Today

Yesterday’s tomorrow is finally here. 

Tomorrow’s tomorrow is nothing to fear

Put aside your fears of dread

Go inspire someone instead

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Between Jack Daniels and Jesus

Every year in April, our church hosts the annual Blessing of the Bikes.  It’s an event that started when 4 bikers from the church approached the pastor with an idea to bring their friends to church. The first year, there were 162 bikes, and our town wondered what in the world was going on as they all rolled through.  Over the years, that event has blossomed and is very well-known in the area.  Our town actually sends the Mayor and emergency workers now, and even shuts down traffic for a while, to allow the event to be held.  It’s a completely free event, because, in the words of our pastor, “so is a gift of salvation”.   This year, on the 20th anniversary, we estimated approximately 15,000 bikes piled in – to our parking lot, and the adjacent streets, and the parking lots along the highway.  Figuring many bikes had 2 riders, we’d say there were A LOT of people who turned out for the event.  For the past 13 years, I have had the privilege of participating in the music for the service.   This year, our good friend Dave Smith, sang a song called “Jack Daniels & Jesus”.   I’m pretty sure there wasn’t another church in the country that sang that song on Sunday.

(By the way, I think there’s a message in here somewhere about starting a “movement” – it doesn’t take something BIG to make something BIG – it just requires someone to dream it and make it reality).

I am watching life unfold for several young adults – some of them are making some very good life decisions, and some of them are making some incredibly bad life decisions, some of them very, very public, and some of them very private.   My heart breaks.   In almost all of the cases, I say to myself, (and I’ve heard their parents say), “but they were raised differently than that”   and then I remember the words, “somewhere between Jack Daniels and Jesus” and remembered that we’re really ALL somewhere on that journey.   I haven’t had Jack Daniels in over 30 years.  One REALLY BAD experience with it all those years ago, and I can’t even smell the stuff to this day…. And I was raised differently than that…. Still, I made some poor life choices along the way – hopefully, ones that I have learned from, and that have made me stronger.  By the grace of God alone, He brought me through those poor choices and gave me a second chance, or maybe a third and fourth.   And, by the grace of God, He will bring those folks through their choices as well, allowing U-turns to correct their course.   Pray for them, will ya?

 

Dancing with the Devil

Dancing

Evil lurks in the strangest place

With a mask upon its face

Pretends to court its truest love

Its secret motives never show

 

Unsuspecting of its snare

We motion toward the one so fair

Reach for the hand, begin to dance

Unaware of its powerful trance

 

Before long, it’s too late

We’ve fallen prey to hands of fate

Fooled by the tempters snare

He’s caught us unaware

Beware, beware, beware

Photo cred:  indusina on Deviantart
Copyright Journey-For-Life. 2017. All rights reserved. 

Keep ‘em Safe in the Hallways

On Sunday, after the news broke about the church shooting in San Antonio, I read a tweet that said “Our thoughts and prayers failed”.   It broke my heart. In response, I would like to address the tweet by sharing my experiences with answered prayers, for I believe in the power of prayer, and have personal experiences with God answering prayers, both large and small.

Ever since my children were in elementary school, part of our morning routine was to pause for a moment of prayer before they got on the bus.  My children were mere babies (and one of them not even born) when the tragic events unfolded at Columbine high school, but the effects of that event and countless subsequent events have guided me to cover my children in prayer every morning.  We’d gather for prayer shortly before they left the house, and, on most days, my prayers would include the phrase, “keep them safe in the hallways”.   As with many prayers, we establish routines, and sometimes, by rote, they seem to sound all alike, but we go through the motions.  I repeated this prayer every day for ten years.  In the back of my mind, with all of the emphasis on anti-bullying campaigns, I probably subconsciously thought that phrase was to protect them from being bullied.   I prayed also that God would bring them home safely.

Never in my wildest imagination would I have guessed what would unfold in the hallways at our high school in the tenth year of that prayer.   I interrupt the narration of large answered prayer to share with you a small one (it will all make sense in a moment).

