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Words of Hope for Everyday Life:

 

December 15, 2017

A Merry Little Christmas.

It doesn't take that much to have a Merry Christmas, at least in the opinion of its Author. His blueprint for a successful Christmas called for a lot of "little": a little town called Bethlehem, a little stable, a little manger and a little baby boy named Jesus...also known as "God With Us".

Perhaps our emphasis should be more on "little". So many times The Infinite Christ shows up in such places and ways...and suddenly, everything becomes much bigger.

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December 14, 2017

Of Heart, Hands & Hearth.

It was 5 years ago today at approximately 1:30 pm that I got "the call". I know right where I was when I heard Dad's voice on the other end. Suddenly, it wasn't Christmas. Mom, who'd had a very routine morning at home, was in very serious condition and was going to be rushed from dialysis to the hospital. Though she had endured many illnesses and come very, very close to death before (on my 44th birthday, I thought I said my final goodbyes to her as the ambulance personnel were in her family room, only to miraculously and beautifully hear her talking before I ever entered her room in ER), somehow I sensed in my spirit that this time, she was gone. And she was.

Everything comes crashing to a halt when the one who carried you into this world suddenly leaves it. The night of December 14th of 2012 was the worst of my life. Grieve, toss, turn, think, pray...repeat...repeat...repeat. The little lady who walked so briskly in her home the evening before and smiled her beautiful smile of great-grandma-joy was now gone from this world. Gone for good. There are no words for loss like that. None.

As my mind walks back across the years this morning, there are innumerable moments that Mom gave to each of us. It's impossible to put a value on what she did for us...much too high for this world's standards of wealth. If it's possible to somehow condense the blessings she poured into our lives into a few words...and there's simply no adequate way to do so...it comes down to heart, hands and hearth.

Mom's faith in Jesus Christ, the One whose birth-celebration fills up not just one day in December but the entire month, was what her life was unquestionably built upon. Everything flowed outward from Him living within her heart. Her very-well worn Bible was opened early in the morning, before us kids were out of bed. Her conversations with the Lord began in those early hours, ran throughout the day and, if she couldn't sleep, throughout the night. Jesus was not just her Savior, He was her Lord and her Source through the many trials of fire she walked through in life. For instance, at age 23, Mom buried her beloved mother. Two Novembers later, her dear father was placed beneath the sod next to Grandma. Mom carried those wounds quietly and deeply for a long, long time. As a kid and as an adult, I could sense it surface from time-to-time.

Mom's hands worked incessantly. Her loving, dedicated heart came out through her hands....and never more so than at Christmas time. Our home became alive in a very special way in December. Mom absolutely loved Christmas. Her hands were extra-busy during this season as she decorated the house and baked so many wonderful things in the kitchen. My favorite was her cut-out cookies...the dough was made-from-scratch and rolled out by hand...then frosted in red-and-green. Oh, to just sit down with her this morning, have a few of those cookies (okay, more than a few!), a couple cups of coffee and simply talk with her, rambling from topic to topic, seeing her pretty smile and hear her witty quips and chuckles. As we would sit at the table, nearby would be her Bible, opened to Luke 2...a red ribbon running down the middle...her traditional centerpiece for December. One of her most endearing Christmas traditions for me was when those hands put a stack of 33 1/3 Christmas records on the stereo and our house was filled with the heart-felt songs of Christmas. To lay in bed on December nights as a kid and hear those timeless songs softly drift upstairs...there are no words for what that means to me to this day. No wonder it's my favorite time of year to sing.

Though Mom worked in various, very dedicated ways to help those in need outside our home, the needs inside our home were her top priority. The hearth, not the outside world, was where her heart was. We knew she loved us, she cared and she'd do anything for our best interest. She was there. Her presence around the house spoke wordless, thick volumes of worth to us.

Mom, our hearts down here are feeling the void of your absence today...your presence simply can't be replaced. Yet, in another way we feel you near us. Our memories of you are what we're living on now. What you left behind will see us through until we meet again in Heaven: heart, hands and hearth. Thank you for your boundless, loving, giving, mother's heart. We thank God greatly for you.

Oh, by the way Mom, how many times have you sang "Come to the Manger" on those streets of gold...part of it in German...just like you did as a little girl for Christmas programs at church?

 

 

 

December 13, 2017 (entry #2)

5 years ago tonight, Debbie and I were at Mom and Dad's house. After enjoying a great pot of chili for supper that she and Dad had made earlier that day, Mom held up this little shirt with a big smile. She had recently bought it for then-North Dakota great-grandson Wesson and was proudly showing it to Debbie and I. Later that evening, just before leaving, I put my arm around her frail, stooped shoulders and said "see you later". I simply didn't realize what "later" would mean.

Jesus called her name early the next afternoon as she sat in a dialysis chair. An angel carried her safely through Heaven's gates never to be ill and suffer again. Mom saw the indescribable beauty of The Savior's face, He whose birth she celebrated so beautifully at our house each Christmas Season.

We love and miss you, Mom. We'd love to see that big smile one more time and hear you chuckle as you shared a thought with us. Thanks so much for always making Christmas such a wonderful, bright, beautiful season at our house! Perhaps you're hanging bulbs on Heaven's Christmas Tree at this very moment!

Yes, I'll see you later, Mom...at the feet of Jesus.

 


 

December 13, 2017

God’s Christmas Fireplace

Pull a chair up to God’s hearth,
He is waiting there,
A warm and crackling fire is on
And Love is in the air.

Let Him sing a Carol,
A Love song pure and true,
There’s a Baby snuggled in His arms
And He’s handing Him to you.

Hold Him close up to your heart,
Never let Him go,
Feel his soft breath on your cheek,
Soothes your spirit low.

- Dan Hays


 

 

December 12, 2017

" For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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December 11, 2017

Ringing the Bells of Memory.

How often did the shepherds replay the Bethlehem countryside's midnight sky lighting up like the noon-day sun? Simultaneously filled with startled-fear and wondering-awe as those brilliantly-shining beings hovered between heaven and earth, I'm thinking it crossed their minds every day for the rest of their lives.

How many times did those men living on society's low end ponder the angel's words "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord"*...with great emphasis placed on "you"? "You mean God valued ME enough to send ME a Savior?", they would say in their hearts. I think it was very often...and they felt valued like never before.

Their moments spent at the manger-side, kneeling, gazing into the God-Baby's face...just as the angels told them they would find Him...would linger forever in their hearts, minds and souls. It would have been continual food for thought as they manned the hillsides in the decades ahead. They had come face-to-face with God. Had I been one of those highly-blessed shepherds, my face would have been buried in my hands, bent low on my knees to the straw-strewn floor. Tears would have run between my fingers. I would have been overwhelmed to have been in the presence of The King of the Universe. I would have lingered long in His love-glow, soaking up enough for the rest of my life.

I have been replaying some of my "God-Moments" this morning. As with all of us, His tender mercies have overflowed in my life. None of us would be anywhere without them. Although every moment is, in reality, a God-Moment, it's those mountaintop interventions that I've been pondering. All of them were huge. Not all of them would appear that way to an outsider, though. Divinely-timed moments carry immense power in the spiritual realm, no matter how "small" the material pieces involved. A sparrow lighting near me has often reminded me that God is watching both of us. I have never forgotten seeing a blind man with folded-cane in his left hand, his right hand resting upon the shoulder of a friend, walking trustingly and confidently through a shopping mall. I really needed that example of faith in Jesus...and He provided it. I have replayed that sight time-and-again in my mind.

The dramatic moments...big or small...that God sends to us don't last. They vanish like the angels did on that first Christmas night. Yet, just like the shepherds did over their many dark, lonely nights that comprised the rest of their lives...amidst their mind-grinding routine of tending sheep on that very same hillside...it is a very good thing to rehearse God's blessings in our lives...and to again be thankful for them. Ringing the "bells of memories" brings us warmth, strength, purpose, meaning and encouragement. They light up the hillsides of our hearts in the night. Those interventions-from-Above keep our eyes upon the heavens, from which The Giver of "every good and perfect gift" (James 1:17) will bestow our next surprising blessing...right when we need it.

Many times, He shows up in the unsuspected, common places...like a fly-trodden feed trough in a little barn 2000 years ago.

