining spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Sydney.  One was destined to win; the other would see her dream die.
Reporters and photographers were poised to record the intense competition between two girls who’d been close for so long.  But a sports story would soon be overshadowed by a far more important friendship story.
The two combatants approached each other on the mat, bowed and turned to the referee, who would start the bout.  But before a single blow was struck, the referee awarded the match and a spot on the Olympic team, to Kay.
Moments earlier, Kay had dislocated her kneecap in a semifinal match and could barely stand.  Though ranked #1 in the world at her weight, it was doubtful that she could compete against her best friend.  In an extraordinary display of selflessness, Esther had forfeited rather than “beat someone who’d already been beaten.”
Esther later explained, “It hurt, but winning a gold medal isn't everything.  There are other ways to be a champion.  My gold metal is in my heart.''
In allowing the better taekwondo fighter to represent the United States in Sydney, she won a personal battle over ego and selfishness.  Amidst frequent stories of cheating and taking unfair advantage in order to win at any price, Esther showed how to win by losing.
The Apostle Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 9:1-15) about giving up certain “rights” for the sake of people he loved.  Parents do it all the time for their children.  And occasionally friends make noble gestures like Esther’s.  C.S. Lewis wrote: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”  Amen
Change me, Lord.  Change me from the inside.  Open my eyes to the blessings of humility. Let me not see humility as the world sees it, but in its beauty and fullness of joy.  Amen

Monday, July 3, 2017

Unshakable

“The Lord will strengthen His people and bless them with peace." ~ Psalm 29:11
To say EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) Technicians are tough would be like saying Ironman competitors are physically fit!
EOD Techs disarm explosive devices, neutralize chemical threats, even defuse nuclear weapons.  The world’s ultimate Bomb Squad, they perform some of the most harrowing, dangerous work to keep others from harm’s way.
Highly trained and with nerves of steel, EOD Techs sometimes get a bad rap because they play a little fast and loose with grooming standards and uniform regulations.  But when and where it counts, they’re true professionals.
Taylor Morris was one such specialist.  Having been hooked on outdoor adventure at an early age, Taylor excelled at extreme water sports and rock climbing.  He developed great composure underwater - a quality that would later make him a perfect candidate for the Navy's EOD Team.
Near Kandahar province in Afghanistan, Taylor was leading a Special Forces team to a classified location when he stepped on an IED.
He remembers the explosion, being tossed across the battlefield like a rag doll.  Landing on his back, he realized with horrible certainty, that all four limbs were gone.
Though bleeding to death, Morris yelled to the oncoming medics NOT to come get him, putting their safety in front of his own life.  “It would only have hurt me more if somebody stepped on another one," he later recalled.
The area was cleared by another EOD and medics eventually administered casualty care.  Morris remained alert throughout the ordeal.  Three days later he began the long, painful rehab process on U.S. soil.  That’s when his tenacity shifted to high gear.
More than 2.4 million Americans have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Of those combat veterans, 1,400 have had amputations.  Only four survived quadruple amputations; Morris became the fifth. He was discharged from the hospital just two months after his accident.
This story continued with even happier moments.  Three years later he married his soulmate and high school sweetheart.  Actor Gary Sinise brought his Lt. Dan Band to their hometown to help raise money to build them an accessible “smart home.”  Finishing his education is next on his list, just behind competing in a 5k race.
For him and other wounded warriors, life goes on after devastating injuries.  And their home life presents a new kind of battle, not fighting enemy combatants, but rather battling the scars and injuries that war leaves behind.
Lord, we pray on the celebration of our Country’s independence, for all those serving in our Armed Forces.  Keep them strong, faithful and safe.  Bless our Wounded Warriors; give them renewed patience, courage, and Your healing grace.  Wrap Your loving arms around our Gold Star families, give them the peace and strength they need for each day without their loved ones.
“Say a prayer for peace for every fallen son.  Set my spirit free; let me lay down my gun.  Sweet Mother Mary I'm so tired, but I can't come home 'til the last shot's fired.”  ~ Trace Atkins, “Til the Last Shot’s Fired”

