The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

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At my mother’s memorial service last month I was invited to share a few reflections. One story I told described the time she washed my mouth out with soap. I can still taste that nasty soap! I was probably nine or ten years old and she had heard me say a bad word. I learned my lesson and never again said that word … at least not in her presence.

The last sentence in the paragraph above illustrates another life lesson I learned—always to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In that sentence I could have said only “I learned my lesson and never again said that word.” But that would not have been totally truthful. The real truth is in the words “… at least not in her presence.”

It was through a stern warning of my dear father that I learned that lesson about telling the truth. Daddy was bigger and stronger than I. So I chose not to test the sincerity of his warning because I had no desire to taste the punishment I’d likely receive if I ignored it.

Accordingly, when it was time to fess up regarding matters of importance about which my father was inquiring, I told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It worked. He never had to make me taste his recipe for corporal punishment.

Perhaps that’s why I become so aggravated today with those who don’t adhere to that principle about truth. I see and hear partial truths or half-truths in the lives and words of public figures in the political, secular, and even ecclesiastical worlds.

All too often I’ll hear something said that I know is not completely truthful. It may contain a grain of truth. But if it leaves out critical parts of the story, it falls woefully short of actually being the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

To add insult to injury, when caught, some with that propensity will offer an apology to “anyone who was offended.” But when the apology itself also includes half-truths or omits salient portions of the real truth, disdain and disrespect are further fueled.

That’s particularly true when those who hear the apology don’t know the rest of the story and treat the culprit as a hero, thanking him for his apology, applauding him for his humble spirit. It’s frustrating to see uninformed people misled by someone in a position of trust and authority.

“The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” Prov. 12:22

I love the Old Irish Blessing: “May those who love us, love us; and those who don’t, may God turn their hearts; and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limping!” The same blessing applies to those who don’t tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! Beware of twisted ankles! And Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Donald J. Trump

Donald John Trump is the 45th President of the United States of America. As is true of most leaders, he is loved by some and hated by others. Frankly, there are times when my respect for the office enables me to live with some of his most unattractive personal and political attributes.

For example, I dislike the use of derogatory rhetoric to criticize opponents. Is it really necessary to use terms like “Crooked Hillary” (Clinton) or “Lyin’ Ted” (Cruz) or “Crazy Joe” (Biden)? Others like “Pocahontas” (Elizabeth Warren) or “Little Marco” (Rubio) or “Little Rocket Man” (Kim Jong Un) or “Low Energy Jeb” (Bush) are perhaps not quite as egregious. But necessary? Or helpful?

There are also certain narcissistic characteristics manifested in President Trump’s verbal and non-verbal actions that are unbecoming a man who occupies the highest office in the land. Narcissism is “the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s idealized self-image and attributes.” The term originated from Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. It describes someone who thinks of himself more highly than he ought. Egotistical is another descriptive term.

Other points of disagreement and dislike could be added, but these are sufficient for now.

On the other side of the coin, there have been many positive accomplishments during President Trump’s first two years in office. Surf the Internet and you’ll find long lists of such achievements. One such list identifies 289 accomplishments in 18 categories, including economic growth, jobs, business expansion, deregulation, tax cuts, health care, law and order, border security, international trade, energy, foreign policy, defense, veterans’ affairs, etc. Those achievements are obviously arguable.

In Tuesday night’s State of the Union address President Trump addressed a litany of issues, both foreign and domestic. For me and for many, one of the highlights of the one hour, 21 minute speech, interrupted by a reported tally of 102 standing ovations (mostly Republicans), was his emphasis on the sanctity of life. Here are his most pertinent and powerful statements on that topic:

  • “Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth. These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world.”
  • “To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.”
  • “Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life, and let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: All children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God.”

Whether you’re one who loves President Trump or has the opposite feeling, I hope you join me in thankfulness for the positive statements he made about life to a national and global audience.

Abortion Abomination

Last week I saw an article on Facebook titled Faith Leaders to Bless Abortion Clinic. In my opinion, it’s an abomination. Here are portions of the article, dated October 24, 2018:

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“Faith leaders” will be gathering next month for an abortion clinic blessing in Columbus, Ohio.

“Anti-abortion advocates do not have the monopoly on faith or God,” the notice from Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio reads. “Many faith leaders and people of faith hold that accessing and providing abortions are good and godly decisions.” The title of the notice? “Holy Ground: Blessing the Sacred Space of Decision.”

“During this clinic blessing, participants will gather with local faith leaders and guests to ask for God’s blessing upon Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio’s East Columbus Surgical facility, the abortion providers and staff, and all those who pass through the center,” the notice adds.

The event also will feature interfaith blessings, prayers, and testimonies about receiving and providing abortion care. The “clinic blessing will create space for progressive voices of faith to speak boldly in support of comprehensive reproductive health care, especially abortion.”

