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Archive for the tag “love”

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.

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.

What Do I Know?

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Five years before my daughter, Abby, was even engaged, I wrote a song with my friend, Don Koch, called, “What Do I Know?” The song is about a dad’s emotional struggle about giving his daughter away. Of course, that dad is me.

I knew the day was inevitable and tried to project my emotional state. Even then, the thought made me my heart sink, my knees weak, and my eyes wet. I jokingly told her I’d be doing her wedding via satellite.

When I wrote this song, however, I never once even imagined she’d fall in love with an Aussie and move to Australia. So her wedding events and day were filled with an extra amount of emotion as our window of time together would come to a sudden end with her moving to the Land Down Under.

In the hundreds of photos taken by the wedding photographer, most of me were as you see below. I assured Abby they were not sad tears. I was and am thrilled for her and her new adventurous life with Alex. They make a great team. God is good.

With the exception of the “lanky and juvenile” part, I think I got it pretty right. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a Kleenex. I’m about to watch this again:

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Father of Girls

My Dad’s favorite singer was Perry Como or, as Bing Crosby referred to him, “the man who invented casual.” I can picture Dad sitting in the living room with his eyes closed and head tilted back soaking up Como’s every note. “Now he is a singer,” Dad would say, “every note is effortless.”

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“Mr. C,” as he was nicknamed, sold millions of records. He also pioneered the weekly musical variety television show. He was the 7th of 13 children and when his parents emigrated from Italy, he was the first to be born in the United States. Along with his smooth-as-silk voice, he was known for his high integrity and demand for decency. If he felt something in one of his TV shows crossed the line, he would publicly apologize for it in his next show. Imagine…

One Christmas back in 2003 while visiting my parents’ home, we were listening to Perry softly crooning many of our favorite Christmas songs. Then came The Father of Girls. I had not heard the song before and was captivated by the lyrics and melody. You see, I was the father of a girl and every note he sang made me think of my daughter. Abby was then 13 years old, beautiful, full of personality and adventure. I was a nervous wreck.

We somehow survived Abby’s teenage years and I certainly took to heart the message from the song, When you’re the father of boys you worry. But when you’re the father of girls, you do more than that…you pray.

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And now I have had that experience that simultaneously fills a Dad’s heart with joy and dread: a young man asked if I would give my blessing and permission for him to ask my little girl to marry him. I knew it was coming, but was woefully unprepared. I did my best to not appear a blubbering idiot, but failed miserably. He was asking for my treasure.

So it was soon thereafter, a young man named Alex got down on a knee and with my blessing, asked my beautiful daughter, Abby, to marry him. She said, “Yes!” of course. I had no doubt she would. (You can see their engagement video here.)

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I had the opportunity to record my own rendition of Father of Girls which you can see the music video HERE. The song lyrics rapidly move through time saying, “From the time of diaper and pin, till the time she cries ‘don’t come in,’ till the time you gown her in white and give her away…” Now these lyrics are coming true and the emotions running through my head and heart are difficult to describe.  Can I ever really “give her away?”

It’s Father’s Day weekend and Abby will be out of town. She’ll call of course; probably FaceTime. We’ll talk about all the wedding plans underway and she’ll beam with excitement. She’ll ask how I’m doing with all the wedding thoughts and plans and my eyes will fill with tears as a thousand memories flood through my heart and brain. After all, it really was just yesterday I was trying to figure out those diaper and pin things.

Oh, did I mention they will be living in Australia?

Time to listen to Father of Girls again.

 

What Mom Really Wants for Mother’s Day

 

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Apparently, what my mother really wants this Mother’s Day is a Miami Dolphin’s t-shirt. At least that’s what the email I just received says. I’m a bit confused, however, because another email said what my mother really wants is an iPad. Macy’s tells me she really wants a particular heart-shaped necklace and Sharper Image says she really, really wants a foot massage bath thing. JCPenney, on the other hand, says she just wants a tote bag.

I asked my mother about all the things these advertisers say she wants, which was news to her. In fact, when I asked her what she really wants, she said, “nothing.” That was great news because I have a whole lot of that. But then she thought a moment more and said, “a hug and card would be nice.” I just so happened to have an extra hug on me so gave her one of those early. Guess I’ll have go look for a card.

It is interesting how the older we get the less store bought gifts mean to us. Sure they’re nice and sometimes we really do need this or that, but words of love tenderly spoken or written on a card or letter are what mean the most. Expressing our heartfelt feelings to those we love is a very precious gift.

