Miracle Farm

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This has been a week filled with many emotions. On Wednesday of this week I had an opportunity to visit with a friend at a Christmas party who was a previous foster parent at the agency where I worked. In fact, I personally conducted her initial foster home study and was subsequently responsible for placing two sisters in her home. Though the girls were in her home for only a period of several months, she has been actively involved in their lives in a supportive kind of way ever since that time.

 

So how many years ago did that placement take place? I don’t have a good frame of reference other than remembering the office where I worked at the time. I was still in the administrative building at Texas Baptist Children’s Home. If I’ve connected the dots correctly in my head, that had to have been approximately twelve-to-thirteen years ago. Actually, it could have been longer ago than that. Time has a way of flying by more quickly than one can imagine. Could that be possible?

 

The friend and previous foster parent mentioned that the older of the two girls graduated with honors from Rice University in Houston earlier this year. She is now in graduate school at Rice. Wow! Could that really be possible? Her younger sister is also equally gifted and talented. I said to the previous foster mom, please tell them I said hello and then dismissively added: “Forget that, they wouldn’t remember me anyway.” She replied with a smile: “I will tell them you said hello. They do remember you.”

 

Whether they remember me or not, I have the joy of knowing their lives have been enriched by the foster mom who took them under her wing and subsequently has offered them a lifetime of nurture and on-going support. I’d call it a WIN/WIN for everyone involved.

 

On Friday evening the General and I attended a high school graduation at Miracle Farm, the boys ranch program where I also had the privilege of being affiliated in my work. One of the graduates from the charter school serving Miracle Farm was a young man who has come light-years since his initial placement six years ago. In fact, I would have said six years ago that barring a miracle, he’d never make it through high school. Actually, that isn’t exactly true. What I really thought is that he’d never make it through the school year without a miracle. His need was immediate and it was desperate.

 

He is the grandson of an extended family member and I was fairly insistent that the grandson’s ability to flourish was significantly compromised because of a history of mistreatment and unmet needs by the single parent home in which previously resided prior to being placed temporarily in his grandfather’s home.

 

Kids from hard places are not on a level playing field with kids that come from family environments where nurture and support are second nature to the parent. Sadly, this young man was not gifted with that kind of beginning. Consequently, to say that he had lots of catching up to do is an understatement.

 

Because of my familiarity with Miracle Farm, I saw the resource as not only being his best option, it was in reality his only viable option. Gratefully, the staff at Miracle Farm opted to take a chance with the boy because they thought his succeeding in the program at his level of functioning at the time of placement was minimal at best.

 

It was a long shot, but it couldn’t have worked out better. The investment made in the young man’s life is one that will forever impact his success and ability to embrace a future filled with promise and hope.   I was so proud of him as he received his high school diploma and I was equally proud of Miracle Farm. With the Lord’s help they were true to the name “Miracle Farm”.

 

The strength of any program lies in the professionalism, skillset, personality and commitment of those who serve at every level. However, there is no role more important than that of the front line staff that serve as house-parents. They figuratively are responsible for providing around the clock supervision, nurture, structure and support. They have the day-to-day responsibility for ensuring the child’s needs are met.

 

I sat teary-eyed when the new high school graduate publically thanked Mr. Chris and Mrs. Rhenda for being the father and mother he never had. Wow! In so many respects they provided the on-going unconditional love and support that he had never before experienced. That kind of support enabled him to move beyond what had been to a place where he could begin to envision what could be.

 

The road to healing for kids from hard places is wrought with difficulties. It takes teamwork and open communication at every level. There is a need for counseling and on-going support, teaching staff that understand the impact of trauma and previous life experiences and how they impact learning, the provision of opportunities for normalization and the awareness of God’s love and providential care through it all.

 

Miracle Farm does an exceptional job at every juncture in anticipating the host of landmines that could serve as negative triggers for boys from hard places and they proactively provide a culture of safety or circle of care to help with the process.

 

Perhaps one of their greatest strengths is the realization that without God’s intervention there subsequently is little they can do that makes much of a difference. Perhaps that’s how they live-up to the name Miracle Farm. They live with a sense of dependency on God. After all, only God can orchestrate the transformation that needs to occur and he does that again and again and again.

 

All My Best!

