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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Overcoming Adversity: From Homeless to Adjutant General Maryland National Guard

Overcoming Adversity: From Homeless to Adjutant General Maryland National Guard

The information contained in this post came from an article on and the Maryland Army National Guard website.

The picture above is Brigadier General Linda Singh on the day her promotion was announced with outgoing Adjutant General, Major General James Adkins.

"The back story of many successful leaders is heart break, sleepless nights and overcoming adversity."  Brigadier General Linda Singh 

Those of you who know me or read my blog regularly know I just love a great story about overcoming adversity and today (December 23, 2014) when Maryland's new Governor Elect announced his appointment of Brigadier General Linda Singh as the new Adjutant General of the Maryland National Guard I knew I had to write about it.  General Singh's story is a compelling one and one that I am sure will impress everyone who reads it. 

When you think of a successful Army General you normally do not think of someone who as a teenager was a high school drop out and homeless, but that is General Singh's story.

As a child she suffered abuse at the hands of relatives and after an argument with her mother when she was 15 was asked to leave home and she did.  She made ends meet working at a Burger King and a pretzel stand in Frederick, Maryland.  She rented a room for $65 a month but eventually she could not even afford that.  Having to give up her room she began to sleep on the porches of friends' homes or in the office of the pretzel stand.  Initially she was able to maintain good grades and play varsity basketball but eventually the stress if being homeless took it's toll.  Her grades drop and she did not have the money to take the SAT required for college admission so she dropped out of  high school.

Then one day she spotted a recruiting stand for the Maryland National Guard.  She decided to join but she was only 17 and had to get her parents permission.  She eventually persuaded them and joined the Maryland National Guard on June 3, 1981. This was a life changing decision for "young" Linda Singh.

She served as an enlisted member of the Guard prior to her being commissioned in 1991.  She began working her way up the commissioned ranks.  She served in Kosovo from July, 2006 to October, 2007 and more recently in Afghanistan from September, 2011 until July, 2012.  She was then promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and in the fall of this year was tapped by outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley to serve as Assistant Adjutant General for the Maryland Army National Guard.  Just a few short months later the incoming Governor, Larry Hogan recognized her talent and nominated her for the top job, she will now serve as the Adjutant General of the Maryland National Guard.

The National Guard is not General Singh's only career.   While serving in leadership in the Guard she was working her way up in a civilian career as well.  She is a Managing Director for Accenture, a large consulting firm.

General Singh is a great role model for young people facing adversity.  She proves that you do not have to accept adversity.  You can fight back and prove that you are better than that.  You can use the gifts and talents that God has given you and rise above any adversity you face.  Congratulations General and thank you for being a role model.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Police Officers' Killed

 Police Officers' Killed

Here we are a few days before Christmas and I am writing this with a heavy heart.  About 24 hours ago we heard the tragic news of two New York City Police Officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were  ambushed and killed while sitting in their police car.  About 12 hours later a Florida officer, Charles Kondek, was also killed.  This is sad and I have a feeling this might just be the tip of the iceberg.  I hope you all will join me in praying for the families of these police officers and for the safety of all of our public safety personnel.

The 13 year old son of Officer Ramos went to Facebook to remember his dad. Jaden Ramos posted this tribute to his dad

"Today I had to say bye to my father.  He was their(sic) for me everyday of my life, he was the best father I could ask for.  It's horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer.  Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help.  I will always love you and I will never forget you.  RIP Dad"

Having lost my dad at a young age I can imagine what this boy is feeling.  But I can "only" imagine.  At least my dad had been sick for weeks leading up to his death and we had time to prepare.  At least my dad was not sitting in a car doing his job when someone decided to take his life simply because of what he did for a living.

It appears that Officer Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu were the good guys.  I am sure the Officer Kondek was also a good guy.  Good guys that will not be with their families on Christmas.  Families that have lost someone they love.  The communities they served also lost the heroes that protected them.

Most police officers have a good heart, they want to help the community they serve and do a good job.  They work hard at being role models for young people.

Police Officers also have families who love and depend on them.  Innocent police officers should not be used for target practice.  The insanity must stop.  Just think where our communities would be without these dedicated men and women.  Chaos would ensue without their dedication. None of us would be safe.

Tonight remember to say prayers for these families and for the safety of those sworn to protect us.  Let's also remember that we can make a difference by following the example that Officer Ramos son remembers.  We need to be there for our children every day of their lives and be the best parent they can ask for.

