Thursday, March 23, 2023

Thank You

 “To Him be glory and honor forever!" ~ Romans 11:36

I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude lately and the immense value the two little words “Thank You” bring. When we say them, we remind ourselves that we’ve been given something of value and acknowledge the role that the receiver(s) have played in making our life better, more enjoyable, and more worthwhile.

When someone takes the time to read something I’ve written and responds to it in some way, I want to say “Thanks.” Your time is a valuable commodity. The least I can do is say “Thank You.” I appreciate your recognition of my work – in that way we raise each other up.

Some might think that saying “Thank You” too often cheapens it. But, that’s like saying too much love cheapens love. Can you imagine getting too much love?

Some 12+ years ago, when my Mom died of cancer, I wondered who would fill the void in her selfless giving. I no longer had the passion for the auto industry work that I’d cherished for over 30 years. So, I walked away and tried to fill her vacancy.

I started this blog in early 2011. Now, some 900 stories later, I’m reminded of the lyrics from one of my favorite musician/storytellers – Tom May:

“Thank you for your time, you make the pleasure mine,

You underline the words to every line in every song.

I’d be dead wrong if I thought that I could do this on my own

Thanks for never leaving me alone.”

So “Thank You!”

I love saying that. Those are two of the sweetest, kindest words anyone can say. People are often more motivated by appreciation than they are by money.

I spend time putting together stories that I hope will be interesting, thought-provoking, uplifting, and entertaining. I’m grateful you find them worth your time to read.

Some of the stories have revealed some of my many shortcomings cleverly hidden within another fictional character. You, my friends, have given me a safe space to share my most private thoughts and deepest flaws.

You’ve been witness to stories of grief and joy, of desperation and spiritual growth. You’ve come to know that I believe in America, respect our military, and adore animals. I‘ve highlighted people of great character, bold courage, and humble achievement. I’ve written stories that can be shared with younger readers to encourage inclusiveness and integrity while discouraging self-absorption, bullying, and substance abuse.

I’ve also tied to share insights into the glory and forgiveness of a magnificent God. Many have heard me say that I’m only the stenographer. Without God’s grace and direction, this blog would be shallow, undisciplined, and self-promoting. It’s only with His encouragement and unending guidance, that this blog now reaches people from all over the world. “To Him be the glory.”

Thank you, Lord, for the life you have blessed me with. Help keep our eyes and hearts on You. Renew our spirits, fill us with Your peace and joy. We give you praise and thanks, for You alone are worthy! Amen

Sunday, March 19, 2023

"All's Well With My Soul"

 His peace will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:7

Horatio Spafford knew something about life’s unexpected challenges. A successful lawyer and real estate investor, he and his lovely wife Anna enjoyed five children. Yet, they were not strangers to heartbreak and calamity.

Their beloved 4-year-old son, Horatio Jr, died of scarlet fever – the same year the Great Chicago Fire gutted much of his fortune along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

But the worst was yet to come.

Thinking a vacation would do his family some good, he sent his wife and four daughters on a ship to England, planning to join them after he finished some pressing business at home.

Four days into the voyage, their ship struck a larger, iron-clad vessel. Within 12 minutes, the ship slipped beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 passengers including the four Spafford children. Only Anna survived.

It was the worst disaster in naval history until the Titanic sank 40 years later. Anna sent a hauntingly brief telegram to her husband that simply read: “Saved alone. What shall I do?” Horatio immediately boarded a ship to join his grieving wife overseas.

His faith never faltered. As he thought about his daughters three miles below, words of comfort and hope filled his heart. His writings would become a well-beloved hymn:

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll -

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to know. It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Its somber tone focuses less on what was lost and more on where hope can be found. Published in 1876, “It is Well with My Soul” was composed by songwriter Philip Bliss.

Back in Chicago, the Spaffords tried mending their shattered lives. Anna gave birth to Bertha (1878) as well as a son, Horatio (1880) though he later died of scarlet fever just like his brother before him (of the same name).