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Grateful Inconvenience

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is great; His love endures forever." ~ 1 Chronicles 16:34
The ride from Boston to NYC was anything but predictable … or relaxing.  Worst of all, Penny (her vintage Honda Civic) finally died; the bus was her least expensive option.  It made 8 stops inching through a myriad of road construction sites and an accident that snarled traffic for miles.
Sadie passed the time by commiserating with a stranger.  Actually, she killed time by complaining.  An older gentleman in a well-worn porkpie hat whose blue eyes were famed by thick white eyebrows, rarely spoke.  If Sadie had only taken the time to notice, the map of wrinkles on his face told quite a story.
His eye lines told of warm smiles and affection.  His forehead told of worries past and present.  But mostly they were so deeply deep-seated they told of a man who had travelled through eight decades to that moment; beaten and forlorn.  But Sadie was too crabby to notice.
When her pontificating had finally run its course, she turned to the old man and asked, "Where’re you headed?"
"Long story," he replied, then told her the short version.  It involved losing half of his four children in a house fire, many years of painful plastic and reconstructive surgeries for the remaining two, and the recent terminal cancer diagnosis for his wife of nearly sixty years.
He concluded by saying, "I'd like to be able to look in the rear-view mirror on all that, but since I can't, I count my blessings."  He smiled a genuine smile.
Sadie nodded, said something like, "That's a lot to deal with!" and told him of her own family's difficulties.
His eyes softened. "You can only play the hand you're dealt," he said, kindly, "And it sounds like you're doing the best you can.  God bless you."
By the time Sadie finally arrived home she never wanted to sit down again.  For all the backache, she was mindful of the fact that the worst she'd had to deal with was inconvenience.
For the first time in her life, she understood the meaning of the timeworn cliché, “Thank God.”
She'd had three extra hours robbed from her day.  But bus’s tire hadn't blown, they hadn't been in the 5-car pile-up, and she’d met a wonderful man whose faith inspired her.  She had more to be thankful for … than to grumble about.  Stretching her cranky muscles, she offered up a heartfelt prayer of thanks.
Then she hugged each member of her family and sat down and enjoyed a cup of tea.  When slumber finally beckoned, she closed her eyes, thanked her Lord again (below), grateful for the inconvenience of her day.
“Thank You God, for giving me another chance to become a better person, another chance to experience love.  Thank You for giving me health, for the food You provide, for the awareness You’ve awoken in me.  Make me a channel of Your energy and help me understand more, listen better, and love without prejudice.  Amen”

Sunday, June 25, 2017

No Small Gesture

“Let hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times." ~ Romans 12:12
Cassie took her young daughter to the ER that morning with a 104.5o fever - the culmination of two months of vague symptoms without a clear diagnosis: occasional bellyaches, frequent fevers, constant joint pains.
The doctor, a forty-something woman with a warm smile and a kind face, took blood for testing and noted that Riley’s liver felt enlarged.  She ordered X-rays and an ultrasound.
When the same doctor entered their exam room forty-five minutes later, her smile had vanished.  She met Cassie’s eyes first, then glanced down at Riley who was clutching the tiny stuffed puppy she’d been given by the X-ray Tech as a reward for being brave.  Something was definitely wrong.
A nurse asked Riley, “Do you want to come with me and play with some Legos, sweetheart?” and led her away.
The doctor closed the door.  “Her blood work is very concerning,” she’d said.  “I know this is a hard word to hear, but I’m 99.9% certain we’re looking at some sort of blood cancer.”
Two days later an oncologist would confirm the horrifying news.  He explained the disease and said that for the next 3 years Riley would receive spinal taps, injections and oral doses of radical chemotherapy – just enough poison to kill her Leukemia.
Cassie remembered few details from that moment; time spiraled into a dark abyss of fear and anxiety.  She realized the enemy her 5-year-old faced was much more than a silly cold.  As a single Mom, how could she ever face this battle alone?  She cried silently for a minute; then collected herself as an orderly entered the room with a bouquet of beautiful flowers.
Cassie read a card from her best friend Emily.  How sweet she thought!
Then she noticed a second card attached.  It read:
“Dear Mrs. Bradley, I took your order at DesignWorks florist.  My seven year-old had leukemia many years ago.  He’s fine now and a healthy young adult.   Treatment has improved so much since then as well.  Good luck.  My prayers will be for you and Riley as you face the challenges ahead.  Shalom, Laura."
For the first time, she felt her worries relax and her spirit soar.  They were in a hospital filled with sophisticated medical equipment and technology.  Riley was being treated by some of the best doctors and nurses on the planet.  But it was a stranger in a flower shop that shared her compassion and gave Cassie the hope to carry on.
Christians know that Christ brings hope to those who believe.  He’s a bright star in a sometimes desperately bleak universe.  He brightens our inner selves with the promise that smiling and laughter are just around the corner.
“My child, you are as you need to be, born with the exact talents this world needs.  You are pure of heart, strong of spirit and brave.  Whatever your talent is, use it for love, peace and healing.  Know that I love you, no matter what." ~ Jesus

