Friday, December 27, 2013

A Year to Remember ... ney, a Year Ahead to Ponder

I always love this time of year when everybody loves to produce programs, sitcoms, documentaries, editorials, etc, looking back on the year about to end.  I think that not a bad thing but it does not align with my approach to life.  Those of you that know me know well I tend to always be looking toward the horizon and not through the rear view mirror of life's bucket.  There is little to nothing we can do to change, correct, transform what has happened but there are mountains of things we can all do in our own unique world and life about what happens ahead of us.  I suppose that is this perpetual optimist that is me for I have never seen a glass half empty even when the view pained me.
The year ahead will, no doubt, be a year filled with national and global challenges. We will see diplomats go to the far reaches of earth to try to ease tensions, raise expectations, lift the flag of improvement over the lands but rare will we see measurable positive improvement.  Yes, America will draw down and thus out of Afghanistan as we did so virtuously in Iraq and in the dust of departure, the killings, assassinations, economic corruption and decline will continue to decimate the landscape of an already scarred world; especially the Middle East.  Do I feel we "won" in Iraq? Certainly not if you define winning as leaving in a state of diplomatic stability with a political system that is functioning. Given that yardstick, certainly we did not leave in victory. Our military, as with Vietnam, deserves all the praise they can be given but war is always less about the soldier and more about the politicians. After all, that is the definition of war which is to, by force, correct the failed political system of a nation and the turn it back over to the politicians. Think about it!
I would love to live the remaining days of my life with our nation, my nation, not engaged in military actions somewhere on this globe but I am pragmatic enough to know that will never happen.  When you realize huge forces and structures are being garnered in the Horn of Africa due to its strategic geography due to the escalating explosiveness of Islamic fundamentalists, you know there is a cauldron of fire awaiting ignition. In other words, Afghanistan and Iraq were opening salvos of global terrorism and the "Arab Spring" uprisings, Syrian, etc, are all examples of what resides ahead. I believe 2014 will be a year of extreme military interventions for the US.  But the downside is that should America choose the path of weak kneed diplomacy not backed by a strong striking military hand, America's rapidly declining influence in the world will accelerate exponentially.
My list of concerns for our nation, remember I am being positive here, is with the apparent decline in moral fabric that was woven generations ago but is unravelling at an alarming rate.  To test this, turn on the TV and just watch for an hour.  We may laugh at what we see but if you look deeply at what we are being fed, the new norm for our next two generations is frightening at best.  It is not normal for literally almost every program to have a gay theme running through it usually shrouded in humor lines but still this subliminally is creating a new norm.  I watched my five grand kids here Christmas day with the eldest being eleven and the youngest being four. I found myself thinking about where their lives will meander in just the next ten years given what they see and hear as "normal" for we are the sum total of our behaviors which defines "culture" I learned from a great friend years ago.
Culture is the cocoon that holds it all together with that cocoon being woven by the strands of values.  I have grown to observe more and more of our world through the prism of Values. I saw the values of my 1960s Vietnam War generation deteriorate so rapidly that it still baffles me. It was from that deterioration that the Baby Boomers, I being one, lock stepped all 76 million of us into the late 20th century armed with new technology, cheap money and ever evaporating morals and mores.  Bill Clinton for me is the poster child of what America should never have become yet history will record him as one of the great presidents.  Scandal was accepted as normal thus the seeds of scandal have now being brought to root and thus what our children and grandchildren are being fertilized with in myriad ways.  Honestly, it scares me to think about what my grandchildren are able to access and given the power of peer pressure, one can only begin to contemplate that new norm in the next thirty years will look like.
I believe the year behind us will be viewed as pretty good even with the shootings, suicides, bloated prisons, aberrant lifestyles, children in families that provide little to no more fiber of right and wrong using Scripture as the examination tablet.  I believe the year ahead will see our nation plummet  more rapidly as we pull further and further from the God that created us. Many will read these words and simply say he is old and going to die so let him write out loud ....!  We are the sum total of our decisions and thus behaviors. This is so profound it is frightening in its reality.  Where are the leaders I loved to look up to, wanted to be like, imitate? Perhaps it is my age or stage of life but frankly, I see no leaders anywhere I yearn to adjust myself to. Certainly I am not saying that I am great or anything special; far from it.  But great leaders cause people to want to be like them! Where are they?
Each morning in my time with God, it continues to amaze that each day I find an examples of a great leaders in Scripture that cause me to want to strive to be like them.  I love my country. I love the potential of this great nation. I love to know who we are. I do not love what we are allowing to be a new norm that is wrong, disdainful and unBiblical. God has shown time and again how He dealt with His children when they were unfaithful to Him.  Are we any different, really?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