Don

 

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The Gift

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It was a large blue, white and black box marked fragile. The colors of the box formed a checkered board pattern in a diagonal formation. I found the yellow hand-scribbled index card in my post office mailbox on Thursday after the post office had closed for the day. It was not yet 5:00 p.m., but the post office closes at 4:00. The yellow index card indicated that I had a package too large for my post office box. I’d need to pick it up at the call window. Wouldn’t you know it? Since the post office had closed for the day, I’d have to wait one more day.

 

The General had stopped by the post office around 10:00 a.m. that morning. She subsequently remarked to me that she was surprised. There was nothing in our mailbox. I can count on one hand the number of times there has been nothing in our mailbox. That’s not to say we are on everyone’s Christmas card list; however, I can say with some sense of accuracy that we are on (correction – The General is on) every mail order catalogue distribution list known to mankind (or perhaps his wife).

 

It wasn’t that the package came as a complete surprise. I was expecting it. The kind friend that I have yet to meet in person alerted me that the package had been mailed. Despite the fact that it was mailed from Illinois, it was guaranteed to arrive in 3 days.

 

There was no mistaking its contents. It was carefully marked with several yellow stickers that indicated: “SPECIAL HANDLINGFRAGILE”. It also contained a blue, white and red sticker that specified: “PRIORITY MAIL”. The box actually measured 12” x 3” x 14”.

 

Yesterday morning I carefully carried the package out of the post office and placed it on the passenger seat of my truck as though the “Special Handling – Fragile” label had been placed on the package as instructions for me. It was almost with a sense of reverence that I carefully placed it there satisfying myself that it would ride safely without harm. Indeed, special handling was required.

 

There were several errands on my list of things that needed to get accomplished before I’d get back home and find the freedom to open the box. As I sat briefly looking at the box my mind drifted back to a message on Facebook that touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes.

 

The message was a response to my posting of a Memorial Day presentation that I was privileged to share at a 2016 Memorial Day celebration in the town of my birth. The message read: “Don, my name is Dennis Carpenter and I am one of the Marines who waited in vain on the flight-line for his aircraft to return the day he was lost to us. As I stand every Memorial Day as a member of our VFW honor guard, my mind will return me to that day and that flight-line and the sense of loss that I feel for Ron and the other brave men our squadron lost. Rest assured that I will never forget him or the others for the rest of my life. Thank you for stepping forward on Memorial Day and speaking for your brother and for those who served with him and who knew him as a brave man and a compassionate friend. Sgt. Dennis Carpenter VMA (AW) 533 COM/NAV Night Crew”.

 

Thus began my friendship with Dennis Carpenter. Months later, Dennis sent me a note that he had talked with Matt (his son) and Allison (his son’s girlfriend – now fiancée). Allison is an accomplished artist with impeccable qualifications. She has a master’s degree in art therapy for children and her work has been shown at studios in Chicago. Beyond that, she is a social worker who works with kids from hard places. Wow! She sounds like someone I’d really like to know.

 

At any rate, Dennis had talked with Allison about painting a portrait of Ron from a photo. In Dennis’ words: “This would be a gift given to a friend from friends who respect your family’s years of suffering and yearning for closure. We would be delighted if you would accept this small token of friendship and gratitude”.

 

I was speechless with Dennis’ gracious offer and even more speechless after seeing the portrait. The portrait was carefully packed inside the blue, white and black box marked fragile. It was wrapped in layers and layers of bubble wrap. With each layer that I unwrapped, my thoughts focused on what a special gift I had been given. I think of myself as a person who crafts words, but I don’t have the words to adequately express the depth of my gratitude for such a prized gift. I will treasure it for the remainder of my days. After I am no longer here, someone else will treasure it as a keepsake to be long remembered.

 

I can’t imagine the number of hours that Allison devoted to this project. Pictures of Ron from that period of his life were few in number. In addition, they were all very small and not of the quality that could be enlarged. Allison was pretty much left with an impossible challenge, but she managed it beautifully and I will forever be grateful.

 

Dennis shared with me that the men with whom he served with at Nam Phong don’t know about the portrait. He said of them: “They are the best men I have ever met”. Consequently, he went on to say: “I would like you to receive this gift as a token from all of us as we, too, remember your brother. I feel they would appreciate this as Marines are brothers and they have also felt the grief of loss.”

 

It was the Christmas bombing raids of 1972 that took Ronnie from me. What I’ve subsequently discovered is that he is still with me. It has just been a long time since we’ve had opportunity to share face-to-face time. It was Christmas 2017 that I was gifted with a painted portrait that refreshed the look of a face that will be forever remembered. I am ever so grateful.

