Memories Make the Best Gifts

The cool, crisp December breeze hinted of a cold winter around the corner, but it would never slow down high adrenaline children like us. With Christmas less than two weeks away, there was plenty to do during this break from school. My itinerary was full.

Halfway through the third grade, all I had on my mind was snowball fights, building igloos, and riding toboggans and trash can lids down our neighbors’ snow-covered hill. Though we never seemed to have enough snow to finish that igloo (it melted too quick), we always had enough for the fights and the sliding.

Today was a special day. Today we were going to find our Christmas tree. By we, I mean, my Mom, my nine-year-old, older brother Billy, my four-year-old, younger sister Shirleen, me, and Nicki, our Husky. This was our annual tradition.

“Tracy, hurry up!” Mom said.

“I’m coming. I can’t get my boot on. I think I have too many socks on,” I replied from within the house. Sitting on the floor, tugging on my boot, I was losing the struggle to get dressed.

“Then take one off!” She turned to Billy who was standing near her in the front yard. “See if you can help your brother. I don’t want Nicki taking off with the sled with your sister on it.”

“Ok, Mom.”

Billy ran into the house to help me or so was the pretense.

“What are you doing you, big baby? We’re waiting outside. Can’t you do anything right? Give me your foot?”

Billy took my foot and pulled off my half applied boot. He rolled his eyes when he saw I had four socks on that foot alone.

“Why do you have so many socks?”

“I didn’t want to get cold.”

“Take two of them off. Then put your boot on.”

“Will you help me?”

“For Pete’s sake. Do I have to do everything for you? You’re in the third grade.”

I poked out my bottom lip and fought back the tears.

“Give me your foot.” Billy peeled off two socks and shoved the boot onto my foot.

“Ouch! That hurt! You scrunched my toe!”

“C’mon. Mom’s waiting. Better put that lip in before you trip over it.”

I sniffed. Billy pulled me toward the door. I pulled back against him.

“Just stop. Okay? Listen, today we get to ride the sled with Nicki pulling it. Remember how we did that last year? How we went into the woods and got our Christmas tree? Remember how fun it was?”

“Boys?” Mom’s voice came, muffled through the door.

“Coming!” Billy shouted. He turned to me. “C’mon. I’m sorry. Okay? Let’s have fun. I’ll let you ride first with Shirleen.”

I rubbed my eye.

“Fine. Okay.” I said.

Billy pulled the jacket hood over my head and tied the drawstring.  He opened the door to let me through. I had so many layers of clothes on, I waddled out into the yard. Mom smiled at me, looked past me to Billy who shrugged his shoulders.

“Okay. Who’s riding first? You both have gotten so big, Nicki can’t pull all of you.”

“Billy said I could,” I said.

“Okay. Get on the sled behind your sister and hold onto her for me. I don’t want her falling off. Billy, thank you for letting your brother ride first.”

Billy smiled.

I hopped up onto the homemade, wooden sled, sat and grabbed my sister. Nicki licked my hand, and Shirleen squealed with delight.

adorable animal breed canine

Nicki, our blue-eyed, Siberian, fluffy, husky dog was our best friend. If mom had asked him to pull all three of us, he would have until he fell exhausted. He was attached to the sled with a rigged rope harness. Crude, but effective enough to pull the sled, given enough snow.

“Billy,” Mom said, “Would you like to lead Nicki?”

“Sure, Mom.” Billy picked up the rope and pulled on it. Nicki needed no more urging. The sled lunged forward. Shirleen and I lunged backward and almost rolled off the sled. Mom grabbed my arm and sat us upright. I think she anticipated this happening, because she was quick with the one-handed recovery, while she held the handsaw in the other.

Our movement was slow, but it was meant to be. Mom wanted us to enjoy the time and the beauty of our surroundings. Even through my eight-year-old eyes, I could see the beauty God displayed in those Cascade Mountains. The green firs and pines laden with snow, dotted the landscape as we searched for the right tree. In the distance, Mount Rainier covered in white, sported a cloud halo and seemed to smile its approval on our endeavor. A green carpet of evergreens lined its base.

Something caught my eye as I looked around in amazement at this winter wonderland. It scampered toward the wood line.

“Look! A rabbit!” I said. Nicki stopped and perked up at my exclamation. The little creature was in no hurry as he lopped along and disappeared into the brush.

“Easy, Nicki.” Mom said. “Not today buddy.” He wagged his tail in acknowledgment.

treesBilly tugged on the rope, and we plodded forward again, the snow crunched under the sled and his boots. We stopped a short distance away from a grove of Douglas firs of various sizes. The blue-green needles sparkled in the sunlight as the afternoon warmth had melted some of their frosty adornment.

“How about one of these?” Mom asked.

“Wow,” I said. “Which one should we get?”

“Billy, why don’t you and your brother see if you can find us one?”

Mom picked up Shirleen and stood her in the snow to play. She waddled up to Nicki to pet him. He licked her face in welcome. She pushed him away with her mittened hands.

“No!” she said in her tiny voice. “Bad dog. No.” Nicki licked her again. She stumbled and fell backward, landing face up in the snow. She, like us, had so many layers of clothes on that she couldn’t right herself. Mom pulled her back to her feet, and she headed for Nicki again.

“Okay. C’com let’s see what we can find.” Billy said to me, and we took off into the grove. The air was thick with the smell of the trees.

