Connecting with Millenials

millennials

If you ask a demographer, they will tell you that Millennials are young adults aged 18-33 years old.  You know who Millennials are; they’re often the ones you see sipping a latte at Starbucks, checking their Twitter feeds, or texting their friends.  OK, I might be profiling them, but they do those things.

A few weeks ago I was reading an article entitled “Millennials in Adulthood” and I thought the article gave some very interesting perspective on Millennials so I wanted to share some of the things I learned with you as well as some of my own thoughts.

The article points out that Millennials are incredibly well-connected to friends, family, and colleagues via all the latest digital platforms.  I think that is a fairly obvious fact.  It is no secret that they utilize social media in ways that those of us older than them can not really understand.  In the article, University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox (you can tell he is from the south because he uses his full name) says, when it come to “the core human institutions that have sustained the American experiment- work, marriage, and civil society,” the Millennials’ ties “are worryingly weak.”

Let’s take a look at Millenials when it comes to each of these human institutions in order and see what the facts say.

Work

When it comes to the area of work, less than half of the young people aged 18 to 29 are employed full-time, and the numbers continue to fall with each passing year.  You read that correctly, less than half.  Wilcox says, “Work affords most Americans an important sense of dignity and meaning-the psychological boost provided by what American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks calls a sense of ‘earned success.’”  Most of us define our identity through the work that we do.  Without work to do, we can quickly become very lost and lose our send of identity.  I understand that unemployment rates are pretty high in the US right now, and that is always a bad thing, but what it is doing to our Millennial generation might be worse than we realize.  If our next generation of leaders is lacking in a sense of identity and purpose, it will be very hard for them to lead our country in a way that we have become accustomed to.

Marriage

Only 26% of Millennials are married, compared to 48% of the Baby Boomers when they were that same age.  That is a pretty grabbing statistic.  Despite the low percentage of people getting married, Millennials are still having babies.  In 2012, nearly half of the kids born to Millennial women entered the world without the benefit of married parents.  This is not an ideal situation since children born into single parent homes have a drastically increased risk of educational failure, poverty, and emotional distress.

Civil Society

For the purposes of this blog, we will consider only religious affiliations for this section.  29% of Millennials consider themselves to be religiously unaffiliated.  That is a record postwar high.  55% of Baby Boomers say they are religious, while only 36% of Millennials do.

This is not all bad news though.  The term “nones” has been coined to describe people who say “none” when asked to identify their faith.  By having more people actually saying “none,” it at least gives others a better idea of where they actually stand.  The fact is that Christianity is not as fashionable as it once was in our society.  This leads to fewer “nominal believers” than in the past.  Nominal believers are people who claim to have a religious affiliation, but in truth, their beliefs would be more represented by a “none” response.  Those who don’t believe are no just being more honest and saying “none.”  This can be both a concern and an opportunity.

With people who say that they do not believe in Christ there is an opportunity for these people to be converted to being believers.  If we want to respond to this opportunity and actually reach this unattached generation, we’re going to have to connect them to something they really value.  It means getting to know a person and building a relationship with that person.  Find out what they value.  Find out why they don’t believe and address it with them on their level.  Talk to them about your life and how believing in Christ has affected your life.  Let them see how that is lived out in your life.  Let them see that you are different because you believe and let them want that for themselves.  Building relationships with people can be messy and take a lot of time and effort, but the rewards are so much greater.  Half-hearted Christianity just won’t cut it.  Waving a Bible around in crowds of people you don’t know and telling them they will go to hell if they don’t believe is not going to change anyone’s heart.  Judging people and being a hypocrite will not win anyone over and make them want to follow Christ.  By the way, half-hearted Christianity, such as this, is not Christianity at all.

People have an opportunity to clearly state what a Christian really is and display that type of behavior for the entire world to see, both believers and non-believers.  Part of taking your faith seriously and modeling a mature Christian life is treating Millennials like mature people.  Instead of dumbing down the faith, and your message to them, we need to show these young people a story of reality that not only we can live out, but they can live out as well.

In addition to trying to reach the Millennials, we need to place a focus on reaching the “pre-nones,” those who are even younger than the Millennials.  We need to reach the kids with a clear message of who Christ is and His message before these kids drift away.  It is a shame when a kid, who has heard this message, decides that they do not believe it, but it is an absolute tragedy if a kid does not believe and has never even been exposed to the message.  It is a parent’s responsibility to expose their kids to Christ and His message.  This needs to be done by the parents having their own personal relationship with God and modeling this to their kids.  A teenager with a highly committed personal faith will need multiple adults of faith to turn to for support and help.  They need to see adults praying and reading the Bible frequently.  This is what prepares kids for a lifetime of faith.

The bad news about the Millennials’ lack of attachment can also be good news for the church.  The church really does have what Millennials are looking for, which is real relationships with one another and with God.  The catch is that, to connect with young people, we have to do something radical, which is to live out what we say we believe.  If the Millennials want real relationships, then we have to be willing to have a real relationship with them and we have to display our own real relationship with God.

The future can be bright and we can all make a huge advancement in Jesus’ mission for us of spreading the gospel to every corner of the earth, but it is going to take us leading the way for it to happen.  Each one of us has to do our part.  And there’s no better time to start than right now.

