Thursday, November 24, 2011


Thanksgiving has always seemed like such a safe holiday to me. No one fights much over its meaning. It is spelled out right in its name. I suppose it must be difficult to know who to thank if you do not believe in a living God. Maybe you thank your spouse or your parents. It could be that you thank your friends and your employer. Most people know enough to thank someone. Still, I believe that gratefulness is an understated virtue. We are a country of pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps people. Ego trumps thanksgiving most days. It shouldn't. 9% unemployment should remind us that not only isn't life fair, it also isn't predictable. What you have today you may well not have tomorrow. I spent time with two men this week. Each of them faces a death sentence at the hands of cancer. Both of them felt pretty well during our time together. They know that that could change at any minute without notice. And yet they each made it clear to me that they are thankful ... and that they know who to thank.

My wife and I were driving to our son's house this afternoon. We made our way west on I-64 out of the suburbs and into the core of the city. The sun was not far from setting and it was very difficult to see. My sun glasses were doing their best but it was a losing battle against the glare. Debbie was talking to her mother. Suddenly she dropped the phone into her lap and audibly gasped. My eyes had been avoiding the sun. We were about to go under an overpass. I had noticed a silver car parked on top of the bridge. She had noticed the woman who had gotten out of the car, scaled a chain link fence and guard rail. One leg was dangling over the edge. She pointed and stuttered and stammered. By the time I understood what she was telling me the overpass was behind us. I dialed 911 on my cell phone and the operator connected me with the Illinois State Police. I told them what we had seen. They had already received one call but had not gotten all of the information they needed. I told them that I am a pastor and I was looking for a place to turn around and go back but I was stuck in a construction zone. She told me the trooper had almost arrived and that I should keep going. She took my phone number in case it was needed.

I have no idea what had driven this woman to consider something as horrible as suicide. I never will know. I suppose for every person that celebrates the joy of a day like Thanksgiving, there is at least one person that grieves in loneliness and pain. Did she jump? I do not know. But my heart breaks at the realization that she was out there in the first place, even considering it. Maybe she had looked for something to be thankful for today and came up with ... nothing. I just don't know.

Two hours later we were driving from our sons house to our daughters house. The highway had four lanes. Two in each direction separated by a grass median strip. I had just stopped at a red light when it was my turn to go ... "AAAAHHHH!!!!!!!" We were in the left lane and suddenly a car passed by me in the right lane, going the opposite direction. Debbie said she saw a handicapped sign hanging from the person rearview mirror. I was busy honking my horn and pointing in the direction the driver needed to be going. About 50 feet beyond my car the other car stopped. It's turn signal was on and it sat still in the middle of a busy highway facing the wrong direction. My light turned green and I had no choice but to continue on. What happened? Did the person turn around safely and rejoin traffic? Was there an accident? Was this an elderly person who had gotten confused or a drunk who was driving blind? Once again, no idea. I do know that this persons Thanksgiving had not gone according to plan. I do not know what price was paid for the mistake.

I have been mentally processing these two events for the past few hours. All I can come up with is this. Sometimes life goes horribly wrong. The result can be intentional or accidental tragedy. It can ... and does ... happen every day. I am not above screwing up myself. (Just ask those who know me the best.) But I am convinced that there is a God in heaven who has showered me with his love. He has given me eyes to recognize the good in life for what it is ... a gift from my Father. Believing in Him has given me all of the purpose and imputes I need to stay alive, stay sober, and to seek to please Him with my every breath. And I have learned to give thanks. When things go right I give thanks because I am overwhelmed with His goodness. When things to wrong I give thanks because I have learned that I will never be content until I accept everything that comes my way as His perfect plan for my life. As long as I kick against my circumstances I will be restless and discontent.

Today is Thanksgiving day. And I give thanks. I give it to my God, my creator. My thanks is due Him. And honestly, giving Him thanks and gratitude makes my life worth living. I am so glad ... so glad ... that my life matters. So glad that my decisions can all be run by Him for approval before I act on them. So glad that the sunny days bring joy and gladness to my heart. So glad that the rainy days teach me to remember that this fallen world is loved by Him with such intensity that He sent His Son to give His own life to set things right for those who trust Him. Yes, it is Thanksgiving. And I saw a line of people today. They were camped out in tents, waiting until midnight so that they can be the first into the electronics store to be the latest technological wizardry. I have no desire to be in their line. (Though I do love me some electronics.) But I have found the line for me. It calls out for me. I want to be in it every single day.

I want to be the first in line to say "Thank You" to the one who gave me this life. Thanks to Him I'm going the right way and I'm staying off of bridges.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Final Straw (almost)

I could have died. Possibly from blood loss. Most certainly from embarrassment. I am convinced that it will be a passing moment on a seemingly non-lethal day that will eventually "take me out."

It started and ended with a straw.

Those who know me understand that I am propelled by two things. Sunshine. Caffeine. Mix the two together and, not only am I good for the day, but I'll probably manage to engage in unintentional self-humiliation several times. It is my lot in life.

And on a sunny Saturday I was on a quest to satisfy my unquenchible thirst for a sparkly, ice cold, Vanilla Coke. I stood by the soda fountain with 44 ounces of goodness in my hand. I squeezed the plastic lid onto the styrofoam cup, grabbed a straw from the bin and banged the end of it on the counter to force it to poke its little tip out the other end. Whoever runs the machinery that wraps these straws in clear plastic must have a PhD in sadism. It clings tightly to the straw, refusing to relinquish it from its grasp. But a firmly, well placed "thump" on the counter will cause about a quarter of an inch to burst through to freedom. I had accomplished just that. I raised the free part of the straw to my mouth and grabbed it with my teeth, preparing to drag the wrapper off the other end. That's when my left hand turned on me. The one holding the cup. I moved to put it on the counter when a noise to my left distracted me. Turning my head to find its source was my undoing. The bottom of the straw jammed into the top of my left hand. Momentum took over. The straw rocketed through my not-yet-clinched teeth and embedded into the back of my throat.

And when I say embedded, I mean "EMBEDDED."

This was the kind of impact that takes you by surprise and makes your gag reflax go into overdrive. I grabbed the straw and pulled it out of my mouth, eyes tearing up, throat shocked by the savagery of the sneak attack. I looked at the offending plastic tubing. The end of it held a nice, neat, round piece of Ron meat. I actually saw a part of myself stuck inside a straw. How many people can say that?

It's been two days now. I'm trying not to swallow any more than absolutely necessary. Speaking at church yesterday was interesting. I avoided big words, prefering to use their single-syllible cousins. The bleeding stopped Saturday evening, which is good because the Red Cross is calling me about every other day wanting more of my platelets. I think I am down to ... three. They can have two of them. Just leave me one for old time sake.