You Will Only Crave That Which You Experience

Good morning from rainy NE Ohio. I actually hate to see the snow melt away knowing flooding comes quickly in the lower areas of Ohio but also know we have much winter still before us. It has been a couple of weeks since my last blog and that is for a purpose, of course. I wanted to take a mental break and step back to do my reflection on our world.
In the last two weeks no doubt the most publicized event is the whole Duck Dynasty matter. It, for me, is a stupid show about stupid people doing stupid things and is a slap to any person born in the South. Other than that it is probably an epic in the minds of some.  However, while I have felt the heat swell on FB and the media over the comments one of the "rednecks," the silver lining for me has been seeing the collective, corporate uproar from Christians in our nation; something I have not witnessed in far too many years.  So for all the rights and wrongs of the whole matter, it was great to see people, like me, that claim Christ as our Savior, to rise up against the A&E approach to the comments. Personally, I think the entire channel should be banned when you look at the programming but will not venture down that gun barrel this morning.
Last evening my wife and I attended a live play of the great movie IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. It was a bit long and a bit funny for it was staged as a live radio broadcast but that movie always takes me to a place I always wish to go in realizing what a beautiful thing life really is.  In the last two weeks I would imagine I have heard from well over three hundred former students wishing me well, updating me on their lives, seeking my advise; a Joy to me in knowing they are moving ahead with their lives with all its struggles and disappointments but you move on.
This week we, the family, learned that our son, Taylor, got confirmation that he has completed all the work for his Doctor of Ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Boston.  Our entire family has been on this journey in an array of ways so therefore this was such a blessing and my pride for my son could not be measured in human metric. He has worked diligently and prayerfully while fathering a young family, a wife, a church family and all that goes with that, coaches a basketball team. Just proud I am I am!!!
As I look at our Christmas tree with abundant wrapped gifts primarily for our five grand kids a few feet from me, I can envision the craziness and joy of Christmas morning when the entire herd is here. It is in that few minutes that I realize Christmas is real for it is the joy of the children that makes it real. My wife does a phenomenal job of assisting Santa each year and I know she loves it and that fact alone brings me great joy.
Reading some of the end of year letters from friends spread throughout the world is a joy as well for some have experienced great victories and others great loss but at the core is a love for Christ that supersedes those hurts  and disappointments.
This year I have found a renewed fervor and joy with the ministry work in the jails as another year has brought hundreds of men in orange jumpsuits and tan sandals into my reach. Getting to proclaim God's message in word and song and to see, to SEE, the touch of God on those captive lives lifts me each night.  Further seeing that predictably, group after group in the chapel will show an average of sixty percent to being admittedly addicted grabs me by the throat of our new reality staggers my mind. The grip of drugs in our culture today is insidious on a grand scale and far too many do not realize and far, far too many could care less.  Seeing all ages, colors, ethnicities, languages populate our jails and yet seeking to attend chapel services gives me a ray of hope. I and the men I work with feel such a burden of responsibility to say and do and be with those men and women what God would have us to be as example in hopes they will seek to emulate what they see when they get released.
In writing probably 300 letters of encouragement a year to some of these men and then to receive return letters from men from five, six, eight years ago some out of prison, some still serving life sentences but reading how God has invading Satan's space in their hearts and lives is what keeps me energized year after year.  2014 will be year of some new staffing of region churches to conduct the services and to see the excitement in more churches wanting to be part of this vital ministry is exhilarating. God is so good and this ministry is so very important; what a blessing to part of it now for almost ten years and over 200,000 prisoners; wow!!!!!
The Pathway Quartet has had a great year and looking forward to 2014 with special focus on the ministry of getting to sing in regional assisted living homes.  It is such a blessing but it is also a bit depressing in realizing so many of the wonderful elderly people are placed in these homes and are never visited by family and friends. These are still very viable, educated people that have experienced much and now find themselve alone as the days of their remaining lives slip away as a whisper. Seeing the tears, hearing the stories, feeling the hugs, the words of thanks makes all the work of readying the music worth it; a blessing! 
I titled this blog, You Will Never Crave Something Until you have Experienced it ... is so very, very true. There is a positive element of that and a very negative element of that reality.  My prayer is that each of you will find ways to experience something this next year that will change the path and course of some one's life and in so doing, you will develop a craving to want to expand and do more and more for serving like that can be wonderfully addicting.
As Alicia and I move toward our 66th birthday in March of next year, please know that it is such a joy to have so many friends throughout our world from so many walks of life that have touched us in very unique special ways.  I thought about developing a special list but chose to not do that for knowing I would miss someone.  I learned a life lesson the day our son graduated from Kent State from the Indian commencement speaker when he said, "I am a part of every person I have ever met."  So very true so I want to thank each of you for your touch on my life and my heart. As well, I want to thank each of you that have allowed me to have touch on and in your life; it is so humbling and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE illustrates just how precious life is.
So when you hear a bell, maybe an angel does not have wings distributed but when you see a person hurting or in need, be part of that person's return to the good side in hope that they will play it forward.  The fields are truly ripened for harvest.  Seek to CRAVE by EXPERIENCING!
God is good, no wait, God is GREAT!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Smells of Joy

Been a couple of weeks since I have done my blog but have a few minutes to pull my thoughts together on this holiday.  Much has happened in my life since I last wrote but today, as my wife begins the cooking process for our family meal tomorrow, I am impressed with the wonderful smells of Thanksgiving.  I love the food we will be blessed to experience tomorrow but this day with grand kids running in all directions bringing in snow from outside after rolling in it, NO I NEVER DID THAT, having quality time with our children and their spouses in a warm home, I found myself just breathing more lightly, smelling the coffee, listening to the conversations and smiling about how great life really is!  Then to be manicured, pedicured, back scratched and a new hair do by my three grand daughters, well, you get my point!
Now that the herd has departed for Thanksgiving meals with the spouses' families, Alicia is now underway cooking for our family meal tomorrow. I love the smells of Thanksgiving that are almost as satisfying to me as the food itself; well, sort of!  But what I love more than any of it are the experiences of this life that may be very good or perhaps not very good but resolve in greatness. Wow, doesn't that feel great when that happens? ANSWER: YES!
I was greatly pleased to work two jail services yesterday with my great friend, Pastor Neal Wheeler, in which we were about to bring church to roughly sixty men. The presence of the Lord was so evident and it was a pleasing aroma to know hearts had been touched and, prayerfully, that lives will be changed due to the experience those men had in song, in word and in prayer.  The smell of coffee inside the chapel seemed especially lifting in retrospect.
Last week while at The Cove of The Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, NC. the smells of Fall wafted through the beautiful woods. The food, which was amazing, was part of the whole worship experience I believe but for me the food tasted even better with the beautiful contact with the people that served us at The Cove.  All were gentle, helpful, kind, funny and efficient plus that light North Carolina accent made the aroma of the whole experience even more of a blessing. 
So I have found joy in the woods of North Carolina, in the jail, in a beautiful Thanksgiving Eve service at my church last night and in my own home just in one week; wow, my smeller is overwhelmed but it is tempered with a deep sense of love for a God that provided all of this.  So on this day, take a deep breath, inhale the blessings all around you with family, friends and make it a point to call, text, email, smoke signal or scream loudly to someone that has made a difference in your life with their special fragrance!
For those of you that read this, please know how much I appreciate you and your touch on my life in word, comment, encouragement, and caring. Yep, feeling pretty blessed as I ready for my next major league inhale of some great smelling labor from the hands of my wife for I know she does it with her heart for our family; all smelling pretty good!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Kiwi --- Life is Good!

Many of you will know exactly what I mean by the title of today's blog for if you have been in the military, we know the aroma of Kiwi.  When I attended Officer Candidate School, the Alabama Military Academy in 1973-1974, I had two pair of Corcoran jump boots.  I did basic training at Fort Bragg, NC in 1970 which was home of the Airborne so loved seeing those guys in their dress greens and bloused pants with highly spit shined jump boots.  From that experience I worked very hard to learn the art of spit shining.  I love highly shined shoes but it requires work and focus.
Those two pair of boots had no telling how many thousand coats of black Kiwi. I learned the key to spit shining was a soft cloth, water and a light flame.  You put a heavy coating of Kiwi onto the shoe and then run a light flame over the waxed area to melt the wax into the leather. Then you take a very soft cloth like an old cotton diaper that has been washed about a thousand times, wrrapping the cloth tightly around three fingers, you soak the cloth and begin a circular motion on the shoe using plenty of water. You continue that process with increasing elbow grease until the shine begins to show.  Drying the remaining water, you cake more wax on the heel and the toe of the shoe and repeat the process again and again until you can count your teeth in the shoe. I am not being cute in saying that.
As the years have moved on and shoe styles changed, I basically left spit shining in my memory basket until about a month ago when I purchased two pairs of solid black Florsheim leather shoes. Yep, you know where I am going with this!  I have fallen in love with spit shining all over again. It is something very personal to me for it brings such great memories.  My daughter will tell you that I would have her stand in my jump boots when she was two years old so I could spit shine the leather out in the sunshine. I enjoy taking thirty minutes, now, to get the stuff out, take a deep breath from the wax and then smell it melting into the leather; ummmmmmmmmmmmm! I would then take Johnson liquid wax and coat the finished product of my boots.
Tonight as I did my shining, I let my mind think about the process in the context of life. We all want things we hold dear to be the best they can be, to feel a sense of pride that something fresh and special can bring but remembering it always takes work.  The work does not just happen for it has to be done via a process; cloth, water, flame, technique and energy expenditure. Sounds familiar to many things in life does it not?
Tomorrow will be a very busy Sunday for me but I look forward to seeing what God will bring into my pathway for I had a great mentor a few years ago tell me something that has remained with me ... if you are going to see the King, you should dress like you are going to see the King. Another great mentor told me once it only cost one more dollar to go first class.  Another said that if it is worth doing, it is worth doing it to the best of your ability.   As I finished with the latest session with the Kiwi, I must admit I sat the shoes in a bright light and found myself admiring them but admiring the fact that the process yet again worked. I felt very good about the energy burn and the melted wax. Nobody will probably even notice but I will know for when I dress for my day at church, I seek to be the best I can be. Our quartet is singing a great song in the morning worship service, AT THE RIGHT TIME. I believe that song will be wonderful fit with the sermon our pastor will bring.
So why did I choose this unique topic for my blog?  Simple, whatever is worth doing is worth doing the best you can.  My AMA brothers and sisters and many veterans that will read this will understand it immediately. It is not about the wax, the shine, the flame but it is about readying yourself to meet someone greater than yourself. I know God will be in the house at Canton Baptist Temple tomorrow and any of us being part of the meeting in worship should and will do their very best in every aspect of the worship experience. My shoes are ready, too! Ummm, love that Kiwi smell!!!!!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Reality when it becomes Real!

