It’s OK to Let Go

Those of you who know my youngest daughter’s story may have noticed something.

August 17th passed this year, and there was no “Four Years” post on this blog.

Did we forget about the awful events of August 17, 2015? No, I’m writing about them now.

Are we not thankful that our daughter is still with us, four years after a skateboarding accident almost took her life? Far from it. We’re grateful every second of every day. We’ve lifted our thanksgivings to God countless times.

But at some point, I had to give August 17th back to God. It was His to begin with, after all.

How selfish would it be to forever hold on to the grim memories of a specific day, when God’s potential for good every August 17th is without limits?

August 17, 2015 is indelibly burned into my consciousness much as any other day that has shaped me. There was March 1, 1990, the day after my oldest son was born, when we learned he had “chromosomal abnormalities.” Eleven years later, there was September 11, 2001, a day when I saw things I thought that I would never see. And last fall I added to that list October 21, 2018, the day we lost my Dad.

Do I commemorate those days? I remember 9/11 with the nation, but the other days pass with only a thought. The same can now be said for August 17th.

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24

After all, it wasn’t just the day of a horrible accident.

It was the day when my daughter didn’t die.

Now, I can’t wait to see what else God is going to do with August 17th.

What are you holding on to that is stealing your joy? What hard thing can you give to the Lord so that you can watch Him do great things in and through you?

 

 

The Star of the Shows

Lots of parents often don’t look forward to taking their kids to theme parks.

Neither did I, but not for the same reasons.

While other parents worried about the crowds, the heat, the expensive and unhealthy food, and the nausea-inducing (not to mention bacteria-laden) rides, I had a different issue, to wit:

THE SHOWS.

Usually a respite from the craziness of four kids who all want to do something different, the musical variety and comedy shows were an air-conditioned opportunity to sit down, get a drink, and unplug for 20 minutes or so.

At least they were for everyone else.

You see, I was the dad who was invariably pulled from the audience and asked to take part in the show.

You may think I’m exaggerating, and I only wish I was. But for at least 10 years, from when my oldest was around 5 until my youngest turned 10, it happened. EVERY time. No matter where I sat — in the front of the theater, in the back, on an aisle, in the middle of a row, IN THE BALCONY. They found me, every time.

Maybe it was the big “BUFFOON” sign that I wore on my back. More likely, I was probably the dad who looked the least likely to hit someone when I got up on stage.

Eventually, I made peace with my lot in life, and I accepted each impromptu casting call with what little grace I had. But in the end, all those times of wearing a wig and a Hawaiian lei, and doing whatever silly dance they asked me to do, are now cherished memories, as my kids start their own families.

And these days? I still can’t go to a theme park show without worrying where to sit so they won’t pick me.

But then I remember: it really doesn’t matter. They will find you.

What Will Your Grandkids Call You?

I’ve picked “Papa.”

I am well aware that grandchildren pick their own names for their grandparents.

And yes, I’ll answer to whatever name my grandson calls me.

But for what it’s worth, I’m going to at least suggest to the little guy that he call me “Papa.”

That’s not “Paw-Paw,” as they say it in Mississippi.

And it won’t be “Papou” either, although I have photographic evidence that someone has actually used that name.

IMG_1293 2
Does the name “Papou” fit me? Don’t answer that.

And obviously, my wife wants to win a “Grammy.”

Regardless of what he calls us, we will cherish this little man. He is our first grandchild, so he’ll always have that special place. But more than that, he represents the next chapter in our families’ lives. We’re privileged to witness the beginning of, if God wills, our grandson’s 70+ year journey to Jesus. And while we won’t be there at the end, we intend to enjoy every step of his journey while we’re here, because:

Grandchildren are the crown of grandparents, and parents are the glory of their children. — Proverbs 17:6 (GOD’S WORD translation)

A friend of mine who just recently became a grandpa himself told me, “It’s the best club you’ll ever join.” And even though I’ve been a t-shirt-wearing, coffee-mug-carrying member of that club for only three weeks now, I’m happy to report that he was exactly right.

Do I want to be a legend, as the t-shirt suggests? No. Just so long as my grandson loves Jesus Christ, trusts Him as his Lord and Savior, and lives to make His name known, I’ll be a happy Papa.

