Friday, April 27, 2018

Katrina Thoughts

The year 2005 brought a catastrophic hurricane to the Gulf. More than 1,500 lost their lives and 100,000s became homeless forcing relocation to Texas and other parts beyond. It became chaos quickly and a black culture feeling abandoned because they “did not matter.”

Disaster was complete with flooding and destruction of all property and many lives. It seemed that only churches were responding to the disaster. Oh yes there was Red Cross and government eventually, but mostly religious organizations came to rescue.

The Presbyterian Disaster arm sprung forward to help their little church in Slidell, damaged but still standing. A team from our large Presbyterian church in Wisconsin began to convoy south. I joined this group of a dozen men and women with hearts to help.  We did not know what to expect, but we were bringing tools or every kind. 

As we moved into the south through Tennessee and Alabama we began to see storm impact. Trees were uprooted and roofs were lying with pieces of everything imaginable everywhere. As we drove into Slidell, every tree was down like toothpicks making it almost impossible to get to the church where we would set up our base camp. The church and its large Quonset gym building were mostly unharmed except the grounds filled with branches, garbage and water.  The men were to sleep on the gym floor and the women in a large room built for visitors. This building would later be rebuilt by our church members to house 40 disaster workers at a time in bunk-bed bedrooms.

We met with church members who were staffing a kitchen for us and helping direct us to parishioners’ properties for reclamation. Trauma filled gratefulness greeted us. We would be heading out the net morning.

That first night it was hot and humid making sleep for me impossible on the wooden floor, even with gym doors left open to the outside. I headed out to try a hammock. Finally I fell asleep not realizing that swarms of gnats and chiggers were devouring me. I was full of red bumps looking like someone fired a shotgun full of salt at me.

After breakfast I led prayer around a cross that I had quickly fashioned out of storm blown wood. We divided into two teams and headed out. Our way was met by downed trees, power lines and brush needing cutting and clearing. We were obviously the first ones to be trying to reach our churches’ members houses around Lake Pontchartrain. This huge and shallow body of water had flooded the shoreline in ways that would horrify us.

We reached the home of “Bill” a block from the lake. He was sitting on the outside stairway leading up to his house on stilts as most had been built in the area. This frail looking short man in his 80s greeted us with praise for God. He was ready with Chicory coffee, the local herb based and bitter blend from “CafĂ© du Monde.” We were already soaked through from the heat and humidity and clearing a five-mile rural road to his house. But we thought the coffee like a gift of God.

This gentleman was a retired Navy Captain and WWII veteran. He was a ship model builder and wanted us to rescue his 10-foot long battleships from the flood.  But first he wanted to preach to us from the raggedy-eared Bible he was carrying. He wanted us to pray for all the devastated and lost from the storm. He asked for prayer for his two sons who had lost their homes totally when a 50-foot tidal wave hit them. He told us that his wife of 65 years had died the week before from a stroke as tears poured from his eyes.

We cleared out and reinforced his shaky garage so his models would survive and he could continue to build and tell the world stories of the Pacific Campaign where he saw so much action. This man of great faith was bringing us powerful messages of hope and salvation as we worked. He wandered with his crutch needed because of war injuries from worker to worker spreading Gospel truths. He was truly an inspiration. We left his homestead habitable a couple of days later.

Then we moved closer to the city of New Orleans and the 9th Ward that had been destroyed completely, like in a war-zone. Here we “mudded” homes, tearing off soaked dry wall down to the studs for rebuilding. The stench of putrid polluted water filled each house. We needed breaks and plenty of water as each of us dripped, our clothes soaked through with sweat.

Eventually we headed into the City of New Orleans. Here we found survivors wondering around and looking for food and money. The lost were everywhere. Our team frankly was a little apprehensive as street people approached us for help continually. Although we worried about safety, we did not have any troublesome incidents other than trying to absorb the immensity of the disaster. We went to the levies that had broken and saw the flooded homes and furnishings lying everywhere. Police and Federal Government workers were not visible anywhere, only church workers.

On our last night we traveled to Canal Street to find a famous Cajun restaurant, Pascal Manales, that was just opening again after the floods had caused the owner to go to his roof. We were regaled in the place with free Cajun food. We left an immense tip to help him rebuild.