 

“Don’t go too far.” Came Mom’s voice.

“There’s so many, and they all look cool,” Billy shouted back.

“Can you find one near the edge that we can get?” Mom asked.

“Yeah, I think we can. C’mom, Tracy, let’s show mom the first one we looked at.”

We plodded out of the grove and stopped at a tree we passed on our way in. Mom led Nicki and the shed, while she carried Shirleen. She plopped Shirleen down and picked up the saw.

“Billy, you and Tracy think you can cut it down?”

Our eyes got wide. This was an honor. It would be our first time to cut down the Christmas tree.

“Sure!” We answered proudly. Mom handed Billy the saw and showed him where on the trunk to make the cut. With the first pass across the bark, I breathed in deeply the smell of the fresh cut wood. Billy cut at the tree until the saw became sticky with the sap. The fragrance of fir strengthened. I traded out with him. We took turns sawing between stripping off layers of clothes.

An eternity later, the tree swayed from the cutting. Mom held onto it and tilted it back so we could finish the cut. With the next to last cut, the tree fell over. Billy separated the last of the bark from the stump with a swipe from the saw.

“Tracy, watch your sister so Billy and I can tie the tree to the sled.”

I chased Shirleen through the snow, as she played a game of tag with Nicki. Mom and Billy lashed the treasured tree to the sled. Once secured, Mom grabbed a giggling Shirleen on one of her passes by Nicki and plopped her down next to the tree. She instructed her to hang on.

Billy took the rope and led Nicki and his cargo toward home. I triumphantly carried the saw as I pulled up the end of the parade. We were triumphant in our mission.

Mom led us in Christmas carols as we proceeded. Good thing. It kept my mind off my wobbly legs and rubbery arms. It’s tough work for a third grader to cut down his first tree. I am sure we were a sight as we marched victoriously into our yard.

Mom untied Nicki from the sled and removed his makeshift harness. He shook his coat with the freedom. He ran around the house and shot back to us. He didn’t seem too tired. We went in the back door and shed our boots, mittens, and layers of clothes and headed for the kitchen.

We all sat at the kitchen table and recounted our glorious adventure over hot cocoa while Mom stoked the fire in our Franklin wood stove in the living room. We laughed. We giggled and sang more Christmas carols. Mom rejoined us and joined in the merriment.

When we finished our cocoa, Mom and Billy attached a stand to the tree and brought it in the house while I watched Shirleen. They stood it up in the living room in front of the picture window. As I warmed myself at the Franklin stove, I breathed in the fresh fragrance of Douglas fir. I thought of what a fine looking tree we had obtained. I also noticed, past the tree, out the window, in the distance, haloed Mount Rainier smiled in agreement.

Even today, when I happen to smell the wonderful fragrance of fir, I think back to delightful memories of Christmas and thank the Lord for them. I also thank him for my Mom, who has shown me over the years that memories make the best gifts

I Wonder

It was a hot, humid day in early July. July 2nd, to be exact, 1862, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The intense summer sun reminded me of my boyhood days in Alabama. For a moment, I longed to be home, sitting on the porch or skipping rocks down at the creek.

I was crouched down between two large rocks when Tom slid next to me. He looked up the hill that lay before us. His sandy hair stuck out from under his cap like straw from a scarecrow. He turned and fixed his pale blue eyes on me. In his slow Southern drawl, he spoke.

“Jeb? What’s wrong with you? You haven’t fired a shot.”

I bowed my head.

Tom shook me.

“Jeb!” He growled in a hushed whisper. “What’s goin’ on?”

He shook me again.

I cleared my throat.

“I can’t – I just can’t.”

Tom looked around like he was looking to see who might be watching or listening.

“Can’t what?” He grabbed me by my arm. His voice cracked. “Jeb, don’t go squirrely on me. Ya, hear me.”

His whiskey and tobacco laden breath made me shudder. I blinked and looked into his wild eyes as they searched mine.

“Tom. I don’t know what’s goin’ on. You know me. I ain’t never had a moment’s hesitation to pull the trigger, but I just can’t.”

Tom looked down at my shaking hands, and then searched my face again.

“Whatcha mean, Jeb? Whatcha mean?” He let me go and then looked up the hill. He squinted, and then looked at me again.

“You mean – up there? Isn’t that a Yank officer up on that hill? Standing there, plain as day?”

“Yeah.”

He half-smiled.

“Since when can’t you shoot a Yank? You getting soft on us?”

I didn’t answer.

His smile faded. He got in my face again.

“Jeb, you the best we got. Ain’t no one a better shot in the 15th Alabama than you, and ain’t no one been more willin’ to take down a Yank.”

He spit. Tobacco juice spittled down his chin. He wiped it with his sleeve.

“I know, Tom, but not this one. There’s somethin’ – different about this one. I can’t. When I first saw him, I thought it a mighty good thing to put him out of the way. Tom, I had him, perfectly certain, several times and I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I just couldn’t. I tried, but I can’t.”

Tom shook me – hard.

“Jeb! You gotta understand. We need to take that hill. We done hit it twice and was pushed back. Many of us done fell. You gotta kill as many Yanks from a distance as you can. One less Yank means one less of us that dies. If you kill an officer – if you cut the head off the snake, the body dies. You’ve got do it. It’s your duty.”

“I can’t. Don’t you understand? I tried. I did. Every time I take aim at him, my hands shake, and something comes over me. I’m ashamed. I can’t pull the trigger.”

