God’s Daily Reboot

When a computer malfunctions, how often is the answer as simple as turning the computer off, and then turning it back on?

In my experience, usually the computer starts right back up again, working just fine. Whatever went wrong before disappears.

Our lives have a God-designed reboot button as well. It’s called night.

As I drove to work this morning, I noticed the marked difference between the landscape in the early morning sun on a clear day, and how it looks in the evening as I’m driving home. The clean and bright baby blue and yellow hues of morning give way to the muted oranges and reds of the evening. Even though the sun is at the same angle, just in the west instead of the east, the evening sun’s light strikes the landscape differently. The day just feels older.

In fact, on a clear day I’m confident that I could still tell whether it was morning or evening, even if I didn’t know the time or what direction the sun was coming from, just by stepping outside.

Jeremiah, the likely author of the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament, knew just what I’m talking about:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. — Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

Like the sun striking the countryside after dawn, life’s struggles look a little different in the newness of each day. I’ve heard it said that God‘s economy allows for “do overs,” which Jesus Christ made possible through His death on the cross and His resurrection. Whatever happened in the past is irrelevant, if our faith is in Him. No, lost time won’t magically reappear. The consequences of past sin remain very real. And the coming day won’t be perfect. But the opportunity to make the best of life, by living for Jesus, starts anew each morning.

The morning light is a picture of God‘s daily renewal. The Bible’s description of Jesus as “the bright and morning star” takes on a whole new meaning. Now comes the hard part:

I have to choose it.

Electing to view the problems and sorrows of life the same way as before follows that old saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Others might even think of the definition of “insanity:” Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results each time.

Accepting Jesus Christ’s free offer of salvation and renewal can break the cycle of despair, and allow God to renew your life as he promises to do. Someone very close to me once said that he thought he was too far gone for this life-changing grace to reach him. What better time than in the morning, when minds are fresh, to meet with God and let his Word show you how Jesus Christ makes all things new, including you, and that no one is out of reach of His grace and mercy.

And I’ll never look at rebooting a computer the same way.

 

 

 

 

 

On a November Saturday

It was the late fall of 1982. The first semester of my junior year at the University of Kansas was almost finished, and my girlfriend’s sorority’s fall service project was to help with the Lawrence Special Olympics bowling competition. They were short on help, so my future wife asked me to tag along.

What follows was what I like to call “God’s audition to be parents of a disabled child.“ We had a wonderful time bowling, laughing, and eating with these young adults. Most of them had Down syndrome, but several others had different cognitive or physical disabilities. Regardless, my future wife and I left that event very happy that we had been involved, and wondering whether we should volunteer for future Special Olympics activities.

Little did we know what God had in store for us.

Helping with that bowling tournament was like being a grandparent. It was great fun while it lasted, but the kids weren’t really “yours.“

But once that disabled child comes home with you from the hospital, things begin to change. Slowly and imperceptibly at first. The first time we went to a Down Syndrome Guild meeting was just after our oldest son was born, seven years and a few months after that fateful Saturday in November 1982. I distinctly remember walking into the Guild meeting room, full of families who had also just entered the world of special-needs children, and experiencing a very familiar feeling.

I was instantly transported back to the 6th grade, when the class of disabled kids was in the self-contained classroom next door to my homeroom.  As they walked by our door, from lunch or the playground, I remember feeling an uneasy mixture of fear and pity. Fear, in not knowing what “those kids“ might do. And pity, at once thankful that I was not among them, and believing that their lives must be something less than mine.

Thankfully, over the years that all changed. It started with events like Special Olympics, where I could actually meet disabled kids, and grow to like them.

And then, I joined their dads.

Within a span of just a few short months, all those kids in the Down Syndrome Guild became my kids. It was impossible to know them all well, but 28 years later, I still know their names. William, Sean, Matthew, another Stephen, Kyle, Paul.

And their parents became some of our very best friends.

How appropriate it is, then, that our son’s favorite activity is….

# # #

I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with a disabled person in your life.  Please take a few moments to leave a comment. It only takes a few seconds!

May I Have This Dance

Has the weight of just a thought ever taken your breath away?

Happened to me just this morning.

Maybe it’s the fact that my daughter’s wedding is now less than two months away, and she was in town this past weekend for her first bridal shower. Maybe it’s this fact that this afternoon, my wife and I are attending a funeral for a long-time family friend who lost her battle with cancer. Her two kids are the same age as my middle two kids.

No matter the reason, here’s the thought that left me struggling to breathe:

A husband and wife, in their 80s, dancing cheek-to-cheek in their kitchen.

It’s so easy to say, “Aren’t they cute? They still love each other, after all these years.” But have you thought about what that dance really represents?

