Category Archives: faithfulness

What Does Love Look Like?

Jodi Dunlap Detrick ca 1972 croppedThe pretty girl with the long brown hair to complement her beautiful eyes first caught my eye, but soon captured my heart. She lit up every room she entered with her bright smile, vivacious personality, and ability to make every person feel like they were welcome and noticed. Her genuine concern for and interest in other people endeared her even more to me.

Our shared values and goals in life forged a bond that wasn’t just physical attraction or emotional feelings or intellectual stimulation, although it was all of those. Fundamentally, our bond was spiritual. The title of a song at our wedding described our commitment: “Each for the other, and both for the Lord.”

On this Valentine’s Day four decades later, I would suggest that our spiritual bond has been the most sustaining component of our relationship over the years, and it has shown me what love looks like. “What does love look like?” is perhaps life’s most persistent question. Here is what I believe:

Love is colorful. When you love, you see in vivid color, not “fifty shades of grey.” Love is light, and it dispels darkness, making the colors pop. When viewed through the eyes of love, even the dark and shady corridors of life lead us to experience rainbow moments when the light of our love and God’s love penetrates the darkness. What a joy to discover nuggets of gold revealed in the shadows and silver linings in the thunder clouds! The clouds change with the winds, and knowing that, we believe in the blue sky principle: they always follow the rain, and the rain brings flowers and growth because:

First flowering plum blossom 2-14-15Love is beauty. Not the kind of beauty that wins contests, but the beauty of acceptance and forgiveness when you have disappointed your beloved for the umpteenth time. Love is the beauty of presence when the “for better or worse” vow seems to have landed decidedly, at least for a season, on the worst side. Love is the beauty of knowing that regardless of whether we are richer or poorer, sickly or healthy, we are together. Believing that together we are better, despite our circumstances, is the glue that holds our love and marriage together. Love is the secret formula that makes every wrinkle and grey hair that comes with age more beautiful in the eyes of our beloved. And that is a beautiful thought that puts a smile on my face because we also know that:

Love is laughter. After forty years together, we share an entire secret volume of funny experiences and laughing out loud moments that rival any comedy routine. Learning to laugh and dish out our hoarded reserve of joy during the moments when life is not funny, when our plates are full of worry or sorrow—that is nourishment for the heart and soul. Love means not taking yourself too seriously, and learning to laugh out loud, both together and separately, knowing that “this, too shall pass.” And tomorrow, or maybe a year from now, our tears will be gone, and we will laugh again and realize that our greatest fears never materialized because:

Love is hope. The pictures love paints, filled with color, beauty, and laughter, provide vision for a brighter future–the hope that tomorrow will be better than today, and next year will be better than this one. Growing up on the farm, my family were “next year” people. No matter if the crops failed us this year, “next year” dad always said, would be better. It was that optimism that kept my mother and father together on a farm for more than 63 years, keeping their vows, “until death do us part.” A hopeful vision inspires optimism beyond our own ability to manipulate or manage circumstances because:

Love is faith in someone bigger than us. Love looks like having the faith and patience necessary to move the impossible mountain in our path, even if that means removing it one slow shovelful at a time. It is believing that regardless of the odds against us, with God our odds are better. It is believing that no matter how many oppose us, with God we form a majority coalition. Love looks like spending time together on our knees so we can walk the distance. It means facing a crisis with a Friend who is closer than any human could ever be. Love is faith that God is bigger than any problem we face. And love means believing that God is love, and catching a glimpse of His face every time we see someone exhibiting God’s love toward others.

What does love look like? I love the Apostle Paul’s description:

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”   –1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT

So on this Valentine’s Day, when I ask, “What does love look like?” the answer is found in the face of my sweetheart, the most Jesus-Hearted Woman I know. Jodi Detrick, thank you for being the same bubbly girl I first fell in love with so many years ago. It is a joy to journey through life with you. I love you with all my heart.

Bible photoHow are you at memorization? Our minds have more capacity than we realize, by some estimations we only use a fraction of our brain’s storage space. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, and yet some people wonder, “Why bother?” when information is accessible instantly in your pocket or purse at the touch of a button these days.

But we tend to remember things we care about or are useful to us. Whether sports trivia, or a website address, we intentionally remember things that we deem important. So how are you at memorizing Scripture? As a child, I memorized hundreds of verses, using the King James Version in those days. Okay, I admit I did so to win prizes in Sunday School or some other church program of the day. But those verses have proven valuable to me, like Psalm 119:11, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”

So how would you like to memorize half of a chapter of the Bible—one that contains 26 verses. It is easier than you think once you realize the chapter is Psalm 136. Every other verse of the chapter goes like this, “For His mercy endures forever.” Technically, that equals 13 verses that you can commit to memory by memorizing five simple words:

FOR:  To be in agreement with, a positive influence, on your side.

