Merry Christmas!

The following was written by a dear friend, Randall Wisdom, and submitted to the Commercial Appeal (Memphis) a few years ago.  My thanks to “Papa Wiz” for giving me permission to share his work here.  I think it speaks directly, succinctly, and appropriately to our current times.  And so, Merry Christmas!….and Mary Christmas!…to all who embrace and celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Emmanuel!

When I was a boy … an admittedly ominous way to begin a sentence … “Merry Christmas” flowed as effortlessly and as naturally as did the bidding of, “Goodnight.” When came the traditional, if arbitrary, date which marked the birth of Christ, it seemed the obvious thing to say; and, even my Jewish friends accepted that the words were well intended.

But, increasingly, I am offered, “Happy Holidays”, which is the one size fits all; and, what holidays, exactly, are being alluded to? If the reference is to Christmas, why need it be so tangential? And, if not to Christmas … why not? After all, it is Christmas. One might suppose that so long as Passover is called, “Passover” … and Ramadan is “Ramadan” … Christmas ought be “Christmas.”

While it has grown distorted and trivialized by commercialism, Christmas still is Christmas. Certainly, those who reject this Christian holiday need not join in its celebration. They needn’t waste their money on gifts … even though the practice of gift giving is without ecclesiastical basis, in any case … unless one extrapolates the actions of the Magi all the way to the mall.

Nor, ought they absent themselves from work for the commemoration of that which they do not believe. They should toil on until the coming of a day which, for them, has meaning.

Political Correctness would have the name of Christmas changed so that it is all-inclusive. It should welcome all religions … or none. But the word, Christmas, bears the name of Christ; and, one ought embrace Him … or ignore Christmas. Don’t wish me, “Happy Holidays” when everyone knows that it’s Christmas.

RTW

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Good All Around Us

Riding home from church this afternoon, it occurred to me that I was very, very weary.  As I reflected on the past few days, it was no wonder that I was tired.  And yet, I was struck by all that the last handful of days had covered.

Thursday evening found me in Cookeville for the TSSAA Division II-AA championship game.  Despite the cutting, cold wind, we saw and enjoyed what will surely be a memorable game for a long time to come.

And, while it helps that the team I was there to support did win the golden football, what I most enjoyed what was I saw around me.  Our fans outnumbered theirs easily 3:1.  Students, parents, grandparents, and others screamed all four quarters as the two teams fought to the eventual 56-55 outcome in double overtime – everyone in that stadium participated in the experience.  Before the first kickoff, mid-game when one was injured, and after the final whistle blew, both teams unapologetically gathered together to bow their heads and give thanks.  Both teams showed sportsmanship and humility in their congratulations and regards to each other.  And even the parents were on their best behavior.

Saturday morning, a group of us gathered at the church to cut, split, stack, and deliver firewood as, yes, it’s the height of the firewood ministry’s season.  I saw new participants warmly welcomed, teamwork as all tackled the work at hand, and an eager willingness and obvious pride in the work each was doing in service to our less fortunate homeless friends.

As we made a few deliveries to some area campsites, I watched the eyes of those along for the first time – especially the young’uns.  For many, the reality of homelessness had never been so vivid.  As one group of homeless friends warmly welcomed our team to a tour of their campsite, I was struck by the irony of their pride against the unspoken conviction of those of us standing there comparing their domestic experience to what we know to be our own.  After all, most of us live in and around the Brentwood Bubble, which is as close as Tennessee livin’ gets to building a home inside Disney.

Saturday afternoon, our family and a few friends gathered at a local Christmas tree lot to pick out a fresh-cut tree for our friend Cree.  You’ll recall Cree from my prior writing.  Yes, he’s still hanging in there – it’s remarkable, really.  Anyway…as he recently shared that he has never had a “real” Christmas tree, our objective was to secure said tree, carry it to his home, and decorate it by his bedside so he can enjoy it throughout the Christmas season.

And again, I was struck by a few things of this experience.  Everyone involved in making this happen – including Jacob, our Christmas tree salesman – was fully invested in making certain that this was the best and most beautifully decorated live-cut Christmas tree in Middle Tennessee.  There was a level of care and attention that was palpable in the room – perhaps driven by an unspoken acknowledgement that this is likely our last opportunity to get this right for Cree.

Once fully decorated and lit, Cree squealed with delight and smiled a smile more broad than any I’ve previously seen on his face.  As we were gathered around his bed, we dimmed the lights and played Pentatonix “Silent Night” for Brother Cree.  In that remarkable and memorable moment, I knew I was experiencing the true spirit of Christmas.