My eldest daughter is very even-tempered, well-mannered young lady, who works hard to avoid drama and conflict in her life.  In spring of her sophomore year of high school, she played defense on the Lacrosse team and was managing several advanced level classes.   Lacrosse practice often ran from 8-10 pm, so she was often up very late working on homework.   She neither liked to miss school or homework assignments.  Did I mention that she’s typically very even-tempered?    On the evening of April 8, 2014, after Lacrosse practice, she was working on a school project in a foul-mood like I have never seen before.  I mean wicked.  I had never previously seen her behave this way, nor have me since this evening.  I reached my boiling point around 11:30 pm when I said to her, “Just go to bed!  Forget your homework!  Stay home from school tomorrow and finish your homework then!”  I honestly didn’t even care if she turned her homework in at that point.

She replied, “I CAN’T skip school tomorrow!  I have a lacrosse game on Thursday, so if I’m not there tomorrow, I can’t practice and if I can’t practice then I can’t play!”

“Go in late, then!  Just GO TO BED!   Sleep in tomorrow, get your work done, and I’ll take you to school before you’d be considered absent.”

With that, she stormed off to bed and I was left wondering what in the world just happened.  She was sixteen years old and, up to that point, had never really exhibited the moodiness that parents of other teenage girls complain about.

The next morning, my fifteen-year-old son was up early.  He asked if I could drive him to school instead of waiting for the bus.  He was excited to pass out a pamphlet for an upcoming youth retreat to his friends, one in particular whom he’d been praying for an opportunity to share his faith.  I took him to school early, and dropped him off.  Had he ridden the bus, he would not have been at the school until much later, and would not have been in the hallways when it happened.

As he was getting ready that morning, I readied myself for my day at work as well.  I checked my Facebook news feed and ordered a book about loving others from Amazon.  I exchanged a few texts from my youngest daughter’s voice coach, then headed off to school.  As we approached the school, I prayed as I drove, “dear God, please keep them safe in the hallways”.   I never realized what that meant until that day.

I returned home, and to the kitchen to make myself an egg.  I had literally just picked up an egg when I heard my phone buzz. I assumed it was the vocal coach, so I continued making breakfast.  I cracked the egg into the pan just as my oldest daughter came around the corner of the kitchen.  It was 7:23 AM, and she was supposed to be sleeping in to rid herself of that nasty mood from the night before.   I started to say, “What are you doing up so early?” when she said, “–N just texted me and said that J– was stabbed”.   Instinctively, I picked up my cell phone and read the text from my son.  It said, “People were stabbed.  I’m ok.  Please pray”.

To our horror, we learned that a fellow student went on a stabbing rampage that morning.  The attack occurred before the school bell had rung.  My son was walking with a group of his friends down the hallway.  The friend he’d been praying for to come to a youth retreat was the first one stabbed, tackled from behind by the perpetrator.  Before the boys could process what was happening, the student had jumped up, running down the hallway wielding two kitchen knives, stabbing and slashing everyone he could along the way. The attack lasted only a few minutes before it was thwarted by the vice principal and some others, but not before 21 people were stabbed.  My daughter’s boyfriend was one of the victims, and I very quickly realized that, had she been in school that day, she very likely would have been standing with him, and could have been a victim herself.  (That was the first answer to prayer – the small one.)

The next few hours were a blur. The boy was apprehended.  The school made umpteen phone calls to the homes of students giving instructions for where to pick up our kids, except for those who were victims or witnesses. News traveled like wildfire across the entire nation, and, in an instant, our worlds changed.  It was several hours before I could pick my son up since he had to meet with the FBI before they would allow him to leave.  Our church planned a prayer service for that evening, which was initially intended to be a place for our own youth to find sanctuary and turned out to be an enormous event,  packed not only with community members, but news media and politicians.

Over the next few hours, we learned the extent of the injuries sustained, some of them were very, very serious.  The next few days were spent chauffering students to visit hospitals all over Pittsburgh, and praying for the victims.  A few days after the event, a note was found in the students’ locker describing how long he had planned his attack, and how he idolized the shooters from Columbine, dispelling the media allegations that he simply snapped from being bullied.  Several of the students remained hospitalized for a very, very long time, and underwent multiple surgeries to repair damage done to their internal organs.  Miraculously, the 8″ blade of the knife that stabbed my daughter’s boyfriend went right in between two of his organs, completely missing anything vital.  Another answered prayer.

Miraculously, despite the perpetrators wishes and plans, there was not a single loss of life in this horrific event, which took place… you guessed it, in the hallways.   I never fully realized what exactly I was praying for, but I believe, with all of my heart, that God heard ten years of my prayers to “keep ‘em safe in the hallways”, and answered in a very large way.  Answered prayer.