HIS: Possessive pronoun – spoken about God – you are His most valuable possession.

MERCY: The opposite of condemnation. To receive mercy is an unexpected and undeserved pardon or blessing.

ENDURES:  Patient, ongoing, alert and compensating for the faults and shortcomings of others.

FOREVER: Eternity, unlimited time with no end in sight, beyond our human capacity to understand.

So if you could learn 13 verses, five words, in five minutes, what could you remember if you really put your heart and mind to it? Don’t give up, “For His mercy endures forever.”

A Tribute to My Father

Howard Detrick ca 1936 - 20 years old

Howard Detrick ca 1937 – 21 years old

(Originally written for Father’s Day 2002)

Last Sunday my sister and I checked our 85-year-old father into the hospital.  He was very ill, with a temperature of nearly 104 degrees, yet his hands were blue and he was shivering from cold.  “Yes, he is my father.  Medical history?  Bypass surgery more than a decade ago, prostate cancer, slight stroke last year.  Yes, he has been here before, and yes he is taking his meds.”

As I sat next to his bed while my father was being x-rayed, poked and examined in every conceivable way, my heart was filled with a thousand thoughts and memories.

“Do it again, Daddy!  Please!”  He took me up in his arms and swung me back and forth like an old-time logger working a misery whip saw.

With his huge hands wrapped around my tiny body, he sang in his baritone voice, “Swing the little birdy in the tree, in the tree, in the tree.  Swing the little birdy in the tree, sing, sang to Donnie, whee!!!”  When he said “Whee,” he threw me up in the air toward the ceiling.  I thought I would explode with a delicious combination of giggles and fright.   I loved that game and over the years I saw my dad do the same thing with my own three children.

Another time, another place.  Dressed in my blanket sleepers, with a quilt wrapped around me, I was watching my dad fix the broken motor on the mechanical chicken feeder.  Mom was gone to a meeting for the evening.  I was in his care and too young to understand that the health and welfare of his livestock was the key to our family’s survival.   His hands looked so big to my four-year-old eyes, big enough to fix anything.  Big enough to carry anything.  Big enough to protect me from anything lurking in the dark shadows of the chicken house.  “Daddy what are you doing?  Can we go back to the house and watch television?  Daddy, I’m thirsty.  Can I have a drink?  Why can’t I help you?  Daddy, do I have to go to bed?”

It was the first time I can remember wanting something so much.  I needed that red Radio Flyer wagon in the display window of the Western Auto store.  It was just like the one Timmy had on the “Lassie” television show.  Lassie and Timmy had such a good time playing with that wagon and hauling around everything important to a young boy.  I had a collie like Lassie, too – and I just knew she would be as smart as Lassie if only I had a red wagon.   “Daddy, can I have that wagon?  Please, daddy?  Shep and I would love to play with that wagon.”

Then I remember becoming very sick.  The doctor came to our house and said I had rheumatic fever.  They poked me with needles and hooked up machines that watched my heart.  Dr. Bump said that I had to stay in bed for a long rest until I got better – but he also said I might not get better.  I was very weak, and had to take the most awful medicine that my dad coaxed down my throat with a mixture of applesauce and sugar.

One day dad came home from town.  He had been to the Western Auto store.  I was lying in bed on the sofa in the living room.  “Donnie, look out here on the porch.”  I’m sure my heart really fluttered because there before my eyes was the brand new Radio Flyer red wagon!  “It’s yours and you can come outside and play with it just as soon as you get better!”

With help from the Great Physician, and motivation from my dad, after six months I was able to go outside and play with that wagon.  My earthly father and Heavenly Father worked together to provide my healing and I have never suffered a heart murmur or any ill effects from the disease that had threatened my young life.

As I sat and waited, more memories came.  I was ten years old and an insurance salesman stopped by the house on his regular rounds.  He was always trying to sell dad a different policy, but he was always treated like a friend, invited into the house for a cup of coffee and a piece of my mom’s pie.  In fact, pretty much everyone who came by was treated the same way.  From the ubiquitous salesmen, to the field agent, to the preacher, no matter how busy my dad was or what he was doing, it was momentarily laid aside for some polite conversation and some of my mom’s ever-available dessert.  My parents had the gift of hospitality and they passed it along to their children.  It is part of our inheritance – their legacy to us.