Families were everywhere, trying to walk out of the city to safety. The Super Dome was a disaster of human suffering surrounded by a humanity of desolation and confusion. There was courage and desperation portrayed in many ways. My own life was altered in the suffering. I found it not easy to summarize it. Here I am 15 years later trying to express a narrative of desolation. It is in many ways the plight of our whole culture in a morally bankrupt society. It seems that God is no longer within her in so many ways. But Psalm 46 tells us that “God is our refuge and ever present help in trouble, therefore we will not fear…There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at the break of day…The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress…Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:1,4,10).

Friday, April 20, 2018


We brought her home from a puppy mill, a fluffy ball of fur trembling in my son’s hands. She would occupy a central part of our family’s lives for 15 years. Dogs do that you know.

She was several not 50 shades of grey with tufts of platinum in her long eyebrows. She had Hollywood eyelashes and teeth as white as the best cosmetic dentist could bring. So dark were her brown eyes that I almost wondered if she could see.

It took a few days for the fur ball to relax and start to play with toys, mostly old tennis balls. She was as fast, no faster than a cat catching up with the rolling targets. You see, schnauzers are bred to catch rats and shake them to pieces like the sheep sat in the mattress ads. We would not know if she was tougher than she looked for quite a while.

We watched the grey puppy run and slide across the floor disappearing under shelves. We would call her Misty. Not that she looked like a stallion or wild horse of Chincoteague. No she was mysterious to us, a trait that would grow to magnify her name.

Misty was affectionate yet aloof. She showed love for her family, but not relatives. Growls and nips were in order for any visitors of the new addition to our family. We were told, “she is not friendly you know!” I don’t know if she thought them rats or just not equal to her intimate family. Schnauzers are loyal to a fault to their own and not to anyone else.

She grew stronger and took walks in the neighborhood. She came to be called “the best walked dog” wherever. She loved to review her territory, our neighborhood. She studied the other people and dogs with interest. Then she decided, as she was an Alpha-dog that she would claim her territory. She decided she must find some help for the defense of her realm. In turned out that on the other side of our subdivision was a pair of also grey wolfhounds. They were many times her size, but she would back them into their driveway as she passed in review.  They figured out, as was the plan that she was in charge. And so it was with the other dogs in the neighborhood, Misty was in charge.

It came to pass that we needed to move to Virginia for employment. I was to be the Corporate Compliance and Ethics Officer for the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. We found a home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was breathtakingly beautiful, surrounded by ridges covered with Oak and Tulip Ash. We would walk in the woods and Misty would chase squirrels. We met our neighbors with a gorgeous Sheltie. I have forgotten the dog’s name, but we called him “Mohead” because he came to know quickly that Misty was an Alpha.  We spent many joyous walks together in the woods surrounding our home.

There were many dogs in the neighborhood we found out as we walked. The homes were all on large lots and almost invisible to neighbors. But a small pack of dogs roamed the lower part of the development. Our lot was a couple of acres stretching down to the next group of homes and the territory of the pack.  One day Misty decided that she would once again claim her territory and she ventured down to tell the pack so. Quickly a chase ensued and she had to run for her life as perhaps a dozen much larger dogs turned on her forcing her back to her property. But before she could get home, the Alpha of the pack had taken a good chunk out of her hind- quarters. It was very clear that Misty was not nationally known for her bravado.

We tended to our frightened little girl. She had never been questioned before. Life was upside down for her. At least she had Mohead and so she lorded over him on our walks and found a certain solace in it.

We had kept our home in Wisconsin for our sons to live in while one attended dental school and his brother training for dental lab technology. We returned and Misty immediately found that she was still Queen-Bee in the neighborhood. Life was back to normal.

She had aged and matured in her view of the complex world we live in. She became more contemplative and decided our family was enough. Our extended family did not enjoy visits subject to her disapproval. But she was Alpha after all.

The years went by for the best walked dog in Mequon. She grew more and more loyal to us. Did I tell you that she slept with me- only? As she grew older she began to move up the bed. She was easily able to jump up on top of the antique bed that was our four feet high. Pretty good for a little rat dog. 

Misty slowed. You know schnauzers are know for barking or yapping at everything that moves in front of their residence. She was not of that ilk. She chose carefully who would receive her chiding.

