Friday, June 1, 2018

A Son’s Remembrance of His Father

The fifth commandment in the Bible says, “Honor your father…” That is what I hope to do in the next few minutes – honor my Dad with a few words about who I think he was. 

After it was discovered that Dad had a “mass” in his pancreas and some other growths in his liver in early April, I flew out to be with him for a few days. At that time we weren’t sure that the diagnosis would be cancer. But, all signs were pointing to the fact that he had it. Consequently, we had some very personal and tough discussions at his kitchen table one afternoon. Dad eventually said to me, “Well, I’ve had a good life.” I asked him, “Are you ready to meet your Maker?” He told me immediately, “Yes, I am.” We then discussed other end-of-life scenarios and cried together – a lot.

As I flew back home a few days later, I feared I’d have to prepare some words like this to deliver at an occasion celebrating his life. I wasn’t all that excited about doing so, but I also didn’t want to miss an opportunity to pay tribute to a man I loved and admired greatly. On that flight (and later on flights to New York City, Atlanta and Sydney, Australia), I had a lot of time to write down some things that just seemed to epitomize my Dad. I decided to “alliterate” them (using the letter “C”) to possibly make them easier to remember. So, here goes:

Cards (Cribbage, Whist, Bridge, etc.) – Dad loved to play cards, and he was so good at it, too. As a matter of fact, you had better bring your A-game when you played cards against him because his policy was “no mercy.” He would beat you ten times out of eleven, but then smile and encourage you to play your best the next game! Cards just came easy to him. He literally had the uncanny knack of almost knowing all the cards in your hand when you played against him. As a result, some people didn’t even want to play against him! He was that good. I am really, really going to miss playing Cribbage with my Dad. Every time we got together, we played Cribbage (sadly, except for my final two trips to see him).

Careful – Dad was careful with just about everything he did. He believed that there was a right way to do some things and he just didn’t take shortcuts or overextend himself on much of anything. When he set his mind to do something, it was going to be the absolute best something he could make it. He got teased by my sisters and me for always saying, “You got to have a system!” But, he was so right. Sloppiness in work or finances or golf or any other activity really wasn’t his thing. If you were going to do something, do it right and take the time and care you needed to make it the best. He didn’t believe in “can’t.” When my sisters and I struggled with something early in life and told him we just can’t do it, he used to tell us, “Can’t never did anything.”       

Cars (and especially Cadillacs) – Dad had very few obvious indulgences, but the one he did have was driving really pretty cars. And, he traded in his cars about every two years or so, always looking to get the very best car he could (paying cash for them, of course). He started with Chevrolets, advanced to Buicks, and then finally settled on Cadillacs. Except for a couple of uncharacteristic purchases of a Lincoln and Volkswagen along the way (?), my Dad drove Cadillacs exclusively for over 45 years. His Cadillacs became his recognizable trademark. He must have been one of Cadillacs best, longest and most faithful customers, I’m sure. Speaking of cars, when he sold his farm in 2012, he actually bought each of his kids a brand new car! What a great gift! Dad loved cars, and especially Cadillacs.

Choirs – Dad loved to sing! Whether it be in the church choir, or with a men’s quartet, or at some other karaoke-type opportunity, Dad sang. And he didn’t sing soft. No, he sang LOUD! His base voice was really, really strong. When he was singing, he was all into it. He was the epitome of the expression “belting it out.” Consequently, all of us in our family also loved to sing, or at least we appreciated great music and those who produce it well. Some of my favorite memories of Dad are from sitting next to him in church and hearing him sing – especially the old hymns (How Great Thou Art always, always makes me think of my Dad).

Clean-Shaven – Dad was always clean-shaven. I don’t think he ever had facial hair his whole entire life. To him, it was really important to have a clean-shaven face. I once had a goatee and mustache for a while and I know he really didn’t care for it at all. Dad didn’t start his day until he’d had a good shave each morning. He frequently shaved again before going out for the evening, as well. Always with a splash of Mennen Skin Bracer afterwards, of course.