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Winning the Respect of Others

respect

1 Thessalonians 4:12 (NIV)

12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

When others look at your life, what do they see?  Does your daily life win the respect of others?  As believers, we are Christ’s representatives here on the earth.  We are called to a higher standard than those who do not believe.  The way we live our lives should bring glory to God the Father.  How we live our lives will either give people positive thoughts about God and draw them towards God or will give people negative thoughts about God and push people away from God.  Sometimes we influence others and do not even know we are doing it.

Notice that this verse doesn’t say, “Go out of your way to do something major so that everyone will respect you.”  It doesn’t say, “Win a gold medal or Pulitzer prize so that people will glorify Me in heaven.”  No, it says that your daily life should win the respect of others.  That simply means to always take the high road and live a life of excellence.  It means doing the right thing even when no one is looking.  It means finding common ground with people in order to be a peacemaker.  It means going and living your life with an attitude of faith.

We have an amazing opportunity to bring people into a relationship with God by them seeing how we live our lives.  We can play a role in that person going to heaven and having eternal life or going to hell and having eternal death.  We don’t really have a full grasp of the power of influence we have over people watching us who we do not even know is watching us.

As you strive to live a life worthy of the life God has intended for you, remember, you will become like whomever you spend the most time with.  If you are committed to spending time with God each day through reading your Bible and praying, you will start to develop His character.  If you hang out with people who do not live a life of great quality, the quality of your own life will suffer.  The opposite is true as well.  If you hang out with people who have a very high quality of life, it will help you improve the quality of your own life.  When you live a life filled with the Spirit of God, you’ll win the respect of others around you and will bring glory to God at the same time.

Let’s all challenge ourselves to do the things we need to do to live a life that is worthy of our great God.

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Man that Contact Lens is Heavy

ant

A couple of months ago, I came across the story of The Ant and the Contact Lens.  I thought it was great so I wanted to share it with all of you.

 

The Ant and the Contact Lens

A true story by Josh and Karen Zarandona

Brenda was a young woman who was invited to go rock climbing.  Although she was very scared, she went with her group to a tremendous granite cliff.  In spite of her fear, she put on the gear, took a hold on the rope, and started up the face of the rock.

Well, she got to a ledge where she could take a breather.  As she was hanging on there, the safety rope snapped against Brenda’s eye and knocked out her contact lens.

Well, here she is, on a rock ledge, with hundreds of feet below her and hundreds of feet above her.  Of course, she looked and looked and looked, hoping it had landed on the ledge, but it just wasn’t there.  Here she was, far from home, her sight now blurry.  She was desperate and began to get upset, so she prayed to the Lord to help her to find it.

When she got to the top, a friend examined her eye and her clothing for the lens, but there was no contact lens to be found.  She sat down, despondent, with the rest of the party, waiting for the rest of them to make it up the face of the cliff.

She looked out across range after range of mountains, thinking of that Bible verse that says, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.”  She thought, “Lord, You can see all these mountains.  You know every stone and leaf, and You know exactly where my contact lens is.  Please help me.”

Finally, they walked down the trail to the bottom.  At the bottom there was a new party of climbers just starting up the face of the cliff.  One of them shouted out, “Hey, you guys!  Anybody lose a contact lens?”

Well, that would be startling enough, but you know why the climber saw it?  An ant was moving slowly across the face of the rack, carrying it on its back.

Brenda told me that her father is a cartoonist.  When she told him the incredible story of the ant, the prayer, and the contact lens, he drew a picture of an ant lugging that contact lens with the words, “Lord, I don’t know why you want me to carry this thing.  I can’t eat it, and it’s awfully heavy.  But, if this is what You want me to do, I’ll carry it for You.”

I think it would probably do some of us good to occasionally say, “God, I don’t know why you want me to carry this load.  I can see no good in it and it’s awfully heavy.  But, if you want me to carry it, I will.”

God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.  Yes, I do love God.  He is my source of existence and my Savior.  He keeps me functioning each and every day.  “Without Him, I am nothing, but with Him… “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:13)

 

I really enjoyed this little story.  There were a few things that really stood out to me when I read it.

The first thing was how the ant did not know why he was supposed to carry the contact lens or even what it was for that matter.  All he knew is that he was called to carry it and he did.  He did it without complaining or question.  Are there things that God is calling us to do?  Are there heavy burdens in our lives that we are forced to carry around with us?  Are we willing to do this without question even though we may not know the why?  Are we willing to do it without complaining?  It can be a very hard thing to do.  It is hard to do something when we don’t know why we are doing it or how doing it fits into the big picture.  It is also very hard not to complain while doing it.  Sometimes we complain to others because we want their sympathy for what we are going through.  I know that I have done this on several occasions in my life.  Maybe if I had more of the attitude the ant had, God could have me carry even bigger things than I ever imagined I could.  If we are willing, God is able.

Another thing that struck me is the amazing power of prayer.  God wants to talk to us each and every day.  He wants us to bring all our big issues and struggles so He can help us.  He also wants us to bring our little things to Him.  Nothing is too small to share with Him.  God wants us to bring our big and small joys to Him, not just our struggles.  We should go to God in prayer when we have needs, but we need to go to Him in prayer when we don’t need anything at all.  Just talk to Him like you would any of your other friends.  God is always home and He is always available.  He is never too busy to talk.  He loves you more than anyone else does and He always wants what is best for you.  He is the ideal friend.

