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Michelle & Ron are great friends

 A couple weeks back I saw a really cool hat with a turkey embroidered on the side. BNSF was on the front bill of the cap. Told a friend of mine who works there about it and they bought me the hat as a gift. I offered to pay for it she refused asked instead I take her son on a hunt. Taelur was up to the challenge. 

We had been out twice. The first time it rained and we never got out of the truck. The second time Tom strutted 300 yards out but never moved any closer. Tonight didn’t start out well as a farmer was discing the field next to my first choice. I called a friend about a second option and got the go ahead.

Moving down to the bottom of the ravine I spotted a Tom striding strutting in an open meadow about 400 yards away. We quietly moved to the edge of the field after he moved off and set up shop. Afternoon hunts are normally very quiet but soon toms were gobbling all around us like the middle of the morning. After about 45 minutes there was movement things look promising but it was a deer. Then another deer and another deer and another. Seven in all graced the meadow.

It was now nearing sundown and a Tom’s appearance seemed unlikely. They were moving west on the other side of the ravine it sounded.  I cut once and yelped a few more times on top in 15 minutes the sun would be down. After a five minute silence suddenly there was a series of gobbles on our side of the ravine. Two hens popped out into the field. Not far behind them a nice Tom. He looked our way for a moment and then started striding our direction. “Get your gun up,” I whispered, “it’s show time.”  

The old boy came within 15 yards decoy and stood. A tree blocked Taelur’s shot. Tom backed off 5 yards put his head down for his last supper, a gnat. Quickly Taelur moved his gun and with the Tom’s head back in the air I whispered for him to shoot. At 26 paces was the prize. Even though Tarlur has a broken ankle I still thought he had to carry the bird out which he did valiantly.  

Up the hill with your prize

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20121122-074330.jpgDriving along the highway I’d seen the house before and wondered exactly who might live there. Strange, but I discovered now that I’ve actually known the family living there for quite some time. Convenience made it possible now that I can stop and have a short visit.

Resting in the living room, visiting with them all the youngest of the family had a case on the floor. I wasn’t sure if it was for toys or what but upon inspection became clear the case held a violin. Mother asked son if he wanted to play and of course he did. So without much tuning we were all honored to listen.

Now with the air tuned to music another child played the piano and dad the guitar. I was not a member of the family but felt as though I was getting a special view of their love and acceptance. It was pure simple and beautiful.

As I traveled home I wondered if ever the services of the church I attend are as attractive. Maybe not to those that attend, but perhaps they are to God. He listens with a little different ear than some of us do.

His ears responded to the call of a cross. He can hear the sound of the little lamb lost deep in the woods. He can discern the whispers of a prayer from the far corner. He hears and understands what no one else can.

I’m glad it’s true because often I don’t know how to pray, but He hears it as it should’ve been said. Since he is my father, he’s trying to teach me to listen in the same way. I sometimes think I’m learning but I do know that I still have much to learn. Thank you today for hearing me Lord. Help me to hear others.

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Larry

The Groom & His Best Man

Larry and his brother Jerry (the best man) on the day of the wedding.

Larry and I had a relationship that came full circle over the course of the years that we knew each other.  It began in the area where he was an expert and it ultimately came into the area where I’m supposed to be an expert.

My daughter was sick and we spent months that stretched into years going to doctors. As a result a lot of different medicines were prescribed and we visited Meriden Pharmacy. There I met Larry. He had a quick smile, those black locks, and twinkling eyes. He looked friendly, and his looks were true to his person. Over time the trips for medicine brought us into a first name basis. Friendship can also serve as medicine, and those trips proved therapeutic. Because of Larry’s thoughtful and compassionate concern our daughter is doing much better and I truly believe we saved considerable money.

Rhonda, Larry, and I had the Hawks.  Our love of Rock Chalk made for many a great conversation about the latest win. The ‘08 season was especially delightful. I would stop by to talk over each game with Larry, rejoicing in all the victories. I repeat: ALL the victories.