  • Millions of miles together in the same car.
  • Tens of thousands of nights together in the same bed.
  • Depending on how many kids they had, thousands, or tens of thousands, of diaper changes.
  • Countless ER visits, late nights with sick kids, and broken hearts.
  • Graduations, weddings, births, and then round two of graduations, weddings, and births.
  • Deaths of their grandparents, their parents, their siblings, and occasionally, their children and even grandchildren.
  • Several major health scares, surgeries, and treatments.

Those of you who have lived it know that this list isn’t even close to exhaustive. And to top it all off, society has changed so extensively, and so rapidly, that the elderly couple can be left wondering if they’re even still relevant.

As my thoughts sunk in, a physical weight rested on my chest. The sheer magnitude of two lifetimes, lived together and for each other, was more than I could bear.

Anyone looking for miracles in the modern age need look no farther than the couple celebrating an anniversary of 50 years or more.  God’s design for marriage, and God himself, for those who choose Him, make it possible to complete the journey.

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. – Isaiah 46.4

And for another post: What the elderly still have to give to their families and communities. Here’s a hint: They’re not only still relevant, they’re the missing link to sustaining our society.

I’ll never look at an elderly couple dancing the same way again.

Courage

What does real courage look like to you?

To me, right now, it looks like a sister-in-law who is going through cancer treatment for a second time in 10 years.

It’s knowing the suffering she’s sure to face during the treatments, and choosing to go through them anyway, because the desired result is the best for those she loves.

Even though she’s near the end of her chemo treatment, the suffering is still real.  And intense.

Where does courage like that come from? Knowing her deep, abiding faith in Jesus Christ, the easy Sunday-school answer is readily apparent.

But that’s only part of the story.

For faith to mean anything in our lives, we have to allow our faith to move us to a conviction to act.

Once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen. — Muhammad Ali

It’s on us to incorporate our faith into our lives. And the conviction that grows out of living out our faith — that we’re doing the right thing — leads to courage.

I can do all things through Jesus Christ, who strengthens me.  — Phillipians 4:13

My sister-in-law is living this out beautifully, today, right now.

By the way, haven’t we heard another story about someone who knew the suffering he would face, and yet chose to endure that suffering because the end result was the best for those he loves?

Yeah, I thought so.

 

Real Power

“We’re moving your daughter back to the ICU.”

What?!? Why?

The call on my cell phone shattered our somewhat peaceful dinner at the Med Center’s cafeteria with dear friends. We ran back to her hospital room as quickly as we could.

We had watched her get sicker all day long, with no idea why. Extreme lethargy, no appetite, and then vomiting.  It was less than a week after her traumatic brain injury, and it was imperative to keep her calm and quiet, to reduce the risk of further brain bleeds.

After the bout of vomiting, when she was again calm and resting, we took the opportunity to get something to eat in preparation for yet another long night.

While we were gone, the nephrologist (kidney doctor) made her rounds, took one look at our daughter’s lab results over the course of the day, and ordered an immediate transfer back to ICU. My phone rang at dinner with the news.

Praise God for excellent doctors. That doctor saved her life that night.

It’s common for head injury patients to experience a “sodium crash,” where the body’s sodium (i.e., salt) levels drop to where the body can’t function. Too little sodium, and like my daughter, you get really sick.

Brain seizure-type sick. Had that happened, she likely would have died.

And all because her bloodstream had slightly less salt than normal. Things can start happening even with a small drop out of the normal range.

Now that’s power. Like a single candle illuminates an entire dark room, just a little salt can determine life and death.

As the Creator of the Universe, Jesus knew this. But the science of his day didn’t yet fully understand the role of salt in the human bloodstream, so I’m not surprised that he didn’t use this medical analogy when talking about salt in Luke 14:34. Would’ve gone right over their heads.

But as a 21st Century father whose child has experienced a “sodium crash,” the point is not lost on me.

Just like salt, followers of Jesus Christ can have a big impact everywhere God has placed them. But, if they let the world take away their witness, the impact is lost, and the world is a little sicker for it.

Of course, getting my daughter’s sodium levels back to normal wasn’t as simple as feeding her more salt. After a complex medical procedure and the infusion of more powerful saline solution directly into her bloodstream, in a couple of hours she was much better, alert and calm.

And best of all, hungry.

Centerpieces

What do you see in this picture? I’ll tell you what I see.

Centerpieces.

Twenty-three of them, to be exact.

To be sure, they’re not ready yet to go on the tables at my daughter’s wedding reception next March. But it’s not something that 25 minutes and a chainsaw can’t fix.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 5-1/2 decades of life, it’s this: Getting through life is all about perspective.  It’s not as simple as being a “glass half-full” type of person. “The power of positive thinking” was a great book back in its day, but that phrase is now cliche’.