Although not old enough to participate in the conversation on that day, I was old enough to eavesdrop and understand much of what was being said.  I knew times were hard and things were bad on our farm, but until that moment I didn’t realize how bad.

“We lost thousands of chickens ready for market during that last hot spell,” my dad was saying.  “Besides that, the price we pay for everything keeps going up, while the price the co-op pays us keeps going down.  I don’t know how we are going to make the mortgage payment and pay the bills, let alone buy another insurance policy.  I just don’t understand it.  You try to live right and work hard, and then things like this happen.”  His voice trailed off.

That day I grew a little bit and learned a lot more.  I’d never seen my dad cry before, but there were tears in his eyes and his voice trembled as he talked to the insurance man.  I’d always seen my dad as invincible, never afraid of anything, able to pull us through any situation.  But that day I learned that he was vulnerable to discouragement and I needed to do what I could to help pull our family through some tough days.

As they usually do, circumstances improved in time.  Now I was thirteen.  Dad and I were riding in the truck, going to McMinnville to buy supplies.  “Son, you’ve worked like a man this summer.  We couldn’t have accomplished what we did without your help.”  My dad was a man of few words and even fewer words of praise.  As if he had reached his absolute spending limit on such extravagances, he next did what he normally did as we rode together.

“Oh I want to see Him, look upon His face.  There to sing forever of His saving grace.  On the streets of glory, let me lift my voice.  Cares all past, home at last, ever to rejoice!”  On the seat of a tractor, or the seat of a pickup truck, my dad always sang.  He loved the old hymns and gospel songs.

But my mind wasn’t on the song; it was on his words of appreciation.  To tell you the truth, spending most of your summer daylight hours at the controls of a tractor isn’t exactly torture for a teenager.  But at least for a few moments, I felt vindicated; like I’d paid my debt to the family for all the times I’d been a slacker and complained about life on the farm.  A little bit of praise goes a long way to improve a thirteen-year-old boy’s perspective on life.  But that wasn’t all.

“Hey, where are we going?”  Instead of pulling into the feed and farm supply store, we were parking in front of the local Honda motorcycle shop.  I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.  I couldn’t believe it as we walked in together and I saw my dad plop down cash money to buy me a Honda 90.  I wouldn’t have been happier if someone had given me a million dollars!

Fast-forward another five years to 1973.  An eighteen-year-old high school graduate is spending a hot August day loading his car with most of his worldly possessions.  He has seldom been outside of his own state.  But tomorrow he will leave this home where he has spent his entire life and begin the drive to Dallas, Texas.  There he will attend a Bible college he knows only from a catalog he has pored over and prayed over.

“Son, I know you’ve got to do what you feel called to do.  You do your best and stay in touch.  But I want you to know there is always a place for you right here if you should change your mind.  You might be able to use these.  I can remember my dad using these same titles in the ministry, studying them for his sermons.”  He handed me two brand new books:  a Matthew Henry commentary and a topical Bible, both purchased (by him for me) from a traveling Bible salesman.

I was shocked.  I knew dad really wanted me to follow in his footsteps on the family farm.  At the very least he had encouraged me to get a back-up profession like a teaching degree or perhaps even go to law school after college.  But that day he gave me a precious gift – the gift of affirmation and the freedom to go and be the person I believed God was calling me to be.

Ten years later I was packing again – this time a moving van.  Jodi and I were leaving behind our home church where we had spent the past four years as associate pastors.  In fact, for the past six years we had lived and ministered close to the home place with both of our parents nearby.  Kristi and Mark were born during this time, and Jana was in the hopper.  Now we were moving to Toledo, Oregon – a new church assignment.  Even though I had more details to take care of, more boxes to pack, and more furniture to load, I took a few moments and drove out to the farm.

I wanted to see my dad.  More than that, I wanted his blessing.  Over the past years, our relationship had grown and in the process I’d grown to appreciate his friendship and advice.  Now I was moving his precious grandchildren more than a hundred miles away.

As usual, he was busy at work when I arrived, but not too busy to talk.  We walked and talked and did a few chores together.  “You know, I talked to the District Superintendent a few years ago about you.”

Trying to hide my surprise, I said, “Oh, you did?”  I couldn’t imagine my dad having a conversation with the Superintendent of the Oregon District of the Assemblies of God, and certainly couldn’t imagine him keeping it a secret for the past few years.

“Yes, I was over at the District Office to fix the roof for them and as he was showing me the leaks, he was talking about you.  He said he thought you’d be pastoring one of the greatest churches in the Northwest one day.  And I agreed with him.  Son, I know we’ll miss having you around here, but I think you are doing the right thing by going to Toledo.”  Once again my father gave me words of affirmation, a gift I have since treasured through some rough moments in the ministry.

