His Daughter Inspired Him to Talk the Talk

nervous man

My wife, Lynette, was flipping through the pile of mail on the kitchen counter. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked, waving an envelope while she scanned its contents.

The letter.

I’ve been a professional truck driver for 28 years and I’ve got more than a million-and-a-half miles under my belt without an accident–something my company, Con-way Freight, took notice of.

A couple months earlier they’d nominated me to become an America’s Road Team Captain, the highest honor for a truck driver. There are more than three million drivers in the country, and just 30 finalists compete in Washington, D.C., for a dozen Captain positions.

The winners travel across the country, talking to the public about transportation and road safety. It was a title I’d dreamed of for years–and that letter was my invitation to the finals.

When I read, “Congratulations! You’ve been chosen…”


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Dad’s Angelic Visitors

friendly couple

Could it really be over 20 years since my brother, Patrick, got married? Looking at the wedding album in his living room, it seemed like yesterday. “I always loved that blue dress you wore,” Patrick’s wife, Melissa, said, pointing to a picture of me in a tea-length gown with puffy sleeves.

“There’s Mom and me dancing,” said Patrick, turning the page.

“I almost expect to see Dad,” I said. “Even though he couldn’t be there.”

“You know who else it makes me think about?” Patrick said. “Winnie and Fred. Do you remember them?”

“I’ll never forget them,” I said.

We hadn’t talked about the couple in years, but hearing their names brought me back to that spring of 1983. My father had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He lived at home with Mom, who was a registered nurse.

She cared for him with the help of hospice nurses. That way Dad could still enjoy some things he loved. From a hospital bed set up in the living room, Dad could talk to Mom, read or play solitaire.

Some days he felt strong enough to play his organ. Dad was a professional musician and never liked to be far away from his Hammond B3.

I visited Dad in June. We chatted about Patrick’s upcoming wedding, which Dad insisted go on as planned. Before I left he wrote me a check for a new dress. “Look your best, kid,” he said as he handed it to me.

His voice, once so rich and familiar, was already so weak he barely made any sound at all.

Dad wanted us to focus on Patrick and Melissa, but all I could think about was him. I’d lost so much of him already: the brightness in his eyes, the sound of his voice. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard that belly laugh of his. What I wouldn’t have given to hear it again.

I chose a tea-length silk blue gown and took it to Dad’s house to model it for him. He gave me a thumbs-up from his hospital bed. I’d just finished changing when the doorbell rang. A couple I’d never seen before stood on the stoop.

“I’m Winnie,” the woman said. Her smile was so natural and friendly it was clear she smiled a lot. “This is my husband, Fred. We just moved into the neighborhood.”

I shook hands with them both. “We had to meet whoever made all the beautiful music,” said Fred.

I introduced them to Mom and Dad. Winnie complimented Dad on his playing. Within moments I saw Winnie’s smile reflected on Dad’s face.

Winnie and Fred were still there when I left, chatting with Dad about music. They seemed to have no trouble hearing his voice despite how weak it was. In fact, his voice sounded a little stronger since they’d come. “I’ll see you soon,” I said, kissing Dad good-bye.

 “Winnie likes cards as much as your dad,” Mom told me a few days later. “The two of them played for hours yesterday. Much longer than the other nurses or I can take. Dad absolutely loved it.”

Patrick, Melissa and I got used to seeing Winnie at the house. Sometimes she was with Fred, sometimes she came by herself. “Your dad’s telling me about his amazing career,” Winnie said one afternoon as I came in. Dad was at the organ taking her song requests. “I’m a nurse, myself.”

 Dad shrugged modestly, but his blue eyes sparkled, the way they used to before he got sick. “Winnie sure has a great effect on Dad,” I told Mom as we made coffee in the kitchen. “I didn’t know she was a nurse.”

“Even if she wasn’t a nurse she’d still be a big help,” said Mom. “Have you noticed the difference in Dad when he’s with her?”

“It’s like he lights up whenever she’s with him,” I said.

Out in the living room, Dad laughed. The great big belly laugh I hadn’t heard in ages.