Conservative – Dad was unquestionably conservative. He was never shy about stating his beliefs and politics openly. He believed in conservative values and ideals, and he loved voting in local, state and national elections accordingly. I learned at an early age where his political views stood, and as I’ve gotten older (and maybe a little bit wiser?), I find that I am gravitating more and more towards his viewpoint every day. The good thing was that Dad wasn’t ugly about expressing his political views. Rather, he just knew what he believed in and didn’t have any fear about letting people know where he stood. Frankly, I really admired that about him. 

Consistent – Dad was never wishy-washy about anything. You could almost predetermine how he would react to just about every situation. He had a way of living life that worked for him and he stuck to it. For example, he loved our Mom and us kids consistently, even when we disappointed him (especially me!). He stuck with the people he called his friends and didn’t ever abandon them. If he said he’d do something for you, you could take it to the bank. Dad consistently did what he said he was going to do and you could count on it every time. They don’t make too many like that anymore.

Corn – I just had to throw this word in. Dad grew corn most of his adult life, and he was possibly one of the best in all of Central Iowa at doing it. He prided himself in having very straight rows, really pretty fields, and BIG yields. He loved farming so much. Growing corn was one of his specialties – another potential trademark.

Country (Music, Living, Farming and the USA) – Dad couldn’t get enough of Country Western Music. As a matter of fact, all the stations on his last Cadillac were tuned to Sirius radio and Willie’s Roadhouse! Whether singing, dancing or listening to it, Dad loved Country Western Music. He also loved Country Living. He eventually adjusted to living at his home in Sun City, Arizona, because beyond his backyard was an absolutely beautiful golf course with lots of trees and a stunningly gorgeous lake. But, he really wanted to be out and away from everything somewhere in the country. Central Iowa was his absolute favorite place in all the world. He also loved states like Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming. In addition, he was a very proud American. He didn’t have a chance to serve in the military, but he defended his country every day of his life. He was a staunch patriot and didn’t understand it when others weren’t. To this day, I really can’t say anything bad about the USA – Dad taught me this was the best place in the world to live and I believe he was right!

Courageous – My Dad appeared to be completely unafraid of anything. I mean, absolutely anything! You might even say that he was somewhat fearless. Case in point was his final month on this earth. Anyone else would have potentially buckled under with the health issues he faced. The cancer in his body was ravaging his internal organs and other parts of his body terribly. But, he was incredibly courageous through it all and faced the challenges of pancreatic cancer all the way to the end. As a matter of fact, my sisters and I felt like he got supernaturally sweeter and sweeter toward the end of his life, even though his body was wreaking havoc within him at every single breath. It was nothing short of unbelievable how he faced this adversity head-on and without fear (or at least that’s what it looked like to us from the outside). I will never ever forget how courageous he was to the end. He was amazing!

I think I speak for all of my family in saying that we were so blessed to have known and loved such a wonderful man! I will forever cherish precious memories of times with my Dad. He was an incredible human being and truly had a great life. In addition, he positively impacted many of us forever. God bless the life, memory and incredible strength of my Dad, Dick Ellwood.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Wanna Get Away?

This post is something I wrote for our church's daily devotional - Vertical. Seemed like I should share it with others by way of this blog also. The passage I am writing about is Revelation 21:1-7. Enjoy!

You’ve all heard it. By now it's a very familiar sound and phrase.

“Ding. Wanna get away?”

Southwest Airlines’ brilliant ad campaign appeals to all of us who desperately want to escape the hopeless situations we sometimes find ourselves in. I don’t know about you, but I’ve really been longing for some sort of getaway lately. I mean, can this world and the politics in the United States get any crazier?

But, before we think we are in the worst situation ever, let’s take a minute to put things in proper historical context. What was the world really like when the apostle John wrote these words in the Book of Revelation anyway?

