Thursday, August 9, 2001

Our church's youth group had just been out whitewater rafting all day. I had been invited to wrap up the day with an inspirational talk. And when I arrived at the rafting facility they were using, I was expecting to see just the youth group. As it turned out, this recreational company had 1500 people on the river that day from many different groups! So, I wandered around looking lost until someone from our church found me. And that night we had a wonderful get-together under the trees. Now, I didn't know that one girl at the back that had not planned to be there at all. See, she was a Girl Scout who had been there for the day with her troop. And they had somehow gone off and left her all alone. And she saw this group of teenagers meeting, so she wandered over to check it out. And she stayed...and she listened...and at the end, she was one of the young people who indicated they wanted to begin a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I was at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, waiting for my flight in the lounge of Gate B6. Me waiting for a plane in Chicago is nothing new. But what was noteworthy was what happened at that gate while I was waiting. Before the passengers from my flight could board, the incoming passengers, of course, had to disembark. I had not expected to see the unforgettable, emotional scene that unfolded as I watched.

It was shortly after the Gulf War had ended, and soldiers were coming home. Clustered anxiously around the end of the jetway were a boy in a Desert Storm T-shirt, a little girl, and a wife carrying a flag with a yellow ribbon attached, and a friend with a vide camera aimed down the jetway. The wife was crying what must have been tears of anxious anticipation as her son was hanging on the corner of the jetway door, peeking down the tunnel. It was actually hard not to watch, and many people in the lounge were doing that just that - some were even wiping their eyes.

As more and more passengers streamed off the plane, the wife was fighting more and more to keep her composure. Then, as a flight attendant came out, the wife asked painfully, "Are there any more passengers?" She said, "Only a few." Moments later, as the last passenger left, that precious wife fell into a chair and melted into tears. I want to tell you, it was a heartbreaking moment. The anticipated reunion didn't happen. The one she wanted home hadn't come home.

Last week I was going through the all too frequent ritual of standing by an airport luggage carousel, waiting for Big Bertha - that's what I've named my suitcase since we spend so much time together! Suddenly the monotony was broken for all of us by this really cute scene - try to picture this. Here comes one of those luggage carts that looks sort of like a big grocery cart without the big basket, pushing it is this very little boy, still in pampers, barely able to walk - about one-fourth as tall as the cart.

Actually, the boy thought he was pushing the cart, actually his Daddy was right next to him with his hands on the bar above his son's head. Now, the cart was staying on a straight course, it was moving at a good speed...and finally the little guy got frustrated because he wanted to push on the handle bar which was way over his head. So in order to continue the illusion of "little boy pushing" Daddy picked him up, held him horizontal and let him push on the bar. But, needless to say, his father kept one hand on that cart, of course! Despite the way it looked to this little cart jockey, it was his father who was really making it happen.

My wife's dad didn't want the holly bush by his carport anymore, but my wife did. Dad said if we would dig it up, it was ours to transplant at the little Ozark farmstead that my wife inherited from her grandparents. Sounded simple. It wasn't. It took shovels, a chain, a pickup truck, and some major engineering to get that stubborn bush out of the ground and into the truck. Well, we quickly transported "Holly" to the farm, immediately dug a new home in the ground for her, and got her replanted. Then my wife poured on the water and the nutrients. See, just removing that bush from where it was turned out to be only half the battle. We had to get it replanted quickly in new soil - or it would never make it!

If you've ever had a teenage son, you'll know this answer. When a teenage boy gets home from school, what's the first question he asks? "What's for dinner?" Now one of our boys' unfavorite answers to that question was that dreaded "L" word - leftovers! That was especially scary after Thanksgiving, when we found it seemed like that turkey would never end. Now leftovers aren't too many people's first choice for a meal. Right? And the longer they've been left over, the more unsatisfying that choice becomes. I know I've never been to a restaurant who offered an item called "leftovers" on today's specials, or anywhere on the menu for that matter. Let's face it. They're second best - at best.

There's this little bare spot in the grass in our backyard. It's been there since our boys were little. That was the first home plate they ever knew. Yes, that's where I taught them their first lessons in how to play baseball. Now our backyard isn't very big, so we had to start with a plastic bat and that little white plastic ball called a wiffle ball. But as I pitched and our boys learned to swing, there was one lesson I tried to permanently tattoo on their brain. It was the lesson my father taught me, that his father probably taught him, that somebody has taught every person who ever picked up a baseball bat - the most basic secret of success in sports...keep your eye on the ball!

I was on the plane, returning from ministry in Belfast, Northern Ireland when I heard the fascinating story. Danielle, the woman next to me, has deep roots in Northern Ireland. We got to talking about the Titanic, which was built in Belfast. That's when she told me about her great-grandfather. He was a professional seaman - and he had been assigned to sail on the Titanic. But at the last minute, his orders were changed - to sail instead on the Carpathia, the ship that was first on the scene of the Titanic's sinking - actually the ship that rescued the survivors from the icy waters of the Atlantic.

There aren't many visits to a graveyard that might be described as "amazing." But one I had recently was nothing less than amazing. When our "On Eagles' Wings" outreach team of young Native Americans was on the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho, we met this young basketball player named Quanah. He made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that weekend, and he asked if he could go with our team to other reservations for the following two weeks. We don't usually add team members along the way, but because of the urging of some strong Native believers there and our own sense of Holy Spirit's leading, we invited Quanah to join us.

It's got to be one of the most unique sporting events in the world - it's the Iditarod, the ultimate sled dog race in the world This past year 68 teams lined up for the historic 1,000-mile race from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nome. Of course, it didn't start as sporting competition. It started in 1925 when the stakes were much higher than a cash prize - it was the lives of countless children in Nome who had been exposed to the dread disease, diphtheria. The only serum to fight it in Alaska was in far-away Anchorage. It had to get to Nome in the shortest time possible. And it was carried in an amazing, Pony Express-like, relay by one dog team after another. It took 20 drivers, some of whom braved mountain ranges, brutal weather, a merciless gale. But on February 2 - only 127 hours after the first team left - the last driver arrived in Nome with his tired dog team and 300,000 units of that life-saving serum.

There are few moments in recent American history that are more indelibly etched in our memories than the explosion at the Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City in April of 1995. We've all got mental images of the twisted rubble, the terror and grief on victim's faces, and the heroic efforts of the rescuers to get into that building and save the survivors. There were also heroes behind the scenes as well. For example, there was a convention of restaurateurs taking place in a downtown hotel that day. Like so many people in Oklahoma City that day, as soon as they heard about the explosion and the rescue efforts, their plans changed. Suddenly, they set aside their convention schedule and commandeered the hotel kitchen - and dedicated themselves to supplying meals to the rescuers so the rescue work could continue uninterrupted.

            

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