Adversity, Bible, Life's Moments

Awake…Again…’Cus the Lord Knows Me Well.

3:00am, Ricki, do you know where you are? How far have we traveled together? Seriously, oh man, the challenges we’ve stared down, climbed over, worked through, or even ignored…remember? Do you recall that time, really it was a season or should I say siege, during which you just kept wagging your head back and forth muttering “No, no, no, no?” Yeah, that’s the one. And…yup, that one too. Well, yes, that also. Now do you know where you are? Where you always are? Umhmm, you got it.

Remember when I said, “I will never leave you or forsake you?”

Right. That’s how I said it in the later Letter to the Hebrews. But do you remember how I said it first?

Yup, there you go. Moses was finishing. Joshua was getting started. Your brothers and sisters long ago needed encouragement as the time for entering the Promised Land was upon them. So, what did I have Moses say? Exactly, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) That was a long time ago…about 3400 years! And then again, about 2000 years ago, my people needed that encouragement , so I reminded them again. (Hebrews 13:5)

So, “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

Now do you remember where you are? Yes, yes, yes, you are with me. We got this.

Thank you, Jesus. O Lord, thank you.

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Bible, Culture, Life's Moments

Memorial Day Thoughts…

Grandpa McGrath’s leggings: WW1

I am thankful I come from a long line of veterans. Some fortunate enough, like me, to never see combat. Others, not so fortunate. I am also thankful I have never had to suffer the ultimate loss of any of those who served in combat. However, for some, to whom I owe everything, the losses of those they fought with are staggering. From my Grandpa Micky on my Mom’s side in WW1, to my Dad and Father-in-law and my wife’s step-father, and uncles in WW2, to my brother-in-law and my cousins in Viet Nam, and my nephew in this long war against terrorism, the numbers are hard to even imagine. Dad and Earl stormed the beaches in WW2…Dad in the Pacific, Earl on D-Day. Both made it from basic training to the beaches, through multiple large battles, to mop-up patrols, and finally home. They literally lost 1000’s of their brothers…all around and very near them on their full assaults, behind their covers, in their fox-holes, and further to the rear and both flanks, but never their fronts…because both served with squads on point. Dad and Earl and Lee separated from service upon their returns home. Dad was recalled for Korea. He fought again. He was recalled for the Berlin Crisis. Thankfully resolution occurred before any fighting started. He was then called again. So he took up his weapon and his aid bag and fought and bandaged and splinted and removed dog-tags yet again in Viet Nam. His service spanned 35 years with 22 on active duty and 5 (possibly 6…we’re not sure) in combat. Through it all he grieved most the condition of his little brother who returned from the Korean War with what we now call PTSD. His little brother never really recovered. Family breakdown and alcohol became his partners until the alcohol consumed him and brought death far too soon. So, actually, I was wrong earlier when I said, “I am also thankful I have never had to suffer the ultimate loss of any of those who served in combat” for surely Uncle Jim’s death was the last fatality due to WW2 to strike so close to Dad’s heart.

So to those in my family who fight no more, to those still with me, to those now on active duty, call me to attention because I owe you my salute, my respect, my love, my freedom, indeed my life. To my dear Brat Family: the same salute, respect, and love do I extend to you and yours. Your Dads and your Moms, who served just as faithfully as their husbands, are just like mine. They are heroes, legends…ordinary people who rose to extraordinary heights. All my love.

Father, thank you for them all. Please honor them. For those gone by, attend them as no human hands ever could. For those still with us, encourage them, keep then, protect them, prosper them.

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Adversity

3 Words That Scream Adversity Is Winning

Adversity can make you better or bitter. Adversity can be a kick in the pants. It can also kick you in the teeth. Obviously we want the former, not the latter. But how do you know? How can you tell when adversity has become your master?

Three words can help: critical, apathetic, and sullen.

If these adjectives paint your life picture, adversity is winning.

● When finding fault sprints to the lead while compassion and understanding struggle to keep pace…adversity is winning.

