What Others Say

We use your column in our Saturday Spiritual Life section, so I always read it. The new one about Rafael is just totally cool. Again, great column. It touched me enough to email you.
- Greg Jaklewicz - Editorial Page Editor, Abilene News Reporter

Monday, July 26, 2010

Reunion 7-26-2010

It is that time of year when families gather for the annual reunion: aunts, uncles and cousins, some twice removed, and, to complicate things, some twice or thrice married. Reunions are a mixed bag. Some experience the thrill of familiar faces that frame the memories of their youth, and plunge into the pleasure of telling stories passed down through the years, embellished with each cycle of telling. “Do you remember when …?” The stories don’t even require a complete telling. Laughter fills the circle before the story can be told because everyone who is listening has either heard it or told it countless times.

Others hang back along the fringe, looking puzzled, trying to figure out who these people are and how they might be remotely related to them. The young and the newly added “in-laws” are usually in this number. Sometimes they seek each other and have their own make-shift reunion, sharing the common bond of amnesia regarding the inside jokes and familiar references to names not present, faceless people everyone else seems to know whose absence makes their presence even more pronounced.

The reunion has a strange mix of sorrow and laughter. Significant people are absent. Voices that once echoed at the tables of past reunions now lie silent beneath the earth. The same people who gather for the reunion gathered and wept at the funerals for those who no longer come. Their memories are like the deep colors that form the background for vivid paintings or the rich bass tones of the cello and the French horn that enrich the orchestra. At the same time, these sorrows are offset by giggling children who appear like bright colors that dance on the canvass and whose laughter picks up future melodies like the flute.

We somehow have confidence that Heaven is about reunions. We all look forward to seeing people who loved us, those we loved, when we get to Heaven. And, somehow, this earthly reunion helps us look forward to that day. We don’t know exactly how it will happen or how God could manage all the intertwined family relationships when we get to Heaven, but, somehow, family reunions portend the Heavenly event. When I was a child we sang, “Will the circle be unbroken?” It was a way to ask the question together and look forward to something more perfect that God has planned for us.

Jesus did not shy away from using this image to help us look forward to a more perfect day. He said, “In my Father’s House are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go and prepare a place for you that where I am, there you may be also.” The book of Hebrews uses this metaphor to spur us on to better living: “Seeing that we are surrounded by so great a host of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the originator and the finisher of the race.” It seems to me that God takes pleasure in our reunions, just as He takes pleasure in reuniting Himself with us through His Son.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Paying Tribute 7-18-2010

On Friday afternoon, July 16, we stood at the corner of Goliad and Washington in Rockwall and held our flags to honor the funeral procession for Spc. Jerod Osborne, a 2008 graduate of Rockwall Heath High School. He was serving as a combat medic when a roadside bomb claimed his life in Yakuta, Afghanistan. In May of this year he received a bronze star for single handedly saving the lives of civilians at the site of another roadside bomb. He was killed July 5 when his body shielded a lieutenant riding in the front of the vehicle.

Some saluted. Others held their flags high. We all stood silent and still: young men with spiked hair, older men grown gray, little girls, the hot wind whipping their dresses as they shaded their eyes and squinted into the sun. We watched the long motorcade descend the distant hill and slowly climb to the city square led by police cars and motorcycles with blue and red flashing lights and a long double line of Patriot Guard Riders mounted on their bikes. As I held my flag above my head I felt the wind tugging at the folds like the emotions that tugged at our hearts. As I watched the faceless line of cars carrying the family and friends who feel Jerod’s loss the greatest, I was reminded of scenes long ago when I stood before the flag draped coffins of friends brought home from Vietnam, or assembled with others at the National Cemetery to pay respects to a Marine veteran of Okinawa.

Sometimes the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seem far removed. Sometimes we feel unsure about why we are fighting there and what we hope to accomplish. The war on terrorism is much more complicated than the wars of the past. At our best, we always hope that the sacrifices made by our men and women will result in a better world, not only for us, but for those who live in the distant places where they lay down their lives.

