Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Military memories, missions, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, travel

Forty-four Years

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” Ephesians 5:16-17

Forty-four years.  16,071 sunrises and sunsets.  That’s the length of the on-going saga of our story.  It seems like yesterday but it also seems like another lifetime.  We both were young… maybe too young. But we were in love, we wanted to walk together so that day, this day forty-four years later, we started walking and just never stopped.

We were chatting last night before we drifted off to sleep and I told her we were blessed.  There have been bumps but not the kind of bumps that come from wanting to quit or wanting something new.  They were the kind of bumps that come from life.  The death of our parents, starting over when the Air Force or God gave new orders, kids being kids and people being people, and yes, me being me and her being her.  But what a journey.

Forty-four years.  I remember the excitement of our wedding day.  I in my snazzy light-blue tux and patent leather high heeled shoes (hey, cut me some slack…it was the seventies) and her standing at the back of the church in her white wedding dress and long brown hair.  Her standing and then walking…walking to me to join me…to start life together.  I was marrying up…and well.

Forty-four years.  I remember embarking on the first of many great adventures as we flew to Europe not for a honeymoon but to live.  The Air Force sent us to live in Germany and while the separation from family was hard…life was enchanting.  I remember looking out our apartment window overlooking an alpine valley with the trees covered with a light dusting of snow. I remember our German landlord knocking on our door and presenting my new bride with a freshly skinned rabbit.  He was beaming and she was wondering, “What do I do with this?”

Forty-four years.  I remember coming back to the USA after three years and seeing our country through new eyes.  Leave for a while and you never see it quite the same.  Leave for a while and the warts and imperfection all fall into perspective.  I remember traveling to the Midwest for the first time and finding out that not everyone liked grits or even knew what they were.  I remember the birth of our first daughter and realizing that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Forty-four years.  I remember daughter number two surprising us…and what a good surprise it was.  Our family was complete (or not) and our future secure in the Air Force…until the Whisperer whispered. So long Air Force and hello pastoring and walking by faith. With a young wife and two kids ages three and two, no insurance and a pastorate that paid $12,000..well, faith was a little harder…a little less sure. About then I began to realize just how big, how sure, God is.  I’m still learning that one but He has a perfect track record.

Forty-four years.  I remember the day when we had to pack up and leave a bunch of people we loved a lot and that loved us a lot.  With a station-wagon and a U-Haul stuffed to the gills we moved to a little town called Cobden.  It was new all over again and we fell in love again with another wonderful group of people.  It was at Cobden that God surprised us with daughter number three.  It was at Cobden we raised our family because God let us stay 14 years.  It was at Cobden we learned deep lessons of love and grace.  After fourteen years the Whisperer whispered again and we knew we had to obey.  It was one of the hardest things we ever did.

Forty-four years.  I remember coming to Harrisburg and to Dorrisville Church and wondering how God would write this new part of our story.  I remember wondering how long this chapter would be.  Well, here we are 20 years into this part of our story—almost half of our married lives—and I am still amazed at God’s grace and His people’s patience.  Our kids are grown, we have eight grandkids and Judy and I are experiencing what it is like to grow old together.  I highly recommend it.

Forty-four years.  James, the half-brother of Jesus tells us that life is like a vapor.  In other words it goes by quickly.  Remember how you breathe on a cold morning and your breath appears as if smoke?  As quickly as it appears…it leaves.  That’s life. I am amazed at my age, the length of our marriage and just how awesome life has been been…and is.  Paul, another Bible guy, had it right.  He says, “So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” Good advice, Paul, good advice indeed. Forty-Four years.  Yup, life is good.  I’m still in love with Jesus, still in love with Judy, and still in love with my kids and grandkids.  I get up each day just waiting to see what God has in store…waiting for the next whisper…the next great adventure.  Till then I bet you can guess what I’m going to do.  Yup…I’m going to rest in Him.  He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, travel

Patience or “Not”

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” James 1:2-3

At first it seemed unfair but then, there it was, conspiracy.  There is a lot of talk today about conspiracy schemes.  When and whatever happens there is someone who will say there is a dark diabolical reason for it happening.  I wasn’t sure about it until it happened to me.  Yes, there was a conspiracy.

As you may remember, my wife and I were able to attend a pastor’s conference in North Carolina.  It was so good to pack a few things, jump into our 44 mpg Jetta and hit the road.  Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” was ringing in my ears.  We cruised across Tennessee and were heading toward North Carolina when it happened.  About five miles from the border, our GPS talky thing said, in her most gentle voice, “traffic ahead.”  Well, it wasn’t like we were in Chicago or something so that could only mean trouble.

