Every Thursday my wife, Julie, and I would rush home from work, grab some lawn chairs, an ice chest full of water and sodas, and head for our meeting place in the city. For a couple of years, a group of us met in a rustic open air pavilion which had formally served as train stop. Our little Thursday night family consisted mostly of the homeless scattered around town as well as students from the local University. We quickly discovered how much compassion and love the students had for the poor, the broken, the hurting and those deemed unlovable. Armed with only an acoustic guitar and the dim light from a Coleman lantern, we sang songs together trying our best to express our love to God. We told stories from the Bible, we prayed, we listened, we loved. If I could best describe what we experienced, it was raw, it was real and it was totally awesome!
Willie and Dee were regulars among our group. Willie tended to hang back in the shadows and just listen. Dee -mostly fueled by alcohol- was loud and boisterous. The couple made their castle out of a tattered nylon tent, placed strategically amongst the trees and out of site.
Safety being their main concern, this culture is under constant threat from other street people as well as park police. Every night, brown bagged tall boys and a few tokes would gently tuck them in.
One particular night, and this is where the story gets a little fuzzy, Dee apparently woke during the night with a craving for Dr. Pepper. Willie, kind as he was, lovingly obliged Dee by getting up and traipsing toward the store. Whether he was in a sleeping stupor or perhaps just intoxicated, no one really knows. Willie wandered into the path of an oncoming train.
We got the call about 5:00 A.M. that something had happened and if we could please come immediately to the hospital. Upon arriving, we found a few of our rag tag family in the parking lot, weeping and screaming and completely overcome with grief. All that we knew to do was pray. So we did. We all joined hands in a huge circle in the middle of the parking lot and we cried and we prayed. We said, “Lord please don’t let death take Willie apart from knowing your Son.” I learned something that morning as I held hands and prayed with drug addicts, thieves, alcoholics, abusers and abused, hurting people of all kinds. I learned that love and compassion still lives among the broken.
Willie had no family, so Julie and I were called back to talk to the surgeon in charge. He was a mountain of a man, in his seventies, well educated and well seasoned. After twelve hours of surgery he seemed a little dazed as we probed him for information. All this man could manage to say, over and over again was,
“I do not know how this man is alive.”
A large portion of Willie’s skull cap was removed due to swelling. His collar bone was crushed. His shoulder was separated and his arm was shattered. His ribcage was completely separated from his body. His pelvic area was crushed and his hip was separated and completely crushed to pieces.
Even more, both of Willie’s legs were cut off by the train. Now my thoughts began to echo that of the surgeon, “How could Willie still be alive?” It was at that moment I remembered our rag tag, parking lot prayer meeting. God’s mercy surely endures forever!
We were told Willie’s recovery in the hospital alone would last one to two years if he even made it at all. So all we could do was trust in the Lord and take one day at a time. Many of the University students took up a banner for Willie, spending hours in the waiting room singing songs of praise and praying. Step by step we began to see God’s mighty hand of healing and grace at work. We would simply ask the nurses and doctors, “OK, what’s next?” We would pray and God would respond. Things like Willie had lost his swallow reflex and could only be fed through a tube. He could barely talk, only in a slight whisper but we knew he needed solid food to gain strength and besides, he was hungry. So we just asked God to restore his ability to swallow.
The next day, my phone rings, “Hey Jeff this is Willie. I just finished eating real food.” Mouth wide open, I murmured, “Praise God!” Somewhere in the midst of all this, Willie had an encounter with the Son of God. Many times we would quietly sneak into his room thinking he was asleep. Eyes closed, huge smile, Willie would be reciting over and over again, “I love you Jesus, I love you Jesus, I love you Jesus.”
Three months had passed when we got the news. “Willie is being discharged from the hospital and going home.” Willie and Dee moved into a small trailer, a little worn but it was home. I wish this was the part where I could say, “happily ever after,” but unfortunately a lifetime of woundedness, selfishness and addiction overtook the couple again. “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me.” Our lives with Willie and Dee seemed to move in different directions. Hope and trust told us they would be OK.
A few weeks ago, my wife ran into Willie and Dee at the grocery store. Hugs and tears and laughter all around, it was a glorious reunion! Julie said they both looked good and healthy and happy. There was something new and different about them. They were finally free. They said there was no more drinking or drugs in their life. In fact they were taking care of their grandchildren and even buying them a birthday cake decorated with a nativity scene. Dee’s soul was at peace and her heart was full of joy. Willie had new legs and a new life. So their story continues and what I have gained from all this is, life matters.
Their life matters and your life matters. A smile. A kind word. A simple prayer.
Please know…your life matters!
