Someone is bringing Firewood…

When Christmas comes around, there is one thing that makes me feel rich and it isn’t having a lot of money to buy gifts. It’s firewood.

I don’t know where or when it began but, having firewood stacked is a comforting feeling for me. Perhaps it is some ancestral emotion I inherited from long ago, but there is something about a fire in the fireplace that tells me all is well and that we are safe. You know what I’m talking about…right? The crackling of the fire; the long light it casts at night when the lights are low, the glowing of the embers… they all provide a comfort that is very tangible. It makes me pull my sweetheart a little closer, smile a little larger and think a little deeper.

A fireplace makes me remember people and places too. The flames flickering bring back images of campouts long ago, visits to my favorite place in the world…Brown County State Park, and fire pits around which I, my wife and friends used to sit and laugh. I remember building fires for my children to sit around when they were younger. A good fire draws people around it for warmth and while we are gathered we interact with one another.

In fact, after one has taken the requisite number of pictures of it, a fire becomes almost a “No Device Zone”. People put away their phones to stare into the fire and make conversation…mostly about how they love a good fire, but sometimes they tell you something deep…they make a comment about a time long ago, or a loved one far away. And I began thinking about that tonight as I sat looking into the fire.

I remember snow falling for the first time in Tucson Arizona. Well, it was the first time for my children and little family. Living in the desert southwest, the last thing one has in the drawer are gloves. But I remember my oldest son Isaac at only 4 or five, putting a pair of my white gym socks on his hands and going out to try to scape up enough snow to make a snowball. I thought about times when, in Northern Kentucky, where you DO expect snow to fall when it came down so deep and thick, that we could sled down a big hill and onto the frozen lake. Coming in with pink cheeks and frozen fingers to stand around the fireplace and warm up.

I remember skating in Columbus Indiana at Lincoln park when the Ice-skating rink was still without a roof and outside and how packed it would be. There was a constant fire going inside in the fireplace and we would eat hand made pretzels and hot chocolate around it.

I think there is another reason I am comforted by firewood. A big stack of firewood tells me there is a provision that has been made for my comfort. When I look at a cord of firewood…(four feet high, four feet wide, eight feet long…thanks Bruce!), it tells me someone labored to cut, season, gather and stack it in preparation of the time when it would be needed.

There was no firewood in the little stable near Bethlehem though. I wasn’t there, but I’ll betcha there wasn’t. It was a place the animals were fed and kept in stalls and no kidding, there were all kinds of poo on the ground, because…well, there just was. There may have been a lantern lit by Joseph or the owner of the stable where he and Mary were allowed to spend the night. And it was cold. There was a star in the East, that shone brightly that night…but there was no music or bells, or a comfy bed. Mary did the best she could to make her newborn child comfortable; placing him inside of  a feed manger lined with straw and lots of swaddling cloth.

Joseph most likely stood at or near the entrance of the little stable, keeping watch out over the landscape to protect his little family. He didn’t know it was Christmas… no one did.  He just knew it was cold, and dark and smelly and he most likely felt like a poor provider for his wife. Maybe he looked out over the distance and could see into a home of the owner of that stable where a fire roared in the fireplace around which that family gathered. I’m sure he shook his head and wondered why this was the only place he could find and probably asked himself if the whole thing about this child had been real…an angel appearing, Mary miraculously pregnant.

In the distance, there were figures walking toward them. Joseph grabbed his staff and told Mary someone was coming. Taking his stand in front of the stable, the men drew closer and they were carrying a torch and had wagons behind them. As they approached, one of them, spoke up.

“We…excuse me sir, we were told that a child has been born.” Joseph would have just looked at them and asked them to repeat that and one of the others would have said, “Sir, we are shepherds and…” he would turn around to look at the other shepherds with him for moral support then continue. “and, we were out with our sheep when something happened…” Another shepherd would speak up…”An angel…it was in the sky and told us that a baby savior had been born and we were led to this place….I know it’s crazy but we swear to you sir, we are not drunk.”

Inside of Joseph something like a deep sigh stirred and almost instantly tears appeared in his eyes. It was true!!! This baby that wasn’t his WAS someone special! His breathing increased and is pulse began to race. He asked, “Say that again…tell me what you just said again!” grabbing the first shepherd by the shoulders.  And so, the third shepherd repeated the story, but this time he added, “An angel of the Lord appeared to us, and the glory of the Lord shone around us, and we were terrified. But the angel said to us, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Christ….whom you have been waiting for…THE LORD!

Inside of the stable, the baby whimpered and his mother pulled a cloak over the mound of swaddling cloths wrapped tightly around the baby. Joseph looked into the eyes of the four or five men before him. Around them were many of their sheep and of course the wagon. He turned to look inside the stable and his eyes met Mary’s. She was grinning…ear to ear and shook her head as if to say, “Please let them come in!”

One by one they would come in and kneel before the manger. They smelled bad… weeks out in the open with sheep. Some of them looked at the face of the baby…taking it in like the once in a lifetime opportunity it was. As they stood, they would perhaps bow or show honor to the mother and then exit. They set up a small camp right there…and for the first time in Jesus’ life… as Kings and others from the East arrived to bring him gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the shepherds…the lowest of the low on the social ladder at that time did the one thing they knew they could offer. Taking wood from off their wagon…they built a fire to bring comfort and protection from the darkness.

Remember that even on the coldest of nights, when all the promises you have received don’t seem true or when all of the prophecies made over your life don’t look like they are ever going to happen, you are on the verge of a miracle. Someone somewhere is on their way to confirm the very thing God has promised to you.

It may seem that you have been led into a smelly and cold situation, but God’s plans are designed to outwit the enemy and are not always understood by his children. He knows what you need, He has not forgotten you. You are not hidden from God…he sees you wherever you are and He is coming!!! He is coming by the most unexpected way possible and just as a bonus, He is bringing firewood for you and for me!

Somewhere in a truck, God showed up…

As an encourager, it is particularly hard when I get depressed. In fact, I have discovered the primary form of spiritual warfare against me is for the enemy of my soul to remind me of past failures, and whisper how stupid and worthless I am. God knows I have made some real mistakes in my life, and it appears that a real stronghold over me in particular, is to foolishly leave memories of those failures lying around on the floor for the enemy to pick up and use against me whenever he wants.