“You should be ashamed that you can’t kill a Yank! He ain’t nothin’ but a flea on nanny’s dog’s hind end.”

He spit.

“No! I’m ashamed to pull the trigger. I can’t explain it. I go to pull the trigger, and I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed to shoot him. He’s in plain sight. I’ve dropped deer further away than this without hesitation. But I’m ashamed to pull the trigger on this Yank.”

“Why? What is he? Something special? I heard Col. Oates talking to his brother earlier. He thinks that’s the 20th Maine up there. If that is true, then that could be Chamberlain, and he needs to be dropped like a Christmas turkey.”

“It is Chamberlain, and that is the 20th.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know. I can tell by the way he conducts his self with his men. I can also see his rank.”

“Listen to me, Jeb. We gotta take that hill. If we take that hill, then this could be our chance to end this God-forsaken war. We’ll be able to see the whole valley below, and we can rout the Yanks. We’ll split them in half and turn their own guns on them and then Lee can march into Washington and force Lincoln to stop this war. Jeb, are you hearing me? We gotta get up on top of Little Round Top.”

The steely look on Tom’s face faded. I could tell that he was convinced I couldn’t go through with shooting this Yankee officer. He shook me one more time and pushed me back against the boulder. He looked back up the hill, spit, looked at me, and then walked away, back to the remaining regiment.

I don’t know how long I sat there. It seemed like days. Ashamed that I was ashamed.

Before the sun went down that day, we were ordered up the hill one more time. As a sharpshooter, I maintained my position and supported my regiment. They fought valiantly, as they assaulted the hill with volley after volley. Men fell like swatted flies.

I took out several Yanks as they stood up to return fire. I felt redeemed. I had no problem now in the heat of battle to defend our cause and my fellow soldiers. I caught sight of Tom as he led his men over a little knoll right into a clod of Yanks. One had Tom dead to rights, but I made sure he didn’t fire.

Tom turned toward me. Our eyes locked. He nodded his thanks. I returned it.

I quickly reloaded my rifle to prepare for another shot. When I looked up, Tom was gone and so were his men. I’m not sure what happened next. I dropped one more Yank, and then they came over the breastworks with fixed bayonets. They were a wave of blue, yelling at the top of their lungs. Bugles blared the charge, and their flags flowed in the wind. They must have gotten reinforcements.

Our own buglers sounded retreat, and we fled. We weren’t taking Little Round Top, not today, not ever. It wasn’t meant to be. I grabbed my gear and headed out of there like the devil himself was after me. I heard later that Tom had fallen on that knoll. I stopped one Yank from killing him, but I couldn’t stop them all.

I’m still not sure why I could not shoot Col. Chamberlain. I heard that even one of our officers tried to shoot him during that bayonet attack and failed. He had a better chance than I. How could the officer’s revolver misfire just at the time it was aimed at Chamberlain’s head?

Chamberlain was hailed as a war hero. He even became governor of Maine. I wrote him a letter telling him how I had him in my sights twice, but could not pull the trigger. I recounted to him how each time some peculiar notion shut me right down, so I gave up his life to him. I also told him that I was glad of it and hoped he was as well.

I learned that he wrote me back, and invited me to visit him in Maine to see if I had made a good choice. I never received the letter, nor did I answer him. How could I? It was revealed to us that at that critical moment, on that critical mountain, he and his men had insufficient ammunition to defend another attempt by our forces. If we had pressed the moment, and taken that hill, Tom’s words may very well have rung true.

Looking back now, I gotta wonder. If I could have brought myself to drop Col. Chamberlain that day, on that hill, would have things been different? Would we have taken that hill? Would Tom have died as he did with my secret? Would we have split the Yanks, and taken Washington, like Tom said? Would Lee have ordered Pickett’s Charge the very next day in an all-out, last-ditch effort to win this battle and maybe the war? Would have fewer men, on both sides, have died?

I wonder if God Almighty had his hand on me to shame me not to kill Chamberlain because there was a higher power and purpose at work. I wonder.

What is “too big” for God?

The Question

pexels-photo-206448.jpeg  The question goes: “Can God create a rock too big for even Him to pick up?” Most folks usually ask this question trying to stump the religious or to get them off track of an ongoing discussion. Just like the Samaritan woman that Jesus encountered at the well. She tried to change the subject of the discussion by asking Jesus where the right place to worship was. So it is with the question at hand.

The Discussion

To properly answer questions like this I ask questions of my own. The discussions I have had in the past go something like this:

“Define ‘too big,’” I say.

“Well if God could not pick it up, then it is too big,” they answer.

“So it would have to be bigger than God Himself?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“So, how big is God?”

“I don’t know.”

“So how would you know if the rock was bigger than God if you don’t know how big God is?”

Head scratching.

“So you are asking a question that even if you saw the answer, you still would not know if the answer was correct?”

More head scratching.

“So, if God could make a rock too big for Him to pick up, why would He?”

A deer in the headlight look.

pexels-photo.jpg   “I think the focus of the question is wrong. Let’s say there is a reason why God would need or want to create this rock. Let’s say that all of humanity is doomed to an eternity away from God because they have rebelled against God. The only way for a man to be saved from this eternal separation from God is for God to create a rock too big for Him to pick up. Are you following me? Does that make sense?”

“Uh, yeah. I think so.”