Soon, very soon, trouble was staring me in the face.  Brake-lights and slowing vehicles were everywhere.  We were in a slowdown—we were in—traffic.  Signage and the talky thing confirmed my worse fears—there was construction ahead.  Now you need to know something.  First, I am not patient in traffic.  Ok, that wasn’t totally transparent.  I am totally impatient in traffic.  In fact, I’m not patient period.  Whether it be in traffic or at the store, I am changing lanes like a one-armed paperhanger looking for the shortest and fastest lane.  The Bible says we are fearfully and wonderfully made but I must have missed the patience part.

Have you ever been driving and the traffic going in the opposite direction is stopped and you are feeling sorry for them?  Well, I was the one stopped and I could just feel the empathy of the other drivers.  It turned out to be about a 45 minute stop and go.  The amazing part was I did pretty good.  Judy was beaming at my surprising patience.  I even said, “Well, at least going home we won’t have to deal with this.”  Soon (though not soon enough) we were through the construction—we were on our way.  Hit the fast forward button.

That was Wednesday.  Too quickly the days of the conference went by and in no time it was time to go home.  After the conference ended at noon we jumped into our 44 mpg Jetta and hit the road toward home.  Willie was once again whirling around in my head singing “On the Road Again.”  We were nearing the site of Wednesday’s lesson in patience feeling confident and glad that we were heading in the other direction.  And then it happened.  The GPS talky thing mentioned traffic, 14 miles per hour, and delays. Wait. What?  We were not supposed to have to deal with this. And that is when I knew there was a conspiracy.  They had changed sides.

Here’s how I think it played out.  The North Carolina Department of Transportation called the conference center, asked when I was leaving and then quickly moved the construction to the West bound side so they could get me again.  I am sure of it.  So, another slowdown, another wait in traffic, but this time they were merciful since it was only 27 minutes and 14 seconds.  Oh yes, I was counting.  And the people going East, they were zooming by with looks of mercy for those of us stuck.  It just wasn’t fair.

I know the Bible well enough to know that you don’t pray for patience.  That is one prayer you won’t hear passing through my lips.  Pray for patience and you end up with traffic. Pray for patience and you end up locked in your house with three kids for three months.  So I get that.  But there is a pesky couple of verses found in James 1:2-3 that say, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” I really like the Bible but I really don’t like those verses.

Of all the emotions I feel when I am sitting in traffic, joy is not the one that comes to mind—and especially not great joy.  But then I read verse 3 and it gives me pause.  James says I should appreciate the moments in traffic because it helps me to grow. It helps me to be a better person.  It helps me be stronger—it builds endurance.  Like lifting weights at the gym strengthens muscles-—so trying situations strengthens our faith in God.  Which means part of this whole pandemic deal might be to make us stronger in our faith.  Hmmmm. Well, in the end I did pretty good through traffic lesson number two and we managed to get home that evening just about on time.  Truth be known…God was good, God was faithful and even in traffic, God can be trusted.  No matter what, He has my good at His heart.  He wants me to thrive in this world and not just survive.  And that means sometimes learning patience sitting in traffic.  As you travel today wherever and however that looks, just know God is the traffic manger of your life.  Just sit back, enjoy the pause and rest in Him. He’s got this. Honk, Honk.

Posted in Family, life, Scripture, travel

Consistently Inconsistent

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

It was a learning experience.  Well, it finally happened.  Judy and I were able to get away and break away from home.  The long awaited opportunity to go somewhere finally emerged from the corona virus fog.  After church Sunday we loaded up our car and headed on the great adventure.  Soon, the routine of the last several months was in the rearview mirror and we were looking out the windshield at different. The only problem was that different turned out to look a lot like home.

Our journey would take us through three states…Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  The one thing I quickly discovered is the fact that consistently, and I do mean consistently, everything was inconsistent.  Now I have to admit we didn’t have a lot of interaction with Kentucky.  Going we were just getting started and coming we were almost home.   However, Kentucky had already become our get away place when we wanted to run away from home.

Our first stop in the journey was in Tennessee.  We stayed in Pigeon Forge for three nights just to catch our breath.  We arrived at our hotel which was a Hilton Tru.  It was a new branding for Hilton and was designed to reach out to millennials.  Ok, if there was a doubt, I discovered I am not one.  The hotel boasted that the rooms were intentionally spartan and smaller.  I am more the bigger and plush kinda guy.  And then there were the corona differences.

So, the first day, no one came to clean our room.  Well, obviously somehow, we were skipped. I stopped by the front desk to let them know of the oversight.  She, politely, told me it was not an oversight but intentional.  What?  “Didn’t you read the little card” she asked? Well, no…we had got in late the night before and I am a guy.  Do I look like I read little cards?  Anyway, the little card said they would not be cleaning our room until we checked out and that if I wanted fresh towels I needed to ask for them at the from desk. What? Excuse me?  Oh, and breakfast was scaled back to a yogurt bread (whatever that is) and a breakfast cereal bar…all courtesy of the corona virus.  Of course all this was ok because they there able to cut the price on the room with all the money they saved from not cleaning our room or serving us breakfast.  Not! No! Nada!  That will be full price, sir, and thanks for staying.