● When indifference and insensitivity climb the leader board while concern and kindness fail to make the cut…adversity is winning.

● When pouty pessimism scores all the goals while cheer and hope get shut out… adversity is winning.

It means you’ve lost purpose. You’ve lost your way. Helen Keller once said, “True happiness… is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

If a worthy purpose puts criticism, apathy, and sulleness in their places, imagine the power of ultimate purpose.

“Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant in the trial and the change
One thing… remains…”
by Jesus Culture

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Bible, Life's Moments

Protection From Above

I’m not sure, but I think my son, Daniel, once had shades of Snoopy lingering in his thoughts. You know, that particular image of Snoopy perched in a tree like a vulture keeping watch over everything below. Ready to pounce. Ready to provide. Ready to protect.

It’s okay. I got this.

It happened during that period of time when a mom and dad begin to nudge the responsibility and self-discipline training to the next level. Daniel was about 10 years old. Vanita and I had discussed some timing issues and some method issues regarding Daniel’s training. One of the items we chose was to leave him at home alone for a half hour or so.

“Daniel, we need to run to the store real quick. Matthew wants to go. Of course, Jessica is coming with us. Would you like to go or would you like to stay here and look after the house?”

Now all ya’ll know where this was designed to go. And it did.

“Really? I can stay here,” he asked.

“Yes. You’ll need to be very responsible. You know the house rules, right?”

“Yeah, I can do it!”

“Right, we know you can. So, okay, we won’t be long.”

Driving away produced no small amount of stress, but drive away we did. Training goes like that. A little older…a little more instruction…a little more responsibility…a little more autonomy to achieve success…a little more grace for the slips…and a whole lot of praying. We drove away with the stress and moderated it with the praying.

All these years later, I’m happy to report success. Back then, well, let’s just say I wasn’t always so sure.

We were anxious to get home, but we gave Daniel the time we had predetermined. We pulled into the drive way…and the excitement began. Daniel came on the run…not from the front door, not from the back door, but from up in a tree.

The tree was one of his favorite toys. It was one of those classic climbing trees. Situated just off the front porch and overlooking the front door, it provided a low branch for a swing and a tall climb for rambunctious kids. Apparently, it also provided Daniel with a fantastic ninja position.

“Dad, Dad…Mom, I saw this lady. I saw her.”

“What lady, Daniel?”

“The lady, the lady walking up the street. I could tell she was gonna come to our house.”

“Did she come to the house?”

“Yeah, I knew she would.”

“Oh, Daniel, did she knock on the door or anything?”

“Uh-huh, I knew she would.”

“You didn’t answer, did you? You know you’re not supposed to do that.”

“No, no, I didn’t. I couldn’t.”

A little bewildered, we just kind of stood there looking perplexed.

“I couldn’t answer the door. Instead, I said, ‘Who goes there!?’”

“What,” his Mother asked.

Daniel answered, “I said, ‘Hey, who goes there,’ and the lady jumped and screamed. I took care of it, Dad.”

“Daniel, wait, wait. What are you talking about,” I asked.

“Well, when you left, I was kinda scared, but I wanted to take care of everything, so I decided to climb the tree. That way I could be safe and watch over everything. So, I grabbed the hatchet…”

“The hatchet? Daniel, what? Why the hatchet? You know it only has certain uses and I need to be around when you use it,” I said with a nod to authority. On the inside, though, I knew where this was going and my Father/Daddy/Papa/Dear ‘ol Dad pride meter was climbing at break-neck speed.

“Yeah, the hatchet, Dad. (Breathing kind of fast) I was a little scared, but I knew I had to protect everything, (breathing a little harder) so I got the hatchet, (taking a gulp of air) turned everything off, locked the doors, put the key in my pocket, and climbed to the top of the tree. (Big breath, from corner to corner his smile stretched as far as the east is from the west). I did it Dad. Everything’s okay.”

“And the lady,” we asked.

“Oh, after she screamed and asked what I was doing in the tree, she left.”

Just like that, it was okay. It was okay.