Five years later and after the birth of daughter Grace, the Spaffords moved to Jerusalem out of a devout interest in the Holy Land. There they established the American Colony, a utopian community engaged in philanthropic work regardless of religious affiliation. It welcomed Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

It’s amazing to think such encouraging and uplifting words were born from the depths of such unimaginable sorrow. It’s an example of truly inspiring faith and trust in the Lord. Perhaps that’s why this hymn, like no other, demonstrates the power our God has to comfort our weary souls when the darkest tragedies overtake us.

Heavenly Father, life can be so unpredictable, with both joys and sorrows. But You bring me such peace.  No matter what the future holds, it is “well with my soul” because You are always with me.  I know that You will carry me through. Amen

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Love Knows No Bounds

 “Above all virtues, love binds them all together in perfect unity." ~ Colossians 3:14

Peter Burkhardt’s wheels rolled over the wet sidewalk splattering cold rain into his face. His jacket gave up on keeping his body dry a while ago; there's just no point in heavy clothes on a rainy day. The only thing that keeps him warm is his legs pumping. Eyes bathed in the passing countryside; he presses on thinking of the warmth at the other end.

A part of him is jealous of the car drivers, safe behind shatter-proof glass and painted steel. But at 95 years old, his license application wasn't approved and he hasn't had a car for years. Anyway, cycling burns fat and saves gas. He enjoys the rain and the reunion at the end of his hour-long journey most of all.

Each morning for seven years, the Dutchman pulls his tricycle from the shed for the 17km journey. It takes about an hour, a little more in heavy winds, to visit his wife of 63 years who now lives in a hospice in Apeldoorn.

Clara has dementia and was placed in a nursing home to receive much-needed care. Unfortunately, the only nursing home that accepted her was more than ten miles away.

“No problem,” said Peter. “I just want to see her and hear her voice. She’s no longer the same, but I know she recognizes me sometimes and gives me a very nice hug now and then.”

The daily pilgrimage isn’t the usual gesture that fills our social media timelines but it’s one that most lovers can only grow envious of. It’s actually one of the simplest.

Aside from the length of the trip, Burkhardt also wants to raise awareness of the conditions of the bike lanes. While the ride is never dangerous, there’s plenty of room for improvements, especially on the narrow railway bridge.

His ride home brings sadness. “I’m still in love with her,” he muses. “I miss her, even on her bad days.” Proving once again that a lover’s pain should only be of their parting, reaffirmed and strengthened by the separations. And ones that make reunions so very sweet.

His children are proud of what their Dad does every day and encourage him to continue. His son Wouter said, "They keep each other alive with this. I hope my father inspires others too."

Love’s enemy is emotional indifference.

Peter’s love for Clara is one of protector, a ride-or-die connection that has blossomed for more than six decades. Real love stays in quietness to uplift, celebrate, and comfort. Real love will be okay with sadness and kiss the scars hidden from others.

True love is the greatest blessing heaven can give. It’s rare. Treasure it. Never let it die.

Jesus, help me to love others better. In a world that thinks love is acceptance and tolerance, show me how to be authentic and genuine in love and in sharing Your Word with others by example in a kind, compassionate, and generous way. Amen

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Honorable Judge

 "Blessed are those who are fair and always do what’s right." ~ Psalm 106:3

Pre-trial hearings are seldom dramatic, but this stage was set for theatrics. Arms waved. Fingers pointed. Voices flared. The impending trial would be a spectacle of international attention.

But the Judge on the bench sat poker-faced. He reached for a bottle of water with deliberate indifference as arguments escalated in a tale of wealth, power, and deceit.

Although the Judge remained virtually silent while counselors sparred for 40 minutes, he clearly was the most powerful person in the courtroom. He had the authority to determine bail, impose gag orders, and sanction lawyers for failing to play fair.

This particular Judge has a high tolerance for views he doesn’t share which requires a great deal of intellectual humility. Beneath the robe beats an unpretentious and compassionate heart.

Finally, in muted tones, the Judge briefly admonished the two red-faced attorneys. To understand that soft voice and careful words, one has to understand his past.

He grew up in rural South Carolina, the first in his family born in a hospital. His mother left home for work as a domestic servant for a Columbia University professor’s family in NYC. Raised by his aunt and grandparent since age 3, he spent summers with his Mom in the city.

