Mama's Cookbook

I don't recall the toys Santa left under the Christmas tree when I was still young enough to believe. I do remember the days leading up to the big day when we would feast on a smorgasboard of exotic foods, like turkey, tangerines, apple turn-overs, brunswich stew, Brazil nuts, and the fruit salad that Mama let me prepare.

My brother and I would fill a two-gallon lard bucket with pecans found under the trees in our backyard. Apples, picked from the mountain orchards of the Blue Ridge, were brought up from the cellar; along with Mason jars filled with snap beans, butter beans, and canned peaches. The Christmas tree would go up, covered in silver icycle tinsel, so thick you could barely make out the glass ornaments underneath. Plastic candles would go in the windows, each with a different color lightbulb. Lighted garland was wrapped around the metal columns on our front porch.

In the evenings, we would sit at the dining room table and watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas", Miracle on 34th Street", and, my favorite - "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol". We'd use the time to crack pe-cans (not pecahns), walnuts, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts. Mama stood behind the ironing board pressing the linens for the Christmas table, while Daddy scrubbed the Irish and sweet potatoes we'd grown in our own garden.

Mama prepared the desserts first so that the oven was free to cook the foods that wold be served hot. The graham cracker cake, pineapple upside-down cake, coconut cake, chocolate, pecan and sweet potato pies were stored in the cool, dark closet under the staircase.

We had no original family recipes, except perhaps the fruit salad, which I'll tell you about in a moment. Mama used the Searchlight Recipe Book which she'd ordered form Household Magazine. Today it sits on my shelf along with dozens of other cookbooks. Some of the pages bear stains in the shape of the tablespoons used to hold the pages open to the recipes she wanted to prepare.

There is one stain next to the Ginger Ale Cocktail, a drink we'd serve after the church's Christmas program. The corner of the page is turned down where the recipe for Honey Peanut Butter Fudge is found. Page 160 is stained where a newspaper clipping was used as a bookmark for Water Ices. The advertisement is from 1968, and announces "SINGER presents ELVIS...SEE ELVIS IN HIS FIRST TV SPECIAL! WATCH SINGER presents ELVIS ON NBC-TV...IN COLOR." Elvis was my idol as I was growing up. Mama kept the clipping for me.

The indexes that are curled the most indicate which recipes Mama used the most: Icings and Fillings, Meats, and Pudding.

A pink sheet of notepaper is tucked behind the last page of the dessert section. On it is my mother's recipe for fruit cake. While many people confess they don't like fruit cake, to me the fruit cake is to Christmas what the lighted tree, the mistletoe, and the nativity scene are. In her words, here is Mama's recipe for a Southern fruit cake:

"1 lbs - Negro toes (Brazil nuts)
1 lb - English Walnuts
1 lb - Green Raisins
1 lb - Candied fruit
1 lb - Marsh mellows
1 lb - Graham crackers
1 can of Bordens (condensed milk)
Eagle brand milk
Heat milk in a double boiler then put in marsh mellows and let melt. Then add all to gether and pack firmly in place...in foil paper."

That's all. No oven temperature, no baking time, no prep. Those things were understood by anyone who knew anything about cooking and baking. (Actually, I don't think this kind of fruit cake is baked. There's no batter. The milk and marshmellows must hold it together.)

On Christmas Day the Searchlight Recipe Book would go back in the drawer under the kitchen towels and wash cloths, and the table would be set with linens, placemats, real napkins, and Mama's china reserved for Christmas Day. A platter containing a glazed sugar-cured ham, sliced at an angle and surrounded by slices of fresh tomatoes anchored one end of the table. On the opposite end was a matching platter with a sixteen pound golden-skinned turkey. When carved, the scent of oranges and bayleaves wafted from the turkey. The turkey cavity had been stuffed with whole oranges and its skin had been bathed in a wine-olive oil mixture and topped with whole bayleaves, Italian seasoning, and celery and lemon salts. Thick, brown giblet gravy was ladeled from Mama's white gravy boat over the turkey and mashed potatoes.

Oyster crackers floated in yellow bowls of tomato soup. There were corn fritters in the shape of ears of corn in an oval yellow dish. Blue Dutch pattern serving bowls contained steaming butterbeans, green beans, pinto beans, and brunswich stew, barely leaving room for the congealed salads - one a cranberry, and the other a jellied vegetable salad the kids wouldn't touch.

The sideboard and kitchen counters were loaded down with dinner roles, deviled eggs, collard greens, clam dip, jugs of sweet tea, pies, cakes, pumpkin rolls, cookies, apple turnovers, the fruitcake and my fruit salad. Mama had slaved over every dish, and it didn't matter that it was too much food; none of it would go to waste. But before I could eat the fruit salad, I had to finish enough meat and vegetables to satisfy Mama.

The Southern fruit salad is simle. In a large bowl, throw in bite-sized chunks of slicked oranges, tangerines, apples, purple grapes, canned pineapple chunks, and sliced bananas. Next, add a cup of Duke's mayonaisse, the juice from one can of pineapple, and a cup of sugar. Stir until all the ingredients were covered, then taste. Add more sugar - this is Southern fruit salad. When it's to your liking, sprinkle with a handful of coconut. If you like raisins you can put them in. I don't, so I didn't. Then you grab a cereal or soup bowl, not one of your mother's crystal ice cream dishes, and kick back in front of the TV and watch "It's a Wonderful Life".

Christmas, to Mama at least, was more about family than about gifts. She and Daddy had survived the Great Depression, so material things never had a hold on them as they do on us today. We ate simply all year long. We were never hungry, but Christmas was the one time out of the year when our parents splurged. They did it for the kids, and as we grew older, they did it for our wives and their grandkids. Mama tried to make that Christmas table look like the dishes depicted on the inside cover of the Searchlight Recipe Book. It was how she expressed her love and devotion to her family.

The Juggler

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Imagine yourself as a juggler. You've got all these objects that you're juggling because there's not enough room in your hands to hold them all at one time. Although they're the same size, some are different colors, different weights, different materials; but you're juggling them all at once, treating them the same.

We spend our lives juggling things. The older we get, or the more motivated we become, the more things we have to juggle. One of the things we juggle is our free time. Another is our jobs. Another could be our spouse and depending on how many children we have, there's an object to juggle for each one. We juggle our friends, our dreams and ambitions, our responsibilities, and we juggle our health and our sanity.

There is so much going on in our lives, it seems we spend all of our time putting out fires. Occasionally we drop the ball. There are some things that we can drop and it's no big deal. Others, and it seems the end of the world. With so much to juggle, how do you decide what to drop and what you need to keep going?

Your job is like a tennis ball. You can drop it and most of the time it will bounce back. It may bounce away and you have to chase it awhile, but for the most part, you can keep a job. But what about a spouse or a child? These aren't made of rubber - they're fragile, like a Christmas ornament. Drop these, and there's no fixing them. They're gone for good. You can drop a habit and never have to pick it up again, but drop the trust someone has bestowed on you and you may never get it back.

We've all got the same number of hours in the day. The way we choose to spend our time and the number of objects that we choose to juggle reflect what's important to us. When we keep making room for something new, something else gets less of our time.

We juggle career and ambition and drop that precious little girl who adores her daddy. By the time we turn our attention back to her, she's hanging out with someone who doesn't care about her, and she accepts it because her dad didn't care either. Or, we juggle things - the latest gadgets that make us look cool, and we ignore our health. Before we're eligible for AARP, we're wearing a pacemaker and taking insulin shots.

What's really important? What do we really need to juggle, and which ones should we drop so that we can better handle the ones that matter most? If dropping something will break it, that's probably the ones we need to keep.

When my second youngest child was battling cancer, I was juggling work, marriage, my other kids, my grandchildren, church, my own spiritual growth, my own dreams, living up to what I thought people expected of me, too much personal debt, growing older, and worried about what sort of future I would have if I dropped any one of these things. As a result, my sick daughter had to be self-dependent at a time when she really needed to be dependent upon me. And when she passed away, all the things I thought I was juggling for all the right reasons were simply not worth what I gave up. A relationship with my daughter was as fragile as a Christmas tree ornament; and its loss is something I'll never replace.

