It’s nearly the tenth anniversary of the horrific day
known globally as 9/11. When the actual day arrives,
Dawna and I will be in a Washington, DC suburb, at
the church that we called home for many years. As
with most Americans, every year when that date
rolls around, I’ve been remembering the actual day
quite a lot this week.
In the ensuing ten years, my family and I - and so
many others around the world - have experienced
human loss and many life changes. My parents were
still with us then, as was Carol, my first wife. Dawna
still had her dad, Raymond Dickens, a step brother,
a brother-in-law, and, her first husband as well. It
seems like once you reach a certain age, a decade
can bring major life change. But, ten years since
9/11 is different somehow.
I wasn’t in New York City that terrible day, nor was
I near the Pentagon or Shanksville, PA. I was out at
breakfast around 80 miles south of NYC with friends
of many years, in Bucks County, PA. I remember the
walk to our car, and my cell phone going crazy, as
Carol’s many texts and notification of missed calls all
came in. I’ll never forget the surreal call home to her
and learning the news, or driving quickly to the condo
of our friends in time to watch the second plane fly
into the World Trade Center. Nor will I forget what it
was like to get home; airports closed, every rental
car gone, etc.
But, ten years ago this Sunday, America changed in
many ways. We lost our innocence. We’ve entered
two wars and now a Libyan war with NATO. We were
attacked on our own shores, by a nameless, faceless
enemy, who wears the uniform of no nation. I will not
use the many words one might to describe those who
hijacked planes and murdered nearly 3,000 innocent
people. If we hadn’t known it before 9/11 - and we
should have - that day left no doubt but that we’re
in the first war of its kind in centuries. Nor does this
war show any signs of drawing to a close. We are in
this for the long term. As one who has flown several
million miles, air travel will never be as it once was.
We willingly (?) sacrifice a large amount of privacy
just to be safe. Yes, our innocence was lost on 9/11.
On this special day, we honor those who lost their lives
in a few hours of senseless violence. We sympathize
with those they left behind. We especially honor the
police and fire fighters whose service that day cost
them their lives, and we take pride in those first re-
sponders who survived, although many bear in their
bodies and minds the scars of the sights, sounds, and
smells of that day. While thousands of lives were for-
ever changed on 9/11, the American consciousness
was also changed, likely forever. Like December 7, 1941,
September 11th will always be a day that lives in an
infamy of memory. And now, it has been ten years…
and yet, it seems like it happened just a few days ago.
As Christians, we shouldn’t be terribly surprised by
this, should we? The Bible is clear, that as this world
groans down to its inevitable end, there will be times
like these. Man’s inhumanity towards mankind has had
an evil face on many levels through our history. We
watch the worst of humanity alongside acts of great
bravery and kindness. The acts of terror are seared
into our memories, while the normal “nice” things in
life barely register. 9/11 was a day when every diverse
scope from evil to incredible courage was in plain view.
This is not the type of occasion where you can ever
use the word “Happy”, as in “Happy Birthday” or Happy
Anniversary”. All we can say is, “I remember”, and “I’ll
Never Forget”. And today, we do. We honor the lives
and memories of ordinary people who were going about
their ordinary, every day lives, when evil came to them
in a flash of aluminum loaded with jet fuel.
It still seems impossible to believe.]]>
They say that change is inevitable, and I guess
that’s true. I never used to do well with change,
but since so much in my life has changed over
the last few years, maybe I’m improving. Or, it
may just be that this time, it’s welcome.
Anyone who knows me knows that God called
me to a traveling life. For more than 35 of the
last 42 years of my life, I’ve traveled. A lot. I
am not complaining…you get used to it, to a
degree, and who God calls, He equips. There
are a lot of miles behind me. Millions, in fact.
I’ve spoken or sung in 49 states, every Canad-
ian province, and in 56 other countries. Any
who travel like this will tell you that it takes
a toll. When Dawna and I married, 28 months
ago, the traveling was so fun again! But her
family and friends know that Dawna has some
health issues, and a recent diagnosis of Rheum-
atoid Arthritis has been added to the mix. Now,
for both of us, long flights and long drives are
difficult, especially for her. I always knew the
day would come when it was time to slow it
down, and frankly, more than a year ago, we
began talking about it and planning for it, and
we’re almost there. So, there will be changes
ahead, beginning as we start 2011. We sat on
the 6-1/2 hour flight from Anchorage, AK to
Chicago-O’Hare in June, looked at each other,
and said “We have to stop doing this!” After
numerous 12 hour - and longer - flights over
so many years, it was surprising, really. Some
might call it burnout, but we know that we
just aren’t recovering after these long trips
as we once did.
We’ll still be traveling, mind you; just not as
far away, not as long, and not on long flights.
Almost the entire year of 2011 is booked now,
and we’ll continue to try to be at our home
church - Myrtle Beach Bible Chapel - on one
Sunday per month, and with more Wednesday
evenings home now too. We’ve booked a year
where our travels will almost all be within a 4
to 6 hour drive from home. There is, after all,
enough work to do in our “back yard”! For all
of next year, we have three flying trips book-
ed…one to Abaco, Bahamas for just 8 days,
one to Ontario, Canada for a week, and one
to Chicago for a weekend conference. All the
rest of the year will be shorter drives.
We’ve both wanted to live in the country too.
When Dawna’s house in TX sold in 13 days, it
opened up our ability to look for land. And, as
the saying goes, one man’s tragedy is another
man’s fortune. We found a magnificent piece
of property, that was in foreclosure. It came
with a list of issues, but we signed a contract
on it in early February, and six months later,
they were all worked out, and it’s ours. The
centerpiece of it is a beautiful spring-fed lake
or pond, several acres in size. We’ll have more
than enough acreage to raise crops, plant a
large garden, and I’m hoping to plant eight var-
ieties of fruit trees. Over time, we’ll have our
own Artesian well, septic, a generator and
solar power, and be extremely self-sufficient.
