Sunday, March 23, 2014

Who's Packing Your Parachute?


There’s a story about a navy jet pilot in Vietnam whose plane was destroyed by surface-to air missile. He ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent six years in a communist Vietnamese prison. Gratefully, he survived the ordeal, and now spends his time lecturing on the lessons he learned from that experience.

One day while sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said excitedly’ You’re the pilot who flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and you were shot down! How in the world did you know that? Asked the amazed pilot. The man replied; “I packed your parachute. The airman shook his hand in gratitude and said; “Well, I guess it worked!” And they parted. End of coincidence. Nice story? Not quite.

The pilot began to think of the many hours that ordinary sailor spent in the bowels of the ship folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands the fate of someone he didn’t know. Having thought about that meeting, this veteran now asks his audience when he lectures: Who's packing your parachute? His point is that everyone has someone who has packed their parachutes, who has blessed them, who has provided what they need to make it though the day.

Ask yourself, who blessed you this week. Our parish has been blessed with the craftsman skill of an inmate who has opened up the sanctuary and revealed two beautiful stain glass windows that have been covered for decades. On my recent trauma response, I was the guest of a special couple who took care of me with their warm hospitality and sent me home with homemade breads and a spring pussy willow wreath.

So as we continue our Lenten journey. Whose parachute have you packed? Or should have packed? Who did you bless this week? Family and friends. Sometimes, in the daily challenges of life that life gives us, we miss what really is important.

We are called to bless. It was also predicted of us: "In you all families of the earth shall be blessed." Lent is the time to recall how we are blessed and how we bless others. If there is a failure to bless, Lent is the time to repent, to confess and to promise to do better. Most of all Lent is simply time to recall your awesome vocation. We are here on earth to be a blessing to others.
God invites us to listen to his words and what do you hear? “When I was hungry you gave me to eat, when I was thirsty, you gave me to drink, when I was sick, you visited me.” (Matt 25:35).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are a blessing to others. Start packing parachutes and start blessing those who packed yours. By the way, have you adopted a rescued hen? Contact your local animal shelter and have them contact the ASPCA to provide a safe haven for one of God’s beautiful creatures.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Save the Hens


“Scum bags” was the term the rescue team used to describe the people responsible for the cruel treatment of 4,000 roosters and hens. Discovered on some remote farmland, the birds were being bred for cock fighting matches. The conditions these animals were living in was disgraceful. Starving and frozen, suffering from neglect and disease, a compassionate rescue team of professionals set about the task of saving these maltreated creatures.

I was contacted across the country to come on site and help this rescue team cope with their emotions since a decision was made that 2,000 roosters would have to be euthanized.

This was not the ordinary rescue mission for these team members. They had extensive experience coming to natural disasters such as tornadoes or hurricanes. They had rescued hundreds of lost dogs, cats and a variety of animal species. Their task was always to nurse these small creatures back to health and in many cases happily restore the pets back to their owners.

This was a criminal case. Evidence had to be gleaned from tags attached to each rooster’s wing feathers. The sad reality was that these animals were raised to be aggressive and used for gambling in cock fighting matches. Changing the birds aggressive nature was unfortunately not an option. Therefore, the humane decision was to euthanize each animal.

One seasoned rescue member shared that this was not part of their job description. Their purpose was always to save and rehabilitate the animals. Bringing animals back to health and restoring them to their owners or help in finding a new loving home. It was gut wrenching to observe each handler struggle with each bird fighting for its survival. However, the handlers carried out their duty with precision and grace. With dignity, they reached inside each cage and grasped the rooster who then would first be put to sleep and later received their injection from the veterinarian in a humane manner.

I was humbled to work along side each rescue member, taking the euthanized birds over to the forensic team to examine each animal for evidence. These people would gently place each bird on the exam table to be processed and identified and then with dignity placed back into its box and handed over to their final resting place. A decision was made to save the remaining hens that numbered close to 2,000. They are currently being fed and watered and waiting for their new homes throughout the country.

Similar to 9/11, never in my widest dreams did I imagine that I would be called upon to support such an outstanding team of rescue workers. Sometimes we find ourselves in unique situations that demand our very best. The rescue work was exhausting both physically and emotionally. I observed the highest degree of respect for each bird as they were carried to their final resting place. For some lucky hens, their life will go on as they continue to receive food and care until someone comes to adopt each one. In my heart, these people are true heroes in giving each rooster dignity at the end of life and helping to find homes for the remaining hens. This was one of the most unique critical incident services that I have been called upon to serve since 9/11. God was truly present in the way each person served to protect and care for each animal.At the final debriefing, i complimented this team for their compassionate work and told them to take the day off when they returned home to their families.