God Speed Officers Ramos, Liu and Kondek.  We pray for your families and the safety of your colleagues.  We thank you for your sacrifice.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Movie Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings

Movie Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings

I don't even know where to begin.  This is by far the worse movie I have ever seen and my biggest regret is wasting two and half hours of my life watching it.  Not only was it riddled with inaccuracies but it also has zero entertainment value.  At least the movie Noah, which I panned earlier this year for being a work of fiction, had entertainment value.  The couple in front of me left half way through and I envied them.  I had to stay to watch the rest of this boring movie so I could write this review.

The most obvious inaccuracies was casting.  There were two major errors.  First, Caucasian actors were cast to play the leading roles instead of middle easterners.  Second, God was portrayed by an insolent eleven year old boy.

Another glaring error was that Moses did most of the talking and his brother Aaron had almost no speaking parts.  In scripture we learn that Moses had a speech impediment and his brother Aaron served as his spokesman.

The portrayal of the ten plagues was lacking.  In fact, as the scene began if you were not already familiar with  scripture you may have wondered what was happening.  There was no exchange between Moses and Pharaoh to prepare the audience for the scene.  Maybe I missed something as I was very bored  but I do not recall Moses ever demanding Pharaoh to  "let my people go".

The movie's portrayal of the plague of turning the water into blood was pure fiction.  Instead of Moses placing his staff into the water and turning it into blood, the movie depicts the water turning to blood while the local crocodiles were enjoying a hearty meal.

Moses receiving the Ten Commandments seemed to be an afterthought.  The scene was short in comparison to other scenes and had the eleven year old portraying God dictating the Ten Commandments to Moses as he chiseled them out on stone.

The best advice I can give anyone is save your time and money.  If you want to see a more accurate and entertaining movie about Exodus  wait until Easter and watch the annual re-release of Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 movie "The Ten Commandments".  Even though it is over an hour longer than Exodus it is by far more entertaining and makes a stronger effort to be true to the biblical story.  I actually enjoyed the DeMille movie.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving: Do You Have Room At Your Table?

Thanksgiving: Do You Have Room At Your Table?

On Thanksgiving Day many Americans gather around a table with their loved ones, enjoy a good meal, fellowship and love while they give thanks for all they have been blessed with.   

However increasingly there are many Americans who do not have anyone to share the holiday withThere are many reasons for this.  More and more people are homeless, others live far away from their family and because of work schedules, finances or other concerns they can not make the trip home, some are single parents whose children are with the "other" parent.  What ever the reason there are many Americans spending the holiday alone and if their lucky eating a turkey sandwich. 

The situation recently went viral when a 54 year old homeless man from Norfolk, Virginia named Neal Shytles  wrote a personal ad "Wanted A Family to Share Thanksgiving With".   Click here for a link to an ABC News story about Neal's personal ad.

The response to Neal's ad has been overwhelming.  He has received more invitations that you can imagine and this is great!  It demonstrates that Americans have a generous heart and want to help others but it does not solve the problem. While we may not be able to solve the problem completely we can do more.

Ideally, I should have written this post a month ago but sadly the issue only touched my heart today, the day before Thanksgiving.   Like the old saying goes "A day late and a dollar short".  So why am I bothering?  Well two reasons.  First, there is still time to reach out to someone and second we can discuss what we can do next year. 

Is there someone you can reach out to?  There are always left overs so one more mouth to feed should be a pretty easy thing to do and it can make a difference you can not imagine in someone's life. 

Do you know a single parent who is going to be alone? Do you know a family where they have to work retail later in the day?  Do you know a homeless person?  Do you know someone from school, work, church or the community who will not be able to make it home for the holiday?  An elderly friend or neighbor who has out lived his or her family?  If you do pick up the phone, send an email or knock on their door and extend an invite.  If not, call your church, military base, university or homeless shelter and see if someone or a family can benefit from your hospitality.

There is more that we can do.  Next year we can do more.  Why not organize an effort in your community or church to have a community dinner?  Folks who can afford it can kick in some money others can help cook.  Encourage those who are spending Thanksgiving with their families to come and bring the family.  This should not be a dinner for the lonely.  It should be a dinner for the community.  A dinner where no one needs to feel he or she is the charity case.  It should be a dinner where not only food is shared but also fellowship, love and grace is extended.  Let's join together to make Thanksgiving a day that everyone can be thankful for and not a day where some feel left out.

