Not One Sparrow

Sparrow

Early one morning last week on the way to the office I was traveling at 45 mph on a two-lane road. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, two small birds flew from the grass and trees on my right, directly into my path. One flew at an altitude that allowed it to continue its flight. The other one flew directly into my right front fender and fell to the ground.

This was not the first time my vehicle had accidentally and unintentionally become an instrument that terminated the life of a living creature. Over my 59 years of driving experience, I’ve hit other birds and a few squirrels. Transparency requires me to confess that willfully and intentionally I have also sent a few rattlesnakes to their eternal destiny. Scold me, if necessary.

The day of my encounter with the bird in question turned out to be the same day of yet another school shooting. This one was in Santa Fe. Not New Mexico. Texas. Frankly I don’t recall ever knowing there was a Santa Fe in Texas. It’s just a few miles south of Houston, my hometown. Sadly, Santa Fe is now known around the world as the site of a willful and intentional eruption of evil activity resulting in the death of eight students and two teachers.

As soon as the bird fell to the ground I remembered the words of Jesus: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” Matt. 10:29

And when I heard the news that ten people had died that day, I immediately recalled more of Jesus’ words in almost the same breath: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matt. 10:28

But the words that have stuck with me even more poignantly are these: “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matt. 10:30-31

Is it possible to compare the life of a human with the life of a sparrow? No way. In God’s eyes, all living creatures have value. But Jesus says the intrinsic value of human life far outweighs that of many sparrows.

That’s why many more tears are shed when a human dies, regardless of the cause of death, than when a sparrow dies. Yet God’s love is so magnificent that not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father.

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Commencement

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Commencement has special meaning to certain people at a specific time in their lives. Whether from kindergarten, elementary, junior high, senior high, college, university, med school, vet school, law school, or grad school of any kind, commencement means satisfactory completion of academic requirements necessary for commencing, moving forward, to what lies ahead.

During the past nearly nine years of Perspectives articles, I’ve written a number of times about commencement. Those articles had as their subject the graduation of our grandchildren from some of the educational institutions listed above. It’s time for another one.

The event occurred this past weekend in Stephenville, Texas, a small university town southwest of Fort Worth. After what must surely have seemed a very long haul for her (and for her parents), our granddaughter Kayla received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Hallelujah!

For nursing students, commencement includes two separate events. The first night is the pinning ceremony, a serious yet celebratory evening where each student walks across the stage to receive a nursing pin. At Tarleton State, a public university, this ceremony began and ended with prayer. Mind you, these were not generic prayers. They ended in the Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! At a state university! That blew me away!

The next morning was the actual awarding of degrees at the commencement service. It also began with prayer, to an unnamed deity, with a simple “Amen” at the end. No mention of Jesus or even of God. My referring to this prayer is not an effort to be picky. After all, this is a state university. And in today’s cultural environment, I’m surprised any prayer was even included.

While waiting for Kayla’s turn on stage, I watched the crowd of family and friends gathered to share the joy of their loved ones who were commencing that day. Many graduates were greeted with shouts and cheers. Loud ones! Other grads received only polite applause from the crowd. That led me to believe not many of their friends or family members were able to be present.

At one point I noticed the lady sitting next to me. As a graduate who must have been her daughter crossed the stage, this lady broke down in tears. Those were surely tears of joy, shed in relief that this part of her daughter’s professional preparation was now concluded. They were also probably tears of release, most likely from the emotional and financial burdens that accompany as rigid and lengthy a curriculum as the nursing program assuredly is.

For Kayla’s parents (our daughter Angie and husband Todd), her brother Kolby, her grandparents (Terry and I), Todd’s father Steve and grandmother Martha, and the many other members of our family who love her dearly but were not table to be present, this commencement was an event to remember!

Mother’s Day Love

Mother

In our home Terry and I often ask each other what gifts we’d like to receive for our respective birthdays, our wedding anniversary, at Christmas, and on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Our response to each other is often: “I don’t really need anything more than your love.”

It’s challenging to put love in a box with a ribbon. Tangible gifts sometimes accomplish that objective more successfully than do intangible emotions. The gift of love is often enhanced by a palpable expression of that love. Jewelry usually comes in the right color. So do gift cards.