Well, he was in exile because of his witness for Christ; it was a time of severe persecution for Christians. The Jerusalem temple had already been destroyed. People were being punished for not worshiping the emperor. Cruel, paranoid tyrants were in power; they sought to control public and private morals. Wars and chaos were abundant; heavy taxation dominated people's lives. Anarchy and lawlessness was everywhere: marriages of convenience and for political expediency, untold questionable activities by the political elite, power-hungry leaders oftentimes exercised absolute political power.

What do you think? Sound familiar?

“Ding. Wanna get away?”

Yes, John was in a terrible place. The world around him was a mess; so many things he valued were gone: his Lord Jesus, his friends, his hope? But God gave him a vision and told him He had everything under control. God showed John that if he focused on the Lord’s return, not the circumstances around him, he could survive and even thrive. He became more concerned with the second coming of Jesus than with the political situation of his times.

We should not expect everything to be right here on this earth because of the inescapable presence of sin; this world will always be marred by sin and disobedience. But one day, sin will be gone and God will make everything new.

Next time you want to escape, remember this:

Ding. Jesus is coming back. It may be soon!

When things don't seem right in this world, remember God has a plan; He'll make everything right in His time. You can count on that! The ultimate issue of our day is Jesus' victory over sin and death and His soon and coming return.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Now what?

I should have known that this would be an emotional day. It's my Dad's 87th birthday. It is soon the three-year anniversary of my Mom's passing. Two people I knew died this past week. And, our youngest child, Nathan, left home. He's moving to Austin, Texas, to start his first job out of college.

Both Ellen and I were doing pretty good with him leaving until as we were saying our "good-byes" to Nathan out on the street, he looked up at the house and said, "Huh, I guess I won't ever live here again?"

Now what?

We have been at this parenting thing now for many, many years. It's kind of what we do. It's not all we've done, but it certainly was our primary focus for over 33+ years. We have literally built our whole life around the wonderful children God gave us. And now, our youngest one is gone. Oh, he'll be back for a few weekends between now and when he marries Arlene MacArthur in August, but essentially he's gone.

Now what?

I left the house to run an errand after Nathan drove away. On the radio they were playing the song, "Day One of the Rest of My Life." The lyrics speak of this day being the start of your future (no matter what happened before). Couldn't help but think of Nathan as I listened to it, but then I also began to think about Ellen and me. In a lot of ways this marks the first day of the rest of our lives, as well.

Now what?

Well, first things first. I want to publicly thank God for giving us these four children, and for the wonderful human beings they've all become. We could not be more blessed by Andy, Katie, Peter and Nathan. Our cup overflows with absolute joy when we consider all that God has done for us personally and for our children specifically over the past 33+ years. It is simply amazing! We wouldn't trade any of it for anything else in the whole world. So worth it! SO WORTH IT!

Second, there's always doubt that creeps in regarding "Did we do enough as their parents?" "Did we do too much as their parents?" And, sometimes as parents you can get bogged down by the "what ifs" and lost in the "if onlys" that come to mind. I just have to publicly declare at this juncture that we did what we thought was best for our children, we tried to live life with them having few regrets, and we now plan on trusting God for what's next for all of them. They belong to Him anyway - our job as parents was to love and protect them, provide for their needs until they could do so themselves, teach them the really important stuff in life (and hope they never forget it), and then trust that our heavenly Father will help them understand and navigate everything else they'll need for life. That He'll fill in all the gaps we missed and/or help them forget the mistakes we made.

Now what?

Well, Ellen and I are re-committing our lives to each other. We are really excited about the prospect of being able to primarily focus on our relationship now and for the rest of our lives. We are grateful to God that even after almost 35 years of marriage (plus four children, homeschooling for 19 years, paying for four college educations, and lots of other really challenging/rewarding stuff) we still love (and like!) each other. Praise God for that!

Now what?