Last evening I had a wonderful experience with many part of that wonderment when I "dated" my eight year old grand daughter to a Father / Daughter Dance because her dad, my son-in-law was unable to go with her. Was I excited about loud music with a hundred screaming little girls?  Ah, perhaps not but I was ecstatic to have some real TIME with our Bella. She is a very quiet, low key young lady with wonderful manners and very sweet disposition.  She is the one of our grandchildren arrangement that we all feel is most like her Grammy at a personality level to which I fully concur.  It was two hours of blaring disco music, yep, DISCO, with hula hoops, scream sessions and all the things that  make a grandfather's ears to hurt and burn a bit. But it was a great night for many reasons!
One of those reasons was captured in a FB post I put up last evening:
Met a young Army Sergeant E5 in full dress uniform at a Father / Daughter Dance because he was just back from second tour in Afghanistan and his daughter wanted him to  wear   his unform. He is a drill sergeant additionally. I did my crisp hand salute which he returned, hugged each other and talked for about 15 minutes. Departed with another hand salute and a hug; thrilled my heart yet again. We talked about my days in uniform and about his time in Afghanistan. We have some great people pulling a heavy load. Tonight; priceless! (and he loves his daughter very much)
I have found myself continuing to process that time with that young E5 in watching the gleam in his eyes in talking with his very excited daugther all dressed up for the dance.  He stood out, of course, in Army Dress Greens with all his decorations and patches perfectly displayed. He was a combat engineer and was expert in demolition meaning he blows things up; a very dangerous job in a combat zone some of you will attest.  He was so happy to be home, to be with his family, to share that night with her and, hopefully, our fifteen minutes of "talking Army" was memorable to him also. I loved it for getting to render a sincere hand salute and hand shake and many times a hug is something that I love to experience. I have experienced many tears with veterans, wives of the veterans, family of the veterans as their pride for their own unique veteran is rekindled.
But the point that has most embossed my heart is seeing the blood and flesh of these young men and women that go to fight with their lives and the lives of their loved ones for us.  The gravity of that came back to me in so many hues last night as he and I spoke.  These people we hear about on TV as numbers or statistics can become just that to the watching / listening public. I remember the body counts shown on news casts during the Viet Nam War and, in retrospect, feel almost guilty because I did not give the due respect to the implication of those numbers multiplied by a factor of family members and their hurt and loss.  Seeing this little eight year old daughter all dressed up in her formal dating her dad in his Class A uniform made it all so very real to me yet again.
As I have stated many times in my writings, I am very displeased with this Administration, the Congress that has grown dysfunctional and the decay of our society eroded by growing entitlement and government spending and corruption are all increments of a nation moving backward on the global stage. But looking more deeply, in the coal black eyes of that Sergeant last night, I was reminded that it is they that must "carry the water" for a nation. Frankly, they deserve much better that we give them.  We are nation that is tired of war and in that exhaustion I fear we are losing the warm blood of true patriotism-driven emotion from We the People for what they are doing for us.
I did not intend this for "Veterans Day" hoopla but the experience last night with that E5 made it all so real to me again and thus reliving losses I expressed in friends not that many years ago in that faraway place nobody could find on a map that made names like Khe Sanh and Highway 1 household names.  War do that you know. Who on earth ever heard of Gettysburg or Sharpsburg or Verdun? Nobody until much American blood was shed and families torn apart for generations.
My ending will be to thank each and every veteran I have known, have taught, have saluted, have shook their hands, dabbed our tears of thanks and memories knowing the end of not to be seen for the Bible is quite clear that there will always be wars and rumors of wars; that is the human endeavor.  We are blessed as a nation so find a veteran and thank them with your HEART!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Love the Chill

Good morning on this very cool still dark morning with a busy day in front of me.  This has  been a pretty good week and many things are running through my brain this morning.  One thing that still amazes me is about dreams.  I have always dreamed when I sleep but the amazing thing for me is that now being retired from Goodyear over ten years, ninety plus percent of my dreams are still Goodyear-central.  I have pondered the why and the what of that but, of course, there is no definitive answer but it makes me realize that what is truly foremost in your life, your drives, your aims, burns into the hard drive of the mind that apparently is indelible over time.  There are some real lessons to this fact I am seeing each night for the most part in my own life and mind.
So I guess the question that begs to be asked is; what is central in your life?  A friend once told me if you want to know what is important to a person, look in the trunk of their car.  That sounds a bit weird but go check in the truck of you car and see if it mirrors what is important to you. I know, right now, in the back of my car is a music stand, three books of song lyrics and probably ten CDs. Hum, what does that say?  So I challenge you to visit your trunk this morning for some inventorying and then step back to do a deep assessment of what is important in your life.
I think much about my nearly four decades of global work with Goodyear; a Company I dearly loved from the first day at the Gadsden, AL plant in 1967 to my last day in 2003. I can count on only one hand the number of days and nights I longed to not be there so I realize I did love what I do.  But then, what is important to us is what we love to do, isn't it?
It is my belief that it is good to truly love what you do especially if what you are doing is utilizing the gifts God has provided you.  People that know me in the last decade know I love to sing. I realize in retrospect that for far too many years I loved to sing for the joy of singing and ego feeding.  I further, now, realize that using God's gift for God's glory will always manifest itself is a much richer and deeper sense of worth and value than simply feeding one's ego.  I sang at another funeral Thursday morning and was unbelievably honored to be ask to be part of a home going celebration. Having done that now many times, it is still such a blessing to see how the song is soothing and lifting spirits that are hurting, pained and worried about what happens now. I get to be part of something good and that makes it all more good; a synergy I guess you could call it.
There is so much in our world today that makes you, at times, want to throw up your hands in disgust and just ignore it. Deaths on the news of children, young teachers, mass shootings, suicides are horrific but we are becoming, I fear, deadened to the real awfulness of such acts for they are coming more frequently it seems.  We are in a fallen world and have been for centuries so why should we think it gets better before the return of Christ, right?  I realize more and more that some of you reading that will say I am just an old relic of an era now gone, Bible-thumper, etc but age means nothing to the reality of God's Word for that Word is immutable.
I want, so badly, for my dream menu to be changed away from my Goodyear world to a new place where I can awake having enjoyed a memory of seeing a person's life changed or a remaining spouse or child flourish from the values borne from the love of the person now gone.  That is what I want to be dreaming about and not long days and nights in faraway places, jet lag and politics of the work. 
So on this still dark, cold morning, I wish you the best in the week ahead as Christmas churns toward us and all the craziness of that wonderful, precious with family and friends.  We are working diligently on our Christmas cantata at church, even this morning for two hours, and cannot wait to be part of the blessing of singing this wonderful piece for I learned it now two years ago. And On Earth, Peace, is a beautiful selection of songs beautifully arranged into the story of the birth of the Christ child.  Maybe I will start to dream about that!
Be blessed this weekend and thank you for taking the time to be part of my life through my words. By the way, each of you are a blessing to me so thank you!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Calming by the Moon

