Our grandson wants to major in philosophy in college. A few days ago, we got to sample what kind of philosophy we might expect from his one-of-a-kind brain. It's not exactly Socrates. But it's interesting and within the reach of the common man. He received some gifts for graduation, and here's the philosophical gem he spoke to his mother: "You live. You die. And in the middle, you write thank you cards."
Every morning I have a date with my bathroom scale. Some days it makes me smile. Other days, I'm sad. So I need comfort food. Like donuts.
But years ago, our son had an unusually uplifting scale. He was working in youth ministry on a reservation and living in a trailer. He urged Karen and me to weigh on his scale in the morning. Karen was thrilled - she'd lost 15 pounds in a day! And so had I! Of course, we got wildly different results every time we weighed.
In his classic, "Old Man and the Sea," Ernest Hemingway told about a very weary old fisherman who, like most of his village, had had hard times most of his life. He's barely eking out a living, goes out one day and decides to travel farther than usual to fish. And to his amazement, he hooks the largest fish he's ever seen in his life - so big he can't even bring it into his boat. So he begins to tow his prize fish behind his boat, excited about what this catch could mean and how it might be the beginning of a wonderful turn of his fortunes. It's the dream catch of his life! But as he comes into the harbor and up to the dock, his joy turns back to an even greater despair than ever before. All the while that he's been towing his prize; the other creatures of the sea have been feeding on it. And all that's left of his dream is bones.
When our Native American outreach team went to Alaska, our only means of getting to remote Eskimo villages was by missionary aircraft. Man, those pilots - they were the best! I mean, many days we had to fly through low cloud ceilings and low visibility. On a day like that, our pilots were checking every hour on the weather at our end and at our destination. There was finally a break where we could fly, but it all looked pretty dismal when we took off. The pilot of the plane that I was in was instrument-rated, which actually enabled him to go to a higher altitude. The pilot of the plane accompanying us wasn't able to take the high road. No, my pilot kept in radio contact with the other pilot. Believe me, our planeload and the other planeload were seeing two totally different views. From where the other plane was flying - lower - it was dark, it was dismal, and it was really overcast. But we were above all that. We were enjoying this beautiful, sunny day with all those clouds beneath us.
He was having a great day on the slopes - a lot of fresh snow - an already deep base. It was just the kind of day an experienced skier would hope for. But then this one skier decided that he wanted more. He skied onto another part of the mountain; a section that was clearly marked with a large skull-and-crossbones sign; a warning about going any further written in bold print: "You may die. You decide." It couldn't be any plainer than that. Sadly, that skier decided to ski where he never should have gone. Yeah, that's when the massive avalanche came that drove him headlong into a tree and buried him in a snowy grave.
I used to really take heart when I saw my son poring over the newspaper, until I looked over his shoulder. He didn't care much about the news, but he was devouring the baseball statistics. Later, I'd see him poring over a magazine with almost no pictures in it, just names and numbers. It was the latest monthly magazine with the value on every baseball card imaginable. Our son got excited when certain players pitched a great game or got some of the runs batted in, or you know, they were tracking for an MVP award even if they played for a team he'd never root for. Now, what's going on here? Well if you've ever been, or if you've ever known a serious baseball card collector, you know that he had invested a lot of money in certain player cards and when they did well, he did well in the value of those cards. Like many investors, his interests followed his investments.
For years, her voice was one of the signature voices of Southern Gospel music. When Bill Gaither started doing his Homecoming videos, her commanding voice became known to a lot more people than ever before. She's with the Lord now, but when Vestal Goodman was around she belted out a song, and it captivated audiences. I was actually surprised to learn that Vestal Goodman's singing didn't always dominate a room. And whether you've ever heard of her or not, it's amazing how this all came to be. Her husband Howard said that when they first started traveling in itinerant ministry, his wife actually had this little, light soprano voice. Something obviously happened. The storm happened. This near hurricane-strength storm hit Monroe, Louisiana the day they were supposed to have a concert in their big tent. Well, those violent winds destroyed everything, including the tent and their sound system. They moved their meeting to a church that night, and Vestal asked Howard to accompany her on a song she had never sung before publicly. As he started to play that song, he said that's when it happened! Suddenly he was hearing his wife sing with this great booming voice he'd never heard before - a voice that belted out a Gospel song; not only for the folks in the church that night, but later for millions of people for decades to come.
Years ago, not long after the Gulf War actually, an Air Force chaplain planted this mental picture in my head. It's still there! He told me what he considered to be the ultimate example of loneliness. The chaplain said, "To me, lonely is a fighter pilot in his F-16, on a night mission over enemy territory." The only light is this eerie glow from his instrument panel - and his instruments indicate that his plane has just been, as they say, "painted" as a target for, in this case, an Iraqi missile. The only sound he heard in that ultimately lonely moment was a song playing in his headset - "God Bless the USA."
The train left Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, at 7:30 in the morning, headed for a popular resort area along the Indian Ocean. The train never made it. It was suddenly hit by this massive wall of water. It was a killer tsunami. It had devastated much of South Asia that day. The force of the waves actually tore the wheels off of some cars and leveled the train in this grove of palm trees. In one of those countless heart-wrenching scenes that come out of scenes like a tsunami, one young man at the train site wept in the arms of his friends as the body of his girlfriend was buried. He spoke out to his sweetheart who had died on that train: "We met in university. Is this the fate we hoped for?" Then, as he began to sob even more, he said, "My darling, you were the only hope for me." Tragic picture!
Our friend commuted in his private plane hundreds of times. He flew from a little airfield near his house to the community where his office was. Well, knowing that he wanted to get home one day before the weather set in, he left his office earlier than usual and he headed for his plane. As he was boarding, he told a friend, "I'm going home!" Those may have been his last words. As he landed a few minutes later, the plane went into a skid and slammed into a tree. He probably died instantly, but he still made it home.