 Yesterday was one of those days. The air was so thick yesterday I could barely breathe…it was halfway through the morning before I finally realized that I had slipped into depression. I pulled into the parking lot of a Barnes and Noble under a big shade tree and just sat there…being reminded by memories and the Father of Lies what a loser I was. Ever have a day like that? A day when the clouds put their heads on the ground and the grayness seeps into your soul and makes you want to go home and pull the sheets up over your head and hide in bed? That was yesterday.

As I sat in my truck, of course, being a ENFP (extrovert, intuitive, feeling perceiver) from the Myers-Briggs studies, I just began to weep. Most men don’t act like me…they just buck up and tighten that bolt or bail that hay, but not me boy…I cry like a baby. Sitting under that shade tree, I was reminded of Jonah, the prophet who became depressed after being belched out of the mouth of the great fish and sitting in the shade of the big plant that grew up next to him. I spoke to friend on the phone and felt badly that I had just thrown up all over him. He was gracious to me and we said goodbye.

I asked the Lord, “What is going on?” in a really pathetic voice. I think the Lord kind of sat there in the passenger seat of my truck and was listening compassionately, but I sensed He had that, “You’ve been here before Doug” look on His face. He asked me “So what did you do the last time you got down like this?” I didn’t want to answer Him, cause I hated the answer. Really, I hated the answer! I looked up, and said, “I sang to you”.

My relationship with God is not a normal one I think. I sense the Lord as both a Father and a friend, and this smirk kind of comes on His face and He says…”okay…so whatcha gonna do this time?’ I hated the answer…just hated it, cause I wanted… actually WANTED a pity party, and He simply wasn’t gonna throw me one. And so…

I started singing. In times like these I want to change the words of the praise song. Instead of “In my life Lord, be glorified, be glorified” I wanted to sing, “End my life Lord, here in my truck….here in my truck”. But I didn’t… I just sang simple little ditties, and old ones…”We bring the sacrifice of praise, into the house of the Lord…” “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” Man, let me tell you, I felt like each word weighed a thousand pounds trying to get them out of my mouth. That’s the point of depression see…to keep you in bondage to depression by focusing on yourself instead of Jesus.

About three songs in, something happened. As my pitiful praise was rising to the Throne of God, I began to raise my hands and sang louder. A tangible presence, like something coiled around my neck loosened. The blood began to flow again throughout my body…I had done spiritual warfare and the serpent couldn’t choke me…he tried but he couldn’t do it. And then…I began to laugh. I began to laugh like a fool. Listen, don’t judge me friends…depression is a spiritual attack and I felt those coils release my throat. It was so refreshing to see the world with hopeful eyes again.

I walked into the Barnes and Noble and got some coffee, because being set free from demonic oppression and getting a good caffeine buzz go hand in hand.

As I sipped my bold coffee with a shot of espresso and enough sugar to kill a small pony, I walked through the children’s book section looking at where my children’s book would soon be on the shelf and I was singing very very softly, the same praise songs I had been singing in my truck. From behind a book shelf, a young lady’s head popped up. She had been sitting on the floor in between some shelves of books and I hadn’t noticed her.

I continued to sing softly, still looking at books and she looked up again at me and again sat down. I thought she had been reading a book to a child or something, but I was wrong.

When I came around to look at the books on her side of the bookshelves, she was sitting down with her head on her knees, and with tissues in her hand. She looked at me with tear stained eyes and just put her head back down on her knees. Of course,…being me…I spoke. “Are you okay sweetie”” (Okay, any girl my daughters age or younger, I’m calling sweetie because I was old enough to be her dad.)

She raised her eyes to me and said, “I’m sorry, I just feel so empty.”  I sat down next to her, mirroring her posture. “Why do you feel that way sweetheart?” I asked. Her eyes were welling up with tears which meant I was gonna be a goner soon because I just fall to pieces when other people are crying. “I’ve had another miscarriage…and…” her words trailed off. She had come to the children’s book section to feel close to the child she had lost. She said she had wanted to be a mother ever since she was a little girl. She had so looked forward to holding her own child, reading to her or him…hearing her child laugh at funny stories.

Without fail, I teared up too. Without a moments hesitation I put my arm around her shoulders like I would my own child and hugged her. I let her cry. She leaned on my left shoulder and shook with sobs. I did too. And it was so much a God moment that He made sure we were undisturbed. I began to sing very low, the songs I had been singing in my truck…songs of hope and praise. She calmed, her breathing slowed and she sang too. It was a holy moment…and I had almost missed it. She looked at me and said, “My parents sang that song a long time ago!” I said, “Well, me too honey, me too. It’s called the “Sacrifice of Praise”. “We sing it when we don’t want to, and God shows up.” She nodded.

I stood up and so did she. She said, “My mother had miscarriages too”. I looked at her and said, “But look…here you stand a product of her prayer.” She smiled a big smile and laughed and she made me laugh too. She hugged me and said, ‘I sure didn’t expect this today…” I asked where her husband was and she told me he was at work. I asked if her mother was nearby and she nodded yes. I told her to go and to pray with her momma. To which she said “I have already, but I think I need her today.”

As I picked up my coffee and walked toward the door to leave, I happened to glance back at the counter where she was standing in line for coffee. She glanced toward the door at me, placed her hand over her heart and nodded thank you. I did the same…thanking her.

I got into my truck, and the thought came to me how the enemy of our souls wants us to focus on ourselves so that we will miss opportunities like this. I miss being a pastor. I miss loving on people and crying with them, rejoicing with them and all that comes with it. Over the years I have gotten a little more worldly than I should have and God is correcting that without stripping me of my desire for fun…God loves fun! If you are going through a depression, let me give you the one thing I have learned. Make a sacrifice of praise to the Lord and at the very moment you want to be left alone, go find someone…anyone… and be an encouragement to them. You don’t have to be smart, know a lot of scripture or anything else that’s special. Out of our need for encouragement comes the encourager. Out of sadness comes the rejoicer, out of brokenness appears the repairer of our breach. Joy is never to be subject to despair, nor can it be. It is the sun that overpowers the darkness and that vaporizes the fog.  He meets us in a truck, and gives us His joy to spread to the world. Joy to the world…

The Hearts of the Fathers…

My children all live in different states. My eldest who today is 38, lives in Fairfax Virginia, my daughter, in the Queen City, Cincinnati, and my youngest son, on the west coast in Oregon. Suffice it to say that, I miss my children on holidays and well, every day along with my grandchildren.