Among the many balls I was juggling was faith and wishful thinking. I believed God could heal my daughter, but I wasn't sure He would - or that He had, for scripture says that Christ was wounded for our transgressions and bruised from our iniquities, but that by His stripes we were healed. Jesus spoke about faith the size of a mustard seed that could move mountains, and I never understood it until I confronted the certainty of mortality and the hope it wasn't my daughter's time. I felt I lacked the faith necessary to bring the healing Christ had already accomplished into a daughter I saw dying in front of me. But by not dropping that ball of faith, I was able to handle her death with the certain knowledge that I'll see her again - as I prayed she would be: well, whole, safe, happy.

My dad was 44 years old when I was born. I knew he loved me and that he did the very best he could to provide for his family, but I don't remember a time when he ever tossed me a baseball or came to one of my track meets. We never went fishing or had a dad-son talk about becoming a man. He was too busy doing what men were expected to do in his time. When he wasn't working at the hardware store, he was working in the garden, mowing the lawn, attending deacon's meetings at church or meetings at the Masonic Lodge or the Shrine. Did I need to play catch or have Daddy hold my hand when we walked down the street? I still wonder 'what if'? Would I have spent more time with my daughter if my dad had spent more time with me?

Perhaps it was the lack of intimacy between my father and me, and the example he had set of working hard to provide for his family as his number one priority, but near the end of his life I felt uncomfortable watching a man of such strength weaken until he needed help pulling up his pants. When Mama could no longer care for him and Daddy had to be put into a nursing home, I would go for weeks at a time without visiting because I didn't want to see my father wither away. Perhaps my mother resisted going into a nursing home when we could no longer care for her because she feared we'd forget about her and she would die alone.

These are regrets I can no longer do anything about. I dropped the ball on opportunities to care for my parents after they'd spent their lives caring for me. Most of the balls I juggled during this period were distractions to keep me from facing the loss of my loved ones.

During my 24 years in the Army, I sold out 100% to my career. I took pride in being the best at what I did. My career decisions dictated my decisions for my family - where we would go, how long we would stay, where we would live. During those 24 years, I was married and divorced three times, and had six children. Now, as I approach 60, there are some things I wish I'd not done and lots of things I wish I had done. The things I regret the most are the things that affected my relationships with the people I love the most. No career is more important than your family. What good does it do to be the best and not have someone to share it with?

Now that I'm approaching the winter of my life, I can appreciate the importance of priorities: God, family, others, and self. In any other order, the results lead to regrets. Another ball we juggle is trying to limit life's regrets; but we must be careful that in trying to avoid pain, we miss out on the joy such pain can bring.

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The Pin-Up

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When it came to learning about the birds and bees, the only thing I remember Mama telling me was, "Watch out for women. Once you get them pregnant, you're stuck." Daddy never had that talk with me either, so my first introduction to sex education came from 'National Geographic' magazines. It wasn't long before some of my classmates were passing around girlie magazines with close-ups on the topless models. I knew it was wrong to look at these pictures, but no one really told me why except that God was watching and He had forbidden it. My curiosity was greater than my fear of the Lord, and since no one had come up with a better reason than "God said so", I did what most teenage boys did. I learned to hide nude pictures inside the pages of my school books, because I knew my mother would look under my mattress and through my dresser drawers and I didn't want her to find out I looked at pornography.

In pictures more revealing than this one, where young women strike poses only because they're paid to do so, I learned everything I thought I needed to know about the opposite sex. As it turned out, I didn't learn anything, and when I had my own kids, I gave them the same spiel my parents gave me about sex - which amounted to nothing. So maybe here I can teach my grandchildren something that will make their lives better.

Imagine that you had the actual photograph of the girl above. Draw a circle around her face, then another around her chest, and a third one around her hips. These are the three areas that need the most protection. Image and video hosting by TinyPicIf you will focus on the face inside the circle you've drawn, what do you see? That face could belong to a girl named Katie or Ashley. She's some dad's little princess. Her mom probably drove her to soccer games and put bandaids over scraped knees and elbows. She and her siblings played with Barbie dolls and played make believe dressed in their parents' clothes. Her parents sat through boring and painful piano recitals just to watch their little girl perform - even if her feet could barely reach the pedals and her fingers weren't long enough to cover the keys to create a note properly. No matter how beautiful she becomes, her father will always see her as that 11 year old daddy's girl who dressed like a tomboy and who never left his side. He is torn between pride and fear of the day he has to walk her down the aisle and give her to a man he hopes loves her every bit as much as he does. The hopes and dreams for this girl's future is what motivates her parents to sacrifice and to try to prepare their little girl for a world beyond their ability to help her navigate.

While it's the face that first attracts a boy's (or man's) attention, it is the area between her hips that ignites male passions. The male doesn't see a vaginal canal that leads to the uterus which contains two ovaries that some day may produce an egg that becomes another human being. Image and video hosting by TinyPic The male doesn't care that at least once a month this part of her anatomy that they obsess about is dirty as it carries away impurities from her body. Most males don't know that a woman in childbirth is far more beautiful than a woman who simply spreads her legs to satisfy their lusts.

The area around this girl's chest draws almost as much attention from a guy as does her vaginal area. What guys don't see when they're looking at a woman's breasts is what lies behind them - the most important part of any woman, or man. Image and video hosting by TinyPicLooking at images like this one, especially over time, imprints on the mind, and on the heart. Most men imagine what they would like to do with this girl, but few give any thought as to what they would do once their passions are sated. When done, most men would try to figure out how to get rid of her until they wanted her again.

Kids - grandkids - when you look at images such as this one, it affects your values and your opinions. It's why when a man has been married a few years, he will think back to the images he's imprinted on his mind and start wondering about all the green grass he's missing outside of his marriage. This mental attitude affects his emotional attitude - his heart. The person that he promised to love and cherish and cling to gradually becomes a nagging ball-and-chain that robs him of any pleasure. He starts to look at other women, and if they pay attention to him, and if they present to him what he used to lust over; this man will leave his wife and kids for another woman. And the cycle will repeat itself because the grass will always look greener. To men like this, women become a piece of meat, a recepticle of pleasure - little more than a tool that can be disposed of at will. Love is not a tool.

When God commanded that a man love his wife and cling to her and she to him, He wasn't trying to spoil our fun. He was trying to show us a better way to live. God's love never tries to hurt us, but to protect us from settling for less than His best in our lives. There are things that nobody but our parents when we're young, and our spouses when we're older should see and experience. There ought to be in marriage images imprinted on your heart of secret things that should belong only to you: The way your wife sits on the side of the tub and bends over to towel dry her hair. The scent and feel of the lotion she smoothes on her legs after a bath. The location of a birthmark or scar; her ticklish spots, or the places where your kisses cause her to tremble. You should know the way she snores when she sleeps and miss her snores when you're spending the night alone away from home. Instead of paying to see something that doesn't belong to you, it is better to wait and let her show you what she's been saving for you alone to see. These images ought to be reminders of what you love about the person you have chosen to be in relationship with. If you find the right soul mate, the memories you'll make will last a lifetime.

Guard what you allow your eyes to see - appearances can be deceiving, and the anticipation is usually more exciting than the actual experience. Guard your virtue - give it to the one you plan on spending the rest of your life with. And finally, guard your heart. Don't let the wrong kind of person break it so that you can't give all your love to the right person.

It's Not God's Problem

In his State of the Union address, President Obama promised the American people that he would give them an accounting for how their tax dollars are spent. Our society is complex and no one knows where our taxes are going, only that we seem to be paying too much. Recently, the White House released a website where our citizens can go and plug in their own numbers and get an itemized report of where their tax dollars were spent. Check it out here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/taxes/tax-receipt

As our economy struggles and it appears that things will only get worse, Americans are turning to prayer out of desperation. We can’t seem to learn the wisdom of turning to God before we make bad decisions and thus avoid desperation. But, God is not obligated to provide for wants that we’ve turned into needs.

Many Americans are proclaiming the end-times as the cause for all the wars, corporate corruption, lack of morals and character, and all the ills that seem to be threatening our lives. I suggest that we’re just harvesting what we've sown.

People ask “Why is God letting me go through this?” And the answer is, “Because you got what you asked for.” For generations now, Americans have turned to the government for sustenance rather than to Him. Every time we’ve told our representatives we wanted something, it’s come with a price tag in the form of taxes.