It is often said the Bible is God’s love letter to you and to me. What a beautiful thought. For many, Psalm 139 epitomizes this amazing love story in 24 short verses. It begins with an almighty God who examines our hearts and knows everything about us to the point of knowing every time we sit down or stand up, every step of our travels or even when we’re resting at home. The Psalm goes on to detail God’s intense attention over us and causes David, the Psalm’s author to rightly say, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!”

Then, verses 17 and 18 jump off the page, “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!”

Even now, though we have homes and families of our own, there is no doubt my brothers and I are constantly on my mother’s mind. Like Mary, who “kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often” (Luke 2:19), a mother’s thoughts are constantly on her children. (Some of us take up a bit more of her thoughts than others, but that’s another matter entirely.)

But as closely as a mother watches and loves her children, it cannot be compared to a loving God who “knit me together in my mother’s womb and laid out every moment of my life before a single day had passed” (v16). It cannot be compared to a loving God who knows what I’m going to say even before I say it (v5). There can be no comparison to a loving God who assures me “I can never get away from His presence!” (v7).

How beautiful that God made Moms in His image. That’s why they love so much, care so much, and give so much. My mom has been raising children now for well over 50 years and I’m glad to say she’s still at it. Some of us children, after all, still need a lot of looking after.

I came across this great quote from a famous painter you may have heard of. In just a few words he captured the incredible love and influence moms have on their children. “My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.”

I love you, Mom. Where would I be without you?

Happy Mother’s Day.

P.S. Do I still need to get you a card?

Lemonade Stands

According to those who make calendars, summer is officially over on September 23rd.  Sadly, the end of summer also means the end of most neighborhood lemonade stands.

I love lemonade stands.

In fact, my wife and children know that it is almost impossible for me to drive past a neighborhood lemonade stand.  I’ll circle blocks, make illegal U-turns, and drive over rusty nails and shards of glass to get to a neighborhood stand.  I’ll even call my wife and kids and ask them to get in their car and go get some lemonade.

It goes back, of course, to my grade school days when I proudly operated my very own lemonade stand in my front yard.  I remember setting up the table by the street, making the signs, and wondering how much to charge for a wonderful ice-cold glass of lemonade; a nickel, a quarter?  Is a glass of lemonade worth a quarter?

Of course, mom would help make the lemonade and would even supply a small box of change.  Then, finally, after all the preparations were made, 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.

That’s usually where the entire operation broke down.

Long, lonely minutes would creep by as I sat there anxiously waiting for a car—any car—to pull down my street.  And nothing would crush my spirit more than when a car would finally come into view only to rumble past without giving me or my lemonade a second thought.  (There’s just something un-American about that.)

There is one summer day that stands out in my life as a lemonade salesman.  It was a particularly hot day and ideal for selling lemonade.  No one, however, seemed interested in my stand.  Cars were driving by that day, but none stopped. My ice had melted.  The lemonade was hot.  The apple I had set on the table to give away as an incentive to my first customer was rotting.  Yet, no one stopped.  And I was fairly miserable.

I was just beginning to close up shop when off in the distance, I noticed a car coming my way.  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, Dad is asking for a glass of lemonade and about the rotten apple on the table.  “Are you selling that apple, too?” he asked still smiling.  I guess I managed a “yes” through my sobs but informed him it was a little rotten.  “My favorite kind,” I heard back.

I have a vivid memory of handing my Dad the warm glass of lemonade and then the rotten apple through the window of his car.  He leaned back and drank the lemonade in one long swallow, smacked his lips and stared at that rotten apple…and took a big bite.

He reached into his wallet and pulled out a bill and handed it to the little boy trying to overcome his heavy sobs.  He said a big “thanks” and drove away.  He was around the corner and out of sight by the time I looked in my hand and saw the bill he had pushed in my hand.  Twenty dollars!

Have you ever gone from despair to joy in under a second?  Well, I certainly did that hot summer day.  It left a powerful imprint on me that lasts to this very day.

It is easy to drive by lemonade stands.  After all, we’re busy and have places to go and people to meet.  But sometimes, if you stop and invest in a “small cup of warm lemonade and maybe even a rotten apple,” you may never know the impact it could leave on someone’s life.  In fact, God could even use it to turn someone’s despair into joy.

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