And then there were the restaurants.  One was operating at full capacity, one at 50%, one at 25%.  All the fast food chains were still drive-in only.  It felt amazingly like home. We went to one restaurant with about seven cars in their large parking lot. “Oh good, no wait” I said.  “Not so” Judy said.  Sorry, there will be a 25 minute wait.  So three days later, I went into the largely empty restaurant and discovered anew the joy of social distancing.  I had to communicate with the closest table with smoke signals.  All of this was from an open state.  Yup…consistently inconsistent.

Well we moved on to North Carolina…a largely closed state.  We checked into our hotel, a Holiday Inn, and I tentatively asked the polite desk person about what restrictions might be in place.  “Will you be cleaning our room?” I asked. She gave me a quizzical look and said, “Why yes, of course.”  “Do we get clean towels by any chance?” I asked.  Her look said “This guy must be from Mars. Of course we will be providing towels.” So the closed state acted like an open state and the open state acted like a closed state and I am slowly going crazy. Our meals were provided at the conference we were attending so we didn’t try any off-campus restaurants.  But Judy did want to go to a couple of boutiques.  In case you are wondering, boutiques are little stores with big prices.  Anyway, most were simply closed and the few she (and notice she) went in required masks to shop in their empty shops. Oh the bliss of being consistently inconsistent.

I am a guy of routine.  I love consistency so you can imagine this was quite a challenge for me.  It amazes me how the rules are always different in this corona world and the enforcement of those rules are also different.  And that is why I like God.  He is the Rock of Gibraltar when it comes to consistency.  The Word says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  The Jesus you have today is the one you will have ten thousand years from now. The love you have from God today will be the love you have tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.  As a song says His love is “sure as a steady rain.”  I like that.

If you are just a little tentative about this consistently inconsistent world I have a great recommendation. Try God.  He doesn’t change the rules midstream, He won’t change His mind about you tomorrow and His Book remains the constant of constants.  Rock solid…that is God. We had a great time on our trip and I came back realizing that the crazy rules aren’t just in Illinois.  We found a pretty fair sprinkling of them everywhere.  I also came home with a deep appreciation for my island of normalcy…my family and my church family.  Both groups are a bit crazy at times, but they are mine and I feel secure around them both.  I came home and found the God on the road was the same God at 217 W. Poplar Street and I can rest in Him at both places and all places.  I also found that the God on the road was big enough to handle it all. He’s got this.

Posted in Grace, gratitude, life, Scripture, thankful, travel, wisdom

We Shouldn’t Be Here

If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

I looked at Judy and said, “We shouldn’t be here.” I know when you normally hear those words you are at a movie and a couple of teenagers are standing in a cemetery at midnight with a full moon with a wolf howling and a guy with a chainsaw standing a few feet away.  That was not the case.

So, as you know we live in a world of cancellations.  Vacation. Cancelled. Conference number one.  Cancelled.  Conference number two. Cancelled. In an attempt to get some refreshment I went ahead and registered for conference number three.  About ten days before it started they called and said due to state regulations (North Carolina this time) they were having to dramatically reduce the number of attendees—from 400 to 110.  Judy and I didn’t make the cut…by a long shot.  We registered in early April and they were cancelling all the way back to December of 2019.

I had gotten used to the rejection notices by now.  Like a struggling actor or writer it seemed nothing was going my way.  So, after my normal foot stomping, “this is crazy” and the all time favorite, “when will it ever be normal” I settled back into life…desperately needing a fresh drink of water from the well.  Then it happened.

Less than a week before the conference was to start I received a phone call on my Dick Tracy Apple watch.  I checked the caller ID and it was the conference center.  I ran to the kitchen to get my phone, answered, waiting to see what they wanted.  She told me that they had been allowed to open an overflow room and would we be interested in coming?  If I could speak ten languages I would have said yes in all ten.

So we arrived at the conference and this is when it got interesting.  The people in the main auditorium (and there were only 110 of them—normal attendance is 400) had white name tags and the ones in the overflow had tan name tags.  We received our tan tags and waited for supper.  I began to notice that there were not many tan tags.  How interesting.  When it was time for the conference to start, the white taggers headed to the main room and tan taggers headed upstairs to the overflow area.  And that was the turning point.

In this room meant to hold 150 people there were 28 of us.  Blue covers draped over the back of 28 chairs showed where we could sit.  It turns out I was member of a pretty, small select group. Totally attendance was only 138 people and somehow I was one of them.  Keep in mind all those people who made reservations before April were in front of me in line and somehow, some way we were here.  That’s when I said to Judy, “We shouldn’t be here.”