This morning I had an informal meeting with a good friend and as most mornings, I was running a little late. I can get easily distracted with this that and every little thing, besides, somehow the clock just seems to turn much faster these days. As I hurried to meet Him, there He was, standing some distance away under the most majestic looking Oak tree. Some people might be a little frustrated at having to wait, but not this friend, He just smiled the biggest smile ever and gave me a huge welcoming hug. Something inside me melted and all I could feel was ahhh! Don’t you love those special people in your life? Every time they meet you they are genuinely happy, ecstatically so, at merely seeing you. I truly love that! So together we began to walk down a well worn trail, through overhanging trees and entered into a lush, green pasture. Quietly, even silently, we just enjoyed each others company. After a while, He spoke up and asked me, “If you could go anywhere, where would you like to go?” I said, “I really like the beach and the ocean. I might like to live there someday.” He said, He liked the waves because they were always moving and always changing. He liked the wind, the way it felt on His face. He liked all the fish and birds and sea creatures everywhere. As we kept on walking, I noticed my soul was at peace. The trail led us to a gently running stream. It’s banks were lined with mountainous Cypress trees. Enormous rocks rose from the midst of the water and stood stately like statues, ever watching, ever guarding. As my eyes turned back to Him, I was a bit surprised when He pulled out His fly casting rod and said, “Let’s fish awhile.” I stood back a distance and marveled at a Master at work. He can totally make that fly dance across the water, almost musical in nature. The fly would tumble forward in a continuous rolling motion before gently touching down precisely on the mark. Oddly enough, he developed that move by watching the waves roll onto the beach. Honestly, I was completely captivated and somewhat awestruck. Time stood still as I gazed upon a man in long shorts, with stringy dark hair, standing in knee deep water having the time of His life! He was filled with so much joy and totally consumed in the moment. I want to be like Him. He wasn’t worried about politics, or the failing economy, or oil prices, or food shortages, or world crisis. Instead His soul was at peace, completely confident, strong yet humble, wise and compassionate, happy and full of life. Being close to Him makes me feel happy and at peace. Later, we sat on a rock where I listened and I could hear His heart on a few things. At one point, I even saw a tear trickle down his face. He told me how he helped His Father build His house and spoke of the exactness of every little detail. I said, “That house sounds wonderful and I would love to see it sometime.” He said, “Come see it anytime you want.” That left me speechless. About that time He brought out lunch, figs of all things, and some kind of juice called Guava berry. It was sweet and tangy and kind of like sparkling water. It was very refreshing. All in all, it was the best of days, spent with my very best friend. He is just so trustworthy and giving and fun to be with. He has forever engraved a picture in my heart of His glistening eyes, His strong hands and His perpetual smile. I am completely overwhelmed by his friendship and by his love. Most assuredly, He is the Prince of Peace.
I love the taste of eggnog. Every year at Christmas time I usually treat myself to a cup of eggnog or two. I am a purist in the sense I like my eggnog straight up with nothing added. Yesterday morning as the family all gathered around for breakfast I decided to splurge in having a cup of eggnog. My taste buds eagerly awaited the cold and velvety texture as I raised the cup and took my first big gulp. Oh my gosh! Wow! My throat began to burn, my head began to spin and every alarm within me was screaming intensely! There was whiskey in my eggnog and truly a disproportional amount. Just to be sure I gathered a couple of witnesses and at first taste their response was, “Wow! That’s really strong!” Readily deciding to abandon the eggnog, I wholeheartedly enjoyed the rest of the day with family and friends. The eggnog scandal was completely put to rest…or so I thought. 3:00 A.M., eyes pop open and that Inner Voice seems to be having a conversation with me about whiskey. “Aged whiskey, He says, should be savored purposely, slowly, allowing and alluring your senses to a somewhat euphoric experience.” “But I don’t drink whiskey, I replied.” He continued, “Some people add water to their whiskey making it more palatable and easier to take. Some add soda water to make the taste sweeter and less harsh or offensive.” Still my sleepy eyed response was, “So what does that have to do with the the price of tea in China?” The Radiant Voice within me spoke sternly and said, “So too the gospel!” It should be offered straight up only, not watered down or dressed up with anything to make it more palatable. A similar response as that of a straight shot of whiskey should be expected when the pure and full gospel message is delivered. The message, although engraved in love, should cut like a two-edged sword not only the first time but every time we hear it. The gospel always produces a Godly sorrow and fear in the depths of our soul that leaves no other option than to turn from all sin, fall on our face and cry out for mercy. Fear and tears and trembling are testifying signs of a true gospel message finding it’s mark. Direct, precise and to the point in these days to come, let us offer and drink only the straight up message of the gospel. And in this our response could only be, to God be the glory! Today we continue to celebrate Christmas. The babe has been born. The Christ has been crucified. The Son of God has risen. Jesus is the door and that door is open to all who would believe. The Way has been made so let’s enter in with joy and singing and thankfulness. And like that perfect note struck on a string stretched tightly in two directions, although cutting, so too the gospel truly is good news! May the Lord bless you richly in Jesus name. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe will have eternal life.
The bible is full of patterns, types and shadows that exhibit, to us, heavenly realms. A renewed mind, which is the mind of Christ allows us and leads us to see from a heavenly perspective. I am learning that worldly thinking is linear, like a straight line with a starting point extending outward, never returning to its point of origin. Heavenly thinking, however, is circular, one point always reconnecting with it’s own point of origin. For example, God created a dream. He put that dream in a body and breathed life into it and said “go forth, live life to the fullest and prosper. You are my dream !” But sin entered into the world and sin killed the dream. God knew, He sent His Son to die to take away the sin. Then He gave life back to His Son in order to bring the dream back to life. So the dream is alive again but oddly enough, now the dream has to die. So now the dream surrenders to the Son and dies only to live again in the Son. The Son is the way back to the Father so now the dream returns to it’s original origin! What??!!!
Dream is created, dream is given life, dream dies, Son dies, Son lives, dream lives, dream dies, dream lives in the Son…dream returns home to the Father. The Father is glorified!
Thus the circular patterns of heaven and life! That will mess you up.