Sunday, June 18, 2017

That's What Dad's Do

“Make your Dad truly happy by living right and showing sound judgment." ~ Proverbs 23:24
As a general rule, Travis kept his emotions to himself.  He figured they were clues he'd rather not share.  But today was different.  Excitement wired his body like being plugged directly into the main; his brain fast-forwarding with no ‘off’ switch.
After months of studying, practicing, and spending barrels of money, he’d earned his Private Pilot License - a little piece of plastic that allows you to fly legally. Today he’d take his first flight with a passenger – his Dad.
After pre-flighting 1684W and adding a quart of oil, Travis returned to the FBO dripping with sweat and exhausted from stress.  He gave his Dad the full passenger briefing; weather briefing, seatbelts, doors, what to do in an emergency, keeping an eye for traffic, sterile cockpit limitations, and what to listen for on the radio.  Then they hopped in, strapped up, started the engine, and taxied for their run-up.
“Let’s make this bird soar,” he said, lacking the bravado he’d hoped to muster.
The little Cessna took off into the wind and climbed to 1,500 feet staying below some scattered clouds.  As he’d been instructed, Travis talked incessantly; telling Dad what he was doing, what he was about to do and why he did it.  Banter not only helped calm his nerves but, as a new pilot, it solidified the processes he learned in training.
Dad remained very quiet.  Trying perhaps, not to disturb the pilot or maybe just blissfully unaware, Travis speculated.
He coaxed the plane higher seeking smoother, cooler air above the low scattered layer.  They’d just leveled off at 4,500’ when Dad finally spoke: “OK, we can land now.”
Travis’ jaw dropped faster than a loaf removed from an oven too soon.  He’d planned to circle the Detroit skyline before returning to City airport.   He calmly reminded his father of that.  But he’d never forget what his father said more than 30 years ago.
“I’m terrified of small planes,” he said with eyes as wide as if someone was coming to deliver the fatal blow.  “I just wanted you to know that I have confidence in you, son!”
That’s what Dads do!  The best ones bolster our confidence!
And so much more.  From changing diapers and cleaning up vomit to helping with homework and having heartfelt conversations with teenagers, real Dads today are all-in.
They teach life’s lessons by example.  They share their faith with us, tell great stories, and carry us with strong arms and such a warm touch.   They spend time, not money - because they know what really matters to kids.  He treats his children like the adults he wants them to become.  And when there is nothing else left, he still loves us no matter what.
Heavenly Father, thank You for guiding me, forgiving me, and loving me.  And thank You for my own Dad – his work ethic, the way he shared his faith and for his rock-solid integrity.  Amen

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hatred is Weakness

“Suffering builds character, which gives us a hope. Romans 5:3-4
It was the call no one should ever have to make – the call to a close friend at work announcing that his wife had been killed by a teenage girl on the way to school.  Probably distracted, died at the scene, police investigating, manslaughter charges pending.
The news passed through Anton like a hurricane.  Everything they’d worked and struggled for suddenly lay in ruins.  His heart nearly stopped beating as he fought the mind-numbing fog about to consume him.
“How is the girl?” Anton asked.  “Was she hurt too?"  Jamal couldn't believe his friend’s first response to such devastating news was concern for the girl.  “Ask her if it’d be OK for me to stop by later this week and talk with her.”
Darcy wanted to decline but knew she couldn't.  He needed to get it off his chest, she reasoned.  Terrified, she reluctantly agreed to meet Anton.
Anton greeted a girl of eighteen, maybe less, who averted his gaze.  Darcy’s handshake was delicate and clammy; her eyes were wide as if someone was coming to deliver a fatal blow.
The burly, middle-aged man stepped toward the girl, not with bitterness in his eyes, but with arms outstretched, scooping her up in a warm embrace.
Tears that she’d been fighting back began flowing freely onto his flannel shirt.  Darcy couldn’t stop repeating, "I'm so sorry.  I'm so sorry."  Once she regained her composure, Anton motioned her to a window seat and began telling Darcy things he wanted her to know about his wife Rachel’s life.
"There was no limit to how much she loved the Lord," Anton began. "She enjoyed a close, intimate walk with God.  She lived every day as if it could be her last on Earth, and never left the house on her morning ride without hugging me as if she might be saying goodbye for the last time."
Anton had her full attention as he continued. "Darcy, even though this caught us all by surprise, it was no surprise to God.  He also knows that you’re strong enough to handle this.  You can't let this ruin your life.  He wants to use you for His glory; to love Jesus without limits, just like Rachel did."
“I asked the DA drop all charges against you without a trial.  What would be the purpose of making your life more miserable?"
Darcy kept waiting for Anton to dish out some reprimand, but none came.  His mercy - along with his challenge to her that night, would comfort her for years to come.  God took that horrific event and turned it into something beautiful.
Darcy gradually went from feeling "guilty” to feeling "chosen."  She chose to carryon Rachel’s legacy of being a godly woman who loved Jesus beyond measure with her own life.
God of Forgiveness, bitterness is the poison we swallow, hoping the other person dies.  Release this terrible burden by experiencing the cleansing power of forgiveness even though I hate what they did. Amen