Loving the Wartzenalls

My first guest blogger (ever) is Mitch Teemley. He’s a Christ follower, a filmmaker, and a story teller extraordinaire. The daily posts on his blog “The Power of Story,” whether inspirational (like this one) or just plain funny, combine hilarious visuals with outstanding writing, and they always make me smile. I know they’ll make you smile, too! I definitely recommend following Mitch!

Mitch Teemley

Dysfunctional-families-roles-created

Family. A mixture of people we get and don’t get. People we like, and people we would never have chosen to be with if we had a choice. But we don’t. Because they’re family. Right?

I haven’t seen my cousin Ralph in 50 years. The moment he hit his teens he chose to stop attending family gatherings. Why? His sister tells me it’s because he feels he has nothing in common with any of us; we’re just a bunch of strangers he was randomly thrown together with at birth. Funny thing is, before he disappeared, Ralph was the only person in the family I related to; he was the person most like me. 

I was a smidge more loyal. I never actually stopped attending family gatherings. However, by the time I was a teenager I’d decided my friends, the people I chose, were far more important than a random…

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Loving Broken People

Hollywood just paid Fred Rogers a big compliment.

But it’s probably not the one they expected.

The long-awaited trailer for the Mr. Rogers biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, dropped this past week. Mr. Rogers is being played by none other than Tom Hanks.

Let that sink in for a minute. The most iconic actor of our time, Tom Hanks has made a career of portraying American heroes on the big screen. The list is long and varied. Fictional heroes Forrest Gump from the Vietnam era, and the brave Captain Miller in the World War II flick Saving Private Ryan. Equally brave astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13. He played Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who landed his jet safely on the Hudson River, without a single injury to his nearly 200 passengers and crew. James Donovan, the American lawyer who negotiated the freedom of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers from his Soviet captors, is in his repertoire. Who can forget Hanks’ turn as Chuck Noland, the fictional Fed Ex employee stranded on a remote Pacific island in Cast Away. Wilson! Wilson!

And of course, there’s Woody from the Toy Story franchise. I cannot lie, I cried at the end of Toy Story 4. You will, too.

Pretty heady stuff, especially if you’re Fred Rogers, a man whose most remarkable feat may be that PBS carried his show for so long.

And yet despite the striking skill with which Tom Hanks portrays his characters, as I’m sure will be the case with Fred Rogers in the upcoming movie, the most striking point of the trailer was a statement made to Mr. Rogers by the other main character in the film, journalist Lloyd Vogel, who was writing a profile on him.

You love broken people like me.

Compliment paid.

This statement is proof that the people understood exactly what Mr. Rogers was trying to do. And from everything I’ve read about Fred Rogers, the ordained Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers would attribute that love of broken people not to himself, but to Jesus Christ.

In fact, I think it’s no mistake that Mr. Rogers referred to those around him as his “neighbors.”

A second commandment I give you, that you love your neighbor as yourself.   – Matthew 22:39

Jesus’ entire ministry on Earth was about loving broken people.  He chose broken people as his disciples. He touched the sick and the unclean, and healed them. He spoke into their hearts. He raised them from the dead.

Yes, Jesus loved them to death — to His death on a cross.

Greater love has no man than this, that he lay his life down for his friends.  – John 15:13

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  — Romans 5:8

Who were those sinners? Everyone — the sick, the hurting, the misunderstood, the imperfect. The broken people like me.

So as compliments go, I’ll take comparing my love to the love of Jesus Christ over having Tom Hanks portray me in a movie any day.

Tom Hanks (Finalized)
Tom Hanks reenacting Mr. Rogers’ signature shoe toss 

Clouds of Fire

I am a weather geek. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Everything about weather interests me.

So when my daughter sent me her photos of incoming early evening thunderstorms a few nights ago, I just had to write about them.

Those rays of sunlight that are shooting out of the tops of these clouds are called crepusclar rays, from the Latin word “crepusculum,” meaning twilight or dusk. One University of Massachusetts website even called them “Jesus rays.”

But what about the phenomena where the sun’s light appears to set the top of the clouds on fire? There’s no weather term for that, at least not that I could find.

Clouds of Fire.

But I have a name for it — the glory of God.

