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Archive for the category “troubles”

Cliff Jumpers – Live

I tried to play football at South Miami High School. I was a quarterback who couldn’t run fast or throw well. But man, could I hold a clipboard.

I was pale, skinny, and completely lost on the football field. I had never played before my 9th grade year and was far more afraid of our head coach than any opposing linebacker. It was on our high school football practice field I met Jonathan Scott. He looked like he could bench press 500 pounds. His robust laugh flew right in the face of danger.

We became close friends. His walk with Christ impressed me. It was real. He truly loved Jesus and it was hard to miss. Before practices and games he would even pray for his new friend, the pale and skinny QB who desperately needed courage…and much faster feet. Together, we survived on and off the field.

Today, Jonathan is the South Park Campus Pastor of Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, NC. He is a fabulous musician, teacher, preacher, motivator, father and husband. And now, on his own accord, he’s taken to putting to life to some of my blogs. And that’s just really cool. But more than anything else, John is my friend. That is a wonderful privilege and joy and one that will only last…FOREVER!

Writing Stories

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View from the outdoor cafe

I’m sitting at an outdoor coffee bar that serves a lot more than just coffee. It overlooks a sports arena, downtown buildings, and a commuter train railway. There is also an airport close by. A few minutes ago an airplane flew past while at the same time a train and a bus rolled along. Everyone is going someplace.

It’s interesting to observe the mix of people in this place. There are all shapes and sizes and I count at least six different nationalities. Most seem quite happy. I suspect the median age is late 30’s and I suddenly realize I’m pulling the curve up instead of down.

Most conversations I overhear seem pretty light. If I had to guess, I would say there is one budding romance across the way. They are all smiles and laugh even if what was said may not have been particularly funny. A trio of ladies have gathered for drinks and are swapping stories about their respective “crazy” day. An elderly man is by himself staring into his glass deep in thought.

I wonder what their stories are?

We all have them. We’re all on a journey. All of us are hopeful our story comes to a happy and peaceful conclusion. We’re all writing stories.

I can’t help but wonder how God’s eternal and perfect plan—His story for us—is possibly taking place at this exact moment in each one of our lives. There just seems to be too much going on, too many  details, too many people, too many possible outcomes. How can it be that God is in control and that “…every day of my life was recorded in His book and every moment laid out before a single day had passed” (Psalm 139:16)? How can this be true right now, right here in this coffee bar?

I know God lives in eternity and is outside all of nature’s laws regarding time and space. It is difficult to try and comprehend. My Dad loved to tell me that this meant “God has all the ‘time’ in the world to focus on me and me alone for my entire life—every moment of every day.” That both thrills and terrifies me. But I do believe that in some mysterious God-ordained-free–will way, we write our story with uncoerced choices which fit exactly into God’s eternal plan. 

Maybe David was sitting in a coffee bar (circa 1000 BC) drinking a strong black coffee (no way King David drank lattés) thinking about some of these things. Why does the Almighty God–with that kind of power and ability–unconditionally love and care for someone like me? Why would he even care about my story and even desire that “through his mighty power at work within me, accomplish infinitely more than I might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)? It’s too outlandish to imagine.

But He does. And so David had to say what I’m feeling at this moment, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand” (Psalm 139:6).

I need another strong black coffee.

Award Winning Book

Fun summer reading. “Monkeys In My Coconut Tree” by Ed Thompson, is a compilation of fun, easy-to-read stories of fun, family, and faith. It was a Reader’s Favorite 2016 Silver Medal Winner. So come on, check it out. Read some of the reviews and download your copy by clicking HERE. (Also available at Amazon.com, iTunes and others.)

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Moses & Baseball

 

IMG_1312“Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.”  —Yogi Berra

Realizing my youngest son, David (then 9), was excelling at baseball, I decided to move him to a more challenging baseball park in Miami called Tamiami. Instead of the popular “draft” where the talented players are spread out over the various teams, coaches handpick their young baseball players and bring them to the park to battle it out.  