For those of you who are separated by distance from your loved ones, the ties that bind grow stronger over the holidays. Living in the Volunteer State, I admit to not seeing my children often and due to work, both mine and theirs, visits have to be planned in advance. Those of you in the same situation as I, will understand when I say that seeing other families together fans the flames of familial love and makes the absence of my family even harder to bear at times.

Such was yesterday. I had gone to our neighborhood grocery to pick up some things and had just retrieved a cart (a buggy for those from the South…”No Ninos en la canasta!” for my Hispanic friends) and was walking into the produce aisle when I saw her.

The little girl with her mother was almost an exact copy of my granddaughter Genevieve. She had a tiny shopping cart that the grocery provides for children to walk alongside their parents to “play” shop. Being the softie that I am, I stood back and watched as she would place an apple in her cart when her mother would stop to look at apples, and would clap when the auto sprinklers came on in the produce department to water the veggies. My heart grew heavy with missing my little grand daughter and as they passed near by me, I looked at the little girl and into her cart.

“My goodness, you are being such a big helper to your mommy” I said looking her mother in the eye to make sure she knew I was a grandfather trying to be kind. She smiled broadly. “Oh yes” she said,  “She is my big helper!” I got down on her level and asked her, “do you think you have enough room in your cart for cookies…I’m sure your mommy needs your help with that…” I looked winking at her mommy who nodded. I produced two dollars and handed them to the little girl, who looked at her mother who said, “it’s okay sweetie, you can take it.”

These days with television news reporting atrocities of people kidnapping children and the reality that we live in a perverted and dangerous world, it was a refreshing thing that this mother understood I was simply trying to be kind. As I looked behind the mother, there; standing by her side was an older woman, who I presumed to be either her mother or mother-in-law. The older woman made eye contact with me, looking me over carefully. When my eyes met hers, a smile broke out on her face. She noticed my “Northern” accent, (which is no accent at all) and said, “You must be missing your grandchildren.”

Admittedly, I confessed to her, “it’s been too long…I have 5 that live on the coasts but I have 3 locally that get hugged a lot!” She asked about my grandchildren and I told her the names and ages of each one…a ritual that grandparents understand. Our encounter lasted no more than two minutes at the most, and probably less, then we all moved on to do our shopping. I waved goodbye to the little girl and walked on.

I gathered all the things I had been sent to purchase and got in line at the checkout. It was crowded for a Saturday evening, but I needed to get home for the big Titans game.

After paying and beginning to walk away, I heard the staccato sounds of little feet running toward me and the mother saying, “Sir?” I turned around to seeing the little girl running toward me…grandmother in tow. I knelt down and she gave me a hug and held out for me a chocolate chip cookie. I got a little misty I have to admit and that’s when the daughter spoke up.

“Sir, I wanted to thank you for your kindness…I am often so cautious about strangers” she paused looking at me to make sure I wasn’t offended. I nodded in agreement and said, “We live in a different world than when I grew up.” I said. Her mother, close to my age nodded. The daughter said, “I am always watching when my children are in public for fear of the stories that I have heard on the news…but…” she paused looking down at her daughter. “I wanted to thank you for renewing my trust in strangers…my little one here told me when you walked away, ‘He is somebody’s grandpa and his grandchildren are looking for him… do you think he is lost?”

The young mother smiled at me and said, “Gretchen, my daughter; just wanted you to know she doesn’t want you to be sad.” Well, of course I became a tearful mess. The mother said, “Wherever your children and grandchildren are…they should know you are a good grandpa…and have restored the faith of this cautious millennial in others.” At that the young mother, the older mother and little Gretchen gave me a hug. I melted. I thanked them for the kindness of saying something and heard little Gretchen say, as I walked out the door say to her mommy, “Maybe we should go looking for his grandchildren!”

I got into my car and just sat for a minute. I thought about my son turning 38 years old today…I thought about my daughter in Cincinnati and my son and his family on the West Coast… and said out loud, “How I miss you!” I started the car and said a prayer, “Lord, watch over my family tonight…”. I heard the Lord say, as I drove out of the parking lot and toward home, “Little Gretchen was your reminder that I always have you on my mind…and that I am watching over them.”

To grandparents everywhere…hold them all tightly…and kiss those precious little heads every chance you get. And, for young families everywhere, be mindful that kindnesses from older people toward their children may simply be the heart of the Father, reaching out to the children they miss. Thanks for the cookie…and especially the hug little Gretchen, and hugs to my five grandchildren who are not near me tonight…

Hidden Treasures…

I drove this morning to an apartment complex where I was going to be de-odorizing a vacant apartment before some new tenants rented it. When I drove up, I did all of the usual things I do. Made an inventory of all of my equipment, checked my extension cords to be sure there were no frays or lose wires. I made sure I had my gas mask, because the fumes; even though all natural, can damage your lungs. I also checked and calibrated my air/gas detector to make sure it was charged up.

The air/gas detector is a pretty important piece of equipment. In the business I’m in, the air is measured by “parts per million”. My equipment releases negatively charged ions into the air, unites with the hydrogen peroxide and creates a powerful agent that literally “scrubs” every surface. It is so strong it can pass through drywall, through carpet and into attic spaces. For this reason I wear a full NIOSH face mask with a breather unit on it to protect my eyes, face and lungs. I sound like Darth Vader when I wear it. “Luke…I’m your FATHER”… (Yes, I say it every time I put it on…)

I entered the apartment and began setting up the equipment, trying to be efficient with my time and making sure that AC filters were removed and installing vaporizers to spray hydrogen peroxide into the air to be circulated throughout the two bedroom apartment. When I opened the door where the furnace unit and water heater were located, I saw the cold air return directly beneath the door and headed back out to my truck to get my nut drivers and remove the cover and take out the air filter. Can’t leave an old air filter in a unit, or it just defeats the purpose of de-odorizing.