The topic for the conference was about rebuilding the church in a post quarantine world.  One of the first things he said was that perhaps each of you are here for a specific reason.  He then told the story of a young Jewish girl who, against all odds, found herself as queen in a foreign land.  A plan had been hatched to kill all of the Jews in the land and her uncle was asking her to go the king on the Jews behalf.  He said, “Perhaps for such a time as this God has put you here.”  For such a time as this.  Hmmm.

I honestly feel that for some reason God has allowed me this opportunity to help lead my church in the coming days.  The speaker made it clear that any thought that things are going to be same are just not true.  It is going to be different and challenging.  It is also exciting.  All of this has caused me to revisit the sovereignty of God in all of this.  I mean, I just believe that God is in charge.  Not circumstances, not government, not me.  That means that He does have a plan that He is working out.  The only question is are we going to trust Him and be a part of His plan or are we going to write our own.  Spoiler alert.  That never goes well.

So whether it your every day, walk around life, or a business, or a church, if you are a Jesus follower, are you willing to let the Whisperer whisper and share with you His plan?  I hope I will have the wisdom and courage to do so.  It will mean stepping out of my “I’ve done it this way for 38 years” comfort zone and perhaps, just perhaps, do something different…perhaps radically different.  Who knows, maybe we, with Him, can change our world. So, we shouldn’t be here but I sure am going to be listening for the Whisperer to speak to my heart.  I know it will be right.  I know it will be challenging.  I know it will be exciting.  I know somewhere along the way He is going to say, “Rest in Me.  I’ve got this.”  He does. 

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, Military memories, prayer, Scripture, thankful, travel

Welcome to Knob Noster

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

We had to have the wrong address. Judy and I came home after living three years in Germany and headed to our new duty assignment. We stopped in Georgia to visit with family for a couple of weeks and then headed to Missouri.  We were assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Missouri.  Yes, friend, there is a Knob Noster.  We arrived there only to find out that the State Fair was being held about twenty miles away.  There were no hotel rooms. Nada. None. Period.

Knob Noster only had a couple of small hotels and both said they were full.  Judy was expecting and I was starting to feel like the Bible story of Mary and Joseph.  You know, the whole no room deal.  Well, the one place said try back that afternoon and maybe someone will check out.  They did and we had a room.

First, you need to understand this was back in 1980 so there was no internet to check ratings and all of that.  Second, the bottom line it was the only room in town.  Third, it was bad—as in not good.  Bad as in bugs.  Bad as in bad.  But still, we were grateful.  It was a place to sleep.  God is good. Probably though, I need to be more specific next time when I ask for a place to stay. I needed to learn from Judy.

The very next day we start looking for a place to live.  There was a town called Warrensburg about ten miles from the base.  It had a small university and was a nice midwestern small town.  Unfortunately, housing options were very limited.  The few places the real estate person showed us were small, dated and pricey.  Now Judy had this prayer thing down.  She had asked God for a house with a fireplace.  My expectations weren’t that high. I had asked God for a house without bugs.  She was much more creative than me.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure God was going to pull off either one of our requests.  And then he came along.

No, it wasn’t God but he was God’s delivery man.  His name was Mario—like the brothers. He kinda looked like Danny DeVito. He too was a real estate agent and he had heard us talking with the other agent.  He came over and introduced himself. He said, “You know, I have a house that I had built but haven’t been able to sell.  I might be willing to rent it to you.”  He gave us the address and told us go and check it out. It was just outside of town in a neighborhood called, “Valley View.”

We drove out and turned in and started checking addresses.  At the end of the first road we had to go left or right on Valley View Circle.  We went left and began looking for house number 209.  Soon, on the right, was number 209.  But wait…this couldn’t be the right place.  It was a new, beautiful three bedroom split level brick home.  We were shocked  and said, “No, this can’t be right.”  We went and peeked in the windows.  “No, no way. Must have the wrong address.” And then we saw it.  A massive chimney connected to a big fireplace.

Well, this was too much. Judy and I were beyond excited. This was more, so much more, than we ever expected in our wildest expectations.  We immediately went back to the real estate office and hunted down Mario.  “Well,” he said, “I’ve changed my mind.  Sorry, no deal.”  Naw…just kidding.  He said he liked us, trusted us and would be willing to work with us.  The bottom line is he rented it to us at below market value.  He said he would need a security deposit and we told him we didn’t have anything saved up.  He readily agreed to tack $25 a month onto the rent till we had that covered.  Oh, and of course, it was refundable. 

So, that is how Judy and I moved into our Cinderella castle at 209 Valley View Circle. Oh, and the yard needed landscaping, so he paid me to do that and took it off the rent. Amazing.  You have probably already guessed that this is one of our favorite God stories.  I still smile as I write this because it is just one example of how God has showered us with His love and grace.  A fireplace? Really? New brick home?  Yup. God is good.