Yet gifts in a box are no substitute for what our loved ones need and want the most. Many years ago I heard a simple statement that rings quite true: Children and spouses spell love T-I-M-E!

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, a special opportunity to honor our mother, whether she is still living this side of eternity (my mother is 102) or already in heaven (where she’d like to be). Either way, thank God for the positive memories and try really hard to forgive your mother for the unpleasant recollections.

Reflect on the following words from a mother, expressing what she wants for Mother’s Day:

“Every year my children ask me the same question: What do I want for Mother’s Day?

After thinking about it, I decided I’d give them my real answer: I want you. I want you to keep coming around. Ask me questions, ask my advice, tell me your problems, ask for my opinion, ask for my help.

I want you to come over and complain or brag about whatever is on your mind and heart. Tell me about your job, your worries, your dreams. I want you to continue sharing your life with me.

Come over and laugh with me, or laugh at me. Hearing you laugh is music to my ears. I spent a large part of my life raising you the best way I knew how. Now, give me time to sit back and admire my work.

Raid my refrigerator, help yourself, I really don’t mind. I want you to spend your money making a better life for yourself and your family. I have the things I need. I want to see you happy and healthy.

When you ask me what I want for Mother’s Day, I say ‘nothing’ because you’ve already been giving me my gift all year. YOU! I want you!”

Most mothers are the first to admit they are not perfect. Yet a mother is a special gift from God. So in addition to this Sunday, take many other opportunities throughout the year to honor your mother, to express your love for her, and to thank God for her role in bringing you into this world and into her life.

Answered Prayers and Unknown Angels

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This is purported to be a true story by an author named Catherine Moore, found in my file. It’s longer than my normal articles, but worth the time to read. It was untitled, so I created the title above.

“Watch out! You nearly broadsided that car!” My father yelled at me, “Can’t you do anything right?”

Those words hurt worse than blows. I turned my head toward the elderly man in the seat beside me, daring me to challenge him. A lump rose in my throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn’t prepared for another battle.

“I saw the car, Dad. Please don’t yell at me when I’m driving.”

My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really felt. Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back. At home I left Dad in front of the television and went outside to collect my thoughts. Dark, heavy clouds hung in the air with a promise of rain. The rumble of distant thunder seemed to echo my inner turmoil. What could I do about him?

Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon. He had enjoyed being outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against the forces of nature. He had entered grueling lumberjack competitions, and had placed often. The shelves in his house were filled with trophies that attested to his prowess.

The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn’t lift a heavy log, he joked about it. But later that same day I saw him outside, alone, straining to lift it. He became irritable whenever anyone teased him about his advancing age, or when he couldn’t do something he had done as a younger man.

Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. An ambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic administered CPR to keep blood and oxygen flowing.

At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room. He was lucky; he survived. But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He obstinately refused to follow doctors’ orders. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults. The number of visitors thinned, then finally stopped altogether. Dad was left alone.

My husband Dick and I asked Dad to come live with us on our small farm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help him adjust.

Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did. I became frustrated and moody. Soon I was taking my pent-up anger out on Dick. We began to bicker and argue.

Alarmed, Dick sought out our pastor and explained the situation. The clergyman set up weekly counseling appointments for us. At the close of each session he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad’s troubled mind.

But the months wore on and God was silent. Something had to be done. It was up to me to do it.

The next day I sat down with the phone book and called each mental health clinic listed in the Yellow Pages. I explained my problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered in vain.

Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, “I just read something that might help you! Let me go get the article.”

I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.

I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon. After I filled out a questionnaire, a uniformed officer led me to the kennels. The odor of disinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens.

Each contained five to seven dogs. Long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs, black dogs, spotted dogs, all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studied each one but rejected one after the other for various reasons – too big, too small, too much hair. As I neared the last pen, a dog in the shadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of the run and sat down. It was a pointer, one of the dog world’s aristocrats. But this was a caricature of the breed.

Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hip bones jutted out in lopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly.