In high school, he worked in the principal’s office for a man who repeatedly corrected his “country talk” language.  Eventually, the boy developed a habit of thinking carefully before he spoke.

That same Principal tapped him to play the key lawyer role in the senior play based on a landmark school desegregation case. The experience led him to abandon his dreams of becoming a minister in favor of a law career.

After graduating as his class valedictorian, he attended Cleveland State University, having never gone to school with a white student before. He opened a law practice that handled mostly civil cases after completing law school.

Marriage, 4 children, and 24 years of appearing before the bench, he decided to sit up behind the bench in a black robe. In 2000, the Judge became one of only eight Black circuit court judges in South Carolina. In some counties people hadn’t seen a Black judge in over a decade.

Judge Clifton B. Newman, who presided over the trial of Alex Murdaugh, represents the best of our jurists – a commanding presence yet reserved and compassionate. Last week, the Judge sentenced the once-influential, wealthy lawyer to spend the rest of his life behind bars - a powerful rebuke from the very legal system that his family dominated for over a century.

Newman himself lost his son just weeks before Murtaugh’s trial began, yet he maintained a stoic, quiet demeanor throughout the proceedings. The optics of watching Newman, who grew up in the state’s segregated schools, rule with such class, was the best we have to witness.

Almighty Father, please send us Judges of wisdom, who serve with humility, respect life, have the courage to always do what’s right, and to loyally serve You, the ultimate Judge of all. Amen

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Siding With Hobbs

 “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off." ~ Matthew 5:30

Suzie was just like any other nervous five-year-old on her first day of school. Who could have guessed the amount of strength and courage she would need to face these kids every day for the next six years? Just because Suzie had red hair didn’t make her less of a person.

Her friend Jessica was ashamed to admit it, but she went along with the bullying. Even though she didn’t participate in the verbal slander, the incessant seat kicking, or the stuff in her hair, she didn’t do anything to stop it.  

Jessica knew it was wrong, but thought Suzie was coping; it didn’t seem to bother her. But appearances mean nothing. Jessica was as guilty as the rest of them.

The teachers wouldn’t do anything, telling them would only make the situation worse, she rationalized. Only Jessica had the power to stop it. She should’ve been the one to protect her.

Kids acting up on the school bus isn’t anything new and it’s certainly not unique. As younger generations are exposed to more explicit language and intolerant behavior, bullying has become a growing issue for many.

Jessica didn’t know exactly when she finally admitted it to herself. Maybe when Suzie confessed to her that she’d gone home crying almost every afternoon. Or maybe it crystalized when, just like Calvin, she confessed that she wanted to do anything but own up to her inaction.

They’d become best friends. But with age, our capacity for logic and reasoning expands. As does our ability to rationalize inaction (not to pick scabs) and weasel out of making amends.

“I must apologize!” she finally confessed, “and make amends.”

Three days after she’d said those words, she wished so badly she could have seen the future. To stop Suzie from getting in that car with him after he’d been drinking too much.

Tears sprang to her eyes as she read Suzie’s name for the first time in stone. She touched the cold granite, running her hand across the engraved name and then the dates, the last one being three days after the last time she’d ever hear her friend’s voice again. Three days after she’d promised the words she was never able to apologize for.

Tears of guilt and sadness flowed freely down her cheeks and onto the ground as she knelt down next to her. “Hey Suzie,” she started, words catching in her throat.  She took a deep breath before she continued. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you.”

If you hurt someone, don’t be like Calvin. Don’t hesitate and rationalize your awful behavior. Take a cue from both Hobbes and Jesus: say you’re sorry and take the necessary action so as not to make that same mistake again!

Lord, we know You aren’t suggesting that we maim ourselves for God’s glory, but using hyperbole to emphasize the need for us to be radically honest with ourselves. Give us the strength to apologize for any action or inaction that hurts others. Amen

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

He's Still Standing

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." ~ Philippians 4:13

During winter, the Khingan Mountains of Inner Mongolia is the coldest region in China, with temperatures dipping as low as -90°F; temps that will freeze the blood of those who don’t wear sufficient protection. Yet an elderly man rarely misses a day of ice skating at the outdoor rink near his home where laughter, music, and the hissing sounds of blades fill the dangerously frigid air.