Mom gave him a big, long hug.

I gave him a high five.

It was okay. Still is.

In just less than two weeks, Daniel will marry the lady for whom he has been praying, hoping, and looking for since he was a teenager. Her name is Abby. Daniel will perch over her. He will protect her and provide for her. He will pray with her, play with her, plan with her, and parent with her. He will be passionate about her. peaceful for her, and patient with her. Because he has such a wonderful Dad. No, take it easy, I’m not talking about myself. At night, before falling asleep, he’ll check in with Dad. After each long day he will say, “Dad, Abba Father, I did it. Everything is okay. The house is locked up. Abby is safe. (One day, hopefully) The kids are okay. I did it, Father. Everything is okay. Thank you. Amen.”

Here’s the important part…

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Update: Daniel and Abby, happily married, love one another and our Lord more and more everyday, help others and their little Rachel to do the same thing, and expect a brand new little baby boy any day now!

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Adversity

The Mother of All Water Fights

The fresh air and beautiful sunshine of early February were a joyful pause in the midst of a long, wet and gray winter. The relief from old man winter’s grasp renewed my expectations for life. A day earlier everything seemed dark, but the coming of the dawn sun brought light of another kind. It was a gift from God.

That winter had been unusually stressful. The difficulties my son faced day to day seemed too large to overcome. His impulsiveness and hyperactivity stirred most people to anxiety. Few in his life could refrain from pointing out his weakness and fault. In pain, my wife and I endured the long winter with him. His heart was broke and ours was breaking.

One night, during early February, when the days were sunny and warm and the nights were crisp and clear, I slept like I had not slept in weeks. There was no tossing and turning. My mind seemed unusually calm. My spirit rested. Shortly before the morning alarm erupted, I dreamed.  If the dream’s author was not God, I would be surprised.

Standing atop a very tall building, I looked below into the crowded city streets. People moved quickly and strategically. If not all, then most were engaged in the mother of all water-fights.  They tossed water-balloons. They carried water-guns. They held hoses streaming water at full force. Some even wielded high-tech water devices only found in dreams and only used in George Lucas films. There were hundreds and thousands. The odds were several thousand…

…to one.

The one was my little boy.

In the crowds of the city’s chaos he stood alone. From my vantage point high above the city streets, I could not reach him. All I could do was watch as he moved between the cars, as he dodged one water blast after another, as he drenched his opponents, and as he maneuvered himself with the tactics of a special-forces soldier.

Oh, how my heart stood still. Remorse and pride commingled in the depths of my emotions.  Suddenly, I began to cheer. Words of encouragement fell from my lips.

“Go, son, go.”

“Yes, yes, that’s it. Look out, he’s coming up on your left.”

“Alright! Way to go! Great job!”

He took on so many. He stayed in the battle. He fought a good fight. Finally the numbers overwhelmed him. From front and back, from right and left, he took water, shot after shot, until he was drenched. The odds against him were just too great.

Sitting in the middle of the street, people standing all around him, he looked up. His eyes met mine. A lump formed in my throat. Tears gathered in the corner of my eyes. “Oh no,” I thought, “not again, not again.”

We looked at one another. Our eyes met. I expected sadness. But…but…he smiled.

He smiled! He didn’t cry. He didn’t frown. He didn’t stomp his feet. He smiled. All I did was cheer. He did the hard work. He engaged the battle. He met the resistance of a world filled with uncaring and uneducated enemies. He won. He won! He may have been drenched. He may have been overcome by the sheer numbers. Yet, he had his victories. He won.

As I awoke, I felt the tears running down upon my pillow. Pulling myself from bed, I stumbled into his room. His breathing was soft. His face was relaxed. His sleep was peaceful. The dawn once again brought early February sunshine. The light of the morning broke the night of darkness. The Light of the World broke the spell of darkness. My son had an advocate, a cheerleader. If no other would stand on his behalf, I would.