And then today…

Following worship service this morning, I watched as children and adults of all ages loaded my mission trailer with gifts that we will deliver to another neighborhood tomorrow evening.  They brought remote control cars, skateboards, bicycles, clothing, coats, and any number of other gifts.

All who participated gave generously.  Young and old, they all smiled as they placed those gifts carefully in the back of the trailer.  As they did so, I thought about how their generosity and momentary pause from all of life’s distractions would ultimately redefine the 2015 Christmas morning experience for so many kids in a very different part of Music City.

And finally tonight…

We were fortunate to be with family and friends at a fairly intimate holiday gathering with Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers.  In keeping with their tradition, Larry Gatlin started us off with the National Anthem.  And among the songs that followed, there was a bit of comedic relief, unwavering acknowledgement of their blessings and God’s favor, and humility.  Inasmuch as Larry, Steve, and Rudy may be “American with a Remington” – and I have no doubt that they are – there is something special about being entertained by those who have had great success, yet do not take for granted that their gift is one that is entrusted to them for greater purpose.

As I reflect on these past few days, it occurs to me that I could have just as easily chosen to listen to the news-heads on the alphabet networks and become dismayed.  Instead, though, I have chosen to look for the good in the moment – and found that it’s generally right there to be revealed, if we are willing to look and act.

Indeed, there IS good.  And it is all around us, if only we allow ourselves to be a bit vulnerable in our thoughts and actions.

In this moment, I’m grateful to be tired for having been so blessed by these experiences.

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Thank you, Veterans. Always remembered. Never forgotten. USA.

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Extreme Humanity Revisited

Friends,

Reposting this writing from earlier this year.  I had the occasion to visit with Cree recently and was struck by his continued THANKFULNESS for all of the BLESSINGS he recognizes in his life.  

Cree’s life is one of extreme difficulty augmented by extreme love.   He and his momma both are angels – and, in fact,  he may be tougher than most any man I’ve known.

Cree and his momma need our prayers right now.  Prayers for his comfort, her discernment, and their mutual assurance.    IGBOK.

Let’s get busy.   Read below.  Watch the video.   Pray for them.  

Thank you.  

#BeLikeCree…

My good friend Pastor Paul sent this YouTube link to me.  He posted it with the permission of Cree to tell his story.  I hope you’ll invest the time to watch it in its entirety, as it’s filled with remarkable lessons for us all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Dd04ytTzhE

Cree has lived this way for 41+ years.  Note that I didn’t say that he has “existed” this way – no, he has LIVED.  Despite his numerous and formidable challenges, he is squarely focused on his many blessings and seizes every opportunity to try to help others find the many blessings among their own challenges.

Imagine if we all had Cree’s determination to find the good in every moment.

Peace, Y’all.  Be like Cree.

T.

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Father’s Day 2015

There is no greater gift from God than that of a child.  And so, there is no better job to be blessed to fulfill than to be “Dad.”

So, do it.

In this complex and conflict-filled world we live in, the role and example of the engaged and loving father has no adequate substitute.  One doesn’t have to look far to see what happens to many of our youth when the father disregards his calling – just follow the trail of violence, recklessness, crime, addiction, homelessness, and pain.

To be a father is to be promoted by God himself – perhaps a senior officer among the ranks of mankind.  Those who do it best are the truest stewards of His most precious gift.

I was so promoted just over 13 years ago.  It is truly THE rank and privilege of a lifetime.

To each of you “Dad” types out there…if your children honor you this Father’s Day, it is because you honor them each day – by your actions, words, hugs, love, and demonstration of their priority in your life.  Good for you; best for them.

And so, inasmuch as they celebrate us today, let us celebrate them.  Give thanks and praise to God for the gift of our children and the blessing of being their provider, protector, and prophet.

Do not make time for being “Dad”, rather, make time for all other things.  Make time for work, for hobbies, for other interests – but first, be “Dad” – in all you do, in how you lead and carry yourself, and in what you represent.  YOU are their living example.

To be remembered as a great “Dad” is far better than ANYTHING that can ever appear on one’s business card or resume.

Most any of us are capable of fulfilling the biological role of “Father.”  But the best of us earn the title of “Dad.”

Thanks be to God for our children.