Wang Quanli (65) has quickly become one of the best amateur skaters at the rink. People can hardly tell he's a double amputee.

The former railroad worker lost both legs 35 years earlier in a gruesome work-related accident. It marked the beginning of some of his life’s darkest moments. He spent 30 months in the hospital and another year crawling at home.

Finding depression’s floor was a blessing. Five years after his double amputation, Wang realized that he must get on with life. He vividly recalled the painful crash of hitting rock bottom. When he felt like he should stay down, he found a reason to get back up. 

He put on prosthetic legs that weighed nearly 35 pounds each and started exercising. After much practice (and grueling pain), he could not only walk again but ride a bicycle. Eventually, Wang gained enough courage to attach blades to his artificial limbs, step on the ice, and try something completely new: ice skating.

Prosthetic legs don’t limit forward movements much. But lacking a natural ankle joint does restrict balance which affects jumps and glide control. Not impossible – just more difficult. 

It took perseverance. "I couldn't stand at the beginning," Wang said. "I would stand, slip and drop.  I can't remember how many times I fell." As his technique improved, he found that ice skating strengthened his hip and thigh muscles. 

So, despite losing nearly a quarter of his body, and the brutally cold temperatures, he’s now a regular at the outdoor rink. Wang grinned as he stopped to catch his breath. "Are your feet cold? Because mine aren’t!" he laughed.

He continued. “People will come up to me occasionally and say: “You inspire me because I see what you're going through.” It's nice to know that people notice, but I'm not superhuman. I'm just somebody who enjoys life.” Then Wang added, "You won't die without legs. But you won't live either if you give up on yourself."

After it gets warm, Wang turns to rollerblading; counting down the days until next winter. He plans to skate until he’s at least 80 years old. While ice skating is not currently a Paralympic sport, Wang hopes that it will be introduced into the Games in the near future and intends to compete. “The results won't matter. It’s more about learning skills and techniques from the best,” he said.

May God the Father bless you, God the Son heal you, and God the Holy Spirit give you strength. May the Holy Trinity sustain you through difficult tribulations and bring confidence in His loving care. Amen

Friday, February 24, 2023

"Big Hits"

 “Whatever you do, work all your heart, as if working for the Lord." ~ Colossians 3:23

As Melina took her warmup shots, she considered her volleyball journey.  She recalled playing in gym class for the first time.  She remembered the thrill of acing her first overhand serve.  This sport had been her heart and soul since that day; its court a place of pure adrenalin and intense focus.

Volleyball had changed her life.  How great was it that she got to do what she truly loved?

Bump. Set. Ka-boom!  The crowd would go wild cheering, clapping, and whistling to support the team.  The sense of community had never been more prevalent – students, faculty, and fans - all boisterous, vibrant, and engaged in a spirit of positive vibes and great fun!  Even during warmups, tonight, the noise tonight was thunderous – maybe even a little distracting. 

Tonight’s crowd was electric.  Cheers roared into the air as the greatest of celebratory explosions.

Then suddenly, the overcrowded gymnasium went deathly quiet.  For perhaps the first time ever, fans sat in silence as Melina’s brother, Payton, was escorted to a courtside seat wearing large, noise-canceling headphones.

Payton has autism and is particularly sensitive to noise, making it impractical for him to endure the commotion volleyball matches create.  People with his condition are sometimes overstimulated by sounds that cause them to become overwhelmed and anxious.  Despite being a huge fan of the sport on TV, he’d never seen his sister play.

The high school crowd had agreed to sit quietly for the first 10 points of the game so that Melina’s brother could support his sister in person for the last game of her senior season. 

One could hear players quietly communicating among themselves and an occasional soft whistle.  

Payton cheered as his sister racked up the kills.  He left the game after the eighth point was scored, knowing the noise level would be too loud when the 10th point of the match was secured. 

