Sunday, January 14, 2018

SOMETHING TO LOVE

                                    Winner's Check, Blue Hills CC, MO

I’m lovin’ the lyrics from the songbook of Jason Isbell’s album The Nashville Sound.  Some of the words from the track Something to Love include:

“I hope you find something to love,
Something to do when you feel like giving up.
A song to sing or tale to tell,
Something to love,
it’ll serve you well.
Just find what makes you happy,
And do it till you’re gone.”

I learned this lesson many years ago and it has served me well through those ensuing years.  Its nice to find a job you love so you never have to work another day the rest of your life, but that may simply not be available or not pay enough to support your family.  That’s where it’s important to find something off the clock that doesn’t have to pay anything.  In fact, it will probably cost some bucks which can be funded by your regular job.  And if that activity gives you pleasure and frequently takes your mind off the issues of your primary job for a short time, that’s an investment worth every cent.  As my wife used to say, “that’s much cheaper than therapy”!

The game of golf has provided that diversion for most of my adult life.  It gives me the opportunity to get out into nature and enjoy the company of people that I can be around five hours or so on a regular basis, provided the temperature is above fifty degrees.  Playing the game has opened endless opportunities to expand my personal and business social network way beyond anything I could have imagined.  I enjoy researching and trying all the changes to golf improvement equipment which has kept me in the game all this time.  And trying to keep in the game by staying fit gives me the incentive to join a gym and actually attend it! 

This blog has provided a lot of enjoyment and the release of creative juices that would probably have never been realized without this avenue.  It has provided an outlet combining two interests of both writing and photography.  It inspires me to read more current news articles and human-interest stories, including new releases of non-fiction books.  If I’m going to exchange my limited life hours for the pleasure of reading a book, I not only want to be entertained, but I want to learn something in the process too!  Photography and Creative writing also keep me alert to the world around me for inspiration, including traveling, volunteer work, teaching classes and listening to music. 

And once I discover something to love, you can bet your bottom dollar it’ll serve me well till I’m gone!

Friday, January 12, 2018

FORTY YEARS TOGETHER

Larry & Karen Wedding, 1968, Olathe, KS

My wife Karen and I celebrated our forty-year anniversary three months before breast cancer took her life in 2008.  So, it was no small coincidence that when I casually heard the lyrics to a new release of a Jason Isbell track on my Google home device that my head snapped around and it had my full attention.  The title of the song is If We Were Vampires which on first blush makes no sense whatsoever.  But I downloaded the track from The Nashville Sound and began to understand the lyrics.  The songwriter has known life, and the common destiny we all share, and this song needs to be shared by every couple on the planet.  Once I comprehended the lyrics, I understood the title:

"If we were vampires and death was a joke,
I wouldn’t feel the need to hold your hand…
Maybe time running out is a gift.
I'll give every second I can find."

I’ve had previous conversations with friends and couples about the elephant in the room when they come to realize later in life that barring a tragic accident, one of the two of them will some day be left to carry on without the other.  That realization can take the sting out of any petty offense or argument that is presently irritating them.  Neither should ever go to bed angry.  Of course, we’ve been given life to live to the fullest and we should do just that.  And if the time comes when one is left to spend some time alone, we should honor that bond and carry on, knowing that this life is only a finite segment of our existence and death is simply a transition from time to eternity.  And that spiritual existence is one spent in the presence of our creator with our loved ones in that beautiful forever.  Our time apart is relatively short in that context.  Ironically, the refrain of the song says it all:

"It's knowing that this can't go on forever.
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone.
Maybe we'll get 40 years together.
One day I'll be gone,
One day you'll be gone."

Saturday, December 23, 2017

WALKING ON WATER & EARTH

Calming the Storm

The miraculous feeding of the 5,000 starting with five loaves and two fish on the shores of the Sea of Galilee was seemingly the end of an extraordinarily long and successful day of teaching and healing for Jesus and his disciples.  But that turned out to be just the beginning of a day of miracles as Jesus sent the disciples off to the other side of the lake while he went up a mountainside by himself to pray.  During our holy land trip, I learned that there is a dramatic difference in temperature between the shoreline at 680 feet below sea level and the surrounding hills which can reach 2,000 feet.  This can generate strong winds funneling through the hills, whipping up high waves in the relatively shallow waters of only 200 feet.

The disciples encountered a violent storm on the lake and became very afraid.  During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went out to them, walking on the water saying, “Take courage!  Don’t be afraid.”  Peter asked to join him but then took his focus off of Jesus and he had to reach out his hand to save him.  When they climbed into the boat the wind died down and all was calm.

People through the ages have marveled at this second miracle of Jesus walking on water that night, but as we enter the eve of his birth, we pause in reverent silence to acknowledge the greatest miracle of all--that he walked on earth! 