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Messages from One of the Millions Remembered

Following my recent post “Millions Remembered”, I heard from one of the gentlemen of the email chain I am privileged to have become part of – one of the group of ol’ high school chums who include a number of men of valor and true patriots.  Randall Wisdom is a special yet unmet friend and his emails are always sure to provoke my thoughts and bring a smile.  It seems only appropriate on this Flag Day 2015 – and it is with his permission – that I share some of his writing here.  The beauty of these writings is that they are so personal and so vivid in sharing how both sides of a family have been touched so deeply and eternally by the service, valor, and generosity of its sons.  And so, with gratitude for his insights and his friendship, I give you the heartfelt and patriotic messages of my buddy “Wiz”.  Fly those flags up high, Y’all.

Gonna Lay Down My Burden

You must have noticed them. True, their numbers dwindle by the day; but, if you’ll look beyond your mundane doings, you can yet spot a few in public places.

They are our country’s rapidly vanishing WWII veterans. They are the same young lads who in their early, carefree years went off to a distant hell. Those remaining are apt to be frail, and likely they will be a little deaf. I often find myself drawn to them in restaurants and in grocery stores; and, I am always tempted to invite a brief conversation.

I have grown quite astute in recognizing the subtle clues that identify them. A baseball cap which boasts, “United States Marines,” or, “USS Lexington” is a door into the past, left ajar. The old gentlemen never fail to welcome my intrusion, never minding their equally elderly spouses, or their somewhat younger daughters who are, no doubt, more anxious to leave.

The simple question, “Sir, are you a WWII veteran” … washes pride over their weathered faces. They are apt to quickly and efficiently brief as to their outfit and the theaters of operation in which they served.

They may gaze off into the distance, momentarily, as though trying to focus on the blurred images of some distant place. Sometimes, I imagine that I can see melancholy dew glistening from the corners of their eyes. Never do they speak of pain or horrors suffered … except, perhaps, to lament, “We lost an awful lot of good boys.”

When the war broke out, the Wisdom boys signed up, and each went his separate way; they would not to be reunited until the angry war beast had had its fill. Providence mercifully allowed all of them to return, and without any visible scars.

It is Dad’s younger brother, Forrest, who has been causing me a mental itch, and who has, posthumously, prompted this penning.

Forrest Wisdom was a kind and gentle man, and a man who personified dignity and manly meekness. He was a quiet man, given to old fashion ideas of chivalry and decency. He was from that generation of men who stood when a lady entered the room, and removed his hat to be introduced. Nothing in his being bespoke roughness or callousness.

For many years, he was the administrator of a large nursing home; and, God have mercy on the family … or the nurse …or the doctor that treated one of his clients unkindly. That he was a man of few words seemed not to take advantage of his rich, baritone voice.

My Uncle Forrest returned home after the war, and he never spoke of it … never … not to his brothers, not to his friends … not even to his wife. Never.

When I was a young boy, one day he showed me a German luger that he’d brought home as a “souvenir.” No story accompanied the showing. It was just a gun.

Just a few years ago, Forrest gave up the fight. The small church in Beebe, Arkansas was overflowed with folks who understood that his life was worthy of celebration. But the happenings which followed were both revealing and sobering. The pastor took his place at the lectern, and his remarks were. indeed, remarkable.

The minister began by addressing the family, customary, but not with such raw words as were these. He opened by asserting that he knew much about Forrest that was unknown to others. The room filled with a mournful befuddlement.

The preacher had spent many private hours with my uncle during his final days … hours of ministry … and of prayer … and, so it seemed, of a long-delayed unburdening of the spirit.

Forrest had confided with his pastor the unspeakable horror of Omaha Beach, and having survived that, the nightmare that was the push through France … and across Germany … all the way to Berlin, where he had collected that luger. He spoke of friends who had been turned to crimson vapor beside him … and of the brutality of Europe’s coldest winter of the twentieth century.

He had witnessed terrible happenings, and he needed reassurance that he himself had not done terrible things, as well. Over the span of hours, my uncle expressed an agony that was greater even than that of his terminal cancer. He put down a horrendous burden that he’d carried buried deep within his core of kindness and decency for more than sixty years. He had, at last, laid down his burden, never to, “study war, no more,”

If we could know what burdens these men often take with them to their graves, I suppose we would bring more … and stronger pall bearers.

RTWiz

And, For Jan…

Ted, I enjoyed your writing of, “Millions Remembered.” For my bride of 54 years, Memorial Day is both a proud and a morose time.

My wife’s dad died six weeks before her birth. He had forgone his scholarship in engineering at Miss. State, convinced that a coming war was inevitable. My wife’s teen-aged mom pinned on his flight wings just days after Pearl Harbor. On that same day, Germany declared war on the United States.