“Winnie’s the only one who gets him to laugh like that,” Mom said. “The other day she arrived at the door wearing a red clown nose she’d made out of a ping-pong ball. We thought we’d never stop laughing!”

That evening I walked Winnie back to the complex of town homes where she and Fred lived. “I can’t get over hearing Dad laugh again,” I said. “I missed it so much.”

“Laughter is the most important medicine,” said Winnie. “I told your brother—find something to laugh about every single day.”

“That can be pretty hard to do sometimes,” I said quietly.

Winnie squeezed my shoulder. “I know it can be, with your father so sick. But humor keeps the soul alive and well, even in the darkest times. So I always try to find something to laugh about. Even if it’s myself!”

Winnie grinned at me and I burst out laughing. “All right, I guess I could try that,” I promised her.

She gave me a hug at the door of her town home. “I’d invite you in, but our furniture hasn’t arrived yet.”

“You don’t have any furniture?” I said. “That must be difficult.”

“Our things are on their way,” Winnie said, cheerful as always. “There’s no rush.”

I said good night, marveling at the joy Winnie seemed to find in everything. And the way she made our family feel that joy too, even at a time like this. Now when I talked about Patrick and Melissa’s wedding I was able to look forward to it.

“Maybe Dad will be able to make it to the wedding after all,” I said to Patrick one afternoon. 

 But it wasn’t to be. Dad died at home, surrounded by family and friends. We gathered at the house after the funeral. The space where Dad’s hospital bed had once sat was empty.

“Winnie and Fred arranged for it to be taken out,” Melissa said. “Wasn’t that nice?”

“They’re a miracle,” said Patrick. “How many nights did Winnie sit up with Dad so Mom could sleep?”

Across the room Winnie chatted with Mom. For the first time that day, she was almost smiling. Leave it to Winnie to give Mom something to laugh about today, I thought.

Patrick’s wedding went on as planned, just as Dad wanted. I wore my blue dress. I even found things to smile about, like remembering Dad saying, “Look your best, kid.”

I wasn’t ready to actually laugh much yet, but keeping on the lookout for happy things reminded me there was still joy in the world, even without Dad. Winnie had taught me that.

A few days after the wedding I drove over to see Mom. I brought flowers for Winnie. “Even if she’s got no furniture she can still have flowers,” I told Mom.

I had no doubt Winnie would appreciate the bright colors. I walked over to the town house and knocked on the door. “Winnie?” I called. “It’s Di. Are you in?”

There was no answer. They must be out, I thought. Then I noticed a sign on the sidewalk outside the house: Condo for Lease. I hadn’t noticed that sign when I’d walked Winnie home. Was there some sort of mistake? Were Winnie and Fred moving away already?

I walked over to the manager’s office. “That condo says it’s for lease,” I said, pointing to Winnie and Fred’s place. “Did the couple there move already? Winnie and Fred?”

“I don’t know anyone by that name,” he said. “That unit’s been empty for two months at least. Nobody’s even asked about leasing it, much less moved in!”

Twenty years later, looking at the old photo album, Patrick, Melissa and I went silent, each pondering the mystery of Winnie and Fred. We never saw or heard from them again.

“We don’t even have pictures,” I said. “It’s as if they never existed. But everything would have been so different without them.”

“They were angels,” Patrick said. “They came to help Dad, and they helped all the rest of us too.”

Was Patrick right? I guess I don’t know for sure. But when I think of angels now, I picture them wearing red clown noses. That certainly gives me something to laugh about.



A Marine Dad’s Most Important Duty

Marine

I’d been on plenty of marches in my time as a Marine, but never anything like this. My platoon today was undisciplined, stopping to kick at twigs, talking and laughing as we hiked through the woods, no one paying attention to the sound of rushing water ahead.

Then again, I expected that from a bunch of 10-year-olds.

I was about as far from the battlefield as I could get, accompanying my son, Patrick, and his fifth-grade class on a three-day field trip at Camp Classen in the Arbuckle Mountains of southern Oklahoma.