And, after a big setback during and after my
first wife Carol’s illness and death, our desire
is to be entirely debt-free. We’ve ordered a
good sized steel barn/storage/garage, and as
that’s built, we’ll move much of my stuff there,
as well as Dawna’s. We’ll stage this beautiful
home for sale, and when it does sell, we’ll be
building a smaller ranch-style home on the
property. Life will be simpler then; a lot of
physical work for me, which I love, but we
won’t HAVE to travel and be away so much
of the time.
And so, these will be the changes over the
next year. We have no idea what the longer
term will bring, of course…perhaps one day
we’ll add in some longer trips each year, but
we’ll have to see. It saddens me a lot in one
sense, as some of you - friends that we love
and value - we won’t see as often. And even
worse, there might be some reading this who
we won’t perhaps see again, at least down
here. But we hope you understand. It’s time.
People tell me that I’ve traveled more than
almost anyone else in our circle, which may
or may not be true. I do know that for me,
and especially now for Dawna, the time has
really come to slow things down a bit.
Please pray for us? And know how much
we love and treasure you, and every little
and big thing that you’ve done for us over
a lot of years. We’ll still be out there, still
serving the Lord, just in a more limited
area for now.
I’m sitting here feeling like I got hit by a truck today;
probably a sinus infection. It seems as if every bone
behind my face is hurting, along with most of my teeth!
Nasty stuff. Yesterday was a big day…up at 4 am, left
for Charlotte by 4:50, and got back home here about
12 hours later. It was Mother’s Day, and a somewhat
different one for me these days, as Dawna decided
to stay and spend the day with her new daughter -
the one she never had - my daughter, Shannon.
Driving up and back from Charlotte, I spent a lot of
the time in thought about the mothers in my life.
Carol was the mother of our three children, and it
always hits me that the ripples cast by a mothers
death go out a very long way, and for a long time.
It’s probably safe to say that they’ll never fully get
over their loss. And, it’s understandable. When our
kids were growing up, what I was called to do called
me away from them a lot. Carol was their main care
giver. You can’t keep from missing that.
Dawna’s a wonderful Mom. So non-judgmental, caring,
loving, nurturing. She aches inside, missing her boys.
Yesterday was very hard on her, being away from them.
She also misses her Mom so much, and especially as her
mom has recently had a knee replacement, and is
struggling after the surgery. Maybe it was selfish, but
I was thrilled that she and Shannon had a wonderful
day together…both loved it, but undoubtedly, both
must have also felt a sense of loss and hurt as well.
The love of a mother is a special thing indeed. Honestly,
there really is nothing else quite like it.
My little Mom, Jeanette, was born in Somerset, PA in
1915. I can hardly believe that if she hadn’t gone Home
to Heaven in 2003, she’d be 95 now. Her mom lived to
be just weeks shy of 100, so we’d hoped for the same,
but, our hopes didn’t match the Lord’s plans. When she
was a tiny baby, Mom’s parents moved the family back
to a suburb of Glasgow, Scotland, where Mom lived until
she was 9. And then, they moved back to the USA.
Mom was married to a man who everyone always spoke
of in remarkable terms, David Brady. I know they were
deeply in love, but God called him Home when he was
only 26. Mom didn’t talk all that much about her first
husband, but it was obvious that she loved him deeply,
and mourned his untimely passing much.
Years later, still deeply suffering, she met my Dad, who
was four years younger than she was…a source of much
teasing. Well, if you knew my Dad, you’d know that it didn’t
take him very long to find something - anything - to tease
So, my memories were nearly 50 years of an amazing little
lady, and I miss her still. A lot, actually. Mom was an
eternal optimist, a warm, “touchy-feely” person. If she
was talking with you, at least one of her hands would be
touching your hand, arm, shoulder, maybe even your face.
It was just the way she was. She was a hugger too. Their
home was open to all. Only the Lord knows how many
meals were cooked and served in their houses, or how
many weary pilgrims laid their heads down in one of the
bedrooms there. Their legacy is honestly remarkable. But,
Lindsay and I would tell you quickly that there was one
defining moment that would change their lives, but not
During Mr. Carter’s Presidency, interest rates climbed to
near-record highs. Dad was a businessman, and a fairly
successful one at that. He either owned or ran three bus-
inesses at once. One of them was a custom home firm.
Dad built large executive homes, and he was a wonderful
and conscientious builder. But, when the prime lending
rate hit 21%, and the most-qualified buyers were staring
at 24% mortgages, something had to give, and it did….
It took two years, but ultimately, Mom and Dad lost a
lifetime of possessions; their huge home, their cars, a
lot of their furniture. (All but three rooms’ worth) We’ll
all likely agree that ladies like and need security, and in
two years, facing their “golden years”, my parents lost
almost everything they owned. And, my brother and I
watched…in horror, even perhaps some fear. And, we
were given life lessons, that “things” are only just that.
That essential core values, beliefs, and character are
what count and remain, even when things disappear.
Only one time did I see my Mom cry over this. Once.
She got a phone call from a friend, who recounted a
conversation with my Mom’s cousin, in which she was
reported to have said “Well, the mighty Parks’ have
fallen! Now they’ll know what it’s like to be poor, and
I’m loving it!” That was the one and only time that we
saw Mom get down in one of life’s great mysteries
and traumas. Since 1982, I’ve never forgotten this.
Mom hated the heat. A redhead, her face would be
crimson when it was hot. Yet, every summer day,
she’d sit under an umbrella while Lin and I got to
swim at a pool. She’d cook and entertain with her
red face, and we’d tease her about it, but she’d
just smile. She was not the least bit afraid of work,
nor the least worried about heat stroke.