Other dogs were not terribly welcome you see because she thought she was human. We brought home a new large German Short/long hair puppy one day for the boys. You see we are a hunting family going back to the beginning. This move was not received with joy or any decorum other than proper sternness for a German dog. Heidi was a loving and somewhat misfit puppy. She would one the other hand become an outstanding hunting Dog for Chad. She learned to flush and swim and retrieve. Of course Misty could do none of the above, but she was Alpha so what did that matter. She bossed Heidi around and taught her to obey her. She taught this poor dog how to sit and lie down and just whose food was not hers.

Well dear Heidi was born with a malformed hip dysplasia. We sadly decided, as she was hurting herself, that we needed to put her down. In three short years she had become an important part of our family.

Misty was not markedly saddened by the loss of her understudy. She continued, albeit more slowly, to range her lands. Then she began to slow more. Now I was lifting her to the bed at night. She began to move slowly from the foot of the bed toward my pillow. You see she was hurting. She had Lyme’s disease and other illnesses we did not know at the time. She was dying of cancer and heart disease.

Slowly she moved and we carried her up the stairs to bed. She slept. No longer was she meeting us at the door with the frenzy of a crazed dog. Her focus moved inward as she seemed to give her dominion up to the next territorial rival.

Pam, my wife, took her to the vet. The wonder-filled years would move to memory. We would caste her ashes on her dominion. No audience of adoring dogs. Just us.

She had loved and understood us. She never complained or argued, except with other dogs. She nodded her head in agreement with all our decisions, except maybe bringing Heidi home. She was patient and watched from her couch and then my lap. She knew I needed special attention. She knew that I had a confidence problem. She was always encouraging. No idea was not worth trying. Adventurous and full of wisdom, she was fearless. Where can you find this kind of companion?

It would be on a trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains that we would find Misty Mountain and know that she was running in the wood above us enjoying her freedom, but knowing we were near. Sleep in peace, we will see you again Misty.

How can I say that? One of my favorite and renown pastors said about the afterlife in heaven. “I think dogs will be there, but not cats.”

Friday, April 13, 2018

There's No Present like the Time

The title is a quote from The Second Best Marigold Hotel, a movie with an incredible cast. It features older actors who are trying to find a sense of their lives in a well-worn Indian hotel. The hotel manager is an East Indian with a flare for the dramatic in his desire to build up the hotel. He is speaking to investors about partnering with him. The idiom, “there is no time like the present” takes a fascinating twist to “There’s no present like the time.” The investors seem interested and send an incognito surveyor to check out the place, Richard Gere.

Near the end when Maggie Smith who is the irascible widow is sensing the end of the line the lead potential investor shows up in India as the hotel saying, I came to pay my respects. There's nothing I respect more than someone planting trees under whose shade they may never sit.” 

Taking these two quotes together it seems one of the themes is making the most of your time in the present moment. This is also the theme of the now best-selling devotional book, Jesus Calling, Enjoying Peace in His Presence. The author, Sarah Young, is speaking about finding peace with God in the present moment. This is a theological truth that God is timeless, but we can only find Him in the present moment. The Serenity Prayer, on which I have written also says, “to live life one moment at a time, enjoying every moment.” Why, because God is in the moment. In 1 Kings 19 is the story of Elijah the Prophet experiencing God, not in the powerful wind, earthquake or fire. No, God showed up in the “gentle whisper” or “still small voice.” The prophet heard God, but I believe you and I do not always hear God. We often are stuck in the past or pressing on to the future where God is not present.

“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience” (Psychology Today).  My healthcare employer as required training recently presented this concept for all employees. Why so important? Because we are so easily distracted in this world. Thomas Hardy’s novel “Far from The Madding Crowd” gives us much to think about man and nature and how we misquote the Bible for our own advantage.

The instinctive act of human-kind was to stand, and listen, and learn how the trees on the right and the trees on the left wailed or chanted to each other in the regular antiphonies of a cathedral choir.” Using personification the reader can find allusions of how mankind talks at each other to gain position over another. This is one of the main themes of life, taking advantage of situations and people. This is sadly human nature.

Speaking now of time, it is endless; we are not. Constantly we are trying to control time. We can’t control anything, only God.

“There is no such thing as an ending, just a place were you leave the story. And is your story now.” (Quote from Second Best Marigold Hotel). Is it time for you to step out, look within, access God and find out about your life?

“If not now, when? If not us, who?” (Quote from Second Best Marigold Hotel). Many attribute this quote to Ronald Reagan. But Hillel the Elder, a Talmudic scholar in 100 B.C, first spoke it.  It is really as expression of the Golden Rule and reciprocity. Now may be the time, but first ask God.
“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that(James 4:13-15).

