Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, prayer, Scripture, wisdom

The Prickly Past

He has removed our sins as far from us as the East is from the West.” Psalm 103:12

It was a voice from my past—and it was singing the blues.  While we were in Southwest Florida on holiday, I tried to keep up with my morning routines.  That included, first and foremost, coffee.  After coffee and a look at the weather, came God time.  After God time came Judy time.  After Judy time came—exercise time.  The problem with all these times is they all take time.  Before I knew it, the sun was up, the humidity was up and the temperature was up.  Regardless, I had to get up and get going.

The first morning we were there I was still learning the lay of the land and wasn’t exactly sure where I should walk.  So, I headed toward the way in and out of our condo property.  This led to the highway and so I took a left and decided to walk on the edge of the road.  It was safe but it was miserable.  There was no shade and soon it was just plain hot—very hot—“why am I doing this” hot.  I was determined to go my 3.6 miles but I began wondering if this was such a good idea.  After a little while longer I was sure it wasn’t.  But you know how men are—do or die and in this case, death might have been an upgrade.  Ok, I’m exaggerating.

In my misery, I met an old friend.  There was a point when I had to cross a bridge across a channel.  They had built a walkway but to get to the walkway you had to go behind a guardrail through the weeds.  Without breaking stride I charged on and then I saw them.  Sand spurs.  These were old friends from my childhood.  They are a type of weed and have sharp, spine covered balls of pain at the ends of long stems.  They will grab anything that gets close and if that happens to be your skin…you are done.  If they don’t get you when they attach, they will get you when you try to detach them. Ugh.

Like I said, they were an old foe from my childhood.  When I was a kid, we would run barefoot all the time and without fail we would step on them. They would hurt…bad.  Well, this time, even though I tried to avoid them, they found their way onto my shoes and socks but I didn’t find them till I got back from my walk.  As I was sitting by the pool trying to recover from a 145 heart rate and the 100 humidity, I found them. And, just like the old days, they made sure to give me a “stick and an ouch” as I tried to remove them.  Just. Like. The. Old. Days.  Though it was years ago, the whole sand spur scene was painfully fresh.

I find that sand spurs aren’t the only painful thing that loves to bump into our present.  Often, too often, unpleasant memories and regrets, sneak back into our lives and cause us pain all over again.  Try as we may, sometimes, it seems they reattach themselves to us and we relive the whole hot mess again.  It could be a similar situation or maybe a repeat performance but all the pain and remorse comes flooding back.  I hate it, you hate I,t but how do we avoid it?

Well, I tried to avoid the sand spurs on my walk.  I saw them, I knew they were there, but in my rush, my determination to exercise, I simply didn’t give them the wide berth they deserved.  I should have made it a higher priority. I realized that when I was later trying to remove them.  When you sense, when you feel your ugly, painful past creeping into the present, do whatever it takes to change the scenario. Don’t allow yourself to pull to the “sand spurs” of past failures. Trust me—they will attach themselves to your present with all their former pain.

There is one more thing that is even more important than that.  Should you find yourself reliving that regret, run straight into the arms of grace.  Remember, relive the forgiveness that came after the failure.  The Bible tells us that God casts our failures as far as the East is from the West.  I love that because it doesn’t say as far as the North is from the South. You see if you go North long enough you will find the South.  But not so with East from the West.  You can travel East forever and never find the West.  And that dear friend, is what God does with our failures and sin if we ask Him for forgiveness and help. It is gone—outta here and that is real good news.

Well, I couldn’t wait to show Judy my sand spurs, not because I liked them but because they reminded me of an important part of my past—the fact that I knew they were not going to be a permanent part of my future.  I may have bumped into them, but I wasn’t going to live with them again. And that is a good thing. So as you are speed walking though life, remember to give your painful past a wide berth and keep Jesus close by your side. You’ll find Him a mobile “rest stop,” there to make every step, every day survivable and “thrive-able.” And never forget, He’s got this.