“Based on what you know of God, can you kill God?”

“No.”

“It would be impossible to kill God or for Him to die, right?”

“Right.”

“Because He is God and there is no way to kill God?”

“Right.”

“Could God kill Himself?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Hmm. Did Jesus claim to be God?”

“Yes. The Son of God.”

“Ok, He is the Son of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, right?” Most people would agree at this point.

“Was Jesus killed? Did He die on the cross?”

“Yes.”

“Was He God?”

“Yes.”

“Then God was killed. He experienced death. He died.”

“I guess so.”

“So, the impossible was done?”

Blank look.

“It was. In fact, not only was the impossible done, it was done by God. He orchestrated the death of Himself. To ask the question if God could create a rock too big for Him to pick up is like asking if a virgin could have a baby or can someone be resurrected from the dead or can God die. The main question is why God would do the impossible? The answer would be because He knows it is the best way to accomplish something. God knew the only way for humanity to be saved from eternal separation from Him was for someone holy to die in man’s place, to take the penalty for his rebellion. So He became a man, born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, was crucified on a cross, was buried, and on the third day was resurrected again. He did these impossible things all on purpose. Why? Because He loves us and He knows it is the only way to save humanity from their fallen condition. There is one more part; each man has to believe that they are in a fallen condition and God did all this for them to save them. Each man has to ask God to save them.”

The Conclusion

Silence. I hope by now they are pondering what I am offering.

“So you tell me, can God create a rock too big for Him to pick up? Can God do the impossible or better yet, have you come to a point in your life that you have accepted what Jesus did for you so you can have this eternal life He offers?”

The Answer

Click on this link to find out what Jesus meant by “being born again.”

The Da Vinci Syndrome

Introduction

mona-lisa-leonardo-da-vinci-la-gioconda-oil-painting-40997.jpeg     Ok, maybe this is not a real malady, but there is a reason it is named, even if only in urban legend, after Leonardo Da Vinci. He is a man revered as a genius, brilliant, and talented. He is often spoken of as the premier Renaissance man. He was a sculptor, painter, engineer, and inventor, but he is also known to history as a man who often left projects undone or took longer than needed to complete.

Once, a large amount of bronze was donated to him to complete a cast of a horse as a tribute. It would have been the third largest equestrian statue of his time. He never completed it. War was raging in Europe, and the battle was getting closer, so the bronze was used for making cannons for the defense of the city. Of this very cast, Michelangelo, Da Vinci’s contemporary, allegedly implied that Da Vinci would never complete it.

Pope Leo X commented of Da Vinci, “This man will never accomplish anything! He thinks of the end before the beginning.” Unfortunately, Da Vinci had to be threatened by many of the people he contracted with to finish the project or find his funds cut off. So was Da Vinci’s reputation.

According to the Free Online Dictionary, Medical Section, the definition of the Da Vinci Syndrome or DVS is thus:

“A popular term for a possible “condition” that may affect a highly creative person who gets new idea and visions faster than he or she can implement them, or even fully record or describe, leading  them to constantly start new projects without finishing the old ones.”

The Symptoms

Hmm. As I explored this further, I could not find this listed as an actual medical condition with diagnosed symptoms. However, as a fellow sufferer, I feel I am qualified to offer some possible indications and side effects of the condition. Some of these are based on the above-listed definition, some from personal experience, and some from “research” into this malady. See if any of these apply to you or someone you know.

  1. Highly creative
  2. Loves learning something new, has an inquisitive mind
  3. Has many interests
  4. Has many ideas
  5. Starts many projects
  6. Leaves projects undone
  7. Wants to make sure projects are completed correctly
  8. Sometimes cannot sleep at night because they just cannot get their brain to shut pexels-photo-959286.jpegdown
  9. Lose interest in projects if they lose their challenge…. Squirrel!
  10. Are frustrated if they forget their ideas or when reminded of their unfinished projects

Though this is not a complete list, it does serve as a starting foundation, and identifying a problem or condition is ninety percent of the cure. So, what is one to do in combating this syndrome? One option is to put it off until you can do it right. For example, I thought about finishing this article later when I was able to come up with a better answer, but that would be enabling myself to continue down this DVS road. The struggle is real. I’m just saying.

There is help

Here are my suggestions to combat, or help your loved ones combat DVS:green-attraction-war-museum.jpg

  1. Accept that this is how God made you. He has a reason for it.
  2. Write down your ideas as they come to you. If you can’t sleep, write down enough of what is in your head to get your mind clear enough to sleep. (That is what I am doing right now, even though I have to get up at 5:00 am, and it is midnight).
  3. Find time to think. Your thoughts will ruminate in your brain. If you take time to be still and ponder your ideas, then you will strip away all the dead wood and keep the good stuff.
  4. Realize that just because you think it is a grand idea that not everyone else will, because it really might not be.
  5. Set goals and stick to them. Review them regularly and get rid of unrealistic ones.
  6. Break the big tasks down into small tasks and stay with it until it is done, even if it is in small increments. Focus on one task at a time. The way you cover a roof is one shingle at a time (I don’t eat elephants, so I never really liked that analogy). Another one is, you cover a floor one tile at a time.
  7. Set a deadline for it to be done and stick to it.
  8. Set a reward to celebrate the achievement.
  9. Realize that completion will take hard work, but it will be worth it.
  10. Learn to say no.