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Who Rescued Who?

“God works for the good of those who love Him." ~ Romans 8:28
The image of a taupe-colored puppy on an exam table, emaciated and covered in scabs, was almost too horrible to comprehend.  She’d likely been caged, neglected, and starved to near death.  The animal rescue group gave her less than 1% chance of surviving the night.
Miraculously, with fluids, nutrition, and an urgent visit to the vet, the puppy began to perk up.  Her rapid recovery prompted the rescue team to dub her “Xena the Warrior Puppy.”  They even started a Facebook page showing her amazing recovery that quickly gained 9,000 followers.
Linda Hickey, one such admirer, fell in love with the wounded Warrior.  She checked the Facebook page several times a day, praying for her health and a speedy recovery.  It kept her mind off the challenges her own family faced.
Their 8-year old son Johnny had been diagnosed as autistic.  He read with proficiency, but autism left him alone and isolated.  Most of his social interactions were painfully awkward; unfamiliar situations often triggered terror, tantrums or both.  Seeking comfort and predictability, he’d embrace solitary activities like playing with marbles or coloring in silence.  They’d run out of ideas on how to reach him.
Linda talked to God often about Johnny.  Xena had been given almost no chance of surviving, yet she was thriving.  A warrior, all right!  Linda wasn’t holding out for something that miraculous for her son Johnny, but maybe there was hope for him yet.  God always has a plan.
So when the opportunity to meet Xena at rescue fundraiser presented itself, Linda took the family to meet her in person.  The dog spotted Johnny and approached the normally-reticent young boy.  To Linda’s surprise, Johnny smiled widely, then melted in the onslaught of unconditional affection.  The Warrior Pup became a permanent part of Linda’s family that same day.
Since then Johnny hasn’t stopped talking.  He talks to Xena all the way home from school, during homework and afterwards he plays with her until dinner.   According to his mom, “Xena helped Johnny come out of his shell; he’s never been happier.”
Xena helps Johnny in other ways too.  He’s always struggled with personal-space issues, but he’s fine with letting Xena lean on him, lie down on him and perch precariously on his lap.  It doesn’t matter that she weighs almost as much as he does.  And despite his phobia of touching food, Johnny prepares dinner for Xena every night.
While the Hickeys are more hopeful now than they’ve ever been about Jonny’s future, they find it best to focus on the day they’re living, and possibly the day after that.  “God had a plan,” Linda said.  “These two were destined to be together - to rescue each other at a level that humans simply can’t fully understand.”
Lord, let me do my very best to honor You in everything I do.  Help me to understand and carry out the perfect plan You have for my life.  Amen