Posted in Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

I Was Moved, I Was Grateful

For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

I made a random turn…into the cemetery.  The other evening Judy and I were out on a mission.  One of our ladies had given us some homemade ice cream and we were returning the container.  Oh, in case you are wondering, it was way beyond delicious.  It was peach and it was peachy.  I’ve already put in a request for strawberry next.  So we returned the container and just kinda started driving randomly.  As we went down the street the entrance to the cemetery came up on the right—and I turned right in.

Slowly we started driving down the lanes and just as slowly I started reading some of the headstones there.  First, though, on the left was the newly rededicated “Little Arlington.”  It was dusk and the lights were on and I was so impressed with the great work the crew had done.  One of those was our own Jacob Palmer.  Great job, Jacob.  But I was also impressed with what it represented.  Sacrifice.  Ultimate sacrifice.  The kind of sacrifice that means you don’t get to come home from the war.  I love what is often said, “All gave some but some gave all.” For that, I was moved and I was grateful.

Just down the lane was a grave that caught my attention.  It was a young soldier who went to Korea to fight for his country in what has been called “the forgotten war.”  He was 27 years old when he died on some battlefield, some hill in a country for away.  He was fighting and ultimately died for the cause of freedom.  I was moved and I was grateful.

In several places, Judy and I would stop as we saw a headstone that was personal because we knew, we loved, the ones buried there.  Sometimes both of the names were etched there in the stone and it symbolized two lives joined into one with one story.  And for both the story was concluded.  Sometimes though only one name had the start and finish dates. The other story was still being written and there was a heart longing for heaven and a long awaited reunion.  One stone declared and celebrated 72 years of marriage.  So many of those story writers had touched our lives.  I was moved and I was grateful.

There were also stones of tragedy.  There stood the stone marking the grave of two brothers tragically killed one night by a drunk driver.  Several of stones showed lives cut short by a tragic accident.  Over there was the headstone of one of the victims from the 2012 tornado.  Everywhere were stories of people who touched the lives of others. One stone showed an American flag engraved in full color—the grave of a proud veteran.  One grave was that of a pastor and a veteran of World War II.  So many stories, so many lives, so many contributions.  I was moved and I was grateful.

As we continued around the lanes inside the hallowed grounds we noticed there were places where whole families were buried together.  Generations of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters lay in eternal rest together.  The stones often bore nicknames and tag lines of the one who lay there.  On one grave was a tattered flag that said, “#1 Dad.” Some graves though were barely marked.  The only indication that someone lay there was a rock or a stone.  In another part of the cemetery were the pauper graves.  I have stood at some of those graves as we laid to rest someone that almost no one knew.  Once it was the funeral director and me.  No one else came. I was moved and I was grateful.

“Wait,” you say.  “How can you be grateful?”  Well the reason is simple.  Whether it was a family plot of many generations or a solitary grave of a person when no one came—Jesus was still there.  He is the unseen attendee of every funeral.  For many He is there as Savior and Lord. For others He is there as the Sovereign Lord Who wishes all to believe but knows not all will.  But He is there.  He is always there.  When we need Him, when we want Him and yes, even when we ignore Him.  I am moved and I am grateful.

When you get some time, take a slow drive through the cemetery.  It is anything but morbid…it is in fact one of the most meaningful things we can do.  You will be touched, you will be moved, and yes, somewhere along the way you will be grateful.  Let each headstone with a start and finish date be a reminder that for you there is still time.  Still time to make a difference, still time to mend a relationship, still time to finish well.  But most importantly…there is still time to believe and trust in Him.  The Book says that if anyone will call on His name…they will be saved—forgiven—rescued. No story is so bad that He can’t change the end.  Once again I am moved and I am grateful.

Many see the cemetery and think death.  For those who truly understand grace and Jesus they know the cemetery isn’t about death it is about life.  You learned it in Sunday School but now hear it again…like the first time.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever (that is you and me) calls on His name will not perish but have everlasting life.  So trust in Him and rest in Him.  For He has all of this. 