David was the only “American” on the Tamiami All-Star team filled with second and third generation Hispanics. To be fair, all the boys on his 10-and-under All-Star team were  born in America. They embraced their Hispanic heritage and cultural diversity, but were proud Americans grateful to live in the USA and the wonderfully diverse city of Miami.

Tamiami baseball is well known for being “over-the-top” competitive. And just to prove it, in our very first Tamiami game, the team mom from our team got into a fist fight with the team mom from the other team. I knew right then and there it was going to be a very exciting season of baseball.

And it was. Despite all the fist fights (and there were many), the constant heated quarrels over the “real” age of some of the kids (just about every game), and some umpires who performed their own little dance move with every strike-three call (one umpire called himself Michael Jackson), it was a great experience. David’s final game that year was played on TV as the Tamiami All-Star team won the Pony League World Series in Dallas.

David learned the fundamentals of the game of baseball from passionate Hispanic dads. Lessons he is no doubt taking with him now in his first full professional year in the NY Mets farm system. Not only that, but his Spanish improved dramatically.

In many ways, the passion David’s Hispanic coaches used for teaching him the fundamentals of baseball is what Moses was getting at when he said, “Teach [God’s commands] to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up…so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 11:19-21).

And who doesn’t want to flourish?

Most of us have a hard time truly believing God gave us the Ten Commandments for our benefit. But unlike baseball where breaking the rules may cost you the game, we are all in the middle of the great “game” of life where the stakes are so very much higher. So if you’d like to know why Moses said obeying them will help your life flourish, my Dad just so happened to write a short book explaining just that.

You can find it here at Amazon or on our ministry website at LOGOI.  

Lemonade Stands

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According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, summer officially ends on September 23rd at 4:21am. Yes, I agree that’s a peculiar date and time for summer to end but who are we to argue with old farmers?

Sadly, the end of summer also brings the season’s end to a beloved American pastime—lemonade stands—which inexplicably, are under attack by various government branches. No, I’m not making this up.

The government lemonade crackdown may have begun last year in Coralville, Iowa, when  police shut down little 4-year-old Abigail’s stand after she had been open barely 30 minutes. The reason? She did not have the required $400 permit. In Midway, Georgia, police shut down a stand run by three little girls because they did not have a business license, a peddler’s permit, or a food permit. In Overton, Texas, public outcry was so loud after two children’s (7 and 8) stand was shut down for not having the proper permits, the Chief of Police released “dash-cam” VIDEO of the occurrence.

The list of government shut downs of children’s lemonade stands has grown substantially over the years. So much so that websites like lemonadefreedom.com have opened up with news and videos to promote “Lemonade Freedom” throughout the land. So in the hope some government official will read this and have second thoughts on sending the police to shut down a child’s lemonade stand, I share this story.

I love lemonade stands.

In fact, my wife and children know it’s almost impossible for me to drive past a neighborhood lemonade stand. I’ll circle blocks, make illegal U-turns, and even try to sneak past a police crime tape surrounding the permit-less operation of a 4-year-old, just to get to a child’s lemonade stand. Then I’ll call my wife and kids and insist they drive over and buy some, too.

It goes back, of course, to my grade school days when I proudly opened my very own lemonade stand in my front yard. I was a proud and hopeful small business owner determined to make millions from the ten-cents-per-cup lemonade my mother made. It was back in the day when a young entrepreneur could set up shop in their own front yard without ever worrying about being busted by the Chief of Police.

I remember setting up the table alongside the street, making the signs, and wondering how much to charge for a wonderful ice-cold glass of lemonade; a nickel, a dime, a quarter? Could a cold glass of lemonade be worth a quarter?

Of course, mom helped make the lemonade and even supplied a small box of change. She helped me make the sign and set up the table in a spot where she could keep an eye on me from inside the house. Then, finally, it was time to sit in the chair behind the table and wait for the line of cars to show up, driven by thirsty people with an extra dime or two in their pockets.