We demand clean water; our politicians say “I can provide that”. We demand highways so that we can travel and conduct business and they say, “Sure – no problem.” We demand safer working environments, and the government legislates the workplace. We demand protection from danger from enemies foreign and domestic, and our government supplies a military and police/fire protection. We demand a minimum wage and the government requires businesses to pay more, so the cost of payroll causes prices to rise for everyone.

We want the elderly and poor taken care of, but not out of our wallets - let the government provide for our seniors and the impoverished. We don't know our neighbor well enough to lend him our chain saw when a tree falls on his house, let him call FEMA for help. We don't have time to monitor our kids' activities, the government must screen movies and rate music for us.

We demand healthcare, and the government gets to decide what your life is worth and it tells you what to put in and on your body. We demand compensation when we are injured or feel slighted, and the government forces businesses and individuals to purchase insurance to cover lawsuits. We demand the right to parade our sexual preferences or our racial and cultural differences – things that have nothing to do with our character or our worth, and the government writes laws banning hate-speech. We demand the right to not be inconvenienced with unwanted pregnancies, and the government funds groups like Planned Parenthood. We demanded an income in our retirement, and the government gave us Social Security. We demanded medical care when we’re retired and have no health insurance –and the government gave us Medicare/Medicaid.

If we can’t get what we want for free from the government, we steal it, and the government provides prisons and guards. We demand the right to buy houses we can’t afford and the government guarantees the loan with taxpayer’s money. We demand the right to have what we want now rather than wait until we can afford it, and the government regulates how much interest the credit card lenders can charge you. We demand equal opportunity, and the government forces businesses to hire employees based on affirmative action rather than qualifications. We demand the right to a free education and the government tells us what can and can’t be taught to our children. We demand that our kids be able to go to college even if their grades aren’t worthy, and the government provides student loans and grants.

Worse, even if you don’t want the government involved in any of these things, your tax dollars are funding them. You may be employed, but you’re paying 4.4% of the costs for those who don’t work. You have always worked to support your family, but 10.7% for those who can’t or won’t. You don’t mind the 26% spent on national defense, but you do mind the 1.7% spent on aid to foreign countries.

America has gotten what we’ve wanted, but it’s cost us more than it’s worth. We are paying for things we never benefitted from, and we’re passing along to our children and grandchildren a debt that they can’t afford to pay. America has been selfish. We were not satisfied with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness –we wanted more. We ignored our founders when they warned about giving government too much power or about entering into entangling alliances that serve us no useful purpose. We ignored the fact that they were dependent upon the Creator for the foundation of our nation, and their prayers for our continued success, and we allowed our government to be everything to everyone.

Now we turn to God and expect Him to ignore what we’ve demanded all these years. We expect Him to help us choose the right lottery numbers or give us an idea that will make us wealthy. We want out of our circumstances; but we don’t want to let go of the things that are keeping us enslaved.

Whether God chooses to come to the aid of any of us is up to Him. We chose to put our trust in compromisers and power seekers. God just let us have our way. We have no right to expect most of the services that our government supplies, but if we’re going to demand them; we’ve got to pay for them. If we don’t want to pay for them, let’s get rid of them. It’s not God’s problem, it’s ours.

Why the Fear?

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The bike you see above belongs to Pastor David Smith. He has donated his bike to raise funds to help a ministry to the homeless that he started about a year ago in Durham, North Carolina. It's a beautiful bike, and it means something to David; but he's willing to part with it if it helps us feed, clothe, and most of all - share Jesus with hurting people.

It's late Sunday night,the end of a long and emotional weekend. We began on Saturday helping David and a wonderful group of volunteers with Meet Me At the Bridge. The weather was cloudy and a bit cool, and the weather prevented a lot of the regular guests from showing up for a meal or some clean clothes. Still, the worship music and the message were wonderful. My first tears came during one of the worship songs, an old one we used to sing when I was a child in church.

I talked with one of the homeless who shows up to help sort clothes...or rather I talked at him. His name is Dan. Dan's on the small side. His beard is graying, but he's clean and dressed in clothes suitable for the weather. Dan once worked for a business for more than 20 years. I suppose they paid him under the table due to his poor hearing. They never took out social security or offered him a retirement plan; so when the company closed down, Dan suddenly found himself jobless and homeless at the age of 52.

Dan walks a lot. He's tireless. Sometimes he's helping the homeless in Durham and sometimes he's in Raleigh. The Bridge has come to depend upon him to let us know who needs help and who might be looking for something they can sell to support their habit. I mentioned that I talked at Dan, because I didn't know until today that Dan has a serious hearing problem. He read my lips as we talked about where he was from. He spoke about telling other homeless people about coming to the Bridge for help. Dan told me that some of them wore the same clothes for a week at a time, and he'd tell them that there were clean, good clothes if they'd only come down to the park to get them. He talked about people needing to take responsibility for themselves, to keep themselves clean, to have some pride even if they didn't have a roof over their head.

As we were packing up to leave, I found a nice leather bag laying next to a hedge. I took it to some of the other volunteers to see if they knew who it belonged to. Pastor Smith was heading our way when one of the volunteers called out, "Does anyone know who this belongs to?" David nodded and said that it was his. He kept his iPad and minnistry tools in it. However Dan, because he can not hear well, only saw the volunteer holding up the bag and said, "Man, I could sure use that bag!" Without hesitation, David turned to Dan and said, "Brother, I brought it just for you." Dan quickly moved the few items he had in plastic Wal-Mart bags into the leather bag, gave David a hug and went on his way. That bag probably cost him more than $50, but it was just a thing God gave him so that he could bless someone else. I don't think anyone noticed the tears in my eyes. That's the kind of man David is.

David once pastored a church of several thousand; but about a year ago he felt that God was calling him to do something completely out of his comfort zone. He has a doctorate degree and has spent a lot of time as a traveling speaker. David lived in a nice house, drove expensive imports and wore a Rolex. Those things are just about gone now, but David never asks for help for himself. He has no income and takes no collection...not that the homeless have anything to give. Day after day, David walks the streets of Durham, earning the trust of the homeless, and trusting God not just for his ministry needs, but his own as well.

Today we had our semi-monthly meeting of volunteers. As busy as David is, he likes to bring his volunteers together to talk and joke as well as plan the next meal or opportunities he sees for Meet Me At the Bridge. David knows that many people are compassionate, but very few are passionate enough to sacrifice their time and resources indefinitely, so he's building a spiritual family so that we can continue to meet the needs of people that Jesus cares about. David is soft-spoken and gentle. Everything he says points towards God's love for us. His FaceBook posts are always uplifting. He's given just about everything he owns to be able to do what he knows God has called him to do. David lives by faith, not knowing where the resources and the help might come from - but he knows what God called him to do.

I say all of this because I want to ask you for a couple of things. First, Dan needs a good hearing aid. We can find someone who will fit it for him, but we can't afford to buy one. Dan deserves a hearing aid. He's a precious man.

Second, I want to ask you to make a donation in return for a raffle ticket with a chance of winning David's bike - a limited edition 1996 Harley Davidson Bad Boy. Notice that I emphasized it's a donation. The bike is great if you happen to be the one who wins it, but more importantly, your donation is going to help people like Dan - many of them veterans, some with addiction problems, some with mental issues. Our purpose isn't to come up with a bunch of programs - there are many of those available. Our purpose is to let hurting people know that God loves and cares about them.

Would you consider donating $20 to help David and Meet Me At the Bridge? If you will, we'll enter you into the raffle. Donate $100 and we'll send you six tickets. You can contribute on our website: www.meetmeatthebridge.com. Just enter "Bike raffle" in the note field. You may not care about a motorcycle, and that's fine. We have no corporate sponsors or government assistance. Everything comes from the pockets of the volunteers. We could use some more volunteers, or we could use your financial support. Dan is just one example of the people helped by Meet Me At the Bridge. There are hundreds that need our help.

Today, as we sat outdoors eating together and enjoying the beautiful weather, David mentioned that all of the revenue streams we've had seem to have dried up. So, what does all of this have to do with fear? Well, as I've tried to sell raffle tickets or ask people to donate, I'm getting a lot of excuses. The economy is awful, and many people worry about their jobs. They have a lot of personal debt that causes stress. Many are at the point that their charitable giving now goes to help their immediate family. There is a sense of hopelessness and fear in our nation, even among the faith community.