About that same time Larry had surgery on his hip. I visited him in the hospital, and for the first time my supposed expertise came into our friendship. I prayed with him at the conclusion of our visit. I will also mention that I asked him about his relationship with Rhonda, and if wedding bells were in the plans. His answer I will keep private.

Larry and I were close enough now that I would go by to see him even when I didn’t have a prescription. I would tell him the latest joke or hottest sports headline. Together we would solve the world’s problems for those that would listen. Rhonda smiled.

Last winter I went by the pharmacy several times at the first of the year to see Larry, but he wasn’t there.  After the third attempt to see him, I quipped to Rhonda how easy his life must be if he never has to go to work. She called me about an hour later on my cell phone to tell me that Larry was sick. I apologized for my insensitive remark, and asked if I could come by and see him. Rhonda said that she would ask him when he awoke, but didn’t know for sure if he would want me to know.

About an hour later she called to say Larry did want me to come and would love to see me.  She added, “He never stops surprising me.”

I stopped by a mutual friend of Larry’s and mine and we prayed together about my pending visit with Larry. When I arrived at the home it was filled with friends of Larry’s. There was a tension to the home, but Larry would not let it take away from the conversation. He was captain of the room as the conversation went from Jayhawks, to politics, to old time and good friends. We talked about every subject with joy. Larry wouldn’t allow us to not be happy.

As the evening wore on it became clear to me that it was not the time to talk with Larry about such important things. I rose to leave, and then moved near to where Larry lay in his bed. I told him, “One more thing Larry before I leave I want you to know, you’re a good friend.”

Before I was able to finish my statement all the people in the room were gone. They had scattered like cockroaches. I suppose they thought I was going to say some sort of “pastor stuff” and Larry needed to be alone for that. Whatever their reason, I hesitated for a moment and then asked Larry, “Are you ready for eternity?”

His answer was, I don’t know. From there we began to talk about what Jesus offers. It’s something that could never be bought. Larry had experienced the travesty of purchased religion and he wanted no part of that. I made it clear what Jesus offers is a gift, and not for sale. A gift of eternal life found in forgiveness by way of Jesus’s death on our behalf.

I asked Larry, “Have you ever trusted in Christ as your savior?”

“Do you want me to pray?” was his answer.

“No, this is much more than just a prayer. This is a firm belief that what Christ did in dying on the cross is enough and that you believe it to be enough.”

Larry’s answer to this reminded me so much of Martha, Lazarus’s sister in John 11:25-27. He said, “I believe that Jesus is God’s son and His death for me is enough.”

“Well then, Larry, we might as well pray and tell that to God.” I suggested. He agreed and we did.

One week later on Saturday morning Larry called me. He asked if I would be able to come by his home that day.

“Sure can, and what time would be best,” I answered.

“How about 11:00, and can you perform weddings?” Larry cracked.

“Are you serious?”

Two hours later, I stood beside Larry in a tuxedo and Rhonda in a wonderful dress. Around us a house full of friends;  three computers on skype; four iphone’s doing facetime; two friends holding cell phones, and over seven different time zones we had a wedding.

Over the next several months I had many wonderful conversations with Larry, the Jayhawks, his beautiful bride and his newfound faith always a part of each one. A profound simplicity occurred to me in seeing how Larry accepted his standing in Christ. No question, only hope, a childlike trust in God’s provision and future. The last verse I read to Larry was “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Larry looked at me with steady childlike trust in Jesus. Before the sunrise of the next day Larry entered Heaven.

At the wedding with Larry and Rhonda

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“Damn,” he whispered under his breath. The broken glass had cut his finger and Dan’s blood began to drip down into the box of the remaining decorations. This was just another proof that this Christmas was going to be harder even than the last.