That’s where a major flaw in my business plan was revealed. At age 11, I was unfamiliar with the “location, location, location” principle and Freakonomics hadn’t even been written yet. So I was on my own, on a quiet street, learning tough business principles the hard way. But dreams are beautiful and I never once considered our quiet street would not be teaming with thirsty drivers coming from all over Miami to drink my lemonade.

Long, lonely minutes crept by as I sat there anxiously waiting for a car—any car—to pull down my street. Then, when a car did come into view, nothing crushed my spirit more than watching it rumble past as I stood there with a cup of cold lemonade in hand and a hopeful smile on my face. (There’s just something un-American about driving past a lonely lemonade stand.)

But dreams die hard and I knew my first customer could be coming down the street at any moment. I would be ready. The minutes slowly ticked by and turned into a discouraging hour. Then that hour slowly passed into another hour, and another. The hot sun burned down, the ice in the lemonade pitcher quickly melted, and no one, not one car or person ventured toward my lemonade stand.

Mom had given me a nice apple to offer to my first customer as a special bonus. It had been nice and fresh when I had set up the stand, but now it too, was starting to look beat down from the sun and heat. Still, no one stopped. I was fairly miserable.

The afternoon wore on and I was dragging my head in discouragement. I was just about to close up shop when off in the distance, I noticed a car coming my direction. It was a familiar car. It was my dad’s car and Dad was in it. He pulled up to my stand and rolled down the window. “How’s business, young man?” he asked with a big smile. All I remember was bursting into tears.

The next thing I know, my dad was asking for a glass of lemonade. “Are you selling that apple, too?” he asked still smiling. I managed a “yes” through my tears but said it wasn’t looking so good anymore. “Looks like a great apple to me,” I heard back, as I handed it over.

I can still picture handing my dad the warm glass of lemonade and the sad looking apple through the window of his car. He leaned back and drank the lemonade in one long swallow, smacked his lips and then bit into the apple. “Wow, that’s delicious,” he said to my surprise. “I think I’ll take another lemonade.”

When he was done, he reached into his wallet, pulled out a bill, and handed it to the little boy trying to overcome his sobs. He said a big “thanks,” complimented me on the excellent lemonade and fine tasting apple and drove away.

He was around the corner and out of sight before I looked and saw the twenty-dollar bill he had pushed in my hand. In many ways, it remains the biggest sale I have ever made.

I have a sneaky suspicion my mom called my dad to let him know I was out there struggling to make a sale. I can see him dropping whatever he was doing at work and driving over as quickly as possible to buy some warm lemonade from his son. With tenderness and compassion, it was “Dad to the rescue” because that’s what loving dads do.

The Lord is like a father to His children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him (Psalm 103:13).

As my dad drove up our lonely street, I’m sure he knew the sad sight he was about to see: a little boy with a sad face and slumped over shoulders fully engulfed in his own private pity party. But as a loving father, he knew what to do.

For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust (Psalm 103:14).

I’m so incredibly thankful the Lord knows how weak and frail I am. I so often feel like I’m still that little boy at the lemonade stand down the lonely street with nothing going right. But my Heavenly Father is tender and compassionate. He knows I’m made of dust and always takes my frailty into account.

For His unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth (Psalm 103:11).

So the next time you see a lemonade stand—STOP—and remember the Lord’s amazing love, tenderness, and compassion for you. Then, pull over and invest in the hopes and dreams of a small child who is waiting just for you to make his or her day. It may just be the best decision you make all day.

A Colorblind Life

Most colorblind people cannot see the image above.

Most colorblind people cannot see the image above.

I needed a few things at Office Depot and was looking over the selections when a stranger walked up to me with a pair of headphones in his hand. He politely said, “Excuse me, I hate to bother you, but I’m trying to buy these for my daughter. Could you tell me what color these are?” He lifted them up for me to see as he added, “I’m colorblind.”