Fear immobilizes. Fear interferes with creativity. Fear keeps us from taking risks. Fear is a sign that our faith is in crisis. Courage is not the absence of fear - but the will to do something in spite of fear. I'm looking for some courageous people who can see beyond your circumstances and recognize God's plan for David Smith and Meet Me At the Bridge.

$20 is a lot of money to risk on a chance to win a bike. You can buy a quarter tank of gas with that much money, or go to a movie by yourself. It might buy your lunch for two or three days. May I suggest that you're looking at this the wrong way. $20 will buy enough bread to feed 60-80 people. $20 will buy enough pasta to feed 100 homeless men and women. $20 will buy toiletries for five homeless people. $20 will buy a pair of sneakers for someone who's using cardboard to cover the holes in the soles of their shoes. $20 is a lot of money, especially when it's given away.

To thank you for your $20 donation, we'll send you a chance to win that beautiful bike pictured above. Would you tell your family and friends about Meet Me At the Bridge and ask them to help. If you don't ride a motorcycle, you could sell it. If I win that bike, I'm giving it back to David because he's willing to give it away. Some of you could become sponsors of Meet Me At the Bridge. A few people giving $20 per month goes a long way. David might not ask you to help, but I will because I love David and I love what he is doing.

Thank you for reading this long post. I can't describe to you what it's like to be part of Meet Me At the Bridge, and to be around Pastor Smith and my own pastor and his family as they minister to the poor and homeless. It certainly has provided perspective in my own life. If you're local to the Raleigh/Durham area, please come out and volunteer with us. If you know of a hearing aid that could help Dan hear again, please contact me here, on FaceBook or David at the MMATB website. And please, help us sell all of the raffle tickets and raise money so that Meet Me At the Bridge can continue to feed, clothe, counsel, and disciple the homeless in Durham. "Fear not, says the Lord, for I know the plans I have for you...."

The Ant and the Contact

I read this story elsewhere but wanted to share it with people on my blog.

Brenda, an amateur climber, was almost halfway to the top of a huge granite mountain. She had stopped for a breather on a tiny ledge, but as she rested there, the tension on the safety rope caused it to snap in her face, dislodging one of her contact lenses.
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Desperately she searched the small ledge in the hope that it had fallen close at hand. Brenda was at the point where it was almost as far back down as it was to the top. She didn't want to quit, but she needed her contacts to see clearly. After an unsuccessful search, Brenda decided to press on rather than waste all that effort already put into the climb.

Climbing was difficult with her impaired vision. Brenda fought panic and fear until she reached the top. There, a fellow climber searched her clothing and hair in hopes of finding the missing contact. As tough as the climb had been, going back down was equally frightening, so Brenda prayed.

Brenda thought about the scripture that said 'The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.' The beauty she had expected to see at the top was instead blurry. She thought, 'Lord, You can see all these mountains. You know every stone and leaf, and You know exactly where my contact lens is. Please help me.'

When she felt calm enough to begin the descent, Brenda continued to pray for her safety. Finally, on a trail near the bottom of the cliff they passed another party of climbers on the way up. One of the climbers shouted out, 'Hey, you guys! Anybody lose a contact lens?'

Brenda was stunned. How did they know she'd lost her contact lens? It turned out that the only reason they had spotted it was because it was seen moving slowly across a twig on the back of an ant. What are the odds that someone would have noticed an ant had it not been on that twig at the precise time they were passing?
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The story doesn't end there. Brenda's father is a cartoonist. When she told
him the incredible story of the ant, the prayer, and the contact lens, he drew a cartoon of an ant lugging that contact lens with the caption, 'Lord, I don't know why you want me to carry this thing. I can't eat it, and it's awfully heavy. But if this is what you want me to do; I'll carry it for you.'
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This is a true story, and there are many lessons we can learn from this story. Perhaps chiefly among these lessons is this: We don't always, in fact we seldom, understand why we're stuck carrying the loads we are shouldered with. We can't see any potential for good, and often our burdens are heavy and heartbreaking. We can complain and ask God to remove the circumstance from our life, or we can accept our burden and say, "If You want me to carry this load Lord, I will."

Another lesson is that even when you don't sense the Lord moving in your life, He is. I can imagine that contact lens fluttering hundreds of feet down the side of that mountain only to land where it would never be found; but God saw where it went, and even before Brenda prayed, He sent that ant as an answer to her prayer. The ant couldn't eat that contact. It was heavy, it was awkward, but God used what was available to get the help to the person who needed it.

God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called. He is our source of existence and our Savior. He keeps us functioning each and every day. Without Him, I am nothing, but with Him...I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)

Becoming a Ditty-Bopper

"Action is the real measure of intelligence." - Napoleon Hill
"Private, you're behind every student in this class. If I don't see some improvement soon, I'm going to kick you out of my course and recommend you be sent to the Infantry and to VietNam." (I left out the expletives in this 'pep'-talk, but feel free to use your imagination.) As I stood at attention before the senior instructor, my fists were clenched and tears of anger and embarrassment blurred my vision. It was bad enough to be cursed at by the sergeant, but to listen to the giggles from the junior NCOs present in the room was worse. Fortunately, my fellow-students were wearing headsets and could not hear the chewing out I was receiving.

For three weeks I had struggled to learn the sounds of Morse code characters. Although I had exceptional test scores on my vocational aptitude tests, the only low scores I had were in the area of foreign language - yet here I was trying to learn what was essentially another language - even though the vocabulary was limited to three distinct sounds: di, dah, and dit. While the rest of the class had learned the Morse alphabet, I continued to struggle. Little did I know at the time that the instructor's pep-talk was the motivation I needed to succeed; or that I myself would become a Morse code instructor one day.

I returned red-faced to my seat and put the headphones back on; but I could not concentrate on the sounds I was hearing. I fumed over the way I'd been called out and determined right there to get out of this class as quickly as possible. That night I lay in my bunk, listening to classmates dream about Morse code. "Di-dah. Alpha. "Dah-di-di-dit. Bravo," and so on. We spent the first hour every morning reciting this code and it became so repetitive that we'd dream about it at night, verbalizing the code in our sleep.

We had a nick-name for students of Morse-Code: Ditty-boppers. We had a habit of tilting our heads or using one hand to hold the headset tighter against the ear to better hear the sounds coming through the radio. In class you'd look around and see heads bobbing back and forth as students found the rhythm of the code - thus ditty-bopping. Back in the barracks, we'd talk to each other in Morse code: "di-di-dah-dah-di-dit" meant "What's up?" We cursed in Morse code. Some of us made the pilgrimage into Boston one weekend and paid homage to Samuel Morse by urinating on his grave. In a way, we were being brainwashed.

In order to learn Morse code you have to be young - meaning that you can't already have your mind filled with distractions like family, responsibility, etc. You must also learn to use a certain part of your brain. When you hear a sound, your mind instantly associates it with a character on your keyboard.

The morning after the sergeant chewed me out; I went into class and passed two lessons. The sounds started making sense to me. The following day I caught up with the rest of the class. Within two weeks I was so far ahead of the rest of the class that they cut my class time to two hours per day. I ended up graduating four weeks ahead of my class along with the previous class and was promoted to Specialist (equivalent to Corporal). Then I was selected for additional training because they needed replacements in Asmara, Ethiopia. The requirements to pass the course were to be able to copy twenty words per minute of Morse code. The requirement for assignment to the spy station in Asmara was twenty-five words per minute. I was copying thirty-five words per minute. Of the eighteen replacements needed, only nine of us would qualify. While the rest of my class was ordered to service in Viet-Nam, the nine of us headed to North Africa.

It was in Ethiopia that I met my first wife. She already had a son by another American soldier. Because he was of mixed race and parentage, he had no rights and no protection by the Ethiopian government or its society. I adopted him and brought him and his mother to the United States, where he now serves in our military. I used my ditty-bopper skills under the American consulate in Berlin, Germany during the Cold War, intercepting Soviet and East Germany radio traffic.

That over-weight, foul-mouthed Sergeant didn't teach me Morse-Code, but he did teach me to hate failure. Whenever I made mistakes after that, I made sure that they never had reason to chew me out for the same thing a second time. As a result of that painful experience, I became a Radio-Teletypewriter instructor at Fort Gordon, Georgia; and later I became the Army's authority on personnel records. Adversity is a great teacher. Although I have not used Morse code in the past thirty years, I still remember it. My kids get a kick out of asking me to 'Say something in Morse code, Dad!"