It had all started a back in September, a routine doctor’s visit had brought the news – cancer. Michelle was 58 the mother of three, but most importantly the mother of one, Dan. She was mom, but not the kind of mom that wins awards. Dan had grown up through high school with his dad. Michelle was the name for his mom. He had stopped using mother a long time ago. She just didn’t seem much like a mother to him, not then, not after the divorce and not now. Cold, distance, demanding, but more than anything hard: Hard to know, hard to love, hard to care, now this, cancer.

People told Dan how sorry they were when they heard. Dan would smile and express appreciation for the “prayers” but deep down he thought, “They don’t know and if they did?” He felt guilt for the thought, but not for long. He knew that he should go and visit her, but for at least the first month there were enough excuses that he was able to prevent the inevitable. Finally the day came, September 23. It was his sister Julie’s birthday. He knew that Michelle would be there. He walked into the house laid his gift on the counter and for just a moment thought about leaving, but before he could, Michelle walked into the room.

“Dan, I am so glad you came.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Dan retorted making eye contact.

They both smiled nervously, and for a moment. . . No it couldn’t be. An uncomfortable silence draped over the room. Finally, Michelle went out to the patio where the others where, and Dan gathered himself. That wasn’t too bad he thought, “I’m 30 why do I feel like a 12 year old?”

He just stood there in the kitchen looking out to the patio. Five years had passed since the wreck when Dan’s dad died. It had been a hard time. Only Julie, Dan, & Linnea remained, and of course Michelle. Before Dan could join the others on the patio, Linnea took him by the hand into the family room.

“You are going to talk with Mom about it, aren’t you?” she asked

“Tonight., are you kidding?”

“You don’t have to get into everything, just let her know that you love her.”

“I do?”

“Sigh, Yes!” Linnea answered, “Get over yourself, and think about how she feels. Cancer, Dan! We don’t know if she has Christmas or not. Think about that.”

The words stung, but Dan thought to himself, “I don’t know if I have Christmas or not. I haven’t had it for five years anyways.”

The rest of the birthday party went along without a hitch except when Dan was about to leave. Michelle gave him a hug and whispered, “Sorry, I love you.”

In the car driving to work Dan thought “Sorry, I love you” does she really think that is enough. She drives me nuts for 20 years, divorces my dad, and moves in with him and says now 12 years late “Sorry, I love you.”

The next time he would see his mom would be in the hospital. Michelle tried treatment, but it became obvious to the doctors first, then to her and everyone else that it would not be enough. The vomiting, the sleepless nights, the anxious moments and all the rest gave proof to the coming reality. Dan stayed away. Julie called as did Linea, but Dan didn’t answer. His apartment on the other side of the city might as well been on the other side of the world. He preferred not to think about it, but his conscience hounded him. So there in the hospital room he sat. His mother slept as he stood alone with her in the room. Finally he said her name, “Michelle, Michelle. . . Mom”

She opened her eyes and squinted, “Dan?” He left. The tears burned as he walked down the hall. He remembered his father’s memorial service. The same anger, the same regret, the same. . . No it wasn’t the same he told himself.

And now it was December and Christmas was coming. The glass bulb had sliced deeply into his finger, and the blood washed down the sink. “Brother” he mumbled with the bleeding now stopped. He searched for a bandage. Finally, laying his hand on a “Kermit the Frog” band-aid from under the bathroom sink. “Must be one from Julie,” He thought. She supplied the cabinet for when Judah her son would visit. His sister was like Michelle, always prepared, but not like her in that she didn’t have the edge that drove Dan crazy. Judah would be here soon, decorating the apartment would have to wait.

The doorbell rang. Julie was there and Judah pressed on the screen to come in and take over. Dan loved having him spend the evening. It reminded Dan of the distant past. Camping in the living room, sneaking out for ice cream and not telling Julie or just keeping up with his chatter, it was all good.

“We could take him along. You want to come and see mother.” Julie’s eyes pleaded as her voice quivered.