Above all, I remember her love, her caring, and an
amazing desire to nurture and train us. So, when
you lose someone like that, you know what it is to
really miss someone.
I miss you, Mom…six years, nearly seven now. I
can’t wait to see you again, “Little Bit.” I miss the
laughter, your twinkling eyes, the way you always
bantered with Dad and laughingly lectured him as
he pretended to cower. Most of all, yeah, I really
do miss your love.
And, tied with that, I miss your phone calls every
night before I’d leave for a trip; you on one phone
and Dad on another. And how before we’d hang
up, you’d always say “Speak and sing well of Him,
I’m trying Mom. I really am. I sure do love you
and miss you. Happy Mother’s Day in Heaven…
And the very same to every mom who reads this.
Well, it’s here! A new year, and a new decade. I doubt
that I’m alone at these times; don’t many of us sit down
and reflect on a time frame that has passed, and look
forward to a new one arriving? And, don’t we all have
to wonder, at least a little bit? Here’s why I ask…
When the infamous Y2K was approaching, many were
alarmed. Remember that? There were dire warnings of
power grid failures, computer networks that would all
mysteriously shut down, etc. Many began to buy and
store foods, bottled water, the necessities of life. We
weren’t all that concerned, frankly, but it made for an
interesting time. I remember saying to Carol as 2000
dawned, that with my parents in their 80’s, this would
likely be the decade when I’d say goodbye to at least
one of them, and maybe both.
And, before the first half of the decade had ended, I’d
said goodbye to both of my parents and Carol. When I
look back on my life in mid-2005, I honestly don’t even
recognize the man I’d become. In some ways it seems
like it was decades ago, and in other ways, it’s like it
was last month. Years - and decades - become life’s
defining time periods; dates never to be forgotten,
always to be remembered. Some are happy ones - to
graduate, get your drivers license, marriage, births of
babies. These are the dates you’ll never forget. But,
each of these time frames may also bring the harder
dates to remember, and to be honest, the 00’s (how
on earth do you say the last decade?!) brought me a
mixed bag…the defining sadnesses of whatever will
remain of my life, and also, some of the best.
We really do have an amazing God. His ways are simply
mysterious, and beyond both our knowing and our ever
finding out. He gives, He takes away. And in it all, we
can say “Blessed is the name of the Lord”. I had a very
graphic reminder of this just yesterday, here in Orlando.
I was with Dawna - the girl that has just blessed our
lives in new, exciting, and different ways. With us is her
son Glen, and I never knew either one of them - or our
older son Darren - when Y2K rolled around. Darren will
be married this coming Spring to a wonderful girl named
Caitlyn. With Dawna has come more family to love, and
a whole new set of friends. And, two professional coach
drivers were in Orlando as well yesterday - Ramon and
Loren Aspenson, my brothers-in-law. I’ve always loved
those guys, and my in-laws from marrying Carol. We met
Ramon and Loren as we returned from a long day in the
recording studio, picked them up at their hotel, brought
them back to our condo here for dinner, and had so much
fun visiting. It could have been awkward…there they
were, two relatives from my last marriage, meeting the
lady who - in a sense - has taken their oldest sisters’
place. But, instead of awkward, it was wonderful. They
loved Dawna, and she loved them. They accepted her
into our extended family, and she did the same. Life is
a bit of a continuum, isn’t it? As I said, each decade
seems to present the fact that God gives, and, He also
may take away. I do know that Carol would have been
delighted to have watched our few hours with all of us
To me, this illustrates a broader and deeper picture…
This family of God’s is an amazing thing; a living and
thriving building, always changing. Some leave, some
are added, but one day, the whole of it will be complete
and finished. We’re utterly imperfect here and now, but
one day, we’ll all be exactly what we wish we were now.
It’s honestly pretty impressive.
And so, we begin 2010. I know that many of you who
are reading this are worried…I am too. While I wish I
were less political and thrived less on current events,
I am who I am. Economically, we’re in real trouble. If
our nation, the US of A, were a corporation, we would
have long since been bankrupt. We were promised that
by now, unemployment would have been way down, but
it grows. I can remember exactly one action by our cur-
rent President that I approve of, and the inexperience
of this Administration seems profound. Many of my good
friends are without work, stuck in mortgages that have
turned on them. Terrorism and violence are a daily fact
of life, it seems. There’s far more than enough to make
many frightened today. But yet…
The same great God is still in charge! The great Archi-
tect of human history is still at the helm; Captain of a
great ship that points in the very direction that He has
dictated since time began. Yep, there really is a grand
continuum to it all, and He has allowed us to “cheat” a
bit and read the last chapter of the Book. And, we win!
No matter what the human uncertainty, He gives us the
most blessed certainty and security available anywhere;
one day, we will be with Him, like Him, and a joint-heir
with His Son of everything that is His.
And so, who but our God can say - maybe, just maybe,
this will be THE year, or THE decade! Soon the clouded
sky will split, and in company with every saint who has
gone ahead of us, an innumerable company of angels,
and the saints of all the ages, He will appear. We will
leave the troubles of this planet to meet HIM, and our
loved ones, and our faiths’ heroes. I can’t answer for
you, but it sorta makes me a happy guy today!
Happy New Year, my friends. And Happy New Decade!
It may indeed bring us a mixed bag of memories, but
above all, it may just bring us our Savior. May these
thoughts encourage and bless us all on this special day.
It’s noon on Monday, the day after Father’s Day. Honestly,
since this particular holiday was on a Sunday, which means
that usually I’m away, I didn’t think of it much beforehand.
Shannon had already asked us to come for a cookout at
their house this week, so that we can all celebrate the
day a little late. We’re very used to that.
