Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Mama, is God here?"

The year was 1850. In one of those old-fashioned railroad cars, where wood stoves sent out their feeble heat, a promiscuous crowd of men, women, and children were trying to make themselves as comfortable as possible. The conductor told them that in all probability it would take them several hours to cut through the drifts. Night came on; the smoky lamps were lighted. Hungry children became frightened, and their wails filled the car, adding to the discomfort. Two or three rough men began to curse loudly, and one poor sick woman, whose heart was heavy, because of the anxiety she knew the loved ones at home were feeling, grew faint through her suffering.
Finally, through the din was heard what seemed the voice of an angel—so pure and sweet was it—singing the dear old hymn so familiar to every one: "Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee." Before she had sung many lines of the hymn, every other sound in the car was hushed. And before the last word was sung, the children had nestled down quietly for sleep; women were softly weeping, because of joy in the rest the singer brought them; the men who had cursed God for their ill luck, were seen to slyly wipe their eyes; and the patient invalid found fresh strength, and was heard to whisper, while the color came back to her lips, "Let me hide myself in Thee."
Down in the far end of the car, where the wind seemed to have a fiendish delight in creeping under the door, sat the singer, a little old-fashioned looking woman, plainly dressed in brown. But her face was beautiful with the love-light that illumined it. Hymn after hymn rolled through that car, and not once was the hush broken, until the conductor appeared, announcing the fact that relief had come, and they would soon reach their destination. In the peaceful quiet that followed, a little child-voice called out, "Mamma, is God here?"
Through Jenny Lind, in that time of need, God sent rest to every heart in that car. When the invalid reached home, she told of how she kept growing better, of how the pain left her, and that she never before felt so near to God.  
A few years earlier, when asked by an admirer how she gathered enough courage to sing to audiences of more than a thousand people, she simply said, "I only sing to God."  
Jenny Lind (1820-1887) was a Swedish opera singer, known worldwide as the "Swedish Nightingale." In 1850, she visited America on a 93-concert tour sponsored by P.T. Barnum. She earned more than $350,000 at these concerts, donating all proceeds to charity. The event mentioned above happened during her American tour.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

From the 1974 Daycroft School commencement address, by Dr. Marc Engler.

If none but you in the world today
Had tried to live in a Christlike way,
Could the rest of the world look close at you
And find the path that is straight and true?

If none but you in the world so wide
Had found the Christ for his daily guide,
Would the things you do and the things you say
Lead others to live in a blessed way?

Ah, friends of the Christ, in the world today
Are many who watch you upon your way,
And look to the things you say and do
To measure the Christian standard true.

Many read and admire the Gospel of Christ
With its love so unfailing and true,
But what do they say and what do they think
Of the Gospel according to you?

You are writing each day a letter to men.
Take care that the writing is true.
'Tis the only gospel that some men will read --
The Gospel according to you!


Friday, August 29, 2014

A balanced diet, less junk food and more exercise all make us healthy. But what about forgiveness? Does the acid of bitterness eat the container that holds it, until washed away by forgiveness? Research at the Mayo Clinic concludes forgiveness actually improves physical health. Here's a summary of their findings.
Experience shows forgiveness not only relieves stress, but creates hope for the future, and opportunities to do good. For example, once a week Terri Roberts spends time with a teenage Amish girl named Rosanna King, who sits in a wheelchair; eats through a tube and cannot speak. Terry bathes her, sings to her, reads her stories. Rosanna was shot in the head by Roberts' son Charlie in what we remember as the Nickel Mines Amish School Massacre. In 2006, Charlie barricaded himself inside an Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, PA. He dismissed the boys, tied up 10 girls and opened fire, killing five and wounding five others, including little Rosanna, before killing himself as police closed in. When they heard the news, Terri and her husband, retired policeman Chuck Roberts, assumed they'd have to move away. Chuck wiped so many tears he rubbed his skin raw.. "I'll never face my Amish friends again," he said over and over, until an Amish neighbor named Henry told him otherwise. "Roberts, we love you. We don't hold anything against you or your son," Henry said as he massaged Chuck's slumped shoulders. "We're a forgiving people." This extraordinary gesture gave Terri a glimmer of hope. She calls Henry her "angel in black."  A few days later, many Amish attended Charlie Roberts funeral, embracing his wife Marie, and his parents.
Funeral procession: The community was devastated by the shootings in 2006