Mama's Hands

The first photo is a 3x3 black and white photograph of my mother holding me in her arms outside the rear of our peeling white clapboard house. I’m a chubby baby of about six months. Mama is 40 years old. Her dark brown hair is permed and she’s wearing a dark dress, so it must be a Sunday.

The second photo is of my mother holding my grandson as she’s sitting in her recliner. Josh is lying in her lap. He’s just a little thing, but Mama is 91 years old and lacks the strength to hold him in her arms. Mama’s hair is snow white and thinning, and her pink scalp is visible in places. Yet what I’m drawn to most in this photo are Mama’s hands. The fingers are long and thin. The knuckles and joints are protruded, and there is evidence of the arthritis that has pained her for the past twenty years. The backs of Mama’s hands are covered in age spots and thin blue veins; they are dry like parchment paper and almost translucent.

Mama is touching Josh’s face with the tips of her fingers, and I suspect she’s marveling at how smooth and soft his skin is. I imagine here that she is remembering touching my own face a half century earlier. "Where has the time gone?" she thinks. Perhaps we both know that she won't be around to see Josh start school. Somewhere in between, I’ve given her six grandchildren to hold; my brothers have given her seven more - but perhaps in this moment, her mind is on her own babies – five in total: Roger is the oldest, then James and John - twins who died at birth; next there is me, and eighteen months later, my youngest brother, Ray. If we weren’t enough children to raise, Mama and Daddy adopted two brothers and a sister from the orphanage rather than allow them to be split apart in other foster homes.

Mama was the oldest of twelve children. When she wasn’t laboring in the tobacco fields, she was helping her step-mother raise her brothers and sisters. How many diapers have those hands changed? How many spoons has she held to feed her loved ones? How many hours has she spent washing and ironing clothes, kneading dough for biscuits, sewing clothes and quilts for her family? When Mama had her own children, she milked a goat to feed Roger because he couldn't keep cow's milk down. She raised chickens, skinned rabbits and squirrels because it was the only meat they could afford to feed the family.

Mama’s hands smoothed the linens on the communion tables – linens she washed and ironed; she poured the juice she sliced the communion bread in service to the Lord. Her hands held the Bibles and Sunday school books she read and taught from; and they wrote out the tithe checks no matter how much she needed the money for groceries and prescriptions. Those hands scrubbed floors and walls to keep her home clean. They planted flowers and vegetables, shucked corn, shelled beans, stirred pots, and twisted canning jar lids. Mama’s hands bathed us, buttoned our clothes - clothes that she had sewn herself, and tied our shoes. They bathed and shaved my father after his stroke, and they took care of her sister who suffered from Alzheimers and emphyzema. Those hands were constantly in motion doing what God created a mother’s hands to do.

In the end, I was holding Mama’s hand as she slipped into a coma. Three days later, I was holding her hand when she passed into eternity and took the hand of Christ. My own hands are showing signs of aging. I only hope that my hands will reflect my character as well as Mama’s hands reflected hers.

Who's To Blame?

It didn't take 30 seconds after the shootings by the madman in Arizona before people started placing the blame on everyone and everything except the shooter. We are a world of irresponsible and illogical humans. Jared Loughner himself plead not guilty despite numerous eye-witnesses and video footage capturing the murder of innocent people. He may be complicit in the murders, but both he and certain members of society want the guilt shared with Sarah Palin, Christians, Tea Partiers, Loughner's parents, friends, the authorities, classmates and even the gun itself.

If blame is to be laid on anyone and anything remotely connected with acts of evil, then let's blame....

The pencil for mipselled words.
The car for drunk drivers.
The spoon for making Rosie O'Donnell fat.
Hawaii for not producing a valid birth certificate for our President.
The hammer for smashed fingers.
The parachute for skydiving accidents.
King James for authorizing an English version of scripture that no one can agree on.
Thomas Edison for the high cost of our electricity bill.
Ray Kroc for America's obesity.
The school teacher for failing grades.
The coach for lost games.
Minoru Yamasaki for those who died in the World Trade Center.
God for allowing evil to start with.

Of course, if we're going to blame people and things for the way they were misused by others, we ought to give credit to those people and things that have done good.

The pencil for it's contribution to literacy, math, and art.
The automobile for making it possible to commute to our jobs and to visit loved ones.
The spoon for feeding starving children.
Hawaii for romantic vacation destinations and the popularity of Spam.
The hammer for driving nails that hold homes together.
The parachute for giving soldiers the ability to attack behind enemy lines.
King James for a poetic and accurate translation of ancient scriptures.
Thomas Edison for not having to use lanterns and candles to light our homes...and so much more.
Ray Kroc for the Ronald MacDonald House and hundreds of millions in charitable giving.
The school teacher for educating our children, and us.
The coach for inspiring teamwork and teaching life habits that lead to success.
Minoru Yamasaki for designing the tallest and largest office building in America which in turn employed thousands of Americans in hundreds of businesses.
Finally, we need to give God credit for giving us brains, even if we don't yet know how to use them.

When I make wrong or stupid choices, the responsibility lies solely on me. It's not the bank's fault that I'm in debt; it's my own greed. It's not the creditor's fault when I'm behind on my payments; it's my character that is in question because I promised to repay money they advanced me. It's not my employer's fault that I don't earn what I think I'm worth, it's mine for not doing the work that earns the wages I want and expect. If my kids struggle in school, it's my fault for not being more involved in their homework or finding them the help necessary to succeed academically. When I stand before God, I do not have to give an account for the wrongs of others, but I do for my own. He will not accept my passing the blame on others for my own sins...and I'm tired of hearing others blame me because I'm a white conservative Christian male and fall into their catch-all fault depository.

Can America's Rich Solve our Poverty Problem?

Recently I've been in a discussion with some friends from the wrong political party about whether taking the money from the wealthy and giving it to the poor will actually eradicate poverty in America. I thought that using sound logic, in the form of math, would demonstrate the error in their thinking. No such luck. But after spending so much time researching the facts, I thought I'd post it here for more open-minded and logical readers to consider.

According to Forbes Magazine, there are 385 billionaires in America. Their net worth (not income) is $12.93 trillion.
According to the Wall Street Journal, there are 2.5 million millionaires in America. This includes the 385 billionaires mentioned above.
The combined net worth of all millionaires (including billionaires) in America is $32.7 trillion.

According to statistics on the Internet, anywhere from 14-16 million Americans are unemployed.

The IRS collects about $2.4 trillion a year in taxes, after refunds. (IRS.gov)
The top 1% of wage earners pay 33% of the taxes collected. ($792,000,000,000 annually).
The top 5% of wage earners pay in 53% of the taxes collected. $1,272,000,000,000 annually).
The top 10% pay 65% of the taxes collected. ($1,560,000,000,000 annually).
The top 25% pay 83% of the taxes collected (taxesandgrowth.ncpa.org) $1,992,000,000,000 annually).
The top 50% pay 96% of the taxes collected (IRS). ($2,304,000,000,000 annually).
The bottom 50% of wage earners pay 4% (IRS). ($96,000,000,000 annually).

According to a study done by the University of Michigan, 32.3 million Americans (including children) live in poverty.
Poverty is defined as $11,161 for a single adult; $14,361 for a couple; $14,787 for a single parent.
Included in this figure are college students and retirees who work part-time, (but no numbers were available.)
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 2.2% of Americans are chronically living in poverty.
Out of the 32.3 million Americans in poverty, 675,867 are chronic (never move out of poverty).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 307,212,123 people living in America (including children)
There are 117,538,000 households in America.
There are 99,270,000 people employed in America.
These employed people earn an average of $49,777 annually. (real median income)

According to the Small Business Association, about 44% of the jobs in this country are created by small business. The other half are employed by major corporations.

According to www.taxesandgrowth.ncpa.org, the cost to businesses for compliance to the federal income tax was $148 billion. (just throwing that in since corporate taxes are included in the $2.4 trillion the government takes in every year.