Remember the first Thanksgiving was a community meal between the settlers and Native Americans.   

And before I close this post let me jump on my soap box for the topic I was originally going to write about retail stores being opened on Thanksgiving.  I understand that certain people will always have to work on Thanksgiving such as health professionals, public safety employees, military, etc and to those folks I extend my thanks for giving up time with your family to serve the community.  These are life saving professions that we can not do without.  However, retail is another story.  We all can do with a day without shopping.  Let's wait until Black Friday and enjoy Thanksgiving Day with our loved ones.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving: Giving Thanks To Our Troops

Thanksgiving: Giving Thanks to our Troops

Back on November 11th , we celebrated Veterans Day and we remembered those who have served our country. In a few days we will celebrate a national day of thanksgiving. One thing those of us in the United States give thanks for is our liberty and our freedom. Because of that I think it is appropriate for each of us to a moment to again remember those who are currently serving our country and those who have served in the past.

I view service to our country as a responsibility that we should all embrace.  
My service, while it was in a time of relative peace, is my proudest professional accomplishment and I am glad that I had the honor.

I was fortunate to have served a few years after the United States involvement in Vietnam had ended and years before our significant involvement in the Middle East had begun.  We did have the Hostage Crisis in Iran and some other world unrest but all in all it was a peaceful time.  

For many service members was/is not the case. When they raised their hand and swore to defend our country they knew that there was a very real possibility that they would be called upon to sacrifice life and limb for our country.  They are the brave and because of them we have our liberty.
Today many of these brave men and women are serving far from home in remote desert locations to which no one brings their family.  On holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas they make the best of it but they are away from their loved ones, are not celebrating the holiday in traditional fashion and are in harms way.

Some service members will  return home disabled or in a flag draped casket. They and their families have made a sacrifice for our liberty that we can never repay.  

On Thanksgiving I suggest that we take a moment to bow our heads, say a prayer and remember all of our service members and their families and say thank you.  

Would you like to do more?  You can. If you live near a base think about calling over and see if their are any service members who need a family to have dinner with and invite one or two over for a meal with your family.  If you know the family of a deployed, disabled or deceased service member who might be having a tough time financially drop off a gift card for a grocery store or invite them to join you so they might be able to enjoy a traditional holiday. 

Here is something else you can do.  You can participate in Wreaths Across America.  Read further for a little background and information on how you can help.

In 1992, the Worcester Wreath Company had left over wreaths at the end of the holiday season.  They made arrangements for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington National Cemetery.  This was the beginning of the wreath project and in 2006 it was expanded nationwide. With the help of Civil Air Patrol and many others ceremonies were held simultaneously at 230 locations from the snow banks of Alaska to the sands of Iraq our Nation's heroes were honored.  The goal is to eventually place wreaths on every veteran's resting place.  Your help is needed to make this happen. This years National Remembrance Ceremony is December 13m 2014.  This years theme is Don't Say "I Should Have", Say "I Did"! 

At the Baltimore Irish Festival I learned of a great opportunity to help.  Irish Charities of Maryland are one of many groups helping this years effort and they have "sweetened the pot".  Here is what they are doing for every two $15 wreaths donated, a 3rd wreath will be added to your order. So that is getting 3 for the price of two on every single order. If you purchase 4 wreaths, you will be donating a total of 6... a purchase of 10 wreaths will be donating a total of 15. All you need to do is place your order and use our Group ID of MD0019; Location: Arlington.  To join this effort simply click on the link below.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Death & Dying: My View

In my chosen profession I am with people as they prepare for death and with families after they lose a loved one.  Often I hear "How can you do that?"  "Isn't it depressing?"  and my answer is no, in fact I find it rewarding and I am honored to have the opportunity to serve in this manner.

My first experience with death was difficult.  I occurred nine days before my ninth birthday.  I was given the news no child wants to hear.  My dad had died.  It was not totally unexpected.  He had been critically ill for six weeks and mom had been preparing my brother and I for the news she knew was coming, daddy would not be coming home from the hospital. While the news was sad and I was overcome with grief  I did find comfort in the words she used and the ones she didn't use in giving us the news.  I think the way she told us prepared me for this special work God had planned for me.