Members of the Amish community embracer in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, near the scene of a mass shooting incident at an Amish schoolhouse in 2006

Yet forgiveness does not come easily, even for the Amish. Rosanna King's father, Christ King, said the Amish are like anyone else, with the same frailties and emotions. 'We hope that we have forgiven, but there actually are times that we struggle with that, and I have to ask myself, ''Have I really forgiven?''' King said.  'We have a lot of work to do to live up to what we are bragged up to be,' he continued. 'Everyone was talking about this forgiveness thing, and I felt that was putting a lot of weight on our shoulders to live up to that.'

Rosanna wasn't expected to survive after being shot in the head. She laughs, cries and responds to stimuli, and King said she is mentally alert. But she requires constant care.Terri Roberts' weekly visits with Rosanna force her to confront the damage her son caused. But Roberts also finds peace as she spends time with Rosanna and provides some relief to the teen's family, if only for a few hours. "None of us needs to live in the saddest part of our life 24/7," she said.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Let’s call him Capt. Christian. After many years as a “top gun” test pilot, flying the fastest experimental jets in the world, he retired. Because of his skill, he was hired to work part-time, delivering the newest fighter jets from the factory to air bases where they would be stationed.
One day Capt. Christian was approaching a destination airport in a powerful new fighter jet when he heard a question from the control tower. “How much fuel do you have?” He radioed back that he had “enough to do whatever you need.” The tower said, “as you can see, we’re fogged in. Visibility is zero until you get down to 100 feet. There’s a young man flying above the fog who just got his license, and his one-engine plane has no radar. He can’t see the ground, and he needs assistance. Can you help?”
The captain agreed to help. He spotted the tiny Piper Cub on his radar and flew around behind it, finally flying right beside it, wingtip to wingtip. “I almost had to raise my canopy to get enough drag to fly that slow,” he said later. The young pilot was so afraid he kept staring straight ahead, and didn’t notice the jet next to him until Capt. Christian found his radio frequency and said “Look to your left!” When the new pilot saw the big jet so close, he was even more afraid.....but then......
“Just follow me,” said Capt. Christian. “I’m going to make two big circles. Stay close behind. After two circles, I'll descend into the fog, guided by radar. You descend when I do, and don’t worry about not being able to see anything.”
After circling twice, the fighter jet slowly sank into pea soup fog, and the little Piper Cub followed. The young man was now flying blind. He was afraid he’d crash, but his only choice was to obey. After descending blindly for a few seconds, the fog suddenly cleared and there was the runway, right in front of him! After both planes landed, the new pilot hugged Capt. Christian and thanked him for saving his life. He could never have landed alone.
"That's what we Christians do," said the captain. "When we find someone who is lost, we guide them through the fog of fear and lead them safely home."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

If you missed this TV news segment last year, you're in for a treat. A high school varsity basketball team in Texas redefined the word "winner."  Enjoy!
Excerpted from the August 16, 2014, New York Times