The American people and the world markets have been under another blanket of worry, fear, concern and doubt by the 24/7 media circus of our political leadership and their corporate ineptitude and callous disregard for We the People. Yes, I said that for not one of them is exempt in my slamming comment this early Saturday morning. I have a great lawyer friend that loves to speak in third person analogy about clowns, circuses with colorful names and iron fisted comments with this flawed silk glove covering plastered on FB but he is really more right that wrong.  You are welcome Mr. S.
Me, with this insatiable need to understand why things happen as they do, have been in a hyper drive of exasperation with the whole spectacle ignited more from our enemies both foreign and domestic seeing the weakness of this once great nation thus rendering us more vulnerable to their whelms and evil desires.  But then an amazing, God-sent gift was presented Earth last night and I believe to my heart specifically with that unbelievably beautiful moon.  As I gazed upon it returning home from Alliance, OH last night, I was simply staggered at its simplistic yet magnetic hold of my heart at that moment in time.  Believe me, that is a most unique experience for me but it was so calming and warming made more calming and warming, I would imagine, by the craziness of this week.
As I pulled into my driveway last night I actually slowed down for a moment to get one more look and then stared at it even more once in the garage.  The majesty that only God could create the ball of beauty and present it to me at a time when I did not realize I needed that gift was staggering.  We so easily and far too often forget or oversight the phenomenal gift of Creation God wrought upon His people.  To see the beauty in a smile, a tear from a deep hurt, a sign of relief from an embedded concern, to enjoy the taste of food in a very special way and time uniquely, to find great joy in a word of encouragement or a hug, a handshake sincerely given by someone who really cares, a card of thanks, a requested song through tears and have no idea the hurt or need that person is feeling .... all those and a million other Man-expressions to others are as powerful as the moon God gave us to enjoy last night.
Posting on FB last evening about 9 pm Eastern time in the US about that moon and to begin receiving response from South Africa, Turkey, Japan, Poland, etc, from friends I have throughout the world about that same moon only added to the glorious reality that God reigns everywhere, all the time! With things going on our lives, in my family that create concern and worry, to know we have a God that is immutable, never absent, wants the best for each of us and the most valuable component of that list is that we deserve none of it is, well, beyond value!
A simple song that was part of The Daily Bread devotional for this morning says:
Oh yes, He cares; I know He Cares
His heart is touched by my grief
When the days are weary and the long nights dreary
I know my Savior cares
The name of that great George Beverly Shea song is, Does Jesus Care.  I have sung that song many times and each time I come away touched by its powerful message.  The moon in my life last night millions got to enjoy as well was an exclamation point on a great knowledge that my Jesus does truly care in the good times and the bad, on the hill tops and in the rugged valleys.  Our quartet, The Pathway Quartet sung a concert Thursday night at a local assisted living facility. The audience was filled but it was especially filled with elderly people that loved the music but loved the fact that we for an hour got to feel the blanket of God's love through our songs and words. We were all especially blessed for our brother, Norm Farley that sings the tenor part, to show up and sing some of the songs with us; we were all in tears at the wonder of it all! What a blessing!
I will close with thanking God for His gift to me last night with that moon that got my mind and heart off the stench of the week and onto the sweet aroma of His Love for each of us.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"How Can I Change Your Day"

There have always been short comments invented by commercial or conversation when greeting a person or in saying adieu to a person. The infamous, "have a nice day" by McDonald's is a great example.  I am sure each of you can come up with fifteen of those short comments in two minutes. I find things like that intriguing and the measure of their effectiveness is twofold:  what is said and how it is said with the true assessment by me in answer to the question, "thank you, I like that!"
Recently I was speaking with a receptionist, actually calling this assisted living facility to speak with someone, and when this lady answered the phone, you could feel the smile on her face as what seemed the sun had just rose above the horizon. She sounded happy and made me feel the same and then she said, "how may I help you change your day."  Those eight words still resound in my head when I see the continuing angst that is television or encounter someone I know that is struggling or worried and in this subliminal voice I am thinking, "how may I help you change your day."
As this government shutdown continues and the media globally is abuzz with the doomsday predictions of generational disaster, like many Americans, we are simply growing numb to the noise.  I watched the veterans demonstrate in front of the White House about being barred from their memorials and, sure enough, the politicians could not get a mic in their hands quick enough for the cameras to cast disdain at all those "other" politicians. Then reality comes in the door ... all the politicians are part of the problem including Cruz and Paul and, you fill in the blank for the rest.  Five hundred thirty-sive in Congress plus pone POTUS is a right first step to assess blame.  
My heart is saddened that the world is mocking our nation and frankly, rightly so. Our enemies are plotting more fervently I am sure in this period of cancerous ineptitude.  Our national mores and values continue to decline via drugs, addictions, corruption, broken or nonexistent homes with little to no parental examples to be adopted.  As a nation we have blatantly turned from God toward ourselves and our gratification.  The very fabric of our nation is wearing thinner by the day. People outside America no longer fear America nor our arm of defense, our military.
We see China gaining strength politically, economically, diplomatically and militarily daily. Russia is now more and more influential than they were before the Cold War not because they have gotten stronger or certainly better but because American has gotten weaker and more corrupt.  Never in my life could I have imagined our nation in the state it now resides. There is more than enough blame to go around for each of us so I am not positing venom toward anyone or anything but this is a day we should all stand in front of our mirrors and question ourselves as to how we let this happen to us or it is we, after all,  that determine our ultimate destiny as a nation and as individually when we look at life past this life into eternity; a choice!
"How may I help you change your day..." has a ring to it and it is like someone saying to me when I ask a question, "thank you for asking", I like that for some reason for it resounds of sincere kindness. We are losing or sense of kindness toward each other I realize more and more.  I believe we a people are as social with each other as we once were. Social media does not count for I am talking about face-to-face dialog, sincerely seeking to know how someone is doing or feeling. Why is that important? It is important for people still want to know other people care and a LIKE or an UNFRIEND are not the medium to determine how a relationship is going or not; that is just sad but so true.
If we want to change someone's day, that begins at the heart and not the movement of air through a vocal cord.  I have come to realize more fervently in singing so much in assisted living facilities how a few songs sung from the heart, a few moments talking with each of the people that have come, watching their faces with smiles and tears are signs that someone's day has been changed. How succinct and yet how wonderful that is, isn't it?
I will close as this day begins with a statement of sincere belief in our nation and its people; that would be us.  I believe we can be a great nation again only if we return to the teachings of our God that created us.  Never have I been more convinced of that.  When I see thousands of examples in students or prison inmates coming into my presence with no real value system due to their upbringing; it is very saddening to me for the scarring is clear.  If children are not provided example, good example, where will they learn about values? From others that in many cases only wish to take advantage of that person is the depository for those values most of which are negative in nature.  When men and women seek to find a mate to marry, they are looking for traits they saw in their mothers and fathers so if neither are there or if the examples are wrapped in drugs, addictions, etc, where will the traits be learned?
It is my hope that my blog this day will cause each of you to pause and reflect on my heartfelt words.  I believe it is all our challenge each day to seek to change someone's day in a very positive direction. A call, a card, a smile, a word most of the time is all that is required and the lasting impression remains for a long time. I think the sad testimony of all of this today is that we are losing our sense of love and respect for each other and hiding behind that reality via keystroke on a computer, electronic thank you cards, LIKE, etc,  I am recommitting myself to doing less of that and more face-to-face, kinetic interface with our fellow inhabitants in our rapidly changing global village. Join me, please!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Politically Incorrect in Today's World