In the story, Brenda was in need.  She had lost her contact and without it, she could not see.  She tried and tried on her own to find it, but she couldn’t.  It was at that point that she asked God to help her.  She knew that God knew where it was so she just asked Him to help her find it.  Do you think a God that loves us as much as our God does would ever reject a plea for help made in this fashion with a heart of surrender?  God interceded on her behalf to help her find the contact.  God knew that it would not be found so He had the ant carry it to a place where people would see the ant carrying the contact.  He put those people in that place at that time so they would see the ant carrying it.  He put Brenda in a spot where she would come into the people who found the contact.  God put this whole chain of events into motion just so Brenda’s plea for help would not go unnoticed.  If God is willing to do all that just to find a contact lens, imagine what He is willing to do for the bigger stuff.

Another thing that stuck me is the size perspective.  An ant is so small that we humans are giants compared to them.  They are so small that they are hardly noticeable.  We would pick up and carry a contact around with no trouble at all.  It would not even be heavy enough for us to even feel any weight at all when we pick it up.  That same contact to the ant is huge.  It is bigger and weighs more than the ant’s body does.  It takes all the ants strength to carry that contact that would require almost no effort at all for us to carry.  In comparison, God is so much bigger than us.  We are like the little ants.  We carry our burdens and struggles around with us.  The weight of our load can seem very overwhelming to us at the time.  It might take all the strength we have to carry it around.  That very same burden or struggle that seems so overwhelming to us is so light to God that He can carry it without any effort at all.  It is all a matter of perspective.  God is willing to help us carry our burdens and struggles for us, we just need to be willing to give them to Him.

I think we can all learn some great lessons from this story.  When God calls us to do something, we should do it even if we don’t know why.  We also should not complain while we are doing.  There is a good reason God is asking us to do it, but we just don’t see the big picture from our limited point of view.

We should talk daily to God through prayer.  We should bring both our joys and concerns, our big things and little things.  God will hear our prayers and He will answer our prayers in His time.  The answer may not always be yes, but if it is no, it is for a reason.

We need to think about the ant and how much bigger we are than the ant.  In the same way, God is so much bigger than each of us.  When our load becomes heavy and we grow weary, we need to be willing to give our heavy load to God and let Him carry it for us.

If we can remember these things, we will be a lot better off.

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I Like That Ending

happy ending

Psalm 139:16 (NLT)

16 You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.

I really like this verse.  It reminds me that God has a plan for my life.  He knew everything about me before I was born.  He knew everything I would do or not do before I ever took my first breath.  He knew how my story would end before my story ever started.  He knew that for each of you too.

That is pretty amazing when you think about it.  So if God loves us more than we can even fathom and he already knows how everything will play out in our lives, it seems really silly to think that God would do anything that would cause us harm in the long-term.  I mean there might be things that happen that cause us hurt and pain in the short-term, but over the long-term we will find that the hurt and pain was necessary to bring us to a new place that we would have never found on our own.  God does all things for our own good to bring us to places that we could not have even imagined.

In difficult times, we need to remind ourselves that nothing is a surprise to the Almighty God.  He’s not up in heaven scratching His head, saying, “Oh, man, he got laid off.  That messed up everything.”  “Oh, she was diagnosed with cancer.  I didn’t expect that to happen.”  “Why was Joseph thrown into a pit?”  “Amy lost her father.  Now what am I going to do?”  No, God knows the end from the beginning.  He has already written every day of our lives in His book.  The good news is that if we will stay in faith, our book will end in victory.

The next time we face an unexpected challenge, let’s remember that it’s no surprise to God.  It may be a surprise to us, but not to Him.  He already has the answer, the provision, the healing that we need.  Our part is to keep standing, keep praying, keep hoping and keep believing that our story isn’t over until our story ends in victory!

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You’ve Got to Fight For Your Right

religious freedom

If you are one of the six in every ten Americans, you make New Year’s resolutions at least some of the time.  I’m sure many of you made resolutions this New Year and you might still be on track or have already broken them.  According to the website Statistic Brain, the top five resolutions made by Americans are: losing weight, getting organized, spending less and saving more, enjoying life to the fullest, and staying fit and healthy.

Don’t get me wrong, those are all fine resolutions, although they are all pretty self-directed.  But if you are making resolutions for 2015, I would like to urge you consider an old one that hardly ever makes anyone’s list.

I am not a huge resolution guy.  I am goal-oriented and I think it is important to set goals for yourself so you can push yourself to be the very best person you can be.  I am just a believer that is should be a year round thing and not something you do once a year just because the calendar says it is time to do so.

This year however, I have had something on my mind a bit lately and it has led me to making a resolution this year.  I would like to share that resolution with you and if you are so inclined, maybe you could make it one of yours as well.

My resolution for 2015 is:

To support and pray for religious freedom in 2015.

Religious freedom is simply about freedom of conscience and giving everyone the opportunity to exercise a faith of their choice, or no faith at all if they choose not to.

Religious freedom is something that is a problem all over the world, but I think we as Americans tend to think it is a big issue in other countries, but not so much in the United States.  As I have learned over the past year however, it is becoming more and more of an issue right here in our country.

Just think of all that has happened to undermine religious freedom in 2014.  Think of all the businesses and organizations who were told to support “same-sex marriages” or face fines and ruins and the loss of their careers.  Now I want to be very clear on this so you don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying I am opposed to gays and lesbians or their getting married, but the idea of forcing people to accept this, even if it goes against their religion, is just plain wrong however you look at it.

Let me give you a few examples so you can better understand what I am talking about:

At Gordon College, a well-regarded evangelical institution, the college is facing the possible loss of their accreditation for its biblical beliefs about human sexuality.  College President Michael Lindsey, signed a letter requesting that President Obama include a religious exemption in an executive order that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or “gender identity.”