To be honest, I never cared about birds. Then, almost nine years ago, Hurricane Katrina swallowed half the city of New Orleans, and something began to change.
On Aug. 1, 2005, I moved to New Orleans to teach journalism at Loyola University. Twenty-eight days later, Katrina came. Along with the rest of the devastation, the storm submerged our new home in more than 11 feet of water. We had evacuated to Alabama 36 hours before the storm, to stay with friends. Four months later, in January 2006, I rented a room in a dry area — in the city’s Carrollton neighborhood — and returned to teach.
That first morning back I woke to something strange and rare in New Orleans — silence. I lay in bed and listened. Then I heard clicking — cardinals — soon joined by an army of beeping bulldozers.
I took a cup of coffee and sat on the back stoop. About a dozen small brown sparrows clung to a few spindly trees. Where did they go during the hurricane? How did they survive?
Much of the city was still a stinking, rotting mess. Thousands of homes had been destroyed. After a few weeks I realized that instead of starting each morning with the newspaper, we needed to focus on something beautiful, something positive, something alive. My father had been told that he had terminal cancer 40 days after Katrina. He didn’t know a Mugimaki flycatcher from a Hudsonian godwit. But during his last days he loved to watch the birds come to his feeders. If watching birds could help my father die, maybe it could help me live and teach.
CreditDadu Shin
I bought two bird feeders. Each morning I sat on that back stoop and watched those sparrows. Instead of wondering what was going to happen to the city, to the Gulf Coast, to the planet, I started wondering why one sparrow was hogging all the seed. I started thinking about their resilience, their pluck, their focus on immediate needs. If they couldn’t find food, they went somewhere else. If they lost a nest, they built another. They had no time or energy for grief. They clung to the fence in raggedy lines heckling one another like drunken revelers on Bourbon Street. Their sparring made me laugh.
My “sparrow show” got me through the mornings, and Audubon Park, home and nesting grounds of many migrating birds and ducks, got me through the afternoons. The park, which faces Loyola University, was once a French sugar plantation and is named after John James Audubon, who studied many Louisiana birds. I started eating lunch and holding office hours and classes there.
My students and I sat on benches facing Bird Island, a large rookery. Huge elephant ears twisted slowly on the muddy banks as we chewed on sandwiches and watched the ducks vacuuming up duckweed, the world’s tiniest flowering plant. Some students liked the park so much that they started going on their own. One, an aspiring sportswriter, fell in love the day he sat on a park bench and looked down to find a mallard pair inspecting his suede sneakers. He began visiting this pair every day. He began researching the ducks’ migration routes. Toward the end of the semester on a class walk, he shared his findings. “These ducks face a difficult and dangerous journey, every year,” he said, pointing at Bird Island. “And they come back here. They’re like us — tough, like Katrina evacuees. We were scattered all over but we made it back home.”
I realized, then, that the birds had become our teachers.
Today, nearly a decade later, I teach basic ornithology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Our middle school kids are from one of Madison’s economically poorest and culturally richest neighborhoods. Many of their families are from Latin America. Together our mixed flock of 20 undergraduates and 45 kids has marveled over a sandhill crane family — mom, dad and teenager — landing just 50 yards away to graze. We conduct our weekly nature study in Warner Park, a place that has a bird island, just like Audubon Park. I want to show our Nature Explorer kids that the catbirds in their park are both Madisonian and Central American, that they know no borders.
And so on the first day of class I always tell my new students the Katrina sparrow story. I tell them that the birds are a gift to help them get through each day, a way to enjoy the world while we change it so that young people, everywhere, have a chance. I tell them that when the world is caving in on them, just walk outside, listen for a minute, find that cardinal, that woodpecker, that pesky crow, and see what they’re up to. That tiny act, that five-minute pause, won’t save the planet, I tell them, but it might save you, one bird at a time.
Trish O’Kane is a doctoral candidate in environmental studies at the Gaylord Nelson Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Evergreen inspirational videos like these may be worth sharing with those you love. 

1) As a lad, comedian Red Skelton was a student at Harrison Elementary School in the small town of Vincennes, Indiana.  Hear him describe how a very wise teacher at that school explained the Pledge of Allegiance.

2) During WWII, thousands of young men, many still teenagers, rode troop trains across America to the west coast, where they were shipped into combat to fight the Japanese. Most had never been away from home, and were scared. Late at night, the conductor would announce "Next stop, North Platte. You have ten minutes." Little did they know angels were waiting for them there. Learn more at

3)   Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is remembered for "Song of Hiawatha" and "Paul Revere's Ride," but he also composed the most touching tribute to ones own children that we have in our literature. Father of five, he writes of his three surviving daughters. He describes the broad hall stair that can still be descended at the Longfellow National Historic Site. His verse originates our phrase "the patter of little feet."

Friday, August 22, 2014

A few days ago, I shared an excerpt from a book called "Here if You Need Me." I don't want to spoil the ending, but here's one more paragraph that really inspired me and might bless you too. I've been told that heaven and hell are not places, but states of mind. The author, Chaplain Kate Braestrup, agrees. She says heaven and hell are not about how we die. They're about how we live. Here's how she learned this.

As a favor, an adult friend named George was trying to burn a brush pile in her back yard. He used gasoline to ignite the blaze. Two of Kate's children were helping George, and leaning over the brush when he struck the match. The explosion that followed burned all their faces and arms.