I pointed to the dog. “Can you tell me about him?” The officer looked, then shook his head in puzzlement. “He’s a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought him in, figuring someone would be right down to claim him. That was two weeks ago and we’ve heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow.” He gestured helplessly.

As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror. “You mean you’re going to kill him?”

“Ma’am,” he said gently, “that’s our policy. We don’t have room for every unclaimed dog.”

I looked at the pointer again. The calm brown eyes awaited my decision. “I’ll take him,” I said.

I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. When I reached the house I honked the horn twice. I was helping my prize out of the car when Dad shuffled onto the front porch. “Ta-da! Look what I got for you, Dad!” I said excitedly.

Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. “If I had wanted a dog I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don’t want it!” Dad waved his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house.

Anger rose inside me. It squeezed together my throat muscles and pounded into my temples. “You’d better get used to him, Dad. He’s staying!”

Dad ignored me. “Did you hear me, Dad?” I screamed. At those words Dad whirled angrily, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed and blazing with hate. We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly the pointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front of him.

Then, slowly, carefully, he raised his paw.

Dad’s lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw. Confusion replaced the anger in his eyes. The pointer waited patiently. Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal.

It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named the pointer Cheyenne. Together he and Cheyenne explored the community. They spent long hours walking down dusty lanes. They spent reflective moments on the banks of streams, angling for tasty trout. They even started to attend Sunday services together, Dad sitting in a pew and Cheyenne lying quietly at his feet.

Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years. Dad’s bitterness faded, and he and Cheyenne made many friends. Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne’s cold nose burrowing through our bed covers. He had never before come into our bedroom at night.

I woke Dick, put on my robe and ran into my father’s room. Dad lay in his bed, his face serene. But his spirit had left quietly sometime during the night.

Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyenne lying dead beside Dad’s bed. I wrapped his still form in the rag rug he had slept on. As Dick and I buried him near a favorite fishing hole, I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me in restoring Dad’s peace of mind.

The morning of Dad’s funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This day looks like the way I feel, I thought, as I walked down the aisle to the pews reserved for family. I was surprised to see the many friends Dad and Cheyenne had made. The pastor began his eulogy. It was a tribute to both Dad and the dog who had changed his life.

Then the pastor turned to Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it.” “I’ve often thanked God for sending that angel,” he said.

For me, the past dropped into place, completing a puzzle I had not seen before: The sympathetic voice on the phone that had just read the right article; Cheyenne’s unexpected appearance at the animal shelter; his calm acceptance and complete devotion to my father; and the proximity of their deaths.

And suddenly I understood. I knew that God had answered my prayers after all.

Now you know why I titled this story “Answered Prayers and Unknown Angels.”

God bless your day!

Two Good Friends and Faithful Servants

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 9.30.24 PMAt the end of this month a longtime friend of mine, Bill Siegrist, is retiring after 30 years of service with Texas Church Extension Fund. He was just a kid when his work at CEF began. If you don’t believe me, check out a photo from that time in his life.

Bill had previously served on the national team of Zig Ziglar, an internationally known American author, salesman, and motivational speaker. Bill’s CEF legacy will be the development, training, and motivation of CEF representatives in congregations across the State of Texas. Bill and his dear wife Pam will continue to live in Austin.

In addition, a few months from now another longtime friend will be retiring from the same organization, Texas CEF. Steve Block has served 25 years as Executive Director of Texas CEF and was duly honored at last month’s annual CEF Conference in Austin. He was a little older than a kid when he came to CEF, but still a relatively young man.

Steve had previously served in the banking industry, distinguishing himself with the use of his God-given intellect and ability to make fiscally prudent decisions. Steve’s CEF legacy will be the significant increase of CEF assets during his time of service. He and his dear wife Sandra will spend some of their retirement in Austin and some in Door County, Wis.

It seems appropriate at this milestone in the life of each of these men and in the history of Texas CEF for this article to be dedicated to the glory of God in thanksgiving for Bill and Pam Siegrist, Steve and Sandra Block.