What he obviously did not know is that I am also colorblind. So when he lifted the headphones up for my eyes to see, I had absolutely no idea what color they were. The only thing I knew for certain was they weren’t plaid.

Undeterred, however, I leaned over, took a good look and said, “I believe they are blue.” The man smiled, said, “Thank you,” and went on to explain his daughter liked blue but disliked purple. He was turning around to leave when I added, “I suppose I should tell you that I, too, am colorblind.”

There was a special moment as four colorblind eyes met. Through the fog of unknown shades of color, we instantly bonded in a world where, without help, neither one of us can buy ripe bananas.

We just stood there, blinking, reflecting on the countless times we had asked total strangers, “What color is this?”

He finally broke the awkward silence and asked, “Can you see stop lights?” I stood tall and replied with a confident, “Nope.” That’s right; think about that the next time you pull up to a stop light. Especially if I, or my X chromosome deficient friend, is in the car coming the other direction.

My colorblindness was discovered in the first grade. My parents sent me to a private school run by a sweet Lutheran German lady who could bend horseshoes with her bare hands. Corporal punishment was the behavioral modification technique of choice and apparently, I required regular modification. When she said, “Take out the green crayon and color the grass,” she meant it. It wasn’t until my third or fourth behavioral modification session that it began to dawn on the Lutheran that perhaps I wasn’t intentionally coloring the grass red.

Colorblindness is classified as a “mild handicap,” and no matter how much you argue it doesn’t qualify for a handicap sticker. About 8% of the male population is colorblind and, to the relief of the fashion world, it is rare for women to have faulty retinal cones causing colorblindness.

We do, in fact, see colors. Being colorblind means you’re not able to perceive the differences. It’s really no big deal unless you want to be a doctor, pilot, police officer, painter, electrician, fire fighter, or buy ripe fruit.

It’s no surprise then, that I honestly don’t care what color something is. It just doesn’t factor in. You could paint my house lime-green (which I’m told is not a good house color) and it wouldn’t bother me in the least. It was during a college date in college that I learned the nice pair of khaki pants I had bought to impress my pretty date were, in fact, lime green. And I thought she was smiling just because she was happy to see me.

Standing in the Office Depot aisle with my new colorblind friend, we shared a few laughs about coping in our color-coordinated world — things like trying to match dress socks or a necktie with a suit. Watching me attempt either of those things is a source of great entertainment for my kids.

About this time an Office Depot clerk came around so my new friend politely asked, “Excuse me, but what color are these?” The clerk took a quick glance, gave us a strange look and said, “bright purple.” I watched as the clerk helped locate a pair of blue headphones and couldn’t help but smile. He was wearing khaki pants, just like the ones I bought in college.

Doubts

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Doubt.
1. to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe.
2. to distrust
3. a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of the something

I have a lot of doubts. I doubt, for example, I will ever win a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, I don’t think the committee is even opening my letters anymore. I doubt I will ever purposefully swim with sharks and doubt I will ever toss a game winning touchdown pass in an NFL game.

Okay, but what about real doubts? Doubts that keep you awake at night and troubled during the day. Like whether someone really does love you or if you really do love them back? Do you ever doubt if your dreams will come true, or if you’re good enough, doing enough, working hard enough, or praying enough? And what about the really big, ultimate doubts? Is there really a God and if so, does He care about me?

Sometimes I struggle with doubt; even those really big questions. I’m very much like the father Jesus encounters in Mark 9: 14-29. The father is desperate for his son to be made well and says to Jesus, “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”

Jesus answered, “What do you mean, “If I can?” The desperate father than cries out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

That’s me. I believe, but please God, help me overcome my unbelief. Maybe it’s you, too. If so, I invite you to invest 27 minutes of your time and listen to a powerful message from my big brother, Dan. He’s quite an excellent Bible teacher and this particular message may just be what you need to hear: http://www.christcommunitytitusville.org/sermons.html.