Wheaton College, located in Illinois, is facing the same issue and is currently fighting for its beliefs in court.

Think of the owner of Hobby Lobby, a Christian-run company, or the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor, who are being told by the Obama administration that they must provide their employees with drugs that can induce abortions.

All of these things are going on right in front of our eyes, yet most of us, including me, go about our lives as if nothing is really happening, as if all is well.  Well, guess what?  Everything isn’t fine.

Religious freedom is the oldest right known to man and we need to protect this right at all costs.  I want to make it clear that I’m concerned about protecting this old, fundamental right for all Americans, not simply the Christians.  We all have a right to believe what we want to believe and no one, especially our so-called democratic government, has a right to tell us what we need to believe, especially when it comes to our religious beliefs.

This whole thing makes me think of Jonathan Swift’s classic satire Gulliver’s Travels.  Remember the scene the sleeping giant Gulliver is being tied down by the Lilliputians?  At any moment, Gulliver could awaken and easily tear through the ropes and crush the Lilliputians.  But as Gulliver continues to sleep, the Lilliputians are putting one small rope across him followed by another.  If Gulliver doesn’t wake up in time, eventually there will be too many ropes, and he will not be able to get up.

Gulliver is like the church in America, who is at the moment asleep to what is happening around them.  The Lilliputians are like our culture, which is trying to restrict our freedom of action and beliefs.  If the church would wake up and make a stand against what is going on right now in our country, we could put a stop to what is happening; the destruction of our religious freedom.  But if the church continues to let our religious freedoms be taken away from us, eventually they will be unable to stop what is happening and our religious freedom will be gone and maybe for good.

My question is whether this will be the year when the church, and for that matter, all of us Americans, finally realizes that although our situation may not be as dire as Bonhoeffer’s and the German church during the reign of the Third Reich, the principle is exactly the same.  When the state tries to impose its values on a sleeping nation and all of its churches, it will succeed and will eventually neutralize our voice completely.  Everything we have ever fought for as a country will be lost.  All of those men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice to defend our freedom, will have died in vain.

Let’s make 2015 the year we wake up and start fighting back to protect our religious freedom.  After all, without religious freedom, I would not even be able to write this blog in the first place.  So maybe this is the most important resolution we could ever make.

 

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A Modern Day Christmas Miracle

Christmas

What is a miracle?

Dictionary.com defines a miracle as an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.

Here are some quotes of what other people have to say about miracles:

I truly believe that everything that we do and everyone that we meet is put in our path for a purpose. There are no accidents; we’re all teachers – if we’re willing to pay attention to the lessons we learn, trust our positive instincts and not be afraid to take risks or wait for some miracle to come knocking at our door.

Marla Gibbs

Miracles happen every day, change your perception of what a miracle is and you’ll see them all around you.

Jon Bon Jovi

There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.

Albert Einstein

My mother is a walking miracle.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love. The real miracle is the love that inspires them. In this sense everything that comes from love is a miracle.

Marianne Williamson

You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.

Paulo Coelho

I believe that miracles happen every day. Every person is a miracle. Every moment is a miracle. If only we can open our eyes, we’ll see God’s love everywhere.

Bo Sanchez

 

God did miracles in the times recorded in the Bible.  From what I have learned, there are 123 separate recorded miracles found in the Bible.  There are 67 recorded miracles in the Old Testament.  There are 37 miracles Jesus alone performed recorded in the New Testament.  If you believe in what the Bible says, it is clear that miracles did happen then.

The question becomes, does God still perform miracles today?  There are many people who doubt miracles still happen today so they don’t look for them, they don’t pray for them.  Many people are more comfortable with a God who keeps His distance and lets us run our lives the way we want to run them.

Over the past month at my church, Christ Community Church, Pastor Staff has done a sermon series about the topic of miracles.  He introduced us to what miracles are and discussed the above questions with us.  For this reason, the topic of miracles has been on my mind a lot recently.

I am a believer and I have seen my relationship with God grow by leaps and bounds over the past 6 years.  I do however, struggle a bit with the idea of miracles.  I do believe that all the miracles discussed throughout the Bible did take place, but I like many others have had certain doubts in my own head about these types of miraculous miracles happening today.  It’s not so much that I didn’t believe that they happen today, but rather that I have not really seen any clear examples of them in my own experience.  To put it more properly, I have not noticed any major miracles.

Well, that has all changed during this holiday season, when God decided to show me a miracle in my own life that was so clear, even I could not miss it.  This miracle has changed my entire outlook on miracles and made me realize that they do happen each and every day in all different kinds of ways.

 

Let me tell you about the story of the miracle I got to witness first hand.

This story starts over the course of this past year.  My mother has always been a very extroverted and sociable person.  I would consider her strong and self-motivated person.  In fact, she has instilled some of those traits in me simply by living with her for so many years of my life.

The strange part is that those characteristics in her had begun to change over the course of this past year.  She began to transform from being an extraverted person to being more and more introverted.  I can remember last 4th of July when she came to Williams to spend the day with us, her sitting in the chair and not saying much all day long.   I was seeing the same thing this past fall at ISU football tailgates.  We would head out for several hours of tailgating prior to games and she would just sit in the chair and not really go out of her way to talk to anyone.  If you came up and talked to her, she would talk back, but her answers tended to be very short and not very conducive to carrying on a conversation.