* Luke 2:11

 

 

 

December 10, 2017 (entry #2)

O Holy Night.

On Christmas Eve, 1906, "O Holy Night" was the first song ever played live on the radio.

Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden, broadcasting from Brant Rock, MA, played a phonograph of Handel's "Largo". He then followed by playing "O Holy Night" on the violin, singing the last verse as he accompanied himself. Following this, he read The Christmas Story from Luke 2.

 

 

December 10, 2017

My Story.

I jostled continually in his arms. My teen-aged master, Cornelius, had run down full-speed the hillside and through the city gate of Bethlehem before he slowed down, panting, to a brisk walk. He and his comrades, "those good-for-nothing shepherds" as the townsfolk called them, were in a state of bewilderment and near-mania. The midnight skies had lit up brighter than the noon-day sun 10 minutes ago with beings from another world. One of the older men called them angels...a word he had heard his faith-filled grandmother use when he was just a schoolboy.

Those beings, whatever their name was, had brought a strange-but-beautiful message of joy and hope to these men working 3rd shift on the cold, dark hillside. I heard the words "Fear not" from one of those beings above me...and the quivering arms of Cornelius relaxed only slightly as he held me tightly to his heart. I wish I could have seen these messengers-from-Above...I could tell they were beyond-extraordinary by the hushed-but-excited voices of these men who occupied the lowest rung of society's ladder. Yet, I hadn't ever seen my master's face. I knew nothing but total darkness. I was born blind. Had it not been for the tender heart of this teen boy who dearly loved me, I would have been left alone in the wilderness to be devoured by wolves...I was considered next-to-worthless.

After coursing through several side streets and back alleys, the shepherds suddenly slowed their steps, then came to a standstill. Cornelius said, "This must be it...it's the only other stable in town, the broken-down one owned by old-man Thaddeus. The angel did say we'd find The Savior laying in a manger."

My master's youthfulness prompted him to lead the way to the grayed, half-falling-apart door. Through the cracks, he could see a teen girl and an older man muttering back and forth as they peered into, yes, a manger...their faces glowing with joy. Tentatively, the door creaked open as the two of us led the way inside.

I felt Cornelius take 3 steps into the tiny room and halt. Slowly, reverently, he sank to his knees, holding me close on his descent into the rotting straw. I felt hot tears falling from his eyes...eyes that could see Someone I could not...and my young wool soaked up each one. Somehow, he knew he was in the presence of One much greater than he, Someone he had wordlessly yearned to meet, never knowing Whom it may be.

Knowing my master's movements well, I could tell he had now raised his head. He exchanged a few words with the teen girl...I think her name was Mary...but she said it so softly I couldn't be sure. Slowly but deliberately, he stood to his feet and took 2 more steps and again stopped. I felt myself slowly leave his chest as he gingerly reached toward the manger, placing my little frame next to the newborn Baby Boy laying on fresh hay within it. Cornelius whispered in my ear "just lay still next to Him and keep Him warm." I felt his bare legs next to me, as well as some rags around his upper body.

Suddenly, I felt like I'd come Home. I never knew any other home than the loving, strong arms of Cornelius, my shepherd- boy master. Yet, instantly, I knew I was in the presence of One much, much older than a newborn. In my spirit, I could tell this little boy was from another world. He had a "foreverness" to His being...The Ancient of Days is a good way to describe Him. I felt cared for immediately. The tender love I felt from Cornelius was multiplied by infinity...it's the only way I can describe what I felt. Why He would need my small amount of warmth was a total mystery, but I felt so fulfilled and important to provide it. As I lay quietly beside Him, I soaked in the warmth from another world from His being.

My pent-up anger over my inability to see started to bubble to the surface as I lay there. Why me? I hadn't asked to be born blind. I was missing so much in life and I was frustratingly bitter. True, I'd come to a point of semi-resignation to my plight...Cornelius' love and acceptance helped me greatly...but I still battled it all in my quiet hours at night while he slept nearby. I really wanted to see everything in my world, especially this special Treasure laying beside me.

The Newborn stirred. The teen girl's deep maternal instinct was quickly in motion as she quietly hushed Him as He squirmed in the prickly hay. I felt His tiny right hand brush across my useless eyes as He settled into a new position...and I felt a warmth flow into them. Then, it happened. I didn't know what "blurry" meant, but that's what it was. My eyes that never knew light began to see as though through a rain-blurred window. I dared not move should I ruin what was taking place. Slowly, the water drained from the window pane and I shuddered with joy. A fresh, shining Newborn's face came clearly into focus...it perfectly matched the infinite love I felt flowing from His heart for me. Never seeing a smile before, I didn't know what to call it, but that's what was on His face as His young-but-ancient eyes met my newly-born ones. My eyes then blurred again, this time from tears. I knew what they were for they had flowed bitterly on many occasions.

For the first time in my life, my tears were warm...not with anger, but with joy...unspeakable joy! In my attempts to love and warm The Master, He had given me my sight.

(Scripturally, we know that Jesus's first miracle was performed as an adult at a wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-12)...but thanks for traveling with me along the path of "what could have been, had He deemed it"!)

(Photo: Public Domain, courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net)

 


 

December 9, 2017

A Cobblestone Speaks.

I was dug from deep beneath the earth and tossed onto a mud-caked ox cart over 3000 years ago. The city of Bethlehem, which means "The City of Bread", was under construction and I was felt to be worth a piece of street pavement. After a bumpy ride into the newborn-town, rough, tanned, hard-working hands placed me within the dirt of a side street and pounded me firmly into place with a mallet.

Over the next 1000-plus years, innumerable events happened atop me. Wheels of carts rolled heavily over me, some of which pushed me and my comrades a little deeper into the earth. The mud-caked hooves of weary beasts pulling those carts used me as a firm foundation while their masters mercilessly barked at them. This really stirred my anger for I was part of a street with a long, uphill grade. Feet...oh, the feet of the people who used me as a stepping stone...impossible to number! My favorites were the bare feet of children...they accompanied little voices that more often were cheerful than not. Businessmen's well-made sandals hurriedly moved over me. Thin soles worn by the elderly shuffled and scraped across me on their way to market. I always felt privileged to be a part of their day for they had done so much for this little town we call home. I knew them well for I had felt their warm, toddling feet 80 years before.

Only a mathematician could calculate the number of sunrises I felt warm up chilly soul. I always welcomed them. Yet, sometimes I would not see one for days or even weeks...until the next heavy rainfall arrived...for beasts of burden mindlessly excreted their waste upon me as they worked. I not only missed the sunshine in-between rains but also the touch of human feet...I felt most useful when they graced me. You would think that I'd get used to these times of drought after so many centuries, but I never did...you'd have to understand my love for feet...especially those young, little ones of promise.

I had nothing to do in life but to lay there in the hard-as-rock earth, so I did a lot of thinking...and listening. Voices in this little town became very familiar...I followed them from young-and-innocent to old-and-weary, generation after generation. Some were like friends, others were so filled with bitterness and hate that I dreaded their sounds. I always wondered what those little voices and feet-of-promise held. Would they be the next mayor in town, a skillful tradesman, a loyal spouse, a loving parent, a person who cared for their fellow man?

Sadly, Roman soldiers' feet became commonplace in our little town in 63 BC. Few were the ones that belonged to the kind. Those feet walked sternly, ruthlessly and with unwavering authority. Helplessly, I dreaded their sounds and resented their presence for 6 very long decades.

Then, one day I noticed a very significant uptick in traffic, not only on my street but throughout our beloved Bethlehem. Streets were jammed unlike any time in my life...not that I minded their company. Voices of entire families, voices I'd never heard before, mingled with those of "the regulars". Their common theme of conversation, tinged heavily with generous amounts of complaint and disgust, was that of an empire-wide taxation demanded by the Roman emporer, Caesar Augustus. Not only did one have to pay it, but they had to travel...no matter how far or how costly...to their city of birth to do so. The only people in town genuinely happy about it all were the merchants, the inn keeper and, of course, the ruthless tax collectors.