As Adam Hamilton writes, “This weekend we celebrate the birth of a child, a child who was born to be our deliverer, our King, our Lord.  He came to be Emmanuel (God with us), God’s Word made flesh, the Light that would drive back the world’s darkness and the Life that would conquer death.  Like the angels and shepherds, we come to see this child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

When the storms of life come and lightning flashes, the thunder rolls across the land, the winds howl through the bending trees and the waves break over the ship’s bow, we can still be assured of calm seas as we seek the safety of the other side.  God can appear to be absent in painful times, but perhaps that’s because when we’re struggling, we take our eye off of him and focus on the area of pain.  That’s the time to focus on His ultimate authority over all creation and His promise to be with us always, because he has also walked in our footsteps as we strive to walk in the footsteps of that babe born on Christmas day so very long ago that was sent to calm the storm.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

CHRISTMAS CHECKMATE

Chapel of the Angels, Beit Sahur, Israel
Shepherd, Qumran, Israel

There is a field just east of Bethlehem in this war-ravaged region that is the hallowed ground of a momentous announcement.  It is where a messenger of the Lord and a heavenly host of angels announced the arrival of a Savior for the world.  Isaiah prophesied that this child would lead the wolf to live with the lamb.  It’s important to note that this message was not delivered to kings and religious leaders, but to one of the lowest classes of the time—shepherds who were watching over their flocks on one very significant starry night.  The world of that generation was filled with hate and war and the people of the region were anxiously awaiting a warrior king to bring peace to their lives.

They received the Prince of Peace.  The mystery of this miracle was that the Creator entered his creation wrapped in human flesh as a present to all mankind.  The angel told the shepherds not to be afraid for he was announcing good news.  And then a host of angels sang:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

As I walked this land and followed in His footsteps, I couldn’t help but wonder why we still had not achieved that peace which was promised over two thousand years ago.  As an adult, Jesus gave men a simple formula for peace—love God and love your neighbor.  And He left mankind with a way of living through his teachings and model that can restore peace in the world.

People at the birth of Christ and people today expect him to save us from our enemies, but he came to deliver all of us from ourselves.  Sadly, the line between good and evil passes through the heart of every man, but we have been given the free will to choose where we stand.  And on that fateful night we were sent an ally to walk with us as we exercise our free will to do something actionable about the hate and darkness in this world that we were given stewardship over.  Darkness and hate were not eliminated that night in this field, but light and love were sent to checkmate them.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

HALLMARK CHRISTMAS KARMA

Mickey Mouse Christmas Card, Jamestown, NC
Mickey and Minnie Christmas Wrap, Jamestown, NC

I packed all my earthly belongings in my new car after graduating from college and moved to the Kansas City area to follow my bliss for adventure and opportunity in the big city.  One of the first job offers I received was from the headquarters of Hallmark cards in their operations area.  However, instead of joining the company whose motto was “When you care enough to send the very best” I opted to join Hercules, a company that was supporting the Vietnam war effort by sending out our very best helicopter Mighty Mouse rocket propellants.  Nevertheless, that first real job offer made me a lifelong fan of Hallmark cards.  Ironically, I recently sent my new grandson in Chicago a Hallmark Disney Christmas card with Micky Mouse on the sparkly red and green cover!  

Joyce Hall saw the opportunity in the new postcard craze of 1903 at his family store in Nebraska.  Soon he was producing them and moved his business to Kansas City.  By 1915 the Hall Brothers company had migrated to greeting cards and changed their name to Hallmark in 1928 after the hallmark symbols used by London goldsmiths.

Walt Disney was born in Chicago in 1901 and his family located to Kansas City in search of new opportunities in 1911.  He and his brother Roy woke up at 4:30 every morning to deliver the morning Kansas City Times and repeated the exhausting route after school for the evening Kansas City Star.  Walt copied newspaper cartoons and attended Saturday courses at the Kansas City Art Institute.  He worked as an apprentice artist in 1919 drawing commercial illustrations for advertising and theater programs and catalogs.  Disney moved to Hollywood, California in 1923 to be with his convalescing brother Roy where they formed Disney Studios.  The now infamous cartoon character Micky Mouse was created in 1928, even though Walt initially named him Mortimer Mouse, which his wife Lilian considered too pompous and suggested that he be named Mickey Mouse.    
   
Isn’t it interesting Christmas Karma that both Joyce Hall and Walt Disney had their roots in Kansas City where my family lived for 25 years, Hallmark and Mickey Mouse were both introduced to the world in the same year of 1928, and now ninety years later I purchased a Mickey Mouse Hallmark card for my grandson In Chicago whose father works for Disney?

Monday, December 11, 2017

CHRISTMAS MOVIES

Ralphie, A Christmas Story
Flyer Sled, A Christmas Present

I just noticed in the news that the top three Christmas movies are It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation.  I think the reason these movies are so popular this time of the year is because they are so relatable to so many including me. 