When talking to her, I would ask her a question and it would seem to take her forever to give me an answer.  It got to the point of their being 30-45 seconds of silence after asking a question, before she would respond.  It was not like her at all.  Please understand that this did not happen suddenly, but gradually and it seemed to be getting slowly worse.

After Thanksgiving, I started getting text messages from family members asking what was wrong with her and if there was anything they could do to help.  We did not really know what was going on or how exactly to help her.  She seemed very depressed.  It was like she had lost all her motivation to do anything productive and that is just not like her.

Grandma Rose, Steph, and I continued to get more and more worried.  I even had several conversations with mom and she honestly did not see anything wrong with herself.  She was not recognizing that there was anything wrong.  I asked mom why she was so depressed and she said that she wasn’t.  It was very frustrating to say the least.

I know that I was pretty depressed following my divorce and my getting more involved with the church really helped me in my time of need so I was pushing mom to do that, but she wasn’t really responsive to that in any way.  I continued to push to try to find some answers though.

Through discussions with mom, I did learn that she was on depression medication, but had gone off of it a couple of months prior due to cost, so I encouraged mom to strongly consider going to the doctor to discuss what was going on and see about getting her prescription renewed.  Mom agreed that she would go to the doctor.  It is hard to convey how frustrating it can be to try to help someone, who doesn’t even realize they need help and you live far enough away that it is very hard to make sure they are getting things done.  Through phone conversations with mom, I did find out that she had gone to the doctor and had her subscription renewed, but when I asked her how it went and what they talked about during the visit, she really couldn’t tell me anything.  I really suspected that she hadn’t told the doctor the whole story of what was going on.  I guess that is what you get when you send someone who doesn’t think anything is wrong with them to the doctor by themselves.

It all came to a crazy day on Wed. 12/17/14.  I was scheduled to travel to a plant outside of Chicago to do some training for a couple of days for work.  I had several boxes of meat that I needed to get to my dad before Christmas because they were going to be using them for Christmas presents.  I decided to load the meat into my vehicle and drive to my destination through Waterloo so I could deliver the meat.  I stopped at my dad’s and delivered the meat and since I was in the neighborhood, I thought I would stop by and say hi to mom and grandma before continuing my trip to Chicago.

I stopped by the farm and mom was cutting my aunt’s hair.  She was just finishing up, so I asked her if she had time to cut my hair too since I needed a haircut.  She said that was fine so while she was cutting my hair, we were talking and I was asking her some questions about how things were going.

She was taking forever trying to answer my questions and some questions she could not remember what I had asked just a minute or so later.  She looked at me with a confused look on her face and I knew she had no idea what we were talking about.

When mom finished cutting my hair, I went over to grandma’s house and talked to her.  I told her that I thought mom had gotten a lot worse since the couple of weeks that I had seen her last and that we were dealing with something more than just depression.  Grandma agreed and immediately got mom’s doctor on the phone and asked if there was any way we could get mom in for an appointment yet that afternoon.  They told her that they could see here right away if we brought her up there.  Grandma had her hands full since she was babysitting my aunt.  My aunt had a brain tumor in the early 2000’s and the effects of the surgery saved her life, but left her with the mind and mannerisms of a young child.  It was going to be very difficult for grandma to try to take her because she would have to take my aunt along as well.  Grandma asked if I could take her.  I really needed to get on the road for my work trip, but I also knew that we really needed to get mom back into the doctor so I told grandma that I could do that.  I would just have to get a later start to Chicago.

That was fine, but the next issue was trying to get mom to agree to go to the doctor with me.  She was not very willing to go because she still thought (in her own mind) that she was fine.  Grandma and I had to get stern with her and I was able to finally get her to agree to go by saying we could spend some more time together and I promised to take her to Hu Hot (one of her favorite places to eat) following her doctor’s visit.  So it was agreed and we loaded up and headed to Waterloo to see the doctor.

Once we started talking to the doctor she had visited the previous week, it soon became apparent that mom had not shared with him everything that had been going on with her.  Luckily, I was able to fill him in and give him the full picture.  Once the doctor knew the whole story, he agreed that we needed to get right on trying to find answers so he ordered a full blood workup and a contrast CT scan of mom’s head.  We would have to travel across town to Allen hospital to get this done and it was getting to be mid-afternoon, but he was able to push us through so I could take her.  He could have easily just let it go till the next day, but him pushing for that day was so kind and important as we would soon find out.

Mom and I traveled across town and got her checked in at Allen.  The first thing they did was blood work and that all came back normal.  Then mom was off for her CT.  After she was finished, mom and I sat in the waiting room waiting to hear about the results.  Mom and I just sat there watching TV in the waiting room for what seemed like an enormous amount of time.

Then the CT tech came into the waiting room and handed me the phone.  I immediately felt that something was wrong and I had a very uneasy feeling.  On the phone was the original doctor we had seen that day.  He explained to me that they had discovered a very large mass in the front of my mom’s brain and that we would need to take immediate steps to get this taken care of.  The next hour or so was a blur to me.  Over that course of that hour, I learned that mom was going to be admitted into the emergency room at Allen and that she would need to be immediately transported to Iowa City for brain surgery to remove the mass.  I also learned that I would not be taking her, but rather she would be traveling by ambulance for fear that she might have a seizure due to the mass pushing on her brain.  That is a lot to taken in.  I knew that I was the one mom had made in charge of making major medical decisions if it came to that, but I wasn’t ready for that.  I guess you never are.