But, it began on Friday, and continued Saturday and
yesterday…Facebook friends posted messages to and
about their dads, their husbands, fathers-in-law and
the like. Many were very touching to read. “Honor thy
father…” is still often alive and well. And so, before
we left for the weekend, I posted my tributes to both
my Dad and Dawna’s father. Both are in a very much
better place. Rusty Goodman’s daughter, Tanya Good-
man Sykes, posted a link on her Facebook site, to
something that she suggested we read. I’m thankful
that she brought it to our attention, and grateful to
have read what I did. The blogger is a young lady
whose husband was killed in a car accident a year
ago last month. He was only 25. He was driving,
texting, and didn’t have his seat belt on. He left
behind his wife and two young children. Yesterday,
after a year of planning, she and her children picked
up a bucket of KFC chicken, and ate their Father’s
Day Sunday meal sitting around a tombstone. I don’t
need to tell you, but it was a hard read….I have no
idea if she or her husband are or were believers, but
there were lessons in what she shared. Hard ones,
but very real.
I’ve been thinking so much about my dad as this
Father’s Day approached. Four years and 84 days have
passed since my dad met his Savior, and not one of them
has come and gone without my thinking of him at least a
few times. We were so blessed to have him as our father.
I thank God much for him, and now for his memory. Dad
was a hard-working man; at one point he owned two
active businesses and was the President of another. He
rarely bought himself much, though; he provided for us.
And, took enormous delight and pleasure in what he could
give to us. Dad was scrupulously honest…a man of
uncompromising integrity. He was mostly quiet, but
strong. He rarely blew his stack. He’d get quieter
when things were going against him, or when some
adversary was putting him through a rough test. His
desires in life were few, but at the top of his list, he
wanted my brother Lin and me to know his Lord, and
then, once we did, he wanted our lives to count for
God. He loved us, disciplined us, comforted us, provided
for us. Dad nurtured us, taught us, and above all, he
SHOWED us. And maybe, that’s what I’ll always
remember the most. He didn’t say much, because
frankly, he didn’t need to. He lived what he believed,
and if a picture tells 1000 words, his life spoke library
volumes. Some would say that the family that I was
born into was fate, the “accident” of genetics, and a
variety of other things. But, I know differently. It was
a gift from God. I’m so blessed. The second-greatest
compliment long-time friends can ever pay me is to
say that I’m a lot like my father. The highest com-
pliment follows suit, though…for if anyone ever tells
me that, I’ll know that to whatever degree it may be
true, it’s really because my Dad was so much like his
Dad, I cannot put into words how much I miss you,
loved you, and cannot wait to see you again. For all
that you did, for all that you taught us, and above all,
for how you showed us the right way, thank you.
Happy Father’s Day, dad. I can’t send a card or call
you again this year, but I’ve never felt more like saying
it than now.
To all the dads reading this, Happy Father’s Day to you
too. How wonderful it would be if my kids, and yours,
could one day look back at the examples we were, and
feel as I do in writing this. It’s not a bad thing to work
towards, is it?
I honestly hope this isn’t too much emotional overload. I really do.
My thoughts on the four-year marking of Carol’s Homecall provided
an enormous number of comments; both on Facebook, and maybe
especially, in private e-mails. But, shortly after I posted that, what
I’m about to describe happened, and as we were driving to Atlanta
this past weekend, Dawna and I talked about what I’m about to
share with you. She was the one who encouraged me to write this.
As some of you might remember, we took a near-to-home break in
the coach, to a favorite State Park. On the Monday, dear friends
of ours - Greg and Marnie Mascioli, of Timmins, ON, came to visit
us for the afternoon and share an outside cookout at our camp-
site. Marnie had wanted to visit Brookgreen Gardens, a magnificent
place just across the street, so we went.
For the record, Brookgreen Gardens is routinely voted as one of
America’s grandest gardens, or so says Southern Living magazine.
As a local, I’d have to agree. We parked my car, went to the Vis-
itors Center, and boarded a tram to get to a distant area of the
Gardens, and when we picked it up to head on, I was immediately
drawn to three people sitting directly in front of us. I’d estimate
that the parents were around 60, and with them was obviously
their daughter. Only one thing, frankly, made this little family so
striking to me…the Mom was wearing what we came to call a
cancer cap; that too-colorful head wrap that ladies wear when
the ravages of chemo have taken their hair. Hers was various and
brilliant shades of blue, black, and yellow…no doubt the vision of
some designer who tried to bring bright into what’s a pretty dark
journey. During the little tram trip back, I could not keep my eyes
off of those three people. Emotionally, with the subtlety of the
proverbial sledgehammer, it brought me back four and a half years.
The Dad had his arm around his wife, and as he’d look at her, and
rub her back, I saw myself. Their daughter, perhaps in her early
30’s, had her arm linked through her Moms’. She gently rubbed her
Mama’s arm, as she laid her head on her shoulder. I saw Shannon
in her every movement. What we saw that Monday was exactly
what anyone who saw Carol, Shannon, and me saw as well.
Everything in me wanted to talk to those people who I’ll never
know, yet will never forget. I wish I could have told them that
as dehumanizing and dreadful as that journey is, there’s light at
the tunnel’s end. But, humanly at least, I couldn’t. I watched
them walk away without ever meeting them. I can only pray for
them, and I have.
Am I right in this…? Doesn’t it seem that it takes a massive
wake-up call for us to grow closer, to appreciate those who we
love the most? Had that dear man been so attentive to his now-
sick wife during their entire marriage? Had the daughter been as
loving to her Mom as she grew up? Did any of them take each
other for granted, assuming that things would always be fine?
I had to learn that one of God’s greatest gifts to us is two-fold:
while we know our ultimate future as believers, we don’t know
what tomorrow will bring in this life. Can you imagine what life
would be like if we knew that a certain tragedy would visit us
in three months?
But, it might, you know. And, as the old adage states, wise
people live prepared to die, and die as those prepared to live.