This sight reminds me of all the times in his Word when God used fire from heaven to illustrate his awesome power. The hail of burning sulphur God used to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. The pillar of fire that led Israel during the night to the Promised Land. The fire Elijah called down from heaven to light the offering on the altar and kill the prophets of Baal. Not to mention the chariot of fire that took Elijah to heaven. And how did God choose to show the Holy Spirit resting on each of Jesus’ disciples in power on the day of Pentecost? That’s right – tongues of fire. 

Incoming evening thunderstorms in northeast Kansas, USA.

Thanks be to God for this beautiful evening reminder.

When Is the Ordinary…Not?

Some afternoons, it just takes coffee to make it through.

Last Tuesday was that kind of afternoon.

That day, I decided to walk a different route from my office to the neighboring McDonalds, walking through our parking garage and exiting on the street a little closer to the restaurant than the door I usually use.

Just as I exited the garage, a homeless man was walking by on the same side of the street. He stopped me, said he needed bus fare to get to work, and asked if I had any money.  I looked him in the eye, gave him the dollar or so of change in my pocket, wished him a good day, and continued walking to McDonalds. He didn’t seem very pleased with the small amount, but said “thank you” anyway, and turned toward the bus stop just down the street.

This wasn’t a momentous encounter, or even a significant one. I didn’t give him a lot of money. We didn’t have a deep spiritual conversation. In fact, the whole thing was over in 15 seconds. I even forgot to ask him for his first name, a tactic my daughter uses with great success to let the person she’s talking to know they are valued.

No, I woudn’t even bring up this on-the-street meeting, if it weren’t for the fact that God has placed the Old Testament story of Ruth in front of me several times this week. What brought Ruth, a poor widow and the daughter-in-law of another poor widow, to that particular field in Bethlehem owned by Boaz? He was a wealthy relative of Ruth’s late father-in-law, and under Hebrew law, was one of the only men alive who could redeem Ruth.

It was all so ordinary. Ruth needed food for her and her mother-in-law, Naomi, and was gleaning grain at harvest time in the part of Boaz’s field reserved for the poor. And Boaz, as wealthy landowners will do from time to time, just “happened” to show up at the same time to see how his crops turned out that year.

Boaz saw Naomi working in the field, and the rest, as they say, is history. Actually, it’s “His story,” as Boaz and Ruth became grandparents in the human ancestral line of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

So, I’m convinced that the meeting on Kansas Avenue in Topeka last Tuesday was a divine appointment. But what was God up to when I crossed paths with the homeless gentleman that afternoon?

I have no idea. But God knows.

I can only hope he was blessed by our brief encounter, by the small amount of money I gave to him, and by the respect I showed to him when we spoke. In retrospect, I also hope that our meeting will help me not to overlook any future “chance” meetings. And to be prayerfully ready for whatever God wants to come out of that meeting.

God has done some pretty big things with seemingly random encounters. And I don’t want to miss what He’s doing.

Conversation Starters

On a back road in Southern Illinois, heading home for a Memorial Day visit, I saw these words on a church sign in Thompsonville, Illinois:

Jesus is God’s selfie.

I love clever church signs as much as the next guy. And I understand the desire to engage the culture “where it’s at.”

As long as we don’t allow the discussion about Jesus to end there.

A selfie is just a representation of a person. And every selfie I’ve ever taken is a bad representation of me, at that.

But Jesus wasn’t just a flat, one-dimensional image of God. In a way, mankind more closely fills that role, since Genesis 1 says that we were made in God’s image.

But Jesus was so much more. It’s the hardest thing for our limited human minds to grasp, this concept of Jesus as fully man, but also fully God. Yet it’s the most important thing to remember when we consider what Jesus came to earth to do.

He was fully man, to taste the full scope of human experience. Hunger and thirst. Fatigue. Temptation. Danger. Joy at a wedding in Cana. Sorrow at a close friend’s death.

He was also fully God, to meet the needs of His people that only He can meet. Of course, some of those needs were physical, like food for the hungry and healing for the sick. More often, He answered the unspoken questions of the heart. Questions like, “Who is God, really?

In the end, he did what only God could do. He took the sins of all mankind, past, present, and future, on himself. He willingly laid down his own human life.

And then, he took it back up again.

That is some kind of selfie.

We have a great God.

So kudos to you, Mr. Church Sign Writer, for yet another pithy phrase that captures the imagination of our tech-distracted world.