Now God wasn’t good because He gave us a really nice house when there was no way we could afford one.  God wasn’t even good because He gave Judy a fireplace.  No, God is just good.  Sometimes it is very obvious and sometimes it takes a little faith to see it.  But He is good.  Someone once said, “God is good and He is good at being God.”  I was thankful for the Knob Noster Motel (bugs and all) because it was better than sleeping in our car.  But I was also thankful for the time He gave us our wildest dream. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” I know that is probably talking about heaven but I think it has to apply here too. Over the years there have been some real winner mountaintops when God just showed off. But do you know what?  There have been some valleys too. Hard times when we couldn’t see the next step.  The big take away has always been, “God is good. God is faithful. God can be trusted.”  So, I’m gonna lay my head down tonight and rest in Him believing that.  After all, He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, Grace, life, Military memories, travel

Three Days and a Wake Up

“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” Psalm 126:1-2a


We were coming home.  From August 1977 to August 1980 we lived in Germany while serving in the United States Air Force.  Our time there was incredible.  We saw windmills in Holland, the alps of Switzerland, the famous horse-fountain in Salzburg, and ate real pizza in Italy.  Where we lived was much like living in the middle of the Shawnee Forest—large rolling hills and lush green forest.  We loved it.
 
Some hard times happened while we were there too.  Those were the days of no internet, no cell phone and no overnight delivery from Amazon prime.  Landline phone calls were rare and expensive and snail mail was all there was.  I remember Judy receiving a letter that opened, “I guess you heard about your dad’s heart attack.” Turns out right after we left for Germany he had a massive heart attack and almost died.  One night about midnight or so, a knock came at our apartment door.  It was an officer from my squadron.  He said I needed to call the Red Cross immediately.  My mother was dying.  They connected me to my sister-in-law in Florida.  Her words were simple and direct, “If you want to see Mom alive you have to come now.”  We made it home the day before she died.
 
So, our time in Germany was divine but difficult.  The bottom line at the end of three years we were more than ready to come home.  As the time neared and preparations were underway for our leaving and returning we started counting down.  Everyone did. We would say, “25 days and a wake up. 13 days and a wake up. Three days and a wake up.” Finally, we woke up, got on a plane and came home.  There was no place like home. There is no place like home.
 
I can remember picking our VW van at the airport (we had shipped it home) and driving.  It was marvelous.  We could read the signs and we could understand the people.  Instead of four dollars for a gallon of gas it was 69 cents.  I stopped at a market and got a fried apple pie.  I can almost still taste it.  For lunch we stopped at McDonald’s.  No big deal right?  Not at all unless you had spent the last three years explaining a cheeseburger and fries to someone who didn’t speak English.  And, instead of a few dollars you paid almost twenty.  As I ordered at the counter, speaking English and being understood…I wept. I apologized to the young lady and explained we had been away for three years.  And I explained…there is no place like home.
 
Well, after too many weeks away, church families in Illinois will have the opportunity to come home.  Sunday we will be gathering as a corporate body to sing, pray and preach.  Now whether you are reading this in real time or months later it doesn’t matter.  There is no place like home.  My time in Germany taught me several things and one of them is you appreciate the simple things.  A fried apple pie and a McDonald’s cheeseburger never tasted so good.  My family never looked so good.  Driving the roads of America never felt so good.  Reading the billboards never seemed so interesting.  By the way, did they ever find out who shot J.R.?  Smile. Somethings were different but it was still…home.
 
So coming back to church is like coming home and I am almost giddy. When the Israelites realized they were coming home after 70 years in Babylon they were just a little more than giddy.  Here’s what one of their songwriters wrote, “When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” In those words you can almost feel their excitement. Things were going to be different when they got there but that didn’t matter.  They were going home.
 
So this weekend, and every weekend after, when you walk into your place of worship and things are just a little different, remember how it felt to come home and the different things won’t matter as much.  When “Bob” irritates you at church after you’ve been back a while, just pause and remember how good it was him the first week.  When the sermon seems too  long, and the music too loud and the room too warm…yup…just remember how good it was…how good it is to be home.  And, in a few weeks, when something fearful pops up or something rubs you wrong…just remember the time He brought you home, when you rested in Him, when you realized He’s got this.  And dream. And sing. Be like the ones who knew the Lord turned our captivity. Because He has.
Posted in Family, life, Military memories, Scripture, travel

If You’ve Seen One “Brucken”

A person’s steps are established by the Lord, and He takes pleasure in his way.” Psalm 37:23

We were so close and yet so far away. It was 1977 and we had recently arrived at our new USAF assignment in Germany. We had purchased a 1967 Volkswagen station wagon which turned out to have virtually no floorboards just floor mats.  We found that out the first time it rains.  It rains a lot in Germany.  Anyway we named him Herman.  He wasn’t fast, he wasn’t pretty.  But he would go…most of the time.