Yes, there was a bit of whimsical and creative license in the way I wrote this article. It was in no wise meant to make fun of anyone in particular – well, maybe myself. If this hasn’t helped you in some way, maybe it successfully brought a smile to your face. If that was the case, then I successfully completed that project. Of course, I don’t know if you don’t tell me, especially if you put it off to a better time.

Civil War in Heaven and Creation of Man

Several times recently, I have had the discussion of why angels rebelled against God. To be fair, there was more to the question than just that. It was assumed that the interpretation of one-third of the angels rebelled against God, with Lucifer/ Satan leading the rebellion as the correct interpretation of scriptures in Ezekiel 28:14 and following, and Isaiah 14:12ff. This view indicates a civil war in heaven that has flowed over to earth and has come to involve all mankind.

Foundations First

Lets’ set up a few foundational beliefs and go from there. The first would be: the Bible is the Word of God and is to be believed. The second would be that Jesus is the Son of God and His word holds as much weight as God the Father. Another would be that there are varying views that are open to interpretation and some things are black and white. The varying views are usually where arguments and debates come in.

sky-space-dark-galaxy.jpg   Regardless if you hold that Lucifer was the highest archangel created, and he led this rebellion against God with the idea that he would become higher than God or not, there are some things the Bible states clearly. In the Book of Revelation, John said he saw the dragon, which he identified as Satan, sweep a third of the stars from heaven and there was war there (Revelation 12:4-9). Further, the Devil was cast from heaven. Jesus said he looked up and saw the devil fall from the sky like lightning (Luke 10:18). Some say both were using symbolism or in the future tense. Maybe.

It is pretty clear that Satan is in rebellion against God and he is not alone. It begs a question: why? And why the ages long attack on mankind? Part of the answer lies in one’s view of when the rebellion took place. Was it before mankind was created or after? Both views hold implications on why the man was created and why when he sinned, God came looking after him with redemption.

Rebellion Before Man’s Creation

michelangelo-abstract-boy-child-73805.jpeg When Satan rebelled, the devastation was cataclysmic and cosmic in scope. It affected more than the earth. It was quite possible that it happened even before the earth was formed. That is pre-Genesis 1:1. Therefore precipitating God to implement a plan to redeem all the universe. He responded by creating the earth and all that was in it for the main purpose of bringing forth a new creature called Man. This creature would have a second unusual creature called Woman. Part of the purpose of mankind is to battle Satan. Through mankind would come the Redeemer, who would sacrifice His life to redeem, not just mankind (John 3:16-18), but also all creation (Romans 8:18-22 and 2 Peter 1-3). Subsequently, man and Satan are at odds and in combat. Unfortunately, after the sin of Adam, mankind, as well as creation needed redemption.

Rebellion After Man’s Creation

The scenario: God creates man and calls him His greatest creation, partly because this new creation, born of dust was created in the image of God. He is a creator God and creates because it brings Him joy. He created the heavens and the angels, and now He creates this man. God turns to the angels and tells them to minister or serve this new creation. Can’t you see some of the angels becoming indignant? Aren’t they good enough? Suddenly, they are not God’s highest creation? He needs to create more beings to fellowship with? Rebellion ensues and war is declared against the Creator of the Universe and his new creation. The new creation falls and now has to be redeemed, so a savior must come through them. Meanwhile, Satan and his envoys are steadily trying to usurp God and despises this dust-born, pathetic, created image of God.

 My View

I tend to hold to the first view of Satan rebelling before the creation of man. I don’t think redemption was an afterthought to God. If He knows everything, then He would have known man was going to fall, you might argue. True, but even in the fall I think God had redemption at the forefront of creation and ultimately fellowship with His created beings. It was all good when God created it. Satan was bent on destroying it and man. There is a third scenario that blends both of the other in that Satan rebelled after the creation of the world, but before or after the creation of man.

A Sidebar

We don’t know how long the Serpent (Satan) had been in the Garden of Eden. I don’t think he just happened upon Eve one day and deceived her. She wasn’t that weak. I think he tempted her repeatedly over time and slowly wore her down. I think he was working on Adam too. Is this not the tactics he uses against us? He pushes and prods, looking for the chink in your armor, waiting for the right moment. I believe this is what happened in the garden. I think Satan was already working on corrupting the earth just like he had corrupted the rest of creation. He comes to kill, steal, and destroy like he always has and Jesus has come to bring us life and that more abundantly, like he always has.

Extending Grace in the Workplace

dogsIt’s An Attitude

It has been said those who extend grace are weak. Such an attitude embraces a “dog eat dog” world and mindset. You have to look out for number one you know. If you don’t who will. I beg to differ. It is easier to take the “me first and foremost” approach. It takes a much stronger person to keep themselves in control and to offer grace. It’s not natural or usually our first reaction, but it can pay huge dividends, immediately and in the future.

It Happened to Me

pexels-photo-567633.jpeg  I remember one time when I was promoted to a position two levels above where I was currently. Someone higher up the chain believed in me and spoke up for me. I didn’t know this until years after I was promoted. The set up was a little different than I was used to. I have two people I answered to. One was my direct boss, and the other was more of a functional boss. That is, one was local and managed the local business, and the other was corporate and managed the support department that I was now in.

Very early on I found out some things were happening that seemed to be wrong. It fell more into the technical side than the local side. It even appeared like the local administration was privy and allowed the practice. I found out later that this was not true. The corporate boss went around my local boss and told all the local subordinates to desist all work involved until an investigation into the matter was conducted.