It’s about taking what life presents to you, and choosing what you can do with it.

This has become even more critical to me, as someone very close to me has been diagnosed with aggressive cancer.  For the second time in 10 years.

How do you “make the best” of a cancer diagnosis? The simple fact is, you don’t. There are just some lemons that won’t make lemonade. But defeat is not the only option.

I’ll let Jesus, the only man who was ever victorious over death and the grave, explain.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matt. 5:13-16

Has anyone ever been a light to others by taking a negative approach to any problem?

I didn’t think so.

Even just one of these tree trunks would break a table.  Properly prepared, they will adorn 23 tables in beauty and simplicity.

When properly prepared by the One who brought the light into this world, so it can also be with our lives.

 

 

 

Winning the Prize

Running a race. The phrase paints a lot of mental pictures, doesn’t it? Men and women, all dressed in bright colors, running on the same track, in the same direction, at the same time. Someone wins, the rest lose.

Then there are the marathon runners. Twenty-six-point-two miles of just you and the course. Running alone. Continuing to run in spite of withering exhaustion, and often searing pain. Hours to think, “Am I really up to this? What is the point?” That’s assuming your brain can even function after running, say, 19.1 miles.

My dear aunt passed away last month after a brief fight with cancer. The pastor of her small town church delivered the funeral message with a strong Gospel testimony, and a very definite theme from Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians: She ran her life’s race to win it, to claim her prize.

It’s easy for most Christians to see that the “race” of life is a marathon, not a sprint. Paul’s use of the imagery of athletes training for competition helps readers understand what’s going on, but it’s not a perfect picture. Yes, our lives will have exhaustion and pain, mixed with moments of exhilaration when we get our “second wind.” But in each individual’s race of life, only that person can win. And only he or she can lose. There’s no arbitrary finish line. (I mean, 26.2 miles. Really?) No stopwatch to beat. No man-made route to follow.

Just you, and the race that God has set out before you. And in many important ways, you get to choose the course. Lifestyle. Relationships. Worldview. Entertainment. Perspective.

The race of life is won by how you run your race. By why you took each turn in the course. And most importantly, by Who you’re running to. And while only Jesus can finally judge whether you or I have won our individual races, those of us on the outside can see evidence of a winner just by looking at the fruit of his or her life. Love and joy. Peace and patience. Kindness and goodness. Gentleness and self-control.

I am thankful for my aunt’s well-run race. And for her leadership as I continue to run mine.

Close Calls

Ordinarily, we want our children to obey authority, right? Well, there was one time when it almost didn’t work out so well….

During a family trip to Washington DC one Spring Break many moons ago, we came to a stop on the Metro near the Smithsonian Museums, and our entire 8-person group started the processional of filing out the train, with my son with Down syndrome bringing up the rear. That was usually not a problem, except just as the person in front of him stepped off the train, a very authoritative female voice came over the PA system and said, “Step back! Doors are closing.” Stephen, ever the dutiful oldest child, stopped in his tracks, took a step back, and waited.

“Stephen, come on!” We all yelled the same words, almost like a chorus in an ancient Greek tragedy, aware that if he didn’t get off that train now, we might have to pick him up in Baltimore.  Still totally confused, Stephen still didn’t move. The doors started to close.

That’s when the “Dad instincts” kicked in.

With a shout of “NO!” I sprinted the 30 feet back to the train, pried the almost-closed doors back open, and pulled Stephen off the train. To hear my kids tell this story (and they do), I exerted Hercluean effort to open those doors. In reality, as soon as the automatic doors sensed my resistance, they reopened with no effort from me at all.

After a few minutes to catch our breath (first, I was really out of shape, and second, we were all scared to death) after that close call, we realized that we had been given a highly teachable moment.  There was absolutely no way we could be angry with Stephen. He simply followed what, in most cases, were reliable directions from a trustworthy source. The more important lesson for Stephen, and for the other three kids as well, was to pick wisely which authoritative voice you obey. Is it the automated voice on the train? Or is it Mom and Dad yelling, “Get off the train!”?

The Word of God warns us many times of false teachers and messages the world will ask us to believe. In fact, a 2013 article on Bible.org by Stephen Cole (find it here) states that warning against false teachings is emphasized more than anything else in the New Testament. So, what this near-catastrophe allowed us to share with our kids is what Paul shared with the early Church in Romans 16:19: “For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” In other words, knowing which voice teaches good and which voice teaches evil requires wisdom, and wisdom comes from God.

Today, almost 10 years later, I think that lesson sunk in. Praise God.

The Snake Stick

Man, I really miss my Grandma.