As I walked out to get my tool box, I had a kind of sad feeling and I couldn’t begin to tell  you why at the time. But the closer I got to my truck, the sadder I became. This had been a good morning so far. It was Friday for crying out loud…who wouldn’t be happy today…right? I stopped and shot off one of my bullet prayers. “Lord, whatever this is, if I’m worrying about my son Josiah, or whatever…please just give me a peace and let joy return.” That was it, no angels appeared singing…just, my tool box and a sip of my water.

As I entered the apartment again, the heaviness came over me so much that I sat down on the floor in the living room and leaned against the wall. “Lord, I feel so sad…so heavy, what is this?” I asked. No answer…no inkling of what was happening. I sighed heavily and started playing worship music on my phone… (right after Rocky Mountain High by John Denver…had to finish that song!) I stood and walked over to the cold air intake and began removing the cover to remove the filter. As the last nut came off I lifted off the cover and it revealed an absolutely filthy filter, filled with dust and wrappers and hair and …yuck! I put work gloves on before I touched that nasty thing, but I noticed a folded half sheet of paper  pressed against the dirty filter and I pulled it off and crumpled it in my hand as I removed the filter and took it outside. The heavy feeling had lifted all was well again.

I put it all down and finished my set up, being sure to set the temperature for 78 degrees and unplugging the smoke detector. All the machines were humming and I put on my mask, checked the air quality in the room started the vaporizers and pulled the apartment door closed and locked it. I would have to return tonight around 10pm to reset my machines since they only have a ten hour timer.

I had locked the door and forgotten to return the key to the maintenance office. I got a call on my cell from the manager explaining that the property had an electronic key monitor and it had gone off telling him a key had left the premises. I apologized and ran it back over from another client’s car lot where I was working.

When I returned the key, I had hastily picked up the sheet of paper I had removed from the filter along with the keys and happened to glance at it quickly before I threw it away.

There handwritten was a short note,


“Sorry I couldn’t run with you today, but my headaches were pretty bad. They seem to be taking me away from my favorite times with you AND your mother. I’ll get back out there in a few days. Love bein’ your runnin’ buddy!”


I told the guy, I had found an old, expired debit card a back scrub brush and this note. The maintenance manager took the card and threw it and the brush away and was about to toss the note when he read it. He said, “Hey, these people moved to 03-1331…would you just see if they want these? You pass right by it as you leave the property?” I’m sorry but I thought he was being lazy. I said yes but wasn’t really enthusiastic about it. He handed me back the expired card, the brush and the note and I searched for the apartment and saw a lady just enter it and shut the door as I was driving up.

I walked up to the door and here came that feeling again. I knocked and a woman in her late thirties or very early forties answered. I smiled. I told her my name and what I did for the apartment complex and that I had evidently been preparing her old apartment for rental again when I ran across these three items.

“The maintenance manager thought you might like to have these”. She looked at the card and chuckled and said, “thank goodness that’s expired!” and then bent it up and threw it away and told me to toss the brush in the dumpster. I said, “I thought that’s what you’d say, just didn’t want to do it without asking, some people lose valuable things sometimes and want them back!” I thanked her and turned to go as she looked quickly at the note. I was at the end of the sidewalk when I heard her say, “Sir? Could you come back for a moment?” I walked back, thinking maybe I’d dropped something. She looked at me and asked, “Where did you find this?”

I explained the cold air return and how it looked like it had been sucked into it and had been there a while. She was quiet and placed her hand over her mouth while reading the note over and over to herself. I could tell it was an emotional thing for her…that note. I didn’t want to break the silence and so I just stood there. In my head I heard the Lord say, “Just wait.”  So I did.

She looked up at me after she had composed herself and said, “My husband, passed away three years ago. He and my son did EVERYTHING together, they played tennis, and swam and ran together. My husband died of a brain hemorrhage in his sleep the very next day 5/13/15.” She was strong because she did not tear up. She was very deliberate with her words and spoke slowly. “My son graduated and is at Auburn now as a freshman this year…he is a walk on member of the track team.”

She smiled ear to ear. I smiled too and told her how proud her husband would have been. “Oh Yes! She beamed, “Jim was at every single game or meet for our son Drew, they were sports nuts…both of them!” Her eyes narrowed when she spoke next. ” I’m going to frame this and give it to my son…it’s kind of like his dad sent a letter from heaven!” I said, “Only he doesn’t have a headache now!” She laughed and said, ‘You’re right…he doesn’t!” She shook my hand and said, “You’ve given the world to me today…thank you!” I told her about the feeling right before I found it. She shook her head and became serious after I said this.

She bowed her head, took my hands in hers and said, “Thank you father, for giving this man hearing ears…and thank you for your Son Jesus!” Well, I am NOT a strong woman…so of course tears flowed down my face…I’m such a baby!

I walked away, after I had thanked her for her wonderful prayer. She asked if I was a Christian and I told her yes. She kind of shouted as I walked away, “There are lots of us Doug, and there are more coming! God is going to fill this earth with us Doug!” I turned to her and shouted, “Like the waters cover the Seas!” She shouted “Hallelujah!” lifting her hands to the sky. All I could say was, “Hallelujah!” … and walking away, of course, I cried again…baby!

Last Words…

I have been reading about the last words of famous people. You know, the older I get the more I actually look forward to going home. I’m not trying to leave early though. I figure when it’s time, it’s time. There are many who have done things of note in their lifetimes and, their last words are both interesting and important.

I have read about famous last words of Presidents and Mafia bosses, (which, don’t confuse the two although there are some very close comparisons), and people of faith and those who were athiests. All of their last words are important. What we choose to say at the moment of our death may not be a summation of our lives, because some of us have surprise endings…i.e. accidents. But for those who were dying and knew it, some of them said some very profound things.

According to Steve Jobs’ sister Mona, the Apple founder’s last words were, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

Emily Dickinson, America’s most celebrated poet’s last words were, “I must go in, for the fog is rising.”