I looked down at Patrick, sitting in the three-wheel jogger I pushed in front of me. My son has cerebral palsy and 10 years ago doctors didn’t think someone with his brain damage would live, much less be hitting the trail with his classmates.


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The Extra Mile

 
extra mile

Near midnight. My wife and I were driving home from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where our son Randy was a junior English major. Rita was asleep in the passenger seat.

I headed north, wondering what on earth had possessed us to take the afternoon off to make the trek to campus and back, a six-hour round trip slogging through the towns dotting Highway 47. All for nothing.

For weeks Randy had been telling me how much fun he was having playing intramural coed flag football. Maybe it was his talk of diving catches and trick plays, but I’d felt this sudden urge to cheer him on, like we had in high school.

Just several hours earlier Rita and I had met him at the field. It was a crisp fall evening—perfect football weather. I was pumped.

Randy introduced us to his teammates. “You really came all this way just to see us?” they asked incredulously.


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Jesus Drives Me Crazy

Upside down Jesus

So much of what Jesus teaches is just nuts according to the world… he taught THAT…

  • The way up is down
  • The way in is out
  • The way first is last
  • The way of success is service
  • The way of attainment is relinquishment
  • The way of strength is weakness
  • The way of security is vulnerability
  • The way of protection is forgiveness (even to 7 x 70)
  • The way of life is death – death to self, society, family
  • Know your strengths. Why? Because that’s the only way that you can lay them down.
  • God’s power is made perfect…where? In our weakness.
  • Want to get the most? Go to where the least is.
  • Want to be free? Give complete control to God.
  • Want to become great? Become least.
  • Want to find yourself? Forget yourself.
  • Want honor? Honor yourself with humility
  • Want to ‘get even’ with your enemies? Bless, love and pray for them

Nietzsche was right. To a people clawing their way to reach the top of the their dung heap, this is nuts. The gospel presents crazy ways of thinking about power, crazy definitions of success, crazy ideas and images about the meaning and purpose of life, crazy story-lines that no author would plot

(Leonard Sweet,)



REVIVAL CHANGES US.

Revival

When David Brainerd took the message of redemption to the North American Indians from 1743 to his death at age 29 just four years later, a revival broke out that impacted the Native American community. Baugh writes, “The revival had greatest impact when Brainerd emphasized the compassion of the Savior, the provisions of the gospel, and the free offer of divine grace. Idolatry was abandoned, marriages repaired, drunkenness practically disappeared, honesty and repayments of debts prevailed. Money once wasted on excessive drinking was used for family and communal needs. Their communities were filled with love.”

 

In 1857, four young Irishmen began a weekly prayer meeting in a village school. The next year, more prayer meetings started and revival was the common theme of the preachers. The next year, 100,000 people were converted into the churches of Ireland in what is marked as the beginning of the Ulster revival of 1859. By 1860, crime was reduced and the judges had no cases to try. One county in Ireland reported no crime and the no prisoners were held in the jail. It was the greatest thing to hit Ireland since the ministry of Saint Patrick. Services were packed with people, there was an abundance of prayer meetings, family prayers increased, Scripture reading was unmatched, Sunday Schools prospered, people stood firm, giving increased, vice abated, and crime was reduced significantly.

 

In the Welsh revival that occurred around the turn of the 20th century, 100,000 outsiders were added to the churches. Again from Baugh: “Drunkenness was immediately cut in half, and many taverns went bankrupt. Crime was so diminished that judges were presented with white gloves signifying that there were no cases of murder, assault, rape or robbery or the like to consider. The police became ‘unemployed’ in many districts.” This is my favorite part… “Stoppages occurred in coal mines, not due to unpleasantness between management and workers, but because so many foulmouthed miners became converted and stopped using foul language that the horses which hauled the coal trucks in the mines could no longer understand what was being said to them, and transportation ground to a halt.”