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In addition, a recent decision by the state of New York protects women’s access to abortion, even if the historic case decision Roe v. Wade is overturned.

On Jan. 22, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said: “Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion. With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body.”

Arguing against this measure, NY State Assembly Rep. Nicole Malliotakis said: “We need to be honest with the public and say that this bill does not simply codify Roe v. Wade… what this bill does is expand abortion up to birth and the third trimester.”

New York’s Catholic Bishops, led by Cardinal Timothy Nolan, said: “Our Governor and legislative leaders hail this new abortion law as progress. This is not progress. Progress will be achieved when our laws and our culture once again value and respect each unrepeatable gift of human life, from the first moment of creation to natural death.”

My comment? A newly forming embryonic fetus is a life, not just a part of its mother’s body. Upholding the sanctity of life and helping support those whose personal and financial circumstances make it difficult to carry a child to full term is a Christian responsibility.

A Celebration of Life

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Credit: Wikipedia

Two weeks ago this morning my mother went to heaven. This past Saturday we laid her physical body to rest in the cemetery plot right next to my father. Most of our family watched as her casket was slowly lowered into its final resting place. Those who wanted to do so dropped a bit of sand onto her casket. “Earth to earth … ashes to ashes … dust to dust.”

Saturday’s memorial service was a wonderful mixture of sadness and rejoicing. Sadness because Mom will no longer be present in our lives. Rejoicing because she prayed for nearly three years that Jesus would take her home to heaven. Jesus finally answered her prayer.

During the week between her passing and burial, her children and grandchildren took care of the multifaceted details connected with death. Funeral home. Casket selection. Flower shop. Informing relatives and friends. Notifying pallbearers. Securing travel and lodging. Planning the family gathering. Communicating with pastor. Selecting organist. Editing photos. Finalizing and publishing obituary. Scheduling cemetery arrangements. Ordering headstone engraving.

Lots of important details needed to be taken care of. The result was a service of thanksgiving to God for our mother’s life and love, followed by a wonderful reception with food and drink, hosted by members of Mom’s church.

There were tears that day. There was also rejoicing. Most of our family members and many friends, both current and historic, paid their respects to Mother and shared their love with our family.

Many gave flowers or memorial gifts in her loving memory. Countless cards, letters, emails, text messages, and phone calls were received, all incredible outpourings of love. It would be nearly impossible to respond to each of those acts of care and concern. Many thanks to all of you!

During Mother’s 34 ½ months in assisted living, many friends and family visited her, almost daily. Many but not all of them signed the guest book near the door. After her funeral I counted the names in the book, a total of 2,080 visitors in slightly more than 1,000 days.

My comments near the end of the service included quotes from the Hymn I’m But a Stranger Here, Heav’n is My Home and concluded with the words: Goodbye, Mother Elda. You’re now home. In heaven. With our father Martin. Rest in peace. We’ll see you again. Someday. At home! 

Our final moments with our mother in that house of God, Cross Lutheran Church in New Braunfels, Texas, were a celebration of life for a woman who was blessed by God to be a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, great great grandmother, aunt, cousin, and friend.

To God alone be the glory!

Finding the Right Words

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This weekend our family will celebrate the life of our dear mother and will lay her mortal remains to rest. We thank God for her legacy and are truly thankful for the many expressions of love, care, and concern that have come from friends around the state and across the country.

What does one say when a friend’s loved one dies? At such times in my life, I think carefully, trying to choose the right words. Sometimes I think I succeed. At other times, not so much.

My thought is that what to say depends on the circumstances of the death of the person in question. What was the cause of death? The age of the deceased? Was it expected, after a lengthy illness? Or was it sudden? Did the deceased leave young dependent family members? Was it an infant who died? Had the person who died lived a lonely existence for many years?

My father died 36 years ago after more than a year of struggling with cancer. He was only 66. My mother and her four adult children weren’t ready for him to leave. Neither was he.

Mother died peacefully in her sleep at 102 years and 9 months, quite alert and fairly active till a few days before her death. She was ready to go. It would have been selfish for us to pray otherwise.

At Daddy’s death our family was grieving. His friends were also grieving. The words they shared with us reflected their sadness and disappointment following the death of a man who had only rarely been sick. Their words also focused on how much they knew we would miss him.

In Mom’s case, most people knew she had been praying that the Lord would take her home. So had her family. She had terminal congestive heart failure and had lived alone 36 years, the last 34 ½ months in assisted living. She wanted to go to heaven. Her death was a blessing.

Notwithstanding those circumstances, at Mom’s passing many friends of our family shared their love and concern in words expressing sorrow, condolence, and sympathy. My first words a week ago when I heard the news that she had passed were “God be praised! She’s now in heaven!”