Preparation in the face of uncertainty…this is always wise, no
doubt. But it can take a very human turn, in our present reality.
We may never be prepared to face the death of one that we
love the most, and frankly I wish that no one reading this will
ever have to. But, this comes back to its central core, and
that is the uncertainty of life.
And so it was that last Monday, I was vividly reminded of our
terribly dark journey. In the aftermath of Carol’s death, I’ve
been forced to try and come to grips with many things; and
among the hardest have been my regrets. How I wish that I
could turn back the hands of time, and do some things differ-
ently! I’d love to be able to relive certain parts of life, and if
I could, there are many things that I wouldn’t do, and there
are just as many things that I would do. In His graciousness,
God has allowed me a second love, and I so hope that these
are lessons that I’ve learned. As Gloria Gaither wrote: “Yes-
terday’s gone and tomorrow may never come; but we have
this moment, today.”
That couple and their daughter are fortunate in this; if the
cancer takes the wife and mother, at least - like we did -
they’ll have had time to love, care for the carer, make some
old hurts go away, and ultimately, to say goodbye. Yet we
live in a violent world filled with tragedy…each day, thousands
will die suddenly, without such opportunities. We really only
have this moment…this day.
So, since that’s all that we’re guaranteed, may we adopt
the ancient Latin motto “Carpe Diem!” Seize the day! Make
each moment count - for time, and for eternity. Guard the
things that we say to each other, resolve to give our most
loved ones the roses now; an encouraging or loving word,
a smile, a listening ear. Our caring. May we invest in the
emotions and lives of the ones God has entrusted us with.
May it never take a major crisis to force our hands.
We may only have this moment. And this day….
Today marks four years since Carol left us for a much
better place. Four years…1,460 days. It’s still surreal.
This milestone of sorts was the last thing I thought
about last night, when we laid our exhausted bodies
down around 11:15 pm in Grand Rapids, MI, and, it was
one of my first thoughts when the alarm cruelly went
off at 3:30 this morning to catch our first flight towards
home at 6:10 am.
When the exact moment arrived, 11:58 this morning, we
were on a plane, the last one for home. This is the first
year that I wasn’t at the cemetery to mark the moment.
And sitting next to me was the girl who has taken a
shattered heart, mended it with uncommon love, and who
has filled every corner of our lives. Mechanical problems
delayed our arrival back in Myrtle Beach by an hour, but
it was Dawna who gently and kindly told me that before
we got back to our home, we needed to stop by the
cemetery. And so, we did. We looked at Carol’s name,
her birth date, and the one engraved under it on the
headstone - March 23, 2005. Four years, and I can still
hardly believe it. When I turned to walk away to our car,
Dawna lingered, so I waited for her. When she joined me,
she was in tears. I asked her why she was crying, and
her answer is one of the reasons why I’m so in love with
her. She said “I just thanked Carol for bringing three
amazing kids into the world, for being their Mom, and for
loving them.” At this point, she really broke, and when
she gained some composure, she said “And, I thanked her
for loving you for all of those years, and for saving you for
me.” I had no idea what to say to that. This is the difficult
Had you been in Grand Rapids this last weekend, you
would have heard about some of the ways that God has
worked in me over these last four years. It was so much
on my mind, that these thoughts wound themselves into
several of my six messages. I struggle with all of this…
how can I be so happy now, just four years after the
devastated landscape that was my life then? At times,
there are almost guilt feelings, and it helps more than
I’m able to express that Dawna has been through this
herself. We both believe that it’s important to remember
the milestones of our lives, both good and bad. Our first
spouses were the parents of our five children. We shared
all of the joys and many of the trials of life together, for
25 and 28 years, respectively. Our paths were fairly
different in those days, before we ever knew each other,
to be sure. But, the important things remain: we each
have histories there. And, not only would it be sad to
forget the past, it would be terribly unfair to their
memories. So, we each grow sad when certain dates
come around, but these are just interspersed between
long stretches of wonder ful happiness and joy. We also
know that today, Carol would want me to be happy,
above all. Three different times during her illness - the
last time, just 2-1/2 weeks before she died - she told
me firmly that she wanted me to remarry, and to be
happy. And, while I never expected it, and honestly
stopped looking for it, God had other plans.
And so, today, four years later, I pause to remember
a real wonderful girl, who we remember with grateful,
thankful, and full hearts. She sacrificed tremendously,
in ways that only eternity will reveal. She did indeed
have the yeoman’s share of raising three amazing kids.
And, she prepared me to be a guy who would yearn to
be loved, and to love, again. So, while the dark and
terrible, frightening days are now several years past,
life today is incredible. And I know very firsthand about
the goodness of God. I am a blessed man; I had 28 years
married to an amazing Christian girl, and now I’ve had ten
months to be married to another. They’re very different,
to be sure, but in all of the important things, they are far
more alike than in how they differed.
Four years. I still can’t really believe it. I’m different, and
likely will always be now; but life is wonderful, and so are
Carol - Dawna, the kids, and I all join today to remember
and honor you. Keep on enjoying Heaven, being in His
very presence, and wait for us all. One day, girl…one day,
I cannot wait for you and Dawna to meet. Somehow I
know that you’ll love her. You wished her for me, and for
that incredible and selfless gift, I love you still. I wish you
could give Mom and Dad my love too. They would have
loved Dawna too, just as they loved you.
It just all makes Heaven seem so much nearer, and with-
out a doubt, so much dearer of a certainty.
To any and all who read this, take as long as necessary,
and hug and kiss those who you love the most. Life is so
short, and so very uncertain. It does go on, and will, until
the day when precious dust is gloriously fashioned anew,
bursts from the grave, the sea, and from the ashes, and
leads the charge to the air, forever to be with the Lord.
Until then, we only have the memories. And today, four
years later, they’re beyond precious.
It was when I woke up this morning that it began. I brushed my
teeth, put on my old robe, and walked out to either make coffee
or let the dogs out. These days, you never know which one will
be first. Dawna was already up, and as I walked into the living
room, she pointed towards the TV and told me that an airplane
had crashed last night in Buffalo, NY. I stood frozen, even trans-
fixed, watching video of the flames, just in the shock of another
tragedy. So many lives, extinguished in an instant. As always, I
wondered what the last moments of those poor people were like.
What were their last thoughts? It’s all just sad, and yet another
reminder of how fragile life really is.
I guess this will surprise no one, but what I do has required me
to fly a lot over the years. I just e-mailed my brother Lin about
this latest airline tragedy, and told him that while I’m not sure
how many hundreds, even thousands, of flights I’ve been on,
my total air miles is somewhere between 3.5 and 4 million. A
lot. It’s so unnatural, isn’t it, this flying? It’s probably good that
I don’t often stop to think about it…such a thin skin of alumi-
num the only barrier between us and the ether at 35,000 feet.
Our lives are literally in the hands of pilots whom we’ve never
met, and indirectly, in the hands of maintenance workers who
we’ll never meet. And yet, a number of times, the day after
(and a few times, even the day of) airline disasters, I’ve taken
my seat, buckled in, and trusted my life ultimately to the Lord,
but also into hands unknown to me. Why? It’s this business of
faith. A simple trust. But, a trust sufficient enough to allow
us to proceed, uncrippled by doubt.
When you think about it, we place trust in things and in people
every day that we live. We buckle our seat belts and drive our
cars without consciously thinking that we might be the next
statistics. Dawna and I both said “I do” and “Till death do us
part” never realizing that we’d live those words when our first
spouses died. We repeated them again, not knowing what our
future together holds! Many might wonder why….
I’ll often read about the Old Testament heroes whose lives
are reconsidered in Hebrews 11. They were ordinary men and
ordinary women, fraught with all of the weaknesses, doubts,
and questions of humanity. And yet, when God needed them
to, they accomplished extraordinary things for Him. While they
differed in many ways, this one thing they all had in common:
faith. A simple, consuming trust in God. He had spoken, their
part was only to obey. He made promises, they had only to
believe Him and His word. And while we all exercise faith on a
daily basis, their faith was unusual in its scope and complexity.
They’re forever honored for it too.
We still have no idea, of course, what caused the terrible dis-
aster last night, of Continental flight 3407. Some suspect that
icing on its wings will be the finding, others say maybe wind.
Regardless, around 50 people on the plane exercised faith,
and paid a heavy price. Many Christians have paid as high a
price for exercising faith…the martyrs’ blood is testimony
enough to that fact. So we might well ask “Is it worth it?”
The answer is a resounding YES! The Bible states that with-
out faith, it is impossible to please God. We can never exper-
ience salvations’ joys without first exhibiting faith. We can’t
know full victory in our Christian walk without faith. We’d
barely dare to walk through life itself without having a God
to trust in implicitly! Faith is one of God’s richest gifts to us.
And it’s also one of our greatest gifts back to Him. That sim-
ple, yet consuming trust in the God Who is, and Who loves
to delight us when we simply trust in Him and His word.
Over time, we’ll likely forget this tragedy to a degree, and
our lives will go on. We’ll still drive our cars, sit in airplanes,
make decisions, and, well, live. And all the way through it,
until faith gives way to sight, we’ll have a God Who watches
over us, Who has promised to walk alongside of us as that
“Friend Who sticks closer than a brother”. Underneath us are
Everlasting arms, and indwelling us is none other than the
Spirit of God Himself. We are surrounded by, and indwelt by,
the very God of the universe.
And suddenly, it becomes easy to yield to Him in faith. Thank
God for this thing called faith. It gives substance to things
hoped for, and is the evidence of things unseen. It provides
us a hope that will never let us down.
Blessings, my friends, and peace….His peace. All that it
takes to enjoy it all is faith.
My Dad used to say that you just know that you’re getting
older when a year seems to fly past like three months once
did. So, by his reasoning, I’m definitely getting older!
Is it only to me, or does the quiet concern as we approach-
ed the infamous Y2K seem like just yesterday? No doubt you
remember the dire warnings that computers might fail, banks
would then crash, Wall Street, etc. People began to store
quantities of bottled water, drinks, canned food, etc., and
bought generators since “the power grid might fail, you know?”
I remember waking up on January 1, 2000, immediately turn-
ing a light on, and then my laptop. When lights worked, my
computer powered right up and got online, my bank was still
open, and the gas stations still had fuel, even I - who was
not all that worried about the phenomenon - breathed a sigh
of relief. In a few days, that will be nine years ago. Sheesh.
The last nine years have brought many changes, but in my
little opinion, the majority of them have taken place in just
the last year or so. The “free” world is in economic crisis,
we’ve seen sweet crude oil skyrocket to $148/barrel, only
to fall around 75% when this global recession (depression?)
took hold. Americans are staggered to think that to bail out
one industry after another - largely due to the greed of a
relative few - will likely cost in the trillions of dollars. Small
island nations like England and Japan are engaged in bailouts
of their own, with numbers that may not be as large as the
USA is “investing”, but relative to their population, numbers
that are actually substantially higher per capita than here.
Voters in the USA have elected a new President, who, in an
extremely limited track record of experience, has shown him-
self to be as liberal of a politician as we’ve ever had; a man
whose spotty record of votes is still enough to frighten us
in knowing that if Christians are against something, he’s been
rather consistently for it, and vice versa. In our travels, we
have noted that American believers are very concerned, al-
most to the point of alarm. And yet, in our travels overseas,
the Christians there have an entirely different view of things.
Their beliefs are a product of what they’ve been fed by the
media in their nations, of course.