GOING NO WHERE FAST

very fast

In his book “Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life”, the author Charles Swindoll tells a story about the 19th Century agnostic Thomas Huxley (some of you might know that it was Huxley who promoted Darwinism and Humanism in his attacks on Christianity). Huxley was in Dublin and was rushing to catch a train. He climbed aboard one of Dublin’s famous horse drawn taxis and said to the driver -“Hurry, I’m almost late … drive fast”. Off they went at a furious pace and Huxley sat back in his seat and closed his eyes. After a while Huxley opened his eyes and glanced out the window to notice that they were going in the wrong direction. Realizing that he hadn’t told the driver where to take him he called out ‘do you know where you’re going?’ The driver replied “No, your honour, but I am driving very fast’.

SOURCE: “Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life” by Charles Swindoll



Reflecting His Heart

heart reflection
“So you like Jewish authors?”
The fellow asking the question sat on the aisle seat.
I had the window, which meant I had a view of the runway. The mechanical crew was repairing a bird dent on the wing. While they worked, I read.  As I read my Bible, the rabbi interrupted.
“So you like Jewish authors?”
The twinkle in his eye betrayed his pleasure in the question. His chest-length mop of a beard couldn’t hide his smile. I had spotted him earlier in the waiting area. The tassels from his shirttail and hair-clipped yarmulke led me to peg him as the pious, silent type.
Pious. Yes. But silent? He loved to talk. Torah,
I was in for a lesson.Tucked away in the ceremonies and laws of Moses, he explained, are pictures of God. Who could offer a sacrifice and not weep for God’s grace? Who could read about servants

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“Taking Aim”

target

A young lady named Sally, relates an experience she had in a seminary class, given by her teacher, who we’ll call Brother Smith. She says Brother Smith was known for his elaborate object lessons. One particular day, Sally walked into seminary and knew they were in for another fun day. On the wall was a big target and on a nearby table were many darts. Brother Smith told the students to draw a picture of someone that they disliked or someone who had made them angry . . . and he would allow them to throw darts at the person’s picture.

Sally’s girlfriend (on her right), drew a picture of a girl who had stolen her boyfriend. Another friend (on her left), drew a picture of his little brother. Sally drew a picture of Brother Smith, putting a great deal of detail into her drawing, even drawing pimples on his face. Sally was pleased at the overall effect she had achieved.

The class lined up and began throwing darts, with much laughter and hilarity. Some of the students threw their darts with such force that their targets were ripping apart. Sally looked forward to her turn, and was filled with disappointment when Brother Smith, because of time limits, asked the students to return to their seats.

As Sally sat thinking about how angry she was because she didn’t have a chance to throw any darts at her target, Brother Smith began removing the target from the wall.

 

Underneath the target was a picture of Jesus . . .

A complete hush fell over the room as each student viewed the mangled picture of Jesus; holes and jagged marks covered His face and His eyes were pierced out.

Brother Smith said only these words, “In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”

No other words were necessary; the tear-filled eyes of each student focused only on the picture of Christ. The students remained in their seats . . . even after the bell rang . . . then slowly left the classroom, tears streaming down their faces.

 



A WHISPER OR A BRICK?

brick

A young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something.

As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door! He slammed on the brakes and spun the Jag back to the spot from where the brick had been thrown. He jumped out of the car, grabbed some kid and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, “What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing?!!”

Building up a head of steam he went on. “That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?!!”

“Please, mister, please. I’m sorry, I didn’t know what else to do!” pleaded the youngster. “I threw the brick because no one else would stop…” Tears were dripping down the boys chin as he pointed around the parked car. “It’s my brother,” he said. “He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.” Sobbing, the boy asked the executive, “Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.”

Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling  lump in his throat. He lifted the young man back into the wheelchair and took out his handkerchief and wiped the scrapes and cuts, checking to see that everything was going to be okay. “Thank you and God bless you,” the grateful child said to him. The man then watched the little boy push his brother down the sidewalk toward their home. It was a long walk back to his Jaguar….a long, slow walk. He never did repair the side door. He kept the dent to remind him not to go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention. God whispers in your soul and speaks to your heart. Sometimes when you don’t have time to listen, He has to throw a “brick” at you. It’s your choice: Listen to the whisper — or wait for the brick.




 

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