Time will tell. But, here's a few broad ideas for how we want to live life going forward:

We want to pray more. We want to love more. We want to be engaged in the lives of others around us more. We want to do all we can to make a difference in other people's lives. We want to continually share the GRACE we've been given. We want to be joyful at all times. We want to give others hope. And finally, we want to be all that God has called us to be for the rest of our lives.

Now what? Stay tuned...   

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Tribute to Rusty Franklin's Wonderful Life!

I lost a really good friend on January 1st. His name was Rusty Franklin. Rusty and I met a little over eight years ago at our church. He and I were close like brothers. I loved him greatly.

Rusty and Anne (his wife) would become people we wanted to know better and better, and we began to spend a lot of time with them. Rusty was so doggone engaging with his bright, happy outlook on life (to Rusty, everything was AWESOME!). He also had a wonderful eagerness/bounce in his step. He just approached everything in life with a positive attitude. Rusty loved God and was always interested in learning more about Him.

Rusty was competitive, a real gamer; well, to be honest, he just loved to PLAY. As a matter of fact, one of the things I most loved about Rusty was that over the past year or two, we played Words with Friends on our phones, nearly every morning. Sometime before 7 a.m. each day, my phone would “ding,” and I’d look to see that Rusty had played our game. I still had a game going with him on my phone up until his final day; he made his last play the morning of January 1st. He and Anne were headed to our house (but didn't quite make it).

So, Rusty and I were friends, and very good ones at that. I loved how he always called me “bud.” But, we really weren’t much alike; as a matter of fact, we were very different types of guys. Rusty was a school administrator/coach/teacher. He was very athletic and had actually been a “star player” in several sports (especially baseball). He was an outdoorsman and loved to fish/hunt, not to mention experience wild adventures in nature (he spoke many times of his thrilling escapades in Alaska!). He also loved to tinker with miscellaneous equipment/machines/projects in his yard, do organic gardening, planting all sorts of things in the ground and then delight in watching them grow. He played with and entertained his dogs, Max and Gracie, enjoying their frolicking around and/or snickering about their mischief! Finally, he was a HUGE Texas Longhorns fan, and generally, a pretty happy-go-lucky, laid back sort of guy.

I’m none of those things. But, God in His infinite wisdom brought us together anyway. What we did have in common was two very important loves. These two loves glued our friendship together forever: Texas Rangers baseball (and a general love of sports); and Jesus.

Over the years I’ve learned that you actually become a lot like the people you hang out with. I believe Rusty rubbed off on me because we hung out together a lot. I’m so grateful to be more like him. But, more important than that, Rusty hung out a lot with Jesus – and Jesus rubbed off on him! Here’s evidence of that, and some of the reasons why I loved my friend so much:

1.   Rusty was a gentle man. I don’t believe there was an unkind muscle or bone in his body. He went through his wonderful life touching people with his gentleness, rather than knocking them down with brash behavior or rudeness. Somewhere along the way, God gifted him with an incredibly peaceful, gentle spirit.

2.   Rusty was loyal and faithful – first to his wife, Anne, then to his job and the students, then to his family members (especially all of his favorite nieces!), and finally to his many, many friends. As a matter of fact, there were times when I was actually pretty annoyed with Rusty because he had so doggone many other demands on his time/life. But, shame on me for being selfish. He gave me plenty of time/attention. The trouble was, I wanted more. Everyone did!

3.   Rusty was a servant leader. He was always serving others. He loved Anne more than anything else in the entire world and served her daily. He loved his job and was compelled to give it his best effort every day. He mentioned to several of us that he believed God had him at his job for reasons beyond what they were paying him for. He truly felt that he was called to minister to young people/students (as well as to the other teachers/co-workers) there. He sought out opportunities to serve wherever he was called (and/or wherever there was need). He considered it an absolute privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus as he interacted with others he was called to serve. What a great model to follow!