One night during that taxation will live forever in my memory. My street was deserted and silent when suddenly the hoof beats of a donkey and the familiar sounds of a man's sandals approached me. Being past midnight, this was an uncommon occurrence and I wearily half-dozed, vaguely interested in the goings-on. Those steps stopped right next to me and the travel-weary-but-kind gentleman regretfully said, "Sorry, Mary, but this stable is the best I can do. The inn is full." There was a distinct urgency in her voice as she said, "It's fine, Joseph. Please, hurry, help me inside. He will be born very soon!"

The next moment changed my life forever. My thousand-plus years of a commonplace, obscure, side-street existence suddenly found its ultimate meaning. As this young, full-term, mother-to-be slipped from the donkey's back, her right foot used me for support as she steadied herself for 2-3 seconds. There was no sandal between her and I...and I immediately felt something entirely foreign to me. A sudden Warmth poured into me. It was unlike that of any mid-summer's noon-day sun. It didn't scorch and drain me, it filled soothed and filled me...to overflowing. No human's foot had ever transmitted such indescribable beauty to me...and I inherently knew this Beauty was not flowing from the girl named Mary, but from the One she carried within her. This was a Glory from Above, from God-in-the-Flesh, from Eternity-into-Time. I immediately, unquestioningly knew I had met my Maker, the One who had spoken me into existence.

I now knew why I was who I was, where I was, when I was. Plain, ignored, well-worn and weary, I, a very simple cobblestone, had helped...just for a moment...to carry The Savior of the World. My life and purpose was forever worthwhile. I had experienced the Infinite Love of the King. My stone-cold heart was warm with a Glow from Heaven. Had I possessed a mouth, I would have immediately burst into a song overflowing with joy.

But I didn't have to. From the skies just outside of town, the mouths of angels sang a melody no human tongue could ever sing. Its distant tune and words drifted so sweetly, so softly down my weary, ancient street: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."* Sweeping over me, those gentle sounds sweetly mingled with sudden cries coming from within the tiny barn I'd be stationed in front of for centuries...those of a Newborn Son, the One who knew I would someday meet Him the very moment He made me.

In this City of Bread, my starving, stone-cold heart was fed to overflowing by the warmth of The Bread of Life**. I would never go hungry again.

* Luke 2:14
** John 6:35

 

 

December 8, 2017

Christmas on Saginaw Bay.

Jim stepped a little unsteadily into his camouflaged jon boat, joining his 7 year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, Kiowa. The pre-dawn darkness, 30-degree December air and a stirring northeast breeze all combined to put an even colder chill across his soul. He had hunted waterfowl on Saginaw Bay since he was a kid. For a moment...just a moment...his heart was warmed by the memories of hunting so many years ago with Grandpa and Dad, using old-style wooden decoys. Now a year past 70 and a widower for 3 years, life for him routinely felt as dark and cold as the weather whipping around him. For hopes of finding fulfillment for even a few hours, he wanted to again visit these waters he knew so well and loved so much. The forecast was for spitting snow and winds reaching 15 mph...perfect for the ducks to be moving about. A slight chop on the water slowed him a bit as he headed toward a large, secluded stand of reeds...his favorite spot, gleaned from his many years on the bay.

He had watched his beloved wife of 45 years battle cancer over 6 long years. The ups-and-downs, the repeated rising-and-crashing hopes had taken its toll on him...and he still hadn't recovered. Monthly bills from the hospital and doctor were continually visiting his mailbox. His heart was bursting with chronic loneliness. Rare was the day when clear skies and sunshine were the forecast for his heart. His only son lived 4 states away and, though they talked weekly, their face-to-face visits were twice a year. His daughter and son-in-law lived just 25 minutes away but their hands were full with work and 3 teens...the oldest of which, his 17 year-old grandson, was struggling with identity issues, the high school party scene and plunging grades. Jim had spent countless hours with him on these waters in the autumns of yesteryear and they had been very close. But, as the high school years arrived, the two of them had mysteriously grown distant and it broke Jim's heart.

As he settled into his spot among the reeds, Kiowa nuzzled his hand. She was his best friend now, always loyal, always loving, always there...but she couldn't fill the void within him. Thoughts of turning his 12 gauge on himself and ending it all that morning suddenly were heavy and real. It could all be over in a moment. Why go on? He'd lived a full-enough life, the love of his life was gone and his remaining family had their own demanding lives to live. Yet, instead of picking up his gun, he buried his face in his hands and sobbed tears of wordless grief and hopelessness.

Jim had fished on Saginaw Bay on so many July mornings that he couldn't begin to count them. The balmy air, coupled with those mid-summer sunrises, made for bright, warm mornings. For some very strange reason, this is what he suddenly sensed as he sat there forlornly, hunting gloves holding his bowed face. He slowly lifted his head and was deeply startled. The eastern sky had not yet turned a light gray, yet it was uniquely brighter than the summer sun. Not a religious man by any means, he had heard of angels in story books and movies but had brushed them all off as simple fantasies of children. Yet, here he was, face-to-face with a being from another world, a man in a brilliantly-shining, white robe.

Jim found himself fearfully and quickly on his knees. Kiowa, on the other hand, seemed fully at peace as she sat attentively at his side. The brightly-shining man began to speak and Jim shuddered...he was lost in a moment he never conceived could happen. The being was telling him to not be afraid, that he was bearing good news of great joy. Though Jim could not begin to understand what this all meant, he did know that suddenly he had touched The Eternal. He had seen a ray of hope. This being, an angel, told Jim that a baby boy had been born that night in Bay Port, a tiny town of 400-500 along the bay's eastern shore. Beyond-stunned, Jim heard the angel say that this baby was Christ the Lord, the Savior of the World and that He could be found in the town garage, wrapped in clean shop rags.

As Jim feared that he was losing his mind or having a bad dream, more angels suddenly filled the eastern sky and their glow not only lit up the bay, it shined into his heart. They were praising the God of the Universe and he'd never heard such a sound. Nor had he ever felt such a warmth and peace...and he hoped-against-hope that it was all real. Then, the skies suddenly darkened as the angels went back to their Heavenly home. With hands shaking and mind spinningly numb, Jim immediately headed toward shore. He was mysteriously drawn to what he had heard and was compelled to follow up on it. Pulling his boat onto the trailer, he and Kiowa quickly headed down M-25 toward town.

Not sure exactly where the town garage was, Jim drove up and down the side streets until he saw a soft glow emanating from a small, cinder block building. It was still too early for the shop to open, but a Light was on so he pulled into the small gravel parking lot. As he and Kiowa approached the front door, the pull on his heart...so strong, so warm, so beautiful...became more intense with each step. He knocked on the door and listened. The kind, gentle voice of a man beckoned him inside.

Strange as can be, as he stepped inside, he saw a man and a teenage girl sitting on crates between two cars in the repair bays. The young lady was holding a tiny baby boy and, just as the angel had said, he was wrapped in shop rags...the red ones he'd seen for so many years. Overwhelmed as he walked toward them, he quickly dropped to his knees as Kiowa stretched forward on her belly. "His name is Jesus", the young girl said. "You are welcome here...stay as long as you wish."

Jim stayed on his knees for an undetermined, unhurried amount of time, his head bent low to the strangely-warm concrete. Wave-after-wave of peace and love flowed over and through him. Strangely-but-beautifully, anger, bitterness, doubt and hopelessness washed out of him by the bucket-loads. A Heavenly Love-Light shone into his dark soul and a Glow lit every corner within him. He felt a true sense of forgiveness for the many sins that had weighed on his conscience throughout the years. Everything he had longed for but could never put into words was here, in the presence of this tiny boy named Jesus.

It wasn't a hallucination. It wasn't a dream. It was God touching earth. It was a widower's lonely soul being rescued by The Savior. He couldn't find the words for it all. Eternal life beyond this world was now his. He had experienced Divine Love and Grace first-hand.

Jim arose from his knees a new man as Kiowa's tail whipped back and forth with great joy. Christmas had come to Saginaw Bay.

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December 6, 2017

They Traversed Afar.

It was a December evening perhaps 10-12 years ago and I was headed to my car, walking through the quiet, deserted hallways of a nursing home. From a distance I could hear an old-time acappella choir recording of "We Three Kings" drifting my way. As I continued to walk, the music became louder and I came upon a large, open room to my left. There, sitting at a table on the far side of an otherwise-deserted room with their backs to me, were two people. One was elderly, covered with blankets and sitting in a bed-wheelchair. The other, younger, sat nearby...most likely a family member. I paused for a moment and took it all in.