I had to hold back my fears and tears and keep a strong face when I tried to tell mom what was going on.  Mom seemed to take things very well.  I’m not sure she had full comprehension of what was going on, but she never seemed scared.  In fact, her biggest concern was that the dogs would be taken care of while she was gone.  That is like mom.  She really loves her two dogs Dixie and Punkie.  I also had to talk with her briefly about if she would want to be put on life support if that became necessary and learned that she did not want that.  That is a tough conversation to have.  I will have to admit that all this was happening very quickly and I was feeling very overwhelmed in the moment.

Soon mom was on her way to Iowa City by ambulance to Iowa City and I was on my way as well by car.  During this time, I was talking to my wife, Stephanie, who was at her parent’s house in Williams.  She was soon on her way to Iowa City as well to be with me as we saw to mom.  I was also on the phone with my dad.  Even though my parents have been divorced since I was a very little boy, he still showed great concern for mom’s well-being.  He helped me more than he will ever know by being a calming influence on me when I was really struggling.  My dad has always been so good in those type of situations.  I also call our close family friend Gayle Dar, who lives in Texas, and explained what was going on with mom with her.  Very soon after that, Gayle had posted a post on Facebook and was gathering a legion of prayer warriors to pray for mom in her time of need.  It was amazing how large that legion became over the next several days.

I arrived in Iowa City before Stephanie did and sat in the emergency room for quite a while.  The emergency room was pretty busy for a Wednesday night.  Stephanie arrived and after a while longer, we were able to see mom.  She seemed to be doing OK.  Despite all that was going on, not much had seemed to change with mom.  She seemed very brave to me.  We were able to find out from the doctors that they had run an MRI on her head and the neurosurgeons would meet in the morning to determine a plan for mom.  I knew that mom needed her rest and we should get some too.  Steph and I were able to find a hotel room in the early hours of Thursday morning and get a few hours of sleep before returning to the hospital.

I didn’t really sleep very well that night.  I kept having visions of times spent with mom over the past year and wondering if those were a series of “last time events” with her.  My greatest fear was that we would return to the hospital the next day and they would tell us that she had a malignant tumor and that it would be inoperable and mom was dying.  I tried my best to stay optimistic though and not worry about those things until they came to pass.  Having Steph there with me was such a help.  She was a calming effect on me and helped me deal with everything that was going on.  She also was putting Facebook updates up on what was going on so I didn’t have to deal with that.  There was a large number of phone calls and texts wanting to know about mom, but I could not tell anyone much since I didn’t really know myself.

The next morning, Steph and I went to grab some breakfast before returning to the hospital.  While sitting there, I broke down a little bit.  I not usually much of a crier, but I was feeling very overwhelmed in the moment.  The thought of mom possibly dying was more than I wanted to have to try to face.

We got to the hospital and learned that the surgeons had already rounded and discussed mom’s condition.  Mom was telling us some things they had discussed with her, but we weren’t sure if she knew what was really going on.  We waited all morning for an update.  Several nurses and doctors came into the room throughout the morning, but no one had a full story of the plan.  Finally in the early afternoon we were told what was known and what the plan moving forward would be.  Mom seemed to have a slow-growing benign tumor.  They suspected it was a meningioma, but would not know for sure until a biopsy could be taken and pathology results obtained.  The plan was to schedule her for surgery on Monday to remove the tumor.  Until then, she would be discharged that afternoon and could go home to the farm and return on Monday morning for the surgery.  She was on medication that would reduce the swelling in her brain and anti-seizure medicine.

Soon, we were on our way home.  Driving back to the farm, it was just mom and I.  I was so thankful for this time I was able to spend with her and so happy to hear that the tumor seemed to be benign, which meant that mom’s chances of survival were greatly increased.

When we arrived back at the farm, the dogs greeted us at the car.  They were so happy to see mom and mom was so happy to see them.  They are such a sense of joy in her life.  We got settled in at the house and soon discovered that Joyce King had dropped off a crock pot full of soup along with breads and cookies made by several members of the St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Hudson.  The meal was great and we were thankful not to have to worry about making supper.  We also received visits that evening from Diedra Darold, Dianna Darold, Clint Hodson, Julie Lichty and Chris Greiman.  I just love the idea of small town country community and how everyone is there for each other.

We continued to get texts, Facebook messages, and calls from hundreds of family and friends telling us they were praying for mom and if there was anything they could do.  It was so amazing to experience this sense of love from all around us.  I know that mom really appreciated it.  I had her talk personally to several people who called and showed her the text messages and Facebook posts.  We were all blown away by the support.

Mom had a good weekend at home.  On Sunday 12/21, Grandma Rose, mom, Steph, and I all went to church at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Ames.  It was so great seeing a whole bunch of familiar friends.  I grew up in that church and it was almost like I never left.  Mom really seemed to enjoy all the love and support she was receiving from everyone.  We went to eat lunch at Hu Hot after church.  I had promised mom I would take her and since I hadn’t been able to the week before, I wanted to make good on my promise before she went to surgery.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing at the farm and watching Christmas movies.  It was a very enjoyable day.  Pat Lichty stopped by to see how mom was doing and made us some chex mix so we would have something to snack on at the hospital.