Before leaving, Melina nodded to her brother inconspicuously, for his presence had supercharged her final performance.  She thanked him for coming to which he mouthed “BIG HITS, SIS!”

The 10th point came on another kill from Melina.  Cheers erupted as teammates and coaches from both sides embraced her in the special moment.  Of all her special memories of the sport she loved, that one will last forever.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul frequently used athletic competition as a metaphor for the challenges of the Christian life.  You can also find fundamentals of good sportsmanship weaved through Scripture, all of which can be applied both on and off the playing field.  There’s nothing wrong with winning.  But when we’re participating in a worthwhile activity, God commands that we do it with our might and do it right!

Lord, let me compete well but fairly.  Let competition make me strong but never hostile.  Keep me from rejoicing in the adversity of others.  When we play, let it be done in a God-pleasing manner despite the outcome, and in ways that glorify You.  Amen

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Thank You Arby's

 “Love believes, hopes, and endures all things." ~ 1 Corinthians 13:7

They dined there 3 or 4 times a week for, well I don’t know for sure how long, but probably since the eatery sold subs for only 69 cents. Maybe it was the casual atmosphere or the highly-stacked,  slow-roasted, beef sandwiches.

There are delis all across America that pile them a foot high with a variety of meats. But do they serve curly fries? Do they have delicious milkshakes? Umm... no!

Could it be they chose Arby’s as their go-to spot because they were the first fast-food restaurant to offer a lighter menu (1991) with fewer than 300 calories or that they banned smoking in all their locations (1994) before anyone else?

We’re unknowingly surrounded by great love stories every day, whether it’s a couple you briefly see on the bus or the pair beside you in a restaurant. But, while Fred and Janice appeared to be out just for a meal, there was a lot more to their story. So, I watched and listened.

They found a familiar booth near the window. I wondered if they might sit across from each other.

Fred spoke quietly. “Damn!” he uttered, “I forgot my hearing aids again. I better sit over next to you dear, or I won’t be able to hear you.”

Janice replied tenderly: “Fred, I saw you put your hearing aids in! If you want to sit next to me, just say so.”

He nodded with a chuckle, “Aw, you got me!” He’d undoubtedly used that one before.

He unwrapped a plain sandwich and carefully cut it in half, placing one half in front of Janice. She then carefully counted out the curly fries, dividing them into two piles. They took turns sipping from a drink with two straws and savored the meal over light chatter.

When it was time to leave, Fred emptied the trash, but not before addressing Arby’s staff. “Please make a reservation for Valentine’s Day for us. We want to make sure we get our favorite spot again,” he teased.

Too precious! I was curious, so I returned about the same time on February 14th. Sure enough, I found them seated at the same table. But this time it was decorated for the occasion.

Janice smiled and shared a note that had been left for them. “To share a deep love and bond that only grows as we age is one of the most beautiful things on earth. Thank you for gracing our place with your presence!” ~ signed ‘The Arby’s Staff’

The thought of two people demonstrating such tenderness is heart-melting at any age, but this special moment reminds us that no matter how old we get, we have plenty of little ways to show each other how much we care.

Almighty Father, help me to be the [husband/wife] You intended me to be. Show me where I need to improve. Help me to be a better communicator, help me to love my spouse better, and help us both to grow closer to You every day. Amen

Wednesday, February 15, 2023


 The Good Shepherd looks after His scattered flock and rescues them from darkness.” ~ Ezekiel 34:12

Angie would never forget THAT day - that day as an eight-year-old, she stood staring up at the 150-foot-tall Matterhorn.  When she dropped her gaze to look for her friends and parents, they’d vanished into a sea of Magic Kingdom visitors.

She was lost … and petrified.  A blanket of desperation had started to spread over her.

At no more than 4 feet tall, all she saw were swarms of strangers from the waist down.  People walked past, turning occasionally to look but never offering help.  Angie feared that she’d never get home again.

The evening sky grew darker and devilish.  Soon her sobbing turned into loud cries; so loud she began gasping for breath.

Mercifully, a kind woman stopped, knelt at the child’s eye level, and promised to wait until someone came to find her.  Looking back, it probably wasn’t more than a minute or two, but each second felt like an hour. 