Wars, it seems, are incessant. Jesus said it would be so. The struggle for justice and freedom never ends. The issues that create wars and call young men into combat may be debated, but the courage and sacrifice of young men like Jerod Osborne, who give themselves to save lives, both military and civilian, is without debate.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Consider The Birds 7-12-2010

When I step outside in summer’s scorching heat, I hear birds. They never complain. They always have a song. I have listened in the predawn dark for the first twitter from the trees. Like sentinels they watch for the first faint glow in the east, and, long before the sun rises, they start their sunrise celebration. Sometimes I think they are surprised when a new day dawns. Their excitement seems to echo Zecharias’ emotions when he announced the birth of Jesus saying, “The sunrise from on high will visit us!” (Luke 1:78).

I especially like the cardinal. I have watched these brilliant red birds perched high on bare limbs in the Minnesota winter, their ricochet notes shattering the snow covered stillness on a subzero morning. I have listened to the same unmistakable notes and spotted their bright red coat amid thick green oaks in the sweltering heat of a Texas summer. The mockingbird is always dressed in his gray tuxedo for some special occasion, white tipped wings flashing when he flies like formal cuffs in full dress. Unlike the cardinal, the mockingbird never ventures into northern winters. He much prefers Texas winters where he can perch on his stage in the live oaks and sing his stolen songs. I remember waking, when I was a boy, to the rasp of blue jays at play in the pecan trees outside my window. They rasp now as they did then, and every time I hear them I am carried back across the decades to my youth. When we lived in Minnesota, I watched chickadees on winter afternoons fluttering in the windowsill snow searching for seed. I sat on our deck in Minnesota and listened to squadrons of Canadian geese flying low overhead, so low that I could hear the wind in their wings.

Jesus apparently watched the birds and took pleasure in them. He referred to them to help us understand God’s love and care for us. He said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Again, He said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Sometimes we find ourselves thrown into difficult circumstances. Like the scorching Texas heat or the frigid Minnesota winter, every element seems to be set against us and we have difficulty seeing our way forward. At such times we are prone to wonder if God has forgotten us. We are prone to discouragement, doubt and worry about our future. Failing health, unemployment, broken promises and broken relationships conspire to steal away our confidence, our hope and our faith. At such times we need to consider the birds. We are not forgotten. He who cares for the birds of the air will doubtless care for us. We are of great worth to God. Listen to the birds and take heed to their song.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Raising Children 7-5-2010

No occupation is as challenging as parenting. Children have no on-off button. They cannot be put in the closet like clothes, turned off and parked like cars or placed in a kennel for the night like pets. They are on a constant quest, poking, prodding, pushing, pulling and climbing. When our children were little, as soon as they got in the car they looked for buttons to push and knobs to twist. When I turned on the key the blinkers blinked, windshield wipers wiped and the radio blared, vibrating the windows and rendering me momentarily deaf. The same was true for our bedroom and kitchen.

They grew up to be responsible adults. But the path wasn’t easy. Every passage brought new challenges: the first day of school, a move from familiar neighborhoods to a new city, puberty, a drivers license, dating, computer games and technology. Parenting requires a constant learning curve that never stops, even after children are grown and on their own. Relationships constantly change and adjust. As a parent, you are always entering new and unfamiliar territory.

I found across the years that there is no “fix it” book for parenting, no “cure-all,” “read this,” or “do this” simple solution. Every child is different and every parenting situation has its unique challenges. But there are some essential tools that make the difference: patience, consistency, authenticity, trust, love, faith and a listening ear. Most of us don’t come naturally equipped with these essential tools to be successful parents. Most of us have to learn them and acquire them while we are on the job. And all of us have room for improvement.

Years ago I visited a young mother in her home who was caring for several pre-school children. I was amazed at her patience and attention with the children and commented on it. She responded by telling me that this had not always been the case. Before she trusted Christ, she said, she had no patience with children, but after she gave her heart to Christ, He gave her a gift of patience, not only for her own children, but for others.

The Bible says that John came to introduce Jesus to the world by turning the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to righteousness. Every generation has to struggle against the natural desires of the flesh that result in envy, jealousy, resentment, anger and self indulgence. These attitudes destroy the family. When we put our trust and faith in Jesus Christ He gives us a new heart. He produces in us the fruits of the spirit that equip us to be the parents and people that we long to be: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control.” All of these, the Bible says, are the fruit of the Spirit. When our hearts are right with God so that we are producing these fruits, we will be good parents. Then we will be able to fulfill the Scripture’s instruction, “Do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the teaching and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4).