I will, no doubt, lose some friends, relatives, students in my words this day but I believe these words must be penned for they have been burning in my heart for several weeks now. Our pastor has preached powerfully in the last two weeks about our world in the 21st century as viewed by political correctness versus through the lens of the absoluteness of the Holy Bible.  His words have pierced my heart and my soul on Christians today via acknowledgement or, even worse, quietly accepting the wrong that resides all around us, has brought to me this keyboard.  I am always amazed to learn of the rather wide array of people that read my blogs and comments on FB. It is always an honor to have someone call, walk up to me or email me with kind or sometimes unkind words but still, I know people, you, read.  Please know that I am writing from my heart and not just to take an alternative or argumentative position on a controversial topic.
As my life has unfolded, especially in the last decade crafted primarily from time with thousands of college students in my teaching and hundreds of thousand of prison inmates, my heart has been drawn more powerfully to the Bible and its immutable teachings. People can rationalize the Bible in many ways including ignoring what the Bible says but rationalization is just that; cognitive dissonance reduction. Translated, it is Man's mental capacity to find a way to mentally round off the squared edges of wrong.  Frankly, I am quite tired of that and even more tired of seeing it each time I turn on the TV, watch our politicians, seek to understand why things happen as they do.  In that decade, five guiding principles have evolved in my life journey as I view into my seventh decade on this earth. They are:
  1. If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten
  2. If you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything
  3. If you do not know where you are going, that is exactly where you will end up
  4. Whatever it is you are looking for in life, you will most certainly find it
  5. Right is right and wrong is wrong and no amount of wrong will ever make a wrong Right
Given those five avenues to what I consider the Truth, I am reminded over and over again that life with no foundation will always crumble at some point.  As I read those five principles in context to me and I believe to Man as a whole, my heart pounds with the wrongness I see so evident on every hand.  The Bible is quite clear on its position on gay, lesbian homosexuality. The Bible is blatantly clear on the institution of marriage.  The Bible is unequivocal in its Commandments to Man in how to exist correctly with God in the first Four and how man can live properly with each other in the remaining Six of the Ten Commandments. As with the issues today we are watching in our Congress and our POTUS, I think we all need to go back and actually READ THE CONSTITUTION.  Likewise, therefore, I implore you to invest yourself in the word of God for its teachings are incorruptible, not misleading and stand unchanged through the flow of history to date and in the days before us. I stand on that Truth! I stand on it for it, the Bible, is God's Inspired Word to His children; that would be each of us.
I certainly, on a very personal level, am not holding myself up as anything worthy of example for I have failed at friendships, I have disappointed and have been disappointed. I have sought forgiveness on my life on many occasions of people I have offended, worked for, friended and I pray God never takes that sensitivity to others away from me.  I have failed my family but am forgiven by them and by my God; that I know. I strive each day with each breath to never disappoint my God nor my family nor my array of friends ever again. I long that for every person that sees me or knows me to leave with a fresh sense that they can see something different, something unique, something Godly in my dealings with them.
As a reader, if you are one of those I have offended, I sincerely am sorry.  But when it comes to the teaching and commands of the Bible, I will no longer simply ignore the  ungodliness of homosexuality, same sex marriage and the whole matter of racism sickens me and I pray I have never been accused of being racist in any way with anyone.  But let me state here that we live in a time and in a world where it seems we are all supposed to be "tolerate" of everyone doing everything or anything they choose to do. Simply, ABSOLUTELY NOT.  It seems to be the world today is growing tolerate of every ideology and whim and wrong except Christianity.  We all do not have every right to do anything and every thing we may choose to do. That is exactly what Satan would have us all to believe and strive for as a way to life.  There are rights and there are wrongs; they are all in the Holy Bible just so you can know.
Wrong friendships have become far too easy with the advent of social media. What an easy, dangerous trap to fall into isn't it? I see it and hear it all too frequently and have seen firsthand the dire result of pursuing relationships via the cyber "vapor" of anonymity.  Let me remind each of us that NOTHING entered into a computer is ever fully erased due to detection technologies of today; NOTHING! Web sights clicked on, emails, FB messages, tweets; just look at TV when a crime happens and witness the  unbelievable nature of science that unearths messages via hard drives, cell towers, etc. Yet many proceed like there are little walls to hide behind in messaging. As I think about it more and more, that is a great reality. Somebody is always capable of seeing for light makes darkness dissipate, right!
Those of you that know me know  I am not bashful about staking a position and defending it with fact to the best I can. I do not write this to be combative for I write this in hope that people that are staggering around in the forest of wrong of mores, societal lies will cast aside the blindness of Wrong and choose a path that God has ordained. I implore each of us to assess your lives through that lens. Will we lose friends? Probably but it is a worthwhile thinning of the herd of wrong I have become convinced of on so many fronts.
Our world is simply in a terrible economic, political, diplomatic, and military mess and looking at the world from God's view, why would it be any better, I believe. Our own nation, a nation founded on the principles of Godliness, has forsaken and trampled those principles in the dust of equality and everybody having the right to do whatever they want.  I will forever believe the HIV/AIDS disease was brought on by the sickening reality of homosexuality. The Bible is vivid on this very point when men turned to men in lust and women burned in lust for  other women and disease came on those that chose to be in that number.  Look it up; it is THERE!
It is my sincere belief that God has pulled back from America for America, as a nation, has pulled away from God. I believe God is giving our nation a taste of what life without Him can look like.  I am not a preacher but I am a man, a husband, a father and a grandfather.  I realize that amazing mass of people I have had access to in my lifetime and how many of those I have failed to be a Christian example before. I seek forgiveness on a grand scale for allowing that to happen. 
As I sat in church this morning listening, I was moved strongly to put into words the pounding in my heart and thus what you have read.  What do we stand for? Where are we going? What are we looking for? Why do we keep doing what we have always done knowing it is wrong?  Four questions I ask you to deeply analyze at a very personal level.  I hope more than you know that my words will be received with the heartfelt love with which they have been written. I hope even more than that if you see in your own life, as I have, the wrong, I did not say politically correct, but the wrongness of decisions in your own life that there is still time to correct that vector to that God would have you pursue.  If you would like to discuss this with me, I would be honored to have that conversation.  
Like I tell my children and close friends, if I did not care, I really would not care. I care for each of you more than you perhaps can begin to understand. It is my greatest hope that this blog will be a beacon in a world of darkness. I prayed before I wrote that God will give me the words. I will pray before I publish this that these words will touch many hearts as He would have that heart touched.
Thank you for taking the time to read my heart!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Cadence of Time