 

All My Best!

Don

MoPac Express (AKA – Loop 1)

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Yesterday was a first for me.  I don’t remember how long the two express lanes on MoPac Expressway have been open.  In fact, I’ve never understood why MoPac was referred to as MoPac Expressway. The confusion has nothing to do with the name “MoPac”. That obviously stands for Missouri Pacific Railroad and the roadway parallels the railroad track on both sides. One side going north and the other going south.  Despite the fact that I’ve had a toll tag since they first became available in Austin, I’ve never opted to use the new fast-paced passage to get from North to South in Austin.  For starters, that singular passage of right away looked equally congested in 4:30 p.m. traffic. In addition, I’m not sure the lane (singular) was even open by the time I retired.

 

I needed to make a trek to North Austin yesterday to pick up filters for the hot tub.  I purchased the hot tub in San Antonio, but surely there had to be a closer place to purchase the supplies I needed.  The day before, the San Antonio vender where I purchased the hot tub made a service-call to change the ultraviolet light in the hot tub.  Apparently, the bulb is the latest and greatest in terms of the filtration system and keeping the pH-levels where they need to be. 

 

Fortunately, this time I was home and able to observe the process.  I was also home the first time the bulb was changed and the process was daunting. The repair-person yesterday made the process look like even I could do it. Next time I will. The bulb was $70. The less than five-minute installation was $70 and the road trip from San Antonio was $180.   I was inclined to call that price gauging.  A year ago it was a hundred dollars less than that.  Did I mention the bulb has to be changed annually?

 

With the help of Google, I found a Jacuzzi dealer in Austin.  The location was only thirty-three miles away.  Why had I not been using that location for service all along?  I don’t always get it right.  According to Google, the trek to San Antonio was over fifty miles.  Consequently, it was an easy decision to determine which direction to head to pick up filters. Reportedly, filter supplies should have been in the service truck yesterday, but for whatever reason, they were not.

 

Of course, timing is everything when it comes to traffic.  I figured mid-day would work best for me to rush into Austin and back.  Of course, the General had other ideas. If I’d wait for her, she’d ride with me. Okay, so was that a privilege or an emotionally masochistic kind of experience?  The General isn’t always verbally complimentary of my driving when she rides shotgun with me. It isn’t so much that I mind that she bargains with God when she’s in the car with me.  I just wish she’d make it a silent conversation between herself and her maker.  Besides that, the promise of never getting in a car with me again in exchange for a safe ride that one time is a commitment she always fails to keep. She obviously thinks I cannot drive without her. Either that are she’s standing by our wedding vow: “’Till death do us part.”  By the way, I was mostly joking about the General bargaining with God related to my driving. 

 

So the General got back from the gym sometime after 2:00 p.m.  I was busy doing something related to the part-time position I hold with a professional residential childcare organization in Washington, D.C.  Okay, so I waited for her while she went to the gym to work, she could wait for me. It would only take a minute. Before I was done, did she really verbalize to me: “You’re not waiting on me?” 

 

I stopped first by the post office in Dripping Springs to mail a couple of things.  I walked into the post office and immediately did an about-face.  The line inside the post-office was out the door. I didn’t have time for that! 

 

We actually made the drive to North Austin without being in stop-and-go traffic.  As we were leaving to head back South, the General asked if I wanted to stop by Pottery Barn while we were on that side of town?  Why not? I’ve driven in rush hour traffic before. This was no big deal. Why would I mind taking two hours to drive forty miles?  Been there/done that!  I could do it again. No, I didn’t mind stopping by Pottery Barn. In fact, I didn’t verbalize any of the thoughts I’ve shared with you to her. I don’t have a death wish.

 

Unfortunately, the item we wanted from Pottery Barn had to be ordered. They didn’t carry it in the store. We didn’t have time to tarry. We needed to get in the flow of traffic while it was still a flow of traffic rather than a line of stopped cars.

 

So why not try the new express lane?  The thought worked for me and I gleefully veered to the left toward the express lane.  No sooner had I done so than we were stopped in traffic and the lanes of traffic to my right were zooming by.  So what was wrong with this picture?

 

Actually, the stop-and-go experience was short lived. Soon we were moving and the cars to my right were not.  The farther South we got, the faster we were able to drive.  Actually, it felt a little eerie to be driving 65 mph while the three lanes of traffic to my right were totally stopped.  Would I do it again?  Are you kidding me?  Of course I’d do it again.