The message is from 9/7/14 and is titled, “Doubt is Everybody’s Problem.” Last time I checked, I was part of that “everyone.” No doubt, you are, too.

Trouble with Math

mathWithout fully realizing our children would one day ask me to help them with their math homework, my wife and I started a family. For about eight years, everything was going great. We had three beautiful, healthy kids who showed signs of intelligence and not one of them asked me anything about fractions or if they could have their navels pierced.

I have never been good at math and I’m not at all pleased that someone decided to invent fractions and grow polynomials. Then, just to be mean, the Babylonians invented word problems. No wonder their society didn’t survive.

Shortly after our oldest son, Matt, entered the third grade, my wife rudely left to visit her parents in Vermont for a week and left me alone to help with our son’s third grade homework. I checked our wedding vows and saw nothing in there about math, but that didn’t seem to matter to Matt.

He read me his assignment in his cute little voice, “A circus performs four more shows during the week than it does on the weekend. Each week day, the circus performs two shows.  How many shows do they perform on the weekend?”  He then looked up at me with big, hopeful eyes. What he saw, however, was a grown man’s face contorting into strange spasms of confused panic.

I finally mustered, “The circus is in town?”

Matt just stood there looking at me with those big, wide eyes. I wondered if he could tell I was silently cursing the Babylonians. Then, in a moment of brilliance, I remembered Walt Disney’s Snow White on Ice was in town. I picked up the phone and called the ticket office.

“How many shows do you perform each week?” I asked. “We have two shows Monday through Friday and three shows every Saturday and Sunday,” the nice lady said.  “So, how many shows would that be on the weekend?” I asked excitedly. There was a long pause and then the nice lady finally said, “That would be six.”

Matt and I slapped high-fives.  Sometimes math is easy.

World’s Greatest Dad

Perhaps you have heard of a man named, Dick Hoyt.  Many have described him as, “The World’s Greatest Dad,” and for good reason.  His son, Rick, suffered severe brain damage at birth and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  Understanding the tremendous difficulties that lay ahead, doctors encouraged Dick and his wife to put their son in an institution. “He will be a vegetable all his life” they explained.

If you know their story, you know that Dick and his wife paid no attention to that advice.  In fact, they did the opposite.  Although their son could not speak nor use his arms or legs, they raised him just like any other child. Rick not only graduated from a public high school, he also graduated from Boston University.  Today, he lives in his own apartment aided by personal care givers.

Team Hoyt

Team Hoyt

What makes their story even more remarkable, however, are the almost impossible to believe feats they have achieved together. They are known as “Team Hoyt” and I encourage you to watch Mary Carillo’s “Real Sports” special called, “Labor of Love” regarding this father and son. You can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roZrT_tciKA

Their running together began some 32 years ago in a 5 mile charity race to help a paralyzed boy in their community.  Rick wanted to be an encouragement to others like him and got his dad to push him in a modified clunky stroller. Most assumed “Team Hoyt” would simply get to the corner, turn around, and come back. But when they got to the corner, they kept going.  They didn’t stop until they finished the entire 5 mile race coming in second from last. (They have never finished in last place.)

When they got home that night, Rick wrote on his computer, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like my disability disappears.”  Dick was so moved by the joy his son experienced during the race that from that point forward he told his son, “I’ll be your arms and legs.”

The lengths to which Dick Hoyt has gone to fill his son with joy are truly remarkable.  To be more precise, Over the last 30 plus years, Dick has pushed, pulled, and carried his  son in close to 1,100 races — most of them being marathons, triathlons and ironman events.  If you are able to watch the video, you will see how their story has touched and inspired thousands of others — especially those whose children suffer from disabilities.

As a father, I couldn’t help saying “thank you” to the Lord for healthy children as I watched the video.  I also couldn’t help but wonder to what extent I would go to for my children.  And then, I couldn’t help but consider the unimaginable extent to which my Heavenly Father went for me…and you

“Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32)

I remember a conversation I had with my dad about Lazarus.  We wondered if he was upset when Jesus called him back from the dead (see John 11).  Lazarus’ loved ones were, of course, overjoyed.  But Lazarus?  And then Dad said something I’ve never forgotten, that “…Lazarus had to die again.”  Now that would stink!