It has been two weeks since I did my last blog. As I think about what has transpired in those short few days of life, it astounds me at the mastery and the majesty of life and yet, the unforeseen events and people that enter your life that make a lasting brushstroke on your life.  I will begin the blog with remembering a great experience for many reasons with my travel to my hometown of Gadsden, AL to be part of a home going celebration for my college basketball coach, Coach Riley Whitaker.
Funerals have a way of making or causing you to stop and reflect, don't they?  I am so thankful Coach and I remained connected through the years since that one year I played for him in 1967.  To be asked to eulogize him at his funeral and get to sing one of my favorite songs, He's All I Need, was a great time for me and apparently for many others I saw for the first time in far too many years as well as some wonderful people I had not met in my days in Alabama. Memories are treasures I realize as the years pile up and the memories turn to higher elevations in my mind.   A side point but a pertinent point in now having attended and sung at many funerals in the last few years is that there is a tremendous difference in a funeral for a Christian and one that is not a Christian. Coach and his beautiful wife, Marie, were well in the shadow of our Lord and we all know Coach is there in Heaven; a blessing!
Seeing the guys I played basketball with so many years ago was a true joy. We laughed, we shared, we bonded once more after the battles we fought together in that successful season for it was Coach that drew us together and then transformed us into a cohesive unit. He was a master at that in his quiet, low profile manner but always focused. I loved him for who is always was; my Coach and I will treasure that time in Gadsden to my last day and beyond!
I love to meet new people but meeting new people from the town where I grew up is even more special for we share a common root structure in many ways.  A dear friend I had that year I played for Coach that was accidentally killed in an auto accident that shocked all of us that knew him that year.  To be honored to meet his wife at the funeral after all these years is remarkable on many fronts that began with unexpected handshake at the conclusion of the funeral.  Seeing many friends I worked with at Goodyear in Gadsden, churched with, had as teachers in high school, sportswriters, former childhood friends; this list is long but the joy is greater. 
As I returned to Canton that Sunday, I could not escape this phenomenal reality of how much people need other people for each of us put our brushstroke on each person we meet on this journey as they do on us. We are the sum of all the people that have touched us, changed us, molded us to what and who we are! Isn't that amazing when you stop and think about it for it screams to me that, yet again, there is purpose for every act and action we take on this journey!  My heart is so warmed by each and every one of those folks I met in the whirlwind journey home but everyone will never be forgotten.
In the last week via a Facebook message, I would able to establish contact with my third grade teacher that is soon to be 101 years of age in December. I wrote her, Ms Adamson, a letter and she sent me a nice letter back along with a newspaper article about her on achieving that century mark. I had to smile with her letter for she closed by giving me her phone number and "you can call collect if you wish .." for there are many of you that do not recall the "call collect" component of phone calls. She also attributed her long life to never getting married and very few drugs.  A great experience and to now have contact with my first, third and fifth grade teacher is really something special to me.
As we as a nation and as a People work through this latest mass shooting, we realize just how vulnerable we all are for today you realize that events like that are just a breath away.  Listening to railing in high pitch after each of these about guns, mental health, poor police work, etc, etc, I am reminded of something I have known for many years. If someone wants to kill you; they will for it is about choice and will, isn't it?
Since returning I have been honored to sing in three local assisted living facilities where you are surrounded by dozens of elderly people. In that hour or so I get to spend with them in singing, talking, meeting and sharing with them, I am reminded that it is I that gets the real blessing by that labor of love. That has become a phenomenal ministry for my quartet, The Pathway Quartet for you realize that many of those wonderful people find themselves placed there by children or whoever just does not have the time nor the patience nor the finances to give that care they need.  I also realize now that each of those people have a story they really want to tell so the blessing comes when the music is done and you open yourself up to the stories.  There are smiles, tears, regrets, feeble hands that hold yours gently, sweet comments of appreciation; who could not love that!  I always take the time during and after the singing to talk about Heaven and what they must do to have that home prepared for them in Glory. Wow, what a ministry!
So time does march on in drumbeat cadence. I know that sounds like something a really old person would write but I see that cadence and hear it ever so clearly.  As physical or mental ailments begin to invade those around you and change the persons you have known for many years, it is both shocking and hurtful to see the transformation. Realizing as well that each of us stand at the precipice of changes like that causes you to enjoy every moment you have with friends, loved ones and family.  My grand kids are now in the fifth, fourth, third and second grades with one yet to start school; that takes my breath for I know each time I see any of them now, they will be markedly changed since the last time I held them.
I will close in a few words on the exhilarating power of hugging.  As big as I am I have to be careful in hugging someone that is frail and elderly not to hurt them. But in being gentle, you can see the power of hugging in lifting a frown to a smile, a tear to a twinkle, a dread to a hope. Wow! And I get to see those transformations oh so frequently in my ministry in the jails, in the homes, at the funerals, in my family. Humans need other humans but more specifically, people really do need people. It is my greatest hope to be able to exhort and encourage many people that will enter my life in the remaining years God will give me. For who gets the blessing? That would be me and I am so blessed.
So for the quick handshake at the funeral that meant so much, the many laughs, the tears of joy I saw, the stories long forgotten but now fresh, the reality of the cadence of time, I realize what a precious treasure life is.  I will leave you with that last sentence and the key operative word, "treasure" for each of those I met while back home will forever be a treasure buried safely in my heart.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Stepping into the Deep End