Friday, June 2, 2017

Never Again

“Jesus said, Father, forgive these people.” ~ Luke 23:34
Pvt. Brian Engelhard, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment, surveyed the scene before him with what combat veterans describe as the thousand-yard stare; a gaze that says he’s seen the horrors of war and will never forget them.
A vast sea of white lay before him as if someone had planted the seeds for the garden of stone before him.  He wondered how many, knowing that the true answer was “too many.”
Trudging across the marble field, he stopped at each headstone and placed a flag one in front of each marker.  He read each name and calculated every age.  He realized that every person was too young to be here; every soul cut down in its prime.
Silent and respectful of the sacrifices of those just below his feet he soldiered on, determined to complete his mission before nightfall.  The mournful sound of taps from across the field brought him to knees.  “Forgiving Lord,” he began with this heartfelt prayer:
“There has to be a better way to solve the world's problems.  Sadly after the WWII – the ‘War to End All Wars’ - there was Korea, then Vietnam, and ever more wars.  I pray now, that we stop adding young men and women to this cemetery.
After I returned home from serving my country, I trashed everything that had anything to do with the military.  I got rid of pictures, my uniform and those medals.  In that way, I expressed my determination never again to fight in a war.
I wish I could bring back the people I know I killed, but I can’t.  And I imagine every murderer feels the same way.  I visit men in prison now, and when I hear their stories, I tell them that without God’s forgiveness, I’m no different than any other murderer.
We wish we could bring our victims back to life and ask their forgiveness.  But we’re not in that position, and so we simply have to accept Your forgiveness.  Thank you Lord, Amen.”
Pvt. Engelhard struggled to his feet and continued putting more flags in front of the headstones.  By the grace of God, he’d found peace by confessing the things that had burdened him.  He still regrets the past and will forever feel it’s torment.   But God’s mercy had provided closure on the sins of war; they no longer had power over him.
When we think of the pain so many veterans suffer evidenced by the troubling rates of suicide, homelessness, mental illness and drug abuse, we should think of Jesus, who was mocked and whipped, cursed and nailed to a cross.  We should remember his words as he hung dying: “Father, forgive these people.”  Let’s each face our own guilt and brokenness and allow ourselves to be converted and healed.
Father, as we remember our veterans this year, help us acknowledge the lasting pain so many carry.  Forgive us - for being indifferent to their anguish, too self-concerned to share their burden, or unwilling to listen when their ghosts surface?  Amen

Saturday, May 27, 2017

On Angel's Wings

“Those who live in the shelter of the Lord will find rest in His shadow." ~Psalm 91:1
It was a day she had dreaded for weeks – the military funeral for a man she’d respected, a dear friend.  Colonel Alan McAllister had been commander of her squadron during the Gulf War.  It seemed inconceivable that a man of such vivacity could be struck down so quickly from cancer.
On one of his final days, the Colonel sat up a little taller in his hospital bed and asked Juanita for a special favor.  “Will you sing my favorite song, ‘On Eagles Wings’ at my service?”  He knew she’d sung at other military functions.
Silence lingered as he awaited her response.  A small sigh of anxiety leapt from Juanita’s throat.  She wasn’t sure she could keep her emotions in check.  Still, how could she turn down his request?
“Of course I will,” she stammered, hoping that she’d have ample time to prepare.  But today came way too soon.
For those who’ve never experienced a military funeral firsthand, it’s powerful and displays proud traditions.  A soldier is buried to a 21-gun salute followed by the haunting sound of "Taps” echoing across the cemetery.
Juanita had barely made it through without breaking down.  She wanted to cry watching the Colonel’s wife Mary clutching a folded flag.  Instead, she caught sight of a yellow butterfly fluttering above the sea of military uniforms.
Had it been there the whole time?  Juanita watched the butterfly linger over the heads of Mary and her daughters during the final prayer.  It had been such a difficult day for them, but somehow the sight of wings as beautiful as painted silk, floated on the breeze to comfort them.  She remained engrossed as its delicate wings looped through the air before winging off into the sky.
After the final prayer, Mary approached Juanita.  “Will you come over to the house later this afternoon?” she asked.  “There’s a gift that Alan insisted I give you for singing today.”
Later as they sipped tea and reminisced about the colonel’s service, Mary spoke.  “Juanita, you did an amazing job today.  “Such a blessing; and we really appreciate you.”
“To God be the glory,” Juanita responded.  “I’m so glad you were blessed.”
Mary rose from her seat and opened a drawer.
“Alan and I agreed on this special gift,” she said, handing a brightly-wrapped box to her friend.  “He gave me this same gift once and wanted you to have one too.”
Juanita pulled off the wrapping paper, opened the box, and pulled out a Swarovski crystal butterfly.  It caught her breath.
“Alan and I believe that a butterfly’s magnificent, yet short life reminds us to enjoy the present,” Mary explained.  “Its transformation, as well as our own spiritual transformation, continues well beyond death.”
Are butterflies Angels perhaps?
“He will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His Hand.”  On Eagle’s Wings by Michael Joncas

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