Eventually, over the next several months, all of the students were released from the hospital and have recovered physically from their injuries.   I will never fully understand why God allowed my daughter to be spared that day, and why other students were not.  I will never understand why I delivered my son early that day, to be present for an event which he might otherwise have missed.  However, through all of it, I can honestly say that God heard… and answered… my prayer.  There is no doubt that God was with them in the hallway that day.   Thank you, Lord, for your answered prayer.
Copyright Journey-For-Life. 2017. All rights reserved

Resolve

At 13 she gave her life to Christ, determined to live a life to honor God for her whole life.  At 23 she met the man of her dreams and married him.   He, too, loved Jesus. Within the first five years of their marriage she suffered three miscarriages.  At 28 she and her husband adopted a beautiful baby boy and named him David.  When David was three years old there was a terrible fire at their home.  She was burned over 80% of her body trying to smother the flames the engulfed her beloved son.   He did not survive.   She spent six weeks in the hospital, refusing the morphine offered her because she didn’t like the way it made her feel.   Doctors visited from all over to observe her healing, amazed that she had survived.  They told her she was a “miracle'”.   She knew that God was with her. Her faith unwavering, her inner resolve and refused to allow her to succumb to her injuries.  

Four months after losing their son, they adopted a beautiful baby girl with big brown eyes.  Almost two years later, they adopted another baby girl, and it seemed as if life was normalizing, as much as it does after the death of a child.

Three years after adopting their second daughter, her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Unwavering faith, the two of them remained strong in their relationship with one another as well as with God.  

After five years in remission, her husbands’ cancer returned with a vengeance, this time taking his life and leaving her to raise two small children. 

Undaunted on the outside, the inner strength of this woman taught her daughters that belonging to Jesus does not shield us from bad things happening.  Instead, she couldn’t imagine going through these battles without Jesus.  

It would have been easy for her to become a victim of any one of the difficult life circumstances, let alone all of them.  Undoubtedly there were moments of doubt along the way, but her obligation to her children – to instill in them the faith she clung to – motivated her to show strength.

In some ways, people would argue God didn’t hear her prayers, but she knows that He did.  He answered them in ways that He knew would ultimately be best for His purpose.  

Copyright Journey-For-Life. 2017. All rights reserved. 

Isaiah 54 (the living translation)

Future Glory for Jerusalem
1″Sing, O childless woman,

you who have never given birth!

Break into loud and joyful song, O Jerusalem,

you who have never been in labor.

For the desolate woman now has more children

than the woman who lives with her husband,”

says the LORD.

2″Enlarge your house; build an addition.

Spread out your home, and spare no expense!

3For you will soon be bursting at the seams.

Your descendants will occupy other nations

and resettle the ruined cities.

4″Fear not; you will no longer live in shame.

Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you.

You will no longer remember the shame of your youth

and the sorrows of widowhood.

5For your Creator will be your husband;

the LORD of Heaven’s Armies is his name!

He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,

the God of all the earth.

6For the LORD has called you back from your grief–

as though you were a young wife abandoned by her husband,”

says your God.

7″For a brief moment I abandoned you,

but with great compassion I will take you back.

8In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while.

But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”

says the LORD, your Redeemer.

9″Just as I swore in the time of Noah

that I would never again let a flood cover the earth,

so now I swear

that I will never again be angry and punish you.

10For the mountains may move

and the hills disappear,

but even then my faithful love for you will remain.

My covenant of blessing will never be broken,”

says the LORD, who has mercy on you.

11″O storm-battered city,

troubled and desolate!

I will rebuild you with precious jewels

and make your foundations from lapis lazuli.

12I will make your towers of sparkling rubies,

your gates of shining gems,

and your walls of precious stones.

13I will teach all your children,

and they will enjoy great peace.

14You will be secure under a government that is just and fair.

Your enemies will stay far away.

You will live in peace,

and terror will not come near.

15If any nation comes to fight you,

it is not because I sent them.

Whoever attacks you will go down in defeat.

16″I have created the blacksmith

who fans the coals beneath the forge

and makes the weapons of destruction.

And I have created the armies that destroy.

17But in that coming day

no weapon turned against you will succeed.

You will silence every voice

raised up to accuse you.

These benefits are enjoyed by the servants of the LORD;

their vindication will come from me.

I, the LORD, have spoken!