When I read those things I often try to imagine what they saw. There is no doubt that the veil between life and death is exceedingly thin…less than a breath in my estimation. I wonder in my heart if Steve saw something so incredibly beyond anything he could imagine that the computer genius was reduced to his child like wonder statement…”Wow.”

There are humorous ones. Charles Gussman was a writer and TV announcer, who wrote the pilot episode of Days of Our Lives, among other shows. As he became ill, he said he wanted his last words to be memorable. When his daughter reminded him of this, he gently removed his oxygen mask and whispered: “And now for a final word from our sponsor—.”

When Groucho Marx was dying, he let out one last quip: “This is no way to live!”

Donald O’Connor was a singer, dancer, and actor. He also hosted the Academy Awards in 1954. O’Connor died at age 78 with his family gathered around him. He joked, “I’d like to thank the Academy for my lifetime achievement award that I will eventually get.” He still hasn’t gotten one.

I found that some of them were particularly poignant. Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Lotz says that his last words were for her 11-year-old granddaughter. Lotz’s family surrounded Graham during her final visit with him, and she said her 11-year-old granddaughter told him she loved him as the family was leaving. Graham answered back, “I love you.” Those were his last words.

Football coach Vince Lombardi died of cancer in 1970. As he died, Lombardi turned to his wife Marie and said, “Happy anniversary. I love you.”

O.O. McIntyre was an American reporter. He died at age 53, and spoke his last words to his wife Maybelle: “Snooks, will you please turn this way. I like to look at your face.”

When he was 57, Edward R. Murrow died while patting his wife’s hand. He said, “Well, Jan, we were lucky at that.”

John Wayne died at age 72 in L.A. He turned to his wife and said, “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”Humphrey Bogart’s wife Lauren Bacall had to leave the house to pick up their kids. Bogart said, “Goodbye, kid. Hurry back.” Not quite, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” but close.

While I am both healthy and happy at this moment, I can think of nothing quite so peaceful and wonderful to gaze upon; before I leave this earth, as the face of my wonderful wife Mary Ann. I hope it will be so, but God knows.

Now don’t start thinking I’ve been diagnosed with some kind of fatal disease. I have not. But what people say at the last few minutes of life can be a window into what is most important to them. Like John Adams, who lay dying on the 4th of July 1826:

“Thomas Jefferson–still survives”… John Adams, US President, d. July 4, 1826(Actually, Jefferson had died earlier that same day.)

“See in what peace a Christian can die”. Joseph Addison, writer, d. June 17, 1719

“Now comes the mystery’. Henry Ward Beecher, evangelist, d. March 8, 1887

“It is very beautiful over there.” Thomas Alva Edison, inventor, d. October 18, 1931

I have lived my life in such a way, that as far back as I can remember, I’ve always looked forward to seeing the green valley that I believe God has promised me. As a child, I asked my mother what I would see when I died. It was a curious question for such a young child.

She sat at the edge of her 4-year-old child’s bed and stared at me. I remember she looked out the window in my bedroom and; at that moment, she heard the train passing through town over 4 miles away.

She looked back at me with soft tears in her eyes and smiled gently. “Doug, when you are ready to go to heaven, you will hear the gentle call of the heavenly train whistle and there will be a seat, with a quilt on it to keep you warm. I will be waiting on board saving your seat next to me.” I smiled and would ask her to repeat that story from time to time as I grew up.

As my mother grew older, after my father had passed away, we would talk often of heaven and I could tell my mother was so looking forward to “boarding the train for home”. In her last year of life, as she slowly approached the end, she would sleep often, and at least one night, as I sat by her bed in her little apartment, she would say, “Doug, I think the train is getting closer…” this time it was my turn to weep quietly. I held her hand until she drifted off to sleep.

In her final days, I was busy at the winery, but I went to sit in her room at the Hospice. She had been asleep for 4 days straight, and they didn’t expect her to wake up. It was on this day, that I sat by her bed holding her hand and singing “I come to the Garden alone”…her favorite hymn.

As time passed, I stood and had to leave her. “Mom” I said quietly, “I have to go to work, but I’ll be back tomorrow…I love you.” This was when; for the first time in 4 days she awoke fully and spoke to me with a full voice.“Doug, your Dad said, “Come Home”!” Standing in that room I was sure, just absolutely sure, I heard a train whistle from downtown. I choked on my response.

“Mom, you do what Dad wants you to do.” Her eyes smiled at me and she went back to sleep. The next morning, February 14, 2014 just 9 days shy of her 90th birthday, my mother boarded the train alongside my dad…her had called her home on Valentines Day and had come to the station to meet her with a quilt on her seat to keep his sweetheart warm.

What I want is for you, my friend, to know in your heart of hearts that you have your ticket securely in your hand. I want you there…with me, in my green valley. It’s lovely there…the flowers make music and there are levels…oh so many levels in that place where you can visit.

I will be there waiting for you on the train to accompany you if you’d like. I’ll have a quilt sitting in your seat to put around your legs for the journey. We’ll sit and laugh and talk and watch the lovely scenery pass us by until we arrive at the station where everyone we know will be waiting for us.
There will be my wine…the perfected wine I finally have made from perfectly sugared grapes and my dogs will all be there to greet you…yours too! And there will be no strangers there…only friends, dear friends and family.

And whatever you held dear, and whatever memory that comforted you will be real and waiting for you.

I don’t know what my last words on this earth will be, but one thing is for sure…it will be a blessing, a prayer or thanksgiving for having had the privilege of being born on God’s earth. If I survive my wife, we will hold hands and I will sing to her, kiss her forehead and listen for her last words. If not, she will be there holding my hand and I will be looking into her eyes and the eyes of my children and grandchildren.

But until then, there is work to be done, and a kingdom to proclaim…and the train is quickly approaching the station.

Quite literally, a Christmas Carol…

When I was a kid, my parents owned this album of Christmas music that I could swear they got at a gas station. In fact, Terry Hehe’s Marathon Station on State Road 46 West in Columbus, Indiana (right where the Starbucks now sits) I believe is the exact location where he purchased gas and just for filling up…they threw in a Christmas album right along with the S & H Green Stamps they gave to their customers.