“Mr. Detrick, we are going to have to keep you overnight and run some more tests.  Your lungs are clear, but your heart is going in and out of a fibrillation and there are some other things we need to check out.  Maybe your son here can gather your things and the nurse will move you down to another room.”  The doctor’s pronouncement brought an end to my trip down memory lane.  But it did not diminish the admiration I felt for the old man we were wheeling down to room 130.

Stricken by the poignancy of the moment, and the reversal of our roles, I was reminded of Malachi’s prophecy.  When I was a boy, I really didn’t understand my father.  I saw him as a good provider, but a workaholic.  And I’m not sure he always understood me – especially during my longhaired teenage years.  But over time, and by the grace of God, my heart has been turned to his heart and his heart has been turned to mine.  That’s really what our Heavenly Father wants from all his children as well.

As if you couldn’t tell, my father has a giving heart.  That’s how he has always expressed his love, by giving selflessly, expecting nothing in return.

But over the past few years he has grown to express his love in other ways – hugs, and kisses, and the precious words, “I love you.”  As we were leaving him behind in the hospital room last week, his parting words were for his ailing bride of 63 years.  I knew part of the pain he was feeling at that moment was his inability to be at home to care for her: “Be sure and tell your mother how much I love her.”

POSTSCRIPT: Father’s Day 2014

Howard & Madeline Detrick 50th Anniversary Jan 2, 1989

Howard & Madeline Detrick 50th Anniversary Jan 2, 1989

Little did I know when I wrote this twelve years ago, that both my mother and father would be in heaven within six months.  I am thankful I was able to deliver this tribute to my father personally, and see the tears in his eyes as I read it to him.  Up to this point in their lives, my parents continued to abide on the same farm in Newberg, Oregon where my dad had lived for 75 years, since moving there as a boy in 1927.  Although their health was failing with age, they still lived independently, Dad still drove, and they made it to church every Sunday.

Within a few days of writing this, my mother was hospitalized and placed in intensive care.  A combination of cancer, diabetes, and low sodium levels left her in a near comatose state.  Dad had recovered somewhat and drove to the hospital daily to sit by Mom’s side. One day, the nurses came into the room and found Dad slumped over in a chair.  He had suffered a stroke. So within the course of a week, my parents went from living independently to being hospitalized–and they never came home. Because of the severity of their health conditions and their need for constant care, they were moved from the hospital into a care home.

Although this was a difficult time for our family, two poignant memories stick out in my mind.  First, after Dad’s stroke, family members gathered around his hospital bedside.  The doctors did not know the severity of the stroke or the prospects of recovery. Nearly 86 years old, Dad was in a very weakened condition and in a comatose state. We knew he might be able to hear us so a number of us spoke to him and told him how much we loved him and prayed for him. Then, our youngest daughter Jana said, I want to sing to Gramps.  She began to sing, “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross.”  As she did, the most amazing thing occurred—Dad started to sing along!   We all joined in and then began singing, “Amazing Grace.”  Although his voice was weak and trembling, he didn’t miss a word.  Nor did he open his eyes or show any other sign of being cognizant.  When the singing stopped, we all stood in amazement and tears, while Dad slept on.  He didn’t really awaken until days later.

Mom and Dad shared twin beds at the care facility. Mom went to heaven on August, 28, 2002. Before she died, Dad crawled into her bed, and gently cuddled next to his bride of 63 years. He was so sweet as he stroked her forehead and hands, and repeated, “I’ll meet you in the morning, on the other side. I love you and tell all the family I’ll be coming soon.”

A few months later, on November 12th, Dad went to be with the Lord and to see those family members who have gone on before. I spent the night sleeping in the room with him the day he died. Although he has been gone for nearly twelve years now, hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about him and his impact in my life. They say that grown men are just little boys in a bigger body. Even today, when I close my eyes, I can see my Dad holding me, a little boy in his arms, swinging me way up high as I giggle and say, “Daddy, do it again!”