“Not tonight” Dan answered, “Judah wouldn’t let us visit. Plus, you need time alone with her.”

Julie wouldn’t push. The door closed. Judah tore off into the apartment. Later, sitting on the couch Judah tugged at Dan’s bandage while Nemo swam across the screen. “What’s that?”

“A turtle.”

“No, that,” as he tugged on the finger. A slight pain shot in Dan’s hand, and he remembered the accident.

“I cut myself.” Dan answered

“On purpose?”

“No, silly, no one cuts themself on purpose.” Dan smiled, “It was an accident.” Reminded, he stood and went to the closet to pull out the decorations. Judah could help him finish he decided. Not like there was any order to decorating a bachelor’s apartment. The movie played in the background and Judah dumped the box in the middle of the floor. Broken glass spilled onto the floor. Dan grabbed Judah and sat him on the counter.

“Okay, Buster, you can help, but I have to sweep up the glass first.” Where was the broom? How domestic, Dan thought. Where is Julie when you need her? Soon the mess was cleaned up and the decorations were sorted as Dan inspected each one to be sure all the fragments of glass were picked up.

Judah exclaimed, “Cool! Look at the garage.”

At first glance Dan didn’t know what it was and then he realized. The angel hair on the floor of the stable was stained with his blood. “Ughhhh, it was ruined” He sat it on the desktop next to the computer screen. One more thing of Dad’s that was gone. He examined the rest of the pieces and they were fine. Judah “helped” and Dan finished putting out the handful of decorations. It was after nine when Nemo finished and Judah was asleep. The lights of Julie’s car shined into the driveway as Dan sat on the couch in the silence thinking.

He picked up Judah to carry him to the car. Julie whispered, “She asked about you Dan.” He couldn’t speak. Christmas was a two weeks away.

December 22, his cell phone rang. It was Linea, “Dan, the three of us have to talk, mom needs hospice. You really need to be part of this.” He didn’t answer. Later, Julie’s text stared at him: “3 at Mom’s. Be there. Linea needs you there.” Dan had work at four. All the regular excuses just didn’t seem like enough. He called in to ask. “Of course,” the voice answered, “you need to be with your family. Don’t worry, take the time you need. We can cover for you tonight.”

“Why does everyone else understand, but I can’t?” Dan thought. His eyes saw the nativity crèche next to the computer. Dan took it in his hands to see what could be done with it. Strange how doing something menial can answer when a person needs to do something urgent.

The blood stained angel hair had caked a bit. How can so little blood, make so much mess. He thought of Old Testament stories of sacrifices, then his mind raced to the babies of Bethlehem and King Herod, but then he thought of the baby grown to man on a cross. As he held the stable a surge began to well up within him. The baby had died. His blood had stained Christmas. It was a gift. It was THE Gift.

As he sat there, Dan knew it was God’s gift to him to forgive his mother, not his gift to her. He didn’t owe her forgiveness, God allowed him to forgive her, so that Dan could understand God’s forgiveness to him. The stains of that first Christmas could help Dan with the stain of this Christmas.

He hastily wrapped the stable in the Sunday comics from the paper brought home from work. It would be his mothers. He would tell her he loved her and mean it for the first time in a long time.

He arrived early at his mother’s. Julie and Linea were not there yet. He rang the doorbell and went on in. “Mom, Mom, Mom! . . Michelle.”

“Danny?” She called from the kitchen table.

He sat the package down on the table. “Merry Christmas! I made it for you or I guess God did.”

She pealed back the colorful cartoon wrapping to see the stable. Startled at first glance, she sat it on the table.

“I wondered who had it,” Michelle finally spoke up. Then she began, “Your dad gave this to me our first Christmas. . . the whole set. I guess the rest of it is all gone. He kept them after we. . . ” Her voice trailed off and a tear hit the table.

“Mom, I have them all. I cut myself and my blood stained the angel hair on the floor. When I looked at it today, I thought about God’s blood, Christmas, Jesus and I can’t go on without saying, I love you. I’m sorry and I promise to not. . .”by now his tears were mixed with hers on the table and they hugged.