A true story. My daughter, who is 19 years old, recently quit college so that she could find a full-time job to help pay her bills. She currently works 30-35 hours per week at a restaurant in Garner. Her best night to date was $105 this past Sunday. On Monday she made $15.00. On Wednesday night she made $13.00. Her typical Friday/Saturday income is about $60 for the two shifts. Her average week she might earn $150.

Laura’s rent is only $150 per month. She shares a home with four room-mates. Her auto insurance is $75.00 per month. Her share of utilities is $40 per month. Laura’s disposable income for food, clothing, gas, prescriptions and necessities is about $335.00 per month. I contacted the Wake County social services office to see if Laura qualifies for any assistance until she can find a job that produces more income. According to them, she might qualify for $118 in food stamps per month. If Laura continues to earn the same amount and receives the $118 per month in food stamps, her annual income will be around $9,216.00 – assuming she doesn’t take a vacation or get sick. My daughter falls into the poverty category.

Now let’s assume that the government decides that the ultra-rich people in America – the billionaires, need to help Laura and the other 32.3 million Americans living in poverty. They start with the billionaires – all 385 of them, who’s combined net worth (not annual income) is $12.93 trillion dollars. When you take everything that the billionaires own – homes, cars, jewelry, investments, cash, etc and divide it among the people who are living in poverty, Laura’s “fair share” of that wealth is $400,309.60, putting Laura in the top 5%. That’s every man, woman and child currently living in poverty in America. The 385 former wealthy Americans are now the only poor people in America. Sounds like a good trade-off.

If every one of those poor people were frugal and only spent the national average of $49,777 annually, that money would last them about 8 years. If they’re really frugal and only spent $15,000 a year (just above poverty, but not enough to receive assistance), they would be able to survive for about 27 years…assuming there is no inflation and the cost of living doesn’t go up. Those that survived – because that’s all they’d be able to do on $15K – would again fall into poverty. The smart ones, like my daughter who is bright enough to finish college, would likely find some gainful employment after using that windfall to pay for her college expenses. Those who are not so bright will probably blow through the $400K in a matter of months and will be worse off than before they had the money stolen from the wealthiest Americans.

But there’s a problem. The taxes once collected from the top 1% of Americans would decline by 33%.. or about $792 billion a year. The IRS would be forced to increase taxes on the rest of us to make up for that difference. With only a little over 99 million Americans working, that deficit would cost each one of us an additional $8,975.52 per year. But that’s not fair! Why should the rest of us pay another $9K per year in taxes? Tax the rich – the millionaires (since there are no more billionaires in America). At this point no one is living in poverty any longer, but there are still as many as 16 million Americans unemployed. Their unemployment will soon run out because the government cannot afford to continue to pay them.

Here we go again: Subtract the $12.93 trillion already stolen from the former billionaires from the $32.7 trillion net worth of the millionaires and you’ve got $19.8 trillion remaining. These are the top 5% of wage earners in America. Let’s take all the net worth of the millionaires (not just their income, but everything they own) and distribute it among the unemployed. Now, those poor jobless people get a windfall of $1,237,500 each. But no one needs that much money. Let’s be fair and divide it among both the employed and the unemployed. At this point, we would each get $171,177.63. If we’re frugal, we can make that money last as long as 11 years @ $15K per year.

Oh no! We’ve solved the poverty problem in America for a decade or so, but now the IRS has a shortfall of another $540 billion per year. The revenue coming into the government for things like national defense, interstate commerce (the only Constitutional obligations of the federal government) has taken a fatal blow. They cannot pay for education, research and development..not to mention pay the interest on the national debt of $413 billion annually. Unless the U.S. pays the interest on our national debt, foreign nations will call the notes due and national parks and other federal and state lands will be seized to satisfy the debt….but before we get to that point –

Because the corporations that hire more than half of our workers are owned by the people in the top 5%, those businesses are filing bankruptcy and as many as 45 million Americans have lost their jobs by year two. The small businesses that once depended upon the large corporations and their employees to keep them in business begin to fold as well. The IRS finds that it cannot collect taxes and lays off the 16,000 new employees hired by this administration and the other agents as well. The government shuts down, as does Wall Street as there are no investors either. Within a matter of 12-15 months, the United States becomes one of the poorest nations on earth. All infrastructure, such as military, police, fire, EMT, CDC, the Department of Transportation, Department of Energy and all other agencies send government employees to the unemployment office, which has been closed down too because there is no money to pay any government employee. Foreign governments buy land and homes for pennies on the dollar, or foreclose to recoup loans secured by our property on behalf of our government.

Churches and charities are unable to continue their work and millions suffer. Hospitals cannot obtain life-saving drugs because the pharmaceutical companies have gone out of business. Doctors and staff are not getting paid, and creditors are demanding payment for student loans, medical equipment and malpractice insurance. Law suits have sky-rocketed as people seek any revenue still remaining. Ironically, lawyers are still in demand, but they’re having to settle for bartered goods in lieu of cash.

On a good note, we no longer have an illegal immigration problem. Illegal aliens have found it impossible to earn, (or steal), and have returned to their native countries. Tragically, our enemies have no trouble crossing our borders and use this opportunity to set off dirty bombs in some areas. Gangs have taken over most of America and fight radicals who muscle in on their territory. Innocent Americans suffer at the hands of thugs and foreigners; and from neighbors who are desperate for even a scrap of food. Those who fled to the mountains thinking they could hide from the law breakers discover that they are safe nowhere. Armies of gangs burn, rape, and pillage their way across our once beautiful nation. Not a seed is left to plant for future crops. Thousands die daily from starvation and violence. America dissolves into chaos…all because some thought that the rich did not do their fair share to help the poor.

There is no Utopia. Socialism and Communism have never worked in any culture. Greed for what belongs to someone else only makes us poorer. Far better to learn to live within our means than to demand rights that do not exist. It is morally wrong to desire to take what belongs to someone else.

Every Daughter Should Be a Daddy's Girl

I have this photo of Jennifer when she was about 8 years old. I would soon turn 40. Of all of my photos of Jennifer, I suppose this one is my favorite. It's one of the few of the two of us together. I'm not fat and actually look much younger than my age at that time; and Jennifer looks happy - even proud of her dad.
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This past weekend, we drove Laura Lee home to the apartment she and Jennifer shared in Delaware. It was so strange to be in the room in which Jennifer passed away. An eyeglass case, drawings by the kids taped to the wall and refrigerator, the mass of tangled wires where Jennifer connected just about every appliance in the apartment to one functioning outlet....the side of the bed where she slept, her red polo shirt on the chair I had given her. I thought that if I focussed really hard, perhaps I'd sense her spirit lingering there, because I know she wasn't ready to go as soon as she did. Instead, I felt the burning of my eyes, the urge to sob, and the hole in my heart where my daughter should be.

We said a quick and tearful goodbye to Laura and headed home, driving west to avoid Baltimore and Washington traffic. The Maryland countryside was beautiful, clean, and green. Chris Tomlin played softly over the car cd player. Pam dozed for a little while, and as I drove, my mind was drawn back to that photo from 1991; and to that impish and beautiful face smiling at the camera. Some might think that smile reflected pride in her dad, but I know that she was proud of herself for getting her way. She had my attention. Jennifer craved attention, and if she couldn't get it through her charm, she would settle for negative attention. On this occasion, she and my former wife battled for my attention, and she won. Her step-mom was gracious enough to allow her the victory and snapped this picture; and now it is my favorite photo of Jennifer. It's a picture of her before the cancer, before the drugs, the streets, the physical and mental abuse; before she had to ride the special bus to school and before the doctors decided she needed to be medicated to pay attention in class.

In the car, I talked silently to God and asked Him to assure me that Jennifer was safe and with Him. What happened next could be considered wishful thinking and self-deception, but I kind of think it was similar to what the apostle John experienced on Patmos. I believe God opened a portal between His Spirit and mine and allowed me to see Jennifer as she is now.

It only lasted a few seconds. In my mind I could see God sitting on a bench. No streets of gold or huge throne, just a bench in front of a gray or whitish wall. He looked like paintings I've seen of Jesus, but I suspect He donned that image so that I could see Him. God's - or Jesus' face was looking down. In his lap lay the head of a young woman. She appeared comfortable laying there in the Creator's lap. His finger twirled a lock of curly light brown hair. She was wearing a shimmering white dress that clung to her figure - no doubt an expensive fabric. Her skin was more golden than tan, and her face bore a striking resemblance to Jennifer's face in my picture - only a bit more mature.