Not a word was said between the two. Lost in thought, they likely were taking a long walk down memory lane together...Christmases past and decades of life's many facets were being replayed...and that beautiful old Christmas carol accompanied them as they silently went from memory to memory. The sounds coming from the portable player were old...the scratchy, 33 1/3 or 78 rpm vinyl type...perhaps recorded in the 1930's-40's and later converted to tape/CD. As the song continued to play on in its lonely, distant, timeless way, I was caught up in a priceless moment that I've replayed many times since.

Most, if not all, of the acappella singers in that choir were likely gone from this world by that December's evening. They never realized when they gathered to record "We Three Kings" many decades prior that they would bless two people as they silently rehearsed their lives a far-distant Christmas season later...or me, as I stood still and soaked it all in from a distance.

It is felt that the The Wisemen traveled 1000 miles as they followed The Star of Bethlehem to the Christ Child. My friends, they not only traveled 1000 miles...they traveled 2000 years. They crossed the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and 1/3 of America to a quiet nursing home in Michigan in the 21st century, blessing 3 more people who were following His Star at night.

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light.

("We Three Kings", verse 1 & chorus, by Rev. John Hopkins, 1857)

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December 5, 2017

What If?

December was a whole 'nother world during the Great Depression and World War II. Mom remembered getting an orange or nuts for Christmas and calling it a good Christmas. Dad said there were Christmases when he received no gifts at all or perhaps a banana. He does fondly recall Grandma Hays cutting up apple slices in a crisscross fashion and saying it made them "taste like Christmas"...something she did at any time of the year.

My father-in-law, Larry Wright, recalls the year he received a little box of notebook-hole reinforcements and, though he didn't know what they were, he really liked them. His coal-miner dad was injured and couldn't work deep inside the Kentucky earth. Unable to afford their $5/month rent, their family of 6 moved to the old Wright family farmhouse in Eastern Tennessee. They hauled water from a remote source, heated with wood, snow would blow into the house through cracks in the wall...and he felt it was the best year of his entire childhood, as do his siblings.

What if we suddenly were caught in a time-warp and found ourselves once again in the very lean years of the 1930's and early '40's? No TV's. Cell phones? Non-existent. Computers and electronic devices? Zero. If blessed enough to have a car in the garage, there was only one...though it may not have had a heater, for that was an option one might not be able to afford. Say we have electricity but must heat with wood or coal, and there's enough food for a single helping per meal. A telephone on the wall? Perhaps, but long-distance rates are such that calls were placed on weekends and limited to under 5 minutes.

How would you and I fare? I think we would initially be caught in such a culture shock that our minds would have significant difficulty down-shifting from 5th gear on the freeway to 2nd gear on the side streets of life. Our engine may be found idling at high rpm's as we find our transmission helplessly in neutral. Slowly, though, our minds would wrap around our new reality and we would have to adjust.

I'm thinking it would begin to look again like the '30's and '40's in our homes and yards this Christmas season. More people would be sitting around the living room and actually talking from the heart, looking into each other's faces. Mom might be knitting a scarf as Dad repairs his daughter's shoes...but at least they're in one room together. A neighbor makes tracks in the snow as they carry a plate of warm cookies to our front door. Kids quickly learn to string popcorn to wrap around the small pine cut from a woodlot across the road. Great-grandpa would teach his 6 year-old great-grandson how to whittle a small item to hang on the Christmas tree...and the little fella wouldn't be distracted by something electronic. The Good Book would be taken from the table aside the chair and Luke 2's account of Christmas would be slowly read and deeply pondered. Talking to God would take a little longer...and be a little sweeter.

I recall with great fondness Thanksgiving Day, 2013. Debbie, Lance and I left that morning from southern Ohio, where we had spent the night with Debbie's parents. The 5 of us had journeyed through Kentucky, stopping for a great Thanksgiving dinner along the way, and on into Eastern Tennessee. It was dark when we rolled onto the Pemberton farmstead. Dad Wright lit the gas stove in the old tin roof farmhouse and temperatures at-or-below freezing slowly left the living room. For the next 4 hours, we sat in a semi-circle around that old stove, still wearing warm clothing, and talked. A stray cat found its way onto Lance's lap for awhile. Story-after-story, thought-after-thought, memory-after-memory rolled from our minds and hearts. There were no uncomfortable lulls...conversation just simply flowed. No TV, no radio, no computers and I doubt I even had cell phone reception...but I didn't care. We were together. Simply. Beautifully. Like it used to be. Like it could still be...if we make the concerted, deliberate effort to unplug from the electronic world and plug into the simple things of the spirit...and the Christ Child.

Maybe the '30's and '40's weren't so bad. They may have been short on what didn't matter as much...but they were long on what did.

Anybody on board for a little deliberate, self-imposed time-warp this December? Do we really have the courage? Or even the desire? I think for many of us, deep down inside, there is a longing for it, don't you?

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December 4, 2017

Riding the Rails & the Far Reach of Influence.

Countless trains have chugged up and down these tracks and around the bend in greater-Flushing for many decades. The varied assaults of weather upon those monstrous beasts of burden has run the gamut. While many have been the sun-drenched days of July, countless mornings that registered below zero have also been their fare. Fog that clung like a heavy, gray blanket, winds of gale-force strength and white-out snow storms have tried to stop them to no avail. The engines and cars simply clung to the rails and followed them, undeterred and sight-unseen, to their next destination.

The back yard of Staff Sergeant Harold Trerice, a Flushing resident and World War II Veteran who gave his life for America and world-wide freedom in The Battle of the Bulge, backed up to "the rails". As train after train rumbled through the area as he grew up, his ears would have known their sounds from both far and near. While his young feet ran through the summers' grass or as he drifted asleep beneath thick quilts in a January midnight's blizzard, those sounds were his friends. As he faced the brutal cold and snow of that 1944-45 winter in Europe, his heart was likely filled with intense loneliness. Like so many other soldiers, he probably shivered in a foxhole with feet totally numb while German artillery shells burst through the trees overheard. As his mind drifted longingly back home, I wonder if his thoughts at any point turned to the boyhood sounds of those huge, iron friends who passed his home like clock-work. In his hours of separation and sadness, were those sounds a source of comfort, peace and grace? I'd like to think so. But what if those trains hadn't pushed on through in all kinds of weather? They wouldn't have shown him another example of how to persevere no matter how severe the trouble.

What are the twin rails that see us through the best and worst of times? Prayer and God's Word. Emotions will fail us. Human reason can betray us. Friends may disappear. Even our own hearts won't always point us True North. Yet, heart-to-heart conversations with God and treasuring the immutable words He inspired in the Scriptures will be found to be ever-reliable...even when we cannot see the hand in front of our face. When we cling to those side-by-side sources in deliberate faith and keep allowing them to guide us slowly forward, we truly will find our way Home.

The example we leave behind in doing so may ring true in the heart and memory of someone else when, years later, they journey through the midnight of their own soul.

"It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him." (Lamentations 3:22-24)

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December 3, 2017

A Comforting Sound.

We each have sounds that bring us a comfort deep down within us, something that gently soothes our heart and spirit. Perhaps it's the steady tick-tock of a grandfather clock when the entire house is still. The soft whoosh-and-hum of a dishwasher, a breeze rustling through the pines, a gently-flowing stream, whatever those sounds are, we are better for hearing them.

One of the sounds that bring me comfort is that of a train chugging steadily along in the distance. Toss in the whistle and I have the icing on the cake. Nowhere is that sound more special to me than when I'm visiting the old farm that has been in Debbie's family for over 100 years, located in the hills of Eastern Tennessee.

In October, 2006, we were staying in that old, tin-roof farmhouse for a very sad occasion...the funeral of Debbie's grandmother, Edna Wright. She was born in that house 92 years prior. It was the end of an era. Grandpa Wright's soul had flown home to Jesus in 1986 and with Grandma now gone, it would never be the same again. As I lay awake one of those October nights, I could hear the lonesome sound of a train in the distance as it wound its way through the hills. It brought a very special feeling of comfort and meaning to me during a very sad time.

