It was a simple order, "Get dressed." When Mom said it, our five-year-old grandson did what she asked. Moments later, he emerged from his room dressed for the day. That's good. It wasn't until he was undressing that night that Mom noticed a slight anomaly in how he had gotten dressed. He had two pairs of underwear on! When Mom asked him about it, he answered with a bemused look on his face: "Oh, I just put clean underwear on over the dirty underwear." Not good.
We were on a business trip when my friend Rich found a site that advertised caverns and an Indian artifact museum. An Indian man, with his coal black hair pulled back and a face my friend described as "well-weathered," offered to take Rich on the museum tour which he thought would last about 15 minutes. Nearly two hours later, he had received an incredible history lesson on the Shawnee Nation. The guide said the Shawnee Nation is made up of many different Indian tribes and the Shawnees have "adopted" these people into their nation. And several times he pointed out that once the tribe allows this to happen, the adopted people or person can never speak of their former tribe or nation again!
So what was the greatest song of the Twentieth Century? That was the question they asked on a major survey that was taken early in the twenty-first century. And the winner: Judy Garland's signature song from The Wizard of Oz believe it or not "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Let me sing that for you...no, I won't - blessed are the merciful. The tragedy is that Judy Garland herself could never seem to get there. She was an international star at the age of 17 and she remains one of the towering entertainers of the last century. But tragically, her search for health and happiness led her down a road of drug addiction, disappointing relationships, psychiatric hospitals, and a physical collapse. She died of a drug overdose in a London hotel. It's just painfully ironic, huh? The voice that tried to take us "over the rainbow" could never make it there herself.
It's never fun when the plane you're flying on hits turbulence, especially if the fellow next to you has like a weak stomach. It's really not fun when an entire airline hits turbulence. Several have over the years, including one of America's largest and one that had been kind of my airline of preference. It was a bit of a shocker to read that their indebtedness had reached such a critical point they were actually considering the protection of bankruptcy to try to recover. Bankruptcy is a word we're hearing way too often. You know? Then I saw the headline that confirmed the seriousness of their situation. Here's what it said: "Airline Seeks Rescue in Bankruptcy."
If you were a firstborn, or even a second born child, you might not understand this. But if you came after that in your family, you'll be able to empathize with our third and final born child. His frustration probably came to a head every Christmas when I'd pull out the old family movies...most of which he was not in. He's later observed that the number of photographs taken of a child seems to go down exponentially after the firstborn. It's like for every ten pictures of the first child, maybe there's five of the second, and if you're lucky, maybe one picture of the third. I can remember that he would sometimes leave the room for a little while during family movies. I mean, he had been patiently watching his older sister and brother's infant activities. When I'd ask him where he was going, he would reply matter-of-factly, "Call me when there's something I'm in."
It's hard to imagine a movie that got rave reviews when there were about 45 minutes during which there was just one man on the screen, and he didn't even talk that whole time! Yeah, Tom Hanks pulled it off a few years ago in his blockbuster movie, "Cast Away." It's the story of the lone survivor of a Federal Express plane crash who ends up totally alone on an island. Well alone, except for his one friend-a volleyball he names Wilson. Tom Hanks' character is on that island, marooned and alone, for four years. He's the castaway.
A local businessman was in to share with our Ministry Team, and he made a fascinating observation about his family. He's got three children; two are all grown up and in their late 20s. His youngest is just a nine year old girl. He assured us that she wasn't a "mistake." In fact, she was their choice. And he pointed out something the authorities made very clear at the time the adoption went through. There would come a time when he had a major falling out with one of his natural-born children-a time when he would conceivably, as a father, disown that child; even put him out of the will. But not with this girl he was adopting. He was legally committed to never disown her, to never put her out of his will, and to always take care of her. They said, in essence, "When you adopt a child, she's your child forever."
There's something you may not realize about my past. I spent some time in Alcatraz - about half a day. By the time I got inside that infamous prison in San Francisco Bay, there was nobody home. It was a museum! And it's a fascinating place to tour. I actually took a group of teenagers to Alcatraz one day to record a radio program there. We spent some time in the area that was used for solitary confinement...they even locked up the teenagers in the main cell block. Frankly, though, I'll tell you, it is a dismal, depressing environment, even when it's just a museum. As our tour ended, we were led through a gate and into a scenic area just outside the wall. It was a gorgeous day, and we had a fantastic view of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the San Francisco skyline. One of the teenagers looked back and mumbled three words, "Only a wall." When I asked what he meant, he said, "Just think, only a wall separated them from all of this!"
Every class has its clown, and Johnny was one of them. He was one of the first teenagers I met when we moved to New Jersey years ago, and he was always so much fun to be around. There was always a joke. He was always a clown - always the life of the party. That's why his call late one night came as such a shock to me. I was still a little blurry from being awakened by the phone, and I heard him say, "This is Johnny. I called to say goodbye. You're the only one I thought it was worth saying goodbye to." I didn't like the sound of that goodbye, so I asked him to tell me where he was, and he had actually broken into my office to call me. I asked him to wait there until I could get there. We talked most of the night. No clown, no jokes, no life of the party that night. The life of the party was about to check out of the party for good. Johnny poured out the pain that he was feeling from a messed up family and some disappointing relationships. He'd been on his way to kill himself. Thank God, by dawn, he had decided to live. And I knew there was a darkness now that had been hiding all along behind a mask that said, "Hey, no problems."
A few years ago they resurrected an old TV format and it came back big time! It was the old quiz "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" The program that first captured the attention of millions of viewers was about winning a million dollars! So, some Joe or Joan Ordinaryperson was asked a series of multiple-choice questions that got increasingly harder and, of course, were worth increasingly more. Now, if you needed help on a couple, you could call some person you've designated as your "lifeline." You could even listen to the opinions of the studio audience. But eventually, the spotlight was all on you, man. You're the contestant, and the host was pressing the question. When you finally gave your answer, the host asked this tension-building, unnerving question, "Is that your final answer?"