When I was about Ralphie Parker’s age in A Christmas Story I hounded my parents to death, especially my mother who was the primary hold out, because I so wanted a Red Ryder B.B. gun for Christmas.  Of course, both Ralphie’s mother and even Santa Claus sternly told him that “You’ll shoot your eye out!”  And my B.B. gun was actually delayed by at least two years when my mother learned that two brothers about my age who she knew were playing with their B.B. guns when one of them got his eye shot out!

Then there was the scene in Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswold is going for a new amateur recreational saucer sled land speed record.  His surprise Christmas house guest cousin Eddie explains why he won’t be joining Clark because the metal plate in his head has been replaced with plastic; “Well, they replaced it with a plastic one 'cause every time Katherine revved up the microwave, I'd piss my pants and forget who I was for a half-hour or so. And it ain't real sturdy so... I don't know if I oughta go sailin' down no hill with nothin' between the ground and my brains but a piece of government plastic.”

Clark gets wild eyed and shouts “Remember, don't try this at home kids; I am a professional. Later dudes. Let 'er rip. Hang ten!”  Then he gets the ride of his life!  Since I didn’t get a Red Ryder B.B. gun for Christmas, I went for my second choice which was a Red Flyer sled.  There it was under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and I couldn’t wait to “Let ‘er rip”!  The only problem was that it never snowed that winter.  But as I was outside playing with my cousin that spring, we noticed that my uncle had deposited a large pile of soft sand near a roadside ditch for a new home construction project.  So, I grabbed my shiny new sled that we had been using to pull each other around in the pasture and eyed the sandy downhill slope that was beckoning, no challenging me to assault it.  I took an Olympian dash towards the sand pile and flung myself onto the slope where my new Red Flyer sled came to an abrupt stop as I went sailing over it and sand blasted my face and knees all the way to the bottom of the ditch!
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey has hit a very rough patch in his life at Christmas time and is prepared to jump off a bridge.   His guardian angel Clarence is trying to earn his wings by helping George finally see what the world would have been like if he had never existed.  Once George has a chance to understand all the good he has contributed to all the friends and family that have been in his circle of influence, Clarence remarks “You see George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?” 

And watching this movie for millions of people has also given them and me the benefit of looking back over the span of our lives and reminded us of what a wonderful life it truly has been over the years, especially at Christmas time. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

THE MESSENGERS


 
Holy Family and Angels, 
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel

MERRY CHRISTMAS 2017

Our adult bible class is currently studying a new series by Adam Hamilton on Faithful: Christmas through the Eyes of Joseph.  The Christmas story primarily unfolds with Mary and the virgin birth of baby Jesus.  We don’t give Joseph much attention, but as Hamilton notes, “God’s plan for the redemption of the world depended on one man’s willingness to raise a child who was not his own.”  Some scholars think that Joseph may have been much older than Mary and it could be possible that he may have even died before Jesus’s three-year ministry which is why the writers of the New Testament don’t have much more to say about him.

There are many accounts of angels visiting humans either in person or in dreams.  Angel is a derivation of the Greek word Angelos, meaning messenger.  Mary was visited by an angel to announce her pregnancy.  Joseph received four critical messages from an angel in his dreams.  The phrase “Don’t be afraid” is one of the most recorded messages in the Bible and was the opening phrase for many celestial conversations with human beings.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the angel’s presence scares the wits out of us human beings, but many times they are comforting words for someone in distress.  That certainly was the case of the holy family that was presented with the awesome charge to raise God’s son! 

Renaissance painters and others have long depicted angels with wings, primarily to denote their spiritual nature.  Hamilton reminds us that the writer of Hebrews challenges us to welcome guests into our lives, for some folks have entertained angels without knowing it.  We’d probably notice it if they arrived at our doorstep with wings though!  We too can be instruments of God’s purposes and be seen as angels in the eyes of others.  We too can sometimes be the recipients of the good works of angels on earth when seemingly regular folks give us a helping hand in our time of need.  God generally works through others like me and you these days. 

I personally encountered a man with snow white hair years ago when I was alone outside our church attempting to finish a mission project while in the middle of completing an annual budget for my job.  He appeared out of nowhere on a cold late winter’s day, helped me gain entrance to the building and then vanished.  The next day I described the man to our senior pastor but he did not recognize him.  Later I had a short conversation with a man whose father died suddenly when he was a boy on the family farm.  He was understandably distraught and walked out into a nearby tobacco field.  Then he was suddenly met by a being that calmly told him not to be afraid and that everything would be OK.  These words of comfort and assurance immediately gave the young boy a sense of warm peacefulness and he went on to enjoy a successful career in business later in life.

Hamilton concludes his message by stating that “As we look for joy during Christmas, we can often find it in being an angel for someone else.  We experience joy when we take our eyes off our situation and focus on blessing, building up, encouraging, or serving others.”


Merry Christmas 2017