I know of no month on the calendar that carries more raw emotion than December. The depths of joy, sorrow, togetherness and loneliness seem to reach their lowest points at this time of the year for many. Tears have already been flowing from these eyes...and there are likely more to come. Later this month marks the 5-year mark of Mom taking her heavenly flight. Faces of loved ones now Home in Heaven flood back during this month like none other. I don't know about you, but I need a comforting sound in my spirit and mind in December in a way unlike the other 11 months of the year.

This is one of the biggest reasons why the Christ Child came to us...whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. He was born to not only be our Savior...the Forgiver of our sins and the Source of a new way of life...but also to be our Comforter and our Friend. God took on flesh in the form of Jesus to be with us in our pain, our sorrow, our sadness, our loneliness.

I have the ear of my spirit turned toward a tiny, humble stable in Bethlehem this month and it's tuned in to the distant sounds of 2000+ years ago. The Love-Light that gleamed from that feed-trough-for-beasts is shining for each of us this December, just as it did back then...and just like it did in Heaven for eternity-past and will for eternity-future.

The most comforting sounds for me this December come from a Newborn...God Incarnate. His gentle breaths bring hope, His cries bring identification with our pain, His heartbeats bring Life, His tiny noises while squirming and falling asleep bring a contented peace.

Like a lonely train calling out in the Tennessee hills, Jesus is calling to us all, bidding us to journey to The Manger in the depths of our night.

"O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy."*

*(From "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", traditional English carol, dating to 1500's or earlier.)

(Photo: Colorado Mountain Train, by Sally Pearce, public domain.)

 


 

December 2, 2017

Reflections of a Grandpa.

Somehow, I now find myself being a Grandpa of 6 wonderful grandchildren. I shake my head in wonder because just last week our own 3 kids were toddling around the house! In this latest chapter of life, I gladly and affectionately embrace my new name: Baba. It's a time of great joy and deep gratitude for me. It's also a time of pondering, reflection and perspective.

As I look back over what I find to be a swiftly-fleeting time on this earth, certain things are crystallizing ever-more-clearly in my mind. Much like a brisk drive down a dusty country road, the dust cloud behind me is settling after the hurried, very-full days of getting an education, entering the work force, marrying my wonderful wife Debbie and raising our precious kids. Certain things loom largely as I gaze back in the rear-view mirror while others have either diminished in size or totally vanished. What I've found to be lasting and most important are:

1) Be there. There is no substitute for time spent within the four walls of home. Love is best spelled t-i-m-e.

2) Whatever is accomplished outside the four walls of home is dwarfed by what is accomplished within them. Achievements and accolades...as nice as they can be...are placed into boxes, put on a shelf in the closet and the light switch then turned off. Names in the marketplace are forgotten and desks are emptied, only to be filled by another. Yet, memories of priceless, simple moments spent with family continue to burn brightly for decades...replayed time-and-again in hearts and minds.

3) Keep it simple. Lower the distractions...they're the little gremlins that steal the gold. Draw boundary lines that firmly limit commitments outside the home and guard them vigilantly. Look often into the eyes of the ones you love. Time cannot be relived.

4) Keep your relationship with God up-to-the-minute. Nothing outlasts The Eternal. We need Him desperately in all our days, in all our moments. The love, meaning, wisdom, perspective and guidance He provides cannot be found elsewhere.

5) Pray. Often. Anytime. It keeps the lines of communication open to our Source of Help and Strength.

6) Keep following God's words. The timeless words of the Scriptures date from eternity-past to eternity-future. They are like iron scaffolding for the soul in a world built upon shifting, blowing sand.

7) Life is very short. Don't waste it chasing what can't be caught or kept.

8) There are no guarantees. It can all end today. Keep the air clear with God and your fellow-man.  Experience the pardon for sins that Jesus offers at The Cross.

9) Be yourself. As I think upon the life of the only grandpa I have memory of, Grandpa Hays, it was his laughter, his gentle ways, a candy bar or a pack of gum, a golf tip or two in his back yard, the stories, playing catch, a meal out together, a round of golf, his intentional connectedness although separated by 2000+ miles, his advice, his example, his prayers that helped to form me. Simply being who he was, where he was, in his own unique and loving way was immensely powerful.

10) Live steadily and be available. I knew one great-grandparent, Great-Grandpa Kenimer. On a family vacation in 1968, we were blessed to meet this southwestern Oklahoma sharecropper, a man of few means in this world but a giant in his soul. I recall one very simple conversation with him as he sat in the setting sun on the back of a farm wagon (see photo below). He lived a steady, honorable life through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Many years later, he was patiently there to answer a little great-grandson's question.

11) Forgive. As quickly as possible. Give people the benefit of a doubt. Their troubles may be heavier than you can imagine.  Seek forgiveness from others where needed.

12) Live for what matters...a life of up-to-the-minute love for God, yourself, your family, your neighbor, your world...in that order.

 

 

 

December 1, 2017

Reflections on Fatherhood.

This past Sunday morning, while visiting our son Luke and his family in Texas, we were soon to be on our way to church when this scene of Luke holding Caleb presented itself. Sitting a fair distance away, I grabbed my cell phone from my pocket and tried to capture the moment. Though the pic appears washed-out, I intentionally left it that way for it carries such an important message to me.

Fatherhood brings joys that cannot be put into human words. How can one possibly express the meaning of holding a little one whose blood and bones are comprised, in part, of your own? How do you adequately describe the loving look in your two year-old's eyes, rolling with your kids in a pile of October leaves, or hearing the tiny puffs of a newborn's breaths? To watch them grow and become who they were meant to be is such a wonderful, priceless thing to behold. These are just a few of the many up-sides to a father's love. Yet, of course, being a father is by far not all fun and games.

Fatherhood is not for the faint of heart. It takes grit, guts, determination, endurance and self-sacrifice. It takes a huge word: commitment....total...for a lifetime. It means being entirely committed to one's wife, being at home and involved in family life much more than in prior days of coming-and-going with friends on a whim. It means saying "no" to pursuits that can wait until the next chapter of life...or fall by the roadside forever. It means being content with less of the "almighty dollar" in order to experience what money can't buy and what will most certainly outlast it. Formative childhood moments and memories lost by chasing "the big bucks" can't be bought back with a big bank account. These are some of the hard, cold, nuts-and-bolts, rubber-meets-the-road ingredients of fatherhood love. It's not easy...but it's always more than worth it in the long run.

Fatherhood will humble a man. As strong as we men may think we are, we are not equal to the task. As my years of fatherhood swiftly passed by, I over-and-again saw this to be true. As much as I loved our children and as good of a father as I aspired to be, I could not and did not continually reach the mark. That's where "I'm sorry's" came into play and the determination to have a better tomorrow. It's also where the love of the Heavenly Father was found to be so priceless. He was my Source of Love. He was my Strength. The kids knew I loved them, and most importantly, that God the Father loved them. In these years, I Peter 4:8 came clearly into focus for me: "And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins." As imperfect as I was...growing in my fatherhood role...God's love made up for my shortcomings.

That's why I left this photo with its washed-out appearance. There's only one perfect Father and He lives in Heaven.  God's Love-Light, when we as dads open the windows of our soul and allow it into our hearts and homes...choosing to focus upon it daily...bathes our homes with a Love not found in this world. It surrounds us continually. It is available for the asking, for the experiencing.

We earthly fathers, we men "who need no help", desperately need The Heavenly Father's Love to get the job done. We must be humble enough to ask for and receive it.

 


 

November 23, 2017

A Dog Named Trixie.

Somewhere beyond this fence post in southwest Oklahoma's Kiowa County stood a sharecropper's farmhouse where Claud and Mae Kenimer resided. As the Great Depression gripped the nation and the winds of the Dust Bowl ravaged the region, their daughter, Willa, gave birth to Dad within those walls in 1932.

Be it here and/or another location, Great-Grandpa had two loyal dogs who roamed the red dirt farm he worked: Rex and Trixie. He would tell Rex to go get the cows and his four-legged friend would obey his command, saving that tall, thin, gentleman in overalls some time and energy for other work needing to be done.