All of these things translate to actual reality, of course. As
a nation, we’re in big trouble. Saddest of all, we deserve it.
We began a resource-based economy (which Canada, to
their credit still follows) which became known as the Gold
Standard in 1900, although it was suspended in 1933 after
The Great Depression. In the 80 years since, the standard
has come and gone; reenacted for a while, then abandoned
as certain influences (the Vietnam War being one of them)
forced change. The last major effort to reestablish such a
Standard came under the Reagan Administration, but even
that failed. Now we have a “Gold Fiat Standard”. When we
need more money, we print it. One doesn’t need to be the
proverbial rocket scientist to see how short-sighted that
will be in the longer term.
Since the USA became the world’s last superpower, many
Christians have wondered why we aren’t even mentioned
in prophesy. In fact, the West in its entirety appears to
be a non-factor in the last days prophecies. For at least
the last dozen years, I’ve publicly stated that in my mind,
one major reason will be that the economic house of cards
that we’ve built up will come crashing down, rendering us
not only not a superpower, but basically not a power at all.
If our future and our hope were this grim, we would have
every right to be pessimistic and alarmed. No doubt about
it. But. Our God encourages us to do what no author of
fiction would want us to do - the Author of all of history
begs us to read the last chapter of the Book. And when
we do, it’s gloriously clear - our side has already won! We
are “in Christ”, and in Him forever. We await the next great
act of history, and it’s called The Rapture; when the Lord
Jesus Himself will descend with three signs - a shout, the
trumpet blast, and an Archangelic voice - right into the
very realm of the prince of the power of the air himself.
The dead in Christ will burst triumphantly from that hal-
lowed soil that holds them; from the depths of oceans,
from the ashes of fire…gloriously reconstructed in His
own image. And (this is our prayer) we who are alive at
His coming to the air will then rise to meet the Lord Him-
self, the saints of all the ages, and an innumerable host
of angels. This is our hope. It’s no pipe dream, nor is it
a crutch for the weak who need it. This is as present of
a reality as is the fact that I’m writing this now just as
you’re reading these words! We will reign with Him for
1007 years, until His second coming to earth. That will
be in absolute triumph, in marked contrast with the
seeming weakness of His shame and crucifixion. All of
the truths that we learn of that day coming serve to
make us recognize some necessarily important truths:
This life isn’t all that there is. It’s temporary and highly
transitory. Boot camp, if you will, for the life to come.
Civilizations have groaned for centuries; great powers
have come and they’ve gone. Tyrants, despots, and
evil dictators have prevailed for a time, but now they
are in eternity. Many have tried to eradicate from the
planet any notion of the God Who is, and His Son, by
shedding the blood of countless martyrs. But….
The day is coming when every knee will bow, and every
tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and this
will redound to the glory of God. Those now in Heaven
will bow, those now on earth. Those now under the
earth, and every individual who has ever lived will be
found in one of two categories in that coming day; in
that remnant that owned Jesus Christ as Lord and Sav-
ior in life, or those who failed to. One group, ever so
sadly, will consigned to a lost eternity, and the other
will enter into His eternal glory - with Him, and like Him.
Forever. And forever. And ever. Through nothing but
marvelous grace, mercy, and the Blood of Christ, I’ll
be in that latter group. And, the more I live, the more
I cannot wait to be in that eternal there!
And so, as we approach another New Years Day, we
do so not as the blind; we see the signs of civilization
collapsing all around us, yes. But my prayer is that in
the midst of such decline, we’ll keep our gaze and our
optimism focused on this great fact: “Perhaps Today!”
Saints have looked for His return to the sky for cen-
turies. I believe we’re almost there! And all I can say
is “Even so, come Lord Jesus!” Maranatha!
We wish for each of you and your families a very
happy New Year; one filled with His richest goodness.
We wish for you (and ourselves) an ever-closer walk
with Him, peace and certainty in a day characterized
by a lack thereof. We hope you’ll never lose sight of
the truth that through Him and by virtue of His work
on our behalf, Heaven is coming…nearer every day.
It’s just about enough to make me happy tonight!
Happy New Year, my friends, all around this earth….
One of the ironies of Christmas is that almost without controversy,
December 25th is likely not even close to the day when God became
a man. But, that small fact aside, I love this time of year. You’ve
heard me say that before, I know. But, regardless, I love Christmas.
In the last year or so, my thoughts have turned to an extraordinary
man named Joseph. A man that God chose to be His stand-in on this
planet couldn’t be ordinary, much as Mary couldn’t be just any girl.
Matthew’s Gospel details the human genealogy of our Savior, and
Luke’s give us His legal lineage. Joseph wasn’t the physical father of
Jesus, but he conferred on Mary’s son the rights of the inheritance
of David’s throne. If Luke’s Gospel shares Mary’s story, Matthew tells
Joseph’s. Last Christmas, I marveled in words at the story of that
remarkable young girl that God chose to give birth to His Son; now
I’m thinking of Joseph.
When the girl Joseph was betrothed to was found to be pregnant,
it would be inconceivable for a righteous man to carry through in
marriage, when it wasn’t his child. In the Law, (Deut. 22:13-21)
Joseph was allowed to accuse her of immorality, and to have her
stoned. Or, he could annul the marriage contract, as we learn in
Matthew 1:19. Joseph’s first inclination was to “put her (Mary)
away”, but privately. But, as Mary had had her angelic visit, now
Joseph does, and as soon as he hears the message, all is well in
Joseph’s world. Except, his world would be turned as upside down
as would Mary’s be. But, there are no questions, no “Why me’s?”
for Joseph. Just implicit faith and explicit trust. I admire this man.
He simply took Mary home with him as his wife, but was not in-
timate with her until after the birth of the Son that he shared
with the God of the universe. And so, Jesus was born of a virgin.
(Matthew 1:25) Some man, this Joseph.