The next morning, Steph and I drove mom to Iowa City for her surgery.  Grandma Rose was driven to Iowa City by my cousin Cody.  My other cousin Cash and my aunt Jayne met us in Iowa City.  While we were in the waiting room at the hospital to get checked in, I received a call from Coach Dan McCarney.  He was calling from his home in Ft. Lauderdale to see how everything was going and to wish us all luck with the surgery.  I was able to give the phone to mom and she was able to talk to Coach directly.  I played football for Dan McCarney from 1995-1999 at Iowa State.  We have stayed in contact ever since.  He has been such a huge role model in my life and the love he has shown me and my whole family through the years has been so amazing.  Coach taking the time to call just shows what kind of man he is.

Soon we were all gathered in the prep room and mom was being prepared for surgery.  Pastor Cindy, who is a staff chaplain at the hospital came and prayed with all of us before surgery.  Her light shone brightly and brought a great warmth to the room.  It was at this time that we were able to see an actual image of the tumor.  I was blown away by how big it was.  The mass was the size of a tennis ball and you could clearly see how a large portion of the front of her brain was displaced greatly by the mass.  The resident said that a mass like this could have been growing inside of her head for decades.  The size of the mass and seeing it made me start getting nervous again.  I know that there was a whole list of complications that could happen and as the time approached for her to go off to surgery, a part of me wondered if this was the last moments I would ever see her again.  I was able to choke back tears and gave her a kiss, told her I loved her and that everything would go just fine.  Then I walked away and left it in the hands of God and the very capable surgeons.

During the surgery, I took Grandma Rose back to the hotel so she could take a nap while Steph and my aunt Jayne stayed at the hospital in the waiting room.  While at the hotel, my good friend Nate Schneider, who is a surgeon at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City stopped by to see how we were doing and to offer his help in any way that he could.  It really was very good for Grandma to see him and he helped put our minds at ease a little bit.  It was great to see him again and very kind of him to stop.

Grandma and I returned to the hospital and Steph told me that the resident had come and talked to them while we were away.  She said that the surgery would be shorter than they initially anticipated and that they were able to remove all of the mass they thought.  He warned them to be prepared for mom not being able to talk or have full use of the right side of her body for up to a week following the surgery as this is very common in this type of surgery.  That news made us all a little nervous.  We were not there at the hospital much longer when we learned that mom was out of surgery and we could go see her in the ICU.

As I approached the ICU, I was very nervous.  I saw mom sitting in the bed and she waved at me with her right hand, which was awesome since she was able to use her right side.  She was also able to talk to me and even answer questions for the doctor.  She was able to move all her fingers and toes.  I could see the front part of her hair had been shaved off and she had a large white bandage over the front part of her head.  I was amazed at how good she looked and how well she was responding to everyone.  She seemed fully aware of what had happened and what was going on now.  We did learn that the mass was not all solid.  There was a large portion of the area that was filled with fluid and that it showed strong characteristics of being a cyst.  Mom was very tired for the surgery so we told her goodnight and left her to get her rest.

Steph and I went to the hotel and the rest of the family went home.  I still did not sleep great that night.  I was still worried about some of the lingering effects from the surgery and the mass.

The next morning Steph and I returned to see how mom was doing.  When we entered her room, she was sitting in a chair beside her bed and was fully bright and alert.  In the first two sentences mom spoke, I could tell a night and day difference.  It was like she was totally back to her old self.  The old self I had known several years ago, but had slowly faded over the past few years and I had mistaken for normal aging.  Mom said it was like a cloud had been lifted from her head and she could think clearly again.  It was amazing and I was totally blown away.

Pastor Beth came to visit.  She had driven all the way from Hudson to see mom and us.  It was so great to talk to her and her smile.  She took the time to pray with all of us.

Steph and I spent most of the day with her hanging out and talking to her.  I could not believe the difference.  The amazing part is that mom was not experiencing any pain at all.  Despite the fact that she had just had her skull opened, she was not taking any pain medication at all and said she did not need any.  Now this was the mom I knew.

By Tues. 12/23 afternoon, Steph and I said our goodbyes to mom and headed for home.  One the way home I told Steph that we had just witnessed a miracle.

Mom continued to do great and by 7 am on Christmas Eve, they told her that she could go home.  She went home that afternoon.  She would get to spend Christmas at home.  What a blessing!  We have stopped and visited her several times since then and she is doing great.  She still has not taken any pain medication and seems totally back to normal.

 

Through this event, my mind keeps going back to idea of miracles and how God loves to do miraculous things through ordinary people each and every day.  We see this all throughout the Bible:

 

2 Corinthians 4:3-7 (NIV)

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

 

Job 5:9 (NIV)

He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
miracles that cannot be counted.

 

Psalm 77:14 (NIV)

14 You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.

 

Matthew 13:58 (NIV)

58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

 

Pastor Staff has been telling us all these things over the past month in the sermons in church, but it did not hit home with me until I experienced it first-hand.

The Being of God is an eternal team of divine persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), which acts together to reveal the glory of God’s love.  We experience God and His miracles each and every day.  It is just a matter of being able to recognize and notice them.  Then to take to an even further level of expressing this to others.

People question if God does miracles today like He did in the Bible.  He does, but they don’t come in the form of parted seas, torn curtains, and immaculate conceptions.  God’s Miracles and love is shown through those around us who come to us in our time of greatest need.  They reach out, they help, they love, and they pray.  There were no donkeys, sheep or camels in this Christmas story, but there were two dogs.

I think of everyone who God used to show His love to us in this great time of need we were experiencing.

Dr. Grittman and all the staff at Allen Hospital.

Dr. Howard and the nurses and staff at the Iowa City Hospital.