4.   Rusty did things. He and Anne did not wait for other people to make things happen, or just sit around and dream about doing incredible stuff. They actually got out there and made it happen! He told me on more than one occasion that once Anne’s health became a concern (about 10+ years ago), they knew there wasn’t much certainty as to how many days they’d have together. So, they chose to make a commitment to just love life (and each other) to the fullest extent possible, getting out there and enjoying every single day, as though it might be their last. Each minute/hour was absolutely precious to Rusty, and he lived accordingly. He and Anne took a lot of trips together, saw a lot of movies together, experienced fun get-away’ s together (with the school band and/or family members/friends). Sometimes they just took off in one of their cars and went somewhere spontaneously just because it would be fun! And then, when they returned, they loved telling us all about their adventure (with Rusty referring to everything as AWESOME, of course!).

5.   Rusty did not live with regret. He just refused to do things that would cause him regret. He didn’t let the expectations or demands of others define his day-to-day existence. I’m guessing that up until his final breath, he probably didn’t have any thoughts of wishing he’d done this or that. Even when he experienced his heart attack and other health setbacks back in March of 2013, he didn’t attract attention to himself or beg for sympathy for his condition. Rather, he got going on his exercises, ate healthier foods, lost a lot of weight, tried to do what the doctors wanted him to, etc. He loved life. And, when life threw him curve balls, he just adapted/adjusted to them (without complaining or regret). When Anne’s health was a concern, his concern was for Anne (not for what he was unable to do because of her limitations). I was frequently astounded by his ability to take the hand he was dealt, and make the best of it, with NO REGRETS.

6.   Finally, Rusty loved God and was committed to His Savior, Jesus. I had the privilege of seeing him grow deeper and stronger in his faith “up-close-and-personal” the past few years. He helped me see new insights into God’s Word, showing me evidence of where God was working in the world. Rusty had a simple faith, but he clearly understood the importance of accepting God's free gift of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

After Rusty died, Anne asked me if I thought Rusty knew he was going to die. I told her that I thought he knew it was a possibility, but that he wasn’t afraid of his death. I believe he was caught somewhere between looking forward to seeing heaven and his Savior face-to-face, and not wanting to leave Anne and his family/friends. One thing is for certain, Rusty mentioned several times that he was aware that God spared his life back in March of 2013. He knew that God was giving him the gift of more time on this earth, and that time was very precious to him.

Thanks for living such a wonderful life, my friend. Thank you for your gentleness, your loyalty, your faithfulness, your servant leadership, and your “can-do” spirit that caused you to go out and just do things. Thank you for living a life with no regrets, and for your love of God and His Son, your Savior, Jesus. I’m really going to miss you, bud…

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Son's Reflection on His Mother

These are the words I spoke at my Mom's memorial service this afternoon:

The fifth of 10 commandments in the Bible says, “Honor your father and your mother…” That is what I hope to do in the next few minutes – honor Dad and Mom with these words.

After Mom died on the morning of June 16th, Dad, Roz, Debb and I spent time together over lunch talking about Mom. At one point it was asked, “What are the things that were truly Mom?” We began to reflect on that a bit, voicing things that came to mind. It was very therapeutic.

We will miss Mom terribly. But, we all have so many vivid memories of who she was that we’ll cherish for eternity. I decided to “alliterate” them (using the letter “L”), just to keep this more light, and to possibly make them easier to remember. So, here goes:

Lists (and Labor) – From as early as any of us can remember, Mom was a list-maker and a hard-worker. I don’t know if she made lists for Dad, but we kids sure had our share! That was Mom’s kind way of keeping us busy, teaching us to be diligent, and making sure we learned to accomplish tasks (and get things done). Roz mentioned something I’d forgotten. Sometimes Mom (who was a super-duper housekeeper) would put on our lists, “Pick up specks.” And we did!

Learning (and Listening) – Mom was a teacher at heart, quietly causing me and my sisters to learn in many ways. She wasn’t overbearing about it. Rather, she indirectly communicated to us that there was always more to learn. She wasn’t a big reader, but she listened and paid attention to everything that went on around her. We learned a lot about what was “proper” from Mom. I will be forever grateful to her for this.