I did not know the action the corporate boss was going to do and my local boss was furious. He called me into his office and asked me to close the door. We had a long discussion on how he felt I had “thrown him under the bus.” He asked me why I did not come to him so we could investigate the matter. The truth was, I didn’t know him good enough to trust him at this point. Regardless, I handled it poorly and the disappointment was warranted.

He patiently explained to me that he expected me to come to him in the future if there were any issues. Further, he expected me to be honest with him even if I thought it would make him mad. He said he forgave me for leaving him out of the loop and for the embarrassment. I could tell it hurt him deeply and that he felt betrayed. I think we have all been there. Later I found out that he was the one who had put in a good word for me to get the position. Talk about feeling like a heel.

Our relationship survived those early days, and he has been one of my strongest supporters, and I have gone out of my way to make sure he was not blindsided by anything that had to do with my department. He had every bit of authority to fire me. Maybe not right then, but at other times when I messed up (but not to that degree), he had plenty of opportunities. Instead, he offered grace, and he also gave me advice and encouragement.

What Grace Does

Here’s what a person of grace does, and I believe he did:

  1. They try to understand before being understood. Why did this happen? There are always two sides to a story.
  2. They acknowledge that there was a wrong and extend forgiveness while holding others accountable.
  3. They confront in a non-judgmental way. Grace says, “Hey, you hurt me. You want to tell me about that?”
  4. They remember times when it was extended to them.
  5. They know there will be a time in the future when they will need grace again.
  6. They seek the better outcome for all.
  7. They know that there are times when separation is needed, but they handle it with grace. There are times that the best outcome for all is to let someone go.

Being gracious is not being weak. Ponder this: would you rather work with someone who is gracious, but firm or someone who is ungracious and wishy-washy. Graciousness goes two ways though and even when others are not extending grace we should. We don’t know the story of others. You may be the only one who shows them grace, and that may be just what they need to make it through.

Meet Linda Tillis; Crime Scene Investigator (Ret.), Photographer, and Author.

Linda Tillis

One of the best things I have gained from blogging, writing, podcasting, and audiobook narrating over these past several years is the people that I engage with. One of those people that I have had the honor of developing a friendship and partnership with is Linda Tillis. She has written three books, and I have had the pleasure of narrating two. I believe you will find her as interesting as I do. Recently, she agreed to let me interview her.

 

Q: Your third book (A Heart for All Time) has just released on Amazon for pre-sale on Kindle. Congratulations!   Have you always wanted to be an author?

A:  As much as I loved to read in my younger years, I never once gave thought to becoming an author.  And I did love to read!  In my senior year of high school, I would sell book reports to friends during Thursday’s lunch hour.

 

Q: Tell us about your early career that led up to your writing.

A:  Immediately after graduation, I went to work at a sewing factory. (Thank goodness for four years of Home Economics). I spent eighteen years there, nine years on the sewing floor, then nine years as the assistant to the production manager. When garment manufacturing started to die here in the United States, I saw the handwriting on the wall and started looking for another job.

I went to work for the local police department. I spent a few months as a dispatcher, then applied for an opening as a non-sworn Crime Scene Investigator.  The Corporal who trained me had been a medic in Vietnam. He had been doing CSI work for ten years and believed that no one should do it for longer than that.  I replaced him and went on to do the work for twenty years.

During those years I saw a side of life that most folks never see, and that’s a good thing. The constant exposure to death, brutality, and total lack of morality can either harden a person or push a person to the edge of their personal tolerance.  My husband realized I had reached my limit and suggested that I retire.  I realized he was correct, and when I reached the twenty-year mark, I left police work.

 

Q: It’s interesting that you have broken down your career into segments. So, what was the next chapter in your life? Pun intended.

A: My husband bought me a good camera and said,” Now go out and take pictures of living things.” And so, I did.

Once I had a nice portfolio of nature photography, he insisted I should write articles and sell them.  I sold two separate articles, with photos, to the Florida Wildlife Magazine. During this time, I had gone back to work for the local sheriff office as a 911 dispatcher. At the end of seven years, I retired permanently. Then my husband said, “You should write a book about the things you’ve seen.”

I jokingly said, okay. But once I had started, the first book just poured out. I found it was less painful to address the awful memories if I put them in a historical context, so I became a historical romance/inspirational writer. Telling stories of strong women who overcome adversity to find the love they deserve.

 

Q: Looking back, what would you say that you would have done differently?

A:  The only thing I might have done differently, is to start writing earlier, however, I am a firm believer that everything happens in the Lord’s time. I believe He knew I would need this career at this point in life, and I attribute my small success to Him.

 

A Heart for All TimeQ: So, now you have three books out. The most recent, A Heart for All Time, has just been released. Would you tell us a little about it?

A: It is a time travel set in Greeneville, Tennessee, where my sister has lived for several years. Just like the first two, there is a thread of law enforcement. The heroine, Sarah Haskins, is a 911 operator. She buys a piece of Cherokee Indian jewelry that transports her back to 1890 just in time to save a man from hanging.

 

Q: I would like to post links to your books and your author page. Which ones would you like for me to use?