Suddenly her Dad appeared from the crowd and scooped her into his arms with an embrace that stole both her breath and the heat from her skin.  He wiped her tears with a calloused finger, roughness that brought more relief than her little heart could hold.

Angie tried to speak but all she could do was croak, "I love you Daddy, I won’t leave you again, not ever!”  His mouth painted a grateful smile.  He nodded once before folding her into his arms again.

When she remembers that day nearly twenty years ago, her eyes still water with tears of every kind.  She’d never been happier to see anyone in her entire life.

Aren’t we all just seconds away from getting lost and prone to falling, failing, and forgetting? 

We have been lost sheep at some point in our lives - easily distracted, defenseless, and constantly needing direction, forgiveness, healing, and rest.

Happily, we’re not only needy sheep but also lucky sheep, because we have a Shepherd.  And not just any shepherd, but the Good Shepherd.  His name is Jesus – one who shows us how He can and does care for each of our individual wants, needs, hopes, and dreams.

Sheep are always looking for something else to eat or drink.  They’re never satisfied, always wanting something more and moving from place to place to get it.  We’re the same way, aren’t we?  We’re always moving on to the next best thing.  We can never quite have enough!  When the next iPhone gets released, we’ll be anxiously waiting for it.

But our Shepherd can satisfy our souls.  He is what we truly need.  Even when we are far away from God, completely unaware of His presence, He actively pursues us, calling us to Himself.

“Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.  Surely your kindness and mercy follow me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of my God forevermore.”  Amen ~ Marty Haugen (Psalm 23)

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Living Authentically

 “His Truth will set you free." ~ John 8:32

Paul stood at the bar, waiting for his cappuccino when the barista politely asked him what he was up to today. “Off to Hawaii,” he smiled, to celebrate our 30th anniversary with my wife. After a brief minute of chatting, the barista handed over his drink and wished Paul a nice trip. “But then again,” she said, “why wouldn’t you? You’re so lucky!”

His brain stuttered for a moment. She wasn’t being rude or sarcastic, but authentic. Every part of him paused while his thoughts battled to catch up. That young girl saw him no more than five minutes a day - always dressed up on the way to his executive position in one of the industry’s largest auto suppliers. That’s all she saw … so that’s all she knew.

There’s a kind of darkness in assumptions, especially when so many of our connections happen only 5 minutes at a time - fully filtered and faultlessly posted. It’s not entirely our fault. Our battles don’t translate well with a dozen people waiting behind us or 140 characters to describe our day.  

Paul had recently been diagnosed with ALS, their oldest son was fighting drug addiction, and he felt the guilt of not being able to do enough for his aging parents.

Paul wouldn’t have shared that with her.  Shocking strangers seemed a bit cruel.  But he spent the entire flight wondering about authenticity, vulnerability, and our polished identities. 

He felt like a fraud.  If he next showed up wearing his scarred and tattered self, a very different girl would stare back at him.

Paul was self-conscious of his smile. He was afraid to swim in the ocean, avoided playing memory games, and wondered if he was present enough with his family. He could be petty at times and often took things way too personally. His online persona shared none of that. Nor does it reveal how morbidly terrified he is of his future health limitations.

He grapples with feelings of inadequacy. Is he smart enough? Funny enough? Godly enough?

But one thing’s for sure; even with all his frailty, fears, and faults - none of those things make his life less complete. Fears, scars, and shortcomings tell stories too. Maybe it’s not about collecting “likes” for the perceived reality we portray on Facebook but about the purple hearts we get for bravely living an authentic life - blemishes and all.

So, give up the act. Get comfortable being vulnerable. Focus on connections, not possessions. And give from your core gifts - all those qualities that make you uniquely you. When you do, you honor and lift everyone and everything you touch … including yourself. 

Accept the messiness and complexity of your reality – it’s what makes your soul beautiful.

Lord, Your Word says that everything created by You is good; that nothing should be rejected. Help me to be comfortable with who You made me to be. Give me the courage to be honest, truthful, vulnerable, and authentic. Amen