Loving – When we were talking about Mom after she died, I mentioned that I was embarrassed at times about how much Mom loved me. When I would come to visit her and Dad, I truly felt uncomfortable at times at how she waited on me hand and foot. Roz and Debb tease me, saying that she loved me best. But, the truth is, I know that she loved others as much as she loved me, especially Dad! She had a tremendous capacity to love her husband, children, family and friends. Mom was a very loving woman.

Letters – More evidence of Mom’s exceptional love for me are boxes of hand-written letters in our attic in Texas, letters she wrote to me once I finished college and moved away. I am almost certain that I received nearly a letter-a-week from her for the first ten or fifteen years after leaving home following college. She wanted to stay in touch with her son (and my growing family)! She was so selfless about putting pen to paper, sharing her thoughts and life with me and Ellen and our kids. She also stayed in touch over the years with many others. This was her letter-writing ministry of love. What a great legacy! Too bad letter writing is almost a thing of the past these days.

Lovely – Mom was an attractive and very lovely woman all of her life. As my cousin, Ellen, said in an e-mail following Mom’s passing, “She was always well put-together and looked great!” Very true! Her skills as a hairstylist, and her love for art/design, propelled her to always put herself together well (and she helped Dad to look his best, too!). I really admired that about Mom. To this day, I think about my Mom as I get dressed for each and every day. What I learned from her was that appearances were not the most important thing, but being sloppily dressed/put-together wasn’t the way to be either. She was absolutely lovely.

Lashes – I hesitated to put this in here, but Mom started wearing false eyelashes some time along the way, and she wore them well. One of my favorite stories about Mom is that when our house on the farm was burning in 1976, she went back into the burning house to get two things – her eyelashes and the beauty shop appointment book! Typically, we might think that women who wear false eyelashes have a tendency to be vain, or are somewhat inauthentic. Not Mom. She made it a part of who she was and I loved that about her!

Laughter – Dad, Roz, Debb and I all remembered how Mom loved to laugh. She was always up for a good, clean joke. I remember a time when she and I actually embarrassed Dad out of the room. We were reading from a Norwegian Joke Book, and just got the giggles so bad, we couldn’t stop. Just when we thought we’d had enough, we’d say, “Oh, how about just one more!” And then we’d look into each other’s eyes and communicate, “Let’s just keep laughing like this forever, O.K.?” Mom absolutely loved to laugh, and to the end, we all loved to laugh with her.

Loyal (and Lowly) – Probably the most compelling trait that I will never, ever forget about my Mom was that she was loyal. She faithfully dedicated herself to being my Dad’s life-long helper/partner. No question about that! She was also absolutely loyal to those people/things she loved and believed in. In addition, she was okay with being lowly. Not that she was beneath anybody or anything. Rather, she just deferred to others all the time and whenever necessary without thinking anything about it. She had a true servant’s heart and noticeable Christ-like spirit about her. She did not need the spotlight to be on her. She actually shied away from it most of the time. Her goal was for others to receive the attention, not her. She never demanded attention for herself.

Lord – Finally, Mom knew Jesus as her Lord. She acknowledged her need for a Savior and accepted the free gift of salvation through Christ’s suffering sacrifice on the cross. She knew that living a good life was not enough, that she desperately needed God’s grace and unmerited favor. As a result of her personal relationship with Jesus Christ, believing that He came, He died, He rose and He now lives, she is actually with Him in glory for all eternity! Praise God for that promise and reality, available to each and every one of us.

In closing, I think I speak for all of my family in saying that we were so blessed to have known and loved such a wonderful woman! I will cherish the precious memories of times with my Mom as long as I shall live. Personally, I can’t wait for the day when I will be reunited with her in heaven! I’m sure we’ll laugh together and sing praises to God for all eternity. God bless the life and memory of Doris Ellwood.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It's been over 363 days...

I've always told my kids, "You make time for what you think is important." So, when I look at this blog of mine and realize that it has been almost one year since I published my last post, what does that say? That this blog isn't important to me? I sure hope not.