 

The General made a good traveling companion yesterday. Never once did she utter a negative word about my driving.  When we got to South Austin, she asked if I wanted to stop by Randalls Grocery Store?  I had stopped by Randalls the week before to purchase their homemade Steakhouse Chili. It was cold outside. Cold weather and homemade chili go well together. In addition, making the chili is no bother at all. Randalls thoughtfully does that for you. Luck of the draw, last week: “They were out of Steakhouse Chili”.

 

Consequently, I tried the homemade Chicken Enchiladas soup for the first time.  It was a good find.  It was a really good find. I’d do it again over the Steakhouse Chili in a heartbeat. Actually, probably neither soup is good for your heart, but it is a good taste. Let me modify that: “It is a really good taste”.

 

As it turned out, like I said before: “During the course of our commute yesterday, the General didn’t utter one negative word about my driving”.  I’m calling it a Christmas miracle.  Have you noticed that people are kinder and more patient around Christmas time?  Most everyone has the mindset: “Be of good cheer, it’s the most wonderful time of the year”.

 

Once I get the new filters installed and the water replaced, I’m of the mindset: “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”  I really enjoy the hot tub when it is really, really cold outside.

 

All My Best!

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Don

The Eagle, Globe and Anchor

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A friend recently asked: “Do you have special plans for Christmas?”  The General and I are creatures of habit. I don’t recall what year our church started hosting a Christmas Eve candlelight service, but I’m fairly certain that the tradition goes back to at least 2001.  Having the privilege to serve as pastor brings with it some sense of expectation that the pastor won’t be in London or New York City at Christmas time. He will be in church on Christmas Eve.

Consequently, I didn’t know how to answer the question.  Does showing up for the candlelight service at church on Christmas Eve fall into the category of special plans?  Last year a couple from Dallas who have a weekend or an occasional home in Henly attended the Christmas Eve service.  In addition, they had a houseful of guests comprised on family and friends who accompanied them. 

The more the merrier is a rule of thumb with our family of faith.  Obviously the Christmas story has a fairly consistent ring to it, yet it never grows old.  The newcomer that brought her family and friends with her for the Christmas Eve service was somewhat surprised by joy.  She couldn’t have been more affirming in her assessment of the experience.  Consequently, I will be both surprised and disappointed if this year’s Christmas Eve Candlelight service doesn’t include a host of folks from Dallas.

This year, Christmas Eve falls on Sunday.  Whether my daughter was being serious or questioning tongue-in-cheek, she wanted to know if the expectation was that they attend both services?  I’m not sure how I responded, but it could have been with a question for a question: “What do you think?”

Last Sunday during announcements at church, the music director mentioned that one of our members (the lady who decorated the Christmas tree) who was out of town had suggested that at the Christmas Eve morning service, folks be invited to remove an ornament from the tree and share a personal reflection of something brought to memory by the ornament. 

Actually, I thought it was a great idea.  Collectively, as a family of faith, each of us has a treasure chest of memories that will go unshared without those kinds of opportunities.  I had coffee with a friend from Dallas yesterday morning that was passing through town.  He had contacted me beforehand and wanted an opportunity to visit.  In the course of conversation, he shared stories related to his life-journey that I’d have never known if we hadn’t carved out the time to visit.

I attended a meeting once where members in attendance were asked to select a penny out of a bowl full of pennies.  The assignment then was to look at the date reflected on the coin and share something about your life from that year.  I guess that fell under the category of an icebreaker since no one in the group knew anything about anyone else in the group.  It was a simple assignment, but I left the meeting with the sense that I knew something about everyone who had been present.

 

No sooner had the music director mentioned the opportunity for folks to share something personal that was triggered by one of the ornaments on the Christmas tree than I found myself smiling.  My gaze toward the Christmas tree locked in on one of the ornaments.  It was a camel.  I had the thought: “Yeah, I want to hear that story.”

No sooner had the thought entered my mind than a possible storyline surfaced. How’s this for a scenario: “I chose the camel from the tree because it reminds me that after thirteen-years of smoking cigarettes, I finally found the strength through the Christ of Christmas to stop smoking?”   That is a story with a refreshing ring to it.  I have someone close in my life that really needs freedom from cigarette addiction and I’m not just blowing smoke. I hope she reads my blog and determines to make that her story.