I don't know if Jennifer could see me or not, but she suddenly sat up. Then she stood up facing me. As though seeing herself for the first time through my eyes, she turned to God and exclaimed, "I'm pretty!"

"You're beautiful." God corrected. She was.

She twirled around a few times, her dress flowing with her; her shoulder length curls bouncing off one another. The dress was knee length and sleeveless. Jennifer wore no shoes. Her calves were muscled and her arms were taut and strong. Neither thin, but especially not heavy, she appeared every bit an athlete. There were no tattoos, no circles under her eyes, no swollen ankles, no need for sunglasse to hide her pretty brown eyes.

"I feel so strong!" she insisted, spinning around again. Indeed, she looked as though she could leap great distances and run as fast as a cheetah. "But Father, why do I look so young?"

God reached out and touched her face near the corner of her eyes. "Because here there are no hurtful words that will cause you to cry; no pain to wrinkle and crease your flesh. Here you are safe and there is nothing to fear. Your old body began to die as soon as you were born; but this body is eternal - as I intended from the beginning."

Jennifer bent down and hugged the Father. She kissed Him on the forehead. Then she leaned with her hands on His shoulder and turned her face towards mine and smiled. "I love you Father. I love my Daddy too, but I'm glad to be here with my real Father."

The vision started to close now; but I heard God say to Jennifer before the portal closed completely, "I'm glad your're finally home too. Every daughter should be a Daddy's girl."
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Jennifer never was a daddy's girl here. Oh, she was loved by myself and by a couple of other men whom she called "Dad" - because we treated her like a daughter; but she didn't really have a daddy here who devoted the time to her so that she could lay in his lap and know that she had his undivided attention. She had dads who would offer wise advice and who would worry about her and come to her aid when she needed help; but she didn't have a daddy that listened to her dreams or told her how beautiful she is. Jennifer knew that we loved her, but we couldn't take away her pain or ease her fears or protect her from evil - not like her Heavenly Father can. I'd like to think that I would die for her, but I could never raise her to life again, or give her a perfect body, a sound mind, a joyful spirit. She deserved those things. And God is right: every daughter should be a daddy's girl. Especially the Jennifers in this world.

Jennifer's Butterflies

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There's a story behind these pretty crocheted butterflies. A dear friend from our church, Lea Eaton, wanted to do something for our family after Jennifer passed away two weeks ago. Lea is a cancer survivor herself, and has been a constant source of prayer and encouragement for Jennifer after Jennifer moved in with me over four years ago.

Lea works part-time at the y (until recently the YMCA but now just the 'y' - small letter y) and was thinking about Jennifer while she crocheted these little butterflies, which she'd intended to pass out at Jennifer's memorial service this past weekend. The deal is, once you accept one of these butterflies, you're supposed to carry it in your pocket; and every time you pull it out, it is supposed to remind you of Jennifer. It works - every time I empty my pockets, or every time I reach for my keys - the butterfly is there and I think of my daughter. Sometimes it feels as if Jennifer is nearby. It's a comforting experience.

Lea has a heart for hurting people, so when she met a young woman a few days before the memorial service who was distraught with worry about her mother's health, Lea thought "I'll bet Jennifer would want me to give one of these butterflies to this daughter." So so did. Then she gave one to a little girl who just needed someone to talk to. And another to a man who was contemplating suicide. Before the week was over, Lea had given out as many butterflies to hurting people as she did at the memorial service.

There is no shortage of wounded people in this world. What Lea began out of love for Jennifer has opened doors for God to bless dozens, and potentially thousands, of His children. It is a small thing to hold, but a huge blessing when you realize that God does see what you're going through. He sees, and He cares, and He wants to heal our worries and sorrows. Jennifer's butterflies are an immediate reminder how close God is. They also remind me where Jennifer is - with her Heavenly Father.

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A Daughter's Faith, Her Heart, and Her Passion

Four years and three months ago, doctors gave Jennifer three months to live. God gave her the three months, and four more years; and for this I am very grateful Though the past two weeks have been filled with sorrow and more questions than answers, I've not once had to ask God the "Why" question. The why is apparent. It's been a looming reality for more than four years. Why is seldom the correct question. The question that I must deal with and that every person who knew Jennifer must deal with is "What now?" Image and video hosting by TinyPic

This blog will become part of the biography that Jennifer wanted me to write so that her two sons, Joshuwa Bradley and Mikil Lucus (sorry about the spelling but that's the way they were spelled on the birth certificates), would know how much she loved them. At seven and two, their memories will be few and incomplete. Even those of us who had Jennifer as part of our lives will begin to forget, or choose to forget, the tragic, yet extraordinary life of Jennifer McGarr.

As I assembled the slideshow for yesterday's memorial service, and as my wife - whom Jennifer referred to as her 'real' mom, printed photos for the collage we would display next to her urn, I struggled to comprehend how a child with such innocent eyes could witness so much evil in her short lifetime. Even more extraordinary is how Jennifer allowed those events to shape her personality but never to harden her heart. She remained until the end one of the most generous and loving persons I've ever known - even if all she left behind were a couple of cell phones and a laptop and two boys whom she had to trust to the care of her mother while she tried to get well.
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I am so grateful for those four extra years that God allowed Jennifer. We may never know His purpose for doing so, but I believe we can expect to see His hand at work because Jennifer was available and willing. Had Jennifer not survived as long as she did, Mikil would not have been born. We don't know what God has purposed for Mikil, but He needed Jennifer, as sick and scared as she was, to be Mikil's mother.

Had Jennifer not survived longer than the doctors had predicted, she would not have met Laura Lee - whom Jennifer refers to as her wife. Jennifer - who was abused by so many men - found the love she longed for in the heart of another woman. That Jennifer struggled with what her faith teaches about same sex marriage in no way negates the love Christ has for her. I view Laura Lee as an act of mercy God allowed into Jennifer's life. I also view Jennifer as an act of mercy and love that God allowed in Laura Lee's life.

We may never know how those four extra years God gave to Jennifer have affected others. It was during those four years that my relationship with my daughter from my first marriage began its reconciliation. Jennifer and her brother resolved some of their differences they had with one another. My brother and I began to grow closer again. In just the past two weeks I'm beginning to see how God used Jennifer to reconcile families. It was because of Jennifer that I met my wife Pam; and it was Jennifer who became her closest friend on this side of the country.

Jennifer was so much like me: stubborn, profane, tactless, opinionated.... but at the same time, she forced me to confront my prejudices and my worldview and see things from a different viewpoint. Perhaps she learned something about herself from me. I do know that Jennifer loved me very much. I believe she was becoming more trustful of me after a few years of seeing that I was not out to hurt or to use her. While God was working changes in lives because of Jennifer, He was working in Jennifer's life as well.
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The theme of Jennifer's memorial service is what helped me cope with the loss of my daughter. It's something she told me over and over again when she asked for help and I couldn't provide it: "Don't worry about me Daddy. I'll be OK. God will take care of me. He always has." Two weeks ago, four years and three months after she was sentenced to three months to live; God decided that Jennifer had done enough during those extra years He gave her. His plans for her are perfect and good. She is now at home in the only home she could call her own. She's free from pain, free from fear, free from people who would harm her and her loved ones, free from hurtful words, free from being taken advantage of, free from a broken heart over the broken relationships in her life, free from a confused mind. Free. And she's with a Father who can give her everything she needs and more than she could ever have wanted.

Jennifer possessed childlike faith in Jesus Christ. She struggled to follow scripture, but she trusted its Author. Her wounded heart was still able to hold all her love for her children, and for her family, and for people who, like her, were wounded and rejected. Everyone who knew Jennifer knew that her passion was Joshuwa and Mikil. It was for them that she held on as long as she could. Though the past two years she could only talk to them for a couple of minutes over the phone, they consumed her every waking minute.
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Jennifer's body was a canvas dedicated to what was important in her life: pictures of the boys, a cross, her grandfather's initials; Woody, an angel, a penguin, a rose.... "Daddy" and "Mommy", with the initials of her wife underneath, and a quote from Tupaq "Chill and let my Father do His work". The pain from the tattoo needles soothed the pain from cancer and in some strange way helped focus her mind on the things that are eternal.