The stable sat next to the pictures near the coffin while the music was playing. Dan had a bandage on his finger. The wound was healed, but bandage reminded him that blood covered Christmas. He cried, but the anger was gone, washed to white like wool.

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Chet and I both graduated together from college and ten years later seminary. He has been a great support and friend for nearly 30 years. I have worn a lot of suits to funerals today it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. Chet and I were Monday morning friends. For pastors Monday you don’t shave, don’t dress up, and you drink a lot of coffee with people you care about. I spent a lot of Mondays with Chet drinking coffee.

Chet did the only thing with his life that he knew to do. He lived it. I am not saying he just woke up and existed. I am saying he lived every moment like it counted, and every day like it mattered. You really can’t boil his life down because he lived it to the fullest.

I am supposed to tell a few things about our friendship but since the only one with an eternity to listen is Chet I will instead tell just three stories and each one has a cup involved to help you remember them.

First of all stories and Chet go together like coffee and donuts because Chet was a master story teller. My father in law caught a 9 lbs Walleye at the Perry Spillway and I told Chet.

Chet hesitated and then said, “Well, I caught a big one at the Perry spillway. I had my ultra light reel and the banks were crowded with fisherman. I made the perfect cast at the edge of a eddie where I was sure a big one was laying. About a third of the way in the line came taunt and the spool began to whine and I adjusted the drag to be sure I could keep him. Up and down the bank we fought. Several even laid their rods aside to make room. It would be my greatest hour. Finally, I would bring him close enough to the bank for a net and then out he would go again. At last with the drag adjusted to perfection I was able to bring him ashore. He was a Pepsi cup. I had it hooked just on the lip and each time it was close to the back the angle was such that they currents would wash it out into deep water before I could see it. Everyone saw it now, and I just packed up my tackle and went to the car and haven’t been back to the perry spillway since.”

That was Chet the perfect story teller, and often himself the punchline. He had this spark in his eye while recounting a story. He lived each moment to the fullest whether hunting, golfing, fishing or watching the Jayhawks,  Chiefs or Royals. Chet lived!

I was on vacation walking through one of those tourist shacks where they sell the same thing in every state of the union. Just a sticker that says Texas, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Rushmore to separate between all the stuff so that you know where you are. I found a cup it said on the outside: “My Best Friend” and on the inside was a ceramic cock roach about two inches long. It screemed buy me for Chet.

When I gave it to him I knew he would know what to do with it. At the time Chet was collecting cups. Chet had a collection of a lot of interesting things. Nothing really valuable more important than that it was stuff that was interesting.

One day over coffee several years later I saw the cup, and made a remark about it. He remembered that I had given it to him and told me, “I have really enjoyed that cup. First of all, it is the same style as the church’s cups so often I carry it with the message hidden. I just saunter up to someone else drinking coffee and then with a surprised look say, ‘will you look at that’ showing them the bug down inside.”

I had known when I first saw the cup that was what Chet would do. He loved people, and seeing their reactions. In an airport he would see people, at church he saw people, in the market, theater or campsite; He saw people. Chet was a student of people and their reactions. He just loved people the real ones. He loved you.

Finally, a friend called me late Saturday night a few weeks back to ask if I knew Chet was in the hospital. I was shocked. The next day I was heading out on vacation so I wouldn’t have time to see Chet until I came back home in a week. I woke up Sunday morning with all the stuff that preachers have on their mind. I Decided that hospital coffee is just not very good and that Chet deserved better on a Sunday.