I bowed in thankfulness to our Savior and I realized then my son had an even greater advocate. His name is Jesus. And that greater advocate was calling me to be like him…filled with grace and compassion.

How about you? Do you need an advocate? Do you need to become an advocate? Start with Jesus.

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Bible, Life's Moments

The Dreaded Wood Stove of the Family Room

Toddlers never cease to amaze me and usually astound me.  I have a few twitches to prove it.

In our old home there were certain items that had been “forbidden” to our little ones.  For instance, the ever lurking and always fascinating electrical outlets were always labeled “Authorized Personnel Only.”  I could just see it, I would turn my back for the briefest moment and one of them would plant a giant, slobbery kiss on one of those little electricity spitting menaces and…ZOWIE!!!  “Waaaaaa!”  “Child, haven’t I told you…”  (Most fortunately, this one never happened to us, but I’ve been told other parents actually suffer nightmares from it.)

No we have not endured any electrical exhilaration, but there was something else.  That something, for our oldest son, was a high and looming object in the corner of the family room.  Black, hard, austere, I’m sure that from his vantage point it looked to be a mighty fortress just waiting to be conquered.  It just stood there.  To him it must have been almost mystical.  From the top there arose a tall tower.  In the front there opened and closed a creaky-hinged door.

Like any fortress it never seemed unprotected either.  Always, always, our son knew the guards were not far away.  Giants they were.  Sentries on the prowl.  Never mind they were also known as Mom and Dad.  When it came to that thing they were like Ninja.  For a toddler this all added up to high adventure.  The pages of a Little Golden Book turned themselves in his very own house.

Yeah, that’s it.  You guessed it — the Dreaded Wood Stove of the Family Room!  Many was the time our oldest heard the order being issued by one of the sentries.  “Thou shalt not touch the wood stove; for in the moment you touch it you shall surely feel much pain and scream thy little head off.”  But, remaining true to his species, he constantly marshalled his forces (two teddy bears, a purple pig, and a funny looking lion).  He developed strategy and plotted tactics.  Finally, he would launch a full frontal assault on the “Fortress Wood Stove.”

See, like every human, our son hears from the “United Front of Dark Espionage.”  It seems their reports are always contradictory to the commands of the sentries who stand their ground on behalf of the Great King.  Filtering through the airwaves, or brain-waves, or whatever, comes that age old intelligence report:

“Have they indeed said, ‘You shall not touch the wood stove?'”

Our son, would peer across the vast plain of the family room.  His brow would wrinkle.  Pondering.  Mulling it over.  He would then hear the final message:

“You shall not surely feel great pain and scream thy little head off.  For in the moment you touch the wood stove you will be like them.  You will really know things then.  You will be your own boss.  You will be in control.  Yes, you will say when it is the best time to eat and sleep.  You will decide whether it is good or bad to break your mother’s fine china.  You will be like them!”

Then, sadly, our son would heed the report.  With a shrill scream and flailing arms, he would launch that attack.  Complete with diversionary tactics and commando like energy, his invasion upon the “Fortress Wood Stove” looked bound for success.  Five feet.  Four feet.  Three.  Two.  One.  Only inches left.  The screaming was about to begin.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere would come the long arm of a sentry.  Swooping down, Mom or Dad squelched the rebellion as suddenly as it had started.  The battle ended.  Nothing remained except the retreat.

“Why, Papa, why?  How tum tan’t I tush it?”

Good question, huh?  It’s no different then yours or mine.  Or Adam and Eve’s.  Though we rebel, God forgives.  Though we run, he never loses sight of us.  Though we fall, he picks us up.  It takes time to learn when we’re little.  It takes time to learn when we’re big.  Life and death, light and darkness, obedience and rebellion crowd the adventures of history and everyday living.  Sometimes the learning is painful.  Sometimes we’re spared.  Sometimes, if we are open to it, God will prevent us from touching the heat.  Because he is holy and full of grace, we can be equipped to accept the freedom of saying “No!” to the Fortress Wood Stove of the Family Room.  It begins by saying “Yes!” to Jesus.

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