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."
I always thought they were buzzards - but a friend of mine who grew up with them circling overhead told me they are officially turkey vultures. Excuse me. Most of us think of them as nature's garbage collectors, but on a past vacation I developed an appreciation for their grace in flight. Watching them every day I saw them soaring in these graceful circles above me. And, amazingly, they almost never flapped their wings once they were airborne! They ride the warm air currents that rise from the earth as the days temperature gets warmer. They seem to just go where the thermals carry them. And I've got to tell you, it's beautiful.
Boy, when our family was growing up, if you were planning to take our oldest son somewhere, you'd better have all your details or you may not go. See, he was never a great fan of surprises or mystery rides. No, in fact, ever since he was little he wanted a detailed itinerary before he could feel good about any trip.
Man, I would get so many questions, "Well, where are we going, Dad?" "How much money will I need?" "What will we do when we're there?" "What will we do when there's nothing to do?" "Where are we going to eat?" "How long will it take to get back?" Ahhh! He should have been a detective or a reporter with all those questions. I'm not sure he was all that unusual. I mean, most of us like to know a lot about our destination before we leave where we are. Right? But that information is often not available.
I read once that Benjamin Franklin had nominated the turkey to be America's national bird. With all due respect to our wonderful founding father, I'm glad Ben got outvoted on that one, aren't you? I'm glad they picked the American eagle. What a majestic bird! They're even a good example for us humans! They mate for life, they build a family home called a nest to last for life, and they do a good job raising their kids. Veteran eagle watchers have told us that Mom and Pop eagle cover the floor of their nest with feathers and fur and, you know, soft stuff for their little babies. And then one day that little eaglet ventures outside the nest for a little walk on the cliff. And that's when the renovations start. Mr. and Mrs. Eagle start removing the fur and the feathers from the nest. When the eaglet returns from his little stroll, he returns to a nest that doesn't feel as good as it did before. Oooh, ouch! He's resting on sticks and stones now. Suddenly the comfy nest isn't comfortable anymore. Actually, this is the first step in getting that eagle to do what he otherwise might never do. What he was born to do - fly!
I had already been feeling some of the residual sadness of another September 11th in America, and then the headlines screamed out that there had been another 9/11 tragedy. Maybe you remember the deaths of an American ambassador and three of his staff, killed - as they often say about police officers or soldiers – in the line of duty.
It seemed like the man that we lost was the kind of person that we want representing our country. I remember what they said about him. He was proficient in the language, he was out among the people, he was building relationships, taking risks so folks could be free. I mean, that's what you call an ambassador.
Each of our three children learned the Heimlich maneuver in school. You probably know what that is. If someone is choking, you get behind them; you do the magic squeeze to dislodge whatever they're choking on and it keeps them from choking to death.
Now, can you imagine being in a restaurant and you see someone choking on a piece of food? You stand up immediately and you say, "Is there a throat specialist in the house? We need a throat specialist right now!" Well, there is none there, so you say, "Well, I guess we have to take him to the hospital."
Maybe it's because of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Yeah, as a boy I watched that ancient show on TV. I was fascinated watching my Mountie hero racing across the snow with his dog team. I even wore pants that were marked "husky."
And then there was my ministry trip to Alaska one February where I got to see dog team races in the snowy streets of Anchorage. They call it the "Fur Rondy." Now, those memories reignited recently because our son retraced that trip to lay the groundwork for a historic conference for Native Alaskan young people.
He was a phenomenon on the American scene for well over 50 years - Dr. Billy Graham. Again and again, decade after decade, more than any other individual, he appeared on the list of America's most respected men. In the twilight of his long ministry, his crusades took on a great sense of poignant significance. His crusade in Los Angeles was near the end of 2004, and it attracted tens of thousands to the Rose Bowl, and many thousands to begin a personal relationship with the Savior that Billy Graham had proclaimed all these years. His message each night was translated instantaneously into 26 languages, including sign language. I happened to know the man in charge of translation - that's why I was closer to it than usual. Interpreters fed the translation to groups of people sitting in their language groups, hearing the translation via headsets tuned to appropriate low-wave frequencies on their little radios. It was pretty amazing! So Billy Graham's Crusades were translated since 1980, but they said never into so many languages as it was in Los Angeles those years ago. The translating coordinator explained that it was important that each person hear the message in "his own heart language."
Some say it's legend. Some say it's history, but it's one of the most inspiring stories from America's past. The scene: a tiny mission near San Antonio, Texas. You know, a small band of Texas Freedom Fighters is taking their stand against the invading Mexican Army, and they're vastly outnumbered. There's a brief window during which the men of the Alamo have a choice between leaving or staying to fight. Col. William Travis is in command of the garrison, and according to some accounts, he gathered the defenders in the courtyard of the Alamo. With his sword, he drew a line in the sand and he called his men to a destiny choice: cross the line as your pledge to fight or stay where you are as an announcement that you are leaving. They all crossed the line to heroism, to immortality, and to honor that has endured some 200 years.
It's amazing how you can go outside on a brutally cold winter day, and you go from shivering to sweating in a few minutes. If you just stand around in the cold or just move around a little bit, you're not going to stay outside for long. It's just too frigid out there, right! But in a very short time you can get to where you barely even notice the cold. Just start shoveling snow or some other vigorous activity. You know, my wife once was out in the middle of a snowstorm, working on some outside chores, and she told me, "It's amazing how you can work up a sweat on a day like this!"