Our friends that lived a couple of hours away invited to come over and spend the weekend with them.  We lived in Sambach which wasn’t too far from Sembach where I worked.  You can probably already tell that things can get confusing in Germany.  So, we had been in country for about 10 days, we had our international drivers license which meant I paid someone $15 dollars, and we had Herman.  Not to sound like Gilligan’s Island but we started out on “a three hour trip…a three hour trip”.

We were heading to a small city called  Zweibrucken where our friends lived.  The Air Force had a small airbase there where he worked and since Zweibrucken means “two bridges” I assume they had those also.  It was simple.  Get on this highway with your car named Herman and with no floorboards, drive about an hour or so, take a left and head toward Zweibrucken.  Not a deal. Right? Well, not so fast.

Soon Judy and I were traveling along, excited for a new adventure.  We had no traveling experience in Germany, it was raining, remember it does that a lot in Germany, so we had miniature swimming pools for floorboards and the antique wipers were just keeping up with the rain. After about an hour we came to a large directional sign.  It said Saarbrucken straight ahead.  Well, Mr. “I’m a man who doesn’t get lost” looked at his sweet, dear “Don’t look at me, I’ve never been out the country before either” wife and said, “Uh was that Saarbrucken we were looking for?”  You know, if you’ve seen one “brucken” you’ve seen them all.

Well, I couldn’t remember, she couldn’t remember so we kept driving and it kept raining.  We drove for quite a while and suddenly found ourselves in Saarbrucken which happens to be on the French border. We also found ourselves on the verge of having to learn French. Since we hadn’t mastered any German either we decided we had best turn around before we started an international incident.

I did a quick turn around and headed back the way we came.  We were disoriented, discouraged, and disappointed.  We drove back about 30 miles or so and there we saw a sign:  Zweibrucken.  I remembered, she remembered—sweet Zweibrucken. Hallelujah. We exited off the autobahn (which is German for “you can drive fast if you don’t drive a Herman”) and as we exit we see our friend just pulling away.  He had come to look for us and was just about to give up.  We saw him, he saw us.  We laughed, we embraced. We had made it.  “Guten Tag.”  Guten Tag, indeed!

We still laugh about that crazy story.  Two young people who didn’t know better driving in a foreign country, taking off in a too old Volkswagen station wagon with swimming pools for floor boards, getting lost and unable to ask directions. Yup, life was good. Now knowing me,  I was probably frustrated, discouraged, and discombobulated. I’m not exactly sure what that means but I am sure I felt it that day.  But the bottom line is, we had fun. Even then we laughed at the hot mess we were in.  It was a story we would tell our kids one day.  Well, we have and it still brings a smile to our lips.

I know there is so much craziness today.  So many missteps, so many “I don’t knows,” so many “Saars” when it should have been a “Zwei.” But remember this.  There is a God who is writing this story called your life and He is a God who loves a good adventure.  And the things that we count as disruptions just might be one of His great adventures purposely put in our path for our ultimate good and pleasure.  David, in Psalm 37:23 writes, “The steps of a good person are ordered [directed, planned] by the Lord.  And He delights in that path.”  In other words, God has a plan and it is a plan that He has written just for you. I know I sometimes question my GPS when it takes me down some crazy roads to save a minute or two but I am learning to just enjoy the journey.  I wrote a few days back that Judy and I love to drive around and try to get lost.  One of my friends said, “Come on down to Pope County.  I can get you lost.”  I think I’m gonna take him up on it.  I’ll have my trusty GPS on standby and my friend won’t be too far away so it should be a great adventure.  I’ll just go along for the ride and rest in Him.  After all, He’s got this.  Guten Tag.

Posted in Grace, Memorial Day, Military memories, Scripture, travel

Heroes

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13

I’m not sure how I found my way there, but I was grateful.  During my assignment in Sembach, Germany we had the opportunity to see so much.  From Hitler’s hideaway called “The Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden to the windmills of Holland to the Alps of Switzerland we were constantly amazed at what was all around us.  But nothing prepared me for Luxembourg.

We had some friends that we had known in our days at Moody Air Force Base in South Georgia.  They received orders to Germany several months before we did.  They were only a couple of hours from us so we saw each other pretty frequently.  It must have been during one of our forays that we came to it—Luxembourg American Cemetery.  It was one of the most hollowed sights I have ever seen.

There, in the cemetery, are 5,075 white Lasa marble crosses and stars of David.  Row after row of headstones that mark the final resting place of American heroes.  Each one made the ultimate sacrifice for us, for you and me, that we can live in freedom.  General George Patton is buried there. Two Medal of Honor recipients are also buried there: David G. Turner and William D. McGee. Twenty-two sets of brothers lay buried side by side throughout the cemetery. Some, 371 in fact, were never found.  They are simply listed as missing in action.  102 are just unknown.