The General and I attended a Christmas party yesterday at noon where the gift exchange was a Christmas ornament.  A price range was provided and of course, it needed to be a new ornament.  There is nothing quite like waiting until the last minute to read the invitation. Two days before I had been at Pottery Barn and they had lots of decorations. One was a really unique ornament. It was a dog with a Christmas tree on his back.  I guess you’d have to see it to really envision what I am talking about, but it was a really cute ornament. 

Okay, so it was more than a little out of our way, but why not? The General and I drove to Pottery Barn a couple of days before the party.  Okay, so maybe it had been three or four days before since I had been in the store.  When I was there earlier, the decorations didn’t include “30% Off” signage on the display case.  So was it the sale signage or was it because it was a unique ornament? Regardless, they had already sold their supply of the ornament I wanted. Nothing else would do. Never let it be said that I’m not a man with discriminating taste. We left the store empty handed.  Actually, that’s not true. We left the store without Christmas tree decorations. The General found several other things that would make perfect Christmas gifts.

Okay, so the General came to the rescue. She had ordered special Christmas tree ornaments from the gift shop at the Texas State Capitol.  That, too, has become a Christmas ritual for her. The Capitol Gift Shop always has an official Christmas ornament for the year.  In the General’s collection, she has at least all of the ornaments for the past two decades. Her collection may even predate that. In addition, the Capitol gift shop also sells some other special ornaments reflecting something about the State.  The General had ordered two new ornaments for this year.  We could use those and she would re-order for herself. 

Apparently, the trend this year has something to do with Christmas tree decorations.  Yesterday my eight-year-old grandson took a Christmas tree ornament off of their Christmas tree to school.  It was an assignment for each of the kids. They then would share why they chose the ornament they chose.

Craig asked me over the phone, “Do you have any idea which decoration Jake chose to take?” It was a rhetorical question. He knew I had no idea.  Craig added: “It was the decoration of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor”.  Craig was not amused when I asked: “What is that?”  He said somewhat impatiently: “Dad, that is the emblem of the United States Marine Corps.” He thought I should have known that.

According to Jake, this was his story. “This is the Eagle, Globe and Anchor. I chose this decoration because it is the emblem of the United State Marine Corps.  My father was in the United States Marine Corps for twenty years.  That is the reason why we have good insurance.”

All I can say is: “Little eyes have big ears”.  That is an expression I learned from my mother. I doubt seriously that Jake and his buddies at school have been comparing premiums for health care insurance.

Getting back to my story: “Do you have special plans for Christmas?”  If special means different or unusual, then the answer to the question is “No”.  If special means “enjoyable and meaningful”, then the answer is “Yes.”

All My Best!

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Don

Risky Business

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Seldom ever do I stay at home for the totality of a day.  If nothing else, I go to Drippin’ to check the mail at the Post Office.  However, yesterday the General was scheduled to be that direction mid-afternoon, so I managed to forego the experience.  Why not just stay at home?  It was definitely not convertible weather yesterday. The wind was cold and I had ample to do indoors.

It was probably 6:30 p.m. when I realized that my printer was totally out of ink.  Bone dry is probably a better description.  I really needed to print a document, but it wasn’t going to happen without additional ink.  I normally maintain an inventory of ink cartridges, but as luck would have it, I had everything I needed but black.

Throwing caution to the wind, I asked the General if she wanted to ride into Austin.  She looked at me as though I needed a mental health assessment and said, “Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”  It probably could, but delayed gratification is a characteristic of mature responsible people. I wanted it yesterday, not today. So what does that say about me?

My need for the printed document was real and I needed it by first thing this morning. Consequently, we were off and running.  I’m just grateful that I’m still young enough to drive at night. It was darker than dark outside when we left the house headed into Austin.

Fortunately, the General reminded me that I needed to pick up another copy of TEXAS HILL COUNTRY by Eric Pohl.  I am meeting Eric at Mazama Coffee Company  on Mercer Street in Dripping Springs on Friday morning. I’ve purchased four additional books to share with others and having his signature on the cover page is a nice added touch.  The pictures are incredible. If you’re looking for that “something special” for someone you want to honor with a gift, a pictorial taste of the Texas Hill Country is hard to beat.  

So how long could it take to get to Austin and back at 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night? The short answer is longer than you might think.  For starters I forget all about needing to stop by Office Depot before I got to Barnes and Nobel.  That meant I had to back track.

Actually, when we subsequently drove up in front of the office supply place, I wasn’t even sure the store was open. There were only one or two cars visible in that portion of the parking lot. Somehow it always feels a little eerie to me to walk into a business and find the place vacated with the exception of a clerk or two.  I’m not suggesting that there is safety in numbers, but I like a few people in the periphery of my vision just for the company.

