Moment Reminds Us of Our Purpose

“God leaves his toughest battles for His strongest soldiers.”

Black hand-written letters on brown cardboard leaned against a backpack on the edge of a parking lot.

Looking over I noticed a family, a man, woman, and two dogs, sitting alongside the sign. Two backpacks, each stuffed with their worldly possessions, rested between them. The youngest, a puppy, pulled on a rope leash.

My traffic light remained red.

The story could end here as we all see a similar sight though our car windows nearly every day. Only many times, we pretend to not – instead rationalizing our busy life precludes us from absorbing the reality through the glass.

On this day, however, I witnessed something remarkable.

A late-model pickup truck pulled alongside the family. Getting out, the driver spoke to the family with a smile and warmth. Another man, the passenger, jumped out and did the same. A few words are exchanged and the family rose to their feet. The woman grabbed her cane and struggled towards the bed of the pickup – a limp hampering her balance. The man, his right wrist bandaged, reached out to shake the driver’s hand.

The driver and his friend helped lift the two dogs into the bed and quickly began lending a hand to load the oversized backpacks into the back as well.

My light changed to green as the man and woman situated themselves in the back of the bed along with their belongings and two dogs. Smiles and handshakes were shared all around.

Pulling away I found myself somewhere between embarrassed and proud. Embarrassed I’d become incrementally desensitized to emotionally responding to similar opportunities outside my car window and proud for the two men who were not. I honestly believe God put us in specific situations for a reason – and that red light was meant for me.

As we go into our holiday season it is almost fashionable to make an effort to help those in need. In reality, this is something we should build into the fabric of our everyday being. To help only when we hear holiday music is almost superficial and being performed for the wrong reasons.

There are many people down on their luck, as they say. And for others, they contributed to their situation through choices and decisions. But in the end, they are all God’s children. And as I remember, we are all responsible for taking care of God’s children.

Which is why I believe what I witnessed was so remarkable. For me to witness this particular moment through the comfortable insulation of tinted glass windows and heated leather seats struck home – as if God thought I could use the reminder.

I don’t try to overanalyze these moments in life as I’ve come to expect an occasional nudge or hint are really a part of God helping keep us grounded. The opportunities are there, but the lesson is up to us alone to recognize.

My only hope is I wasn’t the only one looking out the window.

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Only One Turkey, Please

This time next year we will have elected a new President of the United States.

Yes, it is time for everyone to get serious. Barring any last-minute hanging chad issues, we should all be able to sit down around our Thanksgiving dinner and pass grandma’s dressing and lick our respective political wounds.

What I’m hoping is between now and then, we get a bit more serious about the election process for the most powerful elected office in world. Regardless of your political party, you’ve got to admit this year’s cycle is turning into a convoluted reality show featuring candidates with the character depth of a Saturday morning cartoon.

For the first time in my life, I’m finding myself longing for a ballot choice marked “none of the above.”

Concerning to me is the continued move to polarizing and pandering political positions across the board. No one party owns this strategy. But the downside is how these actions suck the air out of the political spectrum once occupied by those of more moderate views. Politics is growing more and more, for a lack of a better word, mean.

Growing up it was a given people held different opinions when it came to politics. Even in our own home my parents would return from voting and joke how they’d cancelled each other out at the local ballot box. In our neighborhood, people voted in their own way, but never publicly displayed contempt for those who didn’t.

But something seems to have changed with this election. With the wider range of fragmented media – from endless cable channels to social media tools – there seems to be a poisonous flavor permeating the political posturing of this presidential election season. Maybe I’m naive, but I find it hard to believe candidates believe many of the extreme positions they expound from the campaign trail. Pick a side and you’ll easily find ‘chicken in every pot’ promises – promises any reasonable person easily recognizes as a transparent play of something that can’t possibly be delivered. But to question or disagree is to be socially exorcised by those who blindly follow.

As the game of politics continues to increasingly become a game of money, the two major political parties seem to be losing control of their soul to base in order to secure funding. The Republican Party is now solidly under the control of the socially conservative faction – the Democratic Party increasingly under the influence of the liberal spectrum. If this were the shower faucet it would be like having to choose between scalding hot or skin-numbing cold water. The option of anything in the middle is increasingly off limits.

My hope is by the time we all sit down to Thanksgiving next year we’ll have sorted out this ridiculous cast of one-dimensional characters and found a way to select a candidate of worth, value, and conviction rooted in doing what is best for our nation instead of a polarizing political position. One turkey for Thanksgiving is enough, thank you.

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Closing of Home Leads To New Memories

My childhood home, the one my father and my mother purchased years ago to raise my brother and me, is now officially closed. Gone is the furniture, gone are the worn-out bicycles, gone are the old newspaper clippings saved for a long forgotten reason. Hollow rooms now echo with the slightest of footsteps.

As adults we all expect to grow up, move away, and build a new life, a new family. But one day we need to come home – one final time. The closing of a home is remarkably different than that of closing a house. A home is filled with vivid memories. Each dent or scratch tells a story of a moment long lost in the daily rush of life. Even a single nail hanging on a living room wall serves as a reminder of lifetime now passed.

My brother and I grew up in a modest home in the modest suburbs of a modest Mid-western city. And our family lived an equally modest lifestyle. Nothing fancy, nothing noteworthy.

But the unwinding of the home as an adult opens doors and windows to memories created beneath the surface by our parents.

“I’ll be home on Friday,” said one note from my dad to my mother when traveling. “Give the boys a hug and I’ll give you big kiss when I get home. I miss you dearly.”

Another postcard, written to me by my dad as a young boy, boasts of how the local baseball team is doing.

“We’ll have to catch a game soon when I get back home,” he wrote.

Another envelope reveals letters of testimony from my uncle requesting the permission for my mother to immigrate to the United States. Letters of character from his employer, a local banker, and local VFW contributed my mother’s immigration possible. The letter is dated signed and dated 1952.

“I can personally assure you,” he wrote, “she will never be a liability or financial burden on the citizens of the United States.”

In another drawer unveils a tarnished golden watch. With a mesh link band, my dad purchased it while a soldier in Japan right after World War II. Paying one-third, or $30, of his monthly military salary at the time, the watch still keeps good time after and careful quick winding.

I guess what I’m discovering is life is not contained in things, but rather the stories attached to them. Where once sat a box of miscellaneous papers, powerful and personal stories begin to reveal themselves. Things are just things at the end of the day. Nothing I ran across over my week of carefully reading and sorting would ever turn a dime on an auction site. But to me, their value and the stories they reveal are priceless. And to qualify that well-used phrase, priceless means exactly that – I wouldn’t give up my mother’s citizenship papers for anything.

We’re done. The home is now just a house. My heart, however, is filled with brand-new memories I will carry forever with me.

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