This place of honor was established on December 29, 1944.  Many of the soldiers died during the Battle of the Bulge…Hitler’s last push to turn the tide of the war in Germany’s favor.  It failed but it came at great cost to the Allied forces. It was a harsh winter and because of the urgency of the times many were sent to fight with little or no winter gear. The desperate Germans showed little mercy to those taken prisoner.  And, all this occurred just nine months, nine months, before the war ended.  So many had survived D-Day and countless days of combat only to make the ultimate sacrifice months before the grand reunion with family.

Heroes.  It is a word we throw around lightly these days.  In a world where everyone gets a trophy we are in danger of losing the value of this incredible word.  Hero. Dictionary.com defines it as “a person noted for courageous acts.” Oxford says it is a person who is admired or idealized for courage. Webster defines it as an illustrious warrior or one who shows great courage.  Another place said it is a person who at great danger to themselves puts others first.

I went to Toys-R-Us one time and there they had several aisles of super hero stuff.  As I turned the corner a sign caught my eye.  It simply said, “Real Heroes.”  Along that aisle were the soldiers and sailor figures as well as police, firemen, and other emergency responders.  If I went to that aisle today it would have to include doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.  Real heroes…real people putting others first at peril to themselves.

But there would be one missing.  Jesus Christ, the Hero of Heaven, who willingly, who bravely, gave Himself to a Roman cross that men, women and children could be free. The cross was so horrible it was called the death of deaths.  It was so horrible it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen.  And yet…He went.  Why?  He loved me. He loved you.

Amazingly it was not for some of us but all of us. Skin color, economic station, language, nationality, capacity to be bad or good doesn’t matter.  The Bible simply says, “He came to seek and save that which was lost.”  It simply says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It simply says He is not willing for any to perish but all to come home. Anyone—I like anyone. Anyone who acknowledges their need for a rescue will find one in Jesus. And this Hero not only does a meet and greet, He invites you to join His family.  How about that! So when you hear the national anthem, place your hand over your heart as a salute to those who paid the price for our freedom.  When you see a veteran, thank them for his or her service and sacrifice.  When you walk through a cemetery with your kids, point out the graves of the men and women who served and tell them why they are so special.  And when you talk to the Hero of Heaven next time, thank Him for forgiving your sin.  Thank Him for always being there.  Thank Him for giving you a place to rest.  And, thank Him for having this….because He does.

Posted in missions, Scripture, travel

Peg Leg Sally

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Strange things happen in Africa.  For the past 12 or 13 years, our church has made regular trips to Africa.  We began in Niger and later moved down to Mali.  The last six years or so we have been working in Uganda. Regardless of what country, you can count on Africa to give you plenty of unusual  and strange sights.  So in some ways I wasn’t surprised.

We were on an island in Lake Victoria, Uganda.  On any given trip we visit at least three or four different islands offering free medical care, children’s ministries, ladies ministries and visiting the people in their huts to tell them the stories of Jesus.  The point of it all is to let them hear the Good News that there is a God who loves them—a lot. So we were winding down the day.  The medical clinic was finishing and four or five of us men were sitting in the shade under the “front porch” of one of the buildings.

So, we were talking and like I said you see some strange things in Africa so I wasn’t surprised when my friend said, “Look, there goes a woman with a peg leg.” Well, I turned around to look and didn’t see what he was talking about. I did see a lady some distance away but couldn’t see her peg leg.  I mean, the only peg legs I knew about were in Peter Pan, so my curiosity was peaked.

I turned back around but didn’t say anything.  But, it stuck in my mind.  After ten minutes or so, I just had to ask my friend about this strange sight.  I said, “Tim, did you say something about a lady with a peg leg?” His expression told me I must have missed something. He gave me a perplexing look. All he could manage was a “uh?”  I said, “You know, a few minutes ago you said you saw a lady with a peg leg.” He responded with, “No.  I said I saw a man carrying a stringer of fish.”  Silence. Snickers.  Laughter.

Yup.  Somewhere in the process of the conversation what was said and what I heard were two totally, and I mean totally, different things.  There was no lady with a peg leg only a guy with a stringer of fish.  You are probably wondering how I got “peg leg” out of “stringer of fish.”  All I can say is strange things happen in Africa. I’m glad there wasn’t a crippled lady but the idea of a peg leg like Captain Cook’s sure did intrigue me.

And do you know what?  Sometimes I think this happens with God and me. I think He is saying something and I totally miss it.  Does that happen to you? I think it’s more common than we think. We think we hear Him say, “You have the right to be mad” and in fact He’s saying, “Forgive.”  We think we hear Him say, “Take” and really He was saying, “Give.” Oh, and then we thought He said, “Quit” and He was saying, “Serve.” And it just goes on and on.  We hear “Leave” and He is saying, “Stay.” We hear “Go ahead” and He is saying “Stop, wait, don’t.” Seems strange things don’t happen only in Africa.  Smile.

