Blessed! Thankful!

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Credit: Kiy Turk on Unsplash

Yesterday marked Terry’s and my 54th wedding anniversary. Our marriage was solemnized on Saturday, January 29, 1966, my 23rd birthday. You can do the math.

The past 54 years have been exciting and challenging, full of a mixture of joy and sorrow, blessing and difficulty, victory and defeat, laughter and tears.

Through it all, faith in God, dependence on God’s providence, love for each other, and marital commitment, all under the umbrella of God’s grace, have sustained us through the valleys and taken us up the mountains. Suffice it to say that I am blessed and thankful.

Here are just some of the people by whom I’ve been blessed and for whom I’m thankful:

  • My wonderful, loving, talented, forgiving, patient wife Terry
  • Our dearest favorite daughter Angie and her gifted husband Todd
  • Our special favorite son Andrew and his four legged menagerie
  • Our beautiful favorite granddaughter Kayla and her special friend we call Super Trooper
  • Our handsome favorite grandson Kolby and his life of faith, service, and leadership
  • Sainted parents Martin and Elda Kieschnick and their legacy of love and hard work
  • Sainted grandparents Walter and Martha Kieschnick, Fred and Bertha Hellman
  • Sisters Carol, Karen, Debbie and their husbands Jerry, Mel, Curtis
  • Aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and cousins
  • Sainted in-laws Emil and Dorothy Roos and brother-in-law David
  • Lutheran congregations served in my career: St. Paul Austin, Trinity Nokomis, Ascension Charlotte, Good Shepherd Biloxi, Redeemer Beaumont, Hope Winnie, Faith Georgetown
  • Lutheran organizations served in my career: Lutheran Foundation of Texas, Texas District LCMS, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Concordia University Texas, Legacy Deo
  • Parachurch organizations and boards served: LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, LCMS Council of Presidents, International Lutheran Council, Mission of Christ Network, Pastor360, Ministry Focus, Driving Hope of Texas, B. M. Woltman Foundation, Lutheran Social Services of the South

In compiling and reviewing that list, it’s obvious that my life has been and continues to be a combination of being served to serve. I see life as the Jordan River, not the Dead Sea.

In my Legacy Deo presentations I explain it this way: Our legacy from God is who we are and what we have. Our legacy to God is what we do with who we are and what we have.

For 77 years I’ve been loved and served by God, my family, and many friends. For most of those years, I’ve endeavored to love and serve people and organizations I’ve been blessed to know. It’s pretty easy to sum it up in two words: Blessed! Thankful!

How Children Perceive Their Grandparents

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Credit: Johnny Cohen on Unsplash

Terry and I have been abundantly blessed with two wonderful grandchildren, both of whom are already young adults, out on their own, gainfully employed, residing within three hours of our home. We love being together, which now happens much less frequently than we’d like.

In my file of future Perspectives topics, this one popped out at me today. I hope you’ll enjoy How Children Perceive Their Grandparents, dedicated to our grandchildren Kolby and Kayla.

  • She was in the bathroom, putting on her makeup under the watchful eyes of her young granddaughter, as she’d done many times before. After she applied her lipstick and started to leave, the little one said, “But Gramma, you forgot to kiss the toilet paper good-bye!” I’ll probably never put lipstick on again without thinking about kissing the toilet paper good-bye. 
  • My young grandson called to wish me happy birthday. He asked me how old I was. I told him 80. He was quiet for a moment, and then asked, “Did you start at 1?” 
  • After putting her grandchildren to bed, a grandmother changed into old slacks and a droopy blouse and proceeded to wash her hair. As she heard the children getting more and more rambunctious, her patience grew thin. Finally, she threw a towel around her head and stormed into their room, putting them back to bed with stern warnings. As she left the room, she heard the three-year-old say with trembling voice, “Who was THAT?” 
  • A grandmother was telling her little granddaughter what her own childhood was like. “We used to skate outside on a pond. I had a tire swing hanging from a tree in our yard. We rode our pony. We picked wild berries in the woods.” The little girl was wide-eyed, taking this all in. At last she said, “I sure wish I’d gotten to know you sooner!” 
  • My grandson was visiting one day when he asked, “Grandma, do you know how you and God are alike?” I mentally polished my halo and said, “No, how are we alike?” “You’re both real old,” he replied. 
  • When my grandson Billy and I entered our vacation cabin, we kept the lights off until we were inside to keep from attracting pesky insects. Still, a few fireflies followed us in. Noticing them before I did, Billy whispered, “It’s no use, Grandpa. Now the mosquitoes are coming after us with flashlights.”
  • When my grandson asked me how old I was, I teasingly replied, “I’m not sure.” “Look in your underwear, Grandpa,” he advised. “Mine says I’m 4 to 6.”
  • A second grader came home from school and said to her grandmother, “Grandma, guess what? We learned how to make babies today.” The grandmother, more than a little surprised, tried to keep her cool. “That’s interesting,” she said, warily. “How do you make babies?” It’s easy,” replied the girl. “You just change ‘y’ to ‘i’ and add ‘es’.”
  • A 6-year-old was asked where his grandma lived. “Oh,” he said, “she lives at the airport, and when we want her, we just go get her. Then, when we’re done having her visit, we take her back to the airport.”
  • Grandpa is the smartest man on earth! He teaches me good things, but I don’t get to see him enough to get as smart as he is!

As is true for many of you, all four of my grandparents are already in heaven. Though they always lived hundreds of miles away from us, Mom and Dad as often as possible took us four children to see them at Christmas time and during the summer.

It was a blessing to know my grandparents, genuine gifts of God! And for the past 25 years I have been richly blessed to be one! BTW, my Terry is an awesome Mimi!

Iran

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The news of United States President Donald Trump’s authorization of the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani has been a topic of interest since that killing took place. Reports indicate that such authorization was issued seven months ago. The event actually occurred via drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.

Some say this was a dastardly deed that should never have happened. Others say it was an act of war that should not have been initiated without congressional approval.

Still others point to the violent record of a man directly or indirectly implicated in the death of hundreds of Americans. He was also actively involved in widespread death and destruction and called “an architect of bloodshed and chaos in Iraq, Syria, and Israel.” (https://lucas.house.gov/press-release/lucas-statement-death-qasem-solimani)

The New Year’s Eve attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad was seen by some as a catalyzing event, resurrecting images and recollections of what happened during the 2012 Ansar al-Sharia attack on United States government facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

What’s intriguing to me is to learn that Iranian protests following January 3 have largely been staged by Iranian citizens who are relieved and thankful that Soleimani, responsible for the deaths of many of his own countrymen, is gone. Reports I’ve read indicate strong support of Iranian protestors for democracy and freedom.

If these reports are true, and I pray they are, thanks be to God for this positive development.

I’m reminded of words from Scripture I shared in person with then President George W. Bush on September 20, 2001, a little more than one week following the terrorist attacks of 9/11:

“The one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Rom. 13:4

Political interaction involving military confrontation with hostile and evil international leaders is not easily accomplished. Decisions are made by leaders charged with responsibility for the safety of American citizens. I don’t agree with every decision our leaders have made in the past or will make in the future. You most likely feel the same way.

That’s why it’s so important to hold our leaders in fervent prayer for informed wisdom, restraint when necessary, and courageous action when required. Lord, have mercy!

Her Last Cab Ride

As we settle into the New Year, it’s appropriate to focus on how we demonstrate love, care, and concern to people around us, whether or not we know them. Here’s a reminder in a story forwarded to me by a dear friend about some of the important things in life. It’s a bit lengthy, but well worth the read.

I arrived at the address and honked my taxi’s horn. After waiting a few minutes, I honked again. Since this was going to be the last ride of my shift I thought about just driving away. But instead I put the cab in park and walked up to the door and knocked.

“Just a minute,” answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened.

A small woman in her 90s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase.

The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she asked. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness. I replied, “It’s nothing. I try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.” She replied, “Oh, you’re such a good boy!”

When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?” “It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly. “Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice facility.”

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. She continued in a soft voice, “I don’t have any family left. The doctor says I don’t have very long.”

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to take?” I asked.

For the next two hours we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds.

She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she’d ask me to slow down in front of a particular building or corner, and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing. As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low small building, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. 

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. “How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse. “Nothing,” I answered. “You have to make a living,” she said. “There are other passengers,” I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent down and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly. “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

For the rest of that day I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver,  impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

In reflection, I don’t think I have done anything more important in my life. We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware, beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said. But they will always remember how you made them feel. 

That’s the end of the story but the beginning of the motivation to respond in like fashion.

It’s a blessing for me to serve two charitable organizations that demonstrate Christian love in tangible but different ways.

My vocational calling to Legacy Deo, formerly Lutheran Foundation of Texas, enables me to help people plan their estate for the benefit of their family and favorite charitable causes.

This week I spent two days initiating the probate process for a single man, never married, who made plans to provide for his extended family members, Texas Church Extension Fund, and Concordia University Texas. We can provide that same kind of assistance for you. For information and help with your plan, call (512) 646-4909 or go to www.legacydeo.org.

In my avocational time I serve on the Board of Directors of a few worthy organizations. One is Driving Hope of Texas, established to provide non-emergency medical transportation for rural Texans, particularly low income or needy people. For information on how you can help, call (800) 674-3489 or go to www.drivinghopetexas.org.

Even if you’re not a cab driver, there are many ways to use your God-given gifts to help people experience a moment of joy in this life and an eternity of joy in the life that is to come.

Legacy Deo and Driving Hope of Texas are among many organizations that can enable you to use your blessings of time, energy, and money to be a blessing to others. What a great way to start this New Year!

A New Year Prayer

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Credit: Jamie Street on Unsplash

Several years ago my dear friend and former Pastor Vernon Gundermann, now in heaven, shared with me A New Year Prayer. Frankly, I don’t recall whether he was the author. But that wouldn’t surprise me one bit. And unless someone demonstrates otherwise, he gets the credit.

The words of Vern’s prayer are particularly poignant. His last months of life on earth were full of challenges and burdens brought by the disease that captivated his body. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, was the culprit.

The gradual but progressive death of neurons controlling his voluntary muscles transformed his athletic frame to one of virtual incapacity. Yet through it all, Vern demonstrated a rare and inspirational mixture of grace and peace.

He knew who he was. He knew whose he was. And he knew where he was going, beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Here’s his prayer, which is also my prayer for you:

A New Year Prayer

May God make your coming year a happy one!

Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, as it comes;

Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy to travel any path;

Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking fear from your heart;

Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows;

Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you when people and their causes need you most;

And by making you anxious to be there to help.

God’s love, peace, hope, and joy abound in you and your loved ones in the year ahead!

Happy New Year! A Blessed 2020!