It was a Monday afternoon May 22, 1967.  As the bus drove by our house to drop us off at the bus stop I immediately knew this was not going to be a normal day.  I saw the cars of relatives and friends in the driveway and lining the street near the house.  As we entered the house all eyes turned towards us and the silence noticeable.  One of my relatives, I can remember which one, hugged us and took us to our mom who was seated in the "Kings Chair".  We sat on her lap and she explained that God only loans people to us, some for a very long time and others for a very short time and that our dad was only loaned to us for a very short time.

With those words she told us that life on this earth is limited and death is a reality of life.  A sad reality but none the less a reality.  But what she did not say was just as powerful.  She never tried to offer an explanation as  to why God only loans some to us for a short time.  That was smart as even the bible does not explain why God chooses to call people home when He does. I have since learned that God has a plan and knows far more than you and I.  I trust in His plan and accept it even when it hurts and causes me pain. But how I came to understand and accept that is another story.

Over the years I had a yearning to study the bible and find out more about our earthly death and what happens after we leave this earth.  The verse that I find the most comforting and hopeful is the Gospel of John, Chapter 14: 1-6 (ESV).

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

These verses contain three promises.  Here is my understanding of the promises.

First, that there is more than enough room for each of us in heaven.  When it comes time for God to call our name we do not have to worry about being greeted by a “No Vacancy” sign.  Our reservation was made when Jesus died on the cross, all we have to do is be willing to accept His wonderful gift.  When I think of this promise I am reminded of the old Motel Six commercial where Tom Bodett promises to leave a light on for us.  I like to think there is a light at the gates of heaven that awaits us.  This analogy actually has a biblical basis.  In Chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation, John tells us that “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.”

Now the second promise is amazing to me.  Jesus promises to prepare a place for us.  I am not sure about you but I have never had a place prepared especially for me.  I remember buying my first house, it was nice house but other than getting to decide if I wanted crown molding and a fireplace the house was pretty much like the other houses in the neighborhood. It was not prepared especially for me.  Now we have the Son of God, who in his earthly life was a carpenter by trade, promising to prepare a special place just for us. I believe Jesus was a carpenter to let us know that God creates beautiful and wonderful things.  Earlier in my pastoral career I would try paint a picture of what we may expect our eternal home to be like but then I realized that I am limited by my earthly vocabulary and we are all limited by our earthly imaginations.  We cannot possibly describe or imagine the majesty of our eternal home.   What we do know is that there is no suffering, no pain and no word that means goodbye.


The final and in my opinion the most comforting promise is that when God calls our name that Jesus will come and take us there himself.  I have had the honor to be with people during their final hours and it is not unusual for them to say “it is time”, “I’m ready” or “they are here”.  In John Ramsey’s book “The Other Side of Suffering” he writes of the death of his wife Patsy.  She was in a coma, she opened her eyes and had a wondrous expression on her face as if she was seeing something magnificent.  She then closed her eyes and died. I believe she opened her eyes to see our Savior.   This story and my experiences is proof to me that Jesus keeps His promise. We can find comfort in knowing that when God called our name, we will not be alone but that we have the opportunity to be in the comforting and loving arms of Jesus.

Since I was told of my dad's death so many years ago I have come to learn that death is a fact of life that must be embraced. 

I believe that death is a temporary separation and we all have the opportunity to be reunited in Heaven. I tell my children that when it comes time for me to be called home it is ok to be sad because they will miss me but do not cry for me as I will be in a place where there is no suffering, no pain and no word that mean goodbye. 

 I am not rushing death as I still want to be around to see my daughter marry and know all of my grandchildren but whenever my time comes it will be without regret or sadness and with joy as  I will finally meet my two brothers who past before I was born and be reunited with my loved ones who went before me. From my perspective it will be a time to celebrate.  Its all in God's time not mine.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Marriage: 11 Things I Learned in 11 Years of Marriage By: Stephanie Barnard

Marriage:  11 Things I Learned in 11 Years of Marriage

By: Stephanie Barnard

Note from Pastor Bob:  Stephine is my daughter in law and she posted this on Facebook earlier today (October 11, 2014 which is her 11th wedding anniversary).  I was really impressed with these lessons and asked permission to post them on my blog.  I did have a follow up question regarding lesson one and I will post my question and Stephanie's response at the end of this post.