There was an aisle of nothing but ink cartridges for HP printers. I needed to find one for a Canon.  I won’t say that “if it had been a snake it would have bitten me” because I looked carefully in the vicinity of the HP aisle and found nothing.  Consequently, I headed to the front of the store where the clerk was engaged in conversation with a customer. He also was in the process of checking out the items she was purchasing, but, it figuratively took forever and a day.  Finally the transaction was completed and it was finally my turn simply to ask if they had Canon Cartridges.

Before I could get the words out of my mouth, the shrill of an alarm went off and a young man bolted out the doorway carrying a laptop computer.  The man behind the counter was out the door in a flash as well.  It was eerie.

I didn’t know at the time that the computers on display are equipped to activate the sound of an alarm if they are disconnected. No sooner had the alarm sounded and the fellow clutching a laptop next to his chest bolted through the door, the guy behind the counter I was waiting to ask about ink cartridges was also off and running after the guy with the computer.  It was not an even match.  The tall skinny guy with the laptop could have run circles around the guy with the red shirt.  In addition, another employee was only seconds behind the first employee. He too had on a red shirt.  He also didn’t look very fast.

Did I mention the parking lot outside the store is not well lighted?  Isn’t this the way people get killed?  If you’re bold enough to highjack a laptop and run through the door, whose to say you wouldn’t also be willing to take more drastic steps if you were in danger of being apprehended? 

It wasn’t an awkward silence because the alarm was still sounding, but I decided it would be safer to be farther back in the store rather than next to the door.  No, don’t even think it!  My name is not “Chicken Little”.  I just think there were too many unknown variables to chase after a would-be-computer bandit.

Frankly, I anticipated I’d soon hear the sound of gunshots even though I’m hearing impaired.  Fortunately, they were not forthcoming. In addition, while I was walking around in the store attempting to stay out of harms way, I found the Canon ink cartridges.   

By the time I got back to the front of the store with the cartridge I needed, the lady who had checked out of the store in front of me also made her way back inside. She had seen everything or so she said. She didn’t get a license plate number, but the driver of a purple car was setting next to the doorway of the building with the motor running and the passenger door open to hasten a fast getaway.

So I asked the Clerk about the procedure and how he knew the man was headed through the door with a computer? He had received the message through a hearing device he had in one ear.  Apparently, he was notified immediately as the alarm began to sound. 

I still think chasing after an unknown assailant is a pretty high-risk activity.  I suspect the employee isn’t rated as a 7th Degree Taekwondo Blackbelt and even if he were what good would it have done?   Even if he could have tackled the guy, the damage to the computer would probably have left it broken and useless. 

I’ve never worked retail and I’ve never managed employees who have, but I would think employee safety has to take precedence over loss of merchandise. Some of you with that kind of expertise and background may think differently. As I exited the building, I noticed a camera in the front of the store. Everything is obviously on a surveillance video. Why not let law enforcement figure it out? 

If it were my store, folks would be trained to do it differently. There were too many unknown variables for employees to put themselves at risk.  If you need security personnel on the premises, hire them to do the job.  Don’t expect the guy behind the cash register to have the skill set and expertise to play cop. I suspect that seldom works out well.

All My Best!

Don

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Christmas Shopping

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When it comes to Christmas shopping, I am usually at a loss for ideas.  I never know what I want to give to anyone on my list, but I know that I will know it when I see it.  Of course, in a perfect world it will also be on sale.  Did I mention that ours is not a perfect world and two weeks out from Christmas, if you see it you better take it to the checkout counter? It might be the last one available.

 

Yesterday afternoon with a little coaxing from the General, I drove into town with her to “look” for the right thing for one of our granddaughters.  We walked into the store, went to the correct area and the General knew immediately when she saw it that it was perfect.  Did I mention the General and I don’t always see things the same way?  Not only was it not perfect, but also if I had been buying something similar for myself, I wouldn’t have wanted the one she selected.

 

Despite my reservations, the General out trumped me and we walked out of the store with the purchase in hand.  When we were checking out, the clerk wanted to know if we wanted to purchase insurance on the merchandise?  The insurance would fix or replace the merchandise for up to two years.  I declined. Surely what we were purchasing would last that long even without the insurance.