Jan’s dad was a P-40 fighter pilot. He flew off into eternity in an air battle with the Luftwaffe on April 18, 1943.

That day has been remembered as the, “Palm Sunday Massacre.
Germany’s ground forces were being compressed in north Africa by the Brits moving westward out of Egypt … and the newly arrived Americans advancing from Africa’s west.

The Germans undertook a massive egress, hoping to reorganize in Sicily. American and British fighters interdicted that tactical retreat.

On that day 58 JU-52 carriers, and 16 Messerschmitt escort fighters were destroyed. The allies lost only six fighter aircraft … a commendable ratio as judged by the economics of war. But, one of those lost was the father of my yet unborn wife.

For families, the concept of, “acceptable losses” is meaningless … cold, and inane.

In war, the losses are reckoned ultimately, not by the hundreds, or the thousands … but, by the ones. Every combatant downed is the most important person to someone.

Thanks for remembering the many who have secured the country that we now tend to take for granted.

Wiz

 

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Millions Remembered

For Chet, Russ, Wiz, Dickie, and the guys of 5E…family and friends – some met, some unmet, yet all so very important.

I spent much of Memorial Day contemplating its true meaning – not just that it’s the day when we pause to remember our fallen, rather, the depth of loss that pause really represents.

We seem to anesthetize the pain it represents for our country by masking it in the celebrations of cookouts, swimming pools, and other outdoor celebratory gatherings – including at least 1,100 miles of auto racing between Indianapolis and Charlotte.  On the one hand, these are our demonstrated celebrations of our freedom.  But we cannot allow those celebrations – that day, or every day – to overlook that the counterbalance to our own celebrations are the remembered losses of others for whom a loved one never returned.

Memorial Day is intended to be the day when we remember our greatest heroes – our fallen.  And yet my hope would be that the other 364 days of the year are not without the same remembrance, respect, and reverance somewhere within our consciousness.  If it were so true, I believe our nation’s fabric would be exponentially stronger.

A quick bit of surfing on-line reveals that our nation’s past includes over 1,354,664 lost in the line of service, 1,498,237 and counting wounded, and 40,917 missing (predominantly from World War II and Vietnam).  To abbreviate those numbers as “1.4M…” would be disrespectful, as each counted soul was lost, wounded, or remains missing on our collective behalf.  Each of them has their own family and story – and so, each one counts immensely and is his or her own personal tragedy with rippling repurcussions for so many others, as a rock that disturbs calm waters ripples out far from its initial point of impact.

I mentioned to a friend recently that I have been privileged and blessed over the past year to have the benefit of visibility into a group of ol’ Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen who were once high school chums and have since remained close for some 50+ years.  One of them generously added me to their email string sometime back, so now I’m on their nearly daily email exchanges.  I’m typically most content to just sit back and listen to their banter as I read their exchanges.  You see, they represent an apprecation for their history in a way that is a lost opportunity among today’s generation, which is too fixated on the “now” and not enough on “back when…”   We can learn from them.

Within this group, there are a number of true heroes.  For each of them, there are losses not discussed – whether stories left on the battlefield, or names etched in Panel 5E of that reflective wall.

There is the preacher who promised his life’s work to Him while pinned down in the battle at Lang Vei.  There is the physician who writes of his longing for America’s morality and future, pining for its healing far beyond what he is able to do as he touches one patient at a time.  And there is the ol’ Colonel who also suffered loss as a young Lieutenant back in ’66 – he would go on to rise through the ranks of the Army, retire as a senior Officer, enjoy a fabulous run in private industry, and yet, a part of him has always remained that young Lieutenant as he has looked for and invested in the lives of others around him.  Each of them has remembered and mourned each day, as should we.  Indeed, we can learn from them.

And so, as we think about our respective roles in making our small part of this country and this world just a bit better, please remember.  Find the opportunities for those Memorial celebrations well before next May.  In the moments with family and co-workers…where the conversations and activities provoke your thoughts a bit…call it out and give thanks.  When you see the  young soldiers in the airport, say thank you.  When you see them with family or friends in the restaurant, quietly pay their bill anonymously.  When you’re setting the table for a special family gathering, set one extra spot at an empty seat.  When you’re at Home Depot, pick up a new flag and display it year-round – and display it appropriately.

This is your opportunity to be in service to them.

We’re fortunate to be in this part of a complex and often unkind world.  And we have millions to thank for it.  But beyond just thanking them, we can honor them each day.  And so we must.

Keep it lit, y’all…

T.

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