Trixie's job, on the other hand, was to kill rattlesnakes. I don't know how many times she fulfilled that duty over her lifetime, but it must have been a fair number for her to have such a reputation. The quickness and cunning with which she performed her work would have been an amazing thing to watch indeed!

What if Trixie hadn't been roaming the yard and fence rows as her family went about their business each day? How about when Dad toddled near a patch of tall grass or stooped curiously near a pile of rocks? The possibility certainly exists that he would have lost his life if Trixie hadn't faithfully been on guard and about her work.

Our lives contain countless strands of spaghetti, myriads of circumstances and possibilities that could have disastrously occurred...but didn't. On Thanksgiving Day, 2017 among the innumerable blessings that have filled the breaths and heartbeats of my life, I am very grateful for what didn't happen to me. A razor-thin miss with a dual-trailer gravel semi-truck at a greater-Flushing intersection on May 10, 1975 would have instantly claimed the lives of Dad, Dave, myself and a very dear relative. How many other times were there near-misses on the road, at home, at work or play? I can't count them all. Can I number the times something did not occur because of the faithfulness of someone that very day...or many years before? I cannot. I am thankful to God for the unknowable, unseen, uncountable things He has spared me from.

Trixie, God rest your gentle bones...lying somewhere beneath the red soil of southwest Oklahoma. I am grateful to God for how He made you and for how you faithfully carried out your calling each day. You didn't just help people 80 years ago. What you did is still helping folks up here in Michigan today. If you hadn't done your job, I may not have had a Dad who loved Mom and our family...a man who faithfully pointed Dave, Cheri and me to what I am most grateful for: Jesus, the Savior of the World.

"Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations." - Psalm 100:4,5

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November 22, 2017

The Light in the Kitchen.

The wood stove door creaked open in the early, cold darkness. Thin of frame and weary of bone, Myrtle Pemberton shivered. She struck a match and lit the fire for another of a long line of innumerable mornings. As yellow-orange hues flickered across the floor, her breaths were seen in tiny clouds. For many years this had been her way of life...and would continue to be for many more. She would eventually raise 13 children within these walls. Electricity wouldn't wind its way among the hills to this East Tennessee farmhouse until the 1960's. This was Thanksgiving morning, November 28, 1929...just under a month into the Great Depression. The winds had howled throughout the night and carried a freezing rain, pelting the tin roof mercilessly. As she walked to the outhouse in the darkness, she left her angel footprints in a light covering of snow.

A 15 year-old girl was among her children that slept soundly beneath layers of quilts that November morning, a young lady named Edna. She would grow up to marry a man named Clifford...a man who would wrestle a living out of coal seams hidden deep beneath Kentucky earth for a number of years. One of their children, Larry, became my father-in-law when his daughter Debbie and I exchanged our vows of marriage in 1981.

As Myrtle did every other morning, she worked hard to prepare a breakfast to fill so many stomachs, including that of her husband Haywood. On top of that task, her mind was busily planning the preparation of a turkey which had roamed the hills only two days prior, plus putting together all the trimmings. She knew Edna would be at her side in a couple hours, but in the quietness of the pre-dawn she did what she always did...not only in the morning but all day long: she talked to Jesus.

Great-Grandma Myrtle knew Jesus heart-to-heart. It was He who sustained her through her countless trials throughout countless days. The Depression added yet another heavy blanket to her load but, as she always found in the past, it wasn't too much weight for Jesus to shoulder. Her gentle voice hummed "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" to keep her heart and mind calm when she heard heavy cares, worries and fear knocking on the door of yet another morning. Soon, the knocks went away...just as they did time and time before.

While she hummed and talked to The Savior in those dimly-lit predawn hours, there seemed to be a warmer, calmer, brighter Glow coming from the kitchen. It was the Love-Light of Jesus' heart. Myrtle Pemberton could face...and conquer...yet another day of endless responsibilities that wouldn't cease until way past the time the house was enveloped in darkness once again.

As she faced the first Thanksgiving of the Great Depression, somehow, deep within, Great-Grandma knew there would be a brighter day someday. Until then, the Love-Light of Jesus would be more than enough to warm her heart and light her way.

I am more than thankful for a saint that I never had the priceless blessing of meeting...a thin, small-boned lady named Myrtle.

 


 

November 21, 2017

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home; 
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field,
Fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown,
Unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade, and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear:
Lord of harvest, grant that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day
All offenses purge away;
Give His angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store
In His garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come,
Bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified,
In Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come,
Raise the glorious harvest home.

("Come, Ye Thankful People Come", by Henry Alford, 1844; music by George J. Elvey, 1868)

 

 

 

November 20, 2017

Gratitude in the Midst of Pain.

Martin Rinkart was a pastor in the walled city of Eilenburg, Saxony (Germany) during the horrific 30 Years War of 1618-1648. Being a city of refuge, the city was overcrowded, ridden with disease and starvation.

1637 was The Year of Great Pestilence and there were four pastors in Eilenburg. One left town for greener pastures. Rev. Rinkart performed the funerals for the two that stayed. Conditions went from terrible to horrific within those city walls and, as the sole pastor in town, Rev. Rinkart conducted up to 50 funerals per day (over 4,400 for the year), including that of his own wife. By the end of the year, with the death toll rising so rapidly, people were buried in trenches without ceremony. Yet, possessing little of this world's goods and struggling to have enough food for his own family, Martin Rinkart continued to give from his limited resources to those who were worse off than he.

Not only was Rev. Rinkart generous of soul, he was brave of heart. At one point, the Swedish army surrounded Eilenburg in seige and demanded a very exorbitant tax. He led a group of people outside the city walls and negotiated with the Swedish commander to no avail. Realizing that his only hope lay in God, not man, he fell to his knees in prayer to God before them. The military leader was so moved by what he saw that he greatly reduced the tax.

Wanting to provide his children with a prayer song of grace as they gathered around the dinner table...a table containing meager food scraps...he composed the lyrics to "Now Thank We All Our God" circa 1636.

Without finding reason to be thankful to God, we crumble in the midst of our difficulties...nor can we find healing from their wounds. In the midst of even the most devastating of circumstances, Martin Rickart's lyrics point us to The One whose love we cannot lose, though all else slips through our fingers:

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And guard us through all ills in this world, till the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven—
The one eternal God, Whom earth and Heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

("Now Thank We All Our God", by Martin Rinkart, ca.1636; music by Johann Cruger, 1647)

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November 19, 2017

Boulders in the Field.

I find this pile of boulders alongside a November farm field to be a source of great meaning. Perhaps they represent decades of toil, of a farmer faithfully working his field and gleaning this very significant collection one-by-one. In a farm field, boulders are a great nuisance...a significant obstruction to progress. In the field of life, they're an enormous blessing, a source of power that moves us ever-forward.

As we work the dusty, dry, routine fields of life day-by-day and year-by-year, occasionally our plow blade will catch on a larger stone...an inspirational life that captures our eye...causing us to pause for a moment, take notice and then move forward. On very rare occasions though, we unearth a boulder...a life so influential that we're entirely captivated by it. We stop the tractor, get off and walk with wonder toward it. The immensity of character of this life we've just stumbled upon has entirely stopped us in our tracks. So taken by what we've found, we eagerly and determinedly hoist this new-found treasure onto our wagon, proceeding to haul it across the everyday, dusty field of our life and gratefully place it upon our life-long collection of treasured trophies.

I've been spending some time at my boulder pile this November, this Season of reflection and gratitude. Most of the lives I treasure so much...these ones who've moved me in such a great and lasting way...were gentle, loving people who quietly stood strong and firm for what they knew to be God's will...no matter how strongly the winds of change blew across life's field. Hidden among the common dust of everyday life, they had no need for the limelight. Their only desire was to live in The Light...and thus their lives became very uncommon. I would be absolutely nowhere without my boulder pile...and at the top of the heap is Jesus, my Savior and Lord, the Rock of Ages.

It's so healthy and important to set aside some time to step off the field of everyday responsibilities, take a seat beneath the aged Oak of Memory, lean back against its strength and ponder the lives I've been so blessed by. As I look back across my life, my heart is warmed as face-after-face of boulder-after-boulder enters my mind's eye.  To then give deep, heart-felt thanks to The Giver completes the cycle of blessing.