Dad then went on to discuss with me how Jesus came to save us, the real us, our souls — not our weak and broken bodies.  Lazarus didn’t need or want that broken down body anymore.  In my minds eye, I think of him going privately to Jesus and saying, “Hey man, thanks, but did you really have to bring me back?”

So I rejoice with “Team Hoyt” and the inspiration they bring.  But just like us, the only ending to their story that will make it all worthwhile is knowing the one who brought Lazarus back to life just by calling his name.

The truth is, as strong as we Dads would like you to think we are, we are very weak, imperfect people with all sorts of issues.  There is only one Father we can truly rely upon.  And this Father loves us so much, He didn’t spare His own Son so that we could live with Him…forever!  There is no other competition.  He is the World’s Greatest Father!

Happy Father’s Day!

Shocking!

I remember as if it were yesterday.  It was a hot summer day and as usual, I was shirtless and shoeless. My little five-year-old feet carried me into our small storage room where I was determined to find out why my Dad had warned me; “Never stick anything into a wall socket.”  I had a screwdriver in my hand.

Two small steps led down to the cement floor storage room where the wall socket stood, waiting, next to an old refrigerator. Light shone through the open door illuminating the 110 voltage receptacle of electrons and protons.  It was calling to me. I walked over and slowly moved the long flathead toward the socket.  “Yes, yes,” it whispered.  A trickle of sweat ran down my face as the tip of the screwdriver entered the small hole. Nothing.  “Further,” it called to me.  I gripped the screwdriver tight and pushed.

???????????????????????????????????????The next thing I knew the outlet reached out and grabbed my hand and violently squeezed so tight I thought my hand would crush.  At the same instant, proton and electron minions flew out of the outlet with an evil laugh and started jabbing my arms, shoulders, and legs with millions of tiny needles.  I tried to let go of the screwdriver, but the wall socket just sneered and shook me so hard my teeth rattled.

I tried to scream, but the protons had zapped all the air out of my lungs.  At the same time, the electrons opened a valve without my permission which allowed a rapid flow of a certain fluid to exit my body.  I would later try to blame the dog for that particular mess, but my soiled pants and frizzy hair told a different story.

After what seemed like several hours but in reality was only a few seconds, the evil socket simply let go and slunk back into the wall.  The angry protons and electrons sat around pricking my skin for a while, but finally left leaving behind wobbly legs, ashen skin, and glazed eyes.  When I was finally able to catch my breath, I let out a blood curdling scream that caused my Dad to leap some 10 feet into the air before running to my rescue.

I don’t remember much else about that little experience, except thinking I was surely going to be in big trouble for disobeying my Dad and almost electrocuting myself.  Instead of being punished, however, I remember lots of hugs and kisses that day.  Even, I think, an extra scoop of ice cream.

While I learned my lesson and am pleased to say I have never again stuck anything into a wall socket, I still find myself standing there “holding a screwdriver.”  It’s just that today, the “wall sockets” calling to me are completely different.

God provided us a list of 10 rules to live by and to paraphrase said, “Listen to me, my child.  I’m telling you this because I love you and know what will happen if you disobey.  Don’t have any other god but me. Don’t misuse my name or try to replace me with some worthless idol. Don’t murder or commit adultery. Don’t steal or lie or even covet what someone else has. Honor your father and mother and remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” (see Exodus 20).

The notion that God’s rules cramp our lifestyle or keep us from enjoying life “smells like smoke,” as my old pastor was fond of saying.  The truth is, God knows exactly what happens when we stick screwdrivers in wall sockets. He gave us His rules because He loves us, wants to protect us, and wants the very best for us.

Now…if we would only just listen.

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