These two wonderful women are also included because, as I’ve often said: Behind every successful man is not only a surprised father-in-law but also a faithful, patient, forgiving, loving, and godly wife. Those words are aptly descriptive of Pam Siegrist and of Sandra Block.

It also seems fitting to include in this article a few quotes about friendship from famous people:

  • There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship. Thomas Aquinas
  • Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. Albert Camus
  • Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses. Ann Landers
  • Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Jesus Christ

Thank you, Bill and Steve, for being my friends and for being faithful servants of our Lord Jesus!

The Lighter Side of Life

Laughing

My dear Terry received this posting from a friend, shared here for a look at the lighter side of life:

  1. My goal for 2018 was to lose just 10 pounds. Only 15 to go!
  2. Ate salad for dinner, mostly  croutons & tomatoes … actually just  one big, round crouton covered with tomato sauce … and  cheese. OK, it  was a pizza. I ate a pizza!
  3. How to  prepare Tofu: Throw it in the trash and grill some meat.
  4. I just did a week’s worth of cardio after walking into a spider web.
  5. I don’t mean to brag but I finished my 4-day diet food in 3 hours and 20 minutes!
  6. A study found that women who carry extra weight live longer than men who mention it.
  7. Kids today don’t know how easy they have it. When I was young, I had to walk nine feet through shag carpet to change the TV channel.
  8. Senility has been a smooth transition for me.
  9. Remember when we were kids and every time it was below zero outside they closed school? Me neither.
  10. I may not be that funny or athletic or good looking or smart or talented … I forgot where I was going with this.
  11. I love being over 70. I learn something new every day, and forget five other things.
  12. A thief broke into my house last night. He started searching for money, so I woke up and searched with him.
  13. My dentist told me I need a Crown. I said, “Awesome! Pour mine over the rocks.”
  14. I think I’ll just put an “Out of Order” sticker on my forehead and call it a day.
  15. Just remember: Once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed!

Ecclesiastes 3:4 reminds us: “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” Laughter is good for the soul. Lighten up a little! Laugh a lot! Enjoy the lighter side of life! God bless your day!

One of the Two Certainties in Life

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Yep. That’s right. Taxes. By the way, in case you didn’t know or recall, the other certainty is death. But today I’ll talk only about taxes.

April 15 is the traditional deadline for filing Internal Revenue Service Federal Income Tax returns. This year it’s April 17. So if you haven’t done yours yet, it’s time to git ‘er done! Or file for an extension, which allows additional procrastination till October 15. But you can only delay filing your return till then. You’re still legally obligated to pay estimated taxes by April 17.

We often hear people complain about paying taxes. On the one hand, it’s not exactly my favorite duty either. On the other hand, notwithstanding imperfections and abuses, the taxes we pay support the life, safety, and freedom we enjoy in these United States. Compared with life in many other countries of the world, the blessings and benefits we enjoy make filing and payment of taxes worthwhile.

Some of the complaints most often heard have to do with the inefficiency and corruption of tax revenue distribution and expenditure. While some of those perceptions are reality, others are not well founded. The challenge is to discern which is which, a task not easily accomplished by the ordinary U.S. citizen. Accordingly, for example, some simply criticize government entitlement programs in general.

Even Winston Churchill is quoted as having said: “We contend that for a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket trying to lift himself up by the handle.”

Be that as it may, at tax time I’m always reminded of the question asked of Jesus by certain scribes and chief priests in biblical times who were trying to discredit or destroy him: “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Their plot was this. If Jesus said no, he would be considered a rebel by Pontius Pilate, governor (also known as procurator or prefect) of the Roman province of Judaea. If Jesus said yes, he would be accused of supporting the foreign rule under which Jews lived.

The answer Jesus gave, while looking at a Roman coin with the image, most likely, of Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar, was: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

So as you prepare to pay your taxes every year, don’t forget about your duty, privilege, joy, and still tax deductible opportunity (if you itemize your deductions) to “give to God what is God’s.”

That’s the primary reason I’m still working past normal retirement age. Terry and I love to give, joyfully and generously! If you haven’t yet made that discovery, try it. You’ll like it! In a special way, discovering the blessing of joyful generosity prepares a person for both the certainties in life!