Grandma was a woman of the Old World. Born in America, mind you, but not of the modern age. She was born in the hills of Appalachia in the early 1900s, to a family that we could trace back to the early 1700s in her small Pennsylvania town. Somehow, her family found its way to rural, coal-mining southern Illinois, where she met and married my grandpa and finally settled down.

In her 84+ years, she never got a driver’s license. She lived in a house that had no running water, central heat or air conditioning until she was over 70. I’ll never forget the smell of coal burning in the fireplace instead of firewood. In the golden days of Crisco, Grandma cooked with lard. You hear that, Mrs. Obama? Lard. No one ever ate so good as us grandkids when we went to Grandma’s for fried chicken. And the water from the well outside the kitchen? People pay millions  of dollars each year for bottled water that doesn’t taste half as good as the water from that well.

When I was a kid, my Grandma and Grandpa’s little four-room house sat about a third of a mile back from a county road, just a stone’s throw from places with names like Gobbler’s Knob, Eagle Creek, Pound’s Hollow, and Cave-in-Rock. They didn’t have many visitors, so their long, gently sloping driveway was visible, if not a little overgrown. And it was down that driveway Grandma would walk, day in and day out, to retrieve the mail from the box at the end of the drive.

Some other notable residents of their little piece of southern Illinois were rattlesnakes.  Lots of rattlesnakes. So to make sure she didn’t have to entertain any unwanted reptilian guests during her walk to the mailbox, Grandma would – without fail – take along her snake stick. What is a “snake stick?” Well, it’s a stick that’s between 4-5 feet long, about the thickness of a pool cue at its thickest part. It was basically a tree branch, with a small “Y” fashioned in the end where the main branch had separated into two smaller branches. The smaller branches forming the “Y” were trimmed down to about 2-3 inches long.

You see, Grandma was not just Old World, but old-school smart. She knew that she wasn’t quick enough to kill a rattler with a stick, so she didn’t carry a “snake spear.” And she probably wasn’t a good enough shot to kill a rattlesnake, so she didn’t carry a gun. But with her snake stick, she could at least pin the head of the snake to the ground until she could safely walk by, and then release it.

Most of us don’t live in a forest infested with poisonous snakes, but to be sure, we all deal with “snakes” in our lives. They just take different forms. The most dangerous snakes are the “slings and arrows” of temptation and sin that Satan and his demons send our way every day. Thankfully, through Jesus Christ, God has provided our “snake stick” for daily living through his Word and the Holy Spirit. If fact, the Bible says that God provides the believer with an entire spiritual suit of armor, if the believer will just use it.

So don’t even start your day without your “snake stick.” Meet with God in the morning, hear from Him through his Word, and invite the Holy Spirit into your day. Because you’re going to run into some snakes today.

 

 

No Secret Passages

The world of secret passages conjures up for me visions of medieval castles, old Frankenstein movies, and trying to win Clue games against my wife (and losing…everytime…). By the way, I’m grateful to Mel Brooks for removing the scariness from Frankenstein movies, and providing an endless supply on one-liners in his classic 1970s movie Young Frankenstein. Am I the only person who couldn’t watch Everybody Loves Raymond on TV and not see Dr. Fronk-n-steen’s monster? (Rest in peace, Peter Boyle.) Any coincidence that the name of Peter Boyle’s character was Frank? I think not.

What brought secret passages to mind for me in sunny and warm May 2016 is….weddings. And graduations. Yes, it’s that season again, with days filled with grad parties, wedding showers, and the actual ceremonies themselves, often on the same day. Both stressful and expensive. What a combination.

Like birthdays and anniversaries, these celebrations can lead some to experience pain and heartbreak. So much so that they might even choose to skip them to avoid the pain.

It’s important to remember that celebrating any significant milestone in life — a passage from one chapter of life into the next — serves an important spiritual function. One of my personal heroes, King David, reminded us to number our days, so that we might gain a heart of wisdom. Memorializing life’s passages serves as a reminder that our time on earth has an end, that the number of weddings and graduations we’ll attend is limited. And it highlights the importance of each choice we make in our lives. Choices to love, to show support, and to be there for those we care for, even if we don’t quite feel like it. And choices to live the next chapter of our own lives in line with His will, and to His glory.

Besides likely not being as glamorous as portrayed in the movies (think rats and black mold), secret passages were more often than not used for nefarious purposes. So my prayer is this: That we won’t let Satan succeed in his nefarious purpose of avoiding or even eliminating the observance of passages in our lives. Jesus blessed weddings by attending one in Cana and performing his first miracle there. Bless your loved ones by being there for every birthday party, anniversary, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas celebration, New Years’ Eve party, and yes, every grad party, wedding shower, and graduation or wedding you can possibly attend. Even if they’re on the same day (and they probably will be).

Let’s lead lives that have no secret passages.