It was somewhere around mid-winter of 5 BC and early 4 BC,
during the reign of Caeser Augustus, that Quirinius, the Syrian
Governor, ordered a census-taking. This necessitated Joseph
and Mary to make a difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethle-
hem, the town of Joseph’s legal inheritance, to enroll in the
census and pay their tax. While there, the time came for Mary
to give birth, and we know the rest of that story. But did you
An orthodox Jew would never leave on a trip without binding
a pre-measured amount of relatively narrow fine linen strips,
sewn together, around their torso. If he or she died on their
journey, since the Law demanded that they be buried before
sundown, if possible, or as soon after sunrise as possible, the
linen bands would allow a stranger to bind them completely
around their body, sealing them for their burial. These were
called swaddling bands. I wonder if these swaddling bands
that gave the baby Jesus warmth were Joseph’s, or if they
came from Mary. Maybe we’ll know one day, when we meet
the One Who was indeed born to die. But, here’s another
touching twist on swaddling bands. Since Jews could only
offer a spotless lamb in sacrifice to God, they were highly
prized. When a shepherd attended to the birth of a lamb in
a manger, and saw a spotless lamb emerge, it would be
wrapped in swaddling bands, and placed above the filth of
the floor, in the manger, for protection. Ah. What a God we
have! His own Lamb, perfect in every way, wrapped in the
swaddling bands, and lifted above the defilement. God the
Son, moments after that amazing and private birth, wrap-
ped in the clothes of death. Born to die, that we may live.
A baby Who had always been, the Son who chose to come,
God’s Lamb. In the world now, but not of it. Soon to mingle
as Creator with creation, to rub shoulders daily with those
born under the taint of sin, yet to be apart from sin. The
One Who one day would cause the disciple of action to say
that “He did no sin” (Peter), the one who leaned on His very
chest and heard the heartbeat of God to proclaim that “In
Him is no sin” (John) and the intellectual giant (Paul) to
state so correctly that “He knew no sin”. Born apart from
the vagaries of sin for the express purpose of becoming it,
bearing it, and beating it. Joseph just couldn’t have known
all this when the angels spoke to him, could he? Would the
God of eternity have spoken quietly to this young man and
told him that this incredible plan was actually one of the
ages, and for the ages?
Joseph actually had three angelic visits…When Herod the
Paranoid called for “The Slaughter of the Innocents”, an
angel told Joseph to take his little family and flee to Egypt.
Herod died in 4 BC of some “loathsome” disease, at which
time, obedient Joseph obeyed again. While his first choice
would have been to return to Bethlehem, in Judea, when
the angel warned him that Archelaus was reigning in terror
in Judea, and that God was directing him instead to Naz-
areth in Galilee, Joseph obeyed. Another character strength
of this man is revealed…obedience.
Joseph would have run an exemplary home. He would have
been a man of saintly character, and integrity of conduct.
A master carpenter, Joseph the craftsman might have
built homes, furniture, agricultural implements and the like.
Above all, he would have built into the life of his Heaven-
ly son all that Jesus - the Son of Man - needed, as the Son
of a very good man. His home, if it was representative of
the homes of the day, would likely have been small, even
modest, at first. A single, nearly-square door, and few
windows. It would have had a flat roof, and likely an out-
side staircase leading to that roof, where he and his fam-
ily would have sat to catch the cooler breezes of evening.
The education of his son would have begun in his home,
at least until age 6. Jewish dads had to teach their son a
trade, and the Son of the carpenter became one. I don’t
think there’s any accident that my Savior came to be a
Every time He felled a tree, pricked His thumb with thorns,
held a nail, swung a hammer, could He have not thought
of the day future, when crowned with thorns, He would
be nailed to a tree? Eventually wrapped in fine linen - the
product of flax - sealed with a gummy resin, a byproduct
of trees; embalmed with myrrh,the resin of the myrrh bush,
and frankincense, the sap of the scraggly Boswellia tree.
Surrounded with wood in life, and in death. No accident,
this, I’m convinced. In every way, God knew who to select
as the earthly father of His eternal Son.
While Mary lived on after her oldest Son ascended back
to His Father, it seems as if Joseph died fairly young. He
became a father himself, having more than one daughter,
and four named sons: James, Joses, Judas, and Simeon.
(Mark 3:32) He lives on today in Heaven, a unique man,
God’s surrogate. A man who watched God grow up…one
who taught the Teacher, who provided temporal blessings
for the One Who owned it all. A tradesman who taught
woodworking to the Creator of all trees. A simple man who
taught the Law and the things of God to the One Who
gave the Law, and Who had been God’s Son for all of
eternity. Such a daunting task, but he accomplished it
with dignity. He never saw his oldest Son’s ministry, it
seems, nor was he around to see His death. But, he was
there for His birth, and for those early years. As a father
myself, I have a real desire to sit with Joseph one day
and speak with him of His Son. What was that night like
so long ago, when the best delivery room that he could
procure for his espoused wife was the manger? What
did he think when the wise men came and presented
his baby with those timeless gifts? What was it like to
teach eternity’s greatest Teacher? I have a lot of ques-
tions for this man Joseph. I admire him. A lot.
And so, next week, we’ll come quietly apart for a day,
to celebrate the birth of Joseph’s son, who wasn’t his
son, really. He just took God’s place for that brief win-
dow of eternity. And when you think about it, that says
it all, doesn’t it? The God Who chooses us, unlikely ves-
sels that we are, for His work here, knew who He could
choose - and trust - for one moment in time when the
eternal became the temporal.
From our growing family to yours, we all wish you the
happiest Christmas ever, grand thoughts of Mary and
Joseph’s baby boy - God incarnate - and the best New
Year you’ve ever had.
Alan, Dawna, Shannon and Chris, Alan Jr., Devin, Darren, and Glen.]]>