Originally written June 18, 2002, Postcript June 15, 2014 – Father’s Day © 2014 Don Detrick  

Lessons My Mother Taught Me

Madeline Detrick late 1970-early1971 Cropped PSAlthough she went to heaven more than ten years ago, I bear my mother’s imprint and think about her every day of my life. And although she never held any formal office or position in life (other than being my Cub Scout Den Mother, or Sunday School Teacher, or PTA President), and only graduated from the eighth grade, she was a leader in her own right because she influenced others–especially me. She even nurtured my love for photography, posing for this photo I took when I was in the eighth grade or so, around 1969. Here are a few lessons I learned from her. The first few of course are written tongue in cheek, but nevertheless I can literally remember her voice speaking these things:

  • My mother taught me about the circle of life: “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of this world.”
  • My mother taught me about the road to insanity: “You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and driving me crazy making all that noise.”
  • My mother taught me patience: “You are going to sit there until you eat everything on that plate.”
  • My mother taught me about world concern: “There are millions of starving children in the world who would love to eat a meal like this.”
  • My mother taught me about delayed expectations: “You just wait until your father gets home, you’re gonna get it!”
  • My mother taught me to increase my animal vocabulary and mark my words: “You just hold your horses, if you don’t stop running around like a chicken with your head cut off, mark my words, I’m gonna be mad as a wet hen and tan your hide!”
  • My mother taught me to appreciate big numbers: “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times!”
  • My mother taught me to appreciate bony fingers: “I work my fingers to the bone around here, and you don’t appreciate it.”
  • My mother taught me about bungee jumping: “I suppose if everybody else jumped off a bridge, you would, too!”
  • Finally, my mother taught me that we are all mortal: “You better think again about what you’re planning to do because you’ll do that over my dead body!”

As a boy, I never took a lot of my mother’s hyperbole in speech very seriously. And I didn’t expect that sometime in the distant future I really would look be doing something “over her dead body” and sadly, one day more than 10 years ago her life on earth did end, and I conducted her funeral on August 30, 2002. As I reflected on that day and today, here are three of the most important lessons she taught me:

First, my mother taught me about faithThe Bible says in Hebrews 11:3 that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” My mother taught me about faith in Jesus and prayer from the time I was born. As a child I never doubted the existence of God, or the goodness of God, or the love of God because I saw God as a reality in my family. My mother was intentional about this, and she taught both by example and by being sure I was involved in activities that would nurture my faith.

Second, my mother taught me about hope. The Bible teaches us that without a vision, people perish (Proverbs 29:18). Vision is all about hope – it is about the future. My mother taught me to be optimistic – to be sure, there were times she could be moody and discouraged, but overall, she usually had a smile on her face and enthusiasm for life. She had the advantage of perspective, and an unwavering conviction that we had a destiny and purpose in life.

From the time I was a little boy, I remember my mother telling me that God had a plan for my life – that the Lord had spoken to her that I had a call upon my life. Even though there were times as a teenager when I resisted or even resented that idea, I could never lose sight of the vision my mother instilled within me. She majored on my strengths, not my weaknesses. Although I had plenty of weaknesses, my mother and dad both instilled in me the idea that I could do anything – that I was destined to be a leader. Others conspired with her in this initiative. I still have my 3rd grade report card from Mrs. Winnogene Baker, my teacher at Dundee Elementary School in Dundee, Oregon. On that 3rd grade report card, Mrs. Baker wrote:  “Donald is a leader. Let’s hope he continues to lead in the right direction.”

Mom & Dad Detrick 50th Anniv 1-2-89 Newberg AG cropped photo

My parents on their 50th Wedding Anniversary January 2, 1989

Of all the lessons my mother taught me, most of all she taught me about love. My mother was an equal opportunity lover of all people. She never had a cruel thing to say about anybody and showed her love through her gift of hospitality. She never saw a problem that couldn’t be worked out over a good meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy with all the trimmings, and topped off with coconut cream pie and a good cup of coffee. She gave my wife and children the same gift of her love and acceptance that she freely offered me. She imprinted all of our lives and we are all better because of her. Thanks, Mom!

Persistence

Persistence - pansy in concrete w copyrightI did a double take when I saw it. A single yellow pansy blooming in the driveway. Certainly nobody planted it there, yet somehow a seed took root. And there it was, its sweet pansy face peeking up from a crack in the concrete. I had to stop and take a photo of a literal “bloom where you are planted” story.

How often do I complain about how the present location isn’t ideally suited to take root, bloom, and produce? Or maybe the timing isn’t right. Or maybe I just don’t have enough time. Besides, everybody knows you can’t grow pansies in concrete cracks. Of course, weeds seem to flourish there. But here was a pansy staring me in the face and reminding me that against all odds, and even without ideal circumstances or conditions, blooming is indeed a possibility. The flower’s beauty and contrast with its harsh concrete surroundings was both stunning and defying the logic of my conventional wisdom.

Persistence. Patience. Possibility. These are the makings of everyday miracles. Stick with it. Don’t give up. And don’t stop believing. What do Olympic athletes have in common? Certainly some degree of natural skill and ability. Beyond that, they stick with it. They don’t give up. And they don’t stop believing they can win. In spite of the daily grind requiring long hours of practice, blistered bodies, bruised egos, and tired muscles, they persevere. And the most persistent usually take home the gold.