I really love to write. And, I really love to share my thoughts on this blog. My "normal" time to write previously was Sunday afternoons. A glance at my personal calendar for the past 12 months reveals what I've been up to while not blogging. Not all of this was done on Sunday afternoons, mind you. But, most of this has contributed to the scarcity of my posts the past 363+ days.

TEXAS RANGERS BASEBALL - I think I've probably attended at least five or six games in person down in Arlington, watched nearly 150+ games on TV (can that be right?), and cheered wildly for this baseball team of mine during the 2011 World Series. I really love baseball (!) and blogging sometimes takes a backseat to it. Smile...

WORK/MY JOB - I think I've probably taken over thirty-two separate trips to all parts of the United States in the past year, totalling more than sixty-five nights away from home doing HDR business (at least). I developed a new vision for architecture marketing services at HDR, and then took over responsibility for same, including giving guidance/direction to +/- 60 people on a daily basis. I handed over the Design Excellence initiative I've been working on at HDR for over six years to a new leader. I moved my location in HDR's Dallas office to the 2nd floor, and had to drastically “down-size” all the stuff I had accumulated over many, many years there. I made over a dozen presentations to large groups of leaders, and led four two-day marketing training sessions in various cities. I recruited, interviewed and hired at least six new employees for our company. I started serving on the Management Team of HDR Architecture, Inc.

PERSONAL (Miscellaneous stuff, Prayers/E-Mails/Phone Calls/Texts/Tweets/Instagrams, etc.) - I got some new eyeglasses (really needed the upgrade!). Also shopped for and bought a new car (thanks to my Dad’s extreme generosity!). I made some new friends and prayed in earnest for my family, our church, my work, our country, etc. I probably received, acknowledged, read, answered and filed more than 13,000 e-mails (at least!), not to mention the 3,500 texts, tweets, and instagrams that also passed by my eyes. Who knows how many phone calls I answered and/or initiated over the past year (was it 15,000?).

LIFE GROUP/CHURCH/ELDER ACTIVITIES - I attended REFRESH classes at our church last summer, as well as the Global Leadership Summit (for the fifth year in a row!). I led and/or prepared Bible studies for more than twenty-five meetings of our Life Group (either on Sunday nights or on Wednesday nights with just the men). I attended more than twenty-five meetings with the elders of our church (at least). I wrote several pieces for our church's daily devotional - VERTICAL. We assisted a young Ukranian couple in getting adjusted to life in Dallas (and at DTS), as well as loaned our car to another Ukranian missionary couple for two weeks while they were here. I helped organize a weekend get-away to east Texas with the men from our Life Group and had a great time doing so.

FRIENDS/MENTEE MEETINGS - I believe I had more than twenty coffee/breakfast dates before work with friends/co-workers, and more than twenty-five dates for lunch with guys I consider my closest friends. I probably also had more than twenty-five lunches/dinners with mentees (younger people asking for me for advice, etc.).

HOUSE - We had the countertops/sink replaced in our kitchen and I touched up the paint afterwards. My son and I put new tile backsplashes in our kitchen. I replaced all the hardware and hinges for the cabinets in our kitchen cabinets, and then cleaned and polished them thoroughly. I fixed/repaired our lawnmower shed attached to the side of our house and then we had the entire house re-painted. We also replaced our front storm door and screens on several of the windows on our house. Did I mention the weekly mowing and trimming and edging required for our yard (which I absolutely LOVE to do)?