Now may be the time to act but trust in God to lead your path and not your own thoughts or ways as Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us. “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come(Mark 13:33). Jesus is speaking to us about being ready always for we do not know the time when He will return. The most important thing we can do now choose Him as Savior and Lord. Without that decision for salvation, all is lost to hell.  

“There’s no time like the present.”

Friday, April 6, 2018


“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but the longing fulfilled is a tree of life”  (Proverbs 15:12).

Hope is biblical concept mentioned over 150 in Scripture. In fact I do not find the word “hopeless” in my New Expanded Exhaustive Concordance. However, as a hospital chaplain I frequently find patients and their families saying when asked about outcome, “I hope so.”  This is not an expression of hope, but of doubt. It is the secular response to difficult questions of life. This is a question as old as the oldest book of the Bible, Job. He uttered in the despair of his suffering, where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me? Will it go down to the gates of death? Will we descend together into the dust? (Job 17:15-16). Seventeen times Job speaks of hope through the storm in his quest to find answers from God. He comes to his final utterance on hope questioning “For what hope has the godless when he is cut off?” (Job 27:8). He knows of God’s power and presence. His poetic dialogue with God as the Maker performing wonders we cannot fathom. Yet he goes on in chapter 9 to say, “Even if I washed myself with soap and my hands with washing soda, you would plunge me into a slime pit so that even my clothes would detest me” (Job 9:30-31). It is hard to find the loving and compassionate God in Jobs story. Yet in chapter 10 it begins to tell us of a mediator with “eyes of flesh.”

The whole question of why we suffer is a theme of Job. It is to accomplish God’s purposes to prove Satan a liar in the spiritual war intended to vindicate God and transform our lives and our pain. On a high plane it is to share in the sufferings of Christ. But it is to draw us closer to God. “Come near to God and He will come near to you” (James 4:8). It is not always best to quote Scripture to someone in the depths of suffering. It is to help take the long or eternal view of it all from God’s perspective. You see God is good and loving and unchanging. He is patient and forgiving.

Life is a brief moment and suffering is temporary. Paul tells us in Romans 8:18 that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us, speaking of eternal life.

So suffering and hope are related. Hope is our anchor if it is in Christ, who suffered and died for us that we too might experience a resurrection life above the pain, now and in the long run.

So don’t put off or defer hope. It is the fulfillment of the “tree of life,” heaven with Christ.

Perhaps the best known verse in Job regarding suffering says, But he knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold”  (Job 23:10).

In a recent Bible study one of the men offered, “stuff happens” regarding suffering and trials. So what are some of the lessons of it all?
·      God draws near in our trials. He disciplines those He loves and restores us to a deeper understanding of His love, even in the valleys.
·      God is refining us. He is treating us as His sons and daughters.
·      To share in His holiness. Pursue holiness, be trained by the pain.
·      To make us mature and complete, lacking nothing. So give thanks, rejoice in it for He is in it with us (James 1:2-4).
·      To show His glory, bringing water out of rocks and healing us.
·      He is testing our faith. You know that suffering produces character, hope perseverance that do not disappoint.  (Romans 5:4-5).
·      Trials produce staying power and steadfastness so that we remain under.
·      Humility: “Humble yourself under God’s mighty hand and in due time He will lift you up” (1 Peter 5:6).
·      Life transformation: Be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1).
·      Bring wisdom: “If anyone lacks wisdom, ask of God and He will give it generously, but don’t doubt” (James 1:5-6).
·      Trials are temporary. We are vapors and we are perishing day by day, but inwardly being renewed every day. (2 Corinthians 4:16).
·      To learn not to grumble by the power of the Holy Spirit.
·      Trust in your Creator.
·      Don’t refuse it or run away like Jonah. Then you will not learn from it. (Hebrews 12).
·      Don’t become bitter or angry or stubborn or unholy like Esau.
·      God allows and does “stuff happen.” Yes. Did He cause Katrina?
·      A messenger of Satan to harass me. (2 Corinthians 12).
·      Causes us to submit and obey. “His grace is sufficient, His power made perfect in our weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
·      Boast in Him. Count your blessings.
·      Learn the secret of being content (Philippians 4) I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.
·      He is refining and sanctifying us so we come forth as GOLD.

“Put your hope in God for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5).