Being born in 1948 and thus my teenage years spent during the turbulent times of the now called "Civil Rights Movement," like most of us, we were pretty oblivious to the real story and the logic behind the events we witnessed or heard about. I certainly plead guilty or perhaps ignorant is a better plea. 
Here we reside in a new century and thirteen years into it and many of us now in our sixties are baffled, fed up with or just plain tired of seeing and hearing some of the rhetoric from some of the same archaic mouths from the era of the "Movement."  Jesse Jackson sort of comes to mind as an example of what I am talking about but there are several.  I have many black, oops, excuse me, African American friends, have an African grand daughter, live in a world populated overwhelmingly by African Americans in the jails and prisons where I seek to minister.  We see the staggering statistics of gun deaths by African American men killing other African American men and have societally pretty much just shrugged our shoulders and just believe or rationalize it is what it is and move on. My list of examples could fill pages but we all know what I am talking about especially if you are from the 1960s South.
This summer I have invested much research time in drilling into the strategic and tactical realities of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Reading or rereading several 500 page books about each day of the three day battle fought 1-3 July 1863 is fascinating to me strategically and tactically. I know the commanders, the locations, the routes of march, the positions upon entering the theater of operations that hot summer, the weapons, etc. I know where my great grandfather and his two brothers were located all three days and about their march from New Guilford, PA to Gettysburg. I know much but what does that really matter when you reflect on the strategic dimension of that battle?
While I long to return to the Gettysburg battlefield and again walk the topography and feel the earth provide cover and springs that provided much needed water; all that was there in 1863, one must, strategically, link up the previous September of 1862 when Lee took his Army to Sharpsburg, MD where the flowing Antietam Creek would provide but one feature show in the theater of blood over three days that Autumn.  Strategically, one cannot just look at Gettysburg and not see the direct linkage to the Battle of Antietam which, like Gettysburg, were Union victories. These were two devastating losses in men, materiel, political footing and pride for the South. Let us not forget that while Gettysburg was being fought, future POTUS Grant was defeating the Southern Army at Vicksburg cutting all the Mississippi River as the spine to the South.  Three great battles with many skirmishes and cavalry battles mixed in led to the surrender by Lee not many months hence. 
Most of us somewhere in our schooling understand all of the above paragraph in differing degrees but we all know the South lost the Civil War. For right or wrong, good or bad, the 1776 "Union" had been rejoined on the crucible of blood. Nearly one million Americans died in that struggle; we know the expanse and the numbers. But have we seriously stopped to understand how those events set America, and the Global Village, on a trajectory where we find ourselves today? 
As America has just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the "I have a dream .." speech by MLK at the Lincoln Memorial, I have found myself in parallel with my research on the military struggle of America in the 1860s asking myself some questions I have honestly never stopped to consider nor to contemplate!
Remembering well the White and Colored water fountains, doctor office entrances, bathrooms, etc, it was no big deal for it was what it was; it was our collective culture. I had black friends that I played with regularly that lived "down there" and we all know, now, where "down there" was. I delivered newspapers both "down there" and "around here" meaning where the blacks lived "down there" and the rest of use lived "around here. I remember being angered that the only missed payments for the news papers were never "down there" but always "around here."  I learned that blacks in my world in the 50s and 60s, could be trusted and were faithful to their debts even when times were tough, "down there." I always admired that and still do!
I do remember that day one summer when I was about ten that I realized blacks were different and that blacks lived differently that me. I did not understand it but it was as a light came on in a cave and I knew that something was strikingly different in their world versus my world. That fact drilled into me more deeply as the riots, the dogs, the fire hoses, the marches, the killings escalated in my world and I was overwhelmed with the cadence of my young life. Oh yes, and there was this thing called the Vietnam War which added a whole new explosive dimension to my world in seeking to connect the dots of why all this was happening. I am sure many reading this would quietly or openly affirm that same sense of wondering why all this was going and spinning out of control for out of control it was!
As the "Speech" celebrations have come and gone, the talk shows and media have been brimming with discussions on what was going on behind the scenes that was not obvious to many of our young eyes.  SCLC, SNCC, NAACP were organizations that, for me and for most of us then, were only designations for groups of troublemakers. Nobody took time to explain what it all meant; at least in my world for it was what it was; it was our culture. But I knew that culture in which I grew up was in free fall; and still is!
When I learned this week that in 1963 that thirteen states still existed in the UNITED States where blacks could still not vote, I was appalled for all the Freedom Riders, the Selma March, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombings, etc, etc began to come back to me in hues of why all that turmoil was unleashed. How dreadful in a nation founded on equal rights for all where a whole people, a people taken from their homelands and brought to this nation to be literally enslaved in an institution as property with no say, no rights on any part of their lives!
As all this has focused in my mind, the great battles of the Civil War, the unending killings, bombings, strikes, assassinations, events of my childhood were all part and parcel to where we are now.  We fought a war of independence from a foreign force.  We fought a war to maintain the Union. We fought a war in Asia where a conscription draft system skewed the battle deaths sickeningly heavy toward blacks.  This list could go on as well. Some of you are probably angry with me if you have read this far but what this world, our world, that world where my grand kids will grow up and earn and career and live has devolved hideously.  The Emancipation Proclamation was politically explosive for Lincoln.  He could not even bring it to the legal state until the Union Army had one, ONE, major battlefield victory. Antietam gave Lincoln that political green light.
There is so much I could say but will bring this to a conclusion; I hope.  We became a nation in 1776. One hundred years later we killed nearly one million of our own to validate the  Union established in 1776.  One hundred years later the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed primarily because of the dismal, embarrassing state of reality with a significant portion of our population not allowed to vote. As this next century of events since 1964 cuts and meanders in some many directions, one must wonder what this next fifty year will bring. I will not be here nor will many of you so this is all hypothetical.
But as I sit here writing this looking at my beautiful  four year old African grand daughter laying in my wife's arms loving on her., I cannot escape the windows of history outlined above and wonder what her life will be like as she grows to womanhood, family, life!  Cultures are the sum total of the behaviors a great friend, John Loulan, taught me many years ago.  I am not pleased nor happy as I look at my lifetime in the rear view mirror as weighed against the countless deaths and destruction cast upon this nation's people and still such atrocious behaviors still exist on some of our nation's people.
My summation; we are better than this!  We are more advanced economically, politically, societally, than anywhere else on the globe. And yet, the ghosts  and death angels of my young life reside "down there" and "around here." That is shameful.  Having spent much time in South Africa and seeing the three race cultural struggles continue, I cannot escape this sense that we are smarter and capable of much more and much better in all segments of our population.  My faith in this nation is still great. My hope for this nation is subverted with the morass in which we find ourselves in large part due to poor leadership nationally. The dealing with Syrian will point out the historical blundering that could yield catastrophic results; perhaps even the End Times!
I know I have stepped into the deep end of my societal pool. I guess that is what learning and education does; expand one's capacity to learn, right?  But the real question  is simple, what are we going to do differently for change begins with a choice and one step of energy. Fact is; what we are going is apparently not going in a right, more equitable solution for our national population and global village.  None of this excuses the entitlement mentality that resides and abounds and is providing a cancer to the resources of this nation.
Yes, I look forward to your thoughts and recommendations please. If you wish to take shots at my words, I will absorb and move forward. When I think of the blood and loss in our very own nation since our birth that has brought us to where we are; frankly I am not too proud of the landscape.  My grand kids deserve better from their Poppy.  Our Hopie laying in my wife's arms watching Curious George is a metaphor for our national, collective cultural direction I believe.  We can do better!