God invites us to listen to his words and what do you hear? “The Lord helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” (Psalm 37:40).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are victims of violence. May God keep you safe. If you would like to adopt a rescued hen, call your local animal shelter and have them contact the ASPCA to provide a safe haven for one of God’s beautiful creatures.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Fish Or Cut Bait

“Fish or Cut Bait” was the title of a chapter that focused on the need to quit making excuses for lifetime of rude behavior. Quite frankly, this man  admitted that he had come to see me to give up his demon alcohol and anger that made him “mean spirited.”

Two months ago, he promised himself to get help for his drinking. However, he realized that his anger was the real “beast.” He was loud, vulgar and a real terror to his wife and children. He faced an ultimatum from his spouse, either he gets help or risk losing his family.

A few months of sobriety led to some new discoveries. He was learning to be quiet within, but he admitted to me that there still was this “beast” inside of him that he felt would never leave his side. The “beast” actually made him feel good. He admitted that he enjoyed it. It was like the effect you feel when you are using a drug. If he was going to confront his “beast” he had to learn that he was powerless.

One day, while visiting his mother, she made the comment that she had noticed a significant change in his behavior. She gave her son a necklace that had a black wooden cross and told him:  “Wearing this cross means you are in the company of Jesus Christ and He wants you to carry him around wherever you go.” Jesus will be your guide and your wisdom to learn the humility and gentleness that had been missing for decades. He took the necklace and put it around his neck and he began to sob. Not cry, or whimper, but sobs of tears were pouring down his cheeks. The tears were decades of pain that he had been carrying inside his gut. The “beast” turns out to be all the hurt and pain he felt as he was growing up and his response was putting on the tough guy mask who didn’t care much for anybody including himself.

If you receive your ashes on your forehead with the sign of a cross, think about the beast that stalks you at this stage in life. What are the excuses you keep making that prevent you from making the changes that will reflect the life of Jesus Christ. We are powerless to overcome the beast, but let the ashes be a sign that you want to walk with Jesus Christ as your companion who promises to lead us out of our darkness in to the light of truth and love.

God invites us to listen to his words and what do you hear? “I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward you.” (Psalm 73:22).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who feel powerless at times with their beast. May this Lenten season be an opportunity to make changes in our life that will make a difference and lead us closer to Our Lord’s wisdom and love.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Eternity Leads to Overflowing Platters


Just returned from "pre-lenten breakfast" at the parish. When I asked the volunteer who cooked the breakfast what sparked this tradition. She simply smiled and shared that maybe this would be the last time folks would enjoy  "bacon" before Lent. She was not worried about how much food to make because in the past she always seemed to have enough food to go around. I envy this kind of trust.

Jesus reminds us to stop "worrying" — worrying about food, worrying about the snow, worrying about our looks, worrying about our 401K in order to retire. Jesus knew the real needs for sustenance and shelter. They were a daily challenge for the average day laborer in first-center Palestine — as they are in twenty-first century America. He knows how hard it is to make ends meet — then and now. For folks in this faith community in order to make ends meet, you must do more than farming. Some drive a school bus, others are collecting maple sap in their woods, some work at a grocery store, some do child care in their homes, a few board horses with lots of mucking, some sell online products to help pay their household bills. And its a fact, nobody retires anymore, we all have to go back to work part-time to make ends meet.

Jesus stated, "your heavenly Father knows what you need." However, he doesn't want to offer us just a daily full plate. Jesus wants to offer us an eternity of overflowing platters. Not just a life of sustenance, but a life of abundance. A life overflowing and brimming over. A life that provides more than bread in our belly and a shirt on our back. The journey Jesus invites us to join feeds our soul, and clothes our mind, and fills our heart.

Before every car and every cell phone had its own GPS device planted in it, we used to plan trips with a series of maps and guidebooks. I used the  Triple A" "trip-tick" for mapping my camping journeys across the country.  The travel agent would plot it with a magic-marker. The "trip-tic" provided both regional maps, giving you an idea of how much geography you had to cover, and small, individual maps, focusing on the next fifty or one hundred miles. Off-ramps, restaurants, gas stations, rest stops — the AAA trip-tick gave you the "heads up" on everything that you were heading towards.

When we journey with Jesus we also get our own personal guidance "system". But God doesn't produce subs and blankets to see us through our kingdom-of-God journey. God doesn't send us mere sustenance. God offers us abundance. So God sends us guides to be with us and provide us with all we need to continue in our kingdom walk.

The guides are part of a divinely programmed guidance systems, that accompany us on our Jesus journey towards the kingdom of God. If you join Jesus on "The Way," you can count on these guides... The Guide Within, The Guide Beside, and The Guide Above.

God invites us to listen to his words and what do you hear? “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your good spirit lead me on a level path.” (Psalm 143:10).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who struggle to make ends meet. Help us to listen to our guides within, beside and above that will feed us overflowing platters.