My dad was the freebie king and us kids who were in the back seat of the family Vista Cruiser would cringe when he would get in the car and say with pride, “Hey look what I got for free!” To my dad, it was great that someone had given him something free…but to we growing children in the car, we were mortified that someone would recognize us in the car and see our father brandishing this obviously cheap and “not cool” album around for everyone to see. We were such proud little punks…someone should have slapped our little butts and told us to “get over yourselves!”

When we got home, my dad didn’t toss it over to the pile of Catalogs and Western Auto circulars we got in the mail every Christmas. He walked into the house, unwrapped the cellophane from the album and carefully placed it on the record player in my brother’s room. Dad never took a kindness for granted and especially if it was a gift. Even though Terry Hehe may have given out 500 of those albums, Dad treated it like he was the only one who had been given this gift. He walked around the house saying, “Isn’t that just beautiful?” We would all roll our eyes, but especially my sister Terry and she would say, “yeah, sure dad…beautiful!”

When you looked at the album, you would know right away that it was some cheap record… probably recorded in some smoke filled back room by some huckster chewing a stogie and thinking about all the money he would make with this black market record stamped on the cover with Red and Gold. Even the name, “Goodyear Presents: “The Great Songs of Christmas” smacked the word, “cheap”. On the bottom of the front of the album was printed, “Columbia Special Products”. “Yeah,” I thought, “ It’s so special they give it away at gas stations!”

On the cover were 10 photographs and above the photos was the statement, “By Great Artists of our Time”. I wondered if any of these “Great Artists” even knew the little guy with the stogie in the smoke filled room had made an album with their music on it and if they were getting a piece of the action.

Nevertheless, night after night for 25 nights, my dad played that album much to our chagrin. And after Christmas was over, the album would go into a storage area for all the holiday stuff and was forgotten for another 11 months. Year after year, dad would drag that album out and play it non-stop ad nauseum until fruit cake came out our noses.

I grew up, and yes, I DID finally mature. I traveled, went out of the country for a while and was married. Every year when Christmas would roll around, like all families, we would go get a tree, put up lights, (sometimes…when I was threatened I would put up lights), and go shopping. Christmas music would fill the shopping centers and malls we went into. There would be family gatherings and gift exchanges, but even with all of the same traditions…something was missing.

Don’t hate me, but I can’t stand current popular singers making Christmas albums. I mean everyone is doing it! “Korn plays “Little Town of Bethlehem!” “Marilyn Manson: “Oh Holy Night!” Maybe they aren’t THAT obvious, but the market is flooded with celebrity Christmas albums and it is probably why they have to start at Halloween playing these things so everyone gets their ASCAP bucks.

You would think I would be happy since in my little snot-nosed proud punk days I sniffed at the cheap “giveaway” album my dad had played. I should be saying to myself, “Now THIS is Christmas music…Garth Brooks and the Bucktoothed Pumpernickle band play “Little Drummer Boy!” (don’t hate me Garth lovers…I love him too!) However, these modern celebrity albums don’t float my boat. Because, after all my ranting, all my stupid, prideful and judgmental pronouncements over that dumb FREE album…. Christmas just wasn’t the same without it.

I began looking for that album quite a few years ago and it was impossible to locate. It was from a different time and unfortunately since it was a vinyl album, no cassette, no 8 track, and no Compact Disc existed. The music I had poo-pooed all those years had infected my soul…and it’s absence made my heart not so merry and bright. It’s true, I had Bing Crosby and his White Christmas album…but without that album…at least for me, it was like eating a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips….something is missing.

And then…it was a day like any other day when YouTube appeared, and I miraculously found “Goodyear Presents- The Great Songs of Christmas- Columbia Special Products” and heard the music once again. I had to be satisfied with playing over Bluetooth on my computer and it filled the chasm my Christmas has contained all these years.

I discovered that the no-name singers were not exactly no-name singers…and the music was not recorded in a smoke-filled back room…at least I don’t think so, but a good cigar wouldn’t ruin anything anyway. There will be those of you who wonder why I can’t stand modern singers crooning Christmas music but covet this one so much even though they were the modern singers of their day, like Dinah Shore, Steve Laurence and Eydie Gorme and Danny Kaye.

I think it is because this album was made to promote Christmas, not a celebrity. I’m sure the celebrities made some money. Yes, it commercialized; plastering Goodyear’s name all over the place, but I suppose it was a time when the world still honored Jesus, even if; for many, it was just lip service. Today, a lot of the Christmas music seems to be only to promote a singer they make the album to praise THEIR names…not Jesus.. Back in the day, even celebrities bowed their knees even if it was only socially to the Lord. Today, they use him to line their pockets with cash. Jesus is good for a quick climb up the charts.

I don’t begrudge anyone with a singing gift making an album…I just hope in the making it has the essence of gold, frankincense and myrrh and celebrates the newborn king.

This year, Mary Ann and I are going vinyl again. We purchased a vintage 1960’s Hi-Fi in the original cabinet and are re-purchasing a lot of the vinyl albums we tossed back when cassettes became cool and then 8 tracks and compact Discs took over the music store. There is a mellowness and a sound quality that can’t be described with a vinyl album. Listening to the Beatles “Rubber Soul” album on vinyl is a richer experience than a perfectly electronic version. There will be one more album in our “new again” stereo cabinet this year; purchased for $5.95 on eBay. “Goodyear Presents; The Great Songs of Christmas- 1965/ Columbia Special Products.” Thanks, Dad…for never taking a free gift for granted and…for the much-needed slap on the butt as I realize that free gifts ARE the best gifts of all.

You don't use a hammer to make a souffle…

God uses people in different ways. If I could draw an analogy, I would liken us all to tools. Some of us are hammers, some of us are rachets and wrenches. Some of us are pry bars and others are drills or screwdrivers. Some of us are kitchen implements like skillets and cups and knives. All these things are tools or implements to be useful in a particular situation.