I ground up my best and poured it into the French Press and brought it down to Chet. I had a cup that said “Moody Alumni” I poured it full for Chet. My cup said “US Life Saving Services.” We sipped coffee and looked out over the skyline of Topeka’s downtown at what had been Chet’s assignment from God. We talked about sermons, Sunday and serving a God of grace. It wasn’t long before the thermos was empty and the cups had only the dark black grounds of Columbian Supreme, and I stood to leave. I prayed and then told Chet, he was a good friend, a fine pastor and a Godly man. My cup was empty, but my life is full because I knew Chet.

Four Good Friends: Chet Evans, Dan Snyder, Jim Angel & Jim Keller

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The original wise men were firemen so the joke goes, “They came from a fire.” I know it’s bad, but if the wise men came from the east does that mean the dumb ones came from the west. I thought I had a small confirmation of this recently. While riding to the west I saw a distant rider coming my way, but what did he have strapped to his bike? Finally, close enough to tell I saw him clearly. He was a Viking (without a shield or barebreasted woman). I had to take his picture.

My newest biking friend

Come to find out his name was Nick and he is riding completely across the United States. He has called his blog \”always into the east.\” It is pretty fun reading. As goofy as the horns appeared, I was wearing a shirt with the caption “Dwight Shrute is my Sensei” and Nick noticed. We talked at the side of the road. I gave him my best local knowledge of Missouri river bridge crossing. He told me about his trip.

Then after a few other exchanges he headed east and I went west. Not sure if I will ever see him again. Another one of the 7,000,000,000. I am beginning to be more and more convinced that God has to keep it simple if any of us are ever going to grasp what He is doing. I have meetings, work and a schedule meanwhile a guy wearing horns is riding east dodging semi’s.  It would be crazy to say that God cared more about me than my east bound friend.

The wisemen help me to understand. They gathered around a manger to pay homage to a baby. Must have struck them as odd that he was in such poverty with a star treking his birth. The song playing on my iPod as I finished the bike ride explains it.

Jesus, our Lord and King, born in a stable
Rapped in rags, asleep on a bed of straw
Though He is from heaven, still it is enough for Him
He who made the mountains and will come again to reign

O boundless mercy of God, beautiful mystery!
The braying donkeys sheep and birds of the air
And shepherds and sages all have come this night
To welcome Him, redeemer of the world

To keep it simple God sent His own Son into the world to reconcile us to Him. The plan is this, “If they meet my son and believe him. They can know me.” It is a wild risk that translates over time, culture and standing. It makes faith and the ability to believe crucial. Yet, this wonder called belief is possible for anyone even a child.

No amount of intellect makes faith easier, and no lack of knowledge makes it harder. Faith puts every man in a dead heat. For all the scientists life is still mystery. For all the machines and computers life is still fragile. Stop all the noise around and your heart cries out still for a purpose. Men from ages ago have tried to frame god into their image while God answers with a baby, a mystery, and a cross.

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One Happy Guy on his first ride!

Last month I turned 50. I could have been bothered but my friends did so many kind things to show this aging boy they cared. One really special gift was from the church. They bought me a bicycle. I really can ride off into the sunset.

On the second ride I stopped and picked up 50 nails that had been lost on the side of the road. Anyone who drives on K-92 can thank me for saving them a possible flat tire. They really need to thank the ones who bought me the bike more. It put me in a very charitable mood even though I was going up a hill!

Giving to others has a way of doing that. It is contagious. God designed it that way. He wants us to respond to gifts by being more generous. Ever met someone who you gave them a Coke, and they wanted Pepsi or you offered a hamburger but they wanted a cheeseburger. No matter what you did they wanted something different or better.

Sad, but even worse some do this with God’s gift. Christ died for their sin, but they wanted a life without trouble. To them God just hasn’t ever done enough. One day of rain and they want sunshine. One day of sunshine and they think it is too hot. Winter comes and well they think. . . God’s plan is that we respond to what He has done with gratefulness.

Funny thing about gratefulness, the more you have of it the more you are able to see and appreciate all God is doing around you. Maybe God is doing enough, you just aren’t seeing it.

When I am riding it it moves to fast to get a good look at it. 🙂

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