There's one kind of mail from the bank that nobody wants to get - you know, that notice that you've overdrawn your checking account! Yeah, especially when they sock you with a penalty for it! It can happen because you've been traveling or unusually busy, or you know, kind of cutting things pretty close financially, or just because you inadvertently wrote some checks before your recent deposit has cleared. You can't try to buy or pay before the money is there to cover it, or you'll just end up paying for that.
It's one of those photos you never forget – like, you know, the picture of those American soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima. You've probably seen the photo of those three weary, dusty firefighters raising the American flag in the ruins of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. USA Today says "it may have been the blackest day's blackest hour" when that picture was taken. It was becoming apparent that there would be few survivors, and another tower – 7 World Trade Center – was about to fall. An evacuation order was issued to all firefighters searching in the rubble. But one firefighter saw something on a docked boat – a debris-covered American flag on a broken pole. With the help of two other firefighters, he found a large metal flagpole jutting at a 45-degree angle from a ledge about twenty feet above the ground. They climbed up and they rigged the flag to the pole, totally unaware that a photographer was watching and capturing it for all the world to see. A woman who taught nearby, summarized what that moment meant: "People were grasping for hope," she said, "and suddenly there it was."
Three feet of snow! That was a weather record I didn't really want to participate in. But, sure enough, we woke up that cold New Jersey morning to three feet of snow that had literally buried the metropolitan New York area. Even New York, the city that never sleeps, had been effectively shut down by the storm. Our little guy really wanted to go out in the snow that blanketed our backyard. So we bundled him up and we watched as he ventured out into that white stuff. And he promptly disappeared! I went out after him and, as short as I am, I just about disappeared myself. It took quite a while for that snow to become manageable and for life to get back to normal. And it wasn't the last snow dump of the winter. But for those of us who have lived through some pretty long and tough winters, there is one word that sustains us through it all. You know the word: spring.
It was the countdown week to the birth of our first grandchild. And, as you might expect, there were some of those mother/daughter conversations about what this experience was going to be like. You know, birthing this child that you've carried for nine months. I didn't think I had a lot to contribute, so I kind of bailed on this conversation. And while our daughter was still at home with some of those first contractions, I overheard her mother giving her some insight-the words of the veteran who's been there and knows what's ahead. She said, "Now, you're going to reach a point where you'll feel like you just can't take it anymore. Well, that's when you've got to hang on, honey, because that's when the baby comes."
When I was at a theme park, I ended up on one of the longest lines they had. It was the line for those little "Grand Prix" racing cars. All of us--I mean all of those kids wanted to get on that little race track and pretend that we, ah no, they were a race car driver. It's fun, but it's fantasy. Oh, there's an accelerator, but your speed is pretty much limited no matter how much you floor it. Oh yeah, there's a steering wheel; you can turn it, but your turning is totally limited to the track they have your car on. Sure, you can hug that wheel and stomp that accelerator, but the sorry truth is this: you don't have control of that thing.
The snowstorm hit Chicago on a Saturday, and many of the people stranded at Chicago's O'Hare Airport didn't get out of there until Tuesday. That scene was not unique for O'Hare, of course. I've sat in a plane on the runway for three hours just because brief thunderstorms went through. Maybe you've got some travel war stories like that. The fact is, O'Hare Airport is a hub for so many connecting flights to so many places. And because it's in the Midwest, it's near one of the Great Lakes and it can get hit with all kinds of weather, which sometimes shuts down one of the busiest airports in the world. Someone said, "When O'Hare sneezes, the whole airline system gets pneumonia." It's true that when bad weather makes the hub close down, nothing can get to where it needs to be.
Like most families, Christmastime for us has always been a season of secrets, mysteries and anticipation. And sometimes even a little frustration. Like the year my wife and I decided to build a dollhouse for our daughter and then another year we built a general store for our son. We closed off the basement and we set up our workshop. The sign on the basement door said, "Closed - Christmas Workshop." But, of course, the kids could hear all the construction sounds downstairs, it's driving them nuts! They begged us to tell them what we were working on. But that, of course, would have ruined everything. Even though it left them wondering, we were building something really nice for them. They just couldn't see it until it was done.
I've checked into many a hotel over the years, but I've never before experienced what I did just a little while back. See, when I arrived, I went to the desk – yes, they had my reservation – and they gave me my room number and my key - so far, we're good - and I went to my room. Then I put the key in the door, opened the door and stopped in my tracks. First hint of trouble was the clothes I saw hanging up on the rack near the door. Then I noticed the TV was on, and there were feet propped on a footrest – feet that were probably attached to someone who was watching that TV. Well, I quickly and quietly closed the door, turned to my associate and said, "What do you know! Someone's in my room!"
My childhood church has shown their love for our family in some very special ways, including sending a work crew to actually help make some repairs on our house some years ago - totally unsolicited. Joe was one of those "angels" that God sent. The first challenge for Joe came long before he even got to our house. In fact, it was on the drive out from Chicago. He was sleeping behind the driver's seat in the truck while someone else was driving, and suddenly he was hit with one of his recurring asthma attacks. Now, usually, he's able to get through that real quickly, but this one got a little scary for a while because he had trouble using his inhaler which he carries all the time. Here's what Joe told me. He said, "When you panic, you can't breathe, and I panicked. And you have to breathe to use the inhaler! The only way I can get what will stabilize me is to relax!"
A friend of mine attended a semi-pro football game between his team, which was an Arkansas team, and the overwhelming favorites, the team from Tennessee. Actually, the Tennessee team was already playoff-bound, and much to everyone's surprise, the halftime score was Arkansas 55, Tennessee 21. At the end of the third quarter it was still Arkansas 55, Tennessee 21. An upset in the making. Not so fast. Final score – Tennessee 56, Arkansas 55 – a victory won with a touchdown in the last seconds of the game. Another one of those surprising outcomes.