I can’t and wouldn’t use a hammer to make a souffle, I would use a wire whisk and a bowl though. I would have no use for a spatula when my tire was flat and needed to be changed, but I could definitely use a tire iron that fits the lugs on my wheel so I could loosen and tighten lug nuts. Every tool has a place and a use.

I love television shows where they are renovating an old house or better yet, taking a car that has been in the woods for 20 years and restoring it back to use. It is such an appropriate analogy for God wanting to rehab lives that have been broken down and in need of repair to make them useful. I watch as the person restoring the car takes a tool called a “clutch puller” to pull the clutch out of a car. This is a specialized tool. You don’t need a clutch puller everyday…in fact, I’ve never needed one. But the fact remains that when you find a clutch that needs pulling, don’t look to a skillet to do the job…you need a clutch puller!

Okay, so…here it is. As tools in God’s tool belt, we will be called upon at times to do something that we have been particularly designed to do. None of us can do EVERY job that comes along. When the Lord needs a drill, to drill into someone’s life to get to some deep issues, he isn’t going to use a hair dryer. A hair dryer is useful but not to drill with! Yet, I think sometimes we feel a bit helpless and maybe even despise our own gift when we see people who need help and our particular gift doesn’t fit the need. This is why the church is important.

Each of us have gifts and abilities different from one another in a church. There are some people who have a gift of helps that they use to help other people with. I had a friend named Dwayne Isenberg who one time drove to Indianapolis when my little Honda Civic threw a piston rod. He hooked up my car, towed it to his house and by golly, he put a new engine in that thing! Not everyone would do that! But someone with a gift of helps would! I didn’t need a fiery preacher that day teaching on repentance…I needed someone who knew how to help fix my car. Thanks Dwayne…your act of kindness it permanently etched on my heart. It would have done me no good to have someone who is an evangelist standing there on the side of the road with me…evangelists are effective in winning souls to Jesus, but that evangelist would have done me no good at all at that moment.

There are some people who have very specialized gifts…like a clutch puller. These people have a gift of “giving”. They have been blessed with money and they give to people…they may finance a new car for someone or donate large sums to a missionary. That gift of giving comes most often with the blessing of anonymity. Other specialized gifts are intercession, mercy and prophecy. What is interesting about these gifts or “tools” to continue my analogy, is that they are useful more than most of us know, but they too are clothed; most of the time in anonymity. Everyone needs mercy, all have a need for intercession. It shouldn’t just be used in the church.

Here, finally is my point. Maybe you don’t feel you are very useful to the Lord. Maybe you don’t feel that you get used much at all! So; here’s a thought…instead of waiting for a clutch to be pulled, go to a transmission shop!  If you are a wrench, go hang out in a car garage! If you are a hammer, go hang out on construction sites. I mean if you know that you have this precious gift of mercy, then it is quite honestly a very good thing to volunteer at the hospice down the street or counsel people who need a listening ear!

If you have a lot of discernment, which basically is the ability to judge well and see beyond the surface of things, you may want to become a judge or an attorney or again, a counselor! People with discernment are like hammers…they nail the key issue, or see the true problem and call it out for what it is.

My wife tells me a humorous story of how one of her relatives used a hammer to try and fix everything! I laugh about this because of the old saying, “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail!” Swiss watches don’t respond well to hammers, meaning, don’t try to use your gifting in places where it is not needed or where delicate care is the order of the day.

The one thing you shouldn’t do when you don’t feel your gift is being used to it’s fullest is to jump out of the tool box! “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” Eccl 3:1-8. God will use you as you make yourself available to him…and let’s face it, if you are only available for one hour on Sunday morning, then chances are you won’t be used very much!

God has designed you with purpose and gifts in your life to be useful not just to the church…but to the society! And the great thing about it is, that if  you have been slow to use your gifting it isn’t too late! “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable!” Romans 11:29. Another version says, “the gifts and calling of God can never be withdrawn!” Start now and make a difference.

Today, don’t run away like Jonah did when God called him to go to Ninevah. God needs you to function the way that only YOU can function. He needs his hammers and drills; he needs his clutch pullers and His diamond cutters too. The church is in the earth to show the glory of God to the nations.

Searching for family outside the garden…

I love the idea of a kindred spirit. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book, Anne of Green Gables was the first time I had ever read this phrase and it immediately struck a chord inside of me. I am convinced that what each of us feel inside is unique only to ourselves, is actually shared by hundreds, thousands and millions of others across the world. I know this because of one distinct truth.

Whether or not you believe it; we share a common ancestry through our first parents Adam and Eve, and we are family. This human condition we hold in common, binds us together as the largest communal family in the universe. It is because of this familial connection that; when one of us is down or worried or filled with hope, others of us can sense it. It isn’t just a human condition, it is the spiritual tie that binds us together.

This is why yesterday, while taking quite a bit of time to answer the questions of a young couple about how to tile their entire house, I got a strong handshake from the young man and a short hug and kiss on the cheek from the young wife. In that moment they were not my customers…I was helping two of my kids to tile their house by giving them the benefit of my experience and knowledge. I was their old dad, helping them out.

In fact throughout the days that I am working, I find myself listening more closely, and caring more about their projects than I used to do as a young man. Later in the afternoon, a man approaches me about how to install blinds, a lady and her elderly husband ask about the best flooring for a kitchen and it’s when I begin to ask questions that they hadn’t thought about and come up with solutions that will fit into their budget, people seem to come alive.

I know it’s an old and tired saying, but people don’t care how much you know…..until they know how much you care. When they see in your eyes that you are taking time with them and that you don’t think that people are an interruption in your day, it is then; that people will listen to whatever you say and take it to heart.

Yesterday there was a couple, not much older than 22 or 23 years old walking and trying to find the aisle for air filters. I saw the lost looks on their faces and since they were walking in my direction, I simply asked, “Okay you guys”, (that is a Northern idiom, meaning…Okay you guys), “what are  you looking for?” the guy looked at me and kind of sheepishly asked, “Where are the things that you put in front of your furnace that catches all the dust and lint and stuff?” I smiled and genuinely tried not to laugh, but I was unsuccessful. “You mean air filters for your furnace?” A big smile popped onto his face…”Yes, I guess that IS what they are…air filters!” Instead of pointing to the aisle, I began to walk them down to the right area. “What size are you looking for?” I asked. “The young woman looked at me and asked, “Size…you mean there are different sizes?”