Posted in Family, life, Scripture, thankful

Ready. Set. Fire.

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” (Hebrews 12:11)

I just couldn’t resist.  All of us have stories that we don’t necessarily remember but are passed down through the years.  Some are humorous, some are serious and some are the things legends are made of.  Well, this one I believe qualifies as all three. 

When I was quite young, probably six or seven, life was pretty good.  We lived in a country setting that was rapidly becoming the suburbs of Jacksonville, Florida.  There was a subdivision being built right next to where we lived.  Some of the men who were working there would drive these cool wedge shape sticks in the ground at the corners of each lot.  They had numbers on them.  They were surveyor markers for the lots.  We thought they made great rubber band guns so we would help ourselves.  We had an endless supply of rubber bands because the newspaper came each day with one or two wrapped around it. We weren’t trying to be mischievous; we just trying to have fun.  I bet it wasn’t fun for the guys who did the surveying.

Sometimes, our fun might become someone else’s pain.  And, there is where the story really begins.  Back in those days, going to the grocery store was the great adventure.  My dad got paid every other Friday.  Payday night we would load up in the car and go to buy groceries.  It seemed we would always buy the stuff to make sandwiches for supper when we got home which invariably included a gallon of chocolate milk.  It never saw the light of the next morning.

Well, one Friday night, we were at the grocery store and apparently I had a rubber band left over from my adventures that day. I must have reached in my pocket and found the small piece of rubber and thought, “You know, we can have some fun with this.”  Well, I probably should have thought that through a little better, but when you are six or seven and mischievous by nature, anything is game.  I started looking for targets.

Down the aisle was a rather large woman.  And what happens next has been blocked from my memory but is stated as fact.  As we got closer to the woman, perhaps as she studied what brand of mayo to buy, I took the rubber band, placed it between my thumb and pointer finger, moved my hand in close proximity to the intended target and let it fly.  I can only imagine what happened next.

First, I am certain she was shocked.  It must have felt like a killer bee had bit her but that wasn’t logical since she was in a store.  So she probably spun around and looked only to see this smiling kid with a rubber band still in his hand.  To me it was all fun.  To her it was all pain.  Lesson one.  Don’t let your fun become someone else’s pain.

Second, I am certain my parents were devastated.  Since this would have been about 1960 or 61 there were not the social rules about child discipline that we have today.  Knowing my dad and mom, there was probably swift and lethal retribution.  I can imagine one of them, both of them, making sure my bottom felt like her bottom.  No one would have called Children and Family Services.  They all would have said, “Let me help you with that.”

Third, I believe that this is when I began to really understand repentance.  Repentance means to turn around and go in a different direction.  If I could have gotten loose from Dad that night I would have definitely practiced repentance…I probably would still be running.  The other meaning of repentance is to have a change in attitude.  I am certain that happened.  If you were to ask me how many other times I decided to pop a strange lady with a rubber band in the grocery store that number would be zero.  So how the urge suddenly left me.  I had repented.

This is going to sound hokey but it is memories like this that show how much my parents loved me.  They loved me enough to teach me right from wrong, respect for other people, a strong work ethic and to believe in God.  And they loved me enough to give me a swat or two when I needed it.  It all came together to help me grow, and live and love.

God is the same way.  My dad and mom loved me so much but God outshines even them.  He loves me and teaches me to do life with fewer oops and fewer consequences. I never carry rubber bands in my pocket just to avoid the temptation.  But He also loves me enough to discipline me when I need it. The author of Hebrews says it best.  He writes, “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” Spot on.  He must have popped some lady too. So, try and show some grace.  I shouldn’t have popped the lady and I haven’t popped any more.  Don’t judge my parents for taking care of the problem.  I am grateful for the way they raised me.  And don’t be mad at God if He disciplines me or you.  He is way too wise to make a mistake and way too loving to do the wrong thing.  He is our “Abba Father,” our dearest Daddy so we can trust Him.  We can rest in Him.  Because…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.