So, I’m not sure what caused the totally humorous miscommunication in Uganda.  It may have been my hearing, could have been the village noise…who knows.  There may not have been a fix for that, however, when it comes to hearing God clearly there is something that will really help.  It is His Word.  In so many situations (though I’m not sure peg legs are one of them) the Bible gives us clear guidance.

Here is one thing you can count on.  The voice of God (what we think we hear God saying) will not, ever, never, contradict the Word of God.  If you think you hear Him saying, “Revenge” when someone has hurt you, you probably have “Peg Leg Syndrome.”   If you think you hear Him saying, “Be afraid” when circumstances are frightful, you probably have “Peg Leg Syndrome.” You get the idea.

Talking about the Word of God, Paul said that it is good for learning, good for insight about what is wrong in our lives, good for correcting us when we are wrong and good for teaching us about how to live right.  The Bible is an amazing Book. It has stood the test of time and, while there are different translations, there is not a version 4.3 because God got it right the first time. So if you are talking with your friends and someone mentions a lady with a peg leg, you might want to ask for some clarification.  And if you think you heard God say something that sounds a little not like Him, check the Book, go to the source.  Peg leg stories can be funny but withholding forgiveness when it is ours to give, hating instead of loving, leaving too soon instead of staying…well, that can cause a lot of pain.  And if find yourself singing and living that 1974 hit “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” it might just be a bad case of Peg Leg Syndrome.  Just pull out the Book, read a little and rest in Him.  He’s got this.

Posted in Family, life, Military memories, Scripture, travel

Memorial Day Rememberings

Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.” (Colossians 1:21-22)

It was a moment I will probably never forget.  My wife and I love adventures.  We look for ways to do things on a limited budget and we’ve actually gotten pretty good at it.  A few years back we discovered we could take a train from Carbondale to Chicago, stay downtown at a nice hotel for a couple of nights and enjoy whatever was happening around us.. all on a shoestring budget. We would usually go around Memorial Day or the Fourth of July.  It was pretty awesome.

Last year we went the week of the 4th.  We grabbed a very nice hotel room and managed to snag a room that literally faced the fireworks display.  It was awesome.  At Millennium Park they have these incredible free outdoor concerts.  Thousands of people from all walks of life gather on the large lawn to listen.  Because it is the 4th, the music centers on America.  They usually have a section where they honor the veterans by asking them to stand when the theme for their branch of the service is played.

I am a veteran.  I served in the United States Air Force for 12 years and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And that’s the problem.  You see, because it was so rewarding I always felt awkward standing to be honored because I felt like I received so much more than I gave.  So that night, I knew that part of the concert was coming and I was dreading it.  I knew that Judy would urge me to stand, I would say no and she would give me the look.  Again.  But that night, for some reason, something changed.

It was time.  The stirring songs from each branch of the service began playing.  Soon, the Air Force theme was playing.  I looked at Judy and said, “I’m going to stand just for you.”  As I stood something happened.  First, I saw others standing that had served in the Air Force and I felt community…I stopped feeling apart and instead felt a part—a part of the family.  But what happened next was amazing.

There was a mother with a couple of young boys sitting about eight or ten feet from me.  The younger of her sons, probably seven or eight, looked at me and said this, “Mom, is he a hero?”  And I watched and listened as she said, “Yes.  He served our country so that we can be free.”  Then she turned to me and mouthed the words, “Thank you for serving.” Well that was the highlight of the trip for me and it was the day an unexplainable wall fell.

I am certain that I do not deserve the title hero.  The men and women with crosses over their graves in all the national cemeteries deserve that.  The warriors who came back from the various wars and conflicts bearing the physical and emotional scars of war deserve that.  But the one thing that I realized that night was we should be thankful for our freedom.  We can and should honor each person who served for their willingness and sacrifice.

So I’m still shy about standing at Veteran’s Day events.  I still feel awkward at concerts when veterans are asked to stand.  But it’s not because I’m ashamed to say I served. No, it is because I received more than I could ever give back.  I was privileged to wear the uniform of my country.  And that is pretty awesome.  But wait. There’s more.

As I write this story another one is stirring in my heart.  It flashed in my mind that this isn’t the only time, the only circumstance, that makes me feel this way.  It is also my faith in God.  That day when I followed Christ I also received more than I could ever give back. That day I was welcomed into the family of a God who loved me enough to give His Son to a Roman cross.  Paul in the Bible tells us that we went from being alienated and hostile toward God to being able to call Him Father. Jesus caused my billion failures to disappear so He could present me faultless and blameless to His Father. We all need heroes.  This Memorial Day would you take the time to remember those who bled and died that we could be free?  Would you take your kids to the cemetery for your community’s Memorial Day service?  I hope that you will.  But I also hope you will pause and thank the Hero of Heaven for sacrificing His life so that people like you and me can be truly free.  And finally, next time you have the opportunity to stand not as a hero but because of the One, stand proudly and thank Him.  Thank Him that you can rest in Him.  Thank you because He’s got this.