Lost Arts

So is it a big deal that schools don’t teach cursive writing anymore?

Yes, it is.

The utility of texting on phones and sending email is unassailable. The ubiquity of those devices and the speed that most people can compose messages on them certainly makes them a faster and more efficient method of communication.

But are speed and efficiency sufficient reasons to throw out a centuries-old way of life in the English-speaking world?

And since when is the beauty of human creativity limited to just music, dance, art and theater/film?

I have a hand-written cursive copy of the U.S. Constitution on the wall of my office. It’s not easy to read. But it’s beautiful. Not just in what it says, but also in how it looks.

Removing cursive writing from the school curriculum doesn’t mean that people will stop writing things by hand. But to me, a printed note doesn’t carry the gravitas that a letter written in cursive does.

In some way, a person’s cursive handwriting represents who he or she is. It reflects a depth of emotion that just can’t be captured by printed letters. And a typed letter or text? It might as well have been served on ice.

Articles in the New York Times and Psychology Today as early as 2013 tout the benefits of learning cursive. And school websites from as far away as Great Britian list the many advantages of cursive writing to a child’s development – enhanced spelling, developing internal controls that assist in learning, improved reading skills.

But take a look at the picture above (again from a decorative poster at the Magnolia Market in Waco). It describes cursive as “combining form and movement.” Sound familiar?

Yes, writing in cursive is a dance. Just on a smaller scale.

Graceful, yet purposeful. Whimsical at times, and yet powerful. Exclusive to each individual as a fingerprint. And more tangible evidence of God’s creativity when he made each of us, different one from another.

God willing, our family will welcome our first grandchild this year. And 15 years from now, I sincerely hope that his birthday card to me contains a handwritten note from him.

In cursive.

And my card back to him will have a note in cursive as well. After all, he’s due on my birthday.

 

Love Is…..

A spring break trip to Waco, Texas last month landed us at the Magnolia Market, the home of the design and decor empire founded by HGTV’s Chip and Joanna Gaines. We were well aware of the Gaines’ Christian faith before we arrived. And true to form,  beautiful items of home decor incorporating Bible verses into their designs surrounded us as we toured the store and grounds.

The sign in the picture above took me back to our wedding, on a muggy June day in 1985. It’s a complete rendering of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, known as the “Love Chapter.” And it’s beautiful.

Back in the mid-1980s, I didn’t know much about the verses in 1 Corinthians 13. I knew it was trendy to read those verses in Christian weddings, but that was about it. At the time, I’d been a Christian for only about 10 years. I was just 22, and hadn’t even begun to spiritually mature. Reading these verses at my wedding just made sense.

Now, after 34 years of marriage and a whole lot of living, it’s clear to me that these verses aren’t just for weddings.

“What’s love got to do with it?” Tina Turner asked in her iconic 1980s hit. And this question could easily represent our culture’s approach to life. Other than romantic love, which today is mixed up in so many ways, what does “love” have to do with business? With life? Consider this:

Who gets better results, the doctor with a terrible bedside manner, or the caring professional?

The secret of the care of the patient is caring for the patient. — Francis W. Peabody, M.D., 1925

Love is patient, love is kind.  – 1 Cor. 13:4

Which leader gets better results, the one who claims all the glory for himself, or the one who involves and gives credit to his team?

Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking. – 1 Cor. 13:4-5

Which police officer provides better public safety, the one who sees his beat as “just a job,” or the dedicated public servant who truly cares about the welfare of the community he serves?

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Cor. 13:7

Which teacher’s students perform better, the teacher who loathes spending time with children, or the one who cherishes the young lives he or she is entrusted with and wants to guide them on the path toward becoming strong, functioning adults?

And for you ladies, which hairsylist do you look forward to seeing again every four weeks, the one who only cares about collecting your fee, or the one who makes you feel beautiful just because of the time you spent with her?

And finally, who has the happier life, the one who holds on to perceived slights, or the one who freely forgives others?

Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. – Saint Augustine

Love keeps no record of wrongs. – 1 Cor. 13:5

So, as Tina asked, what does love have to do with it?  Only this:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. – 1 Cor. 1-3

Without love, whatever I say means nothing.

Without love, regardless of what I can do, I am nothing.

Without love, I gain nothing.

The bottom line? Love is…everything.