A: I am in the process of building a new website, but, anyone interested can follow me at

https://www.facebook.com/LindaTillisAuthor/

The books can be found on Amazon at   https://amzn.to/2uL3TBJ

Or The Wild Rose Press at   https://bit.ly/2IuRrYT

 

When I Die

Quite a ways back, the Country Music singer Tanya Tucker came out with a song where she sang about when she died. The chorus went something like this:

When I die, I may not go to heaven

‘Cause I don’t know if they let cowboys in…

I don’t know if Ms. Tucker ever got her theology corrected since then. If she did, then she knows God loves the cowboys and cowgirls too and that distinction will not keep one out of heaven any more than that distinction will get them in. What I do know is also found in a song that sings the grace of God toward me and anyone else who knows they will never be good enough or hold any position that gets them into heaven.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now I’m found,

Was blind, but now I see.

pexels-photo-262488.jpegI once was spiritually dead, but now I am spiritually alive. As such, I know my eternal home is with God through Jesus’ saving grace. I know I will physically die, but I will spend eternity in heaven. How do I know you may wonder? There are several proofs I have experienced that have settled this issue for me. The main proof is time. I have walked long enough with my Savior, Jesus to see the work He has done in my life and in the lives of others. I have read enough of His words to see the truths contained therein transform not only my life but the lives of others as well. I have labored long enough beside fellow believers to see the hand of God in them as they minister to others. I have witnessed enough of God’s supernatural intervention when it defied logic. I have suffered enough to feel the arms of Jesus wrap around me and comfort me. I failed enough, and each time God has picked me back up.

So, when I die, I want it to be a celebration of a life well lived before and with my God. I want there to be some humor in it. I want people to remember how God used me to touch their lives and I want people to remember that when I blew it, how God gave me the strength and courage to make it right. I have envisioned my funeral to my family and some friends several times.

At the visitation:

pexels-photo-278779.jpegAs my body lies in the casket, I want it draped with yellow daffodils (my favorite flower, I will have to tell why in another blog). I want the contemporary Christian music songs from my MP3 player playing in the background. Along the route where the line of visitors usually forms, I want there to be small ceramic planter type pillars (like the ones the plants stand on) strategically placed with the several candy jars from my office on each one. So, there will need to be at least three. This way the jars can be emptied for the last time. One friend jokingly commented that I am assuming there will be a line. True enough.

When the visitors arrive, I want them to get a half sheet size bulletin, with the usual stuff in it and one of those small pencils you use when playing goofy golf. On the back of the bulletin will be a “seek and find” puzzle of all the things I accomplished or attempted in my life, i.e., beekeeper, author, father, friend, husband, etc. You get the idea. This way folks have something to do while they are waiting in line (again, assuming there will be a line) and when they get to the front of the line, they will have something to talk about with the family members they never met before. I can hear it, “Hey, I never knew T.J.  was a blogger. Now that he is gone I will have to go back and read some of his stuff.” My family could reply, “Yes, and he was an author too, here’s his card with his websites. They are still up and running. We still have some of his books we need to get rid of. Just order from the web store.”

At the funeral:

pexels-photo-133699.jpegI will leave it to my wife and family as to how they want me positioned at this fancy affair. That’s how it worked when I was alive, so why stop now. I am good with it now; I will be good with it then. My friends can offer their eulogies, stories, and memories, etc. There are few songs I want the congregation to sing. Hopefully, I have more than four friends show up. If not then it can be a quartet. Here they are:

  • Shout to the Lord (Someone doing sign language to this would be great)
  • How Great is Our God
  • Beulah Land (This is good as a solo)
  • Ten Thousand Reasons (aka Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul)

Scripture:

I want this scripture in the mix somewhere:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. I Peter 1:3-5.

And this scripture on my tombstone:

For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Hebrews 11:10

When it is all over, and everyone comes by to say their last good-byes, I want four crisp one dollar bills in my hands so my four children can come by and get my last dollar. When they button up the casket and wheel me out, I want it to be to the tune of circus/ theater music, because that will be the epitome of my life: full of adventure, surprises, laughter, drama, and clowns.

 

Luck?

My Irish Heritage

I remember growing up and having an interest in my genealogy. My mother would answer my questions of what nationality we came from with this: “You are half German, a quarter Irish and a quarter Mohawk.” Knowing me, that was probably the easiest answer to give. Subsequently, I wanted to visit Germany, Ireland, and the Land of the Mohawk to see where my forefathers had lived and died. Nobel thought, huh? I thought so. We lived in Washington State at the time so I was fortunate to see how the Nisqually lived in that day and to visit the reservations. So I had some idea of how all Native Americans lived.

When I was ten years old, we moved to Florida where my grandparents had moved to several years before. I was excited to finally spend some time with them and get to know them. One day I asked my grandmother about our Irish heritage since she obviously knew more about them. She quickly responded in a heavy New York accent, with “I oughta smack you in the puss.” Several things happened at once. First, I froze as I wasn’t sure what part of my body she was about to smack and second, I wondered what I had said wrong. She explained that we were more Spanish than Irish. It wasn’t that she denied the Irish heritage, it was that she was proud of the Spanish more. Her maiden name was Ricardo. That was something new to me.

So faded my affinity to have the Luck of the Irish and to be heavily affiliated with that magical land. I would never have a pot of gold anyway. Not that I believe in luck anyway, especially as I got older and my relationship with Jesus grew.