We arrived at the correct aisle and when they saw the hundreds of filters she laughed out loud and said, “Well, okay, yes there are different sizes!” We all three laughed and I asked if there was anyone at their home to go and snap a picture of the filter in their furnace and she frowned…as did he. “No, but we don’t live far away…can we go back really quick to see and come back?” I told them of course, but then the young man said, “but…well, when we come back, a …” his young wife finished his sentence, “Will you be able to help us again?” I can’t tell you why…but the feeling of being needed flooded my soul with thankfulness and I nodded yes with a big lump in my throat. They left quickly and I headed back over to the flooring department where a woman stood in the tile aisle looking at a big stack of tile.

I never just say “May I help you..” which I abandoned years ago because, if I work somewhere, I had better be able to help them! So I said, “Hi…what is your project?” the lady looked at me with big eyes that said, “Oh thank God…someone is here!” She grabbed my arm and said, “Please, tell me what to do!…I am doing something called, “flipping a house” and I was told by my husband to go and find some tile!” I’m not a judge…okay? I don’t want to make sweeping judgments against people because I don’t like being judged myself, so I refrain from asking myself judgmental questions like…(tongue in cheek…) “where is her husband if he is flipping this house and why did he send her here without explaining what to look for and “… I stopped myself and just laughed and said, “This is gonna be so easy your husband is going to feel ashamed he doesn’t know as much about tile as you do when we are finished!”

For the next 15 minutes, I asked what size were the rooms, and to my surprise she had a copy of the blueprints of the house on her phone. We began to design every room in that house, right down to the color of thinset and g rout. We built her shower and she was furiously taking notes and asking the difference between modified thinset and regular and large format tile thinset. She asked how to grout and I showed her how to hold the float. Just as that moment up walked the young couple who had gone in search of their air filter size.

“Hi Mr. Doug…we’re back!” (I get called Mr. Doug because my name appears in big bold letters on the front of my apron.) I was almost finished with the lady “flipping” her house, but she immediately grabbed my right arm and said, “HE’S MINE!” The young man and woman grabbed my left arm and said, “NO HE ISN’T, HE’S OURS…WE FOUND HIM FIRST!” At this point I understood what a wishbone must feel like when two people are tugging at it from both sides…I was gonna get broken! I laughed but neither of them did. So I said, “Okay…ma’am, I DID tell them I would help them when they came back, but it is just for an air filter!” The house flipping woman said, that’s fine, but I am walking down with you so that afterward we can come back and finish.

Down the main aisle we walked, the house flipping woman holding my right arm and the young couple holding my left. I had employees of my favorite big box store looking at me, thinking they were trying to help me walk! One even came up to me and said, “Doug, are  you okay?!” with genuine concern. The young  couple said, “Oh no, we are making sure Mr. Doug helps us and we are not going to let him go until he does! The house flipper nodded in the affirmative as well. The employee laughed and told them, “Other people work here you know… we can all help you!”

That’s when my house flipping friend said words that warmed my heart. “This isn’t an employee…this is our friend!” The young woman said, “He’s family!” With all of the fuss I made the other day in missing my family during the  holidays, I must confess that at that moment, my family was right there by my side. The young couple saw me as a dad, the house flipper as a friend and it was cemented into my heart when after picking out the correct filter, the young couple looked at me and asked, “Mr. Doug, if you don’t have family here in town, we would love for you to spend Thanksgiving with us!” I must tell you that a tear came to my eye at that  moment and I couldn’t speak. I am such a fricken BABY!

House flipper looked at me and said, “Oh, I like that.. Mr. Doug…is that your name?” I nodded and she said, “I know my husband’s mother is coming from out of town, but he would probably love it if he could talk house renovation with you at the Thanksgiving table!”

I smiled and gained my composure and said, “It is so kind of you both but my wife and I are having a couple of friends over this year…” the young man said, “Well, you sure have helped us…” I got the hug from his wife and he shook my hand and said if we didn’t have plans for dessert, they gave me their written address then they left, waving as they walked away. The house flipping woman finally got all of her questions answered and asked for my last name. I gave it to her and she then packed up her notes and pens and blueprints and off she went into the frigid air.

As I returned to the desk in the flooring department, I took a seat to catch up on follow up with other flooring clients on the computer. At that moment I had a manager on duty come over and said, “Okay…where are they?” I answered , “Where are what?’ He smiled and said, “the  drugs you gave to those customers who just came over and bragged on you?” I blinked and  said, “People are nice…aren’t they?”

A long time ago, in a garden far, far away, we all belonged to an unbroken family who enjoyed daily friendship and endless love with one another and our creator. But like the song says,

“In the land of God’s first heartache
When our line of sin began
And the eyes of man were opened
To the evil there at hand
The creator heard the footsteps
But He did not see the man
And God called out for an answer
But He turned away and ran

An attempt in desperation
To be hid from holy eyes
Was to fashion out a garment
That could hide him in disguise
But the Father bled compassion
And with a fast forgiving hand,
Took the life of one yet blameless
And made a covering for the man.

On a hill outside Jerusalem
Where the sin had took its toll
Hung the life of one as blameless
As that garden beast of old,
And He bled with God’s compassion
For the evil man had done;
And the heart that cried “Forgive them!”
Was the heart of God’s own son.”
The broken heart of God’s own son.

I offer to you my friends that we do not recognize each other as brothers and sisters who are far from our garden home because many are still hiding and trying to cover themselves with the leaves of their own making.  Some are hurt and others…angry. But, every once in a while, we catch of glimpse of one of our family members and they catch a glimpse of us. For a moment our hearts jump in our chests that we belong to each other…but then, we drift apart again as strangers just like my three friends yesterday.

It’s Thanksgiving season. And our brothers and our sisters are all around us. Some have been found by the Savior, and others refuse to come into the banquet. Whatever we do, let’s not give up showing bits of love, and random kindness to our lost family so that; in hope, we will all sit down around the same table holding hands reunited, in a  new and living garden from which we will never be cast away again!