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Georgia Cotton Field World

A few years ago at a Dixie Melody Boys concert, a great Southern Gospel quartet for many years, Ed O'Neill, the bass singer, said that today in concerts, after having been in Gospel music for sixty years, is like walking into a Georgia cotton field with all the white hair.  That was a funny comment but one that resided in me. Let me explain!
A ministry that has opened to my quartet, The Pathway Quartet, and to me when all of us cannot make schedules work and I fill as a soloist, is doing concerts in regional assisted living facilities.  I realize I have never invested much time in large groups of elderly and somewhat infirmed people but have found that investment via the concerts to be simply amazing. As an aside, having sung in many concerts in the last several years, a reality of my personality is that I want to go and sing and depart. That internal drive in me has caused me to miss the real reason for singing Gospel music too many times with many people.
Here is one thing I have learned and learned well which, therefore, has caused me to force myself to disconnect from that drive in me to go, do and leave now to being early, do your best and stay after to really get to know those folks God has put before me to sing to. Thus the point most learned is that in performing with your heart the music of the Gospel, you touch people in a much deeper place and especially if they are older.  Many of them have no family to spend time with, many are literally put into those places and pretty much forgotten. It is what I have come to call a "lost population." Many of the songs they have heard through their lives and I love to watch them strive to sing along with us or me.  Singing Gospel music touches people is a most intimate way I have learned so investing time with these sweet people after the music is done is vital to the whole experience. Those that do not take this time are missing the real love.  That is so very sad.
Just last night as I sang to a group of about twenty-five elderly folks at an Assisted Living facility, I got to meet some really sweet, precious people, to hear their stories, to give a hug when they asked one, to be part of their lives for an hour. Who got the blessing? Well, I certainly did and with each of these events I realize in my own heart how blessed I am to get to do that ministry for that is exactly what it is; a ministry!
My vault of memories grows with each concert event.  Last night there was a new deposit of memories. One I will share ... this precious lady was just to my left sitting as I sang. Her eyes never left me the entire time and she had this sweet, magnetic smile and spoke volumes with those deep blue eyes. She had really dressed up for the concert with a white sweater with red birds on the front. During one of the songs I reached down and gently shook her hands and she teared up. I realized she was holding a little stuffed dog all tucked in her hands.  She held it up to me as I shook her soft hand.  When the concert was over I returned to her and she held "Pet" up to me with a broad smile on her face asking if I wanted to hold "Pet." I held the little brown stuff animal, dog, and I could tell it thrilled her to death that I would take that ten seconds to do that. In that moment I knew all over again why a ministry like I get to be part of is so important and I was recharged!
We all have had or will have aging parents or grand parents in that same situation unless they are taken home via death as will each of us.  Will we be forgotten or dumped on some paid facility to care for them? I think that a worthy question for each of us will face this same life reality.  I will take this opportunity to thank my sister-in-law and her wonderful husband for the care they showed so wonderfully in caring for my wife's father to keep him at home. As well I want to tell both my sisters just how much I love them for caring for our mother to keep her at home. Home is so very important to these people I realize more and more. So anything I can do to make these many I am now getting to meet feel a piece of "home" it is certainly worth the time, effort and energy of our Quartet's part to deliver for I see so clearly how much these folks appreciate the effort and the caring.
This whole ministry has been simply amazing in its rewards coming from just taking a few minutes to share, to listen, to smile with them.  Each of these people have rich histories and are pocked with many highs and some terrible lows.  Many have various physical encumbrances but when we come together in the concert venue, there is a common denomination of enjoyment, warmth and togetherness; sort of like a small taste of Heaven and we get to be part of that taste!
A special insight for me is in seeing family members or spouses sitting next to their parents or spouse housed in these locations. You can see the angst, the love, the disbelief, the joy of just getting to be with them one more time. I watched a beautiful daughter last night, about fifty, push her mom in a wheelchair to the concert. The entire time I was singing I watched the daughter rubbing her mom's hair and shoulders and when she would look up at me her eyes would be heavy with tears but with a smile of appreciation.  That is worth more than any money to me in seeing such love before me not ten feet away. I loved that daughter for she loved her mother and the mother was pretty much oblivious as to what was going on which made the whole experience even more precious to me.
My challenge to each of you ... if you have time, find time to spend with these wonderful people in these homes.  You will be welcomed and greeted with smiles, stories and joy; those three are what I could call a currency of bliss!  You will smile, you will laugh, you will cry, you will rejoice at what you will find and it is all worth it. I also want to recognize the in-house caregivers which too often are unsung and taken for granted. I am seeing some really wonderful caregivers in these concerts showing love and respect for these precious people.
Again, who gets the blessing? You will, I promise. Give someone in your world a little bit of you today, please.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Loving Living

Good morning as I listen to the chirp of many birds flitting around in the cool, beautiful air of this late Summer.  I have a few minutes before several activities trigger for the afternoon plus the house is actually empty so my mind went into reflection of a concert I was in last night and the reinforcement of the joy of living I am getting to experience on a grand scale.
As you have read in my previous blogs or comments on FB, because I was in the military and have a deep love and respect for the institution, the structure and the purpose of our military, when I see one of those familiar Veteran baseball caps, I immediately approach that man, come to attention rendering a formal hand salute and then into a strong handshake in thanking him for his service.  I especially enjoy watching their wives as this  transpires as they break into a beaming smile of pride for their Veteran.  It is one of the joys of my life in getting to do this when you realize we are losing one thousand WWII veterans each day now.
Last evening after a wonderful experience in doing a concert with The Pathway Quartet at a local assisted living facility that was well attended, the blessing we all received was lifting in so many ways.  Sitting in the back row was a distinguished, tall, striking African American gentleman with one of the baseball caps on.  Just before we started the concert I made my way through the rows of people to salute him and thank him and telling him when the concert was over that I would very much love to hear his WWII story. He was thrilled!
When the concert was concluded and I was drenched with sweat from the hour concert and being greeted by many of those that attended the concert, I continue to watch the Soldier calmly sitting in his seat and I knew he was waiting on me to get back there to him.  I was finally able to make it him when he stood up tall and straight and we began to talk; I was very tired. I realized as the conversation began that he was having problems staying on topic and when I would ask a question about this WWII experience in Europe, he would struggle to tell me something but then it would leave him and you could see the frustration in that reality. I hurt for him for I had witnessed that exact behavior with my father-in-law not long before he passed. To ease his frustration, I told Mr. Waite, he liked that I remembered his name, that I would be back to the facility in a few days and I would sit with him and we could just talk about his life and his WWII experience.  He had the most striking deep blue eyes I had ever seen and I saw tears begin to well up in showing joy that I would take the time to do that for him. We hugged and I moved on to exit the building but not the experience and drying my own tears from the sweet experience!
In that few minutes, I was reminded once more of the joy of life and the love of living. With my wife and some other friends sitting in the concert among the dozens of elderly people that came, I was warmed at realizing how much I do love getting to do the things I get to do. 
Of course as my wife aptly pointed out as she saw a printed schedule of my schedule by month for the rest of the year with scheduled singing including the jail ministry, she reminded as only a wife can that I have overloaded myself again. GUILTY I plead but in that plea I will not forget that the joy of getting to do the things I get to do is worth every moment of planning, preparation and execution for it is not for nor about me but for those people God puts in front of me for it so from they and their reaction and response that my joy and blessing is derived.
I was especially joyed in watching the three guys I sing with, Bob Park, Dave Richards and Norm Farley, all tired from a long day and it was very warm inside the facility singing their hearts out for these wonderful people. THAT is why we do what we do to give them our very best for each of them regardless of their status and state in life is worthy of our very best every time we sing.  I cannot thank those three guys enough nor can I begin to let them know how much I love and respect them for committing to this journey with The Pathway Quartet! What a blessing!!
On this August day, I feel each of you reading this should take a few minutes to fully reflect on what it means to love living!  Through the pains of aging, the frustrations of mental deterioration, the pangs of concern about family members, the ever present concerns of our world, we can find solace and release in the joy of this life if we look for it. I know things are not good for everyone all the time but I know that even through the clouds of worry and concern, God reigns supreme.  That, my friends, will preach so can I get a witness?