Kate drove all three to the ER. George was cursing and crying because his burns hurt and because he knew the fire that hurt the children was his fault. "Oh my God, Oh hell. I'm so sorry, I am so sorry!" he yelled. 

Kate's son Zach was sitting in the seat behind him. In the middle of his own loud litany of "Oh God, Oh Hell!" Zach leaned forward. Kate recalls:

"He reached out with his burned arm, an arm blistering and shredding before my eyes, and put his burned hand on George's shoulder. 'It's all right, George,' he said. 'We love you.'

From this she concluded:  If you are living in love, you are in heaven, no matter where you are. May heaven hold you. May you always always live in love."
Last week I was walking through the north Raleigh library branch, asking God to point out some helpful reading, when I came upon a book called "Here If You Need Me." The back cover featured favorable reviews, including this one:  
  • A must-read for any parent who has tried to answer a child's hard questions or for anyone who has struggled to find meaning. Best of all, this remarkable true story is told with uncommon candor, grace and humor… This is one search-and-rescue you won't want to miss.”
    -Martha White, Christian Science Monitor

Kate Braestrup's "Here if You Need Me" can be read as a superbly crafted memoir of love, loss, grief, hope and the complex subtleties of faith. Or it can be read as the journey of a strong-minded, warmhearted woman through tragedy to grace. 
Her story begins a decade ago with a devastating loss. Her husband, Drew, a Maine state trooper who had considered training for the ministry, is killed when his patrol car is hit by a truck. Instead of the traditional approach to a funeral, Kate chooses to wash and dress his body herself and accompany it to cremation, wearing a dress he loved. Then comes the grieving: In the six months after his death, she notes, she and her four young children cried a lot, weeping while vacuuming, while ordering pizza, while coloring, while emptying rainwater from garbage cans. She says when you weep while ordering pizza, you often end up with the wrong toppings.
Eventually she and the children scatter Drew's ashes by the lighthouse in Port Clyde, and she takes his place at the Unitarian seminary in Bangor. "I'm here because Drew isn't," she tells her professor the first day.  "I'm his remains." Her skeptical brother responds to the news that she has decided to study for the ministry with an e-mail: "Dear Kate, you don't really believe in God, do you?" She explains that "the God I serve and worship with all my body, all my mind, all my soul, and all my spirit is love (1 John 4:8)."
Her story is deeply personal, yet resonant. And she has a refreshing comic side that keeps popping up: "I highly recommend divinity school for anyone recently bereaved. With rare exceptions, your classmates will be unbelievably nice, sensitive people. They are all eager to practice their pastoral skills . . ."
The meat of the book is Braestrup's description of her work as chaplain to the game wardens who conduct search-and-rescue missions for the state of Maine. And this element of the memoir alone is enough to make it fascinating, as she describes traveling with the wardens in search of murder victims, suicides, straying children and lost hikers. She accompanies the wardens to give comfort to the loved ones of those who are missing, to attend to the remains of those found dead, and to minister to the wardens themselves. 
One episode that touched me was the suicide of a young single Mom. Deeply depressed, she overdosed on sleeping pills and walked into the woods to fall asleep forever. Her brother was near the scene when wardens found her body. When he arrived in his truck, the warden said "we're sorry to tell you your sister is dead." The brother just nodded. "And this is Chaplain Braestrup," said the warden. When the brother saw her clerical collar, he broke down. She got in his truck and held him while he sobbed. (Maine wardens have a chaplain because they believe death is more than a secular issue. It has a spiritual dimension.) The brother finally asked Chaplain Braestrup if his sister was still eligible for a church funeral? He said she had gone to church last Sunday and the minister said that suicide is the only sin God NEVER forgives. Would that disqualify her from burial in  a church yard? You will enjoy what the Chaplain told him, especially the prayer.
"God is holding your sister close to his tender heart," she said. "She is safe, she is forgiven, and she is free from pain. Why am I so sure? The game wardens have been searching the woods in the cold rain all day, trying to find your sister. They would have searched all day tomorrow and the rest of the week, so they could bring her home to you. And I am sure that God is not less merciful than a Maine game warden. Would you like me to pray with you?" When he said yes, they held hands and she prayed, "Love is my shepherd; I shall not want. Love makes me lie down in green pastures; love leads me beside still waters, love restores my soul...Amen, amen."