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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.