The same could be said for virtually every worthwhile pursuit. You could become proficient in a foreign language by studying a few minutes a day. Every day. For a long time. You could become a good pianist if you take lessons every week, practice 30 minutes every day, and do so over an extended period of time.

You’ll need to up the ante if you want to become a concert pianist, and very few do–really want to, that is. Because if you just want to a little, it won’t happen. You have to want to a lot, and then act accordingly. Persistently. Consistently. For a very long time. Despite less than ideal circumstances. Despite distractions. Despite sacrificing personal comfort.

What do you want to do? What is keeping you from accomplishing that dream? Persistence. Patience. Possibility. You can do it. You can find freedom from your circumstances and limitations. Just look at the photo of the pansy emerging from its concrete prison and let your dreams bloom right where you are planted. God, who specializes in making the impossible possible, can help you overcome adversities that you cannot conquer on your own.

It’s not an easy road. Easy roads are paved with good intentions and filled with potholes of adversity. Easy roads have weeds growing in the cracks. The road less travelled is paved with persistence, patience, and possibility. The potholes of adversity are still there, but the traveler choosing that route might just be greeted with the face of an unexpected pansy along the way.

Semper Fi: Enduring Influence – Part 2 “Heroes”

Semper Fi = Enduring Influence“We’re looking for a few good men”

– The U.S. Marine Corps.

I remember frequently seeing or hearing that phrase as a boy growing up during the Viet Nam era. In print, television, or radio commercials, the message was the same: it requires something to be a Marine. It requires faithful service, and only a few meet that requirement.

Though not a Marine, our nation yesterday (4/11/13) honored a faithful hero. The Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously by President Obama to U.S. Army Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun, a hero who died in 1950 during the Korean War serving and saving the lives of his fellow soldiers.

Chaplain Kapaun heroically saved the life of a wounded soldier who was about to be executed by the enemy by running to and lifting the wounded man. Both were captured and sent to a POW camp, where the chaplain continued to serve as a representative of Jesus, frequently giving his own tiny ration of food so other soldiers could live. He modeled faith and virtue. While keeping hope alive for others, he died of starvation in that camp.Chaplain Kapaun US Army Hero - Congressional Medal of Honor - Korean WAr

One iconic image of Chaplain Kapaun captures his story. The photo shows him helping a wounded soldier, with his arm around his shoulder. In an online article in Time magazine, Chaplain Col. Kenneth W. Stice describes Chaplain Kapaun’s heroism:

“I’ve read his story and wondered what were the influences that shaped him to be such a man of influence, willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for others.  Well there’s the obvious formation of his abiding religious faith and practice. That is common to all chaplains.

But there’s also the influence of his family life – as one who grew up in rural Kansas, on a farm, within a tightly-connected community. It was in that context that he learned the value of hard and honest work, loyalty and support of neighbors, and simple a lifestyle with meager possessions.

Both of those streams of influence were absolutely vital in preparing him to endure captivity with such humility and courage, so that he became the inspiration of other POWs to carry on.  Chaplain Kapaun was consistent in his daily walk, and how he lived his faith.

The remarkable acts of bravery under direct fire in November of 1950 were reinforced through those daily acts of religious faith. All chaplains have the opportunity to make that impact on others with consistent living that was epitomized by Chaplain Kapaun’s example. His consistent walk and witness encourage me on my own journey of faith. But that same witness serves to convict me of areas that I need to be more faithful.”[1]

Did you notice how many times Col. Stice used the word, “influence” to describe this heroic man? I was touched reading about Chaplain Kapaun’s faithfulness and enduring influence. And I had to ask, What do all faithful heroes have in common? Here’s what I came up with:

  • They are present and available rather than absent and inaccessible. Can my loved ones count on me to be present and available–to be there for them when they need me?
  • They are alert and engaged, rather than pre-occupied and distant. Am I present when I am present, or neglecting my duty to pay attention to my family, my friends, my responsibilities?
  • They are courageous and sacrificial, rather than playing it safe out of harm’s way. Will I protect and serve others, or only myself?

The Marines are looking for a few good men who will be “always faithful.” It’s not a gender thing, anybody can be a hero to somebody by being faithful in who you are and faithful in what you do. Enlist today, your faithful influence will endure. Semper Fi!



[1] U.S. Army Chaplain Col. Kenneth W. Stice, “Medal of Honor: Chaplain Kapaun’s Heroism Feted Today. Time, April 11, 2013 at http://nation.time.com/2013/04/11/medal-of-honor-chaplain-kapaums-heroism-feted-today/ accessed 4/12/13.

