My friend Stan was having some new computer systems installed in his office. In the course of their work, the installers asked him what his password was. Well, in order to understand his answer, you need to know that Stan has experienced a dramatic life change because of something that happened to him spiritually a few years ago. He told the computer guys, "My password is 'Jesus.'" Needless to say, they weren't exactly ready for that one. One of them said, "So you can't get in without Jesus?" My friend smiled and said, "Exactly."
I have to admit that my wife and I were a little naïve sometimes in the months right after we were married. It was obvious the day this fast-talking vacuum cleaner salesman showed up at our apartment door. He showed us this high-powered machine that did everything but the laundry. He lured us with impressive demonstrations, he offered us an easy payment plan, and a deal (of course) that we had to act on immediately. Well, Mr. Newlywed here eagerly signed on the line. "All right! Hey, I am the proud owner of a high-tech vacuum cleaner! About five times more vacuum cleaner than our apartment could possibly need!" By the next day, I wanted out, but guess what? I couldn't back out then. In my enthusiasm, I had simply left out the most important ingredient in the decision.
The military has roll call - reading out the names to see if everybody's there. Family get-together? Well, you know who you've got. You've got Mom, Dad, Grandma, Granddad, and grandchildren. You don't usually have roll call. Now, there was a point where we had one three-year-old grandson who took roll in his own little way. While we're all busy in the usual chatter and bustle of everyone catching up, our grandson was obviously evaluating who's there and who isn't. You could tell. Before very long, he would pipe up, "Where's Grandma?" or "Where's Daddy?" or whoever happens to be MIA at the moment. And he wanted answers about where they were and why they weren't there. He wanted every person in the family to be there!
Charles Dickens said it about the French Revolution, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." Well, during final exams in college, it's just the worst of times. Actually, it was mostly our own fault. We waited until one or two nights before the exam to try and cram in all that information that we should have been studying all along. Now, my room was always Grand Central Station during finals days. Did you know that? Yes, you can take finals days two ways. I usually took pretty good notes in class, so everyone jammed into my room to try and learn what was there to learn. Hey, the big test was coming, man! We had to learn what was in all those lessons!
When I was a kid, I used to like to put on shows for the other kids in the neighborhood. Hey, wait a minute, am I still doing shows for the kids in the neighborhood? Anyway, I bought a couple of cheap books on magic back then and I had this little kit of magic tricks. Even at my juvenile level, I soon learned that magic wasn't really magic - it was illusions. My beginner magic book talked about how this basic magician skill was called misdirection. The idea is that while you're doing the trick over here you do something that will get everybody looking over there. They said it helped to talk a lot. Well, I knew I'd at least be good at that part.
When I meet people who went to elementary or high school with my wife, they tell me she was shy. I didn't know her then, but I have found that very hard to accept. From the time I met her at a Christian college, she was like vivacious, she was outgoing and she was confident. I've asked her about this seeming contradiction. You know what she told me? Both descriptions are right. In her secondary school years, she lived in the country with parents who gave her a lot of love and courtesy and spiritual wealth, but who didn't have much of what our world calls wealth. So, she lived in a home without the conveniences that many of her friends in town would consider basic. She didn't have money to spend on clothes or makeup, so she felt a little self-conscious in a campus world that was so much about the way you dress and the "stuff" you have. But when she got to a Christian college, suddenly everything changed. Here's how she put it: "For the first time in my life, the playing field was level."
I don't have much time for TV, and when I do, I don't usually watch gymnastics. But some time ago they were showing a sports feature about gymnastics on a plane flight. As usual, I had too much to do to get the headset that carries the audio, but I did occasionally glance up at the video part. It was a gymnastics meet between the U.S. and Russia. You can probably guess who I was rooting for. Now, I couldn't hear any commentary, but I saw some impressive performances by these young athletes. I also saw an occasional replay. But every time they did a replay, it seems like all they showed was the gymnast's mistakes; anything she was marked down for, and they kept replaying it. They had executed some great moves, but no, we don't go over those - just their mistakes.
It was the strangest picnic in American history I think. It was July 1861, on a hill in Northern Virginia, overlooking a stream called Bull Run. The Southern states had seceded from the Union, they'd attacked a Union fort in April, and now what the North called "the rebel army" was headed for Washington, D.C. Most people in the capitol thought the Union Army was going to mop up these Southern forces in a matter of weeks, and they wanted to see it happen as the Northern troops moved to engage the Confederates at Bull Run. They came from church in their Sunday best, the ladies and gentlemen of Washington arriving at the hill overlooking Bull Run in their carriages. They laid out their tablecloths, commenced their picnic, and started passing the fried chicken. Down below, the men in blue and the men in gray mingled their blood in the waters of Bull Run.
Now, I had never been to a quilt auction before. And I probably never would have been to one except for the fact that I had been invited to speak at an outreach at a Mennonite Relief Sale, where thousands come to bid on items made by Mennonite and Amish craftspeople. All the funds go toward worldwide relief efforts. That's cool! It was amazing to hear the spiraling bids shouted out for some exquisitely designed quilts. While I was there, one went for $2,000. Last year, they told me that one quilt had gone for $4,000. They even had sold two handmade dolls for almost $1,000. I was there long enough to see what gave great value to an auction item. See, those dolls were made by a Ugandan refugee. The quilt that went for $4,000 was made laboriously by a severely handicapped woman, and it was the last one she made before she died. When we were told who made it, and when we were told the effort they went to make it, it was suddenly worth a whole lot more.
One lousy moose - that's all our family wanted to see. The moose did not get the memo. Or he did get the memo and he took off. We were on our first trip to Alaska years ago, and all five Hutchcrafts were determined, "We're going to meet a moose." After all, like they're grazing in every backyard in Alaska, right? Well, the February we were there it looked like they'd decided to take the winter in the Bahamas. I was busy speaking at some meetings, so my wife and kids were out driving around, you know, looking for a moose. They even went to the animal sanctuary. We were told there was always a moose there. Not always. Several people told us about hitting a moose that suddenly appeared in the middle of the road. Not any on the road we were on. Someone suggested leaving a Hershey bar on our car - something about a chocolate mousse. Anyway, we weren't that desperate. Well, lots of looking, no finding. Next morning, we drove down the driveway of the house someone had loaned to us and guess what? Yep! Three moose, grazing at the end of the driveway. I guess you don't find moose; they find you.