 

So how long does the perfect Christmas gift last following Christmas.  A couple of months ago I gave my oldest grandson the microscope that I received for Christmas in 1958.  I figure it was a Christmas gift that withstood the test of time.  Consequently, I passed it on to William for safekeeping. 

 

One the other hand, one year Ronnie and I received a joint gift for Christmas.  I don’t remember how old we were. It wasn’t the only gift we received that year, but it was the gift we most wanted. It was a gasoline powered model airplane.  To this day I can remember the smell of the gasoline mixture I poured into the small engine and the exercise of quickly turning the propeller with the tip of my index finger while at the same time intuitively pulling my finger back as I thumped it forward.  You had to be really quick to get you finger out of the way when the motor started or it could be a painful experience.

 

Trust me on this; we didn’t log hours and hours of flying time with that model airplane.  I don’t remember anything other than that the plane normally had a crash landing.  How often I don’t remember. What I do remember is that the airplane didn’t last long.  It wasn’t a Christmas present that we hung on to for years and years. In fact, I’m not sure we still had it the following Christmas.

 

Of course with Ronnie, it was a step toward fulfilling a lifelong dream of flying airplanes.  It was an ambition he carried throughout his life. We were probably in our early elementary school years when Ronnie fashioned a parachute out of a bed sheet and was going to jump off the roof of the carport of our home.  I don’t remember if he got up there by climbing a tree or if he used a ladder.  What I do remember is that I had the good sense to know he was making a big mistake. 

 

With the same kind of diligence as “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk”, I quickly intervened in his behalf. After all, what twin would let his brother do something really stupid even if the brother maintained that he was smarter? I reported to the commandant that he was making a big mistake. Mother intervened and he got grounded so-to-speak.

 

One of my most frustrating Christmas shopping adventures took place in 2011.  Following back surgery, I was off of work for a six-week period. Toward the end of that time, I drove my car to the dealer to get it serviced. It seemed like a good use of time since I was still not back at work and I needed to get the maintenance completed.  Since I was going into Austin, I asked to use the debit card to pick up some cash. The banking system that the General and I have in place is pretty simple.  We have one checkbook –  the General carries it.  We have one Debit card – the General carries it.  If I have need for either, I simply ask for it. I’m not complaining. The process is pretty simple and it generally works well for me.

 

I was a little surprised that when I asked the General for the debit card that she took the opportunity to caution me not to physically over-extend myself.  According to her unsolicited instruction, I needed to come directly home after I got the car serviced.  I didn’t need to run around Austin.  I needed to rest.  Did I mention that never have I needed the General to tell me what to do? I am  not the kind of guy who jumps off the top of the house.  That was the other twin.

 

Honestly, there are times the General talks to me as though she thinks I don’t have the sense to get in out of the rain.  When the service work on my car was completed I started home. I probably had not driven more than five miles when I had the passing thought,  it is almost Christmas, I probably should get a Christmas gift for the General while I am in town. So I redirected my course and headed to the mall.

 

Within five minutes of arriving, I found the perfect gift in the first store I entered.  I didn’t know what I was shopping for, but I knew it was the perfect gift when I saw it.  The General would love it.  In addition, miracle of miracles, it was on sale for 50% off.   That is definitely my definition of a WIN/WIN. 

 

As I was standing there congratulating myself on the purchase I was going to make, reality set in.  What I was looking at weighed a lot more than five pounds.  Consequently, according to the very clear instructions I had been given by my doctor, I couldn’t carry anything that weighed more than that for another couple of weeks.

 

With some degree of disappointment, I turned and walked out of the store to look for another perfect Christmas gift.  Over the course of the next hour or so, I didn’t find it.  I know that some of you think I could have gone into any jewelry store and easily have selected something the General would have perceived to be the perfect gift and it would have weighed significantly less than five pounds.  I opted not to do that.

 

Under the auspices of, if I don’t do what the General asks, she generally has a way of knowing. As a side note to the story, when I got to the ATM machine to use the General’s debit card to pick up cash for us, I made the discovery that I had lost it.  I had placed the debit card in the pocket of my shirt. I had also put my cell phone is the same location.  Apparently, at some point when I took my cell phone out of my pocket, without realizing it, I also dropped the General’s debit card.  Just for the record, she was not HAPPY with me. Consequently, this year I’m not going Christmas shopping without the General.

 

All My Best!