Semper Fi = Enduring Influence: Part 1

Semper Fi = Enduring Influence“There’s no such thing as an ex-Marine!” While I have heard NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on television’s top-rated series make the remark many times, I was somewhat surprised to hear the unison voices of three students echo the exact sentiment. Someone in the university class I was teaching happened to mention that a number of their cohorts were ex-Marines, thus their collective and corrective response.

It got me thinking. What is it that makes a select group of individuals so impassioned that they proudly wear the title, “Marine” as a badge of honor forever? Not “ex-Marine,” mind you, but even years following active duty they subscribe to an identity in the present tense, “Marine.”

What occurs within that window of time in active service, be it two years or thirty, that becomes part of the fabric of their lives forever? What creates the ethos, the culture, the duty, the mission that permeates their collective DNA? What could inspire random diverse individuals with unique personalities, gifts, and talents into a unit with a collective identity and purpose? What is so compelling about their mission that men and women risk life and limb to defend each other and more importantly, defend the dignity and freedom of their nation? What could possibly generate such enduring influence?

Books could be written on the subject (and they have). Techniques, strategies, training, culture, combat, duty, shared quarters, community, language, experience, camaraderie—these all contribute. But in the end it really comes down to two words: Semper fi. Not “semper fidelis.” The abbreviated version works fine, and is more efficient in the Marine economy. Latin is not the strong suit for most Marines. And like Special Agent Gibbs on NCIS, most Marines I know are people of few words. They choose action over verbiage. They don’t need a lot of fancy words to proclaim their faithfulness, they show it every day. They get things done. They can be counted on when it counts. Their influence endures. In a word, leadership is influence, and they lead by example.

We have all experienced the effects of unfaithfulness. Needless suffering, broken promises, broken vows, broken families, and broken lives are the inevitable result. Even the most faithful person may have a lapse of faithfulness. Unfaithfulness is common. Faithfulness is rare. That explains the question posed by the writer of Proverbs: “Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” (TNIV)

Semper fi. Always faithful. Always on active duty. Always ready to be found, identified, and counted. What if every disciple of Jesus Christ was as quick as my Marine students to identify with Jesus? Never an ex-disciple. Never a lapse, but always faithful. Who knows, we might become people of enduring influence. And we might just change our world.

What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

What to Say When You Don't Know What To SaySilence is golden, and there is a time to be quiet. But at other times knowing the right thing to say at the right time is even better. The writer of Proverbs says, “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.” (Proverbs 25:11, New Living Translation) There have been times in my life when the kind words of a friend (or even a stranger) bolstered my sinking spirits as I grasped them like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver.

Having spent most of my life as a pastor, walking beside people through some of the toughest moments of their lives, I felt the tension between the need for silence and the need to say something spiritual or intelligent (when I did not feel either) during a crucial moment. Even at the risk of sounding clichéd, a word sincerely spoken can make a difference. So, for what it’s worth, here are some simple words I’ve collected over the years; phrases to sincerely say when you don’t know what to say.

  • “May I pray for you right now?”
  • “I am here for you, my friend.”
  • “I have complete confidence in you.”
  • “I am your biggest fan!”
  • “What can I do to help?”
  • “You do that really well.”
  • “How are you, really?”
  • “What you said helped me.”
  • “Where would you rather be right now, and what would it take to get there?”
  •  “What is stopping you from. . ..”
  • “It is amazing the way you. . ..”
  • “I was wrong.”
  • “I am so sorry.”
  • “I’m cheering you on.”
  • “I appreciate the way you. . ..”
  • “Tell me about your:  day, job, kids, etc.”
  • “Please forgive me.”
  • “I still love you.”
  • “God is big enough to. . ..”
  • “I am really proud of the way you. . ..”
  • “You’re really growing.”
  • “Could you come to:  dinner, dessert, coffee?”
  • “I missed you.”
  • “I’m so happy for you.”
  • “I prayed for you today.”
  • “That must have been very difficult for you.”
  • “I’ll be glad to!”
  • “You have a way of making people feel special.  Thanks.”
  • “What is one thing I could do to help relieve some of your stress?”
  • “I’m not sure I would be doing as well as you are.  How are you making it?”
  • “I admire the way you. . ..”
  • “Is there something I can pray with you about?”
  • “You are really making a lot of progress!”
  • “I’ll give you a call tomorrow to see how you are doing. Is that OK?”
  • “I treasure the moments we get to spend together.”
  • “Thinking about you always puts a smile on my face.”