Image and video hosting by TinyPicSo here we are. The memorial service is done. Extra copies of the slideshow have been made for family and friends. The busyness is over, and all that's left is to watch for what God does with Jennifer's legacy and to write her story. If you were Jennifer's family or friend and you have stories or recollections you'd like to incorporate into her biography, please send them to me. You can respond here to this thread, or you can email them to me at "lmcgarr@nc.rr.com". It's going to be painful in places, unbelievable in others, embarrassing and funny and hopefully uplifting. I have some recordings that Jennifer made, some notes she kept from her counseling sessions, some memories from what she told us, two or three wills as she kept changing her mind about how she wanted her belongings shared, some photos of her at a young age and some from the past four and a half years - but few from the remaining two-thirds of Jennifer's life. If you have photos or memories, please send them to me.
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It's going to be a journey of discovery - about Jennifer and about who we are. Things kept in the dark will be brought into the light so that healing can take place. Healing or justice - or both.

Dear Jesus

This morning I pulled into a parking space at work and sat in the car for a few moments before going inside the office. I was reluctant to leave the solitude of my car for the distractions of the office. As I sat looking out the window at woods distorted by rivulets of rain water flowing down my windshield, I said a quick prayer: "Dear Jesus, please help me to know you as my best friend."

On the ride in to work this morning I was thinking about the past 57 years and how much has happened. Yesterday I turned 58 years old. So much has changed in my lifetime, yet some things have barely changed at all. For example, my perspective on Jesus has been for most of my life as a bearded man in robes who endured a cross for my sins about 2,000 years before I was born. I understood He loved me and wanted to restore the relationship between His Father and mankind; and I knew that His Spirit was sent to us as our personal Counselor to help us live the 'Christian walk'; but He's always been more Savior than brother to me, too holy and busy leading more obedient and passionate Christians to spend time hanging out with this worldly disciple.

It's only been since reading books like "The Shack" by Paul Young, "He Loves Me!" by Wayne Jacobsen, "What's So Amazing About Grace" by Phillip Yancey, and "So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore" by Jake Colsen that my eyes and heart have been opened to how much Jesus wants a personal relationship with me. Far from the dry pages of scripture, these books have revealed to me what Joseph Scrivens sensed 150 years ago when he penned "What a Friend We Have In Jesus." While Scrivens' message focussed on trials and temptations, he understood that Jesus was the kind of friend who was willing to walk with us anywhere if we'd just invite Him into our circumstances.

Prior to reading books like those mentioned above, I came from a legalistic, literal background, and I was afraid that if I read and accepted something that wasn't verbatim what is found in scripture, then I was risking my salvation. I'm learning better. Perhaps the book that has most affected my perception of God has been "The Shack" - a story about Papa - the Father disguised as a beautiful black woman; Sarayu - an almost physical Holy Spirit, and Jesus - the brother who loves to wrap His arms around you and lead you on walks through the woods and across waters. The Shack and these other books have challenged my understanding of what I've been taught about God for most of my life; but they ring true and because of the God they reveal, I feel as though I've found the door that allows me to have an intimate relationship with Him.

Paul warned us about telling people about God's grace and Jesus' sacrifice and then loading them down with legalism - putting them back under the bonds of the Law. The Shack succeeded in presenting the God who got saved between Malachi and Matthew. We no longer need to worry about a schizophrenic God who wavers between holy justice and conditional love depending upon our performance. Papa is not the God who takes out His wrath against mankind on the person of Jesus, His only Son. Papa is the God Who keeps a constant vigil for every lost child and who picks up His robes and runs to embrace those who come to their senses and admit that His ways are better than their own. Jesus is not the unfortunate victim of an angry Father and a sinful world who went to that cross reluctantly, begging for God to come up with another solution for saving humanity. Jesus charged directly at sin, risking His own life to save those whom God loves passionately. As Wayne Jacobsen, author of "He Loves Me!", points out - only Jesus could hold the Father's passion and the weight of all sin upon His person and bear it until the Father's passion consumed sin.

When you really understand what Jesus meant when He said that He came not to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him might be saved; you understand that God doesn't want to punish you for your sins, He's not angry at you for failings, He's not uncomfortable with your filth and scars or your low self-esteem; but He's passionately in love with you. If you understand His love, grace, and forgiveness, you no longer need to appease Him out of fear of hell; you're free to love Him. Papa doesn't want servants, He wants relationships. Religion serves, love fills the emptiness in our hearts, and allows us to see God the way Jesus spoke to us about in scriptures.

And so this morning I asked Jesus to come be more than my Savior, but to help me know Him as the friend He has always been to me. I know that as I spend more time hanging out with Jesus, I'm going to start seeing the world not through my distorted viewpoint, but through His. I may have to let go of my alter-ego, Bubba BiGot Jr, III and become a new creation in His image.

Some things change slowly, but I'm grateful that God doesn't leave us like He found us. We could 'what if' our past decisions for eternity, but thank God that He never stops coaxing us towards Him. If, occasionally, I slip up and say or do something nice or out of character for me; just know that it's Jesus putting His hands over my soulish mouth and speaking through me. And if at some point I become this totally cool and loveable guy who everyone wants to be around - just know that He's almost done with me and it's time to go Home.

I Love You Daddy

This morning, I dropped my daughter off at the airport so that she could fly out to California in the hopes that the doctors at Berkeley can help get her cancer into remission. Tomorrow morning, my baby girl leaves for Appalachian State University to start college. And this past weekend at Myrtle Beach, I was able to spend time with my youngest son and his fiance.

Perhaps the thing that means to most to me is to hear the words, "I love you Daddy." Too often they're said in parting, and since we don't know if we'll get another chance to express our love for one another, it's important that those words are said.

This week is particularly tough because for my two daughters, life is about to change immediately. In a few months life will change for my son. They know that I love them, but I don't know if they understand how proud I am of them. My son has found a beautiful bride to partner with and their lives, like those of my daughters, will take it's own course. Finding someone you want to spend the rest of your life with is a wonderful and necessary thing. We weren't created to live for ourselves. I'm proud of him for committing himself to such a fine young woman who loves him back.

My youngest daughter, the baby girl who's been my constant companion every weekend since she was three, is now going to college so that she can learn how to help other children. She's grown way too fast. She's beautiful and smart and has a gentle heart under that tough facade she puts on around others. When she's with me, she likes to cuddle, and when she's able to sleep, she looks too young and innocent for the world she's about to enter. And as much as I want to protect her and keep her near, I love her too much to stifle her and hinder her potential to be all that God created her to become.

My other daughter, the one who's in stage 5 cancer, she's amazed and humbled me with her strength and endurance. When she was little, if something was hard, she would quit. Now that she's fighting for her life, she's not quitting. In spite of constant pain and debilitating drugs, she gets up every day glad to be alive. Three years ago the doctors gave her three months to live. She's still defying death, even when the reports all come back negative. She calls me several times a day, saying "What's up, you good looking man?" She shows so much appreciation for every little thing that I and anyone else does for her, for she understands that nothing is fair or deserved in this life. Every good thing is a blessing from God. This daughter has two boys of her own, and she misses them so much she cries herself to sleep each night thinking of them. She can't afford much on her small disability check, but she's always trying to find something for the boys. She'll do anything, and has done some questionable things, for them. Most of all, I'm proud of her gentle and giving heart. I'm going to write a story about her life and tell about all the obstacles she's had to overcome. My prayer is that she will be around to see it published.

Life hasn't gone the way I thought it would when I was growing up. Squandered opportunities and 'what-ifs' could haunt me to an early grave; except for knowing that everything I've done hasn't been pointless. I've got some great kids who love me in spite of the failed relationships that brought them into this world. My biggest regret is that there are three more children from my first marriage who I allowed myself to lose touch with. I've missed out on their journeys from children to adulthood; but I'm sure that I would have every reason to be just as proud of what they've become as I have in my youngest three. I can't ever hear "I love you Daddy" from my oldest children, but I can honestly say that I love them.

I pray for my kids. I'm getting worn out early in life. The time for playing catch or wrestling on the floor is past for me. Still, whenever I hear them say, "I love you Daddy", I'm drawn back to the time I could hoist them onto my shoulders, or tuck them in and tell them not to grow up too fast. I want to be a Daddy for as long as I possibly can.