Some of our neighbors brought a floral arrangement to our home with a card that said “May all your days be filled with the beautiful memories of your mother!” A second floral note said “May the certainty of the resurrection bring you joy even in the midst of your mourning.”

One thoughtful card said “We are among the multitude of saints rejoicing that Elda is now in the presence of the Lamb!” Another note said “We thank God for the mother who gave birth to you, a blessed woman of God indeed!  Now the cloud of witnesses just got stronger!”

Here are three points to consider when finding the right words to say at a time of death. First, put yourself in the shoes of the survivors and try to imagine what you might want to hear if it were your loved one who had died. Then say or write those words from your heart.

Second, try very hard not to let your anxiety and fear about what to say prevent you from saying or writing anything. Just knowing you care enough to express your love is priceless.

Third, don’t forget what Christians believe about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Those are promises of God that bring hope, comfort, and joy!

Rest in peace, dear Mom. We all love you more than words can say!

I Wish I Could Wave a Magic Wand

People, Father, Daughter, Smile, Happy, Hug, Carry

Not long ago I was waiting for a plane that would take me back home to Terry after a long weekend of preaching, teaching, and visiting with folks about estate planning and charitable giving. The plane was delayed two hours. I was tired and ready to get home.

After the plane finally arrived at the airport, an attendant announced that passengers on the flight should begin to line up according to the number on their boarding pass. Travelers reading this post probably know by now that I was traveling on Southwest Airlines. But I digress.

In the line for passengers needing additional assistance I happened to notice a young girl, probably six or seven years old, holding on to an adult male, probably 35 years old. She was crying softly but emotionally. He was trying to console her, without much success.

As the little girl cried, she wiped away her tears with her hands, apparently having no tissue or handkerchief. The man, whom I surmised to be her father, held out a corner of his jacket for her to use. She dried those tears, which were very quickly replaced by a new flood.

When it was her turn to board the plane, she clung more tightly to her father. After she had finally let go of him and walked down the jet bridge with the attendant, I passed him on my way to the plane, stopped, and simply said: “You’re a loving father. It’s not always easy.”

I had fairly quickly concluded that the young lady was visiting her father over the weekend, that he lived in the vicinity, and that her mother lived in Austin, the destination of my flight.

Those conclusions were confirmed after our flight landed in Austin. At the arriving passengers baggage claim I saw the same young girl. She was with an adult woman, probably 35 years of age. Their greeting at the airport of arrival did not appear to be nearly as tender as the one I had witnessed at the airport of departure. Yet it appeared that she was back with her mother.

The custody of a child shared by two obviously separated and probably divorced parents is not uncommon in today’s world. Yet the frequency of such custodial relationships in no way lessens the emotional tug-of-war that characterizes the lives of many such young girls and boys. It’s not easy for a child to move forth and back between his or her parents.

The natural relationship between a child and parents is for the child to live with and be raised by both parents. Divorce changes that natural order. In most cases a dependent child must share time with two different people in two different homes. Divorced parents most often still love their child deeply. And the child most often still loves both of his or her parents unceasingly.

In many cases, as in the one I’ve shared with you today, that love is often accompanied by tearful goodbyes. I wish I could wave a magic wand!

Words of Wisdom from Andy Rooney

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Credit: Wikipedia

At the beginning of this New Year, I thought it appropriate to share with you some wisdom from Andy Rooney (1919-2011), who had the gift of saying so much with so few words.

I’ve learned….That the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.

I’ve learned….That when you’re in love, it shows.

I’ve learned….That just one person saying to me, “You’ve made my day!” makes my day.

I’ve learned….That having a child fall asleep in your arms is one of the most peaceful feelings in the world.

I’ve learned….That being kind is more important than being right.

I’ve learned….That you should never say no to a gift from a child.

I’ve learned….That I can always pray for someone when I don’t have the strength to help him or her in some other way.

I’ve learned….That no matter how serious your life requires you to be, everyone needs a friend to act goofy with.

I’ve learned….That sometimes all a person needs is a hand to hold and a heart to understand.

I’ve learned….That simple walks with my father around the block on summer nights when I was a child did wonders for me as an adult.

I’ve learned….That life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.

I’ve learned….That we should be glad God doesn’t give us everything we ask for.

I’ve learned….That money doesn’t buy class.

I’ve learned….That it’s those small daily happenings that make life so spectacular.

I’ve learned….That under everyone’s hard shell is someone who wants to be appreciated and loved.

So, my dear friends, I pray that such wisdom, seasoned with the amazing grace of the Creator of the universe, the Savior of the world, the Comforter of mankind, will penetrate your heart and guide your footsteps in the year of our Lord 2019!