I am sure you can think of your own favorites to create a silver basket full of golden apples for a friend in need. Sometimes words are not necessary, like when a hug or a shared tear do a far better job of conveying how much you care. But there is nothing wrong with being prepared for those times when you struggle to know what to say when you don’t know what to say.

Do Pessimists Live Longer?

Do Pessimists Live Longer“Thanks for noticing me” defines Eeyore’s typical negative self-image and outlook on life, but he might live longer than his more optimistic cohorts in the hundred-acre wood. At least that would be accurate if you accept a news release issued a few days ago by the American Psychological Association. The report indicates a study showed that older people who have low expectations for a satisfying future may be more likely to live longer, healthier lives than those who see brighter days ahead. [1]

“Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade,” said lead author Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. “Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.” The study was published online in the journal Psychology and Aging.[2]

While the study allegedly showed a more realistic perspective on life’s expectations may be safer in the long run, it misses a bigger question. Who wants to spentiggereeyored their days listening to, living with, or working alongside a companion like Eeyore? Tigger’s enthusiasm might get him in trouble, and his frantic pace might cause an accident or two along the way, but he surely is a lot more fun to be around than the depressed donkey. Wouldn’t you agree?

The Bible’s cast of characters far outnumbers Winnie the Pooh’s friends in the hundred-acre wood. But among those biblical personalities one can find multitudes of both positive and negative individuals. Some are prone to be one or the other, optimist or pessimist. We see that early on in the biblical narrative, as the jealous and angry pessimist Cain murdered his more compliant and presumably optimistic brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). The positive Job worshiped in spite of horrific circumstances, while his negative wife urged him to curse God and die (Job 2:9).

More often though, both descriptors could characterize the same person at different times. Multitudes of biblical characters were both/and when it came to personalities and perspectives. And circumstances often dictated their positive or negative response. Their outcomes however, depended largely upon their attitude of faith and hope in spite of adverse circumstances. Here are a few brief examples:

  • Faithful Moses triumphantly led the children of Israel across the Red Sea, but failed to enter the Promised Land himself because of an angry act of disobedience.
  • The shepherd David became a hero as he single-handedly defeated the giant Goliath with a slingshot, but his biography also shows times of discouragement, depression, and defeat. Read Psalm 55 as an example.
  • Elijah fearlessly faced the prophets of Baal, but ran in fear from Jezebel.
  • Peter walked on water, but also denied the Lord and dejectedly left the ministry to return to his fishing business.
  • Paul could describe his own wretched sinfulness, but also declared he could, “do all things through Christ.”

For each of these individuals, it would not be fair to judge their entire lives by a few events, and there are countless others with similar shortcomings. The examples I cited are only a small glimpse of what would become the big picture and final outcome of their lives.

We are seldom defined by a single action or moment in time. But repeated actions and attitudes become patterns. Those patterns then characterize our perspective and resulting behaviors, as well as the perspective others view us by. Better to focus on things that will matter, than trivial pursuits. Better to focus on the positive than the negative. And better to focus on the eternal, rather than the temporal.

Paul wrote that there are three eternal things: faith, hope, and love in 1 Corinthians 13. It is easy to consider these three virtues as abstract platitudes. But they become concrete when coupled with faithful, hopeful, and loving actions. We should never underestimate the power of our attitudes because they govern both words and behaviors. These eternal elements become the building blocks of a significant life, one that is characterized by the positive, not the negative.

Frankly, I have a very personal reason to question the results of the study. German blood runs through my veins. Detrick used to be spelled Dietrich before my ancestors a few generations back Americanized the spelling of the name. My maternal grandparents were German-speaking Swiss who immigrated to this country a century ago. If my family is any indicator, we could naturally tend to be a pessimistic bunch. We are prone to toggle between, “Thanks for noticing me” and, “You better notice me, and I don’t mean maybe!” In any event, it is interesting that the study which concluded pessimists might live longer took place in Germany with only German participants. Hello! Does anybody besides me think that might make a difference and skew the results?

Even if the study is correct, would you rather live a bit shorter life and be happy, or live longer and be a grouch? Thankfully we have more choices to select from, like this sound advice from the writer of Proverbs:

“My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:1-6 New Living Translation)

Regardless of your ethnic background or personality type, you can decide to control your attitude. So choose to take the path of faith, hope, and love. It might just be the best formula to increase your days. At least it will bring more loyalty, joy, and kindness to your abode, and make the environment more pleasant for the other residents you meet in your own hundred-acre wood. You will be thankful you did, and they will notice you, too—in a good way. Long live the optimists!