Pastor Beth and all the loving people from St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Hudson.

Pastor Staff and everyone at Christ Community Church

Chris, Julie, Diedra, Dianna, Soo, and Nate for visiting.

Gayle, John, TJ and Alice for their calls.

Jacque for drawing a Christmas tree for Mom’s room.

Coach Dan McCarney for his calls and texts

All of Steph’s family for their caring and concern.

Everyone from work and the flowers Becka sent to mom’s house.

Jayne, Cody, Cash, and Grandma Rose for being at the hospital.

Dad and Sandy for their great advice and support.

Dixie and Punkie, two of the best dogs ever.

All of those who texted, posted, and prayed in their own time for mom.

My wonderful wife Steph for all her Facebook updates and being there to support and comfort me every step of the way.  I am so glad I never have to go through things like this alone.

 

I agree with Leonardo DiCaprio, my mother is a walking miracle.

 

Sometimes we have to go through trials so we can be reminded of how much God really does love us.  How He was willing to send His only Son to earth as a human so we could be saved and be able to have a final home with God in heaven.  How He loves us so much that He sent His love to us on earth so we can get by until Jesus comes back for us.

One day each of us will be called to leave this world, but as I was reminded this Christmas season, we do not leave this world alone.  God surrounds us with His love in the form of family, friends, strangers, and even pets.  This Christmas I received the greatest present ever.  I got my mommy back and that really is a Christmas miracle.

Posted in Animals, Attitude, Bible, Communication, God, Health, Hope, Inspirational, Jesus, Life Stories, Love, Prayer, Relationships, Thoughts/Mindset | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is Torture OK?

torture

I spend a lot of time in hotel rooms all across the country for my job.  Last week, I found myself in a Quality Inn in Omaha, Nebraska.  I was watching the TV and flipping through the channels and I found myself stopping on a story on CNN.  Please understand that normally I do not pay too close of attention to political matters, but I was drawn into this story.

They were talking about how the Senate Intelligence Committee had issued a 500 page executive summary of its 6,000 page report on the CIA’s use of torture.  Some of the stuff discussed in that report really made me stop and think about the idea of torture and how our country uses it.

They were talking about the case of Nazar Ali.  Ali was al Qaeda, but by no means was he one of their masterminds.  In fact, his own captors described him as “intellectually challenged.”  Despite this fact, he was held in the facilities that the CIA uses for what is described as “enhanced interrogation.”

He was not being held because he knew anything that the CIA would find useful.  In fact, no one could say that he was ever actually interrogated at all.  Instead, the report stated that Ali was detained “solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.”  Part of the “leverage” discussed in the report included playing a tape of Nazar Ali crying for his kinsman.

The CIA is known to have waterboarded at least three other prisoners.  If you are not familiar with waterboarding, it is a way of simulating drowning and can, according to Wikipedia, cause “brain damage from oxygen deprivation,” “damage to lungs,” and, in some cases, even death.  Up until a few years ago, waterboarding was considered a form of torture, but recently, that line has become blurred.

In addition to this, other forms of torture inflicted onto prisoners of al Qaeda include, according to the report, “standing on broken limbs for hours,” and being “deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours, sometimes standing, sometimes with their arms shackled above their heads.”

Compared to others held in detention, it would seem that Nazar Ali got off lightly; or did he?

Is it me or does this just seem wrong?  I’m not talking about specific laws or policies, but just basic human common sense.  That part deep inside our souls that tells us that this is just wrong.

I clearly remember 9/11 and whenever I hear the word al Qaeda, I think of that day and the thousands of innocent people who lost their lives.  It is a day that forever changed us as a country.  Nothing we ever do will ever take away that tragedy and loss of life.

In my opinion, torture is intrinsically evil.  It is wrong regardless of the circumstances.  The use of physical and psychological violence to extract information from people is completely contrary to the idea of having respect for a person and for human dignity.  It also goes against everything Jesus taught us about loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Think of how Jesus was tortured and how terrible of a thing that was.  Jesus died in about the worst way imaginable, and even when he was being tortured he asked God to forgive those torturing Him.  That in itself should tell us how wrong of a thing torture is.

We, as Americans, can’t just turn the other cheek and ignore the fact that our government is torturing people.  We as voters have a responsibility to let our leaders know that torture is incompatible with basic human decency and it won’t be tolerated.  If we fail to do this, then we are tainted.  We are just as responsible as those who are inflicting the actual torture.

None of this is to deny that America has enemies and that swift and decisive action against those enemies is necessary.  The Scriptures make it very clear that there are times when taking a life is not only permitted, but it may be a necessary part of what it means to love your neighbor.

But the same things can’t be said about torture and the practices described in this report.  These practices trade someone else’s human dignity for a sense, which may be only illusionary, or added safety.  It’s a trade that no person in good conscience should be willing to trade.  It is also something that we should condemn.

Not only for Nazar Ali’s sake, but for our own as well.

I am very interested in hearing what you think about the topic of torture.  Are you for it or against it?  Maybe it is not purely a black and white matter, but filled with many hues of gray that making judging each individual act separately based on the circumstances.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have learned with experience, that going with my gut feeling when it comes to things, usually keeps me pretty close to the path I should be on.  What do you think?

Posted in Accountability, Attitude, Bible, Change, Communication, Decisions, Forgiveness, God, Hope, Influence, Jesus, Life Stories, Love, Motivational, Opportunity, Reinventing Yourself, Relationships, Thoughts/Mindset | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment