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!

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas is a tradition observed by many Christians. This celebration begins with the birth of Christ on December 25 (Christmas) and concludes with the coming of the Magi, the wise men, on January 6 (Epiphany).

You’ve heard the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and probably know most if not all the words. It begins “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me … a partridge in a pear tree.” The song continues with the second through twelfth days of Christmas, identifying each of the other gifts “my true love gave to me” on each of those days.

A popular theory is that the song’s lyrics are coded references to Christianity and that the song was written to help Christians learn and pass on the tenets of their faith while avoiding persecution. Though the myth-debunking Snopes website disagrees with that theory, the spiritual connections are interesting enough to share. So here we go:

The Twelve Days of Christmas

A partridge in a pear tree = Jesus Christ
Two Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
Three French Hens = Faith, Hope, and Love
Four Calling Birds = the four Gospels and/or the four Evangelists
Five Golden Rings = the first five books of the Old Testament, aka the Pentateuch
Six Geese A-Laying = the six days of Creation
Seven Swans A-Swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eight Maids A-Milking = the eight beatitudes
Nine Ladies Dancing = the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
Ten Lords A-Leaping = the Ten Commandments
Eleven Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
Twelve Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

On another more serious note, some of you might remember that this will be the first Christmas after my dear mother went to heaven January 10 of this year. The following words are most meaningful to our family and I hope to yours as well:

The first Christmas after you lose someone you love is hard.
You won’t feel like celebrating, but you’ll go along with it. For the kids. For the family.
It will hurt. The presents not bought. The chair not sat in.
The memories of past Christmases that threaten to suck the joy out of the whole day.
But you will get through it. You may even smile through the tears. It’s OK.
If you can, thank God for the Christmases you had with your departed loved ones.
Start a new tradition in their memory.
And remember the love you shared through the holidays.

Terry and I pray for you and your family a joyful and blessed Twelve Days of Christmas!

Life

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Credit: Pexels from Pixabay 

These brief statements about life are attributed to Mother Teresa:

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is life, fight for it.

To those statements I add these from Jesus:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. John 3:36
Life is not measured by how much you own. Luke 12:15
I have come that you may have life, in all its fullness. John 10:10
Life is more than food and the body more than clothes. Luke 12:23
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matt. 10:39
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

And here are a few more statements. From me:

If you love someone, say to him or her “I love you.”
If you appreciate someone, express that appreciation.
Life is a blessing from God. Thank Him for that blessing.
Don’t just send flowers for a person’s funeral. Send flowers to the living while they’re living.
Spend each day is if it were the first day of the rest of your life, because that’s exactly what it is.

God bless your day! Every day! And thank Him for your life!

Thanksgiving Attitude: Grumpy or Grateful?

Last Thursday Terry and I left our home in Georgetown and spent the next five days at a series of conferences in Houston. All three gatherings we attended were inspirational and productive. It’s always good to be in the presence of fellow Christians, friends, and colleagues.

The downside of trips like this one is the drudgery of staying in hotels. For four nights. Some like to get away from home and go to a hotel. Perhaps because of our work related travel the past three decades, going to a hotel is not a mountaintop experience for us.

The quality of a hotel is often commensurate with the price of the room. Not so much on this trip. For example, one of our fairly high quality hotels had the following deficiencies:

  • The bathroom sink didn’t drain
  • There was no hair dryer in the room
  • It took forever for cold water to get hot
  • The TV remote was not functioning properly
  • The bathroom electrical outlet was poorly placed

The last morning away from home I was grousing about three of the items listed above. Then it struck me. Here I am in a safe and secure hotel room fussing about inconveniences, while many people in our country and throughout the world are sleeping on the street, in the cold, having no job or steady income, not knowing where their next meal might come from, not having had a bath or shower in days or weeks, having very little to which to look forward except a turkey meal at a homeless shelter.

That realization included the recognition of how prone I am to expect everything to be right and how little I ponder the plight of people who don’t even have most of the stuff about which I complain. Too often I’m grumpy about things and not grateful for the bountiful blessings of life.

On this Thanksgiving Eve, Terry and I extend to each of you our heartfelt love and gratitude for your friendship and, especially, for God’s grace in our lives and yours.

I pledge to work on mitigating my grumpiness and multiplying my gratitude! I’ll need your prayers!

Halloween, Reformation, All Saints Day

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Wilhelm Ferdinand Pauwels

Full disclosure: Seven years ago in the Nov. 1, 2012 Volume IV Number 9 Perspectives article, I began with these words, slightly updated to fit this year’s calendar:

Today is October 31, observed in our country as Halloween. In recent years I’ve become increasingly concerned with the growing focus on macabre manifestations and excessive expressions of spiritual darkness associated with Halloween.

My concern is that most celebrations of Halloween do not recognize what St. Paul said centuries ago: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12)

Thankfully, October 31 is also observed by many Christians throughout the world as the Festival of the Reformation. Catalyzed by Martin Luther’s struggle with his personal faith and escalated by the Roman Catholic Church’s emphasis on salvation by works and purchase of indulgences, the Reformation claims October 31, 1517, as its date of origination. That’s the day Luther posted his 95 Theses against indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Certainly not to be forgotten, November 1 is All Saints Day—an opportunity to give thanks to God for all believers in Christ who have gone on before us to an eternity of life in the presence of God himself. Our family, like yours, remembers those saints in whose footsteps we follow and with whom we will be reunited someday in heaven.

Those truths remain and my observations have not changed. On the contrary, my perspectives regarding these three days have intensified:

  • The Reformation blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation are gifts of God’s grace.
  • Halloween observances need to become less pagan in character and costume.
  • All Saints Day is an opportunity to remember loved ones who await our heavenly arrival.

Happy Reformation, Halloween, and All Saints Day! Observe them all, safely and reflectively, with joy and thankfulness in your heart!

Naming Hurricanes

Last week Hurricane Imelda left a trail of flood damage in southeast Texas, fueled by up to 43” of rain between Houston and Beaumont. People I know and love, who had sustained flood damage at the hands of Hurricane Harvey a couple years ago, were hit hard also by Imelda.

My heart is sad for those who now need to pick up the pieces, muck out the silt, strip the sheetrock, remove the insulation, refinish the floors, replace the furniture, and rebuild their homes and lives. Indescribable and unimaginable damage can be caused by a hurricane, even by a tropical storm, destroying in hours what took a lifetime to build and accumulate.

Do you know how and why hurricanes are named? Here’s what I found in a May 31, 2019 online article by Deanna Conners:

Meteorologists long ago learned that naming tropical storms and hurricanes helps people remember the storms, communicate about them more effectively, and stay safer when a storm strikes a coast.

These experts assign names to hurricanes from a formal list approved prior to the start of each hurricane season. The U.S. National Hurricane Center started this practice in the early 1950s. Now, the World Meteorological Organization generates and maintains the list of names.

Atlantic hurricane names for 2019: Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand, Gabrielle, Humberto, Imelda, Jerry, Karen, Lorenzo, Melissa, Nestor, Olga, Pablo, Rebekah, Sebastien, Tanya, Van, and Wendy. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.

In the 1950s a formal practice for storm naming was developed for the Atlantic Ocean by the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Storms were named according to the alphabet (e.g., Able, Baker, Charlie) and the names used were the same for each hurricane season.

In 1953, to avoid repetition, the system was revised to give storms female names. By doing this, the National Weather Service was mimicking the habit of naval meteorologists, who named the storms after women, much as ships at sea were traditionally named for women.

In 1978–1979, the system was revised again to include both female and male hurricane names.

This week Tropical Storm Jerry (that’s my name) is in the Atlantic, moving toward Bermuda. Tropical Storm Karen (that’s the name of one of my younger sisters) is headed north from Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. And further east, Hurricane Lorenzo is moving west. Lord, have mercy.

Do you know the story of Peter walking on stormy water in Matt. 14? The winds died down after Jesus got into the boat. And how about the story of Jesus calming a storm in Mark 4?

Lord Jesus, according to your holy will, apply your calming hand to troubled waters and violent windstorms. And if you choose not to intervene in that way, bring peace and calm to those whose lives are seriously disrupted by storms who bear the names of some of your children. I pray this in your holy and precious name, the name above all names. Jesus. Amen.