I'm not done visiting my boulder pile this Thanksgiving Season. How about you?  How about you?

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November 18, 2017

Grateful for Unknown People.

It was a gray, chilly, damp Sunday night in November, 1985. Debbie and I, along with our 2 year-old son Luke, were returning home from a trip to Toronto. It had been a very difficult year of trial for us and we just needed to get out of town for a while. We were west-bound on I-69 near a small town between Port Huron and Flint...perhaps an hour or so from home...when all of a sudden I knew I had car trouble.

I pulled over to the side of the highway, lifted the hood and saw that we had a ruptured radiator hose. I got back in the car and drove to the nearest exit and into the driveway of the closest house. I knocked on the door, explained my situation to a total stranger and the next thing I knew, the lady of the house was a hostess for Debbie and Luke. Her husband placed a phone call and then he and I got into his truck and drove into town. The auto parts store was, of course, closed. Yet, this gentleman knew the man who owned the store and somehow he either had a key or we picked one up. Finding the proper replacement hose, we returned to their home, the new hose was installed in their driveway and we were on our way safely home.

Last year, Debbie and I stopped by the house just to see if perhaps this very gracious couple still lived there. I knocked on the door but there was no answer. As I stood on the porch, I noticed a very fitting statue standing nearby...an angel. There was no answer at the door...unlike many years ago...but a man was mowing the grass on a riding mower. We proceeded to visit together, learned that he was their son and that his parents had both left this world by then. I recounted our story of their kindness to us many years before. He was pleased to hear of it and said he would pass it on to some relatives. We learned that our story was one of many, that his parents had helped a significant number of people down through the years...one of which was a hungry, vagrant man that was discovered sitting on their porch. The Mrs. proceeded to fill his stomach.

Over the years, I have been blessed countless times by complete strangers. People who were very gracious while on the job, watching an elderly couple tenderly shuffle down a hallway together, a blind man walking through a mall with his hand resting upon the shoulder of a friend and on-and-on. God's grace abounds in common people on common days in common places.

I don't know the names of those November-night "good neighbors". But I do know their essence: kindness, grace, mercy, patience, compassion and availability. 32 years later, I am still very grateful for that couple and my heart continues to be warmed by their memory.

Total strangers, they were angels in human form.


 

 

November 17, 2017

A Sacred Blanket.

I love the beauty of a low-lying fog hovering over an autumn field, the early-morning cotton that thickly inhabits Smoky Mountain hollows, a blanket of mist that clings to a lake of glass as the rising sun peers through it. These sights carry a sense of sacredness, of serenity, of other-worldliness, of a much- longed-for peace. They cause me to think of the Spirit of God drawing very near.

Don't we long for moments when God is so near that we feel time stand still as we're enveloped in The Eternal? When, just for a short time, everything makes sense when all around us tragedy, brokenness, abuse and danger abound? When we can almost touch Him as we run our hand through The Mist?

Jesus taught us "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Luke 11:13). This is a request that God the Father loves to answer! He wants to give us His very essence. He wants to draw near to us. He wants to restore a kingdom of love and grace upon this world that only He can provide.

I can't think of a time in my life when we've needed God's Holy Spirit to come down and hover over our world more than right now...to dwell among us like a thick blanket, to conquer the forces of evil in the hearts of individuals, and thus society as a whole. We need Him to brood over neighborhoods, cities, states and nations.

We also need a thick, sweet blanket of God's Spirit to cling to us in our houses of worship. We must ask ourselves if we are more hungry for things to go our way or God's way as we gather together. Do we have the wisdom to realize He can accomplish so much more than we can...if we'll but step out of the way? Are we completely yielded to "The Blanket" that longs to come down and wrap us in Himself? I have long been impressed by the time God drew so near that "...the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God" (2 Chronicles 5:13,14). Oh, that we could not stand on a Sunday morning because He was so near that all we could possibly do is kneel, weep, confess our sins, our brokenness, our absolute need for Him...and soak in all that He so longs to give us!

Would you please join me in prayer, asking The Loving Father to descend upon us with His Spirit, to dwell among us, to linger and hover over us like a thick, sacred blanket of love, peace and grace?

We've all seen what the Enemy of our Souls can do for us...it's what is all around us today. It's time to see what the Friend of our Souls can do.

"And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." (I John 5:14, 15)

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November 16, 2017

Plenty for Today.

When growing up, Mom would sometimes send one of us kids downstairs to the fruit cellar in the basement. It was usually around suppertime and she would need some potatoes, an onion or two, perhaps a can of beans or fruit. We would open the door, walk inside and pull the light-string hanging in the middle of the room. The bare light bulb would illuminate that small room and I still remember the smell very well...potatoes and onions on the shelf create a unique, earthy aroma. Mom would watch for sales and stock up on various canned goods from time to time. It was a very good feeling to see those cans on the shelves, to take what was needed and head back upstairs.

God's supplies will always exceed our needs. The infinitely-long shelves of His "fruit cellar" are lined with the staples required for life on earth. Whatever we need, be it love, food, finances, grace, physical, mental or emotional strength, wisdom, guidance or a need within our spirit, the Father in Heaven is telling us to take a trip to His storehouse. Oh, that we will take Him up on His offer, to have the courage to open the cellar door, to walk inside and pull on the light string. To take in "the aroma of enough", to see that there is more on the shelves than we can possibly devour, is a very beautiful thing indeed! We can freely fill our hands with plenty for this day's needs and draw from it hour-by-hour...we don't need any more than that. We can only take one breath and chew one mouthful at a time.

What we need, He has. It's time to boldly walk in...He's told us to do so...and gratefully take from His shelves all that we need...not anxiously grabbing extra for tomorrow's demands, but only enough for this day.

"Give us this day our daily bread." - Jesus (Matthew 6:11)

"But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19)

"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

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November 15, 2017

The Weight of Gratitude.

As a kid, I remember having a bag of marbles. One side of the bag was made of clear plastic, enabling those round treasures inside to be seen. I had numerous "cat eyes" of various colors, a "steelie", and at least one "boulder". I enjoyed taking the marbles out of the bag from time to time and admiring them. When finished, I'd put them all back in the bag and tie the string at the top, carefully preserving those little spheres of beauty until next time. I can still feel the weight of that bag of marbles in my hand.

As this Season of Thanksgiving moves forward one day at a time, the sense of gratitude in my heart has been so empowering. November is not a month without pain for me. There are dates on the calendar that carry deep sorrow for me each year...days the clouds hang gray, heavy and low. Those days and what they mean never go away...they are a weight I do not want to bear but I have no choice. Yet, for a number of reasons, I still find these 30 days, as a whole, to be one of my 2 favorite months of the year. It is a month intended to be soaked in the the beautiful simplicity of gratitude. I greatly enjoy that focus.

I'm finding there to be a real beauty in the weight of gratitude. Just like the sensation of that treasured bag of marbles in my hand, I can feel the weight of faces, voices and moments in the "hand" of my heart. One at a time, I can hold a face and a voice in my memory...each a bag of treasure...and oh, how precious their weight is! I can empty out the priceless moments that accompany each face and voice and admire those snippets of time one-by-one. There is no earthly price that can be put upon them. Then, I can put all those treasures safely back inside the bag, tie them up, and save them to be admired on yet another day.

November is a month unlike any other...a month of reflection, of a heart full of thanks, of feeling the treasured weight of a lifetime of gifts in our hand...of then giving our heart-felt thanks to The Giver.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights..." (James 1:17)

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November 14, 2017

The Power of Aged Leaves.

There is such a power in scooping up a handful of leaves, bringing them close to your face, and breathing in deeply. Suddenly, everything melts away and you're in a time warp, leap-frogging backwards over decades of countless obligations and duties to things that are truly priceless.

I find those deep breaths take me back two generations: first, to when our kids were little and we'd play together in a pile of leaves in the backyard. Those are priceless memories for me. The years have so swiftly flown away, like crisp leaves in the November wind. To draw from those memories shortens the gap between us, as all three of them now live in states other than Michigan.