I don’t believe in luck

I believe in God. I see people who are superstitious with luck charms (not the cereal) hoping and praying for favorable outcomes; while cursing the gods when things go wrong. I see people playing the lottery and gambling hoping to one-day strick it rich. The last ones are really some that I avoid. I play cards and Yahtzee with my wife and consistently kicks my butt. So, no Vegas or Atlantic City for me.

Why gamble when you can be sure?

Like you, I work too hard for my money to just be giving it to the government. They take enough of it without my permission anyway and take more and more each year. Plus, I am not impressed with how they handle what they get now. Why would I want to give any more to them? Yes, we could debate back and forth how several states use the lottery to fund education, and how our state’s money is going to some other state. I could counter with 95% of people who win the lottery are bankrupt and worse off than when they won and could quote statistics from other states who have to pay for the washout of addiction. I think this debate misses the point. When you boil it all down, the question is: what do you believe, or more plainly, where is your heart?

The One Sure Thing

God owns the cattle on a thousand hills the bible says. So, couldn’t this same God give me a million dollars if He really wanted me to have it? Is that what my relationship with Him is all about? It has to go much deeper with Him.

Jesus told us to worship God the Father with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. When He blesses me, what is my reaction? Well, I deserve this. I work harder than most folks. I am more favored. Can’t you tell by how well I am blessed? Or, look at me. I am all that and a bag of fries baby! Supersized at that.

If God chooses to take everything from me, what would my reaction be then? That’s not fair! Hey, I worked hard for all that! Why are you picking on me? Why I am losing all this and those people over there aren’t even working at all and have more than me? Notice these are all heart issues? Many I have had to deal with before and maybe you have to. Would to God I would have the attitude rather of David and Job.

God said David was a man after God’s own heart. Job said after all he had lost, that even if God chose to slay him, He would still be his God. God is a present help not only in times of trouble (thank you, Jesus) but also in times of plenty. How we handle all times is based on how deep our relationship is with Him.

God loves you if you play the lottery and if you don’t. He loves you when you seem to be doing well and when you are not. What He is after is your heart in order to have a deep, meaningful relationship with you. He wants the best for you and to be a vital part of your life.

Are you, like David, after God’s own heart? Put another way, are you seeking what God’s heart seeks. God further said of David that “he will do what I want him to do.” Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” and “where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.” Where your heart is, is where you will spend the most time, talent, effort, energy, and money. On what do you base your future and look to for direction; luck, chance, fate, crossing your fingers, the stars, horoscope? I don’t believe in luck, I believe in God. I still want to go to Ireland and Spain now.

You Are Called

This last week a young man came to me at our church to ask what it would take for him to become a deacon. I smiled and asked why he would want to be a deacon. He said he wanted to be more committed to God and the church. I remembered when I felt called to go deeper in my commitment to Christ. I went to our pastor and asked. I remember our pastor loved me enough to tell me that I was not ready to be in the ministry or even licensed to preach. I was hurt. I thought this was the next steps when God calls you.

Back to the young man. As I was trying to figure out how to answer him without crushing his spirit, I told him he had to be married. I was stalling. “You’re making that up,” he said. I took out my bible and turned to I Timothy 3 and showed him the qualifications of a deacon. “Look, you’re supposed to have children too,” I pointed out. He said, “Well, what does it take to be an usher?” I began to laugh. I told him that I admired his desire and for him to study the passage in the bible and we would talk again.

The Main Question

The main question here would be: is everyone called? I think the answer is yes. Too often we associate our call with some kind of church work or missionary endeavor. I don’t believe the bible shares this point of view. Here’s why. If God only called people to church vocations then who would farm? Who would teach? Who would enforce the law? Who would do any vocation? God is sovereign. The world, though now fallen was created perfectly by Him and He didn’t just walk away afterward.  What did he call the first man and woman to do? To tend the garden. The bible further shows how God called kings as well as prophets. It tells how He set times, peoples, and nations. He is a God of order.

Our Race

pexels-photo-618612.jpeg    In the bible in the book of Hebrews, chapter 12, we are instructed to run our race. That race is different for all of us. The main problem with the world is that mankind thinks they know better than God. Again, look at the Garden of Eden. If we all did what God called us to do then the world would function perfectly. We, mankind, are flawed and subsequently, our ways are also flawed. Still, there is within all of us a calling. Some call it a passion. Either way, it is there.

pexels-photo-696573.jpeg    I had a chance to talk with this young man again on another day. I explained to him that he indeed had a calling. God did not create us first and then think, “Hmm, what could I have him do?” No, God had a purpose in mind when He created each of us. That is our race. God had the race first and then He created someone to run that race. The young man asked me how to find his calling. I asked him what he was passionate about. He told me his dreams. I told him to start there. I also told him that he could do a process of elimination. I.e. did he feel led to farm, police work, or teaching. He said, “No.” Then I said he could rule these out. I told him to try different things and if he failed not to see these are failures, but as learning opportunities to find his purpose.

Are you looking for your purpose? Here are five things you could do, just like I told the young man and others to get going in the right direction:

  1. Know that without a doubt you were created for a purpose and that God wants you to know it. Hebrews 12:1 and following.
  2. Read the bible for examples where God called men and women from all walks of life.
  3. Read The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren and start with the five things that God has called us all to do.
  4. Eliminate what you know for sure you don’t have any interest in doing. I would suggest, if possible by trying it first.
  5. Seek out the things that do interest you and try them. Once you try them, you might find out you really weren’t as interested as you first thought.