FAMILY - I played golf with my sons (and others) at least four or five times on Sunday afternoons. I made a washers set for one son on his 17th birthday. We hosted birthday dinners at our house for most of our family members. We traveled to Iowa to help my Dad & Mom get ready for their farm sale. We saw an ultra-sound of our first grandchild three months before she was born! I became a grandpa in November for the first time! I enjoyed numerous Skype dates with Andy in mornings before work, and was captivated by lots of breakfasts/lunches/dinners with other family members, too. I paid off the remaining balance for Katie’s college loans (and will do the same for Peter's hopefully next week). We hosted my Dad & Mom for a few nights in Texas on their way to their home in Arizona. We helped our daughter, Katie, move into a new apartment (twice), and then gave her support and a place of refuge in between apartments. I made five or six trips to visit my Mom in Arizona after her stroke in November. Ellen and I celebrated 31 years of marriage. I attended my Uncle Robert's funeral in Iowa between Christmas and New Year's Day, and then served a ton of pancakes and sausage, etc. to over a hundred people at our house on January 1st. I made two trips to NYC to visit Andy & Annie (including surprising Andy and Katie on their 30th and 28th birthdays). I got to babysit my one and only granddaughter, Brynlee, for the first time (more to come, I hope!). We graduated Nathan from high school and prepared ourselves to send him to Abilene Christian University in the fall. I organized and thoroughly enjoyed MOTEF 2012 with Andy, Peter and Nathan following graduation. We attended the weddings of three or four of our friends’ children. Sadly, I lost my dear Mom and spoke at her funeral. And then nine days later, I lost my Uncle Jimmy and missed going to his funeral in Iowa. Finally, I attended an Anderson family reunion in Colorado with Ellen, Katie and Nathan.

So, no wonder there hasn't been time to blog!

I'm not sure whether it will be another 363+ days before I blog again. But, putting this one together has reminded me of Jesus' words in John 10:10 where He said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." Thank you, Lord, for an abundant life! I am blessed beyond imagination, and I am also very grateful for the many blessings He has given me.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A High Price for Freedom

This morning (4th of July, 2011) I woke up to a very precious reality. I am twice a free man.

First, thanks to those who have bravely gone before me to defend my individual liberties, I am privileged to be an American citizen living in a free country. God bless the USA! Second, because I am a Christian (having accepted God's free gift of salvation through the precious blood of Jesus Christ), I also enjoy and experience the joy and promise of being forever spiritually free. Praise God for that as well!

I am truly celebrating today because of a high price for freedom paid for me by others.

Thank God for our Founding Fathers and many brave souls who took their stands for freedom, and then declared independence from the ugly tyranny of a remote English monarchy 235 years ago! Thank God for the first century Church (several of them martyred), who carried the Gospel of Christ to all the world, declaring freedom from the tyranny of sin and telling people everywhere that they no longer needed to be separated from God!

But, if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that precious freedoms (both political and spiritual) should not be taken for granted. What we enjoy today may not be there tomorrow if we don't fight to keep it. There are enemies out there trying to steal yours and my freedoms each and every day of our lives. We must do all that we can to actively protect them because there is a high price for freedom.

The words attributed to one of the founders of our nation, Patrick Henry, as well as those penned by the Apostle Paul in a letter to first century Galatian Christians, seemed particularly relevant to me at this point:

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" - Patrick Henry

"Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you." Galatians 5:1

Notice the references made to life and death, as well as "chains" and "slavery" in these quotes? In the founder's and the apostle's mind, the opposite of freedom was death and/or bondage and indentured servitude to either an overbearing dictator/monarchy, or to sin. In other words, without freedom, there is no life and no independence. Enemies will always attempt to place chains on you and me and/or attempt to entice you and me into the bondage of slavery. We need to daily take our stands against these undesirable conditions.

Yes, there is a high price for freedom for those of us who enjoy it. There is also an obligation on the part of both American citizens, as well as followers of Christ, to rise up and protect it, too. But, unfortunately many of us will rather use our precious independence and freedoms just to do whatever we want, thus destroying them. Shame on us when that is what we do.

Once again, the words penned by the Apostle Paul to the first century Galatian Christians seemed very appropriate for me to read/hear this morning:

"It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?" Galatians 5:13-15

May we all take these words to heart as we celebrate the 4th of July and/or our freedom in Christ, remembering that there is a high price for freedom.