Here's 11 things I've learned after 11 years of marriage:

1) Its ok to go to sleep angry. Some things just aren't going to be resolved in one conversation;

2) appreciate each others roles and responsibilities. No matter how you feel, you DON'T do EVERYTHING;

3) Thank each other for all the big and little things you do for one another;

4) model the respect and love you desire your children to have in a relationship;

5) cherish every moment, even the moments of insanity, you'll look back one day and be proud you got thru them together;

6) never give up or give in. Ever;

7) make time for each other, even if its date night in. Play cards in bed, be sneaky, hide from the kids and share dessert together;

8) share inside jokes or secrets;

9) leave random notes or send texts of love;

10) compliment each other, right out of bed, stressed, in the moments of chaos make eye contact and just smile, be an amazing team;

11) put the phones down, dont overlook or miss out on whats right in front of  you.

Chris I love you ‪#‎4ever‬ we share a bond like no other. There's no one else I could ever spend my life with. We are an amazing team and make the impossible happen.

Now the question I had about question one.  I asked if  even when they were angry if they still said "I love you" when they went to bed?  This question is important to me because it is the advice I give to every couple whose wedding I officiate ---- Never go to bed without saying "I love you."  I officiated their wedding so I was interested if they followed my advice.  This is Stephanie's response.

"Of course.  Anger or frustration doesn't stop you from loving someone.  I really just think taking a break and revisiting a topic on another day with a fresh mindset can be beneficial."  I couldn't agree more !!  Quite often after a good night's rest and tension calmed the issue or issues just seem easier to resolve.

Thanks for allowing me to share this Stevie (our family name for Stephanie).  I love you and Chris.  You are a great example to your children, myself and others.  You have had to overcome significant challenges that many couples never face and the two of you did it.  You are both a shining example of how to love and work together as a team. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, 2001: Let Us Never Forget

                               September 11, 2001: Let Us Never Forget

September 11, 2001 no matter where you where or what you were doing when you heard of the horrific events of that morning, I am certain that your world, like my world stopped turning for at least a few minutes.

This was the day that thousands of American lives were lost on our own soil by a terrorist attack. 

I was in the United States District Court House in Baltimore with a client for a hearing. The Judge was called from the bench, when he returned he announced all cases would be continued and told us to leave the courthouse with no further explanation.

As I left the courthouse I saw armed U.S. Marshals surrounding the building.  It was then I heard of the attack on the World Trade Center's Twin Towers.  My first thoughts went to my brother who is a firefighter on Long Island.  I tried to reach him on my cell phone and all lines were busy.  I kept trying while I walked back to my office. 

When I arrived at my office, my secretary informed me the Pentagon had been hit.  I responded with a very solemn "we're at war" and walked quietly to my office. 

I closed my doors and prayed the most sincere prayer of my life to let me get through and speak to my brother. I picked up my phone and tried one more time.  Miraculously he picked up on the first ring.  He was on an engine responding to Ground Zero. When he arrived at the scene his company was assigned to work as a rescue and recovery team.  He was one of the lucky ones, he survived without physical injury.  Many others were not so lucky on that day.  God blessed me and my family.  He kept a hedge of angels around us and I am forever grateful for that protection.

I remember leaving my office going to be with my daughter and former wife, whose husband worked for the airlines and was flying that day.  He was safe.  I remember speaking to my son who was in college.  All of a sudden I realized how important family was.  How blessed my family was and how thankful I was that God answered my prayer and let me speak to my brother while he was responding to this tragedy. 

What I also remember is what happened in the hours, days, weeks and months following the attacks.  Neighbors were helping neighbors, many families were proudly flying their flags, people flocked to churches to pray together.   

I remember many of the people I worked with going to church together on the National Day of Prayer.  No matter our faith we all went together in solidarity to the Basilica in Baltimore.  The events of September 11, 2001 brought out a unity and love I have never seen before or since.  An attack that was meant to divide us, united us.

Sadly, a mere thirteen years later many have forgotten that day.  It saddened me to read of a Fire Chief suspending firefighters for refusing to remove American flag decals from their lockers; to read of a Lt. Colonel who was not allowed in his daughter’s High School because his uniform might offend students.  Both of these situations have been corrected but how, just 13 years after our country was so united could they have occurred in the first place.   It’s not only our flag and our military that is being that are no longer being respected but efforts are being made to remove God from every component of our society.  Just 13 years after most Americans flocked to churches in unity.  Please today join me in prayer to remember those touched by 9/11 and for the restoration of faith and patriotism in our country.  For me there is nothing more important than God, Family and Country.  May God Bless America and all of our families.