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Don

Family Tree

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Recently a friend on Facebook sent me a private message that was almost beyond my comprehension. In order to protect her privacy, I won’t mention names or even identify what part of the country she calls home. The message she sent was one I found disturbing. And of course, wouldn’t you know it, the egregious and self-righteous proclamation was made by someone in a place of church leadership.

 

My friend had just returned from the funeral service of an aunt. She found the service somewhat unsettling. The deacon who spoke at the funeral service made the statement: “We all know that Inez (name changed to protect the identity) wasn’t perfect. We also know that God only accepts perfect people into heaven. So I encourage you to go home and pray for her so she can be admitted into heaven.”

 

My response was tongue-in-cheek but genuine: “Please tell me you dreamed that in a nightmare. How could anyone be that self-righteous and judgmental? For the record, the deacon is definitely not invited to my funeral. I, too, am not perfect.”

 

Several years ago, a friend who lived nearby told me about attending a funeral where the pastor chose a passage from Matthew 7: 13-14 as the funeral text: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”. He then stated emphatically: “We all know that Brother Clarence (named changed to protect identity) chose the wide gate and we know where he is today.”

 

Somehow that seems to dramatically fall short of being even a little comforting to a family in the midst of dealing with the death of a loved one. There are any number of Scriptures that highlight God’s availability and strength to meet a grieving family at the point of their need and support them through their sorrow without making any reference to one’s perception (whether accurate or otherwise) of the eternal destination of their loved one. Besides that, doesn’t Scripture make it clear that it is not our place to judge?

 

From my perspective, the preacher could have backed up a couple of steps and read from that same chapter in Matthew 7 where he referenced “the wide gate that leads to destruction” and have focused instead on verse 3: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

 

Somehow religious folks oftentimes get a little too big for their britches. We fail to remember that: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We are also told: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord – Isn’t that the reason for the season? Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

 

The religious folks in Jesus’ day lived without empathy or compassion for those they considered outside the parameter of God’s love. Interestingly it included everyone but themself. John Heywood is credited with the proverb: “There are none so blind as those who cannot see.” Perhaps his proverb has never been more applicable than here.

 

There is an interesting story in Mark Chapter 2. It provides insight that we are all on a level playing field. We all need that which only God can provide through the gift of his Son. Mark shares this story:

 

“Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me’, Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’  On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”.

 

The prophet Isaiah had more insight to the common denominator that we all share. He expressed it this way: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away”.

 

There is only one who lived without sin and that is Christ.

  • In Hebrews 4, “We have a high priest who was tempted in every point like we are, yet without sin.”
  • In Romans 8 you have Paul very carefully saying in verses 3 and 4 that he came in the likeness of sinful flesh.
  • For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become sthe righteousness of God.(2 Cor 5:21)

 

We forget that we live in the midst of humpty-dumpty like brokenness. We live in a broken world and we are broken people. So what does any of this have to do with Christmas? 1 John 4: 10 explains it this way: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins”.

 

Despite Jesus’ ability to live without sin, the religious folks of his day found fault with him. Can you believe it? There are many examples of throughout the Gospels. I highlight simply three found also in Mark’s Gospel:

 

  • Mark shares the story of the paralyzed man who was lowered through a roof by four of his friends. Because of the crowd, it was the only way to get him to Jesus for healing. When Jesus saw their faith (the paralyzed man and the four men who carried him) he said: “Son your sins are forgiven’. The religious right thought it was blasphemy because only God can forgive sins. Jesus knowing what they were thinking responded: “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’ But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
  • There is the example that I’ve already shared. He was criticized because he befriended sinners and shared time with them.
  • Another time Jesus went into the synagogue and healed a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath.

 

I like the way John Ortberg expresses it: “We forget Jesus did not come to a perfect world filled with perfect people. That world would not have needed him. He came for a broken world filled with broken people”.

 

All the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but the King of King, the Lord of Lord’s has the ability has the ability and the wherewithal to do so.

 

Matthew begins his gospel by sharing the genealogy of Jesus. I generally skip over that list because it is like reading from a telephone directory. But there is something unprecedented and very unusual with the family tree Matthew uses to trace Jesus’ pedigree back to Abraham and to King David. He identifies four women. That in itself had never been done before. All four women were considered foreigners. None of the four would have made any list composed by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day because those included would have been considered unfit. In fact, most would have considered it scandalous. The list of names included: “Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba). I had the thought that even my friend’s Aunt Inez might have gotten honorable mention. The gift of Christmas has nothing to do with our perfection. It is all about the love and grace of a Savior.

 

All My Best!

Don