Secondly, my mind travels even further back, to when I was a kid on Flint's northwest side. For a number of our childhood years, we lived on Winona Street, across from Sarvis Park. Among other trees, we had two towering oaks in our yard, one in the back yard and one in the front. We didn't lack for work in the fall months as there were so many leaves to rake. Picking up acorns was more fun because I would use my imagination and pretend to be Roberto Clemente, practicing my baseball throwing arm by hurling them at a tree or light pole across the street. In the park there were countless towering, old trees that shed their leaves for childhood feet to scuffle through on brisk days.

I have a Bible by the easy chair in our living room. On the fly leaf, in ink, Dad filled in the blanks: "Presented to" Dan Hays, "by" Dad & Mom, "on" Christmas, 1970. Nearly 47 years in my possession, to pick it up and turn its leaves takes me back across many significant highlights on my spiritual journey. Underlined verses are common, as are dates and thoughts written in the margins. In a sense, it's like a large, priceless "road atlas for life" that's been given to me. By putting a pen or pencil to its sacred pages, it's as though I've traced the roads I've traveled on my way Home to Heaven...my own personal journey...marking sign posts along the way. As I've traveled down life's ever-varying pathway, I've found the words of these pages to be timeless and unchanging. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard from God through its words...exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. The Bible's words are ever-alive because they are inspired by the One who lives forever, who inhabits eternity, who rules the universe every millisecond. To breathe deeply from these words takes me not just across my own life but across many lives through thousands of years...heroes of faith who point the way back even further...to the One who spoke all things into existence.

While technology changes by the day, the most important things do not. God, Jesus Christ, the ageless words of Scripture, the human soul, family values, morality, the physical laws of the universe, the rising-and-setting sun, the courses of planets and galaxies, and more, do not.

There is immense power to be found by breathing deeply from aged leaves. It's never too late to start.

"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." (Psalm 119:105)

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November 13, 2017

Nicht mein Wille, aber dein getan werden.

It was November 13, 1957. She had reached her 55th birthday about two weeks earlier. The ravages of diabetes...kidney failure, heart failure and near-blindness...were bringing her very close to the finish line of life in this world. Grandma Weisgerber, a mother of 7, kept clinging to life on earth until someone told her that Paul, her son from Florida, had arrived. She promptly sat up in her hospital bed, gazed around the room, laid back down and slipped into the arms of Jesus forever.

I wonder what went through her mind as she watched her health disintegrate. A quiet woman of Volga German heritage who deeply loved God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures, she must have talked long and often with the Lord about what lay ahead. Grandma would be leaving the love of her life, John. For 34 years he was her husband and companion through the countless trials of raising a family during the Great Depression. They watched together as their oldest son, Ed, joined the Marines and fought in the South Pacific during World War II and then in Korea, never knowing if he would return (thank God, he did). They later watched Paul become a Marine as well.

Grandma Christine knew how highly Grandpa John valued her, how much he appreciated all she had done to make their house a home and raise their family. Ever dedicated, he would come home from work as a millwright at Chevrolet, find her laying on the couch in ill health, ask her "Chris, do you need anything?" and then lay down on the floor beside her. Only God knows the thoughts that ran through their minds as they lay there in the silence...memories, sadness, fear, helplessness. Grandma's body was failing her beyond her control while Grandpa, the strapping, strong man that he was, was powerless to stop it.  Hot tears of impending, deep grief may have silently rolled down their cheeks as a clock softly ticked away the sleepless, midnight hours.

While some of their children were married, including Mom, their youngest child, Kathy, had just turned 18 in October. Little grandchildren joyfully ran about their home on Sunday afternoons that she would never see grow up. There were more to be born that she would never see. How would Grandpa fare in her absence (and oh, how he missed her when she was gone)? All these concerns and more must have been taken to her Lord in prayer time and time again. Being bilingual, I wonder if from time to time, as she wrestled with her mortality and early departure from this world, she prayed in German. Could she have whispered "Nicht mein Wille, aber dein getan werden" ("Not my will, but thine be done")*? They were the words that Jesus prayed to the Heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane as He wrestled with facing His death the next day, bearing the sins of the world on the cross at age 33. Like Jesus did, I believe Grandma must have eventually reached a point of resignation to the will of God in the midst of her disease. How long it took to get there was between her and the Lord. Although it must have been a difficult journey of sorrow to reach that point...and despite her heart-felt questions as to why...she found the deep, peace-filled release of being completely held within Jesus' hands and in the center of His will for her life.

As soon as Grandma felt The Savior's arms wrap around her 60 years ago today, she understood why. As she lay her head against His chest, perhaps she even whispered those words of complete resignation one more time...in the Mother Tongue...this time, with utter, complete joy.

*Luke 22:42

(Painting, "Christ in Gethsemane", by Heinrich Hofmann, 1890)

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November 12, 2017

Life is like a mountain railroad,
With an engineer that’s brave;
We must make the run successful,
From the cradle to the grave;
Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels;
Never falter, never quail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
And your eye upon the rail.

Refrain:
Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
Till we reach the blissful shore,
Where the angels wait to join us
In Thy praise forevermore.

You will often find obstructions,
Look for storms and wind and rain;
On a fill, or curve, or trestle
They will almost ditch your train;
Put your trust alone in Jesus,
Never falter, never fail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
And your eye upon the rail.

As you roll across the trestle,
Spanning Jordan’s swelling tide,
You behold the Union Depot
Into which your train will glide;
There you’ll meet the Sup’rintendent,
God the Father, God the Son,
With the hearty, joyous plaudit,
“Weary pilgrim, welcome home."

("Life's Railway to Heaven", vs. 1,3,4 by Eliza R. Snow & M. E. Abbey, 19th Century; music by Charles Tillman, 1891)

(Photo: Colorado Mountain Train along the San Juan Skyway, Public Domain, by Sally Pearce)

 

 

 

November 9, 2017

The Anchor Chain.

A fisherman will select the strength of fishing line they're using based upon the size of fish they're seeking to catch. A line rated as "6-pound test" should not break until 6 pounds of pressure is exerted on the line (although, amazingly, a fish weighing much, much more can sometimes be caught with it).

I'd love to know the rating on this old anchor's chain. Assuming it was designed to hold a large wooden sailing vessel in place during a severe storm, it's rating would have to be a significant number of tons. What amazing strength! Had it been coupled to a backyard swing set chain, the anchor would have been useless in a gale. No matter how large the boulders it clung to beneath the water, the chain would have snapped like kite string.

Our faith is like an anchor chain. God gives each of us an innate ability to trust in something...we trust the chair we're sitting on without thinking about it. Anchors abound, be they our own rationale, money, substances, achievement, people and more. We can have the strongest faith in the weakest of anchors and we will always meet disaster.

The Infinite Anchor is always available for us. The Maker and Sustainer of the Universe is utterly solid and immovable in even the worst of storms. It's the strength of our "chain of faith"...or the lack thereof...that makes the difference as to how we'll fare as we face our deep trials.

We've all faced our storms, upheavals, disappointments, losses, long-term trials and deep sorrows. Sleepless nights, fear, and uncertainty seem to be common fare on the journey from time-to-time. One of those nights for me occurred 8 years ago last night.

One of my bosses had called that November Sunday afternoon and informed me of the near-imminent closing of our business in 12 days. No ensuing miracles occurred and thus his words came true. Jobless in midlife, I was forced into the very real, cold, uncharted waters that many thousands faced in the Great Recession and its fallout. My faith-chain was tested to the max. I couldn't see past the end of my nose in the darkness and I was in a state of upheaval within. Like the 6-pound test fishing line with a huge fish on the other end, I was facing something way beyond my rating. God understood. In the midst of my turmoil, He waited for my ship to right itself and to look to Him. Deep down beneath it all, He was my very patient Comforter, Companion, Guide and Strength. I kept attaching and re-attaching my thin chain of faith to Him. He saw me safely to the other side of the storm and into a new, fulfilling day. Without question, I couldn't have made it without Him. Psalm 118:23 rings very true with me: "This is the LORD'S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes."

Jesus likens our faith to a grain of mustard seed. He knows it's not much...He's so familiar with how we're wired within. Yet, when we, as frail as we are, keep looking over and again to Him the best that we can, He supernaturally takes our "6-pound line" and turns it into an anchor chain.

""But when he (Peter) saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (Matthew 14:30,31)

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